What started two years ago as two friends, a laser cutter, a board router and an idea turned into an overnight success. Starting with a $10,000 goal on Kickstarter, a website where people can fund new projects and inventions, a UC Santa Cruz alumnus and a current student raised almost $70,000 for the most affordable computer-controlled cutting machine

The computer numerical control (CNC) router cuts and shapes soft materials — such as wood, plastic and foam — with a laser cutter to be more accurate than could be done by hand. Bar Smith, who will graduate from UCSC this year with a degree in electrical engineering, and Thomas Beckett, a 2013 UCSC graduate, teamed up to sell the accessible desktop CNC router.

“The idea is to take a design on a computer and basically print it out,” Smith said. “You can do anything from making something on an architectural level, to making mechanical parts for robotics. You can make circuit boards or you can use it for art. The limit is anything you can design on the computer, which is most things nowadays.”

Smith was inspired by his time at the Baskin School of Engineering graduate students lab, where he had access to rapid prototyping technology.

“Right now, these machines are expensive so you basically have to be in business to afford one,” Smith said. “Whereas we are trying to get that price low enough so that people can buy them just to play with them.”

What makes the CNC router more affordable is its use of off-the-shelf parts, a laser cutter and a less expensive motor than traditional routers. Smith and Beckett’s kit, which can be assembled into a CNC router in only a couple of hours, sells for $195 as opposed to around $800 for most CNC routers.

The team pledged to make CNC routers more affordable and accessible. Photo courtesy of Thomas Palmer
The team pledged to make CNC routers more affordable and accessible. Photo courtesy of Thomas Palmer

Because Smith and Beckett exceeded their goal on Kickstarter, they will use the money to create the product and deliver it to those who pledged money.

“We had one of those thoughts where this could be one of those Kickstarter projects that took off, which is every creator’s dream for that to happen, and it kind of happened in a manner of hours,” Beckett said.

In a recent update on their Kickstarter website, Smith and Beckett announced the order of two laser cutters to start producing the kits. Each kit takes four to five hours to make with the use of a laser cutter. They will receive the funds on June 9, and the 348 backers in more than 40 countries should have their kits delivered by the end of October.

Their business, Makesmith CNC, was given an Editor’s Choice award during the ninth Annual Bay Area Maker Faire in San Mateo, held May 17 and 18. After the Kickstarter campaign concludes, Smith and Beckett plan to continue selling their kits, and in the future they hope to pursue other projects.

“It’s really nice to be a part of this industry where these tools someone our age couldn’t even touch, are now accessible to anyone,” Beckett said.