The Shark looks like a CNC router. The spindle is mounted on a moving gantry; the work must be secured to the machine’s stationary bed. The workable X-Y area is 13" by 24", and the range of the Z axis is 4-1⁄2". (The Z axis range of the CarveWright is a mere 1".)
Though you might expect the structure to be steel or aluminum, it’s primarily slick, white HDPE [high density polyethylene]. The individual pieces are assembled with machine screws and lock nuts. The gantry uprights are edged with aluminum angle, both to protect them from wear and tear and to stiffen the assembly.
The frame of a CNC router must be rigid, and the Shark’s construction ensures that it is.
The moving assemblies — the gantry and the router mount— are mounted on pairs of polished steel rods and are driven by Acme-thread lead screws. A stepper connected to one end of each lead screw turns it in a precisely controlled way.
The machine bed is a piece of 3/4" MDF. Slots for clamps are cut through it. It’s inevitable that, over time, it will be nicked, notched, grooved and gouged. You can replace it easily: consider it a consumable and don’t be reluctant to screw workpieces to it.
The spindle mount accommodates a Bosch Colt motor. This is a 1hp, variable speed unit that takes 1/4"-shank bits. It has a spindle lock, so only one wrench is needed for bit changes.
The Shark uses a popular CADCAM program called VCarve Pro, published by Vectric. It’s a CAD program because you can design and draw in it. It’s a CAM program because it calculates the path a cutter must follow to make the design. VCarve has tools for originating drawings, but more valuable is its ability to import files in many standard graphics and CAD formats — .dxf, .pdf, .ai. So if you prefer, you can draw in a CAD program. VCarve’s singular value lies in its CAM capabilities.
The program has a boilerplate database of 12 router bits in nine configurations. The list includes end mills and ball-nose end mills; these are better known to woodworkers as straight bits and core box or round-nose bits. You can add bits to the database, so almost any groove-forming bit with a 1/4" shank that you have can be used in the Shark.
The toolpath features of VCarve put you in command of what cutter to use for a selected vector, as well as the feed direction, speed and depth of a cut. You can see an animation of the cut being made and examine the result in 3D. If you are creating a project part that must be worked by more than one cutter, you simply create more than one toolpath. You name and save each toolpath.
The CD that comes with the VCarve program also has a PDF of the 130-page manual, as well as PDFs and videos of tutorials.
VCarve doesn’t actually run the Shark. The toolpath files you create with it drive the Shark, and to run those files, you need a CNC Shark Control program, which you download from the Next Wave Automation website. And before you can actually run the Shark, you need to assemble it.
The Shark is shipped in two pieces — the base and the gantry — both in one box. Six bolts are all it takes to join the two parts.
Because it’s easy to zap a stepper by miswiring the components, the Shark is delivered with all but one of the circuits connected. When you lift the gantry from the shipping carton, both the controller and the power supply are tethered to it by the wiring between them and the X-axis stepper and the Z-axis stepper. The Y-axis stepper is mounted on the machine bed, and the input end of its power cable is unconnected. The plastic connector on the cable’s end is labeled with a “Y.” The only real wiring you do is to plug that connector into the free connector— also labeled “Y” — at the back of the controller.
After bolting the gantry to the bed and connecting the wiring, fit the router motor in the mount. You do have to connect your computer to the Shark’s controller. This may prove to be inconvenient, especially if your only computer is a desktop model. A cable is provided with the Shark to link the computer and the controller.
When the hardware is set up and the software loaded, you’re about ready to make the noise and dirt. Mark the starting point on your workpiece and clamp or screw it to the worktable. Install the cutter in the router. Load the Shark control program, and use it to “jog” the bit to align with the marked start point.
Switch to the G-Code screen, load the appropriate G-code (toolpath) file, and click on “Run the G-Code.” You’ll get a dialog box telling you to turn on the router, and then the Shark starts to work.