UPDATE: Rockler is now also offering the enhanced CNC Shark Pro Routing System too, which is definitely worth a look!
I posted a while back about the CarveWright automated carving system. A new model of Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) router has entered the market at a similar price point -- well below more established, larger machines. The new one is called the CNC Shark Routing System.
This CNC machine is designed for routing wood, engraving plastics, and even etching or cutting tile.
Like the CarveWright, the CNC Shark is a fairly small, portable machine. Unlike the CarveWright which uses a media card to transfer information from your computer to the Router table, with the CNC Shark, you connect the USB cable from your computer directly to the controller box.
Another difference is that the CNC Shark uses a conventional palm router mounted to it to do the cutting. The CarveWright routing system uses a specialized flexible shaft attached to an on-board motor. The CNC Shark's system allows you to use a router you may already own (like the Bosch Colt Palm Router), or may choose to use on its own. Since this is the part that will get the most wear and tear, I think this is a brilliant approach. The palm router can be fixed or replaced. Bits for the palm routers are easy to find too.
Unlike the CarveWright, which uses its own proprietary software, the CNC Shark can be used with a range of established CNC programs used in the industry. There may be a learning curve here, but it's probably worth it for greater control.
The last important difference that I can see is that this machine moves in all three axes of motion (X, Y, and Z). The CarveWright moves side to side and up and down. For lateral motion, the CarveWright uses a friction belt (i.e. sandpaper belts) to move the workpiece itself. This seems like a potential area for slippage which could ruin a carving. The CNC Shark never moves the work piece -- only the cutter moves, ensuring that registration is on target.
From the product literature:
The CNC Shark is the best value for a complete CNC system. This impressive has power, speed, accuracy, and ease of use. We also have a technical support system to help you with any questions regarding the and any of its software. CNC Shark has a high quality design and its parts have been CNC'd to ensure its highest accuracy. The Shark's construction of steel, aluminum and high-density polyethylene make it robust, and it can take accidental impacts that would normally damage or destroy other machines.
The CNC Shark is offered through the Rockler stores in the lower 48 United States. Take a look!