When you think about common applications for a CNC machine, the first thing that comes to mind is probably an industrial setting such as a woodshop or auto parts manufacturer. In a woodshop, a CNC lathe might be used to create a series of balusters for a staircase or legs for a set of dining room chairs. An auto parts manufacturer, on the other hand, might use a CNC mill to shape replacement engine components out of aluminum or steel.
While industrial uses are certainly the most common places to find CNC routers, mills, and lathes, in recent years there’s been a growing push to use CNC machinery in an unusual setting – fine jewelry.
Traditionally, fine jewelry has been made entirely by hand. For a precious-metal ring, such as a gold wedding ring, that might require creating a mold, pouring the ring, and then carefully engraving any patterns or designs into the surface.
But by using a variety of CNC machines, modern jewelers can streamline their processes. This is especially true when it comes to producing the molds for gold and silver jewelry, but it can also apply to everything from grinding and finishing metal rings.
CNC machinery in jewelry making
Small artisan jewelers are always looking for ways to improve their processes. For many, incorporating CNC machining techniques into their creative process has expanded what they can offer. Below are just a few of the CNC machines jewelers use.
CNC milling machine
Heavy-duty, industrial-sized CNC mills are too big to play much of a role in jewelry production, but smaller mills can be used to section metals for finer work. Some manufacturers offer specialized mini-mills, often capable of operations on four axes or more. A CNC mill can also be used to carve wax for lost-wax casting projects.
Routers bear a lot of similarities to mills but are typically used with softer materials. That makes a CNC router machine ideal for carving out molds for casting gold silver and other metals. Wax models can also be formed using a CNC router.
CNC routers aren’t commonly used to create jewelry directly, but there are a few exceptions. As wood jewelry becomes increasingly popular, some of the common woodworking tools are making their way to jewelry shops. Wood routers are simply CNC routers adapted for woodworking projects. Depending on the cutting tools used, they can also cut acrylics for mixed-media jewelry.
CNC engraving machine
CNC laser engravers are a common part of the jewelry industry. Outside of artisan or traditional craft jewelers, many of the patterns and detail commonly found on wedding bands and other jewelry are created using a CNC jewelry laser.
Laser engraving machines can also be found in DIY jewelry setups. These machines are much less expensive than other CNC machinery, making them ideal for home-based jewelry makers.
Given the circular geometry of most jewelry from rings to bracelets, CNC lathes are a natural fit for jewelry applications. Advanced CNC mini-lathes allow experienced jewelers to carve or engrave detailed designs into pieces of metal jewelry. These lathes work with a variety of metals from precious metals to stainless steel or even space-age alloys or exotic wood-and-metal combinations. This is a great use for a CNC machine, providing a level of precision and uniformity that a human hand would have trouble matching.
Benefits of CNC machining for jewelry
Using CNC machinery to create intricate jewelry comes with a number of benefits. One of the biggest benefits is increased efficiency; since the element of human error is all but eliminated with a CNC machine, artisan jewelers can get a more consistent result with fewer mishaps. This, in turn, can save them valuable time and resources, especially when working with precious metals where any waste is costly.
Along with increased efficiency, jewelers use CNC technology to gain a level of automation. While hand-cast molds always contain some inconsistencies, CNC-cut molds can be made exactly the same every time, without the need to re-program the machine. Jewelers can also use CNC technology to replicate older designs or to reproduce perennial bestsellers.
CNC technology can’t replace the decades of experience and craftsmanship of a master jeweler, but it can give him a new range of tools for his craft.
Interested in learning more about the many different uses for CNC machines? Stay tuned for more updates from our blog, or give us a call today to speak with a representative!