Is there any way to set your toolpath so that the Z axis descent takes place off the piece so that you avoid ‘drilling’ and come at the workpiece from the side?
Not really for the entirety of the regular spoilboard since it is larger than the maximum available carving area. For spoilboards that are smaller than the maximum available carving area, you might be able to make the rectangle larger in X & Y by 2 x bit diameter and use the raster cut options.
You can also use the ramping feature to prevent straight plunging. Just inspect the toolpaths since the plunging feature is fairly new and does have at least one bug that I reported recently.
Another option, if you are up for it, is to write the GCode yourself…
Yeah, you’d just make the pocket rectangle larger than the workpiece, I do it in this video for flattening cupped big box store boards…
Too much of anewbie for that…yet
Plunging still takes place into the workpiece though at the centre then rasters out. I want the plunge to take place off the workpiece and the machining to start from the side
Doing it with the raster method, you will also need to make the rectangle account for the contour path that Easel makes as well plus the stepover. Since the raster cuts start inside contour path, you would need to account for that. Just something to think about.
This is what I am talking about. Notice the how the brown rectangle is inside the raster operations…
Another thing that might help if you are worried about the surfacing bit burning as it plunges is to increase the plunge rate. Obviously, this comes with its own concerns. Just something to think about.