If you are looking at wood CNC machine’s you’ve come to the right place. There are so many options available and you can’t decide which machine is right for you? Maybe, you want a bigger one but not for the hefty price they are being sold for. When I first got into DIY CNC Machining I started looking around the internet and was dumbfounded by the expense. Some machines will come with software that will run the machine, others will not. Below I will talk more about different types of CNC machines and ultimately building your own, like I did.
You don’t have to be an engineer to build your own machine. All you need is small welder and the ability to cut thin metal pipe.
The CNC Machine
Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine have become very popular. They allow the freedom to create anything you can imagine and you get the reward and pleasure of seeing something you created. I cannot go into detail on each machine. Instead, I am going to explain the pros and cons of the design and why you should build your own.
Most CNC machines, under $3000 are relatively small. I haven’t found a reason why they are so expensive, maybe it’s because they are pretty neat machines, I don’t think that justifies the cost. Basically, all a CNC machine consists of is a lower platform, a vertical platform sometimes referred to as the transom and some brackets to hold the Z (up and down) axis to the transom.
Then we have the rails, the screws to move the machine and 3 stepper motors.
The above description is the basics to the machine. You will have other smaller items such as the small screws to mount the rails but those are pretty minute compared to the rest of the machine. You will also have what is called the anti backlash nuts. I built my own machine for $1000 that can cut 3 ft. x 16″, which is gigantic compared to what you can buy for $3000.
Small CNC Kits
I quick Google search for CNC machines will give you many examples of machines for sale. In my price range I quickly found machines that are under $200. Very cool right? Well those machine typically have a very very small cutting or working area. The machine I found cost $179 and will cut a maximum of 130mm x100mm x 40mm (roughly 4″ x 5″). What can you make that is that small? This is a kit you put together, it doesn’t come pre-assembled.
You can buy bigger kits but the price goes up exponentially from there. You still need to buy the software to design the pieces you are going to cut.
A DIY Machine opens up your options, the sky is the limit. Like I mentioned above. You don’t need to be an engineer to build your own. A Google search of DIY Machines will bring up many posts with step by step instructions on how to build it. There is even a materials list that you need to buy if you are going to make the exact same machine. Below I will break down the parts needed and give a short description of each.
I took the step by step instructions and went off on my own with my machine. There were some things I felt I could have done better and the room I had to store the machine played into changing the design as well. I went to EBay and searched for Linear Rails. These are the rails that the machine moves along. You can find almost any size you want.
- The frame is one of the most important parts. The rails will mount to the frame so you want them to be exactly parallel to each other. Also, when building the Y axis frame it will need to be exactly 90 degrees to the X axis frame.
- Linear rails are one of the best ways to move the machine. The bearings that go along with it are very good at sweeping away the saw dust that lands on them, keeping the bearing moving freely.
- Here is a link to the rails, one of the most important parts. Here you can choose the lengths you want.
- Stepper Motors
- You need one stepper motor for each axis. These are great little motors that are designed for this purpose. I regular electric motor won’t work. You can find good motors on EBay in a kit that includes the control board and cable to hook up to the computer that you’ll be using. Here is a link to a great kit that has the motors, control board, power supply and cable.
- Acme Screw
- I used a 1/2″ 5 start acme screw. What the heck is 5 start? A typical screw has one continuous thread that goes all the way up the screw. A 5 start screw has 5 separate threads that help move the Anti Backlash nut move the machine.
- Anti Backlash nut
- These nuts mount to the frame of the X, Y and Z axis. They are a threaded nut that move along the acme screw. They are designed to take out the play when moving back and forth.
- Control board
- This is used to control the stepper motors. There are a couple good boards out there but I’ve had good luck using the Chinese board that came with my kit.
The software is a biggy. It is one of the most expensive pieces to this whole thing. The software has to convert what you design into G Code. G Code is the language used by CNC Machines. To make a circle it takes hundreds of lines of code. To make a straight line there is code that starts the machine at a specific coordinate and a code to stop the line at a specific coordinate. Think about how many lines to make something intricate. Some things I cut have been over 100,000 lines of G Code.
There is free software out there such as Easel. Easel can carve letters and simple designs but it doesn’t have a great ability for 3d carving. I tried it but for it was lacking for what I wanted.
My recommendation is to use Vectric Software. Depending on what you want to do there are many options or tiers to their software. You can easily go to Vectric.com and look at their products. Once you have bought some software they offer many free projects. I use VCarve Pro and have been very happy with it. I have found their customer service to be excellent as well.
Once you decide on the software to design what you want to make you need to be able to cut it. I haven’t found any software in the “Hobby” market that can both design and run a cutting machine. For that I turned to Mach3. Mach3 has been out for a very long time. Basically, you save your design in G Code format and then import that file into Mach3. Mach3 is design to run CNC machines and you’ll find all the controls you need. I use a separate computer for design and cutting and use a USB flash drive to transfer the file from one computer to the other. This allows my to free up on computer and continue designing or whatever else I want.
Go Forth and Conquer
I hope I’ve answered some questions for you. Hopefully I didn’t create more. Don’t worry about feeling like there is no way you can do this. Once you get started you will build the confidence and be cutting in no time. I am not a computer programmer and had no idea the journey making a machine would take me on. I am always making fun thank you plaques for our kids’ football and baseball coaches.
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