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Thread: So, is it ok to start out as a hobbyist to learn the ropes?

  1. #1
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    So, is it ok to start out as a hobbyist to learn the ropes?

    I've been researching and thinking about adding CNC to my shop for a few years now. My issue is, I don't have several Thousand $ to throw at something and I want to add a small CNC to my shop/experience level to see how much I would really use one without spending $25K to find out. I've looked at the Shapeoko 3 XXL but I'm far in love with the CAMaster line of CNC machines.

    I'm frustrated because it took me 30 years to get the tools in my shop that I have today and a shop I no longer need to find ways to expand it. Sure I can borrow the money but I've never been in debt to supply tooling to my shop. I would love to have a CAMaster 4x8 machine with 3Kw spindle in my shop, ready to crank out the work....but I'm nervous about what I "don't know".

    I do have a local friend that has a small X-Carve that he does work with and my view is...at least he's learning to work with a machine to make things that he couldn't before.

    How do I really need to think about this? Maybe my approach to this is all wrong. There are a couple of people here that I've talked to about this, but I'm asking in "public view" to see what you say.
    Thanks & Happy Wood Chips,
    Dennis -
    Get the Benefits of Being an SMC Contributor..!
    ....DEBT is nothing more than yesterday's spending taken from tomorrow's income.

  2. #2
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    Dennis...

    ABSOLUTELY!!!! (think gateway drug )
    Gary Campbell
    CNC Technology & Training

  3. #3
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    Do the research to find out what programs are compatible with both the small unit and your "dream" machine.
    The main obstacle for us is to get the hang of constructing something on a computer in a modeling software and then exporting it into a program that the CNC can understand and perform.
    A smaller machine would allow the practice.
    It's never too late to have a happy childhood.

  4. #4
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    Chris makes a good point...if you opt for a more modest hobby-focused approach for CNC to start, given your desired end-game, opt for something you can use the Vectric software that's most commonly used by Camaster owners who are not exclusively banging out cabinets using cabinet focused software. And make sure you by something that can cut guitar bodies, etc.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  5. #5
    Well, when you do get one don't post it in a public forum, don't invite friends over to show it off. Keep it your little secret otherwise you will never have time to make yourself anything. I purchased a small table top one years ago and learned about it and had a blast with it. I too wanted to go the Camaster route but I wanted a large machine and ended up with a Chinese machine. As soon as I got it running, worked out a few bugs and then refamiliarized myself with vcarve pro, people found out that I had one and orders started piling up. I have so many orders that I spent my 2 weeks of vacation trying to get caught up. I haven't had a chance yet to try to get orders because unsolicited ones keep coming in. I'm on pace right now to pay off a 4'X8' machine in about 6 months.

    Once you get into it just know there is a learning curve. once you start learning what you are doing the mistakes will slow and you'll start producing better and better items. Do yourself a favor while you are waiting to bite the bullet and download a trial version of the vectric software and start learning it. You don't need a machine for that and that is the biggest hurdle.

  6. #6
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    I started out with a Shapeoko XXL and found out very quickly that I needed/wanted something bigger and much more robust. I ended up building my own 5' x 5' machine that is capable of 400ipm rapids and I regularly cut hardwood at 200ipm. This takes a while doing everything yourself, but I was able to use the Shapeoko while I was building it. Once I had everything up and running I sold the Shapeoko XXL and recouped about half of what I spent on the new machine. If your mechanical and like to tinker, this is definitely the best and least expensive way to get a production capable machine.

  7. #7
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    I have been around CNC machines for at least 40 years. It amazes me that almost everyone starts out concentrating on the machine. The fact is that cnc machines have changed very little in 40 years. They still work the same way they did 40 years ago. Either a stepper or servo loop motor moves the machine based on input from a computer. What has changed is control software. The other thing that has dramatically changed is programming software.

    40 years ago you would not have been cutting a swept surface (think wing on an airplane) unless you were working in a company like Boeing with mathematicians who knew how to program computers via fortran language. Nowadays we can all do that with readily available and relatively inexpensive software. No one would have dreamed of cutting a squirrel chewing on an acorn in 3D back then. Now? Just purchase a model, or model it yourself and away you go.

    So what should that tell you? Software is the key to making these machines do what you want. Sure, the machine has to be capable and not flop around etc, but by itself? The machine does absolutely nothing.

    A trap some folks fall into is thinking they should spend the bulk of their money on the machine, after all, the machine is a durable good, iron. Then they start scrimping on the software due to budget concerns. HUGE mistake. A $100K router will not cut 3D parts if it is programmed by budget software.

    Another way to think of this stuff: Your knowledge of how to program parts works no matter what machine you purchase, the machine can always be swapped out for a bigger/faster machine and that machine will run the same way a small budget machine runs. What is a real pain is starting with budget software, not getting the results you are looking for and then discovering you can start climbing a new learning curve with a new piece of programming software.

    So yes, you can easily start out with something like the Shapeoko. It is a reasonable machine that will produce decent work at a budget price and allow you to start learning. But remember, the learning is actually in the software you use to program that machine. When you decide to buy a faster/larger machine the knowledge you gained will directly apply to your new machine.
    Last edited by Ted Reischl; 07-25-2019 at 10:16 AM.

  8. #8
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    I am with David Justice on this. The Shapeoko 3XL is a FINE MACHINE. I used mine for 3 years and sold it for only a few hundred under what I paid for it. It's slow and doesn't have any torque, but if your patient it's a great machine to learn on. This is why people pay top dollar for them used.

  9. #9
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    I understand that the basic "machine" is the same as it was over 10 years ago. I'm in computer I.T. and an ex-programmer, so I understand the software is what makes the world go around.
    I'm planning on VCarve Pro or VCarve Desktop to start with. I've been playing around with the trial version of Aspire. I like Aspire so far. It's just not in my current budget.

    Simply put, I'm trying to find a way to get my foot in the CNC Router world and start learning to tie my love for design to machine to equate to an end-result - a product.
    I'm working projects to earn money to save up and buy a machine and software. I'm not just researching and talking to people....I'm actually working and saving money to buy my first machine.
    Thanks & Happy Wood Chips,
    Dennis -
    Get the Benefits of Being an SMC Contributor..!
    ....DEBT is nothing more than yesterday's spending taken from tomorrow's income.

  10. #10
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    Then it sounds like a good plan, Dennis. Focus on the Vectric software and cut with something you can afford while you put together the funds for a more production oriented machine. You'll get back a good chuck of the two grand for the big Shapeoko (don't buy the smaller ones, IMHO) when you sell it at some point. The nice thing about using VCarve Pro is that upgrading to Aspire when you need the modeling is a straight difference in cost. I did that in January when a job demanded it and that job "more than funded" the upgrade at that time.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  11. #11
    Are even planning on doing modeling for 3d? I love 3d but the machining time is so much greater than the 2.5d, I have only done 1 3d item that I can remember. If that isnt in tour plans then vcarve pro is exactly the same thing as Aspire minus the 3d modeling. You can still load 3d files into vcarve pro and carve them you just cant make or modify them. Like mentioned above, Vectric does have a good upgrade plan if you feel that you need more later.

  12. #12
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    Bobby, the singular reason I upgraded to Aspire was because I actually did need to do some 3D modeling for a client. I'm glad I have it now for some of the guitar stuff I'm working on for person things as well as client projects. Dennis may need that at some point, but starting with VCarve makes sense for financial reasons. VCarve can also use 3D models to cut; you just cannot create them from scratch. But the molding tool path offers some creative ways around that for some things. The upgrade is fast, easy and just requires money should that come to pass. . It will be interesting to see what new things are in version 10 this fall.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  13. #13
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    If your planning on just using Aspire for 3D modeling there are much cheaper and just as easier to use programs for that. VCarve Pro will take 3D files and and do the carve.
    Retired Guy- Central Iowa. , LightObject 40w CO2 Laser and Chiller, MakerGear M2 3D Printer. Fine Line Automation 4x4 CNC Router- Mach4 ESS

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill George View Post
    If your planning on just using Aspire for 3D modeling there are much cheaper and just as easier to use programs for that. VCarve Pro will take 3D files and and do the carve.
    Agree...but for those of use already using VCarve Pro, the natural path is to Aspire for the difference in cost and not having to learn something else. For hard core 3D modeling, Fusion360, Rhino, Solidworks, etc., are better choices. For Dennis's purposes, he'll likely be well served with the Vectric software based on what I know of things he does and things he wants to do.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Becker View Post
    Agree...but for those of use already using VCarve Pro, the natural path is to Aspire for the difference in cost and not having to learn something else. For hard core 3D modeling, Fusion360, Rhino, Solidworks, etc., are better choices. For Dennis's purposes, he'll likely be well served with the Vectric software based on what I know of things he does and things he wants to do.
    That depends on what type of modeling a person wants to do. Rhino works well for organics and does a decent job with mechanical stuff. That is not the case for things like F360 and SolidWorks. I have run all of them at one time or another and if I had to do mostly organics I would use Rhino. I like the way Aspire models but the constant refreshes are annoying. But it is really fast with some types of modeling.

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