V-Carving in 10 Easy Steps

v 2D00 carving 5F00 lead V Carving in 10 Easy Steps

V-Carving in 10 Easy Steps

By Randy Johnson

V-carving is one of the simplest ways to create
attractive carvings on a CNC router. With special
software and a little practice, it’s possible to transform
almost any lettering style or 2D design into a
carving that requires only minimal cleanup before
finishing. I use V-Carve Pro software from Vectric,
but the steps are similar with other v-carving programs.
The software tells the machine to raise the
bit at the inside corners; the machine then uses the
tip of the v-bit to create corners that are clean and
crisp—as opposed to the rounded corners made by
a handheld router guided by a template. For more
examples of v-carving visit AmericanWoodworker.com/CNC.

Step 1

Layout your design. All it takes is a
simple hand sketch or photograph.
This can be imported directly into the
program and then outlined using the
drawing tools in the v-carve design
program. Since both letters and shapes
can be carved, there are not many limits
to the kinds of designs you can v-carve.
You also have the choice of carving
on the inside or outside of letters or

Click any image to view a larger version.

v 2D00 carving 5F00 1 V Carving in 10 Easy Steps

Step 2

Make sure all shapes are closed.
This is one of the cardinal rules of
v-carving design. A circle, square or the
outline of an object qualifies, but a single
line or parallel lines with open ends will
not work. The v-carve programs need
a continuous outline to follow. Some
outlines may look continuous, but even a
little break in the line will cause problems.
Fortunately, v-carve programs are able
to recognize shapes that have small
openings and will automatically close
them for you.

v 2D00 carving 5F00 2 V Carving in 10 Easy Steps

Step 3

Set the cutting depth for the
background of your carving and
the inside of the letters (as needed).
This cutting depth is mainly a design
decision, and of course it cannot
exceed the thickness of your board.
The cutting preview (example at
right) will show you how your chosen
cutting depth looks.

v 2D00 carving 5F00 3 V Carving in 10 Easy Steps

Step 4

Select your router bits. Use a straight bit first to rout flat areas. The diameter of this bit
determines how much cleanup the v-bit will need to do inside a corner. A large diameter
straight bit removes material faster but leaves more for the v-bit to cleanup. A small
diameter straight bit leaves less material inside a coner but takes longer to clear the flat
areas. I typically use a 1/4" diameter end mill for drawer front or cabinet door carvings.

The three most common v-bit angles are 60°, 90° and 120°. I prefer using a 90° and
120° v-bit for wide or large letters and a 60° v-bit for small or fine letters. If possible, I also prefer to use a v-bit with a cutting radius that’s slightly wider than the width of the final bevel. This allows me to make one final cleanup pass (if needed) to remove any step
marks left by the initial passes.

v 2D00 carving 5F00 4 V Carving in 10 Easy Steps

Step 5

Create cutting paths for the recessed background and export them from your v-carving design program
to your CNC machine. The cutting paths (shown above in red with tiny arrows) show the areas that will be
routed. Here I’m using a 1/4" end mill bit to rout the flat background area. I’m accomplishing this with 1/8"
wide passes (shown by the distance between the red lines). This dimension is referred to as the “stepover”
measurement. The cutting depth per pass can also be programed, as can the feed (travel) rate of the router,
expressed in inches per minute.

v 2D00 carving 5F00 5 V Carving in 10 Easy Steps

Step 6

Rout the recessed background area. To ensure a smooth background on
this plaque, I used a couple techniques. First, I routed the background area
in two .06" (about 1/16") deep passes, plus a light .01" pass to reach the final
depth of .013". Three passes take more time than one, but create a surface
that requires only light sanding. Second, I programed the router to cut with
the grain (see Step 5). This reduces sanding, too. Milling the background for
this plaque took about 20 minutes.

v 2D00 carving 5F00 6 V Carving in 10 Easy Steps

Step 7

Create cutting paths for the bevels around the shapes (the hand plane and perimeter rectangle in this
case) and export them to your CNC machine. For this design, I will be using a 90° v-bit, which produces a
45° bevel. The shaded areas above the handle and below the depth-adjustment knob are closely-spaced
tool paths where the v-bit needs to make many close passes to mill the background flat. These areas are too
narrow for the 1/4" end mill bit to get into.

v 2D00 carving 5F00 7 V Carving in 10 Easy Steps

Step 8

Rout the bevels around the shapes. This requires removing the straight bit and installing the
appropriate v-bit. I used a 1/2" diameter 90° v-bit. It has a 1/4" tall bevel—more than enough for the
carved bevel, which will be only 1/8" tall. This step took about 20 minutes to rout. Except for some light
hand sanding and a little touch-up with a carving chisel, this part of the carving is now complete.

v 2D00 carving 5F00 8 V Carving in 10 Easy Steps

Step 9

Create tool paths for the lettering. This requires a separate step because I’m changing to a 60° v-bit. I
prefer a 60° bit for small letters such as these because it creates a deeper, more distinctive v-groove than a
90° bit. The tool paths above show how v-carving requires two lines to carve between. The two lines are
parallel in these letters, but they can be any shape or spacing. For example, the outline of the hand plane
and outer rectangle represents the pair of lines that were used to create the hand plane carving.

v 2D00 carving 5F00 9 V Carving in 10 Easy Steps

Step 10

Rout the lettering. Notice that “No. 4” is routed into the surface of the plane whereas as the logo is
carved into the background. I programed the difference in cutting depth into the cutting paths while
designing the plaque. This final carving step took about 8 minutes. To view a video on how I designed
and machined this plaque from start to finish, visit AmericanWoodworker.com/CNC.

v 2D00 carving 5F00 10 V Carving in 10 Easy Steps

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker April/May 2011, issue #153.

AW 5F00 153 5F00 001 UsCanDIR V Carving in 10 Easy Steps

April/May 2011, issue #153

Purchase this back issue.


 V Carving in 10 Easy Steps

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