I’ve been busy learning my new machine and more importantly the software, Vectric VCarve Desktop. There are lots of choices for CNC software but Vectric Software is POWERFUL. There just is SO MUCH you can do with it. The last week or so I have been making Inlays. That’s where you put, and glue one material inside another. Here is what I have done so far:
I’ve recently began making things on a CNC machine. Anyone can buy a CNC but the learning curve can be steep especially as it relates to bits. There is SO MUCH to know. What bit do you use for what type of cutting action, what speed, what feed? What the same bit in different materials will do. Screw up your cuts and you will snap a bit in a heartbeat. Or you can dull a bit. Even the right bit with the wrong settings can burn or tear at your substrate.
To further exacerbate the situation ……….. BITS ARE EXPENSIVE. Snap a $40 bit and it hurts more than your pride. Also, because of the high cost of bits, at least initially, you’ll probably only have one of each type of bit. Snap that bit and you’ll have to wait a few days to get a new one.
I started this journey with a Sainsmart 3018 Prover machine.
Cutting with 1/8th bit
In this pic I used a 1/8th end mill to cut out my name in a semi-3D relief manner.
Took quite a while to make this small design. To speed things up, many CNC operations require the use of multiple bits during a single design creation.
Cut, change bit, cut, change bit, etc.
I probably could have cut this out much quicker by using a larger bit to clear the big empty spaces and then coming in and cleaning up around the name.
That sure is easy for me to think about now but when I made that John sign I didn’t HAVE ANY BIGGER BITS. My machine only came with engraving bits and then I went on line and bought a little bit set that really wasn’t money well spent.
At my old house I had all manner of storm preparations in place. We moved here in July of 2021 which gave me several months before the Winter Storm of January 2022 hit.
I, as they say………Screwed The Pooch.
Fortunately for me the power never went out because if it had I wasn’t quite ready for it. My biggest indiscretion was that I own a 9500 watt, 50 amp generator. That is essentially enough power to run your whole house in a storm.
At my old house I had a 7500 watt, 30 amp generator. I ran my whole house EASILY with that. And while this is a much larger house with mostly all electric appliances…………you pick a floor to live on. Upstairs or Downstairs. Actually the heating system downstairs runs on gas. So if we stay downstairs, which we mostly do anyway………….we’d never miss a beat.
First let me say, “I AM A MAC GUY”. We can also say that “I AM A LINUX GUY”. I am most definitely NOT a Windows guy. All this being said I am also a Maker, or we used to say in the old days…….a Geek.
I have a lot of hobby type hardware such as Lasers, Vinyl sign machines, 3D printers, and CNC machines. These things all have Mac or Linux software of some kind but the cream of the crop software is written for Windows. While I can function on most of the hardware platforms with Mac, the straw that broke the camels back was my newly found love of CNC. The best CNC software, hands down, comes from Vectric, and the new CNC machine I bought comes with Vectric VCarve Desktop. The only computers I own with Windows on it are an old 3rd generation Intel i3 laptop with a tiny amount of RAM and a copy of Windows 10 on Parallels for Mac M1. By the way, Parallels on a Mac M1 runs about as efficiently and trustworthy as the Government. And it isn’t portable as I have it on a Mac Mini. My CNC is in a back yard shed which is either too hot or too cold and I want to do all my prep and design work in the house and run out with the laptop just when it is time to set up the job on the machine.
A new Windows laptop was really my only choice here. Here were my working parameters:
Cost – Always the first consideration. I only want to use this to run VCarve Software.
Availability – I wanted a computer I could run to the store and get and return if necessary. Buying a computer by mail can be a horrible PITA if something goes wrong.
Upgradability – The laptop I chose can have RAM, and the M.2 SSD upgraded and it has an un-used place for a 2.5″ SSD SATA drive.
At least an Intel i5 chip
Upgradeable to Windows 11
I ended up buying an Acer Aspire 5 from Walmart, specifically the:
DISCLAIMER: I’M NEW AT THE CNC RACKET. THESE SETTINGS WORKED PERFECTLY FOR ME AND ARE ESSENTIALLY MANUFACTURER RECOMMENDED NUMBERS. YOU SHOULD USE YOUR GOD GIVEN KNOWLEDGE AND YEARS OF EXPERIENCE AND TRIAL AND ERROR WHEN SETTING UP A DIAMOND DRAG BIT. I DON’T PROFESS TO BE AN EXPERT AT THIS. YET.
I recently bought an MC Etcher Diamond Drag bit from Carbide 3D . I opted to get the 90° bit. What a diamond drag bit does is to gently etch the surface by dragging across it and scratching the substrate. The diamond bit uses compression (spring loaded) and does not spin during cutting operations.
Diamond Drag bit
This results in a very NARROW line that shows incredible detail especially compared to a rotating engraving bit which produces a much thicker cut line.
Where a laser may slightly burn the surface the drag bit scratch also produces a clean, white line that exposes all the detail or it can of course be used to fill in vectors or text.
One downside you’ll see when researching these bits is that they CAN wear out quickly, however I suspect that many wear out or the tip breaks due to improper settings or excessive pressure.
Here’s how I set mine up in Vectric VCarve Desktop. First of all if you download the latest tool library there will already be a Diamond Drag bit listed in the Specialist category. All we are going to do is to alter those settings.
I have been having serious fun with my Next Wave Shark HD500 CNC since I got it. Prior to Thanksgiving I had essentially done no woodworking in my life and in just 6 weeks or so I’m really getting the hang of it and making some decent creations.
And I keep learning stuff. And I like to keep notes when I learn stuff so I can save that information for posterity because I have a terrible memory. Here’s the latest batch of stuff I have learned.
It’s all about the setup with CNC. Vectric Vcarve software is outstanding in how it can simulate the Toolpaths you generate and show the cuts.
Vectric Simulation BMP
Provided you set up your project with the right size and thickness the simulation is darn near spot on. Once you get your Toolpath generated then it is a matter of transferring it over to the machine.
This is where you channel your inner German old man machinist persona. Think about where the the wood lies on the CNC bed. What direction to set it in. How to clamp it. The simulation will show you on your properly sized workpiece where the bit will run to. Set your clamps up accordingly. Secure the piece, then test it to see if it moves. Check it again, and then do it again.
So, I have had a Sainsmart 3018 Prover for a few weeks now and I just got a NextWave Shark HD500 a week or so ago. Prior to this I have had ZERO experience with CNC machines.
My learning curve actually wasn’t as steep as I thought though since I have had a vinyl sign cutter for well over 15 years and have been 3D printing for about 7 years or so. I have a grasp on things moving round on an X, Y, and Z axis.
Ultimately, it ends up being about the software with these things. Sure, you need some hardware knowledge but once the machine is built and is sound it ends up being about the design of the file, and the sending of that file to your CNC via Gcode. Gcode is what tells the machine how and where to move from start to finish and everything in between.
The Sainsmart 3018 Prover doesn’t really come with software, except for Candle which is only a Gcode sending program. So I guess I meant to say it doesn’t really come with DESIGN software.
The Next Wave Shark HD500 comes with Vectric Vcarve Desktop which may be among the best in design software. But know this:
First you draw a design
Then you generate a Toolpath to carry out that design.
Then you send that Toolpath via generated Gcode to your machine.
It is possible that those 3 simple steps each require their own software. Some software can do all, some can do 2 of those things, some can only do 1.
I bought a super cheap Genmitsu Sainsmart 3018 Prover CNC machine. It is amazing how capable that inexpensive machine is. It lacks a few important features though. Size, speed, and it comes with entry level software. Almost the first thing I learned about this machine was that I was going to outgrow it fast. Don’t get me wrong, it can do amazing things………..But it is the lower end of the CNC spectrum. And so was the software.
With consumer CNC machines it seems the next jump up from a lower tier one financially is a mighty one. In fact it is AT LEAST a 10x’s or more jump. But with that jump comes a lot of improvements.
Next Wave Shark HD500 CNC
With the Next Wave CNC you are going to get a much larger working surface, improved bed and securing system. Also the axises move via lead screws instead of belts and the gantry moves instead of the table.
Accuracy and precision are improved, as is speed. Best of all it comes with Vectric Desktop software which is definitely not an entry level offering.
In short, this is a big boy machine replete with lots of bells and whistles.
Disclaimer: I’m by no means an expert. Yet. And your mileage may vary. These are my considerations.
UPDATE: I had to update this post as I had previously selected and ordered a Shapeoko 4. Their lead time indicated shipping in 5-6 days. After 10 days of hearing nothing I cancelled my order after hearing on a forum that others who ordered days before me were told (after they had trouble getting an answer out of anyone) that their units MIGHT ship in a week or two. John don’t play that shit. It’s one thing to have a shipping delay but it is an entirely different thing to have a delay and not inform someone who has dropped a couple of thousand dollars that there has been a delay. I simply CANNOT recommend to anyone to buy the Shapeoko machines. What if there is a problem? If they can’t deliver on the front end, they might not be able to deliver on the back end.
Well I bought a Sainsmart 3018 Prover CNC and while it is super cool about the first thing it revealed to me was that I was going to outgrow this thing FAST. I want to make big signs and in some respect I can do that now with simple wood working tools and my CO2 laser.
This is John 3:16 on about a 19″ piece of cedar.
Simple routed edge, then lasered, then wiped down with Butcher Block oil.
Looks magnificent. No complaints at all.
But I can CARVE exquisite details with a CNC. But how to choose which one? Let me tell you my choice and how I arrived at it.
Like the title says……..these are just my first observations.
I have been cutting vinyl signs for 15 or more years, 3D printing for 7 or so years, and using lasers for a couple of years, so I have some experience with computerized things moving along 2 or 3 axises.
CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control which just means a machine is automated by a computer. I started this because I was making cool stuff in my laser but was limited by my woodworking skills. I was given a real life wood router which really picked my game up and keeps me from spending extra money on pre-routed wood blanks at the hobby stores. Anyway, I caught the woodworking bug and invested in an entry level CNC machine.
Enter the Sainsmart 3018 Prover. I must have caught it just right on a Black Friday Sale or something because I paid around $250 and the price immediately went up about $50 – $100 depending on where you buy it from. Before I talk about the machine I’ll throw down some general impressions of CNC.