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In Praise of Easel

I spent a full day in the shop today fine-tuning a production run of one of our Launch Controller parts. My perspective of the X-Carve Pro and Easel might be a bit different than most. I was an electronic technician, later in I.T. as a self-trained server administrator and network manager. I can program my way out of a wet paper bag, and was a web designer and administrator for a couple of years along the way. I live next door to a retired NASA Engineer. We talk tools a lot. He is very impressed with the XCP, but did not really have a reaction when I described how Easel drives my machine in a web browser from the cloud.

Back in the 90’s when I was learning HTML, XHTML, CSS, and the DOM (Document Object Model) the dream was to see Applications that truly ran in a browser, independent of the operating system. I have not seen everything - but it strikes my that Easel is a fine realization of that dream. It is true that quite a few Micro$oft and Google applications have done this. But I think that controlling a sophisticated CNC from a web browser is beyond anything I could have imagined.

The reason I am writing this today is that you might not have thought about Easel in quite the same ways, and if you are younger you might take some or all of this functionality for granted. I do not recommend it. The amount of thought that the Inventables team have put into this application is nothing short of remarkable. I rarely use the word awesome. Easel is truly awesome.

At few points today I feared that I would have to go back to the drawing board with my ideas of how to mass-produce my parts. In each case I discovered that the features provided by Easel would allow me to move right on forward. In each case, all I had to do is think about my problem and consider the features offered by Easel. I did not need to ask for help and did not need to resort to documentation. That is fortunate because (as an aside) the documentation is IMHO the weakest part of Easel. We need to do some work on that. Using a sacrificial blank, I worked through each problem and found a sweet solution.

For a bit over a year I was using Easel free with a little Shapeco machine and I admit that I did not really scratch the surface of the features of Easel. My only excuse was that I was running Chrome on Windows 10 and running anything on Windows drives me to stuttering, drooling, distraction. Ubuntu LTS on ZenBook is my cup of tea.

The feature that has me raving for Easel is the panes; and second, the ability to choose a roughing and a detail cutting bit IN EACH PANE! In fact, I can select two bits in some panes and only one bit in others. My part is a complex job with several features requiring a 1/6" bit for square corners, and other features that are ideally cut with a 1/4" bit. The ability to break these jobs into multiple panes with unique settings is powerful. Some work better with a 1/4 followed by a 1/8" bit.

In the Machine General settings I can set a Safety Height and I can also set an Origin Safety Height. Setting a high Safety Height will slow down the cutting job a lot. To clear my clamps I only needed to adjust the Origin Safety Height. The Safety Height would be handy if my clamps were in the middle or extended into the middle of my work. I would need a really good reason to sacrifice cut speed to do that, especially when I can buy a peace of oak and cut any damn clamp I need; 143 of them.

Since my goal is to cut the common features of 15 parts with one job, the default Machine Home point is what I will use. I had already cut a waste board ('don’t like that term) in MDF with custom threaded clamp points and inserts to set the stock peaces into, plus cutouts for the cut-through features. My first dumb mistake this morning was to set the Z zero point on the waste board instead of the inlaid stock. I was stumped for a while because the inlay stock is 24 mm both X and Y from machine 0 x/y. It seemed like I would need to manually set the x/y origin each job and this would add a lot of time because my first roughing pass was with a 1/4" bit and I would need to install a 1/8" bit to get an accurate manual x/y, then switch to a 1/4" bit to set the z 0. After thinking about this and cursing for a few minutes I decided to review the steps to starting a carve, and found the Use Last x/y position. Eureka! I can use Machine 0, jog to the Z Point test on the closest piece of stock, then use the Last x/y starting position. I would never need to manually set anything!!!

I know that part of the excellence of the Easel development process is user feedback and feature requests. If there are even more excellent features down the road, I am having trouble imagining what they might be. It is possible that at some point I will be more awestruck than I was today. I should probably bet on it.

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Thanks for the kind words!

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