How to Manually Control Mach 4-Wanting to Surface Slabs with a video game controller

Hey! Just wanted to ask if anyone uses their AVID CNC to Surface rough cut/Sawn Lumber? I have a chainsaw mill and would love to take the sanding/hand planing out of the equation and instead just drive my cnc with a video game controller? Can someone help?

Much appreciated!

James from New Mexico


Well, I guess I am being a wet blanket so you can ignore me but I would be terrified of doing that. One wrong move and you have a bum spindle.

They don’t call them “crashes” for nothing! :rofl:

Just write a surfacing or pocketing program set the tool height offset and hit Cycle Start why would you want to do it manually when you have a CNC?


I’ve done a few large mesquite slabs for river tables. It works really well, but I would not sit there with a controller all day long driving the joystick. You can make a pocketing toolpath in Vectric and load it in in Mach4 in about 2 minutes. Then you can walk away and do other things in your shop when its running.

However, if you are doing a lot of lumber, and its mostly long boards, you’ll want a planer instead. I only do stuff on my AVID that won’t fit in my planer because the planer is at least 20 times faster.


Right tool for the job… CNC machine time is way expensive for such tasks.

Please keep in mind that my videos are geared toward beginners who have never used the methods, tools, and techniques I demonstrate before. In this particular video, it was less about surfacing a slab than it was about introducing beginners to Incremental Jogging and MDI commands. Whenever I introduce a new idea or concept to beginners, I try to incorporate the concepts and ideas into a real-world situation that they can relate to. It just so happened that I needed to surface a Douglas Fir slab, so I figured it was the perfect opportunity to do so. I used Incremental Jogging and MDI commands to flatten one side of the slab, and hopefully I explained them in terms the beginner will understand.

I did discuss why a person would want to use a CNC router to surface a piece of material, versus using a planer. It’s very easy to say, “Just use a planer. It’s the right tool for the job.” Normally I would agree – and I say so in the video. However, as I also demonstrated in the video, the planer isn’t always the right tool. This is especially true with highly figured woods, and in cases where the material just won’t physically fit through the planer.

I agree that it takes a lot of time to manually drive your spindle around a surface, and it’s not efficient at all. But I thought it was more important to show how to use MDI commands and Incremental jogging in a real life situation.

In the second video of this mini-series (linked below,) I demonstrated one way to create and use a toolpath to surface the other side of the same slab, and more importantly how to surface it down to a specific thickness. In this second video I set the Z zero to the machine bed – another concept I tried to introduce to a beginner who has never done it before.

I plan on making a third video in this mini-series that will demonstrate another way to surface a piece of material down to a specific thickness, this time zeroing the Z to the material surface.

Again, my videos are geared toward beginners who have never done certain things before. Although I’ve only been into CNC for about 7 years, I’ve been working with wood for over 50. I’m not an expert in any way, shape, manner, or form, and I learn (or try to learn) something new with every project. My overall mission in creating the videos I post is to try to show folks who are brand new to this that it’s not over their heads, and that they can do it IF they’re willing to put in the time it takes to learn. I try to show them that there’s nothing magical or mysterious about it, and if they will dig in and learn the CAD/CAM software, learn their control software, and learn their machines, they can get successful results they can be proud of. If that means trying a new concept, tool, technique, or method that doesn’t seem efficient on the surface, then so be it. It’s just my opinion, but I figure the time it takes to learn something new is never wasted.

For comparison purposes, here’s a link to Part 2 of this mini-series: Surfacing Materials Using a Toolpath on my Avid 4848 Pro CNC Router - YouTube


Thank you for the shout out!

Thank you sir! Just what I needed!!

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If you are looking for a slab flattening bit check out the RIP Precision Tools Slab Slayer. He now has them in a few different sizes. I have the 2.5" and it is amazing.

43 Likes, 1 Comments - Jimmybuckets (@vexzebbler) on Instagram

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I just looked up that slab slayer, I like the cost of the bulk packs of replacement carbide cutters for these. I have a couple of amana planer bits and the cutters are way too expensive.

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This is the only halfway decent video I have of it. It did an equally good job on maple. He says he has these made for him in TX. He also told me the geometry is more like a metal facing tool. In reference to one of your other threads…notice the painters tape and CA glue :slight_smile:

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Hi Mark, thanks for all you video’s i send new users there all the time to see how it done. A lot of good information. I have some surfacing video’s on my big machine posted. I know people say just use a planer but in my experience with a planer warped or twisted in is warped or twist out just smoother. Plus with the Router there is no sniping on the ends of long boards.



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