Noob tipsfor Laser Cutter / CNC for woodworking?

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DigitalM

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I'm not looking for a long answer on what is obviously a bonkers huge subject, but I'm asking here as it's woodwork focussed and I'm not after this kit for decordating tiles or cutting out card sculptures. I'd like to be able to user and experiment with both laser and CNC up to about 600mm x 600mm area (about the size of a guitar, would be handy for ply templates and so on). I love design and tinkering generally so aside from guitar related stuff, would just like to have a go and see what I can do with it all. I only have a reasonable amateur hobbyist budget (utter max £1k though I'd rather not go that far if I don't have to, but would stretch if it was for something expandable in the future perhaps, maube even this is stupidly unrealistic).

Really what I need at this moment is saving from going down convoluted rabbit holes by perhaps:
- any good articles that other people found helped
- tips on whether there are any off the shelf solutions
- good places to buy this stuff in UK

Part of the problem is that there's so much info on these topics I just feel overwhelmed, and much of it is from US etc and perhaps not relevant to our market. So, after being bamboozled I thought I'd ask here, where you can often get a sympathetic and patient reply from kindred spirits!
 

Sheptonphil

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Your budget would only get you a pre-owned one, if your lucky enough to be the first to see an advert, they get snapped up pretty quick. To make one as a first project isn’t even worth considering. Starting cost for a new one is just sub £2000 with laser And Vcarve home.

I run a 1000 X 1000 Xcarve CNC (cutting ata 790x790) which I picked up on eBay for £800 four years ago. It came with a licenced verision of Vcarve Pro which retails at £600.

i added a 7w diode laser from Ali express for £120. After making a mount to attach the laser to the router, I can now run both on the same machine. It’s a great tool and so versatile you will always find more and more to do with it.

I’d say keep your eye out on auction sites and social media market places where people don’t realise the resale value of them. Even an incomplete one would be a old starting point, as long as the controller works, the rest can be refurbished cost effectively.

if you want to drool meanwhile, check out the workbee, by Ooznest.
 

Ollie78

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As you say not a small subject.

I have a Cnc router, purchased second hand and tinkered with somewhat. It is extremely useful. Brilliant for templates and stuff and more complex operations.

A few points.
Linear rails (preferably profiled not round) are infinitely superior to wheels on aluminium track.

Ballscrews are very much superior to leadscrews with brass nuts. Or skinny belts from a 3d printer.

Stiffness is important for routing, a lot of the budget routers are designed like lasers or 3d printers which don't need to worry about the weight of the spindle or the lateral loading produced when routing.

Don't forget the software, it is almost as important as the mechanical bits.

Get yourself a cuppa and go to mycncuk.com
And have a read of some build threads and stuff.


Ollie
 

SkinnyB

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I have a WorkBee and have been happy with that as a beginner machine. I have since added parts to upgrade it though.
I use Fusion 360 which is available for free and is very powerful. You can create your designs on it and then choose your tool paths.
Going down this router you just need to buy the machine.

See the upgraded machine:
Instagram: mightybee_cnc
 

Sporky McGuffin

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CNC up to about 600mm x 600mm area (about the size of a guitar

I'd go bigger; that's not enough area to do a neck or fretboards for example.

I have a secondhand K2 machine; mechanically it's pretty good, but I had to rebuild the control box and rewire the whole thing. I use Rhino3D for CAD, which is fantastic for complex surfacing, and has parametric design so you can generate weird fretboards without drawing them from scratch. MADCAM for the toolpath generation, Mach3 to run the machine.

i added a 7w diode laser from Ali express for £120. After making a mount to attach the laser to the router, I can now run both on the same machine.

Apologies for the hijack - this is intriguing. Does the laser basically mount onto the router mount directly, not via a set of mirrors like a big laser cutter? What'll a 7W laser go through? I don't really have room for a dedicated laser machine, but I'd love to be able to do some laser cutting.
 

Farm Labourer

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I've had one for just over 18 months, and am on my second one. I bought a s/h Workbee and it was great to learn on. I actually produced some really good stuff on it but the Z height was a big limitation. Despite a background in IT, I thought it was essential to learn the software before I committed to a machine as if I'd struggled with that, it would have never have been used. There are lots of great tutorials for most commonly used software on YT. I echo what has been said about linear rails and ballscrews.
 

Ollie78

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I use Fusion 360 which is available for free and is very powerful. You can create your designs on it and then choose your tool paths.
Going down this router you just need to buy the machine.

This is partially true.
It must be noted that Fusion 360 has slowed down the rapids speed and some other functions for the free version.

To avoid any confusion, Fusion 360 is not motion control software, you still need mach 3 or 4 or ( better in my opinion ) UCCNC and appropriate hardware.

Ollie
 

Sachakins

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A bigger budget would be my start point. I'd delay buying, save up more pennies and spend the interim time learning to use the various software options. It can be a steep or/and long learning curve.

I've looked into cnc router route, and basically found that around £2.5k would get me something sturdy enough that I wouldn't outgrow in a few months, some of the better quality ones are coming onto the pre owned market, so I keep scouring the World Weary Web to see what's going on.

Still short on budget anyway at moment, so I can wait.
 
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Sporky McGuffin

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Despite a background in IT, I thought it was essential to learn the software before I committed to a machine as if I'd struggled with that, it would have never have been used.

This is an excellent point - I got on with Rhino straight away, whereas Sketchup, Alibre, and a few others made absolutely no sense to me (but obviously work for others).

Having a CAD/CAM package that doesn't get in the way makes a huge difference.
 

Craig22

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One of the things that no-one mentions with lasers in the material cutting class are exceptionally dangerous to eyesight. A 7W laser is a Class 4 device, and will not only drill a hole in your retina by direct exposure, even scattered light from the workpiece is hazardous. The maximum eye safe power is 1mW, so 7W is 7,000 times the eye safe exposure.

For information. Class 4 is the highest classification, and kicks in at a laser power of 0.5W.

Laser classification table - Laser Safety Facts makes the point that the ocular damage distance for direct viewing of a 1W laser beam is 500 metres, and a 7W device being 3.5km.

My background is in laser development, so this is a topic I know something about. The laser safety film we had to watch before we were let loose in the lab had a testimony by a war veteran, who said that nothing in his active service was anything remotely as bad as looking at the world through his blood filled eyeball. That was quite enough to get me into laser safety googles for the next four years.

And this was at a time that a laser was a big and expensive bit of kit that filled a laboratory, typically £10k to £30k, 40 years ago. Now you can buy a tiny semiconductor laser for about £100 (or less) from Amazon that is just as hazardous.

Good laser safety googles for the wavelength being used are hot, uncomfortable, and not cheap but 100% necessary. As is a door interlock so that your wife or children don't lose their sight when just coming into the workshop.
 
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murphy

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I bought an X-carve years ago when they first came out, it worked fine but fiddling with belts and pulley wheels was a nightmare, so after about a year using it I decided to build my own using linear rails and ballscrews, which I still use and it is so much better, I also use a water-cooled spindle instead of a router, much better and a lot quieter, any upgrades I do myself, there is plenty of help and advice on the forums, Inventables forum and Vectric forum, which I used all the time when building it, I also use Vectric software, I started with Desktop and now have Aspire, which is a bit pricey and not needed if you do not need to make your own 3d carvings, I am enclosing a picture of one of the 3d clipart plaques I make
 

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Ollie78

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One of the things that no-one mentions with lasers in the material cutting class are exceptionally dangerous to eyesight.

This is an excellent point, one of the reasons I don't have a laser on my cnc yet.
Also I think the toxic fumes from burning various materials should be mentioned as well. Ideally all smoke should be sucked away through a hepa and charcoal filter or similar. Which is another reason why proper laser machines are in an enclosure.

Ollie
 

delboy

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I have a Trend smart cnc plus and I use Carveco software which is excellent and there tutorials on the internet showing how to use it.

Derek.
 

Craig22

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Indeed - commercial laser machining stations operate in an interlocked enclosure with fume extraction.

A quick check on Amazon finds a 15W laser for £148. That is 450nm wavelength in the deep blue. It comes with a pair of safety specs - but with no face seals, and are essentially useless. They give the impression of safety, but have no specification. Certified laser goggles (much nicer than the head clamps we wore!) are over, or well over £150 in their own right. Certified Laser Safety Glasses .

Craig
 

Sporky McGuffin

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Thanks for the laser warnings - I knew they were dangerous things (at work we do some giant laser projectors) but on sober reflection I think saving up and making space for a proper laser cutter is the sensible approach - or maybe just sending out for any laser cutting work as I've done in the past.
 

Craig22

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I agree entirely. The difficulty in making an Amazon-special eye (and hand, and fire) safe is non-trivial and costly. Last stuff I had done (acrylic machining) I had done at a commercial outfit.

Mechanical methods, although hazardous as any machine tool is, are a whole lot more preferable
 

WoodchipWilbur

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This is an excellent point, one of the reasons I don't have a laser on my cnc yet.
Also I think the toxic fumes from burning various materials should be mentioned as well. Ideally all smoke should be sucked away through a hepa and charcoal filter or similar. Which is another reason why proper laser machines are in an enclosure.

Ollie
The fumes from cutting PVC are especially damaging. Even with extraction the hydrochloric acid it produces will burn away your extraction unit as well as the laser set-up as well.
Don't Laser PVC!
 
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