Since my delve into the router CNC arena with my Maslow I have learned a great deal from everyone here in the forums and throughout the various threads. First I want to say how I am very grateful to all and thankful to be part of such an awesome community. Now on to my question…I was considering purchasing a smaller CNC router rig for more intricate work. I was hoping for suggestions. From what I have learned here I figured I would want something that also would let me use Gcode (like Maslow) this way i would not get pigeon holed into a corner like others have mentioned with proprietary language. With so many options out there I was overwhelmed which choices…but of course I have a small budget which took many choices off the table. I was leaning towards a Shapeoko. I learned about it recently when a thread mentioned the Easel app and I was clicking thought the menu options while playing with Easel. Any thoughts or suggestions are welcome.
The Shapeoko is a great choice, it’s the machine I recommend to anyone looking for a benchtop machine. I’ve chatted with Edward Ford (the creator of Shapeoko) a couple times and he’s a great guy. He said he’d throw in some extra end mills for anyone we send his way so let him know we said ‘Hi’ if you get one
Virtually any CNC machine will read g code. Depending on the controller, they may have slightly different syntax, but your CAM software will likely have the appropriate post-processor.
The Shapeoko gets a lot of good press, and seems well built. However, it has only 3" of Z. That is not much. If they mean 3" of travel on the z axis and you have a 2" long bit you are only going to be able to clear 1" of material. The Xcarve has even less.
They are both machines used primarily to do bas relief carving, inlay, or pbc circuit boards. If that is what you want, that’s great. If you want the flexibility of more, I find 8" Z to be a bare minimum with 12" being ideal for a small 2’x3’ machine.
Of course, more capable machines are more expensive. The Shapeoko is in the $1700 range and a more robust business oriented machine is closer to twice that. For example:
Also you should know that just like your Maslow CNC machines can be DIY. There are great plans out there that rely on sheet goods for the frame. Of course you have to cut the parts with high precision. You would need a panel processing machine that can cut parts from MDF or birch ply. If only you had one of those…
@rlrhett Thank you for your insightful response. With my limited experience I had not not realized the depth/distance of Z travel length should be a bigger factor in my decision process. I presumed if it had Z travel it would be somewhat substantial. You bring up a very good point which I nearly overlooked completely. Of course having more Z travel would be always preferred but my wallet may keep me on the short end until I can learn the ropes and limitations. I like the link for the benchtop pro 24x24 you mentioned, but if I understand I see for that price its still needs a spindle which by itself costs just as much as the Shapeoko/xcarve …bummer. I dont have access to a 3d printer to make my own desktop CNC, plus the time it would take me to build from scratch is just not worth the savings. a Few hours of DIY with a kit is doable of course, I figure I will budget $2k approx and trying to get the best accuracy and most Z travel while trying to avoid anything proprietary. The question continues…
For most work 2 or 3 inches of Z travel is not an issue; a great many people have found 3D routers useful with that limitation.
I’d be curious to know what you need 8 to 12 inches of Z travel for. A bit that long would be very flexible and difficult to find. Likely pretty spendy, too.
These machines cut from the top so if you find the need to cut material that thick it will only be a straight cut, or with a cut that increases in width as you move upward relative to the bit. Personally I’ve only used something that thick for structural timbers, like supporting a bar floor or posts for holding up a floor. Timber framed construction might be a use (there’s at least one YouTube video on CNC cutting frame timbers). For working with plywood and 1x lumber the cutting depth is not an issue. If you’re into carving thick material (and only from one side) then it’s getting pretty specialized. True 3 dimensional carving would require adding rotary axes and still have problems with the lack of undercutting.
The linked CNC RP machine has 7 inches of Z clearance, the maximum distance between the gantry and the bed, and it looks like the Z axis travel (on one of their similar machines) is around 6.5 inches. You’d still need a bit close to 8" long to make use of that.
Carbide3D has a forum, and a sister forum at shapeoko.com. Go poke around there and see what they’re being used for. It’s not just bas relief and PCBs by a substantial margin.
You can do some pretty high precision cuts with a good clamped down straightedge and circular saw, limited by how well you can measure. It’s actually pretty handy for those of us who aren’t all that good at straight line sawing. Panel saws only make it faster and easier. Table saws are pretty handy, too
carving a 3d surface (or carving on an existing 3D service)
There’s also the question of the range of material thicknesses you can support.
If you set the Z axis so that you can cut all the way through material and only
have 3" of travel, you run out of Z travel pretty quickly if you are looking to
carve something on a box or something like that.
@mooselake I don’t think you are understanding z-axis clearance well. An 8" bit would be useless in a machine that has only 6.5" of travel. Fully retracted, the bit would still extend 1.5" into the table.
Beyond the actual depth of the work pieces, there is the issue of hold downs, spoilboards and jigs. It is not unusual to want a holdown jig and spoilboard combo that adds 1.5"-2" to the z needed.
What do I use clearance for? Personally, I use it in my guitar buisiness. www.rwtwgutiars.com. I need to reach over a 3.5" heel sitting on a .75" fixture. Call that 5" of clearance. I would need a bit that extends 4" (a common “long” bit) and I need at least 8" of travel to be able to travel the length of the bit and 4" into the work. As I’ve mentioned before, I help teach CNC at our local community college. Our students use their machines for creating molds for veneering, architectural details, one lady makes wooden shoes, etc. All of them would need more than 1.5" of woking depth and 3" of clearance.
Yes, if all you are going to cut is 1x lumber and plywood you don’t have much need for more. However, isn’t that what you just built a Maslow for?
@Rafi I don’t think you need a 3d printer to build a CNC machine. I respect not wanting to go down that rabbit hole, but I said “PANEL PROCESSING” machine. In other words… your MASLOW! Also, you don’t need a spindle, these machines use routers. That said, it is still quite spendy.
one thing to consider with the Shapeoko is that you can play with where the workpiece is placed since it has an open frame design. You can provide a recessed area in order to accommodate thicker materials and still be able to utilize the full travel of the z-axis. It takes some planning and work to make it happen, but it is a possibility.
Here’s a link to a thread discussing what I am talking about
See postings by “AaronMatthews” showing various waste board positions
Gosh, I guess 10 years of owning one hasn’t helped
I still hold to the regular user not needing 8 to 12 inches of z travel, and the vast majority of hobby owners do fine without it. It’s not a requirement for a first time user unless they have an explicit reason. That extended travel and long bit lengths bring their own set of problems. However it’s time to move on.
The MPCnc (“Mostly Printed” CNC) is a great way to start.
Check Vicious1.com and also ThingiVerse …
If you don’t want to build a 3D printer, someone in your neighborhood should be able to print the parts for you…
I like that one, too. If I could ever get the new shop project further along (seems the wife prioritizes things like heat for the winter higher) and make enough space the MPCnc’s on the short list with Ed’s Shapeoko xxl and maybe a Zenbot 48x48, and a cast iron chinese routers on the wish I could section. Getting the Maslow going may modify that list since I probably won’t need a second large format machine, and the tiny Zenbot Mini already has the low end covered.
I’m hoping the high flow Ubis 13HF hot end would make short work of printing the parts on the seriously tweaked plywood Printrbot Plus, good project for thick layers, although reality is probably different.
Interestingly, a used MPCnc kit showed up on craigslist (iirc it was in Thunder Bay) for way over the cost of buying it new. Wonder if it ever sold?
Yeah I saw the mostly printed CNC during my google-fu and as I mentioned I dont have access to a 3D printer. Plus the time it would take me, (I am very slow methodical individual according to my wife Its not worth the savings for me at least, I would rather budget a little more and invest a few hours for a DIY kit rather than days/weeks… when i get home from work its family time, most of playtime is only on the weekends. As I gathered from most so far, an XCarve or Shapeoko…maybe even a Zenbot , that one just hit myradar today! Thanks @mooselake Should suffice. as I am a begginer/amateur/hobbyist I dont have a real need for super Z travel at this point, plus as mentioned at least one of solutions could be modded to provide more Z travel. I mainly wanted to make sure i made a well informed decision with the an open source solution that accepted standard G-code or anything else that would not make me regret a decision after it was purchased due to my lack of experience. Thanks for all the great input folks!
Being of the rather cheap persuasion my advise is to start small with something in the good enough to work (that usually eliminates the whatever’s cheapest, a favorite of many new 3D printer purchasers) category, learn what your abilities (one of those is your tolerance for those head against the wall moments) and interests are, along with learning the basic operating skills (software, workholding, feeds/speeds, what the heck do I want to do with it, etc), then decide if you want to go further. Many times that first purchase will still be useful after you upgrade, even if it’s only to improve your eBay/Craigslist skills.
Sure, it’s nice for your first car to be a Ferrari Dino, but there’s practical reasons that most parents consider before selecting (or approving) one for their new teenage driver.
Of course, that’s just the opinion of a moose in a swamp in the north woods…