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cnc machining

There are a ton of types of cnc machines out there. The cnc industry has been extremely exciting over the past decade with the advent of better waterjet cutters, laser cutters and plasma cutters. It seems cnc operators are popping up everywhere as the cost of machines are coming down.

Below I’ll go over some of the different types of cnc machines and what training you made to operate each.

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cnc machines in a factory

At CNC Estab we have gone over a ton about different manufacturing methods using cnc (computer numerical control), but we still get the occasional message asking us how cnc machines work? Well I’m going to go through and hopefully by the end of this post, you should be able to answer when someone asks you “How does a cnc machine work?”

How a cnc machine works

It all starts with a CAD operator who models the product in 3d or 2d using a CAD program. The most common 2d CAD program would be AutoCAD. I used this a lot in the marine industry for making cut files and nesting parts for cnc cutting. For 3d – there is a wide selections from Pro Engineer to Solidworks to Rhino 3d.

After the file has been modeled in the CAD program it is then exported into a friendly CAM format. For 2d this is typically a .dxf file used by a cnc machine to simulate a path and then cut. For 3d a path is also simulated, but in 3d to calculate how long the machine will take – this also varies depending on the material used (wood, metal, resin etc.)

Rhino 3d to MasterCAM

The CAM program then turns the file from the CAD program into G-Code, which is what the machine will then use to cut/ rout the material to form the 3d product or the 2d cuts in the case of plasma cutting or 2d laser cutting.

So in essence the process is CAD program – CAM program – G Code – Machine does the work.

At each stage there are usually ways to test for success. CAD programs allow checks to see that the 3d object is a closed object. Most competent CAD programmers will export in multiple file formats then try and re-import using the same or different CAD program just to check if it has been exported properly.

Typically large files that do get exported as a .stp or .iges file can sometimes corrupt ot don’t turn out properly. With .iges files I have seen surfaces missing after export – so checking the file by re-importing is very important and a time-saver before handing it off to a cnc programmer or cnc operator.

With CAM programs – these typically simulate the routing cycle. This gives you an idea of how the object will be cut, what paths are used and most importantly, the finish and time something like this will take. The beauty of this is that you will never get a ’round about’ figure from a cnc operator.

The software should tell them EXACTLY how much time a job will take and counting the lead time, you should get an exact estimate on time as well as cost. Don’t be fooled if they tell you otherwise.

Types of cnc machines

There are a good variety of different cnc machines out there. Before going into different mediums, I want to talk about the axis.

3 axis cnc machine

3 axis cnc machine – This means the router only has 3 axis, typically x, y and z. This means the machine can not rout complex shapes. I worked with a cnc operator in the past that had this type of machine, but was able to rotate the work piece in between cuts to achieve close to what a 5 axis cnc machine could do.

5 axis cnc machine – I have discussed these a lot previously here on Essentially you get another 2 axis enabling the machine to rout complex shapes. You will also find 4 axis machines as well.

Mediums – laser, regular, plasma, water-jet. Each is unique and used for different purposes. Check out the respective category pages to learn more. But here’s a quick rundown anyway:

Laser cnc machines – This typically uses a  CO2 laser to cut through the material.

Regular cnc routers/ lathes – This typically uses a cutting edge very similar to a drill piece. Actually many use hardened drill pieces to mill any cnc machine work. Used a lot with foam, wood and for cnc engraving work. Most cnc engraving machines use this regular cnc method.

Plasma cnc machine – Similar to a plasma cutter – A plasma cnc machine is typically used for cutting through steel or metal with extremely high heat.

Waterjet cnc machines – Waterjet machines are awesome. They use a high pressure blast of water to cut through material. They are used a lot in 2d cutting metal/ aluminum. The benefit with waterjet cutters is that there is no heat, so the material does not loose any of its original strength and this process provides an extremely clean cut.

Now you should have an understanding on how a cnc machine works, and what the different kinds of cnc machines are. The cnc process has come a long way in the past 50 years and will only continue to get better and better.

What else do you want to know about cnc machines?

Photo credit: Image 1, Image 2, Image 3

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cnc programmer technician

So you want to be a great cnc programmer? Not sure where to get the best cnc programmer training? Well below is CNC Establishment‘s ultimate guide to becoming a great cnc programmer – what you need and what you need to do to get there. Read on to find out how to become a cnc programmer.

CNC programmer training

So where do you get great cnc training? Below I will outline some of the best courses you should definitely look into on the way to becoming a great cnc technician.

What to look for – key performance indicators: 

1.)  At least basic cnc programming skills offered

2.)  Both cnc lathe AND cnc mill programming included

3.)  A touch on good CAD/CAM/ G-Code software like MasterCAM.

USA cnc programs

University of Texas Arlington – Basic cnc programming certificate that adds up to about 200 hours of learning time from basic blueprint reading to cnc mill and cnc lathe programming.

Cuyahoga Community College – Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering department. This looks like a well-rounded program that gives the basics, as well as both mill and lathe cnc programming skills. There is also an overview of MasterCAM

CNC programmer salary in the US is $48,000 according to Indeed. That works out to roughly $24.00 an hour.

Canada cnc programs

Conestoga – These guys have a cnc programmer certificate (apprenticeship) which is a 240 hour program which provides an apprentice with a mix of theory and practical training.

Mohawk College – 232 hour course that will get you a cnc programming certificate. There is a focus on one of our favorite and top rated cnc programs MasterCAM – both 2d and 3d – on top of basic and intermediate cnc programming skills.

NAIT – This is a solid course that I’ve recommended before. They claim a 100% grad employment rate. The good thing about this course is that there is a final 8 week work experience component that allows you to gain further skills and knowledge in a cnc focused machine shop or the floor of a manufacturing plant that will have cnc mills/ lathes.

Stanford International College – CNC/ MasterCAM Diploma program. This is one of the few programs I have seen that actually offer a diploma instead of just a certificate. There is a lot of depth here including cnc setup time. cycle time redction which will save you a ton of time in future. This course is located in Toronto.

Getting a certificate in cnc programming in Canada can be a good bet. The standard cnc programmer salary in Canada to start is $40,000 a year and goes up depending on technical ability and experience. The average cnc programmer wages are between $44,000 to $48,000 Canadian dollars.

UK cnc programs

The CNC Training Academy – courses in Fanuc, Siemens and cnc operator training. They even have specialized cnc programmer certification courses for advanced cnc programmers for subject areas like FeatureCam and PC Tapt. This seems to be the premiere cnc programmer course available in the U.K.

CNC programmer resume

resume for cnc programmer

The resume should ideally have educational experience – prefferably with one of the courses mentioned above – so some sort of cnc programming certificate/ diploma.

You should also have practical experience as hours for a cnc setter programmer/ technician/ operator. You can convey these as apprenticeship hours or actual hours you have used a cnc machine for. This also goes with programming experience and experience using CAD/CAM software.

Depending on the type of cnc machine used (laser / plasma / router etc) you are going to have to tailor your cnc machine programmer resume so it showcases the skills that you have for the type of machine that is most used for the firm you want to work for.

I suggest starting out with the usual cnc router and lathe experience, but you may also want to look into laser CO2 machines, plasma cutters or water jet cnc cutting machines. Each cnc machine has its own quirks – too many to go into right now, but if you read around on this site – there should be plenty of information here for you to learn. Remember that with the ever-changing technology of the cnc realm your cnc programmer job description is going to be constantly evolving.

Where are cnc jobs in demand?

Well there are many different hubs out there, but I would say cnc programmer jobs in Singapore, Dubai, India, UK, US, China, Canada and the US are high right now. There are plenty of vacancies to be found for the qualified cnc programmer with good experience, so be sure to check out some of the courses and tips above to start your career now.

What do you think the best way is to get a good cnc programmer operator education? Please leave your comments below.

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cnc plasma cutter router

Looking to learn how to build a cnc plasma cutter? Have you been looking at building your own cnc plasma cutter? Well below I will go over how to build a great cnc plasma cutter including places where you can get great cnc plasma cutter plans from.

If you want to buy instead of making a diy cnc plasma cutter

There are a few places that I would recommend if you want to make the purchase instead of going the diy route:

Dynatorch: These guys have a good trange of small and large cnc ploasma cutter machines. They have smaller 4×4 and 4×8 ft tables as well as larger 5×10 or 6×10 ft machines AND custom machine sizes! (up to 40 feet). Dynatorch also has a ton of software options including their own cnc software and nesting program (called Sheet CAM).

Torchmate:  Torchmate have affordable cnc plasma cutters as well as plasma cutting tables. You will find brand new machines going direct to their website. You will be looking at a price starting from $4,000 to $30,000 USD.

I prefer smaller machines myself, this is where Torchmate has a solid variety – table sizes range from 2′ x 2′ to 10′ x 40′. Before bombarding you with diy options, I highly suggest looking into Torchmate as a good alternative for people who want to avoid the fuss involved with building their own cnc plasma cutter.

Outsourcing your cnc plasma work

There are a ton of places where you can outsource your cnc plasma work. If you have a smaller project that could use a small cnc plasma cutter – you can use the recommendations I have recommended here and here.

For something larger you will have to look locally. Use the recommendations outlined in the links above as there are many factors to getting a successful cnc project going. Things like tolerances, file somplexity and lead time can greatly affect a project.

For those looking to go the homemade cnc plasma cutter route:

Check out some of these posts:

pirate4x4 – Forum member built home plasma cnc machine with pics.

Everlast Generators – Forum member built home cnc plasma cutter table with pics.

Unfortunately there just aren’t a ton of free cnc plasma cutter plans out there. So I would suggest that you either buy a used cnc plasma cutter where you hopefully will get a cheap cnc plasma cutter for sale.

Ultimately I recommend just buying a cnc plasma cutter machine or an actual cnc plasma cutter kit due to the complexities of gas pipes, keeping things clean and the possibility of a water table over a conventional cutting table.

For people looking for a hobby cnc plasma cutter – there isn’t a huge amount of info out there and trust me I’ve had a good hunt around.

With people looking to outsource their work to a cnc operator or those looking for the best cnc plasma cutter – you have a ton of options out there (I’d say start with the cnc plasma cutter manufacturers recommended and go from there). Good Luck!

photo credit

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cnc machining

Are you looking at getting some cnc work done? Well finding a great vendor and making sure your final product is perfect can be tough. I’ve been through the process many times, so I’m going to help ease the process with my guide on getting the best cnc job done.

Here’s the 6 stage process from coming up with a file to getting an awesome cnc job done:

1.)  File setup

2.)  First communication

3.)  Negotiating on finish and price

4.)  Keeping tabs with the project

5.)  Building a quality relationship

6.)  Common pitfalls

Let’s touch on each. Please remember there is a comments section below, so if you have any queries or if you want some further advise on getting cnc work done, please feel free to ask.

So my background is in design originally. I have done a ton of drafting since and have crafted files for cnc cutting, cnc routing and rapid prototyping in many different countries including New Zealand, Dubai, America and China.

So I’ve dealt with many different vendors and while a lot of it can be straight forward, setting up the right process is critical. If you’re into business it’s like The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. In his book he talks about setting up a business with specific roles. You will be setting up a system here too, but for your cnc projects now and going forward. Here we go:

1.)  File setup


Alrighty so setting up your file is crucial. It’s hard for a cnc vendor to give you the right quote without the right file. You can send in an early file – but this is only ball-park, so I wouldn’t recommend this.

To get your file set up properly, I’d recommend getting in touch with some cnc vendors first, either locally/ overseas and asking what kind of file type they except. I’d say go with a .dxf if it’s for 2d cnc, or .iges / .stl file for export for cnc routing – but every cnc vendor is different.

You HAVE to test the file after you have exported it. Ideally exporting from one CAD program then re-importing it into another CAD program works best to ensure compatibility/ that the file is not corrupt. I suggest using a service like Dropbox, or for transferring larger files.

Key takeaways here: Make sure you know what kind of file type the vendor can work with, get it exported and given to the cnc operator as early as possible to get a quote.

When dealing with vendors overseas I always include a jpeg (screenshot) with a few key dimensions so that the vendor knows what the right scale it for the final output. I’ve heard of horror stories of files getting imported and the scale changing. To avoid this – include a jpeg and get the cnc vendor to verify.

2.)  First communication

cnc communication

By first communication I mean getting in touch with your cnc vendors. Crucial thnigs to remember:

There will always be a lead time – This is the amount of time it will take until the cnc vendor will be able to start your project as they may be busy with others.

Depending on the amount of cnc machines a vendor may have, there may be a large queue that you’ll have to wait behind. This is why you need to get a 3d/ 2d file (depending on the job) for a quote as soon as possible to see when your job can start and thus: when it will be finished.

Look for experience working with the type of material you will be using. If you are using resin or foam, make sure the vendor has worked with these. Ask for tolerences and bed size of the cnc machine.

The bed size will determine how big the job can be. If you are dead set on going with one particular vendor then I suggest splitting up the job into different files and gluing it/ putting it back together after.

You will also have to go for either a 3 or 5 axis machine depending on the project. A 3 axis cnc router is a lot cheaper, but you can’t do compound surfaces with a 3 axis router. Some vendors can move the project around and rout from different angles to achieve a similar effect to a 5 axis machine, but this has its obvious limitations.

Key takeaways here: Find a vendor early and decide either 3 or 5 axis machine depending on the shape of your project. Also ask if there are any specific tolerences; for example, etching vs cutting layers for 2d routing of aluminum plates.

3.)  Negotiating on finish and price

cnc surface finish

Surface finish is CRUCIAL. If you are into model making, then you are going to need a cnc machine that has a very precise machining tolerance.

CNC machines can go down to a fraction of a millimeter making it so you will not have to do any surface finishing – this will save a ton of time especially if the material is a tough resin or a type of steel that needs to be precise.

GL Model

Shop around for good pricing. In previous articles my favorite cnc vendor is GL Model in China. That’s because it’s cheaper for me to get smaller work done in China and finished exactly the way I want it to and then shipped to me than it is to get something cnc’d locally. I use GL Model for rapid prototyping too. Full  disclosure – I am not getting paid at all to endorse these guys. Here’s the article I wrote about these guys here.

Make sure you nail down the price using the exact file that you send a vendor. This is because if you change something on a file – typically this means adding more detail, then the price will have to be requoted as another cnc simulation will have to be run and this may increase the time it takes to cnc the new work depending on the new work paths chose.

Key take aways here: Make sure you see samples of finish straight out of the machine vs. after it has been finished. Also make sure you nail down price beforehand on the exact file name you give the cnc technician.

4.)  Keeping tabs with the project

cnc machine project snowflakes

Keeping tabs with the project is important, but there is no need to micromanage here. If you have done the groundwork already and you have the right contract, then you should be fine.

Always have something written or make sure expectations are set beforehand.

Non-cnc related – I once hired a model shop to paint some models I had cnc’d and they did a terrible job. I think it was due to me not having stringent rules that were agreed on beforehand and written and I was on a tight deadline.

Key take away – Lay a solid foundation on expectations – get this written down and agreed upon before work starts. Go for recommendations from people that have successful projects done from the vendor – but beware that every peoject is different and that one great experience and one terrible experience can come from the same cnc technician or cnc company.

5.)  Building a quality relationship

If your cnc company does a great job and delivers on time, then leave a positive review. You can use testimonials to help you choose a great company. The manufacturing niche isn’t too good at this, so the best example I can think of is the web design niche which I’m heavily involved in too. Here’s a good example of a site that uses testimonials to market – look for this in cnc vendors. It’s hard enough to find a great cnc technician or company. Cnc work is expensive so helping others using good testimonials to find a good one is crucial to help cnc consumers make an informed decision.

Once you have a few good cnc/ rapid prototyping vendors, then I highly suggest keeping the communication going as projects will always pop up if you are in the manufacturing industry.

Remember that cnc router machines and cnc lathes are getting more sophisticated and that cnc software prices and cnc machine training are going up – so don’t expect discounts all the time going forward – although it would be a nice bonus.

6.)  Common pitfalls

I think I’ve pretty much covered everything above, but here are some extras to help you get a kick-ass cnc project done.

-Never go with hand engravers

No offence to the talented out there – but nothing beats a machine for accuracy. I know sometimes given the shape of an object it may have to be hand engraved, but flat name plates should always be done with a machine to look pro.

-Always send a complete file

Pricing could jump when you send a lower quality file with less detail then send the proper one later. To avoid paying more than you were quoted – give your cnc technician a chance to quote you correctly with the right file.

-Always ask to see examples of surface finish done straight out of the machine (not finished up/ touched up afterwards)

-Always allow plenty of time

You limit the pool of great cnc vendors if you try and rush things as the best cnc providers always have some sort of lead time – typically at least 2-3 weeks if not more depending on the type of company and contracts they get.

What tips do you have for getting great cnc work done? Please leave your thoughts below!

photo credits: photos 1 and 6, photo 2 is Dropbox logo, photo 3, photo 4, photo 5 is GL Model logo (my fav cnc vendors).

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cnc stepper motor driver

Well it’s the new year, so I’m going to talk a little bit about cnc stepper motor driver systems. Having the right cnc stepper motor driver is crucial.

Below is a guide on what a stepper motor driver is and also some pointers on where to buy:

What is a stepper motor?

A stepper motor or stepper motor is different to a DC motor as it is brushless and has “toothed” electromagnets around a  central gear shape. This divides the full rotation into an equal number of steps.

The stepper motor can then be stopped at each individual step if commanded to do so. Each of these stops is called a ‘step’ hence the name stepper motor.

What are the different types of stepper motors?

1.)  Lavet type stepping motor

2.)  Permanent magnet stepper – there is a permanent magnet in the rotor, operates on the repulsion or attraction between the stator electromagnets and the permanent magnet.

3.)  Variable reluctance stepper – plain iron rotor, the rotor points in a variable reluctance stepper are attracted towards the stator electromagnets.

4.)  Hybrid Synchronous stepper – Uses a combination of both a hybrid synchronous and permanent magnet stepper motor to achieve max efficiency in a smaller size.

What is in a stepper motor system?

There are three basic elements in a stepper motor system:

1.)  Drivers/ Amplifier – The Amplifier/ driver converts the indexer command signals into usable power to power the windings of the motor. There are different current and voltage ratings depending on the driver/ amplifier you have. Because of this, selecting the right driver for a motion control system is crucial.

2.)  Controller / Indexers – To generate the directional signals and the step pulses to run the driver as well as more advanced command functions,  you need a microprocessor which is the indexer/ controller.

3.)  Stepper motor– Converts the digital pulses into shaft rotation mechanically using an electromagnetic device.

CNC stepper motor controller options

Options for cnc stepper motor driver systems for 2013:

3 axis cnc stepper motor driver: SainSmart CNC TB6560 3 Axis Stepper Motor Driver Controller Board & Cable Good value as it can also drive a 4th axis. Reportedly runs pretty smooth – documentation can be found here to set DTP switches. This board is also compatible with Mach 3.

4 axis cnc stepper motor driver SainSmart CNC TB6560 4 Axis 3.5A Stepper Motor Driver Board Controller Engraving Machine Easy to install 4 axis cnc router stepper motor board. Utilizes 2 signal processing with a high powered 3.5A chipset. There are 4 channel inputs here for a stop and X, Y, Z directions. Great for stepper motoros with a current rating between 1.5A to 3.5A

5 axis stepper motor driver for cnc mill SainSmart 5 Axis Breakout Board for Stepper Motor Driver CNC Mill *Blue* – The SainSmart  features 2 stage signal processing and an array of other features worth a look.

For an alternative to SainSmart I recommend Probotix. They have a good range of stepper motor drivers as well as stepper motors for cnc machines. They have both bi-polar and uni-polar stepper motor chopper drivers here.

Surestep stepper motor drives from Automation Direct – Standard and advanced stepper drives that are affordable and solid. The devices use microsteppung that allows smoother motor and stepping response as well as reduced vibration for better efficiency. They also have video tutorials here.

DIY cnc stepper motor driver kit sets/ instructions:

For the ambitious DIY inclined – has a great tutorial on building a parallel port 3 axis cnc unipolar stepper driver here, as well as a stepper driver board for a multi-axis router here.

Easy Driver v4.4 cnc stepper motor driver

There’s also an open source cnc stepper motor driver board project going on here where you can get instructions from.  This project is called EasyDriver – v4.4 of the cnc stepper motor driver circuit board can be seen in the picture on the right here. I wouldn’t call this an easy cnc stepper motor driver set-up, but because it is open-source, the plans are free, so take a look and see how you feel.

UPDATE: If you don’t feel like making this, you can buy it here: EasyDriver Stepper Motor Driver

CNC stepper driver boards from eBay:

I hardly ever use eBay, but sometimes there are gems – especially with stepper driver board controllers. They are small enough to ship and aren’t too expensive. I recommend a couple:

Check out the 3 Axis TB6560 CNC Stepper Motor Driver Board Controller or the 4 Axis TB6560 CNC Stepper Motor Driver Board Controller. The former is easier to get on eBay, but the 4 axis board comes and goes, but there is a great wiki on the 4 axis board here that is definitely worth a look.

Top cnc stepper motors

stepper motor

I know I have talked a lot about cnc stepper motor drivers so far, and you probably already have a stepper motor anyway, but for those that don’t, here are some recommendations based on quality of brand and ease of purchase:

Applied motion products – These guys have a solid product category for two-phase and hybrid stepper motors here.

Probotix – This is the top place to go to for selection. Check out their range of hybrid motors here. This is a great one-stop place to get your stepper motor as well as stepper motor drives for a cnc router/ lathe machine. You have a lot of choice here as the motors range from 2 to a large 8 amp stepper motor.

Unipolar vs Bipolar stepper motor systems explained here by Probotix.

With a new website, Automation Technologies inc. has a ton of motion control parts for cnc work. They have a good range of stepper motors as well as stepper motor drives available here. Their 3.5A dual shaft NEMA23 is a great choce for a stepper motor due to its hybrid motor and bi-polar set-up.

HobbyCNC – These guys have a simple website that sells cnc focused parts too. You can order stepper motors from them directly. They have 2.1 Amp to 3 Amp motors, so don’t really match Probotix in terms of selection. but their pricing is very competitive.

I’ve covered a ton of different options for a new stepper motor or a cnc stepper motor driver. Please leave a comment below if you’ve found a great fit that you recommend!

Top photo credit

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cnc router kit

You know what? I love diy cnc machines, but finding a good kit is hard. There are tons of cnc machines out there that cost tens of thousands of dollars, but finding a budget friendly cnc router kit is tough.

I’ve scoured the net to help things be a lot easier. Here are my recommendations for a good cnc router kit:

Zen Toolworks CNC Carving Machine DIY Kit 7×7

The Zen Toolworks CNC Carving Machine DIY Kit 7×7 is probably my favorite recommendation for a kit. It comes with great instructions and comes from one of my favorite retailers, Amazon. The last thing you want is a machine that you can’t return if it’s not the right fit.

Regular price is around $400, but I’ve seen this diy cnc router kit as low as $360 USD. This is a great diy cnc router kit for the beginner who does the occasional cnc routing/ engraving work.

The Zen Toolworks 7×7 is a desktop machine so can be stored away pretty easily and has a small footprint. Also as a head’s up – this machine runs on Artsoft Mach 3 software.

As with most diy kits, it may take a bit of time to put together. This should take you no more than half a day, as the machine is put together mainly be screws. The PVC plastic should last a while as it is nice and rigid.

Zen Toolworks CNC Carving Machine DIY Kit 12×12 F8

This machine is a larger version of the aforementioned 7×7 machine that is available on Amazon. This cnc machine has a list price of $700, but can be found cheaper on Amazon. There is a 12 x 12 inch travel capacity on the bed.

Remember that stepper motor drivers will need to be purchased as well as a dremel/ spindle/ cutter.  The stepper drivers will drive the 3 stepper motors that comes with this kit. This kit should be pretty easy to put together, definitely around half a days work with regular tools.

The good thing about Zenworks is that the support is great. You also get protection from Amazon in terms of returns if the machine is not up to standard. A great deal for those looking for a complete cnc router kit that is easy to buy.

Kikori CNC – What started as a Kickstarter project is now available as an entire kit. That’s right – you don’t need to get anything else. This low-cost cnc machine has a 4’x8′ milling area and comes in at only $4000.

All you need to supply here is your own router, table and of course, a computer. This a great deal for a complete cnc router kit!

BuildYourCNC has a great diy article as well as parts that you can get from then separately  You’re going to have to read through and get the parts separately which they do have – but this is a big annoying compared to getting a whole kit like the ones recommended above.

Motiontek has a great little mechanical router cnc kit available. With different kit steppers and working table sizes, there are different parts available here to build up a hobby cnc router kit of your own.

FineLine Automation has cnc kit routers available in different sizes. These guys are definitely worth checking out. Sizes available include 2’x3′, 2’x4′, 4’x4′, 3’x3′, 3’x4′. These are some reasonable sizes for doing some good work on.

Cnc router parts – I’d recommend the CRP4896 4’x8′ diy cnc router kit here. They do have other products, but this particular size isn’t available at Fineline Automation, so I definitely suggest cnc router parts as a good place for larger diy router kits as a start. They have 6 different kits to choose from for a cnc wood router kit. – This is a great resource for conversion kits. They also have both cnc lathes and routers available too.

What cnc router kits do you recommend?

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4 axis cnc router

Are you looking for a 4 axis cnc router? Well I’ve put together a guide on what to buy, what the big brands are and also what parts you may need going forward.

Specific 4 axis router brands are hard to come by, as a lot of typical 4 axis machines are modded from an original 3 axis machine. Without further ado, here’s our 4 axis cnc router guide:

Top brands to look for:

Haas – Haas do great 4 axis cnc machines.The ES-5-AX, ES-5-4T, HS-3R are big bed type 4 axis cnc milling machines. From $130k to just over $500k (the first two models are enclosed) The largest 4 axis machine here is a monster 150″ x 50″ x 60″. Yes that’s right, a cnc machine that is actually the price of a house – definitely worth a look.

Haas also does slightly smaller (but still big) machines. Check out their VF-2SS cnc machine for a 16″ x 30″ table travel 4 axis machine, or their 26″ x 40″ table travel HAAS VF-3YT enclosed cnc machine.

Flexicam – Flexicam have some cool machines that have different strengths and weakneses. If you want variety – see these guys.

The Flexicam XXL is a HUGE machine that can have multiple gantries. The XXL machine can go up to a length of just over 12 meters!

Remember, Flexicam doesn’t just do super huge 4 axis cnc machines, they also have a good range of smaller machines that are worth a look.

Careel Technology – Careel’s CR-1325S and their CR-2040S are solid 4 axis machines. Each have a fairly sizable table size. One at 1450×2950 and the larger model at 2500×4700. There is sufficient size here to cover your 4 axis cnc milling needs.

Other recommendations:

MDX-540 subtractive rapid prototyping system – This machine isn’t technically a cnc machine, but is a rapid prototyping machine that has 4 axis capabilities.

Rapid prototyping is something I have never really gone into too much on this particular site, but it is a great alternative as opposed to a cnc router. This is because of its accuracy.

For snap-on parts, smooth finishes and parts that need a smaller resolution (very fine and small parts) – rapid prototyping is a must. Definitely worth checking this machine out.

Different 4 axis cnc controller parts/ accessories to look at:

4-axis CNC driver box – This is my top pick for a 4 axis cnc mill driver box. This is a Sherline cnc driver box. We have been looking and writing about Sherline cnc machines for a while. This also comes with Linux software and a 6 amp power supply. – This is a great site that has a ton of options for different fourth axis parts. If you have a diy 4 axis cnc router, then this site is definitely worth checking out.

Products and accessories include 3 and 4 jaw chucks, motor axis, magnetic faceplates, adaptor kits and different tutorials for these particular parts/ cnc accessories. – These guys do some solid cnc machines. They also have specific 4 axis cnc machines.

Their machines come with larger bed sizes, such as the Swift 4-axis 24 x 48 as wekk as the Smartshop D 48″ x 96″ 4hp cnc router 10hp vacuum. A larger cnc machine like this definitely needs a vacuum to function well, so I’m glad to see this functionality with this larger bed cnc machine.

Probotix – 4 axis stepper motor driver kits for the person who loves the diy 4 axis cnc scene. These are some quality parts for a potential 4 axis cnc kit.

Xylotex – For cheaper 4 axis drive boxes, check out the Xylotex 4 axis drive box.

4 axis cnc software

BobCAD-CAM – 4 axis mill professional software. This is a great piece of cad/cam software. Cad/cam software can be really expensive.

Solidworks and Pro/Engineer are my usual go-to’s, but the BobCAD-CAM cnc software works perfect for a 4 axis cnc machine, without needing to have the extra bells and whistles of the aforementioned programs.

Seats for Solidowrks, Pro/Engineer and Autodesk Inventor can be expensive. BobCAD-CAM also has software for 5 axis machines too. Also I wouldn’t recommend AutoCAD 3d, it’s best to just go straight to a dedicated 3d program or with Inventor.

Beginner G Code – Check out our tutorial for beginners. There are plenty of other books out there as well for this sort of stuff (see below) or our write up on different cnc courses.

CNC must-have books – check out these books for further information on cnc training and software recommendations. Good luck!

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cnc operator training

Are you looking for the best cnc machine training courses? Want to be come the ultimate cnc operator?

Well look no further than out MASSIVE breakdown on all the different online cnc training schools as well as cnc machine operator training in a physical location. Here we go:

Breakdown will be for USA, Canada, and the UK.


Cuyahoga Community College

Tri-C offers cnc operator training for the new and the experience cnc personnel. They have a ton of different courses from cnc fundamentals to advanced mill and lathe techniques. There are also courses in MasterCAM too.

City Colleges of Chicago – Wibur Wright

Check out their advanced certificate in cnc – which goes from basic principles to advanced cad/cam and cnc programming training.

This program incorporates some engineering subjects like machine shop technology, math and even an internship which is invaluable for getting some hands on experience. Definitely take a looks here if you are looking for cnc training in Chicago.

Los Angeles Trade-Tech

Los Angeles Trade-Tech (LATTC) has some solid options for a cnc training school. For machine shop cnc, you can get an Associate of Science Degree or a Certificate of Accomplishment

For their adjunt machine shop cnc courses, a certificate of accomplishment as well as an S.M.E. (Society of Manufacturing Engineers) LATTC Chapterment.

LATTC has a massive workshop full of both cnc lathes and machines. Check them out if you are over in the West coast of the U.S.

University of Texas, Arlington

University of Texas, Arlington has a basic cnc programming certificate for those who want basic cnc programming skills alongside their cnc lathe training or router knowledge. This course covers lathes as well as mills.

Akron cnc training center

Akron cnc training center is great for people looking for cnc training in Ohio. They have a bit of an old-school website, so its best to just call them or email them for information on start dates etc.


Institute of Machine Tool Technology

IMTT has both a certificate and diploma program to become a successful cnc machine tool operator and programmer. Each course is 21 and 42 weeks respectively.

The certificate program teaches Mastercam as well as multi-axis programming, Autocad (I love Autocad!) and a ton of cnc tooling, milling, programming and turning work.

Their 42 week program is a longer program, but also suited for beginners too. You don’t have to do the certificate first before doing the diploma. The physical location offers day and evening classes in Mississauga, Ontario.

College of New Caledonia

Based in BC, Canada – the College of New Caledonia offers continuing education cnc classes.

Metro College of Technology

These guys offer cnc and MasterCAM technology training courses so you can become an amazing cnc operator. Their cnc machinist training courses involve learning Autocad 2d, cad design and both cnc router and lathe usage among other things.

Canadore College

Check out their CNC/MasterCAM program. You can get a machinist mechanical diploma here, which offers hands-on cnc machinist training.

British Columbia Institute of Technology

British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) has a great program for cnc machining training. They have a massive 30,000 square foot shop with state of the art equipment that includes cnc machines and top notch cad software for learning cad/cam as well as operator responsibilities.

The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

Based in Edmonton, Alberta, The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT). Their website is pretty cool and boasts a 100% grad employment rate with a median starting salary of $40,000. I like the transparency in stats, especially given how easy it is to jump on a pay scale comparison site like

United Kingdom

CNC Training Academy (Mill’s CNC)

Established in 2010 – these guys do some great cnc training courses based in a physical location at Mills CNC’s facility in Leamington. They have a whole bunch of courses here – to name a few: Siemens, Fanuc, Heidenhain and their cnc operator training/ maintenance courses. There is definitely solid variety here for the beginner to the expert.


Bridgewater offers college level cnc training courses in engineering (cnc production) up to a diploma level that are worth a look.

British Woodworking Federation

Provided by SGM Group (UK) Ltd. and based out in Nottingham, this is an interesting opportunity for cnc programmer training for apprentices and experienced workers. The course is only available to members of the BWT/WITTorum.

There is a beginner and an advanced course to suit different experience levels. This cnc mill training course encompasses  a good selection of cnc skills necessary, such as programming, use of guides and off-sets, AutoCAD and file management/ prep for cnc and translation to G-code. Best thing about this course: It’s 100% free! (some terms are involved, so check’em out for more details).

Also check out our recommended cnc books section to help supplement the cnc machine training school you might choose to pursue. Good luck on becoming a great cnc operator!

What other courses do you recommend?

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Have you decided to outsource your cnc machining to China? Well you’ve made a great decision. I’ve had positive experiences doing this many times in the past and I’d like to share with you the guide to doing so successfully.

First up, I highly recommend both outsourcing your cnc and your rapid prototyping/ 3d printing to a place like China. The benefits are obvious, and you can manage some of the frequent disadvantages that people can conjure up in their mind.


China cnc outsource

Cost is cheaper

Depending on the size of the project, even including packaging and shipping rates – the cost to outsource your cnc work is cheaper. This is because of the scale that some of these companies work at.

I’ll tell you my favorite company at the end of this article (actually screw it – the secret is out.. GL Model) – but you can expect companies in China to offer a massive range of cnc machines and higher tolerance levels for a VERY reasonable price.

Of course, if your project is too expensive to ship, then this negates the benefits.

Manual surface finishing is cheaper

Rates overseas are a lot cheaper for surface finishing of your product. You can request samples of different surface finishes, colors and textures.

GL Model actually sent out sample plastic cards that have all the coatings I requested – such as rubber (which is AMAZING by the way), different colors and even chrome. You would NEVER get this level of detail in many of the local cnc places I have seen.. unless you are willing to fork over a ton of money, and even then – this is rare.

A wider range of machines to choose from

Your local cnc operator may only have one or two machines. GL Model and many other cnc companies that I have approached have 3 4, and 5 axis Chinese cnc machines and rapid prototyping machines that can cnc into very high tolerances.

I had some miniature chairs made and they CNC’d it to less than 1mm thick, that’s right – cnc NOT rapid prototyped, that is just INSANE!

Quick turn around

I was presently surprised with the quick turnaround times  that some of these cnc places offer. While it’s imperative to tell them a turnaround time and discuss how long typical lea times are – I’ve found the service and their able-ness to stick to this has been really good.

One project I had with GL Model – they actually employed an outside 3d modeler to re-model the file because it did not export properly on their end – at no additional cost to me. This was an extreme case, because I had a tight deadline and I had worked with them before.

Commitment to impress 

Competition between different cnc vendors that you can outsource to is hot. Because of this, rates as well as services are a huge value over what you would get in places like the U.K. or North America.

With the many different places that have cnc routers in China – I’ve seen places that have Skype, as well as quick email turnaround to ensure that communication is solid. This combined with the surface finish, quick (reliable) turnaround and quality makes for a solid choice over a domestic cnc operator.

CNC China

So from all the above benefits, I’d have to say I am sold on the idea of outsourcing to China. With the huge selection of China cnc machine routers available, you will have luck finding a company with a Chinese cnc router or lathe that will be able to do the cnc job that you want.