Best Intro Project for HS Students

I’m looking to do a simple project with my high school engineering students. I’m looking for a simple 2D cut/project to keep the CAM as simple as possible. All of my students are pretty fluent in SolidWorks and I want to introduce them into some basic CNC work. I’m looking for something fun, not too time consuming, and something I can essentially have 35ish students do with not too much time committed in machining.

A few areas I’m looking for help on are:

  • Project ideas (design in 3D, develop 2D print/.dxf, bring into carbide create/meshcam, create part, etc.)
  • Easiest material to work with
  • Cheapest material to work with
  • Best supplier for said material
  • Best end mill sets

And pretty much any other information you’d like to share. Thanks!

Hi Steve,
Are you looking for your students to design a functional prototype for something or just “carve anything”? Something like coasters would be quick, but that’s not really an “engineering design” project and not really what Solidworks is for. Can you give more details on your project goals?
I teach middle school kids Design & Modeling, Robotics, and Electronics.

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HDPE is a very forgiving material. Lots of sources for such.
Some kitchen cutting boards at your local general store have such and can purchase through various other locations as raw stock.

Designs that suit the material; coasters per Neil, soap dish, christmas ornament, pocket catch all/tray, etc

Single flute endmills work great - carbide offers a good lineup. There’s a video on their Youtube channel cutting HDPE also

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Thanks for the ideas. I was looking around today and found this project. I think it would be a great intro to CNC for my students. Has anyone done anything similar?
Mosaic Tile


Engineering-type projects:

  • calipers
  • making a set of 1-2-3-blocks
  • making office desk accessories — the classic is a tape dispenser
  • making a hammer with 3 removable faces (one stored on the pommel of the handle)

Easiest materials to cut/source:

  • HDPE from cutting boards — I source from a local restaurant supply, but there’s Ikea, or if you have one locally, 4x8 sheets from Menard’s — an alternative is PVC lumber from a home center
  • Lauan plywood / underlayment — cheap, and quality can be uneven, but usually cuts well with a downcut endmill and is quite affordable
  • aluminum from soda cans — the last time this came up Apollo’s robot design came up: Recycling with CNC: Soda POP Robots

For endmills, I’d suggest a #201 (with some sort of coating if doing metal/plastic) or a #251 (my new favourite) if cutting wood/plywood — might want a #301 if using it for joinery.

also see: Can you suggest common material for 600 students? (ShapeOKO 3)

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