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Tools and Materials for CNC

This lesson is a list of tools, services, and material recommendations.


Software

Autodesk Fusion 360 (Free)

This is a powerful 3D modeling platform that's easy to learn but has endless potential. With it, you can design complex 3D objects for practically any kind of fabrication, digital or otherwise.

Click here to sign up for free as a Hobbyist / Enthusiast / Startup or as a Student or Educator.

  1. Follow one of the links above to download the app (don't use the App Store on Mac).
  2. Enter your email and download the free trial.
  3. Install and setup a free Autodesk ID account.
  4. When you open Fusion, select the Trial Counter in the upper toolbar (it tells you how many days are left on your trial).
  5. In the next dialog box, select "Register for Free Use".
  6. Sign up as a Start-Up or Enthusiast (Free). You can also Sign up as a Student or Educator (Free) if you're a student or educator at a registered institution.
  7. Select the "I accept Terms and Conditions" checkbox and click Submit.

ArtCAM (Optional- $40 / Month)

As you can see, there are a lot of steps involved with getting Fusion to work with this kind of model. In order for it to work, the bitmap image has to be very small and carefully doctored to give you the result you want, which is an entirely different skill.

With ArtCAM, you'll get a fully functioning CAD/CAM program that is specifically tailored to decorative woodworking, and has some awesome features for 3D carving.

  • Works with hi-res images
  • Allows for direct editing of surfaces generated by 2D images
  • Has a full suite of vector drawing tools
  • Has easy, simplified toolpath creation
  • Has excellent toolpath simulation so you can get a clear picture of what your carved piece will look like

For more info on ArtCAM, check out their Youtube channel.


CNC Machines

Other Machine Co. Othermill

Other Machine Co. makes a small, desktop CNC machine that I'll use in Lesson 5. It's made for PCB boards specifically, but it's a fully functioning CNC mill with a 2" maximum depth. It's great for small parts and a good option if you've got limited space.

Carbide 3D Shapeoko

Carbide 3D makes the "most powerful, most hackable, most complete" CNC machine in its class. This is a simple kit which you assemble yourself in about an hour. The machine must be plugged into a Mac or PC in order to run. All versions come with either a 1.25 HP Dewalt spindle or a Makita spindle. Fusion 360 includes a post-processor for these machines, so it's easy to make toolpaths and run them on the machine with good results. It's got a 3" Z travel, which is respectable for a machine of this size.

It comes in 3 versions:

Shapeoko 3

  • Cutting area: 16"x16”
  • Footprint: 28-1/2”W x 24”L x 16”H
  • Weight: 70 lbs
  • Price: Starting at $1099

Shapeoko XL

  • Cutting area: 16x33”
  • Footprint: 45”W x 24”L x 16”H
  • Weight: 100 lbs
  • Price: Starting at $1499

Shapeoko XXL

  • Cutting area: 33x33”
  • Footprint: 45”W x 40-1/2”L x 16”H
  • Weight: 145 lbs
  • Price: Starting at $1699

Inventables X-Carve

The Inventables X-Carve is a great choice for makers with limited space and a limited budget. It comes in 500 X 500 mm (19.5 X 19.5 in), 750 X 750 mm (29.5 X 29.5 in), and 1000 X 1000 mm (39 X 39 in) for $1,200, $1,350, and $1,460 respectively.

All models use a Dewalt router (which is easy replaceable) as the spindle and have a 65 mm (2.5 in) Z depth which is more than enough for flat pack projects and relief sculptures.

The company claims a .075mm - .13mm accuracy resolution, which is really impressive considering the price.

In short, if I were to own my own machine I would get the 1000 X 1000 version. You can do a lot with 39" of width, and you can cut longer sheets if you properly index and move the panels as demonstrated in this video.

Shopbot Alpha

For this class, I'll be using the ShopBot Alpha to demonstrate the work in the lessons. The ShopBot is a Computer Numerical Control router capable of cutting 2D and 3D shapes in wood, foam, plastic, some non-ferrous metals, and a variety of other materials. The ShopBot CNC machine I'm using in the lesson is considered full-size and can handle 4’x8’ sheet goods. It is a PRSAlpha 96 48 equipped with Z-axis travel of 12” and a 24,000 RPM, 3 horsepower Colombo spindle.

This machine can be found in maker-spaces worldwide such as Techshop.


Service Bureaus

You don't need a CNC machine to take this class or even to make CNC fabricated parts. Service bureaus are a great option if you don't have access to a machine. Here are a few to choose from.

100K Garages

100K Garages is a site that connects designers to fabricators. They have a huge network of people who own CNC machines and can turn your designs into parts, and they're located all over the world.

Opendesk

Opendesk is similar in that it connects you with designers and makers, but they've also got a "Studio" section where you can post your design and have people vote on it. If your design gets enough votes, they'll fabricated and sell it and pay you commission!


End Mills

End Mill for Small-Scale Carving

For the desktop CNC carving project, a ball-nose 1/8" end mill is a good choice. This type of end mill lets you get a smooth finish on a carving project because the round shape helps you avoid the stepping effect you'd get from a flat profile tool.

Amazon: 1/8" Ball Nose End Mill

End Mill for Plywood Cutting

To make a tool path, you have to know which end mill you're going to use. An end mill is a kind of router bit with properties that make it better at cutting for specific applications.

In my experience, the downcut spiral endmill is the best choice for flat-packed plywood furniture. The flute orientation gives you a clean top surface, and the bottom surface is compressed against the bed. This gives you clean cuts on both sides. The kerf does tend to get a bit gummed up, but you can always pause the job and clean out the chips and sawdust.

Onsrud is a great resource for endmills, but you can buy common ones on Amazon.

Amazon: 1/4" Downcut Spiral End Mill


Other Tools

Clamps for Work-holding and Assembly

I like the Irwin Quick Grip- it's very sturdy and easy to use. These are great for holding material if you don't have another hold-down system and they're crucial for sanding and assembly.

$17 Amazon: Irwin Quick Grip

Digital Calipers

These are an absolute must. You have to know the exact thickness of your material for any CNC project.

$17 Amazon: Electronic Digital Caliper

Soft Hammer

You'll need these for assembling flat-pack parts and for nudging large sheets into place on a full-size machine.

$16 Amazon: Dead-Blow Hammer

Safety Glasses

I've seen parts get jammed in the tool and fly across the room. ALWAYS WEAR SAFETY GLASSES.

$11 Amazon: Safety Glasses


Wood and Plywood

My advice is to locally source your wood- it tends to be cheaper than ordering online and you've probably got a mom-and-pop lumber yard you can support no matter where you are.

Plywood

I'm using 3/4" A-grade maple veneer plywood for the flat-pack project. You can use CDX if you want, but the A-grade stuff is much nicer to work with and requires less finishing work.

Hardwood

I'm using Poplar for the carving project, but solid wood or plywood will work for this one as well.

CLASS PROJECT

Share a photo of your finished project with the class!

Nice work! You've completed the class project