Toying with getting/building a CNC router - Router Forums
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post #1 of 22 (permalink) Old 08-16-2019, 04:17 PM Thread Starter
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Default Toying with getting/building a CNC router

As I mentioned in my intro post I am only a month or two away from finishing a big construction project at my home and am starting to look for my next adventure. I have been looking at building a CNC router for a couple years, watching YouTubes, reading blogs, reading forums (such as RF), etc.

When I started looking through sources for parts to build one from scratch the choices quickly became overwhelming. Since I have absolutely ZERO experience with CNC anything, I was not really sure even where to start. Then I discovered a WorkBee kit from Bulkman (dot) com [This site won't let me post links yet - GRRR!]

I went through their configuration questions:

Size: 1000 X 1500
Motors: 4 - Nema 23 High Torque
Controller: Mach3
Air cooled spindle

The price came out to about $1000, which is less than what I added up the parts when sourcing the parts and building it from scratch.

So, the first question is: Is that even a reasonable setup for my first foray into CNC-land?

Secondly, on software...

My plan is to just use Sketchup as the CAD software. I found several plug-ins for the free version of Sketchup that claim they can output file formats compatible with most popular CAM software. I even found one plug-in that claims it can generate G-Code directly. (I have no idea if any of these plug-ins work as advertised, but I have to start somewhere and I at least know the basics of Sketchup.)

I did find a web site: makercam (dot) com that claims to be able to take Sketchup drawings (output through one the aforementioned plug-ins) and create G-Code.

Then, of course, I would have to purchase the Mach3 software.

So, my second question: Does that software stack even seem like it would work or am I completely off base?

I do not want to drop $1000 on a machine only to find out I need to spend a bunch more on software that I would need to learn before I could even start to use it.

Thanks in advance for your advice!

Last edited by Inor; 08-16-2019 at 04:23 PM.
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post #2 of 22 (permalink) Old 08-16-2019, 05:03 PM
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First question, Mike - what are your expectations? Are you going to be doing deep 3D carvings that take hours on end? How rigid do you need the machine to be? How much room do you have and what power sources are available? There are a ton more questions but these will get us all started.

David
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post #3 of 22 (permalink) Old 08-16-2019, 05:27 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by difalkner View Post
First question, Mike - what are your expectations? Are you going to be doing deep 3D carvings that take hours on end? How rigid do you need the machine to be? How much room do you have and what power sources are available? There are a ton more questions but these will get us all started.

David
Hey David

I doubt I will be doing any deep carvings. I am thinking of mainly using it for cutting out complex parts for furniture - think things like the top rails for a Pennsylvania chest-on-chest dresser. I also have an idea for a Massachusetts chest with scalloped drawer fronts that it might be useful for.

In terms of storage, my shop is a 3 car garage (that has never had a car in it). I do not have a great deal of extra room, but I do have a shipping container for auxiliary storage.

For power, I have plenty of 110 and 220. I designed the garage specifically as a wood shop so I have 4 dedicated circuits and more outlets than I need.
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post #4 of 22 (permalink) Old 08-16-2019, 06:32 PM
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Then, of course, I would have to purchase the Mach3 software.

So, my second question: Does that software stack even seem like it would work or am I completely off base?

I do not want to drop $1000 on a machine only to find out I need to spend a bunch more on software that I would need to learn before I could even start to use it.
1) You can use Mach3 in demo mode for free, for up to 500 lines of g-code. Most simple 2D parts would be much less than 500 lines of g-code.
If you do decide to pay for it, I highly recommend against it. Mach3 is obsolete, with development having stopped over 5 years ago. I'd recommend UCCNC. It's cheaper than Mach3, for both hardware and software. They are currently offering a free license with the purchase of their UC100 controller.
UC100 USB motion controller + free UCCNC software license key - CNCdrive - webshop

2) I'm not a fan of Sketchup for CAD, but plenty of people use it. Fusion 360 is free, has both CAD and CAM, and is far more powerful.
There are also plenty of free CAM programs out there.

3) Be aware that $1000 is very little money for a CNC. It would be like buying as new table saw for $40. A decent quality 4'x4' machine would normally be in the $4000-$6000 range.
As David says, your expectations will dictate what you think of the machine.

The machine will definitely cut your parts, but you'll need to make multiple, light passes. $1000 is small price to pay to get a feel for it. If you like it, chances are you'll upgrade to something better.

Ger

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post #5 of 22 (permalink) Old 08-17-2019, 09:10 AM
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If furniture parts are your end goal, make sure your CNC/setup has allowance for vertical/angled clamping beneath the bed. We use 3 Probotix CNCs (probotix.com) with open bed in our fine furniture lab to handle everything from complex joinery to inlays and 3D carved surfaces. A rotary axis on one lets us to simple tapered legs or complex cabriole versions.

4D
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post #6 of 22 (permalink) Old 08-17-2019, 11:08 PM
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If you are looking at $1000 dollar CNC Router you are going to get frustrated with a POC. Many of the folks on this forum use industrial strength CNC machines and their prospective is from that vantage point. I am a hobbyist CNC Router user and have a Shapeoko XXL. It has a 32x32x3" cutting area and does what my pocketbook and skill level are comfortable with. The Shapeoko and XCarve are both belt driven machines but make very good hobby level projects. If you want to go into furniture manufacturing then you will likely spend more like $10,000.00 for that level of dependability and repeatability. But which ever level of machine you choose consider this:

I have a Shark Pro HD that I hate. The Shark has propriety licenses and does not come with any CAD/CAM software. You can buy Vetric for a discount but you have to buy it.

I bought a used Shapeoko XXL and just love it. The Carbide Create and Carbide Motion software is free and is quite useful for what I do. As you get more advanced you may want to move up to different software but most people can use the CC and CM forever.

I have given this advise to new or prospective buyers.

Have a purpose in mind for the machine. If you buy one and then try to find a purpose you may never really get much use out of it.
The CNC Machine is only the first 1/3 of your cost. The second third is investing in bits, tools to prep and finish your projects.
The software to feed your machine if you choose to go with pay software can be 1/3 of your overall budget.
Most importantly is the time it will take to learn how to effectively use and product something useful with the CNC Router. There is a learning curve that is quite steep if you do not have a background in design. There is also a steep learning curve in learning how to operate the CNC Router itself.

i do not want to discourage you but if you are not ready to make a financial and time commitment this hobby may not be for you. There are countless CNC Routers sitting in garages and basements languishing in obscurity because the commitment to learn how to use the machine was not there.

Lastly before I retired I was in the high tech industry. Many of my colleges would chase the latest and greatest usually to find themselves on the bleeding edge of technology. i emphasize the Bleeding part of my last statement. Later in my career I did not even want to customize the desktop or spend countless hours finding cute little applications to waste my time on. I just wanted to turn my computer on, use it then turn it off at the end of the day. Maybe that is why I like the Shapeoko, you just turn it on, create and turn it off. There is maintenance to do on any machine but my Shapeoko is like the Energizer Bunny, it just keeps going and going.

So please consider the above advise and decide what you really want to do with a CNC before you make a large financial investment. But if you go cheap I promise that you will not like the results. Many of the cheap Chinese kits are just exercises in frustration and disappointment.
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post #7 of 22 (permalink) Old 08-18-2019, 10:25 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by gdonham1 View Post
If you are looking at $1000 dollar CNC Router you are going to get frustrated with a POC. Many of the folks on this forum use industrial strength CNC machines and their prospective is from that vantage point. I am a hobbyist CNC Router user and have a Shapeoko XXL. It has a 32x32x3" cutting area and does what my pocketbook and skill level are comfortable with. The Shapeoko and XCarve are both belt driven machines but make very good hobby level projects. If you want to go into furniture manufacturing then you will likely spend more like $10,000.00 for that level of dependability and repeatability. But which ever level of machine you choose consider this:

I have a Shark Pro HD that I hate. The Shark has propriety licenses and does not come with any CAD/CAM software. You can buy Vetric for a discount but you have to buy it.

I bought a used Shapeoko XXL and just love it. The Carbide Create and Carbide Motion software is free and is quite useful for what I do. As you get more advanced you may want to move up to different software but most people can use the CC and CM forever.

I have given this advise to new or prospective buyers.

Have a purpose in mind for the machine. If you buy one and then try to find a purpose you may never really get much use out of it.
The CNC Machine is only the first 1/3 of your cost. The second third is investing in bits, tools to prep and finish your projects.
The software to feed your machine if you choose to go with pay software can be 1/3 of your overall budget.
Most importantly is the time it will take to learn how to effectively use and product something useful with the CNC Router. There is a learning curve that is quite steep if you do not have a background in design. There is also a steep learning curve in learning how to operate the CNC Router itself.

i do not want to discourage you but if you are not ready to make a financial and time commitment this hobby may not be for you. There are countless CNC Routers sitting in garages and basements languishing in obscurity because the commitment to learn how to use the machine was not there.

Lastly before I retired I was in the high tech industry. Many of my colleges would chase the latest and greatest usually to find themselves on the bleeding edge of technology. i emphasize the Bleeding part of my last statement. Later in my career I did not even want to customize the desktop or spend countless hours finding cute little applications to waste my time on. I just wanted to turn my computer on, use it then turn it off at the end of the day. Maybe that is why I like the Shapeoko, you just turn it on, create and turn it off. There is maintenance to do on any machine but my Shapeoko is like the Energizer Bunny, it just keeps going and going.

So please consider the above advise and decide what you really want to do with a CNC before you make a large financial investment. But if you go cheap I promise that you will not like the results. Many of the cheap Chinese kits are just exercises in frustration and disappointment.
Excellent advice Guy! Thanks! And I have been thinking on that. I too, have made my living in the IT world for the last 33 years. I have been asking myself if I really want to spend my limited woodworking time sitting in front of a computer or would it be better to spend it in the shop making sawdust. On the flipside, I do still travel quite a bit for work, so that might be something woodworking related to occupy my time while sitting in a hotel room in BFE. I don't know...

Like I said, I am not sold on it as a great thing yet. But it sure sounds like a fun project to build.
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post #8 of 22 (permalink) Old 08-19-2019, 05:41 AM
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For a lot of people, CNC is the hobby. For others, it's just another tool in their woodworking shop.

If you don't have any specific uses for it, then there's a good chance it'll sit unused. If you don't have any CAD/CAM experience, there may be a significant learning curve as well.
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post #9 of 22 (permalink) Old 08-20-2019, 04:52 AM
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My Son and I are in the same place !! We are looking into getting a CNC. We are looking at the Shapeoko 3XXL and have searched info everywhere. We also want a Laser to complete what we want to do as well. You have probably just given us the final recommendation for the Shapeoko. I have the experience in the woodworking part, with a complete top of the line equipped shop. My son has no CNC experience, but has software experience from being in the large Printing Computer industries. We " think" in will be about $3500.00 to $4,000.00 to get set up and that includes the Laser.From there you can spend much more in software.
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post #10 of 22 (permalink) Old 08-20-2019, 05:52 AM
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I have the experience in the woodworking part, with a complete top of the line equipped shop.
For someone with a well equipped shop, with high end tools, I would expect you to quickly outgrow a ShapeOKO. But it's a good starter machine.
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