Entry level CNC

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Forum topic by BoomWood posted 07-07-2016 05:18 PM 1349 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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52 posts in 1151 days

07-07-2016 05:18 PM

I’ve begun researching CNC’s and hope to get one within the next few months. I can’t find good and current information on which CNC’s are good for entry level.
I have no experience with them
Don’t know any type of coding so any programs that come with it I will have to learn from scratch
This is really for hobby use, although I have plans to sell some items down the road if this works out.
I only work on small projects – Cutting boards, clocks, knives etc..
Budget is minimal, I’m hoping not to spend more than $2,0000- ish

Any suggestions or websites that break down my options?


6 replies so far

View brtech's profile


1042 posts in 3069 days

#1 posted 07-07-2016 07:47 PM

The base spec that determines cost is the size of the object you can cut (X,Y) and the depth of cut (Z). So, that’s where you start. Sounds like you need something in the range of 24×24 by maybe 2 or 3 inches. That puts you out of the smallest machines, which can be 12×12 x 2

After that, there are things like:
What is the spindle: which can be a rotary tool (Dremel), small router, large router or a purpose built high speed CNC spindle.
Size of movement (step size) and accuracy of movement (two very different things).
Interfaces (how it connects to other things, often a computer that runs it, although some machines have an on-board computer).
What kind of motors (steppers on most inexpensive machines, servos on expense ones)
How the X/Y mechanism works (what couples the spinning of the positioning motors to the movement of the “gantry”. There are belts, threaded rods, rack and pinion and others.

And then there is software. You have to consider 3 kinds of software:
1. What actually drives the machine. This is most often some kind of “g-code” interpreter. Might be included with the machine, might be something you need to download or purchase.
2. What generates g-code from your design file. Mostly commercial software, there is some open source available. Look up the Vetric products for example.
3. What you use to create the design (a CAD system). Could be Sketch-up, which the base is free, but only the pro version creates the most common export file the g-code generators use, or it could be AutoCAD or some variant of Auto-CAD, or some newer 3D CAD system

There are some higher end CAD systems that include g-code generators, but most of the low end stuff is separate.

You design the part in the CAD system, turn it into g-code (which involves deciding on which bits are used for what paths), and then run the g-code on your CNC to cut the part.

View MadMark's profile


979 posts in 1600 days

#2 posted 07-07-2016 09:27 PM

Rockler has triple head units for about $3000. They 3D print (extrude), lase, & cut.

You can cut 6061 alum with a single flute solid carbide upcut bit in a Porter-cable 690 router.

If you cut metal you’ll also need a cutting fluid system – which will ruin a wood based gantry.

Typical systems can hold 0.001”or tighter.

Mach3 is a common package for gcoding your cnc. Gcode is ancient and very easy to code for simple cuts and drills but gets tedious in a hurry. The are many others. My laser engraver runs Benbox.

Learning CAD is much harder than learning gcode so my suggestion is learn gcode to start until you master CAD.

I had gotten our CNC to the point where you could draw in cad, export, process & cut all in one smooth operation. Took some time to get to that point.


-- Madmark -

View BoomWood's profile


52 posts in 1151 days

#3 posted 07-08-2016 12:43 AM

Another question I have is if I want mostly to make templates and engraving, is a CNC the best option or are there other machines better suited for this?

View Todd's profile


409 posts in 1823 days

#4 posted 07-08-2016 01:10 AM

I love my X-Carve but it takes assembly and tuning. For $2K you can get the machine and necessary software. I use VCarve Pro. Some people find it frustrating because they can’t deal with assembling the machine, tuning it, and the CNC learning curve all at once.

If you want a turnkey system you’ll end up spending more than $2K.

-- Todd, Huntsville, AL

View DJFB's profile


2 posts in 834 days

#5 posted 07-08-2016 01:56 PM

I have a shark cnc from rockler works 25”x 25”. Still learning it, but all I need to learn is the vcarve pro. I got the store demo when they put a new model out and got a great dea, assembled. With shark + vcarce pro you don’t need to learn programming. If you only want to do small sizes like 12×12, checkout these.

View BoomWood's profile


52 posts in 1151 days

#6 posted 07-08-2016 08:35 PM

Thanks for the input everyone

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