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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hey y'all,

I am looking to learn about what goes into building a new CNC router (other than $10,000). I have a few years of experience running a CNC router (I am an architecture student and during the school year, I work as an after-hours shop supervisor), but not much in setting one up. I currently use Aspire and a 4x8' vacuum table, but beyond creating and cutting files, I am lost when it comes down to the specs. I am an architecture student and in the next year I plan on outfitting a shop and starting making stuff. I know enough to get me started:

- I will primarily be using full sheets of plywood and so I know I want a 4x8 table.
- I may eventually get into milling light aluminum but not anytime in the near future.
- And I have lots of experience with CAD and simple 3D-modeling programs like SketchUp, but I would like to expand to Rhino and the like.

From what I have seen (and correct me if I am wrong), it seems a way to go would be to buy the CNCrouterparts pro (or standard?) 4x8 table and gantry, then find a decent spindle, and I would probably want to go with their NEMA 34 kit. As far as what software to use, I would probably build a dedicated tower and then have to figure out where to go from there. Like I said, I use Aspire and I believe it is outdated but it still works very well and is very user-friendly. The CNC machine we use has a keypad which allows for setting Z-height and origin very easy, but is that something I need or am I spoiled? Also, where do I start with the vacuum table setup and dust collection?

Thanks in advance!

Jed
 

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The CNC router parts PRO machine is a fine kit and their instructions will walk you through the process. Search YouTube for the Frank Howarth video of him assembling his. You will not need a powerful computer for running the machine, but it should be dedicated, and stripped of all unnecessary other software. Keep your CAD and CAM software on another computer.

A vacuum table is very nice to have in production situations, but may not be necessary otherwise. It will probably add substantial cost and power usage ( for 4' x 8' typically 25-40 horsepower, usually 3 phase). A $10,000 budget is probably not enough for a 4x8 machine with a vacuum table. Spend money first on dust collection, a 3 hp cyclone would be very effective.

Remember that buying your own copy of Aspire, or Rhino and Rhinocam will run another $2000 at least. Look into Fusion 360 as an alternative (free for students, hobbyists and startups). Rhino does have student prices as well. Aspire is still being regularly updated, version 9 is due out soon, don't know what version you have been using if you consider it outdated. Investigate Linux cnc, UCCNC, WINCNC or Mach as options for your control software.

Along with the machine, software and dust collection, you will also need to buy tooling (bits, collets, clamps, etc.). Is $10,000 your total budget?

I chose to design and build my own machine. With some lucky deals on on materials, I was able to build a complete 50" x 60" machine for less than a third the price of buying the CNCRP 4' x 4' kit, so that is another option, especially if you still have access to a campus shop to help you make parts.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Great info. I do have access to a CNC machine, so building my own parts would definitely be an option. I would say around $8k is total budget on CNC-specific parts but I would be willing to create my own parts if it meant saving some cash (I am certainly not made of money, this would be considered a business expense of sorts). I am also capable of welding and can frame up a table. I would be adding a dust collection system to run with other machines so that could be considered separate, and I agree spending money there is always a great idea. I think vacuum would be the biggest bear. Would I be able to add a vacuum table later if I didn't go with one right off the bat? I honestly didn't even consider not using one. Having that nice suction to the table without drilling holes all through my workpiece is a plus, and it also helps to keep the edge clean by not allowing the material to bounce around.

I had no idea Aspire would be that expensive, I only assumed ours was outdated because I think we're still on 2009.

For bits and collets, what are you guys running for 3/4" material and the like? I have found our collets slip with the 1/4" stuff so I usually use 3/8" or 1/2" end mills at least. And I am willing to spend the extra money on bits, I've seen why you spend more for higher quality steel.
 

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Rick
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Jed, Richard really built an impressive machine , and for a price I never would have thought possible .
I'd take a look at his thread if you get a chance. I sure wish he was my neighbor lol.
http://www.routerforums.com/cnc-routing/113954-diy-cnc-router-original-design.html


Here's another option , and I think the best bang for the buck . The pictures not accurate, as Nate has upgraded to a steel gantry . Your stuck with a maximum of 4'x4' if that's a concern .
These has been a few QC problems in the past , and hopeful there resolved .
There's free shipping in the USA , which makes it even more attractive

https://www.finelineautomation.com/t/saturn-series-cnc-machines
 

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Your budget limit isn't enough to buy you a 48" x 96" machine with vacuum bed unless you can find one very used from someone going out of business. We have a large Multicam CNC with vacuum bed in our college shop and it was a $90.000 investment more than 5 years ago. The vacuum pump for it is regrigerator size and creates more noise than the CNC itself usually does.

One "bad" thing that happens now is that students use the large CNC just to break down plywood sheets into smaller rectangles. Yet we have several more efficient less expensive tools to make a large sheet into smaller sheets. If no part you plan on making is larger than 24" x 48" you might better afford a smaller CNC with a vacuum table you build PLUS a panel saw or track saw to do the big sheet break-down.

4D
 

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Rick
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One "bad" thing that happens now is that students use the large CNC just to break down plywood sheets into smaller rectangles. Yet we have several more efficient less expensive tools to make a large sheet into smaller sheets. If no part you plan on making is larger than 24" x 48" you might better afford a smaller CNC with a vacuum table you build PLUS a panel saw or track saw to do the big sheet break-down.

4D
Great point 4D . I love my track saw and I'm taking that into consideration when I order mine .
I really only have room for a 4x4 anyways , although I could get a 4x8 in if I really had to , but I'd have to chuck my laser engraver out of the shop
 

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...
One "bad" thing that happens now is that students use the large CNC just to break down plywood sheets into smaller rectangles. Yet we have several more efficient less expensive tools to make a large sheet into smaller sheets..
4D
Lol.... guilty as charged. But man they aint cock :nerd: eyed

@RainMan 2.0
Ok Rick... as you seen whats put into it. Im sure you'll go Franks way
with a video. At least insulate the machine if you haven't done the walls etc.
Cold machines don't perform well. Capes are optional.

@jgrant6 - What will you be cutting and making? Would a 4x4 suffice and
you could do the half/half tile method. Ya know, slide the material over?

On our Multicam I'm able to cut 22' in length w/ tools removed from ATC holder.
It works fine as long as you setup everything 'perfect'. PITA tho.
 

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Rick
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Ronnie , the bad news is everything I order is approx double by the time it gets to my door step .
We have a 14% tax , then shipping , the exchange rate on the dollar which is like paying an additional 26% tax, and that duty that I shouldn't have to pay for seeing as I thought we had free trade?

I'm kinda hoping our dollar will get better , but I'm not holding my breath , and there forecasting a lower Canadian dollar in 2018 .
If I had room to store it , I'd order the 4x4 Pro version right now , and worry about the electronics later
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
@4DThinker - I would have to have a 4x8. I intend on making full sheet cutouts that really can't be split or re-indexed. It would be possible, but it would be so frustrating that I would eventually upgrade to a full 4x8 bed. I definitely understand what you mean when you say the machine is wasted on straight cuts, but if you have it the equipment and you don't want to have to worry about crooked factory edges, you really can't beat it. I guess it just comes down to what are you willing to pay for it, and I believe mine would be able to pay for itself in a year or two. That being said, I would be doing much more than straight lines.

As I'm looking more and more into this, I think I would be willing to do a lot more myself than I had originally thought. Is there a reason people are using aluminum instead of steel? I feel like steel would give you tighter tolerances as the table does not shift at all, and not to mention is more easily fabricated from scrap. I get the weight, but who cares. I don't plan on moving this thing more than once every 10 years or so.

@UglySign - I would be cutting full sheets of 4x8 3/4" softwood ply, and probably a lot of birch veneer ply as well. Mostly doing irregular shapes and dados into pieces roughly 7'x3.5'. A lot of inside cuts, and all stuff that would need to be repeatable. Also, likely some very thin 3-4mm marine grade plywood "skins" that would then be adhesed to the structural pieces.
 

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Being able to weld is a definite plus as far as building your own. If you wish to explore the concept more,you might want to look at a forum that directly addresses the topic: DIY CNC Router Table Machines

It is not a task to be undertaken lightly, but is possible. Do your homework. Ask questions.

4D's advice is very well taken, what are you planning to make? Table saws or track saws can break down sheet stock efficiently. A CNC router is only one tool in the shop.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Trying to get a better understanding of how you'd actually go about building a table and the XYZ constraints, I decided to play around in Sketchup and in about an hour I came up with this. None of the dimensions really mean anything, it was more me just trying to take a representational stab at it. I based it on a 2x2 steel frame which is likely overkill and could come down to 1.5" if braced properly.

Now for the parts that would actually have to be sized and whatnot, please help me understand this. So the the x,y, and z axis "controllers" basically attach to a threaded rod (lead screw) on which they are able to move back and forth on as directed by the computer. What are these controllers exactly? Just simple motors?

And after doing a little bit of research on vacuum tables, it seems you really would have to have an aluminum bed grated out and then have the fittings milled in, however I think it would be worthwhile and could be retrofitted at a later date. Having that rigid aluminum base below the spoilboard would also make it deflect less, but I suppose with a steel frame it wouldn't be particularly weak as long as there is enough ribbing below the cutting area.
 

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If your top skin is MDF, it will need very good support beneath it both without a vacuum box and with one. If you are building from scratch I'd presume all along you'll need a torsion box egg-crate of a support area below MDF skin and all supported by the structural frame. Put the grid in there up front. You can add the vacuum pump later.

Start out with a metal ladder under the MDF and you'll have no choice but UP (loosing Z room) when adding a vacuum bed later.
 

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For a 4' x 8' table you will probably not use "threaded rod" or even ballscrews. Read around on the DIY CNC Router Table Machines forum. There are hundreds of posts you will need to digest. The main difficulty with a welded frame is distortion due to welding. The linear guides need to be mounted on a very flat surface. There are ways to do this that can be done DIY (self leveling epoxy, etc.). There is also a lot of thinking involved in making sure everything is or can be adjusted square. Pay attention to contributors wizard and ger21.

What type of router table is in the school shop?

At a first glance , your table concept is definitely not overkill, the gantry and supports are undersized.
The "sticky" thread on a "CNC router for hardwoods" has a good discussion. Wise contributors there suggest gantry should be a minimum of 8" x 8" steel tube with diagonal reinforcement , especially if you ever want to consider milling aluminum at a reasonable speed. A router will never replace a mill. Most hobbyist routers use stepper motors, some use servos. Both can work well if the system is well engineered.

I used aluminum because I found it at a very good price. The extrusions I used are much larger than the CNCRP kit, and were extremely straight and stiff.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 · (Edited)
So I will need to ladder the steel frame as to support the torsion box, and the spoilboard will go directly on top of the torsion box? Similar to this?

Then I would obviously seal up the edges with angle or something to keep it from sliding around. I would probably box the crate in so that I could bolt it straight to the angle. That would also give me a lip to mount the gantry to as well.
@BalloonEngineer I'll get to looking at those this evening, I'm headed to the shop to actually look at the machine I have been working on. I'll take some pictures so you know what I've got experience with.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Here are a few pictures of our current setup at school. So this one uses cams, I can understand why they wouldn't use lead screws.
 

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