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Thread: Mobile/Storable CNC for small shop

  1. #1
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    Mobile/Storable CNC for small shop

    I've been looking at various CNC's that are relatively small and portable.

    Shark 2x4 (Rockler)
    Powermatic 2x4
    Avid 2x4 and 4x4
    Camaster 2x4 Stinger I and II

    In general: There are so many options, features, and addons its hard determine what might be the best general purpose unit. I'd like to get something I don't have to upgrade in a year.

    Purpose: I plan to cut out templates, do some engraving, cut out small parts, possibly cut mortises. I was thinking if I had a 4x4 machine, I could take 4x8 sheet goods, cut them in half, and work on 4x4 sheets. I'll be working on furniture mostly. It seems like for working on hardwood, 2x4 is enough for most work?

    Size and portability: I was looking at the Stinger 1 as it looks like it might be easier to store it vertically when not in use? Has anyone done this? The stinger II looks nice but no portability really. Is anyone using a CNC on casters or storing it vertically?

    Options: Should I be focused on units with water cooled spindles or routers? Are there any key features I should be looking at , like travel on certain axis or a certain number of axis's? It seems like the Camaster is a pretty complete system.

    Thanks for any help.

  2. #2
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    If you have a pet gorilla you might be able to store a Stinger 1 vertically, but that's a heavy welded frame and weighs hundreds of pounds..shipping weight is 900 lbs!. My Stinger II 4x4 comes in at about 1000 lbs and had a shipping weight of 1700 lbs! The Powermatic is nearly identical to the Axiom and is many hundreds of pounds. AVID isn't welded, but because of alignment, etc., you just do not move them around. Honestly, even the table top machine have to stay on the table, fastened down, so there's no deflection, etc.

    I will say that the 4x4 (or 5x5 available in the AVID) are very useful sizes. I do the half sheet thing because I don't have things setup such that I can leverage tiling, but I've also not bothered to cut the sheets, at least the lighter 12mm material, as I have my main bench positioned to be able to support the "off the machine" end. Flipping it around is just a matter of spinning it. Heavy stuff I do cut in half so I can lift it without killing myself. I don't discount the fact that most of what I do could easily be served by a 2x4 machine. In fact, my first quote for a "real" CNC was for the Stinger I, but I got itchy and went to the Stinger II. A few times I could have benefited from the 4x8 Stinger III and regretted not investing the additional three grand, but space constraints really overruled things. I'll mention one other thing, Derek. The space for the CNC will likely be worth it. I have found this tool to be not unlike that old saying, "To a hammer, everything is a nail". I really enjoy using the CNC for projects, both for the more complex things it can do, but also for more mundane tasks simply because it does things well and with accuracy. (assuming I was accurate in my design, of course) I truly enjoy "building" something virtually before committing to expensive material, too. It's a healthy mental thing for me. At any rate, I think that if you can fit a 4x4 or 5x5, it brings a huge amount of flexibility as a machine over something smaller.

    Spindle...absolutely. Air cooled or water cooled doesn't matter. Camaster uses high quality air cooled HDS spindles from Italy as do many of the manufacturers in similar sizes and duty cycles. I would not want to use a router motor for this machine because of the high level of noise from the universal motor and the fact that they become somewhat disposable if you are really using the machine a lot...router motors (universal motors) were never well suited to running for hours on end. There is still cutting noise when using a spindle that requires hearing protection, but the noise is all tooling and material related, not from the spindle.

    Relative to other options, given you mention furniture making, any option that provides more clearance under the gantry/spindle is worthy. The one option I did not buy with my Stinger II was the "gantry lift" and that makes things tight for thicker materials that sometimes come into play. AVID honestly has a bit of an advantage here over Camaster because they have greater height options available for the Z-axis. The machine isn't as heavy/stout because it's a bolt-together, but still worthy of consideration based on needs.

    3 axis will do pretty much anything other than rotary (ornamental) work where you need a fourth axis. In the case of Camaster, if you're not sure you need ornamental wrapping (what they sell as the Recoil Lathe) you can get the machine pre-wired/prepared for the fourth axis inexpensively without buying the Recoil attachment. A lot of folks see the word "lathe" and think it's a spinny-thing. It's not. Yes you can spin material, but the purpose of the attachment isn't to actually cut while spinning rapidly and it's not optimized for that. Rather, it's an indexing system that excels at transfering a 3D profile (wrapping) to a round or rectangular workpiece while the tooling traverses up and down the length of the workpiece. The CAD/CAM work is a bit more involved for that and many folks end up not actually using the expensive option. The prep, however, might be useful for vertical work, such as dovetailing off to the side of the machine because part of the prep is the gantry being longer on the right side so the spindle can hang off the side of the machine bed. Other brands have similar features available, although they may be implemented differently. Camaster is what I'm most familiar with in that respect.
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  3. #3
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    The avid stuff is expandible
    Camaster has a lot of good feedback here
    Powermatic seams pricey( I havent read many reviews on it but to me PM makes good machines but they arent in the automation business, though they most likely have a huge engineering team)
    I would lean away from Shark(no experience, they just seam overpriced compared to the better quality in others machines)
    May wanna look at Axiom as well

    What do you mean by portable? Some of those machines are pretty weighty.
    If you plan on bringing it places check out the Stepcraft Mseries. They have a removable bed and you can mount it to engrave on walls/floors/etc

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Becker View Post
    I will say that the 4x4 (or 5x5 available in the AVID) are very useful sizes.
    Do you know if the 4x4 will actually handle a 4x4 sheet? I see the table size is 49x49. Also the 4x4 unit is actually 6' by 7' so its pretty dang bit. I was expecting it to be closer to 4'x4'. Just looking at the picture, if the tabletop is 49x49 inches, I don't see how the extra few feet come in.

    Is the table top something you could/would actually use a working table for assembly, or other things, or is there a possibility for it to be damaged?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Becker View Post
    Spindle...absolutely. Air cooled or water cooled doesn't matter. Camaster uses high quality air cooled HDS spindles from Italy as do many of the manufacturers in similar sizes and duty cycles. I would not want to use a router motor for this machine because of the high level of noise from the universal motor and the fact that they become somewhat disposable if you are really using the machine a lot...router motors (universal motors) were never well suited to running for hours on end. There is still cutting noise when using a spindle that requires hearing protection, but the noise is all tooling and material related, not from the spindle.
    Interesting, the Stinger I/II both come with a 3.5HP Milwaukee Router installed and not a spindle. I guess I would be paying to remove that and install a spindle.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Becker View Post
    Relative to other options, given you mention furniture making, any option that provides more clearance under the gantry/spindle is worthy. The one option I did not buy with my Stinger II was the "gantry lift" and that makes things tight for thicker materials that sometimes come into play.
    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Becker View Post
    3 axis will do pretty much anything other than rotary (ornamental) work where you need a fourth axis. In the case of Camaster, if you're not sure you need ornamental wrapping (what they sell as the Recoil Lathe) you can get the machine pre-wired/prepared for the fourth axis inexpensively without buying the Recoil attachment. A lot of folks see the word "lathe" and think it's a spinny-thing. It's not. Yes you can spin material, but the purpose of the attachment isn't to actually cut while spinning rapidly and it's not optimized for that. Rather, it's an indexing system that excels at transfering a 3D profile (wrapping) to a round or rectangular workpiece while the tooling traverses up and down the length of the workpiece. The CAD/CAM work is a bit more involved for that and many folks end up not actually using the expensive option. The prep, however, might be useful for vertical work, such as dovetailing off to the side of the machine because part of the prep is the gantry being longer on the right side so the spindle can hang off the side of the machine bed. Other brands have similar features available, although they may be implemented differently. Camaster is what I'm most familiar with in that respect.
    Great advice.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by George Yetka View Post
    If you plan on bringing it places check out the Stepcraft Mseries. They have a removable bed and you can mount it to engrave on walls/floors/etc
    Neat unit! I don't need it to be portable per say, just storable.

  6. #6
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    It seems like the Axiom Elite AR16 4x4 and the Camaster Stinger II are pretty comparable in price and features. Axiom being aluminum and Camaster being welded steel?

    Size seems to be much smaller on the AR16, 4.8'x5.75' for the AR16 and 5.8'x6.75' for the Stinger II. So its a foot bigger in both directions. I wonder if that is due to the gantry box sticking out and the control-box on the front.

    AVID isn't welded, but because of alignment, etc., you just do not move them around
    The AR16 seems to have casters on it so it looks mobile. If the Stinger II is welded, it seems like it would probably be OK being mobile as well with casters?

  7. #7
    Except for the smallest machines these are not really designed to be mobile. They need to be well supported and flat to perform correctly.

    As far as using it as a work surface, I throw a sheet of laminate covered mdf up there for assembly work and as the base for a frame style veneer press.

    Since you are pressed for space, have you considered the Shaper Origin? It is limited in some ways but some people find it serves them well, and the cost is much less than a gantry machine.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by derek labian View Post
    Do you know if the 4x4 will actually handle a 4x4 sheet? I see the table size is 49x49. Also the 4x4 unit is actually 6' by 7' so its pretty dang bit. I was expecting it to be closer to 4'x4'. Just looking at the picture, if the tabletop is 49x49 inches, I don't see how the extra few feet come in.
    The table on the Stinger II is 49" wide and will accommodate typical 49" wide MDF as well as the normal 48.5" wide veneer sheet goods from a good supplier. It's setup from the factory to cut just over 49" on the Y axis, but I have that tweaked slightly to about 50".

    Is the table top something you could/would actually use a working table for assembly, or other things, or is there a possibility for it to be damaged?
    I have often used the top of my CNC machine for other purposes, especially when I need an absolutely flat surface for assembling something. Obviously, you're not going to do that when you actually need to use the machine.



    Interesting, the Stinger I/II both come with a 3.5HP Milwaukee Router installed and not a spindle. I guess I would be paying to remove that and install a spindle.
    Stinger I and Stinger II come "standard" with the Milwaukee router motor in the base price. When you opt for one of the spindle options (typically either the 1.7wk that I have or the 3kw on the larger Stinger), you do not get the router as the spindles are integrated into the control software, etc., and has a spindle-designed mount on the Z-axis. It's best to do that upgrade with the machine rather than trying to upgrade later because of the integration. I recommend a spindle and the Performance Package that includes the (more or less required for a spindle) counterbalance, laser center pointer and Fast Tool Change as well as the gantry lift for your stated application. THose are all things that are difficult or impossible to add later.
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  9. #9
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    I wonder if anyone has put hands in the Grizzly 894? Smaller unit, 24x36, but includes 3hp spindle and looks pretty well built. Half the price of other options.

    https://www.grizzly.com/products/grizzly-24-x-36-cnc-router/g0894

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Jenness View Post
    As far as using it as a work surface, I throw a sheet of laminate covered mdf up there for assembly work and as the base for a frame style veneer press.
    Thank you. How big of a unit are you using?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Jenness View Post
    Since you are pressed for space, have you considered the Shaper Origin? It is limited in some ways but some people find it serves them well, and the cost is much less than a gantry machine.
    Thats actually what I started looking at. The manager at my local Rockler actually directed me away from it and instead suggested a Shark CNC. I read the reviews on the Shaper anyway, they were pretty good but accuracy is reduced and you have to take many light passes for deep cuts. I'm also imagining using the Shaper on some furniture part that would be odd to sit upon, whereas anchoring down to a table would be much easier.

    My logic went as such: if I'm going to spend $2500 on a shaper, I should spend $3500 on a desktop Shark. If I'm going to spend $3500 on a Shark, I should just spend a bit more on a higher quality 2x4 unit. If I'm going to spend that much money on a higher quality 2x4 unit, maybe I should just buy a 4x4 as I won't have to replace anytime soon.

    It seems like CNC tech moves pretty fast, people are upgrading there CNC's more than say, a bandsaw. Is that just because they want the latest or is it because there are systemic changes that obsolete older units?

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Becker View Post
    AVID honestly has a bit of an advantage here over Camaster because they have greater height options available for the Z-axis. The machine isn't as heavy/stout because it's a bolt-together, but still worthy of consideration based on needs.
    Honestly, this may be the best option just because its expandable. I'm not sure its any cheaper than the Camaster once you add on all the options. It is interesting that they sell an 8.7HP spindle for the AVID and the Camaster Stinger II comes with a 3.5HP router. Anyone have any thoughts on that ?

  12. #12
    Thank you. How big of a unit are you using?

    4' x 8'. I often have jobs with large cabinet parts and tiling is inefficient. The router takes up the space (and a little more) where I used to have a 4x8 assembly table and substitutes for it.


    Thats actually what I started looking at. The manager at my local Rockler actually directed me away from it and instead suggested a Shark CNC. I read the reviews on the Shaper anyway, they were pretty good but accuracy is reduced and you have to take many light passes for deep cuts. I'm also imagining using the Shaper on some furniture part that would be odd to sit upon, whereas anchoring down to a table would be much easier.

    My logic went as such: if I'm going to spend $2500 on a shaper, I should spend $3500 on a desktop Shark. If I'm going to spend $3500 on a Shark, I should just spend a bit more on a higher quality 2x4 unit. If I'm going to spend that much money on a higher quality 2x4 unit, maybe I should just buy a 4x4 as I won't have to replace anytime soon.

    Might as well go ahead and get a 5x10 unit with vacuum table and tool changer with that logic. It's just a one-time expense.

    It seems like CNC tech moves pretty fast, people are upgrading there CNC's more than say, a bandsaw. Is that just because they want the latest or is it because there are systemic changes that obsolete older units?

    If you buy the cnc that you really need the first time you won't need to upgrade anytime soon. The problem is that it's hard to know just what you do need until you get into it and find out your initial budget, requirements or expectations were unrealistic.

    It wouldn't be a bad idea to visit users with various machines and talk to them about what they are doing, what features they need and don't need, what restrictions they have found with their setups and so on so that you can clarify what it is that you really want to invest in. As with any enterprise involving software controlling specialized hardware there's a significant investment of time learning how to run the system aside from the money, so do your due diligence. The vendors should have a list of customers who are willing to share their experience, and you can investigate various fora such as cnczone, camheads, shopbot, and vectric among others.
    Last edited by Kevin Jenness; 10-14-2021 at 10:10 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by derek labian View Post
    Honestly, this may be the best option just because its expandable. I'm not sure its any cheaper than the Camaster once you add on all the options. It is interesting that they sell an 8.7HP spindle for the AVID and the Camaster Stinger II comes with a 3.5HP router. Anyone have any thoughts on that ?
    A "3.5 hp" router isn't in the same class as a spindle. It's an inexpensive solution but doesn't have the features and flexibility that a spindle brings to the CNC. You could put a router motor on an AVID machine if you want to. Camster has retained the base configuration of the Stinger series machines to include a router motor by default because it can be cost effective for some buyers and "back in the day" that was a lot more common for machines in those sizes and lower end marketplace including hobbyists and small production situations. Other manufacturers did the same. They originally used PC routers, but switched to Milwaukee because, well...they are actually available. They no longer offer it on the Panther which is the next step up. For the Stinger series, the 1.7kw (about 2.5hp) and the 3kw (about 4hp) spindles are extremely popular at this point for good reason. Noise, power, ER collet advantages, software control, etc., have huge benefits, even to part time users.

    If I ever had to downsize my CNC machine situation, you can be sure whatever I would end up with would still have a spindle rather than a router motor. I have zero question in my mind about that.
    Last edited by Jim Becker; 10-14-2021 at 12:25 PM.
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  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by derek labian View Post

    My logic went as such: if I'm going to spend $2500 on a shaper, I should spend $3500 on a desktop Shark. If I'm going to spend $3500 on a Shark, I should just spend a bit more on a higher quality 2x4 unit. If I'm going to spend that much money on a higher quality 2x4 unit, maybe I should just buy a 4x4 as I won't have to replace anytime soon.
    That's a path that many of us have followed.

    Quote Originally Posted by derek labian View Post

    It seems like CNC tech moves pretty fast, people are upgrading there CNC's more than say, a bandsaw. Is that just because they want the latest or is it because there are systemic changes that obsolete older units?
    I bought my Camaster 24x36 Stinger with 1.7kw spindle in 2013. It is still just as accurate and reliable as the day I bought it.
    Budget is always a concern but the “Cry once” philosophy truly applies when considering a CNC purchase.
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  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by derek labian View Post
    Honestly, this may be the best option just because its expandable. I'm not sure its any cheaper than the Camaster once you add on all the options. It is interesting that they sell an 8.7HP spindle for the AVID and the Camaster Stinger II comes with a 3.5HP router. Anyone have any thoughts on that ?
    The Avid 4x4 is easily expandable to 4x8, 4x12, etc. in 4 ft. increments. I own two of the Avid Pro series machines and I like them a lot. Frank Howarth has some great videos showing how he assembled his table and expanded it.

    David

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygND7TFziF8

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