Looking for recommendations for a CNC machine

Hey there, I am in the market for a CNC machine for woodworking. I have a small business and would like to learn how to use a machine for prototyping. Our budget is in the 5K neighborhood. There seem to be many brands and it’s hard to know what is a good choice. Thanks in advance, Dan

How big? What size work area do you need for the work you have in mind?

Are you looking for fully assembled only, or would you consider kits as well in order to make budget? This will matter at some size. $5K means that no ShopBot is within your range; even their desktop unit is about $9K. If you are open to kits, that brings the WorkBee into range. If you don’t need a large workspace, the smallest Axiom unit just barely fits in your budget. The X-Carve is in the middle of your range; $2600 for a 1-meter-footprint unit.

The Shapeoko 4 by Carbide3D is also getting good reviews for a kit CNC.

Hey Michael, so I think 2x4 ft would be best. We need a commercial type machine and the budget could adjust if that was a better long term choice. We would be milling hardwoods into 3x3 inch blocks and drilling holes in each block. I will look at Axiom, WorkBee and Shopbot.

The Shapeoko seems more like a hobby machine, I think we will need to invest in a commercial type machine.

Also the ShopBot desktop is only 24in x 18in but 9K, I am not sure why it’s so much more than the Axiom, Laguna, Stepcraft, etc?

The example brands I gave weren’t intended to be exhaustive, was just trying to illustrate some price points to get a sense of what tradeoffs you were considering.

I haven’t compared ShopBot to Axiom in detail, but generally you pay for stiffness. Simple deflection of a beam under point force grows with the cube of the length, and I actually don’t know how to characterize response to twisting moment… I’ve used a ShopBot (years ago) and it was quite stiff. I remember that it used a steel gantry rather than extruded aluminum.

The WorkBee Ooznest uses v-slot style extrusion, which isn’t as rigid. My home-built OX-derived router on a 1M x 1.5M platform uses C-beam v-slot for X and Y and it’s still not as rigid as I’d like. The Axiom still uses aluminum, but it is supposed to be more a more rigid cross section. Ditto for Stepcraft, who show the cross section of their gantries in their materials.

All the Laguna models I see are way out of the budget you identified.

The Stepcraft D series looks like it could be pretty close to your budget if you can compromise on bed size — since you are looking at 3" square blocks it’s trading off for a little bit more setup time. The Q series does have the 2’ x 4’ bed you’d like at $7500, half again your budget. In between, the M series is in your general price range. I would choose ball screws over threaded rod for less backlash if precision is important. It might be that the drylin nuts on threaded rod would be good enough and deal better with dust though, if you can handle a relatively trivial amount of backlash.

If I were buying a router to process hardwood commercially, I would consider only routers with linear rail for all the axes. Wheels on v-slot will wear and need adjustment too much, I think. Trying to keep the eccentrics adjusted right on my router is a pain that I’d like to leave behind.

Considerations:

  • Do you want gcode control of spindle speed? The units that take a Makita / Dewalt AC spindle generally don’t allow that but are often just fine for cutting only wood. If you want gcode control of spindle speed, I would recommend against using brushed DC motors. Three-phase AC spindle motors and a VFD that is already set up to work with the controller would be best.
  • Are you OK with only ¼" shanks (any router will support this) or do you want relatively arbitrary shank diameters (consider routers with ER11 or ER16 collets)? For cutting only wood, ¼" and ⅛" collets will probably address all your actual needs. I was glad to have an ER11 spindle to experiment with metric roughing mills that @Kurt_Meister recommended, but I’m a hobbyist who wants to experiment, and that’s not important for just getting a job done.
  • How important is bed size relative to other considerations? Being able to to have a narrower gantry makes a substantial difference in stiffness.

Michael your questions are very helpful, it’s making me think of considerations I hadn’t thought of.

For the budget, as I learn more and consider the capabilities of different “levels” of machines I am realizing that 8K give or take seems to be the right area.

I definitely do want a spindle as opposed to a router, mainly for noise and power reasons. Would prefer water cooled but not sure that’s critical, I don’t think we would ever be pushing the machine really hard. Not sure what a “air cooled” spindle is, I have seen that mentioned, I have to assume it has a air pump pushing air through the housing?

For bit shanks, I would expect to use primarily bits less than 1/2" a majority of the time.

For bed size, I would think 2X4 would be a sweet spot. One thing I saw with a Stepcraft was that the gantry would move past the end of the bed a few inches which would allow work pieces to be mounted vertically against the end of the machine to do things like dovetails and tenons. Not expecting to do much of that for business but I am a hobby woodworker so that might be a nice feature.

Currently I am looking closer at the Axiom Pro V5, the Laguna IQ series, and the the Stepcraft Q204. Also need to look at the Camaster machines.

Appreciate your help sorting these things out Michael.

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I have a water-cooled 1.5kW spindle. I have a CW-3000 clone cooler that leaked and is noisy. In retrospect if I were doing it over from scratch I’d have used a CPU cooler. It doesn’t take much cooling, honestly. And @Eclsnowman used a CPU cooler on his LienCNC V2 with a 2.2kW spindle cutting aluminum. I would expect any of the commercial units to get this right out of the box; it is those of us designing our own that get into trouble here. :grin:

Air cooled spindles typically have a fan attached to the spindle axis that just blows air over the spindle. Some are exposed (my previous 800W spindle brushed spindle had an exposed fan that ate through my vacuum hose when it touched), and some are protected (typical when the spindle is presented in a rectangular case like this Vevor).

For half-inch shanks, ER20 is as small as you can go. It will be the sweet spot for you. ER collets each have a range of supported shaft diameters, so if you have a full set of collets you can hold basically any tool within the total range.

Those three units and the Camaster Stinger I look generally comparable.

To be honest the amount of heat on the water cooled spindle is minimal. At least on the 2.2 KW one I use. Even when taking fairly aggressive cuts with a 1/4" tool in aluminum it never gets above ambient using the CPU cooler. After having used the bucket technique for years I’d never go back. The limiting factor for me in aluminum is normally chatter not spindle load.

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Hey everyone I got a i2R 2x4 machine with a 2HP spindle. Thanks for the help in sorting out what I needed.

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This one?

Glad we were able to be helpful! :tada:

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Yes Sir that is the machine but I got the advanced kit, which basically means it just came with more stuff :slight_smile:

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@mcdanlj with those mini routers having speed stabilization builtin and adjustment knobs, I’m surprised nobody has hacked on GCode speed control. What goes through my mind is that most CNC operators are not electronics hackers since I see that at the woodworking club I’ve been a member of and they have over 1,000 members.

On the subject of CNC machines, a low cost machine for doing metal and wood would be the Chinese 3040 type like this: USB 4 Axis CNC 3040 Router Engraver 3D PCB Engraving Drilling Machine 400W + RC | eBay

with a modification to add a mini router(Makita/etc) it would do aluminum pretty well. Quite a small work area but not too small for many parts.

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