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"homemade" cnc router

Discussion in 'General Chit-Chat' started by Just Another Sign Guy, Feb 16, 2010.

  1. Just Another Sign Guy

    Just Another Sign Guy Very Active Member

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    i have had multiple inquiries in the last month from people who are interested in building a cnc router themselves. so i thought this would be a good topic for those who are interested in exploring this and those who have gone through the process.

    the first thing i will say is that i have encountered MANY more people who have started to build a router and failed to complete it than those who have completed the project.

    my recommendation for your first build is to throw the ideas of building a 4' X 8' table out of your mind. start small. build a small router say 14" X 26" giving you a cutting area of 12" X 24" so that you can learn the fundamentals and control costs. there are many challenges that arise as you get into bigger machines not to mention the costs go up considerably.

    if you are hell bent on going big your first time out...don't say you were not warned and if you do not have any experience i would recommend buying a cheap o small router off of ebay or some other source and familiarizing yourself with the general concept, they really are not complex machines and then you can reverse engineer the project.

    an alternative that i am seeing many people do is to buy an older professionally built cnc router that runs on .dos or some even older than that that require manual writing of g-code or even punchcards and then replacing the motors and control systems, i have seen some very nice builds from ppl who have gone this direction. just recently i encountered an old shopbot for less than $1200 for a 4X8 machine you will be hard pressed to purchase the components for that dollar amount and then upgrade and update from there.

    just some thoughts to get this topic going.
     
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  2. onesource

    onesource Very Active Member

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    How do the ones work that you have built?
     
  3. CheapVehicleWrap

    CheapVehicleWrap Very Active Member

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    A friend of mine built a 4x8 MONSTER 5 axis machine you could park a van on the table without any flex.
     
  4. miguelon.lizarraga

    miguelon.lizarraga Active Member

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    Where do you find deals like that!??? 1200 for a 4x8? Was it functioning shop bot?

     
  5. cfbeagle

    cfbeagle Member

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    My homebuilt router.

    I thought I might add to this thread. I just finished building a CNC router. It is a 4 x 8 table.

    I built a Mechmate. I would HIGHLY recommend building this machine. The plans are free. I absolutely love this machine. I sold a Shopbot to build this machine. It blows my shopbot away. It took 3 weeks and $5500 to complete. Below are some links.

    Pictures of my router: http://blakescreations.blogspot.com/

    My build thread: http://www.mechmate.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2451

    The Mechmate website: www.mechmate.com
     
  6. Just Another Sign Guy

    Just Another Sign Guy Very Active Member

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    onesource i have built many different machines from small machines like i have described out of scrap mdf, to a custom 12' X 18' monster for a client...they all work as they were intended to.

    regarding the old shopbot and where to find it there are a few forums that cnc enthusiasts frequent one of them is mach3's another is the one hosted by shopbot tools. i actually referred a member of this site to the old shopbot that was located in the same town as the machine and it is now sitting in his shop for when he has the time and energy to rebuild and update the machine...there are many old machines out there (not just shopbots) some very professional machines that were in use in cabinet shops and other fabrication industries that really have very little value other than the price of scrap, keep your eyes open..they are still big projects to update but it is another means to build your own machine if you want to avoid all of the fabrication.
     
  7. Lunatic Taskbar

    Lunatic Taskbar Very Active Member

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    This is something I would really like to get into doing. But I am totally at a loss as to where to even start.

    So I will watch this thread with interest.

    Ian
     
  8. ChiknNutz

    ChiknNutz Major Contributor

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    I've been following the MechMate site for a while and would highly recommend digging in there and soaking it all in for a while...TONS of fantastic info there.
     
  9. onesource

    onesource Very Active Member

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    Thanks, I have entertained purchasing a router but building one isn't a bad idea either
     
  10. Just Another Sign Guy

    Just Another Sign Guy Very Active Member

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    Blake just curious what is your estimate on the time it took to build your mechmate and costs?

    one thing i will say about more recent shopbots is that in my experience they hold their value fairly well compared to other tools we all have in our shops but as you experienced they are not a perfect machine and in my opinion are a better fit for hobby type work than the average production shop...of course there are production shops that love them.

    i think it is also important to think about what you want to do with your router. many shops have no intention of using them for anything more than an automated 'jigsaw' to simply cut out custom single dimensional shapes. this is where the lower end machines are a good fit..but if you want to do full dimensional pieces with custom textures, etc you are most likely going to be looking at investing in a higher end machine at some point.
     
  11. Lunatic Taskbar

    Lunatic Taskbar Very Active Member

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    Well said Dan, this would be exactly what I would be looking for.

    What would you suggest I start looking at?

    Many thanks

    Ian
     
  12. Just Another Sign Guy

    Just Another Sign Guy Very Active Member

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    Ian well i've got more ?'s before i give you an answer...because i've seen a few different 'camps'. there are those that think that all they want to do is cut out custom shapes, dimensional letters and that is it...and then there are those that start that way and then they start building upon the basics and pushing their skills and they want to move from doing simple shapes to tight fitting pocketed pieces and relief work and then they want to do dimensional pieces and then they want to do custom textures...and they find out that they would have been better off buying a machine that would accomodate their growth and goals that they just hadn't realized yet.
     
  13. Lunatic Taskbar

    Lunatic Taskbar Very Active Member

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    I do understand Dan. I would be firmly in the custom cut outs camp.

    But I guess its like anything you don't know until you experience it. you may hate it, or simply not get on with it. But as you say you could always thrive on doing it and grow in a totally new and unexpected direction.

    I would still think that I would be more suited to custom shapes. I think I would rather have a machine that can in its self enable me to grow and to then purchase somethign larger as opposed to getting something that will only be used to 10% of what it can do.

    I guess what i'm saying is I would rather learn to drive, and buy a run-a-round, see how I like driving and then use the run-a-round through doing little jobs to fund my racing driver ambition if I like it that much. To me it would be better than purchasing a racing car and only using it to take go to the local store for milk and bread.

    Does that analogy make sense?

    So any advice or pointers would be very greatly appreciated. Im not ready to purchase just now. but if I can get an idea of what i'm potentially looking for or possibly more important what I shouldn't be looking for. Anything would be a great help.

    I do appreciate your advice Dan.

    Ian
     
  14. Just Another Sign Guy

    Just Another Sign Guy Very Active Member

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    and do you need to be able to cut a 4X8? what materials do you think you will be cutting?
     
  15. cfbeagle

    cfbeagle Member

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    Dan, I would say I have around 100 hours total in the build with an additional 50 hours of time spent on the Mechmate forum. This was done during business hours while waiting on the printer to print or plotter to cut, etc...

    Ian I don't want to keep grinding the same axe but that is what makes the Mechmate so great. If you have any skill with your hands at all you can produce a machine that is fast and unbelievably accurate for the price of the hobby machine. The Mechmate is a huge welded iron beast that is cunningly designed so that it absolutely does not flex. Then you install steppers with 7 to one geardrives on them. On my machine it takes 3055 steps to get 1 inch of linear movement. That is accuracy to 1/3 of .001"
     
  16. Pat Whatley

    Pat Whatley Major Contributor

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    CNC routers are doing to the dimensional sign business what vinyl and digital printers did to the regular sign business. More and more people who can't design a damn FOR SALE BY OWNER coro sign are jumping on the CNC bandwagon and the work coming out is nothing short of atrocious.

    Some days I just hate this business.
     
  17. Just Another Sign Guy

    Just Another Sign Guy Very Active Member

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    i agree with you completely Pat and i think we all saw the writing on the wall many years ago in that what was once a niche would soon be another service or product sold by the inch. today more than any other time in my career i would say that you need to get into this trade with a clearly defined plan...either you are a top notch designer and have the ability to build a client base that is willing to pay for that skill, or you have the ability to design effective well thought out projects that will fulfill the goals of your client base (in short you have invested the time to learn marketing fundamentals and have put them to the test and generated proven results), or become known for top notch customer service....or be prepared to duke it out in the nitty gritty signs by the pound who will do the job for the lowest price..not a game i want to play.

    cfbeagle what are your estimated out of pocket costs for the entire project not including the time involved..hard dollars. it is an impressive machine. as i tell many people if you can find a kit for a reasonable price in many cases it will be close to the same cost of sourcing all of the individual components to build your own machine (not to mention all of the time in locating them), and then you have parts that you know will work with each other, you have a proven set of plans...this is a good route for many people...but then there are those of us who for some bizarre reason want to do it from scratch.

    my first machine i simply wanted to see if i could in fact build a machine that worked from scratch. when i was servicing cnc routers the experience definitely made me a better technician.

    i hope that 3dsignco (wild Bill) and techman chime in on this topic with their experiences as they have both built machines from scratch as well.
     
  18. cfbeagle

    cfbeagle Member

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    Dan, It sounds as if you think the Mechmate is a kit. If I am wrong then I just miss understood, please don't take offense.

    The Mechmate is not a kit. I went to the local steel supplier and picked up my raw steel, then I studied until I knew which steppers I wanted and ordered them from Oriental Motor. The parts for the control box came from 5 different suppliers, rack and pinion and all other various parts came from McMaster. This is not a kit, you have to sit down and understand every aspect of it until you decide what to buy. The only thing you get from Mechmate is the plans... and a tremendous forum to help you every step of the way.

    I already had a columbo spindle from a previous router so I did not have to buy that. It took $5500 to complete. I did not build a vacuum table because for what I do it would be useless most of the time.
     
  19. Techman

    Techman Major Contributor

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    I just built a second machine myself and mentored with a few others on theirs too...

    As mentioned above.. people should try a smaller version first. There is more to it than just putting together a few parts. The machine must be square and level. It must have the correct speeds. and it must not be a limber noodle. A smaller desktop version will do so much more than some will think. Especially if they just want to cut custom shapes.

    There is a learning curve and order of operations to think about. There is software to obtain and learn. And there is the time factor. I built my second one at it went faster. However, there is still the leveling and squaring issues that took a while to get perfect.

    I also mentored my neighbor with his. He had no concept of leveling and squaring and found himself redoing many of his miscut parts. You cannot build one using hand tools to cut parts. Ask me how I won my trophy doing it this way. The overall costs will be higher than many people will tell you. Some say they built a certain machine and it cost them $5500 bux. However, that is just the costs they recorded. There are other costs that so many either forget or do not log, just plain lie about.

    First... The shop wiring must be right. A small desktop machine will not have a problem..

    Bigger machines .. Running a machine on a single circuit will surely bring pain due to signal noise, brown outs when the router starts and other concerns. A brown out on a controller board will cause a missed step and there ya have it.. a ruined part that you just spent 6 hours roughing out. Yes, these machines are not speed demons. a 12x12 inch part final cutting at 1/8" pass will take a while.

    And then, Do not run this machine in a garage without a dust collector. Yes, even a small one will produce more dust than you will ever see. You want to simulate a dust storm from the dessert? Get some MDF, and cut it up on your table saw. Make sure the garage door is closed. Make about 9 cuts into a sheet of MDF and then walk into the house.

    Dust collector. This is not to be overlooked or ignored. Dust will hurt you. Wood dust is dangerous. Some is sensitizing, some causes sever lung damage and some are poisonous. This is fact and not just an alarmist reaction.

    MDF dust is the worse. All dust will work its way around your place contaminating every thing. You must have a dust system...Think not??? Just cut one little piece with out a dust system in your house or garage and see how long you stay married.

    As mentioned above. Many will try their hand at it. Then find themselves with a few thousand in parts collecting dust. The machine is simple in concept but reality will soon set in.

    Disappointments are:

    Out of square machine. This machine cannot be measured in fractions of an inch in squareness. It must be done down to decimal of around .005. Less than 1/32 out will multiply into big errors at the spindle.

    Underestimate of costs. Yes, this one kills lots of projects. Building the machine will take time and money. This is not something a casual user can start and be successful. I've heard a few say,, I'll just get it started and see where it leads too. Well, after about $800 bux just for a controller and motors and then finding out there will be another $200 for the controller box and another $100 for the cable leads.... He blows a $100 bux motor and a $220 bux channel when he forgets to turn off the power.

    No proper place for the machine. One peer built his machine in the garage, got it all set up, squared and level,, and then found out he had to move it. The dust even with a dust collector caused his wife to flip out into the land of hate and discontent. His was a little desk top deal and he ran it once using a chop vac to suck the dust. HAHAAHAH!... He found out his wife was not in the mood any more,, if you know what I mean ;).

    Finally. If someone wants a glorified jigsaw. What a waste of good money. Who the heck needs a $9 grand jigsaw?? Boring. But that's just me....
     
  20. curtrnev

    curtrnev Member

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    Here is a link to a forum for anybody interested in cnc. From routers and plasma to lathes and mills, they cover software both cad and cam.
    http://www.cnczone.com/
     
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