Pondering CNC

  • Advertise with us

« back to Power Tools, Hardware and Accessories forum

Forum topic by RoundestRock posted 10-18-2011 11:19 PM 2380 views 0 times favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View RoundestRock's profile


49 posts in 2879 days

10-18-2011 11:19 PM

Topic tags/keywords: cnc cnc router looking cnc cheep cnc starting cnc question

I’ve been doing wood working for some time, but I’d like to get into small parts prototyping. To that ends I’m starting to consider CNC machines. What I’d like to know from my fellow LJ’s is: where to start looking, and what to avoid and why. If I look at small no-name outfits what should I be aware of? I’m trying to stay on the cheep as well. Anything above $5K will be out of my range. My local is Seattle, so any advice there would help as well. Thanks for the advice!

-- I only WISH I could do this for a living. Problem is I don't want to sell anything I make!

7 replies so far

View brtech's profile


1029 posts in 2948 days

#1 posted 10-18-2011 11:35 PM

I guess there are two big starter questions:
a) What is the biggest piece you want to be able to make?
b) What is your tolerance for build vs buy?

Basically, there are small and large machines, and there are DIY cheap and expensive single source all inclusive machines expensive.

$5K is enough to get a decent 48×48” machine if you DIY. It’s enough to get a decent machine with maybe 24×24 without much work on your part.

There are some in between options that are more cost, less work.

But let’s start there, and we can help you.

I have a 48×48 DIY. Lots of work. Very cool device. FLA-300 from, but I would probably send you to now for a similar product because fineline has some shipping issues.

The place to go for any kind of cnc info is

View DS's profile


2926 posts in 2446 days

#2 posted 10-19-2011 06:13 PM

I have set up several CNC machines here in the Phoenix area.

Many shops make the mistake of thinking that a CNC will solve thier production problems. Technology is definately an enhancer or an accellerator, but not the central feature of a business growth model. If your systems are not properly setup for what you are producing, a CNC will amplify those problems, not make them go away. You’d be surprised how much faster you can produce good parts AND produce mistakes with a CNC.

Most people underestimate the value of appropriate software to go with thier expensive hardware purchase. The term GIGO applies here: Good In Good Out, Garbage In Garbage Out. A CNC, regardless if it costs $5k or $500k, is only as good as the software driving it. The top line packages runs upwards of $20k just for software. I’ve spent as much as $34k for a top notch system supporting $20M annual gross sales.

Here’s a tip I will pass on to you regarding CNC. I compare it to horses and swimming pools. Sometimes it is better to have a friend with one, than to own one yourself. All of the benefits, none of the downside.
If you feel a CNC will help you, make arrangements with a local shop with a machine and spend some time working things out. I usually can get hourly rates around $100 to $120 for machine time. (A small investment to prove your theory I suspect.) A lot of shops are dealing with the slow down in the economy and are eager to make up production to pay the monthly lease on their machine and will be more willing to work with you.

Then, if you can really see the benefits, an entry level pro machine can be bought new at around $125k, used at around $75k. Rigging, electrical, air and dust collection will add another $15k to $20k to your costs. (A vaccuum system can add another $20k – $30k, but would be essential if you decide to do nesting.) All of this can be setup on a commercial lease for a surprisingly affordable rate. (And no, I don’t rep for, nor sell CNC machines)

Best of luck to you!

-- "Hard work is not defined by the difficulty of the task as much as a person's desire to perform it.", DS251

View Jeremy Greiner's profile

Jeremy Greiner

568 posts in 2797 days

#3 posted 10-19-2011 08:53 PM

While I agree with DS251 on the garbage in, garbage out system I don’t think you need to get a second mortgage to get a CNC machine. is a great site for building your own CNC machines. There are several kits you can buy well within your price range.

A full 4’x8’ CNC kit is 3k you still have to supply the router, computer and software. But you can get a router, computer strong enough for CNC work (you don’t need a super computer here) and software.

Software can range from free to super expensive. has a good list of CNC software options.

Time is money, the more time you are willing or able to put into it, the more money you can save.

If you need a drop shipped CNC machine that instantly works and works 100% of the time .. then you’ll need to spend more money.

-- Easy to use end grain cutting board designer:

View DS's profile


2926 posts in 2446 days

#4 posted 10-19-2011 10:19 PM

I remember attending AWFS in Anaheim about a week after taking the reigns and committing to my first CNC purchase for my employer.
Komo had shipped in a massive machine that would be delivered to a client in the area following the show. It had a 16 foot wide by 5 foot deep table for machining aircraft wings or something rediculous.
As I stood by watching them demo the machine by cutting out toy doll rocking chairs made from 1/2” Baltic Birch Plywood, I was looking forward to getting my hands on our own machine the following week.

About that time, two woodworkers from another state passed in front of me discussing the machine. One said to the other, “That sure is an awful expensive way to make doll toys.”

Suddenly, fear gripped me and I wondered if I had made a mistake. I quickly opened my phone and brought up a calculator. After entering the cost of the machine, the anticipated hours per week it would be used, the lease payments and the cycle time for the doll chairs, (4 minutes per 5X5 sheet, 4 chairs per sheet), I came to conclusion that each chair cost less than 90 cents to produce on this machine. You can’t imagine my relief!

If you gave me a 5 X 5 sheet of Baltic Birch and $3.60 and asked me to make four doll rocking chairs, I’d tell you where to get off.

As it turns out, a CNC is one of the most cost effective ways to produce toy doll chairs. It’s been 14 years since then and I’ve never looked back.

-- "Hard work is not defined by the difficulty of the task as much as a person's desire to perform it.", DS251

View RoundestRock's profile


49 posts in 2879 days

#5 posted 10-20-2011 03:18 AM

A) 24’’ X 24’’ for now, though that is liable to grow.
B) I have a very high tolerance to build. I just got done with a home made 24’’ drum sander that saved me a bunch of money. Will post it once the finishing details are in place.

Though I’m a pretty serious wood worker, I’ve never had the client base for anything I’ve made. I think the only tools I have that have paid for them selves are my hand plains. So I guess you can say I’m look at this on a hobby basis.

I agree an all counts. And thanks for the links. Time is money, and I have LOTS of time, and no money! lol

On a more general basis, I already (several) adequate computers. Also, I think a CNC router is likely the way I will go. The problem I’m trying to solve is I’m making small things with moving parts. I can get within +- 0.025 ’’ using the approach I have now. Problem is that leaves too much back lash, or things jam, or get out of true in production. If I could get to within +-0.005’’ I’be be fine.

I have thought of renting machine time with someone I know. The problem is turnaround. My process is draft, cut, test, repeat. I’d like each rev of that to take about 30 minutes. Going with anyone I’ve looked at the best turnaround is daily. Once my prototype is working I could take it to a better machine for mass production. But I have a TON of stuff that needs fabricated, tested, and probably adjusted.

I like the BIY machine idea so far. I’ll keep checking here for more ideas. And I’ll let you all know if I find anything interesting in my own searches.

Thanks again!

-- I only WISH I could do this for a living. Problem is I don't want to sell anything I make!

View RoundestRock's profile


49 posts in 2879 days

#6 posted 10-20-2011 03:21 AM

DS251: Thanks for the anecdote. I feel much better about my search now :)

-- I only WISH I could do this for a living. Problem is I don't want to sell anything I make!

View brtech's profile


1029 posts in 2948 days

#7 posted 10-20-2011 05:38 AM

Okay, so in that size, you can build an MDF machine or an aluminum extrusion (8020) machine. With a $5K budget, I’d definitely do an 8020 based machine – much more accurate and stable.

Look at the basic FLA-100 at There is a complete set of plans there, free, with a BOM. If you want to make it yourself, no problem, go for it. You can also buy some of the parts from Nate at fineline, like the rails, which he predrills accurately. This design uses the cncrouterparts carriages, which are really solid. There are a couple of other choices for this class machine. There are some problems actually buying things from Nate. The quality is excellent, the communication and shipping times can be painful. I think it’s worth the wait, but others don’t.

Go for a G540 based controller, and Mach for the controller software. You can get that from cncrouterparts, Kelling, or a couple of other places as a kit, with the controller, motors and cabling. Besides the FLA parts, you need a router mount (get that from K2 CNC), and a router. The Hitachi M12VC is a popular choice. You also need limit/home switches, a dust management solution and a cable management solution. When you get a fully built system, everything comes with it. When you DIY, you have to get a lot of the parts from different places, but then you get to choose, hunt for bargains on ebay, etc.

Then you need design software. I am partial to Sketchup, because there is lots of help here and elsewhere on how to use it for woodworking projects. I have pro, which makes it easy to export a DXF, but there are other ways to do it with the free version. Then you need a CAM program. I like Cambam, but there are several other choices including the Vectrix line of products.

All of that is going to cost you less than $5K. You’ll have a blast making it work.

Hang out on the DIY Wood Router forum at cnczone:

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics