Once we have metal threads securely inserted into our MDF work surface, we could bolt on clamps to hold our work pieces. These clamps are 3D printed because we fully recognize our CNC beginner status and, while we’ll do our best to avoid crashing cutting bits into fixtures, it’s realistic to plan for the probability that crashes will occur despite our efforts. If we use commodity metal clamps and our carbide cutting tool makes contact it will break our tool. But if our carbide tool contacts a piece of 3D printed plastic it might survive our mistake. We have the luxury of this provision because we’re starting easy with scraps of MDF, which requires less forces to hold and to cut than cutting metal.
We started by copying standard step clamps. We weren’t sure if the steps could be accurately replicated with 3D printed plastic so it was worth a bit of experimentation to find out. They look very promising but we probably won’t use them, because the reason step clamps exist is to have a few set of them that can adjust to various sized work pieces. 3D printing gives us the flexibility to print project-specific fixtures that don’t have to compromise for flexibility. This advantage can make up a tiny bit of deficiency inherent in using plastic instead of metal. Hence the second iteration: a single piece clamp shaped like an L designed specifically for the thickness of our test piece of MDF.
Once that was printed and eyeballed on the work table, we moved on to the third iteration: a low profile goose neck clamp tailored for the height of our scrap MDF. Low profile design reduces chance of cutter collision, and it allows us to use shorter and stouter bolts to fasten them to the table. This is what we will use for our first real cutting experiments, alongside other 3D-printed accessories for our CNC project like a collet holder.