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What CNC machine to buy

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daeb

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Hi,
I'm looking at buying a CNC machine as I would like to make some kids stools/table etc.
I have a budget of £3k.
I use CAD alot and 3d civils a bit so hopefully can pick it up quickly.
Ant suggestions with type/make/model etc would help.
Thanks, 😉
 

Alpha-Dave

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That is a huge question, possibly only topped by ‘hand tools or machinery, which should I get in to?’

Probably the critical thing is that it depends if in addition to the stools, you want to: process 4x8 plywood sheets; 3D engrave jewellery quality forms in precious metals; do 4 or 5 axis work; etc. No machine does everything.

I find comparing the idea to cars to be quite relevant: do you want a truck, sports car, family saloon; how much time with each? For most people having a ‘car’ most of the time but occasionally renting a van or track-day car makes sense, but you don’t have to spend it all on one machine; you might have to buy 2x £1,500 machines to achieve what you want.

Do you want the cnc machine to be a hobby in itself (building it up from hundreds of parts having sourced to the right spec) or updating a old machine that has a great, rigid frame from the late 90s/early 2000s?

‘Kids stools’ could be finely carved with cnc cut joints, or entirely flat cut from sheets.

The adaptability and work-holding are critical questions. Your inclination to build from a kit and problem solve versus your need for high quality customer service on a ready made machine.


I was looking at buying a machine about 18 months ago, and this was my impression:
Avid CNC is very popular with Youtube wood workers. Made in USA, gets expensive quickly.
Ooznest seems to be a popular UK based DIY version that is cheaper but less rigid. This was my second choice.
I seriously considered a Blue Elephant machine direct from China, but in the end didn’t want to deal with the customs forms. That would have been a real work horse.
There are many ‘light weight’ machines out there, such as the X-Carve or the kits direct from China via ebay and BangGood.

In the end I decided I wanted a welded steel frame (not aluminium extrusion), with ball screws and a proper water-cooled spindle rather than a router. The one I bought was the 1mx0.65m version from this ebay shop: Items for sale by startup101 | eBay
I was able to see the machines running and they built one for me in a few weeks. Over a year on and I’m very happy with it.
 

Max Power

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I see you're in county Durham Dave, so am I. I was interested in getting a cnc' but a bigger one either 8x4 or 10x5. I looked into another local company but theirs seem to be chinese imports at big markups, does the guy you got yours off do larger machines ?
 

Alpha-Dave

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... does the guy you got yours off do larger machines ?
Yes, his main machine that he runs is an 8x4, but with the gantry across the 8’ direction, so he could build a 8x12 at least.
Here is a video of it:
PM me if you want his direct contact details.
 

Sheptonphil

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I run an Inventables Xcarve 1000x1000 CNC with a Dewalt router as a spindle. Vcarve pro to generate the code and gcode sender to process the code to the CNC.

generally used to make signs and artistic creations. I made these tables for my local bowls club, as was the tombola machine. The tables were engraved, filled with coloured resin skimmed, sanded and finished. I also have a laser head I have made a mount for to fit to the router So images can be burnt instead of engraved. An example is the spoon used for seed marking in the planting troughs
D5DF5E3C-F3A7-4761-ACE9-6C3A7FF96925.jpeg
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034699B6-55AE-4F73-95DF-E0D4EF13B7B2.jpeg
B01D6B16-14E9-40F3-BBCD-61795CF69AB2.jpeg
 

Phill05

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Hi,
I went down the route of buying an old redundant machine and replaced rails, ballscrews, and designed and built the electric controller for it, but the main thing was I rebuilt it to what I wanted to do with it, also built a standalone 4th axis for round work that I can use on the cnc or take to the milling machine to use on there when I need to, it has been a learning experience but gives you the insight to fix anything that crops up.

I use Vectric Aspire to design mostly 2 1/2 and 3d to produce code and Mach3 machine controller.
You can go and spend thousands on a machine that someone thinks you need then you find it does not do all you want and you need to upgrade it, if you can put the time into it and do the work yourself not only can you save some money but you learn a lot more, also there is nothing quite like it when the first piece comes off that you designed.

Phill
 

daeb

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HI,

an 8 x 4 (feet) would be fantastic size.
As I am looking at making the product below, how would you mill out on the side?
 

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TheTiddles

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It’s one tool of many to make nice furniture. If you want to do it entirely with that one machine, you are going to have a lot of work to make fixtures etc or make from ply which is a certain look (not necessarily a bad one, but it’ll all look similar)

If you are aiming for sheet materials, have you thought about designing the parts (the harder bit) and having someone else cut them? So you don’t have the outlay and can be creative on the design side.

The stool you show is probably best not made on a 3-axis router, maybe the lettering could be, but if you look at the angles etc involved, you’d need a 5-axis to do it efficiently. But a bandsaw and a drill press would get you there much faster leaving just the lettering to do

aidan
 

Phill05

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HI,

an 8 x 4 (feet) would be fantastic size.
As I am looking at making the product below, how would you mill out on the side?
The seat shape and legs would be easy to cut out, design time maybe 30 min about the same for cutting, to cut the name in the sides you would need some form of angle bracket that could hold the work vertical whist cutting.
Attached are two I made for my machine 1st a fixed angle bracket, for a one off you would not need to go to the trouble of making brackets in metal, 2nd a rotary.

Phill

03.jpg

cutting base.jpg
 

daeb

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Could any of these machines be pre-assembled? Looking at starting straight away as I know I could take a long time building them.
What software would you advise to use?
 

Sheptonphil

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Could any of these machines be pre-assembled? Looking at starting straight away as I know I could take a long time building them.
What software would you advise to use?
Machines like Xcarve and WorkBee come as a kit and take 10-12 hours of build time. The massive advantage of that is that you not only know how they work as a complex suite of components, you are more likely to be able to sort out why things perhaps don‘t work as you expected or when things go wrong. Don’t think you will be buying a CNC one day and be banging out professional looking signs the next, let alone complex 2.5D and 3D carves. The machine only does as it‘s told, it‘s quite a learning curve for the software for you to be able to tell it what to do. There is a process of design the project, creating the coding and then sending the code to the CNC. Before that though you have to understand what the machine is capable of in terms of bit speeds, bit profiles, cut rates material capacity and many more considerations as well as learning the technical terms.

Certainly one of best software for domestic CNC work is Vcarve. The standard version allows up to 600mm square, the Pro version is unlimited size. Professional users may use Vcarve Pro or maybe Aspire. Vcarve is £300-£600 Aspire is £1800 ish. There are many free software packages, Inkscape for example for design, but they will involve different software for each task.

a CNC is a fantastic creative and superbly accurate tool, I don’t regret getting mine, but they are certainly not easy to get to grips with and I am very tech savvy. It opens avenues to create and produce items that mostly could be done by hand, but with this are very repeatable, if that is a consideration. In the U.K., there are not many producers of domestic CNCs, your £3000 will just about finance a 5ft x5ft, forget about 8ft x 4ft. In the US CNC4newbies do a ballscrew driven axis instead of belt driven, not sure about here. UK supplier of ballscrew drive CNCs is Ooznest
 
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donwatson

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@daeb, I have a Stepcraft 420 V1 and getting ANY help is quite difficult. If you like the M700 I would suggest going to the Stepcraft forums and look around the questions and answers.
There are a few sites that support multiple machines as well and they are good for the sort of information you are looking for ( www.cnczone.com/forums/stepcraft ).
Good luck
Don W
 

daeb

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@daeb, I have a Stepcraft 420 V1 and getting ANY help is quite difficult. If you like the M700 I would suggest going to the Stepcraft forums and look around the questions and answers.
There are a few sites that support multiple machines as well and they are good for the sort of information you are looking for ( www.cnczone.com/forums/stepcraft ).
Good luck
Don W
Thanks Don,
What issues did you have regarding your Stepcraft 420? If you had known the difficulties before buying, would you of gone with any other machine? and
Thanks, ;)
 

shed9

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As above, £3K will not stretch to 8x4 however with that amount of physical cash you could probably coax a local print shop or maker shop (Fablab and the likes) to part with a used 8x4 machine for them to invest in better / bigger machines on their part. This is not a quick process mind and more about luck than anything else. Avoid the Ebay CNC projects which 'probably only needs five minutes to finish off'. You really want to see it work when buying used. Buying used is more likely to get you a larger machine whereas new at £3k is probably more around the 2x2 (give or take a ft) arena. There is a sliding scale, the bigger the machine at the same budget, the less integrity it generally has. Obvious I know but maybe worth reiterating?

Size will dictate drive type, i.e. belt, ballscrew, rack & pinion, etc. Be mindful of that. Belts are a good starter machine but have limits on depth of cut which means more passes and more production time. Ballscrews are fast and accurate with better load bearing and hence deeper cutting however when you go over certain lengths they get really slow unless you go down to 10mm or higher pitch and even then you end up with more spinning mass. For woodworking at 4x4 and beyond, rack & pinion is usually a good compromise on cost, usability and maintaining relative speed.

Another feature to look out for is full motion control and / or steppers with feedback encoders. For the sake of space, google them, plenty of more detailed info out there; Essentially servos are the go-to for top end equipment because they keep track and actually know where the cutter / tool is whereas steppers are told by software what to do and the software assumes it took them steps - you basically can end up with lost steps and have to redo the process. Feedback encoders are a halfway house and getting cheaper everyday.

With CAD experience, the learning curve won't be as bad but factor in some time to get your head around Mach3 or whatever software you end up with. You need to delve into offsets, coordinates, nesting, etc. Not something you switch on and start straight away. Also factor in dust extraction, this isn't a nice to have, it's key to proper cutting. Also allow for tooling costs, not cheap and in CNC woodworking terms, you need multiples of the typical cutters you use (depending on how small down you go).

Go for it, opens new options and worth the time and financial investment in my opinion. Plenty of advice on here and plenty of specific CNC forums.
 
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donwatson

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@daeb, I had numerous issues. Firstly the machine was sold as a Version 2 , it was a Version 1 !!. The UC100 controller complete with the USB cable it needed had been snapped when delivered and I spent months trying to contact the makers for a replacement. It never materialised and it cost over £200 to get the computer to talk to the Stepcraft with help from Stoneycraft. I really don't want to explain the various issues I had better you have a look at the sites I suggest and make up your own mind. The Stepcraft is a well built solid machine but they recommend the use of Loctite during assembly. The previous owner of my machine had done that (with a vengance) and when I tried to fettle the base (it is a piece of 10mm aluminium) I found the plate had been driven in and the flaring of the metal caused by the hammerhad almost destroyed the accuracy (squareness) of the components. I am settled with it now but feel I could have built a self assembly machine quicker and cheaper.
 

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Ollie78

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I went through a very similar problem a while back.

I looked into all the cheap options.

Chinese 6040 machine: can be Ok often rubbish, too much variability in quality. Uses round linear rail sometimes proper ballscrews sometimes lead screws.

Stepcraft: At the time I was looking at a 600, I joined the forum and looked into it almost bought one. In the end it was the odd method of linear motion that put me off a bit uses leadscrews and brass nuts. I could just see myself getting problems with it. Spindle is very weak as well.
The newer stepcraft q series looks a lot better though.

X carve: Ok for very light cuts just looks visibly flexible, belt drive is a complete no go for me.

Shapeoko 3: Better than xcarve with bigger extrusions etc. Still designed for an air cooled router.

Ooznest, workbee and similar kits: Can be good if used with ballscrews etc but the standard belt/ leadscrew designs not great. If you upgrade to a better standard they actually get expensive.

High z machines: Some are good but once you spec it out with spindle and everything stops being as cheap as it looks.

Any of the systems with wheels running on the outside of an aluminium extrusion are asking for trouble in my opinion, dust and chips will get in it causing notchy motion, wear over time will be a nightmare to keep running nice. Its fine on 3d printers because they have no lateral load and hardly any weight. Add a couple of kilos of motor on to it and its a different prospect.

I was going to build my own but in the end I bought a machine second hand that someone else had made, it was some work but it is made of bosch rexroth 60/90 extrusion and weighs a tonne, it will cut 1100mm by 950mm and has a 2.2kw water cooled spindle with vfd speed control. After it was installed the pc that came with it broke so I had to get a new (second hand )one. I elected to upgrade to an ethernet motion controller (UC300 eth fron cncdrive) which runs UCCNC which is great value vs Mach 3. Now they make a breakout board with a built in uc300 which I would get instead now.
My total cost was a under your budget.

I would say you are better off buying a second hand machine that was made right than a new machine with obvious engineering flaws/ compromises.

Don`t forget you need software for CAD and CAM , this can get pricey. Fusion 360 is really wonderfull but I ended up buying vcarve as it is excellent and simple to do lettering and artistic engraving stuff. It is a very good cam system.
Also extraction and tooling must be factored in.

You need to educate yourself on what is good and bad. The machine needs to be rigid, any unwanted flex will give you bother. Try and get proper profiled linear rails (HiWin is the best but clones are good too) rather than round rail. Water cooled spindles are so much quieter than a normal router too.

Check out Sorotec site they have a large range of machines and you can see the differences between the ranges which is educational.
Stoney cnc have some small machines and sell stepcraft.
Prototools sell the full range of high z machines which go from pretty cheap to full industrial.

Someone told me that you should avoid a 3d toolpath if a 2d one will do it which is sage advice.

Go and join the forum at mycncuk.com there are a lot of incredibly knowlegable people who helped me out a lot when I was having trouble with getting mine running after the pc died. Also has a for sale section.

Sorry that was long.

Have fun.

Ollie
 
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