Are you interested in buying a CNC machine for home or your garage workshop? The good news is there are a lot of desktop CNCs now specifically designed for hobbyists and small shop owners. Here are some suggestions to help you make the right decision, and as you’ll see there’s more than cost involved.
For homes or a small shop, there are basically three types of CNC machines to choose from, a router, milling machine and lathe.
When choosing a machine, you also have to consider power, weight and space.
As far as power goes, the rule is to get the most powerful machine you can afford. Even if you’re just a starter, it won’t take long before you start building large, complex projects that can push a small machine to its limits.
Is the machine made of cast iron? This makes for a heavy duty machine, rigid and long lasting. While they’re resistant to wear and tear, these are also heavy. A lighter but no less effective option would be CNC machines made from aluminum or polymer composites.
CNC machines use either servo or stepper motors. Servos are more precise and expensive, which is why they’re found on higher end systems. The benefit of a servo motor is that it is a closed loop system: its position is verified against a glass scale or another measuring system to ensure its accuracy.
Stepper motors have an open loop system, so commands are executed without verifying its location against another device. While servo motors are more accurate, stepper motors should work just fine for beginners. If pinpoint accuracy and repeatability are not major concerns, stepper motors will do fine.
The cutting area (known as the work envelope in milling machines) determines how large a workpiece your machine can handle. Before you buy a router, milling machine or lathe, think of how large a piece you’ll be working with. Can the machine handle it?
Majority of home CNC systems have Y axes with travel of 4 inches, while others have greater capabilities. If you’re going to work with vacuum tables, fixtures, vices etc. make certain they’ll fit in.
The feed rate determines how quickly the machine cuts material. The higher the feed rate the faster the machine works. If you’re running a business that involves mass producing parts, this makes all the difference.
The feed rate in CNC milling machines is measured in IPM (inches per minute). Small machines have a feed rate ranging from 16 30 IPM while more powerful models go up to 140 IPM.
Look for high spindle speeds if you’re going to work with prototype materials, plastic, wood and nonferrous metals. For other types of materials, low spindle speeds will be necessary.
Desktop CNC machines come with all the basic tools necessary to do your work. However, you’ll want to buy some tools and accessories to improve your craft. What you buy depends on your needs and what you’re working on, but here are some suggestions.
Don’t use smaller cutters until you’ve learned how to work with these cutters. You’ll also end up breaking a few cutters during your first few attempts, but that’s to be expected.
We also have to point out how important it is for you to master the MDI mode on your CNC. This might seem contradictory since a CNC machine is supposed to automate tasks. But learning how to use the MDI means you’ll be able to diagnose problems and understand how the machine works. Lastly, read the manual that came with your machine. You’re probably eager to get your hands dirty so to speak, but it’s better to go through the user guide first.
CNC machines were originally built to increase productivity in manufacturing, but now there are a growing number of these machines designed for hobbyists. Because they’re available online, it’s just a matter of pointing and clicking to get what you want. With the information provided here, you’ll have no trouble finding the right machine.
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