Despite the “maker” craze that’s developed in the past few years, there still doesn’t seem to be an affordable assembled CNC router – they typically start at $10,000, and go way up from there.
The reasons for the high prices apppear to be trying to do all these things at the same time:
- for daily industrial use, they need to be made of steel, or at least carefully engineered, heavy-duty aluminum
- for metalworking, they need to be oil-proof – tolerant of oil misting/cooling, especially the bed
- guaranteeing .001″ tolerances (accuracy and repeatability) forever requires the right engineering and parts
- handling heavy parts is expensive for labor, inventory, assembly, packaging and shipping. Industrial mills generally weigh half a ton and up.
- factory-made products have a warranty, and leases, financing and resales are easier
- after building a monster tool, there needs to be a profit.
By contrast, you can buy an electric compound miter saw almost anywhere on earth for about $100 now.
Some of the lower-cost assembled benchtop CNC routers are:
Taig sells well-regarded CNC routers and lathes for $2,000 to $5,000 that can handle cutting steel.
Sherline sells similar products to Taig, but with a z-axis column that some have said is susceptible to vibration.
Note that the X4 and V90 both have relatively small beds.
Rockler sells a few models of the OEM CNC Shark routers for $2,500 – $4,000. They are intended for wood sign carving and use the 1.0 HP Bosch Colt router. Some commercial software is included.
I have read rumors that the following routers are made by the same company/plant in China: Sieg X2, Cummins 7877 Mini Mill, Grizzly G8689 Mini Milling Machine, Harbor Freight 44991 Central, Machinery Mini Mill/Drill, Hare & Forbes HM-10 Mini Mill Drill, Homier 03947 Speedway Mini Mill, and Micro-Mark
So that leaves the DIY community for hobby/light-industrial users, with completed kits around $350 to $1,500 and up.
Solsylva 18″x24″ CNC router, which can cut materials ranging in hardness from plastic to aluminum and brass for about $1,000.
As far as software goes, there’s 3 layers in the DIY CAD/CAM stack:
- CAD – typically Mach3 (Windows XP, $175) and TurboCNC (DOS, $60) are used for 2D/basic 3D, but any software like CorelDraw that can export DXF files can be used. For true 3D, RhinoCAM/VisualMill (starting at $999 for 3-axis) are used.
- CAM – ACE Converter (free) converts DXF to G-code.
- the machine controller executes G-code.
Some of the advantages of building your own DIY CNC router are:
- lower total cost by optimizing what features you need
- reduce shipping costs by sourcing parts locally
- thorough understanding of your machine assembly and maintenance
- can build a bed as large as necessary, with significant cost savings on 36″ and 48″ beds
- can control the total machine weight (industrial units weigh 1/4 ton to 1 ton)
- can participate in numerous builder community forms, etc.
- parts can be reused in future designs
- learn CAD/CAM on a small router and move up later to an industrial unit using the same software.
It’s recommended that you add a second parallel port to your PC and use that in case of electrical malfunction from your CNC router. If the parallel port smokes, then you can easily replace it rather than the whole motherboard. The XYZ movement, plus vacuum operation, generates static electricity.
If your milling machine doesn’t have a powered Z-axis, but your CAM software assumes that it does, then TurboCNC Zbreak (DOS, $20) could be helpful.
If you have Perl installed, then a 1-liner like this can do something similar:
perl -pe 's/(G8.*)$/$1M00/s' <infile >outfile
Some tips are:
- a rule of thumb is that your router should be as strong as the hardest piece you’re cutting. That means cutting hard steel or stainless steel requires a steel machine.
- each pass should only dig as deep as the width of your bit
- moisture and temperature affect accuracy.
- wood/MDF can dampen vibrations.
Xylotex (Automation, Motion Control & Robotics Products)
Solsylva CNC Router Plans
Roland DG ($$$ consumer CNC)
CarveWright ($$ consumer/signmaker CNC, not G-Code compatible)
Nexen Roller Pinions
Sommerfeld Tools Tables and Fences
Porter-Cable 892 2-1/4-Horsepower Router
ebay user nanoer from San Jose sells plastic CNC routers using Dremel/Ryobi, YouTube MrNanoer, YouTube: Droid 7 on wood
ebay user carolbrent with controllers
Machine Tool Porn by Glacern (looks like a Mori Seiki mill)
Double Sided PCB CNC Milling ZenToolworks 7×7 with gEDA/gschemaand gEDA/pcb -> G-code -> EMC2 (to install on Mac OSX, sudo fink install geda-bundle), G-code Height Post-processing
blacktoe CNC machine kit demonstration – machines making machines making machines …