Unboxing the CNC Shark Pro Plus CNC Router

Today I’ll be discussing the unboxing of Harris Educational’s new Shark Pro Plus CNC Router manufactured by Next Wave Automation and sold by Rockler Woodworking and Hardware. I’ll also go over my initial impressions of the machine. Stay tuned for future articles including why I chose the Shark Pro Plus for Harris Educational’s manufacturing needs as well as assembly and use articles.

The CNC Router Arrives (checked in by Sundance the English Setter, our receiving clerk)

The CNC Router Arrives (checked in by Sundance the English Setter, our receiving clerk and quality assurance manager)

At Harris Educational we are a small business that manufactures science kits like Reinventing Edison: Build your own Light Bulb and Reinventing Morse: Build your own Telegraph. Up until now we’ve done all manufacturing processes totally by hand using traditional power tools and various jigs and fixtures. As we’ve expanded (and hopefully plan to expand more) its become clear that we need a CNC Router in order to produce more complex kit components, save on labor costs, improve prototyping for new kit design, and most importantly keep high quality standards. After a lengthy research process I settled on the CNC Shark Pro Plus by Next Wave Automation as sold through Rockler Woodworking and Hardware. (more on the decision making process in a future article)

CNC Shark Pro Plus is VERY well packed
The CNC Shark Pro Plus is VERY well packed

The CNC Router comes in three boxes, two of which are packed full of Styrofoam. The first box is the heaviest at 92 pounds and contains the table/Y-axis. The second box weighs in at 49 pounds and contains the Gantry (with X and Z Axis), the controller/power-supply, and a box with hardware, software, and instructions. The last box is the Bosch Colt 1.0 HP trim/panel router.

The Bosch Colt Panel Router
The Bosch Colt Panel Router

The CNC Shark Pro Plus comes with a tool holder that is designed to accommodate the 2-3/4” diameter body of the Bosch Colt trim/panel router. Its possible to make your own custom tool holder for any applicable tool of similar size and weight. The screws holding the machine together are either torx or phillips head and are secured with locking nuts to avoid loosening from vibration and continued use. I love the quality and flexibility in the design of this machine.

Closeup of the tool holder on the gantry

Closeup of the tool holder on the gantry

The Gantry is fully pre-assembled and simply bolts onto the Y-axis carriage with 12 bolts. Movement along each axis is accomplished by high speed stepper motors that drive precision modified stainless steel lead-screws through anti-backlash nuts. The gantry (like the base) of the Shark Pro Plus is made out of a sturdy black PVC plastic. In my opinion the black plastic looks a lot more professional and serious than the off-white color plastic in their older Shark and Shark Pro models. Parts for the unit were machined and shipped with the scratch protection film still in place which is a nice touch to help the machine get to the end user in good condition, another of the quality packing touches.

Front view of the Gantry Assembly

Front view of the Gantry Assembly

Rear view of the Gantry Assembly showing the manufacturer's logo machined into the cross beam.

Rear view of the Gantry Assembly showing the manufacturer's logo machined into the cross beam.

The work table/Y-axis also comes completely assembled in its own box. The work table measures 28-1/2” wide by 36” long. The router itself can be moved over a 25” x 25” work path centered on the table. With its open end design work pieces longer than 36” can be placed into the machine, and continuous machining is possible with careful indexing of the workpiece. The table is much improved over the original Shark and Shark Pro in that its made of a blue anodized extruded aluminum channel which allows for great flexibility in clamping down workpieces. Obviously you’ll need to add a sacrificial piece of MDF underneath any workpieces that you intend to cut or drill completely through. Another design improvement that I like is the fact that the over-width table covers the Y-axis stepper motor which helps prevent any kind of accidental damage to this expensive component.


The Work Table / Y-axis

The Work Table / Y-axis

Closeup of the Y-axis prior to mounting the Gantry

Closeup of the Y-axis prior to mounting the Gantry

Next up is the controller and power supply unit. In the Shark Pro Plus the design for the controller has been greatly improved by including the power supply and controller inside one enclosure that also includes a new E-stop (emergency stop) button for the machine. In their older design emergency stop could only be accomplished through the software interface. The control box measures 10-3/4” wide by 8-1/2” deep by 3” tall and is made of brushed aluminum.


Front View of the Controller Box showing LED's and E-stop

Front View of the Controller Box showing LED's and E-stop

The front of the controller contains three LED’s on the left (that I’m assuming indicate pulses being sent to the X/Y/Z steppers) and the Emergency Stop button on the right. The back of the case contains the power connector and connectors for X, Y, and Z stepper motors. An additional axis (hopefully for future use in a rotary fixture) is also available. The back also has an unidentified connector (possibly for use with the optional 3D scanning probe?) as well as the USB connector and a slot for a micro-SD memory card. The Shark Pro Plus’s controller also offers automatic on/off control for the router via a switched power connector on the back of the unit, another improvement over their earlier design that required manually turning the router on and off.

Rear View of the Controller Box showing connectors.

Rear View of the Controller Box showing connectors.

I wouldn’t be a true DIY’er if I didn’t open up the hood and look inside the box, and so with six screws removed I took a quick look inside. By building the switched mode power supply into the case of the unit the end user is spared an extra wiring step as well as additional clutter in their workspace. Cooling is accomplished through a thick aluminum slab heat sink located underneath the power supply and main circuit board. Extra cooling for the motor driver transistors is accomplished with a secondary heat sink, another aluminum slab bolted to the top of the circuit board and vented to outside air via the only cooling slots in the case. Dust is the enemy of moving parts, especially cooling fans. Common sense says that eliminating the fan is therefore a good design choice. Actual use will tell if the cooling is adequate. To avoid dust issues I’d still recommend that heavy users of the machine consider isolating the controller box and PC from the shop area and/or frequently blowing/vacuuming out these components. Another design improvement over other similar CNC machines is the use of 9-pin D style connectors for the stepper motor wiring. This makes wiring quick and fool proof, and while wiring four or more color coded wires to a terminal block for each axis might not present much difficulty to many DIY’ers its still a nice addition considering the cost of the machine.


Inside the Controller Box

Inside the Controller Box

In addition to the larger main components of the CNC Shark Pro Plus is a box that contains all the other odds and ends needed to bring the machine to life. Included in the box are 12 torx-head bolts with lock-nuts used to connect the gantry to the work deck, two Rockler hold-down clamps with T-slot bolts, the power cord, USB cable, a V-carve router bit, software discs including V-Carve Pro, Cut 3D, and a 3D Graphics Library, and the Instruction Manual. The instruction manual is one area that I can find some fault with, weighing in at 12 pages its a bit thin on information… there are wonderful online forums for the machine, and additional materials online but for the cost of the machine it would be nice to have a little more printed matter included in the box and more illustrations of the hardware, for example a diagram of the controller box with info on the extra jack and axis control connector.


Contents of the parts box including the Software

Contents of the parts box including the Software

So far I’m pleased with my decision to purchase a Shark CNC Pro Plus over other alternatives on the market. The machine shows thoughtful design and a definite evolution from earlier products made by Next Wave Automation. The machine was well packaged and assembly and setup is straight forward and easy. I especially applaud the new design of the controller and the inclusion of Vectrix CAM and 3D design software (a major factor in my choice to purchase the Shark). The one area that might need some improvement, especially for the casual home user, would be a more inclusive user manual. Stay tuned for future articles about setup and use, the CAM software, and more about CNC in general.

If you liked this article, make sure to become a fan of Harris Educational by liking us on Facebook! Visit: http://www.facebook.com/HarrisEducational and click like today!

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Identify It! Answer for 10-13-2010

Thanks to everyone that played this week’s Identify It! Challenge. For this week’s challenge we asked fans to guess the informal name, scientific name, give several facts, and identify one unique feature of this specimen of spider. Here is the original photograph:


Writing Spider : Argiope aurantia
Writing Spider : Argiope aurantia

The answers are:

Informal Name: Writing Spider (AKA Black and Yellow Garden Spider)

Scientific Name: Argiope aurantia


  • This spider is called a writing spider because it often creates zig-zags (that look like the letter Z) or X’s or other patterns that look like letters. It does this because it often weaves very large webs and the patterns make the web visible to birds, squirrels, and other animals that might knock its web down.
  • Although incorrectly drawn in the cartoon, Charlotte from “Charlotte’s Web” was a writing spider!
  • This spider will bite human beings if provoked but is not aggressive and its venom is usually not very potent. (its still a good idea to leave all spiders alone though)
  • Argiope aurantia often leave an egg sack with thousands of eggs at the end of the fall season.
  • The size and complexity of its web are a good indication of how well fed it is.
  • Males are small and uninteresting marked, often building a small web adjacent to their female mates. Females are much larger (on the order of 3 inches in diameter) and are brightly marked with yellow spots and patterns on their abdomen and back.

Unique to this specimen: If you look closely at the photograph you will notice that this spider only has seven legs. It isn’t clear if the spider lost its leg at some point or if it was born without it.

This specimen has lived for at least the last three years on the side of the Sylvan Learning Center in Burlington NC. (As one fan pointed out its interesting that a “writing spider” would take up residence at a learning center.)

More Higher Resolution photographs can be found at the following link:

Click Here for more High Resolution Photographs

or also at our “photo” tab at our fan page on facebook (http://www.facebook.com/HarrisEducational)


Belly View (through the web)
Belly View (through the web)
3/4 Side View in Web
3/4 Side View in Web

Thanks to everyone for playing this week’s Identify It! Challenge. Stay tuned for the next one!



Identify It! Contest (3 ways to win)

Harris Educational is offering a free tee shirt as a prize in our Identify It Challenge! There are three ways to win. We will be giving a free tee shirt to the 1500th fan of our Fan Page on Facebook. Once we reach our 1500th fan we will pick one of our other 1499 fans at random and give them a free tee shirt as well. You can also win by sending us your own photograph of an interesting science or technology item that we can use for a future Identify It Challenge. If we pick your photograph to use then you also win a free tee shirt.

How to Play:

Like our fan page and become a fan (http://www.facebook.com/HarrisEducational).  Help us get more fans by suggesting our page to everyone on your friends list. We want to grow by word of mouth, not by paying for advertising so we rely upon our fans to spread the message. We’ve found that the best way to get people to join is to use the “suggest to friends” link that can be found under our profile picture on the top left hand side of the page. You can also use the “share” button on any story to post that story to your wall (or to share the page to your wall). If you don’t like that then just telling your friends by word of mouth is always great. Even if you add just one fan you are helping us out a lot!

To submit a photograph for use in our identify it challenge simply send the photograph as an attachment to ben . harris @ harris – educational . com (take out the spaces, and notice the . and the -) Along with the photo please send a description of what the item is, how it worked, and hopefully a story about how you got the item or where you took the picture. The item should be something that many people wouldn’t interact with knowingly on a daily basis but not something so obscure that only you and your sister have ever seen one. In other words we don’t want to stump the world but rather teach people something new about the scientific and technical world around them and have a little fun in the process.

By sending us a photo and story you are giving us permission to post that photograph and story on our Fan page, on our Blog, and to promote via other online means.

This Week’s Identify It Item!

"Vacuum Tubes are Cool" Tee Shirt by Harris Educational

"Vacuum Tubes are Cool" Tee Shirt by Harris Educational

In the mean while, here is an example of one of our Tee Shirts, our latest design from our store on Printfection. (see http://www.printfection.com/Reinventing-Science/Retro-Electronics/_s_370253)

Until we get some fan made identify it pictures THIS is your identify it picture for this week. Yes these are vacuum tubes… but can you identify what kind? What they were for? Where they were used? Can you ID the part number or brands? (show your support of Harris Educational and share this tee shirt and this contest with your friends!)  Submit your answers to the comments for the photo on our fan page.

Stay tuned for answers about these tubes AND for annoucements of winners to the contest.

Chances of winning are roughly 2-# of  submissions for Identify It that we use out of 1500+ (pretty good odds).

Thanks for Playing and thanks for being a fan of Harris Educational

Experiment with Social Media

In order to help promote Harris Educational and awareness of our fan page on facebook, our blog, and all of the resources we provide for enthusiasts of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Education we are trying out a new experiment and have joined Empire Avenue. (our ticker on there is HAREDU)

Their site is kind of like a game, but seems to be a good way to find an audience for social media resources. We’ll see how it goes.


My Visit to the FREEDM Systems Center (part 1)

My Visit to the FREEDM Systems Center (part 1) and the answer to our Identify It Challenge from 7-7-2010

On July 7th 2010 I was the guest of the FREEDM Systems Center at North Carolina State University where I gave a presentation to a group of high school students and teachers about “Engineering, Energy, and Edison.” The presentation included a demonstration of my Reinventing Edison: Build your own Light Bulb kit that was very well received. After the presentation I was treated to a guided tour behind the scenes at the center.

The Keystone Science Center (NCSU) home to the FREEDM Systems Center

The Keystone Science Center, home to the FREEDM Systems Center

This is the first of a two part article about my visit focusing on my educational presentation. It will also reveal the answer to my “Identify It Challenge” from 7-7-10 that by design was integrated into my presentation. The second part of this article will be posted soon and will focus on my tour of the FREEDM center.

Light Socket Electrical Adapters (Circa 1930's/1940's)

Light Socket Electrical Adapters (Circa 1930's/1940's)

The above picture was the “Identify It Challenge” from our fan page on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/HarrisEducational) from 7-7-2010. After introducing myself, sumarizing what I was going to be talking about in the presentation, and teasing the audience with a few vocabulary words to look out for I passed these objects around the room and asked everyone to think about what they were, what they were made of, how old they might be, and what they were used for.

The items are (from left to right):

1) A light socket adapter (with standard Edison style screw base and two non polarized non grounded electrical outlets) This adapter allows a bulb to be used simultaneously while other electrical items are plugged into the adapter.

2) A light socket adapter (with standard Edison style screw base and one non polarized non grounded electrical outlet) This adapter does not allow for the simultaneous use of a bulb while an electrical item is plugged in.

3) An electrical outlet multiplier (makes one plug into three) non polarized and non grounded.

All three of these items are made of Bakelite plastic and were manufactured at some point in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s. Bakelite was one of the first natural plastics and was used to replace wood, paper, and other less suitable materials as an electrical insulator in early electrical devices.

So why did I include these items as the opening of my presentation about energy and Edison and why did I also choose them as the Identify It item for the same week? The answer lies in the use for these items and the circumstances that lead to the need for that use. That need also exists today, simply in a different form.

So why were these items needed? Edison created a demand for electricity to be brought into homes because his light bulbs demanded a D.C. Supply from HIS electrical power stations. Before the light bulb there were no electrical appliances or devices in peoples homes. So houses and buildings were retrofit for wiring. Later, after A.C. Power won out over D.C. in the “War of the Currents” homes were still being retrofit.

The first wiring was simply for electrical lighting, the only electrical device you could buy for a home. Each room may have had a single light switch leading to an overhead light fixture and no other connections. Soon the commercialization of electric motors and heating elements spawned hundreds of devices that people wanted to use. Later in the 1930’s and 1940’s people added electronic devices like radios to the growing list of electrical items they needed to plug in.

So a home owner found themselves with a hand full of gadgets and only one electrical outlet in a room, and that was taken up by a light bulb! As a result these adapters were invented. With them you could plug a device into the overhead light fixture and the miracles of modern conveniences were at peoples fingertips. Miracle at least until many home owners suffered from electrical fires by plugging in too many items and drawing much more current than the simple lighting circuits were designed for!

There are two points to be made here (the reason for my picking these items, including them in the lecture and in the Identify It)…

The first point is one of infrastructure. Edison is not actually the inventor of the incandescent light bulb. He’s credited with the invention but he was not the first. He did make it to the patent office faster than most (even before he had working examples) which is one reason he is hailed as the inventor of the bulb. But the real reason he is considered the father of electrical lighting is because he didn’t just make the bulbs, he created the entire infrastructure needed to manufacture, market, supply, add wiring, supply electricity, and bill for that electricity. He wasn’t selling bulbs, he was selling devices that used electricity. The profit was in selling electricity! In the process he (and his muckers) created fuses, junction boxes, conduits, the light bulb’s screw base, switches, dynamos, power meters and hundreds of other items needed before you could ever see white light stream out of a heated cotton thread.

The second point is about being able to foresee the future and forecast future demand. Edison created a need for electricity and the addition of electrical wiring to homes and buildings. His business model was similar to that of gas lighting companies (early light fixtures were even made of brass and mimicked the gas light fixtures). Edison for all his brilliance did not really foresee the hundreds of electrical devices that people would also want to buy and use. As a result wiring went from a single bulb fixture mounted to the ceiling of a room, to a bulb adapter crowded with cords hanging from that fixture posing a fire hazard, to expanded more modern wiring and the addition of more circuits. Even so we still use power strips (more modern safer ones) to keep all of our stuff going. But with every new device we add more load to the system.

The folks at the FREEDM center that asked me to give the presentation wanted me to focus on energy and on innovation and this is where things all tie together. If you buy a home today that was built in the 1960’s or early 1970’s its not uncommon for a room to have one electrical outlet on each wall (or perhaps not even on each wall). Designers and code makers then assumed you might have a lamp or two, maybe a TV or Radio, and may plug and unplug other gadgets as needed. Today it would be great to have six outlets on every wall because of all of our gadgets. Computers, cell phones, mp3 players, fax machines, phones all the things that need power. Most devices actually run on D.C. power converted from A.C. by an internal power supply or a power brick plugged into the wall. All of this was not foreseen in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Flash forward and ask yourself… what will electricity supply and use look like in the future? If we do move away from gasoline powered vehicles to electrically powered vehicles then we’ll need to recharge those vehicles (another kind of electrical supply, more outlets… how many? 1? 2? what will the plug look like? Will it be D.C. or A.C.? Will folks have dangerous Y-adapters to split their charging output so that they can charge their own two cars and then also Juniors new car at the same time?)

Its impossible for anyone to fully predict the future. Changes in technology, availability of resources, and millions of other factors make futurism impossible to get right. But the high school students sitting in my demonstration and lecture are going to be the next wave of electricity consumers, inventors and engineers, technicians and educators and so its important for them to try to foresee the implications of their ideas and be prepared for the future in order to prevent the need for things like quick/cheap/possibly unsafe adapters like those pictured above or their equivalent in future technology.

The electrical grid we use today is the legacy of over 100 years of almost organic growth and expansion. Its not to say that reasoning and planning did not go into the design of the components of that grid because in reality it represents a monumental engineering feat that most of the time we can take for granted as we switch on our latest gadget and have that gadget “just work”. But its important to think about energy related issues in our day to day lives. How can we cut down on energy use. How can we stop energy waste? How can we safely and economically expand and create a new smart grid that will adjust to demand. How can we comfortably switch from non renewable centralized generation of energy by burning coal and fossil fuels and move to a distributed system where every home or device might produce as well as consume electricity. All of these questions are being researched at the FREEDM center, and the curriculum taught to students in their program on innovation reflects these questions.

A copy of the presentation slides used for our presentation can be found at our page on Scribd at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/34436294/Engineering-Electricity-and-Edison-July-7-2010

Stay Tuned for Part II and keep an eye out for future Identify It Challenges. (thanks to everyone who attended my presentation at the FREEDM center, and thanks to everyone who played Identify It).

Identify It! Answer for 6-18-2010

Thanks to everyone who made guesses on our Fan Page on Facebook for this week’s Identify It! Challenge.  Here is the item:

Identify It! Challenge Item for 6-18-2010

Identify It! Challenge Item for 6-18-2010

And the answer is…..

Riverside Model 61-9223 DIY Tire Balancer

Riverside Model 61-9223 DIY Tire Balancer

This object is a DIY Tire Balancer used to balance tires for “Economy and Comfort.”  Basically its a bubble level mounted in a rig that is sitting balanced on an interior pointed cone.  A tire is placed over the larger exterior spindle cone and then lead weights can be  added to the rim of the tire to make the tire balance.  Balancing is important to keep tires from oscillating or vibrating due to imperfections in their manufacture.  Balancing tires also helps improve gas mileage and improves the life span of the tire and the wheel bearings not to mention giving a smoother ride.

This particular model was manufactured by a company called “Riverside” and was distributed through Montgomery Ward.  In fact it is a model 61-9223 and based upon the information on the box was manufactured in 1971 and sold for $21.98

Make sure to wash your hands good after using one of these, since tire weights are made of lead!

Identify It! Answer for 6-3-2010

This Identify It! Challenge was a little different than normal. Thanks to everyone who DIDN’T post an answer! I knew when I posted this weeks picture that a portion of our audience would likely know exactly what this object was. Imagine my delight when one fan posted a picture of himself with his very own!

Heathkit Model 336 High Voltage Probe

Heathkit Model 336 High Voltage Probe

This item is a High Voltage probe manufactured by the Heathkit corporation as a build-your-own kit in the early 1950’s. In fact its is a model 336 “Television Test Probe Kit.” It is meant to work with multiple models of their popular vacuum tube volt volt meters. The unit pictured here was bought along with a model V5 Heathkit VTVM kit and originally sold for $5.50 in 1951! It extends the range of the VTVM so that it is possible to measure voltages up to and including 30KV.

What Its For:

This probe is meant primarily for use in servicing cathode-ray-tube based television sets. A CRT works like any other vacuum tube in that a filament heats a cathode which then emits electrons (a.k.a. the Edison effect). Since electrons are negatively charged they will be attracted to, and accelerate towards a positively charged plate. In an ordinary audio or radio tube the plate voltage is anywhere from a few hundred to 450 volts. Since a CRT is much larger it requires a much higher positive voltage in order to operate. A black and white TV might have a voltage from 7KV to 20KV depending on the size of the tube and a color TV (with its three electron guns) operates at anywhere from 20KV to 30KV. This high potential accelerates the electrons in a beam so that they can strike phosphorus on the screen which then emits the light you see. One problem, especially with older TV sets and early color sets is that if the current flowing through the tube is too high the picture tube (and other tubes relating to the generation and rectification of the high voltage) can emit X-rays. It is important to be able to measure the high voltage (in the KV range) present at the anode of a CRT in order to adjust the high voltage circuits to eliminate the chances of producing X-rays and also provide enough voltage for a bright focused picture.

How It Works:

The probe body is made of plastic that while clean and dry will not conduct electricity. The fins around the base act as a hand guard and also increase the surface area of the exterior of the probe so that a spark can only jump from one end of the probe to the other if the voltage is well in excess of 30K volts. Similar designs are used on glass insulators on telephone and antenna terminals to help dissipate the potential for lightning damage.

Inside the probe are two specially designed high-voltage / high-frequency resistors which are bolted together from end to end forming a path for electricity from the tip back to the base. These resistors are made of a carbon stripe which is deposited in a helix around a ceramic core. The value of the two resistors in series is 1090 megaohms. The entire resistor is then glazed over to seal it from moisture and insulate it electrically. Since the CRT anode voltage in a TV is pulsating at a rate of 15.624 kHz (for NTSC TV’s in the US) there is also some capacitive and inductive reactance which is accounted for in the resistors design.

The probe is designed to plug into the phono-jack style connector used on Heathkit meters of this period. The resistors inside the probe add to the overall impedance (resistance to alternating or pulsating current, i.e. A.C. Resistance) of the VTVM extending its own input impedance of 11 Mega-Ohms many times. This has the effect of adding a 100x multiplier when using the 300 Volt scale on the meter.

And More:

Since most modern electronics run on lower voltages and since CRT’s are becoming more and more rare in new electronic devices this probe is largely obsolete. However it is still useful for working on older TV’s and I have also used it in some high voltage experiments (along with a high-voltage Diode to rectify the alternating input source to D.C. before measuring.

You can learn more about Heathkit at the following links:

The Heathkit Virtual Museum: http://www.heathkit-museum.com/

Heathkit Schematics: http://www.vintage-radio.info/heathkit/

Manuals and Pictures of Heathkit Test Equipment: http://www.nostalgickitscentral.com/heath/products/test.html

A cool site about Vacuum Tube Volt Meters: http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/~postr/bapix/VTVMs.htm

Thanks to everyone who took part (and especially to those who avoided taking part) in this weeks Identify It! Challenge.  Stay tuned for more Identify It!’s and feel free to contact us and share your own images related to science, technology, engineering, or mathematics that others can guess about and learn from.