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Beginner DIY Desktop CNC Advice

3936 Views 7 Replies 8 Participants Last post by  BalloonEngineer
I am interested in getting into using CNC for projects and there seem to be so many options these days I could use some help getting started. I look on Amazon or Ebay for cheaper CNC kits and many are DIY kits but they have mixed reviews and they all seem to use low end Chinese parts and come with terrible instructions and shotty electronics. I've watched several videos on people building their own CNC and I am confident I could do it but only if I had more CNC experience... not only mechanically but with the software as well. I don't require too large a workspace and I would like to be able to get all the way through hardwood and maybe possible soft aluminum if possible.

I am tech savvy and good with DIY builds. I am looking to invest around $650 dollars to get started perhaps a bit more but that all depends on the feedback I get from you guys. So far it seems you can pay about $350 and get something that can only really engrave or you are looking at spending thousands. Can anyone shed some light on maybe some mid-level CNC builds I can buy or build if you think a CNC beginner could handle it?

I am sure you guys need more information to give me the best advice so if you are willing let me know what else you need to know or feel free to offer your advice. Thanks in advance.
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Welcome to the forum, Matt! Add your first name to your profile to clear the N/a in the side panel. Add your location, as well.

We do like photos so show us your shop, tools, projects, etc. whenever you're ready. What sort of CNC work are you planning?

You're in that area where many land and that is wanting a $650 CNC to do what a $5,000 CNC will do; not going to happen - sorry. The smaller, less rigid machines tend to have a fair amount of flex and you have to get used to taking shallow cuts and slow feed rates to reduce chatter and flex. Some are even successful at cutting aluminum but again, very slow.

You'll get a more robust machine for that budget if you build it yourself or if you can find a used machine in your area.


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I was having the same thoughts when looking for a cnc as you and decided to go with a Shapeoko from Carbide 3D it comes complete including software. For an entry level it's a good start checkout their forum I will say that I have had a couple of minor problems, but their customer service is excellent.
The software is fairly basic and you will need to use a program like Inkscape along with it for some things. I just recently went to Vectric. Good Luck
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Welcome to the Router Forums Matt.

I recommend not buying one of the small CNC machines you see on Amazon, eBay and elsewhere on the internet because they are usually under-powered, have a very small work area and they have little or no resale value. Most people that buy them find that they should have bought a bigger, better machine to begin with.

Like David said you can buy a used CNC to start with to save a little money but don't buy one of the small machines. You will find used machines like the Shapeoko and others on places like FaceBook Marketplace and Craigslist that would be more worth the money.

Where are you located? Maybe someone has a machine available close to you.
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While you can buy or build a machine for $1000 or less, a halfway decent entry level machine is going to be $1500-$2000. And this is still a very lightweight machine, that will require you to take very light passes.

You didn't actually specify how big you need, but this price range will get you in the 18"x24" range.
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I bought a used Shapeoko XXL about a year ago. I have upgraded to the HDZ and the touch probe and bit setter. The Carbide 3d software is free and will take you far into the learning curve. The competitor for the Shapeoko is Xcarve. While the X carve is ok the Shapeoko is head and shoulder above because of the community forum and the software. Right now if you join the you can get a free year of the pro version of carbide create (CAM) software. By the time you out grow that (maybe never) you can invest in Vetric.

Personally I love my Shapeoko and had looked at, xcarve ( and a few others but after having had my Shapeoko for a year I think I made a good choice.

Those little machines on Amazon are engraving machines. They are cnc routers but very limited and software choices for them are limited. I would recommend that you stay away from the little engravers because they will prove to be an exercise in frustration.

Take a look at In particular look at John Clark. John has a lot of ideas for boxes and other things that are very interesting.

You can look at building a custom machine but I dont recommend that unless you are mechanically and electrically inclined. There are a lot of kit machines but just check out support for them before buying. If you buy the kit or erector set type machines you are pretty much on your own. So if you go in that direction stick with because they have support for what they sell.
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My rule of thumb is a CNC is 5-6 the cost of an similar quality tablesaw. What did yours sell for new? Just like tablesaws, sometimes you can get a bargain used.

You can also figure what those $200 “CNCs” equate to.
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