Is there any free software that will run a STL file on a CNC router? I haven't bought my low-level software yet either. I'm leaning toward Mach 4 rather than Mach 3 just because it supposedly handles more complex files.
What do you mean by "low level software"?
I'm assuming that you have a parallel port controller since you are looking at Mach 3 or 4. Is this right? You may already know this, but an .stl file is a 3D graphic file. You don't run it. You can import it into a cam program to generate tool paths and gcode. For non-commercial use, fusion360 is free and it will import stl files.
Fusion 360 has poor STL capability, it chokes with over 50,000 or so facets. I have STL files with millions. The Vectric vcarve family or Carveco Maker easily can handle and toolpath larger STL files, but are not free. VCarve Desktop is $350 and has size limitations (24"x24") Carveco Maker is $15/mo or $90/year and does not have size limitations. There are some free choices like kiri:motod but I have not used them, VCarve and Carveco are very simple and effective.
Mach4 has specific hardware requirements (compatible motion controller), but yes, Mach4 will be your machine control software and Carveco Maker is a design and toolpath creator with post processors that will create g-code files that Mach4 can open and run. Carveco Maker can import a single STL file and create toolpaths, cannot create a 3D relief or edit them. Maker+ or the full Carveco can do more.
I use Mach4 and Carveco (and a few other titles) on my DIY machine.
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