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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi,

I'm new to the CNC community and shopping for my first CNC. I'm semi-retired and my goals for the machine are intricate artistic/design based profiles/carvings in 2.5d and potentially 3d as I learn more.

I'd like to be able to sell enough of my creations to pay for the machine and maybe a vacation or two a year after I learn my way around it and start producing, so efficiency is a factor.

Material will be hard and softwoods, with no anticipation of metal.

Size- I like the idea of 24x24, but would probably be fine with 13x24 unless I really loved the experience of CNC and wanted to get more ambitious.

My workshop is limited- it's the only available space in this city house, it's a converted bedroom, and it's on a 20amp circuit with 110 V outlets (that it doesn't share with other rooms).

My budget is around 5k.

At this point I've narrowed in on the Shark 2 and the smallest Probotix.

I like that the Shark 2 seems to be a larger company that sells to hobbyists and could have better support. It's a bit small, but they offer a 1.5kw 110v spindle that would be 'plug and play' with the system.

Conversely, the Probotix is better sized and has a tool length sensor option which I like. But its only spindle option is a 2.2kw, which would basically require me to have a 220V outlet added to the room (their rep suggested a step-up converter but for a 6 or 7 hour session that makes me uncomfortable).

I'm coming from experience in sketchup and would plan on using VCarve either way.

I want to use a spindle because noise is a real concern for me, and that, as well as reviews have pushed me away from options like the Sharpeoko or the Stepcraft (which has a spindle with a tiny 1/8" collet).

Does anyone have any advice that could help me make this choice?

Or tell me I'm overlooking something or another?

Or does anyone know of a 1.5kw spindle/VFD option that would be compatible with the Probotix without soldering wires like a Huanyang VFD would require? (I have no electrical experience and really want to go with options that are 'plug and play' for electronics).
 

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David - Machinist in wood
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Welcome to the forum, Jay! We do like photos so show us your shop (bedroom shop if that's what you're using), tools, projects, etc. whenever you're ready. What sort of woodworking are you planning with the CNC - plaques, signs, 3D carvings, etc.?

What support tools do you have for preparing the stock on the CNC? You'll need to be able to size the wood for projects or you'll end up with a lot of waste.

The issue on the smaller machines is their typical lack of rigidity and subsequently less than accurate repeatability. That means cuts need to be light, slow, and gone over multiple times and that's where the looseness in repeatability comes in; if you go over the same place 2 or 3 times the cut needs to be in the same place as the previous cut. If you're doing signs with large fonts then it may not be as much of a factor but if you're wanting to do delicate and tiny detail then you may not be pleased with the results.

I would take the 2.2kW spindle over the 1.5kW spindle for not only more power but to be able to use 1/2" shank bits in the ER20 collet of the larger spindle.

I understand some of the newer Shark machines are more rigid than earlier models and that maybe Probotix is a stiffer machine. Others will chime in soon with more info.

David
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thanks David,

I'm inspired by ornate intricate designs - things like photography-based scan-to-CAD images that I modify, or designs like this imagery. I don't have specific ideas for 3d models- yet.

My previous woodworking has been with my jigsaw, jigs, handheld router, and basic hand tools.
 

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Theo
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(their rep suggested a step-up converter but for a 6 or 7 hour session that makes me uncomfortable).
Many moons ago spent two years in Turkey. Had to use one of those 24/7/365. Had no issues with using it, nor did anyone we knew.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Tbh looking at them, I could get a 220v outlet installed for barely more than a quality converter. But I'm seeing they are reliable.

But now I'm having second thoughts- is 5k just a no man's land of value to spend on a CNC router? David's comments about rigidity and going back through various options on the market are making me see how noticeable a difference there is between the build of a CAMASTER and a probotix for example. (I can't handle the headache of building a DIY that costs this much)

Is the smarter move just to buy a cheaper one, learn on it, and then decide if I ever want a professional device or not? Do people put out intricate designs with something like a shark or probotix? Is there no such thing as a machine that's 'light professional'/high end hobbyist?
 

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A Probotix is, in my opinion, a step or two above a Shark. I used mine for over 3 years (it paid for itself and then some) before adding the Avid. I still use it for text signs, prototypes, additional production, and as a backup. It's not a fast 3d carver. I went into this CNC thing knowing exactly nothing about CNC and the Probotix plug and play got me started and provided the "knowledge" to determine if I wanted to delve in further. Hence, the addition of the Avid for machine #2. Doing it this way can either cost you a little more if you like and grasp the experience - OR - save you some $$ if you decide it isn't for you.

Also, the people here are an invaluable source of information and are willing to help most anyone. Plus, they're a pretty darn nice group to associate with. Well...........most of them, anyway. lol
 

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Sharks

The Sharks come with all of the software that you will need until you decide to do your own 3D designing, at which time you can upgrade. Many other brands do not, which can add hundreds to the cost. VCarve, which is included, is a very popular CNC designing program with lots of support.
 

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I am a die-hard Probotix fan. Have had a Comet for six years and in fact purchased it when Probotix was located in IL where I used to live. They invited me to tour their facility and see how they produce the machines. Probotix is a family run company and is now located in GA. Over the years I have had a few upgrades and additions to the Comet. I like the fact that I can call, message or email Len Shelton (the owner) and get a quick response.

With the exception of a limit switch, I have yet to have to replace any mechanical, electrical or electronic component that has failed. That is not to say I have not replaced parts that were damaged due to my carelessness or stupidity!

I use my Comet almost daily. I recently had Probotix install a Super-PID (speed control) to drive my P-C (or DeWalt) router. It has been a great addition to my machine.

Now that I am retired and doing more and more commission work, I am going to be purchasing another Probotix - this time a larger machine. I think I will also move to a 2.2kW spindle so I can use 1/2" dia. tools.

I am a fan of Vectric software and purchased Aspire when I bought the Comet. Yes, it added significantly to my initial investment but I think it was worth it given the power of the software, the quick learning curve and the support of Vectric.

What I think most people do not contemplate enough about is the cost of tooling. Unlike software, tooling gets dull and requires replacement! One can easily spend hundreds of dollars for a just a few cutters. There's nothing worse than losing an endmill (either because of dulling or breaking) during a long program and not having a backup!
 

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I'd like to be able to sell enough of my creations to pay for the machine and maybe a vacation or two a year after I learn my way around it and start producing, so efficiency is a factor.
This will likely be much more difficult than you think. There are thousands of DIY router owners trying to do this, with at least 90% of them under charging for their work. To compete with them, and make a fair amount of money, your work will need to be much, much better, as you'll likely be charging more money.

I'm not saying you can't make money, but it'll probably be hard than you think. Being a good salesman is just as important as being a good craftsman.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Thanks for all the info! The avid is beyond me in terms of assembly and cost (especially with the electronics system factored in). The probotix info has been incredibly useful! It definitely seems like a great tool to produce at a level of precision I want without demolishing my budget on a first cnc that I'm bound to make learning mistakes on.

At this point I'm going to spend a couple months prepping the workspace, working on modeling and learning about tool paths so that I can actually make something when ready. As well as finding a spindle/VFD. I may check out the shapeopko pro which apparently is coming out this fall- its supposedly going to be a lot sturdier- with the plan of learning on it for a year or so and then jumping to a camaster.
 

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Mike
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Welcome to the Router Forums Jay.

The Shark will be selling for the next month with the spindle for free. That sale starts today. But one thing I did not see others mention was that the Shark is a center screw machine so you can't open up part of the bed so you can cut joinery on the ends of boards or mount a 4th axis lower so you can cut larger projects. It has gotten tighter and would be alright for small projects but still has a lot of plastic parts so does have some flex. It runs on a proprietary control software and you are limited to what type of add ons you can use with them. The spindle is limited to 1/4" shank bits and the last time I knew they still have not integrated spindle control into the control software so it is manual control, not bad but auto startup and speed control by g-code would be nice to have. It does come with VCarve Desktop, the extended bed comes with VCarve Pro.

I actually have 3 of their older machines and if you stay within the limits of the machine they will do acceptable work. They have paid for themselves several times over. That being said, personally I would not buy another one.

The Probotix is a decent machine and has twin Y axis screws so to me that is a big plus. They are a tighter machine but still are not something I would buy for a production machine. It would be a great hobby machine. It could still produce a few items to sell and could be good in a small business or as a hobby machine.

If you really intend to do this as a business then I think the biggest decision to make would be if you want to start with a small machine first then move to a bigger one later. If you buy the bigger better-built machine first then you won't have to buy another one and take a loss on the first one. As many of these hobby machines are on the market now, the resale value of then is dropping quickly.

Remember if you have any other questions don't hesitate to ask us, there are a lot of opinions here to be had. By the way the Camaster is a decent machine and would be a good choice.
 
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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Thanks- you've laid out a lot of the reasons why I'm leaning either towards a probotix or a sharpeoko pro, when it becomes available, at this point. The difference in cost would be a little more than 2k, all accessories included.

This is good to know re: the shark. The free spindle is only with the larger machines. I'd be more tempted if it were the less expensive models- I'm not sure I want to commit $4k to a 24x24 machine limited to 1/4" shanks. And shark does not offer a tool adjustment device, unlike both shapeoko and probotix.

As has been noted a few times here and in a much longer thread, making a business out of cnc routing is like other fields with low barriers to entry- it's contingent upon vigorous effort in sales, building a client base, and developing products that meet a market demand. There's just too much competition to put out some attractive decorations and expect the people to be beating down your etsy door.

I think I need to prove to myself that I have the capacity to design and conceive of projects well enough to generate enough revenue to pay off a production-worthy machine (which the probotix would be at the very low end).

At a 3k price point of something like the shapeoko, I have enough projects just around the house that I'll feel good about recouping that investment no matter what.

So I'm going to focus on my designs and learning at this point, and see if I can get to the point where I can justify a 7-10k production-oriented machine.

I'm only familiar with sketchup at this point- is it a good idea to do my modeling in another program to learn it? Or is importing sketchup designs into CAM software down the line (like vcarve or fusion) a viable approach long-term? I'm happy to make my software purchase before my hardware purchase since I'm leaning so strongly against the shark for an initial device.
 

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Mike
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This is good to know re: the shark. The free spindle is only with the larger machines. I'd be more tempted if it were the less expensive models- I'm not sure I want to commit $4k to a 24x24 machine limited to 1/4" shanks. And shark does not offer a tool adjustment device, unlike both shapeoko and probotix.

I'm only familiar with sketchup at this point- is it a good idea to do my modeling in another program to learn it? Or is importing sketchup designs into CAM software down the line (like vcarve or fusion) a viable approach long-term? I'm happy to make my software purchase before my hardware purchase since I'm leaning so strongly against the shark for an initial device.
Just so it is not confusing to others, the Shark does come with the Vectric design software. Also, I'm not sure what you mean when you say "tool adjustment device", you can use a touch plate with it to zero your tool to the project blank but it does not have a tool length sensor as an option like the Probotix has available.

You can use SketchUp for your designs to start out and also use a free CAM program to output your gcode files for the CNC you purchase but you need to make sure that the cam program you chose has a post processor available for your controller.

Good luck with your search for a machine and don't hesitate to ask more questions.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Thanks so much for the guidance and thoughts- I meant tool length sensor by 'adjustment device' smh- still building the vocabulary.

Two follow-up questions on software- you mean the cam program's post processor (so whatever Vcarve or Fusion used for example) would have to be compatible with the controller software (eg LinuxCNC, GRBL, etc?).

What other programs do people use for modeling? Do you have any recommendations? I keep seeing Aspire mentioned for 3d modeling- that's a bit pricey for me at this point. For 2.5d designs, like an eagle plaque, or the image I posted higher up in the thread, is vcarve desktop/pro capable of doing that? Or Fusion?

You mention sketchup 'to start out' - why haha?
 

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Mike
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If you go with a free CAM software then you will need the post processor for the machine you are using. In most cases, this won't be a problem. I do know there are CAM plugins for SketchUp but I'm not sure how good they might be or what postprocessors might be available when using them. Here is the link to one of them but there are others that can be Googled https://openbuilds.com/projectresources/sketchucam.1/

You can use free programs like Blender for 3D modeling. It is one of the most powerful free modeling programs that are available. Again Google can help find more.

The plaque you posted a picture of would be considered a 3D project(relief model). VCarve Desktop or Pro can do 3D projects but they say you can only have one third party model in a project at a time, you can have as many .v3m models as you want, that is the Vectric model format. You also get several models when you buy VCarve Desktop or Pro. Aspire does not have that limit. They are also capable of doing full 3D projects using the 2 sided job option but the model can not have any undercuts, but you can do a little work with carving tools to remove the waste material that can't be removed in those undercut areas.

Fusion 360 is a great program for drawing items with several parts(an assembly) and does have some very powerful toolpath options and CAM package but in my opinion, it is not good for items like the plaque you pictured but great for parts that need to fit together after being cut.

I mentioned SketchUp because you mentioned SketchUp. It would definitely not be my go-to for CNC design but I do know some people do use it for their design software for CNC projects.

My recommendation would be one of the Vectric software packages for what you want to do. Remember you can upgrade from one Vectric software to another for the difference in the cost between the two packages so you could start out with VCarve Desktop so you can do the 3D projects you are interested in doing. The Desktop version does limit you to a 24x24 cutting area but they do have a work-around with the Tiling Toolpath.
 

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What other programs do people use for modeling? Do you have any recommendations? I keep seeing Aspire mentioned for 3d modeling- that's a bit pricey for me at this point.
Aspire is designed specifically for creating 3D relief models. So it has specific tools for that task, which make it much easier to model reliefs than other 3D modelling programs.
A lot of people don't realize that the software just provides the tools. It takes a lot of skill and artistic talent to create good 3D relief models.
Personally, I think that 95% of Aspire owners only use 10% of it's capabilities.
Start with V Carve Pro, and if you find down the road that you need more capabilities, you can upgrade to Aspire for the price difference between the two, so you don't lose any money.
 

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Aspire is designed specifically for creating 3D relief models. So it has specific tools for that task, which make it much easier to model reliefs than other 3D modelling programs.
A lot of people don't realize that the software just provides the tools. It takes a lot of skill and artistic talent to create good 3D relief models.
Personally, I think that 95% of Aspire owners only use 10% of it's capabilities.
Start with V Carve Pro, and if you find down the road that you need more capabilities, you can upgrade to Aspire for the price difference between the two, so you don't lose any money.
That's me -- probably more like 3-5%. But I keep upgrading to be able to share with those who use Aspire.
 

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Hi, I'm a retired business consultant and a number of people have come aboard hoping to make money with their CNC machine. There is a learning curve to contend with, and you will quickly discover you need a fair sized machine to handle everything customers may want. Attached is a pdf of the thoughts I had about starting a CNC business instead of just a hobby machine. Not in good enough shape anymore to execute the plan I outlined, but I've had several CNC people who liked the method.
 

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