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OK, I going to try and stimulate this section a little bit with a simple challenge.

 

If you were to guide a complete newbie on what to get, how to configure it, best sources of equipment and prices, and what software to use, what would your advice be for that person starting out?

 

Recognizing that this is a broad subject, in order to narrow it down a little, and provide some guidelines, consider that; it is for hobby shop use, cost/size should be best value for the price, ease of set-up, ease of programming (best software), etc.

 

I think that this should cover it...you get the idea. Basically, a primer on how to get started for someone who wants to get involved in CNC type work. Let's see where this goes and eventually get a step by step guide available as a suggested guideline.

 

Bill

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I'd go with a Probotix Asteroid or Meteor.  Completely self contained and ready to run upon delivery.  Just put the limit switches on, and hook the wires up to the controller and computer, which are included.  I'm partial to the air cooled spindle (an extra $800) but you can use a router.  Just let them know which one you got or will get, and they'll put the right mount on.  A spindle will outlast 10 routers if used a lot.   I have run mine over 20 hours a day at times for days on end during holidays and show times.  Routers aren't meant to run hours and hours at a time.  Depends on your usage.  Then all you need is a software program.  Many of us are partial to Vectric using Aspire or one of the Vcarve's.  You can get an idea on how to use it by downloading a trial version and playing with it.  It will let you do everything the real thing does except export or transfer the finished toolpaths.  You can call Probotix (they're in FL) anytime and talk to the guy who built your machine and get answers to your machine questions.  They're CS is second to none. And every part in that machine can be bought at a parts supply place, so you're not trapped  with special "Probotix" parts.  This is a complete package.  After you play with it a while, you can decide if you want to go technical and do all the programming and building on  another machine.  Not me.  I'm in my comfort zone doing it this way.  It's nice to design a project in my office on the main PC with the ball game on, load it on a thumbdrive. and then plug said thumbdrive in, secure a piece of stock, touch off the axis coordinates, and hit GO.  I consider these "serious hobby machines".  Also, whatever size you think is all you'll need --- go bigger.  It grows on you.  Just my opinion, mind you.

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I would like to build a 2 axis machine with one axis being a rotary axis. It would support a low power laser in lieu of a cutting machine. From my experience with my cheap eleksmaker laser I think it would actually be pretty easy to do. Mostly I've just got to get off my butt, make some mistakes and get it done.

 

Steve

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Adding a rotary makes it a 4 axis machine.  You have to have forward/backward, left/right, and up/down.  There are machines where the router is stationary and the work piece moves, but that's a whole different ballgame.

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John, if you're replying to my post, If I were using a laser in lieu of a cutter head there wouldn't need to be an up down. In my mind it would be similar to an eggbot, which is a two axis machine. Rotate left, rotate right, and back and forth, laser would only switch on or off.

 

Steve

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Wouldn't you still need to allow for projects of different diameters to focus the laser, or with tapered legs or conical shapes you might want to laser etch. Having Z axis control would allow much more versatility would it not?    I mention this because using VCarve/Aspire we have the ability to map 2D toolpaths to 3D surfaces. 

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I've built two CNCs.  

 

One was just a challenge project to do something with old printer parts I collected before throwing out several old non-functioning printers I had accumulated over a few decades.  The frame and bed were all baltic birch plywood of varying thicknesses (mostly 1/2") .  I bought a tinyG controller to run it and programmed it to cut any file it used to 1/4 or the intended size. The bed was just a little larger than 6" x 12" which had room for any project up to 24" x 48" after scaling. The bed moved in the X and Y directions, and the router stayed in the same spot while it moved up and down.   I use it to make 1/4 scale models using a 1/16" or 1/32" end mill when I would have used a 1/4" or 1/8" bit at full scale. 

 

The second was an X-carve kit I bought that I was curious about using to make an inverted router table with CNC control. The router bit points up rather than down, and on the table top you clamp your work down and/or to an adjustable vertical/angled moveable fence.  Whatever is being cut is done on the bottom hanging/exposed face of the workpiece. This project is still under development. I have it running, but have found no reason to use it. With my Probotix meteor bed opened up for vertical/angled clamping there has yet to be any furniture related thing I couldn't do using it.  I may re-purpose the X-carve components for something else. 

 

4D

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I would have to ask a few questions first.
Are you only going to make small craft type projects like signs, wall decor, clocks, boxes and crosses?  or  Are you also interested in making small furniture Items like shelves, stools or tables?
Are you just interested in this as a hobby machine to make gifts for family and friends/  or  Are you interested in making a few extra dollars with the machine?

If all you are going to use your machine for are small projects for gifts then an entry model machine would be my recommendation.   I would also recommend getting one that will handle at least a 1 HP trim router.  I suggest a 18 x 24 x 4 to be the smallest cutting area to consider.

If you are interested in building small furniture items also then I would say a 24 x 24 x 5 to be the smallest CNC foot print to look at and with it you might need special setups to build some items.  
You would probably be better off with a t least 24 x 48 x 7 cutting area to make most small furniture projects.  A machine with a drive system that allows an open bed is a big plus allowing tilting fixtures and use of creative jigs.

Most people would rather buy a turn key system than to build a kit but building one from a kit can save quite a bit of money and building your own from scratch you can make it any size you want to with any feathers you require.

As far as software if you are not familiar with CAD based drawing you will probably be better off with Vectric software.  Very user friendly and you can upgrade easily if the product you buy isn’t quite enough.  If you want to do your own modeling then Aspire would be the program you want.  If you are not interested in sculpting your own models then one of the VCarve programs would be a good choice.

If you are familiar with CAD then programs like Fusion 360 are a powerful program to use. 

The best thing to do is download trial versions of each software to see if you can design the type of projects you are interested in doing.  

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14 hours ago, 4DThinker said:

Wouldn't you still need to allow for projects of different diameters to focus the laser, or with tapered legs or conical shapes you might want to laser etch. Having Z axis control would allow much more versatility would it not?    I mention this because using VCarve/Aspire we have the ability to map 2D toolpaths to 3D surfaces. 

 

 

You are right that z axis control would be a plus and somewhere down the road I may investigate that option. That is, if I ever get around to building one in the first place. For the application I have in mind there would be little variation in diameter on a given piece. My intent is to use the machine to lay out a pattern for further carving, piercing, or wood burning by hand.

 

Steve

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If you've never used a CNC, and aren't sure what they are capable of, then buying your first one can be a trap.   Why?  Not all CNCs are capable of cutting the same things.  I started with a CNC Shark back when all I knew about CNCs was what the letters stood for.  It kept busy cutting profiles and pockets and VCarving, and such.  Much the same stuff that everyone else was cutting with a 3-axis CNC.   I occasionally bumped into needing a larger bed.  The software had a tiling feature but it was only as good as my accuracy at aligning the large part after I shifted it to cut the 2nd half.   I had dreams about using that Shark to cut furniture joinery but its design didn't lend itself to clamping boards vertically or at an angle under the bit. No limit switches or cable chains or E-stop on the CNC itself either. 

 

My college decided it needed a CNC for the college shop, and they ended up with a nice large Multicam CNC with tool changer and vacuum bed.  Great for pockets and profiles and VCarving and some 3D contour work.  It stays busy, but has no obvious potential for clamping boards vertically or at an angle under the bit though.   

 

I eventually decided I wanted a larger CNC, and looking around I came across the Meteor CNC made by Probotix.   Frame made of t-slotted aluminum extrusions. Two Y motors to  move the gantry, and no part of the gantry moving under the frame.  I had its MDF top off to add t-track to it when I realized that open area under the bit could be configured for all sorts of jigging and fixtures to hold large or long parts under the bit.  I redesigned the base I had my Meteor on, leaving a top off the table to keep clear all that space inside and under the Meteor's frame.  

 

Now I can cut things the Shark and Multicam (and 98% of the CNCs out there) can not.  I convinced my college to buy 2 CNCs from Probotix over the next two years. One has a rotary axis included.  Both have bed configurations that are (relatively) easy to change to accommodate just about any part or project for joinery or detail work. 

 

I had no idea you could cut joinery or bulky projects on a CNC when I bought that Shark.   It took having one to discover what it couldn't do.  Honestly I had no idea my Meteor could cut joinery or bulky projects when I bought it.  Using it revealed it had that much greater potential.    My Shark has greater Z clearance under the gantry.  It gets used occasionally for 3D carves into thick (tall) material, but that's about it.  The Meteor cost almost the same as the Shark.  It does most of what the Shark could do.  AND it does far more of what It turns out I really wanted to do with a CNC.   

 

I don't feel like I wasted money on that Shark.  My Meteor makes me happier though.    

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3 hours ago, BillyJack said:

Most guys looking for CNC's are looking at  cabinetry. It's usually the first thing they want to replace in their homes. Thermwood......

From my experience most of the people looking for recommendations are hobbyists looking to add a CNC to do craft type projects.  Most want a small footprint machine because they don't have much room in their shops.  There are some like MT Stringer that bought one for cabinet work and to do crafts.   

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