Friday, February 7, 2014

Project CNC - Adventures with CNC milling

My First Functional Prototype
I have been looking at home 3D printers and CNC milling machines since I first heard about them a few years ago (I actually heard about 3D Printers first and in the past year learned about home CNC milling machines). 

I knew I really wanted one, but had to focus on what I wanted it to do.  The list of things that computer controlled mills are able to make is very long as the materials they can make them with is also long.  To approach building one I had to be realistic so I needed to answer some basic questions:
  1. What materials do I want to use the mill to work with?
  2. Types of objects I want to make?
  3. Size of objects?
Price is not really a question - I want to minimize it as much as I can but I'm willing to pay more in the long run (during building process) as long as I'm learning how it all works and each purchase I end up making isn't to high.  Basically, I want to keep price low but I'm willing to start simple and cheap and build on what I've made as long as the basic framework is good and solid.  (I've always taken the same approach to other things - like bikes: as long as I have a good frame I can keep improving it with better pedals, tires, bearings, gears, shifters etc.).
A quick note - if you are looking for a quick start into computer controlled milling machines - as in getting one set up and running with minimal hassle I suggest looking at ShapeOko or Phlatprinter (more expensive).  Kits like these will save you a lot of headache - they are tried and true designs.  If you are a bit more adventurous and willing to purchase individual pieces on your own: Mantis 9.1 CNC Mill (mainly for PCB manufacture) is likely the least expensive entry into CNC milling (as long as you substitute stepper drivers with StepStick and use  GRBL  loaded onto an Arduino board - both of which I ended up doing).

I've already spent the past month building, changing things, and building again (repeated many times with different parts of the machine - and I'm still not done all the way).  I will try and bring my build process up to date on here as quick as I can over this coming week.  So, keep tuned in.