Best CNC machine for ~1k?

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Forum topic by jonnybrophy posted 12-15-2016 07:12 PM 7911 views 0 times favorited 25 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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160 posts in 2073 days

12-15-2016 07:12 PM

Topic tags/keywords: cnc noob inexspensive cheap

Hey guys, I am looking at getting a CNC machine. I would prefer an interchangeable head(laser,3d printer,router),but these are really exspensive. It would be used for mostly wood carving and some small aluminum/stainless steel engraving(dog tags/jewlery).
I have no experience using a cnc machine but have researched a lot and am willing to put in all of my time.
Right now my two main competitors are x-carve and shape-oko(both have laser attacthments)(I want it big enough to carve guitars). I really like the community behind the x-carve, but the durability of the aluminum rails concerns me.
What do you guys think?Am I in over my head?asking too much for 1000 bucks?
Any and all help is appreciated!
If you know of a better cnc machine, please let me know!

P.S. Im going to school to be a mechanical engineer and i believe this would help my tremendously with learning.

-- "If she dont find ya handsome, she better find ya handy"

25 replies so far

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11506 posts in 5109 days

#1 posted 12-15-2016 07:55 PM

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3444 posts in 2049 days

#2 posted 12-15-2016 08:07 PM

You want a lot for $1000

How are your CAD skills? Learn AutoCAD.

A CNC router & gantry for about a 20” x 24” bed was $2500 or so.

A 6” x 8” laser engraver can be had for $200 or so.


-- The hump with the stump and the pump!

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Mainiac Matt

10051 posts in 3790 days

#3 posted 12-15-2016 08:08 PM

Aluminum frame routers are usually plenty rigid for wood cutting. If you use good quality cutters and get your feeds and speeds correct, the cutting forces (wood pushing back on the cutter) are not excessive when routing wood.

Also, the accuracy required for woodwork is not the same as machined steel. +/- 0.020” is fine for most wood jobs, while CNC metal fab usually aims for +/-0.001” So a little flex in an AL framed machine is not usually a big deal.

Finally, when you start talking about more rigid framed machines (i.e. plate steel) you are adding considerable weight, and this requires significantly more torque and power from you motors, which in turn require higher amp. drivers, etc…

I was poking around at Wood Craft the other day (I was graciously spared shopping at Walmart with my wife) and the baby CNC they had on display had most of it’s frame components made from a high density plastic … my guess was Derlin, which was probably totally appropriate for this type of set up.

Don’t neglect to carefully consider what software package comes with the machine, as that can make or break your CNC experience.

-- Matt -- I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam

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160 posts in 2073 days

#4 posted 12-16-2016 12:05 AM

Thanks guys! The only concern i have with aluminum rails is if it can engrave aluminum(preferably with a laser)
What power laser does that require?
Are there any cnc’s you recommend?
My cad skills are that i can draw a pretty neat square. Thats about it, but i am determined.
(~$2000 dollars is fine if you guys have an idea in that price range)
Thank you for the help!

-- "If she dont find ya handsome, she better find ya handy"

View Ger21's profile


1100 posts in 4592 days

#5 posted 12-17-2016 12:41 PM

What do you guys think?Am I in over my head?asking too much for 1000 bucks?

Basically, yes, you are asking too much.
But, it all depends on your expectations and needs.
An X Carve is $1000. A really good 2’ x 2’ machine might be $5000. I would say that a decent quality machine in that size range would be closer to $3000.

Performance will vary with price. More expensive machines can cut faster, make deeper cuts, and give a better quality finish.

While I’m sure there are plenty of users that are happy with their X Carves, I’ve seen plenty of people that found them inadequate for their needs.

I’d forget about a multi function machine. Machines that do multiple things, don’t do any of them very well.
If you need a router, buy a router. If you want a laser, buy a laser.

A ShapeOKO 3 is probably a little better than an X Carve, but it’s probably not big enough for a guitar body.

Even at $2000, you’re still looking at an entry level machine, that you’ll eventually grow out of if you’re serious about using it. So either way will get you’re foot in the door, so you can start learning.

-- Gerry,

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9618 posts in 2849 days

#6 posted 12-17-2016 01:51 PM

If you really want to extend your skills, you really should consider building one yourself. Seems like the a perfect project for a budding mechanical engineer. There are tons of examples of DIY CNC machines out there and even some kits that will be well under $1000. This would be an opportunity to extend your CAD skills as well. After spending time designing it in CAD, you will be ready to actually design stuff to make with your CNC.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

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1589 posts in 4528 days

#7 posted 12-17-2016 02:38 PM

Going to be very hard to get that for 1k. You can get plans and build your own. I went kinda hybrid. I bought a kit from CNC router parts but it was a lot more than your limit.

Since you are were I was a year ago (no experience and no cnc), I will just tell you the road i went down.

I too looked real strong at the x-carve. I read the forums real close and there are some challenges since thats an open source type device.

Also, decide what you want to do as that will drive it as well. If mostly wood, and some light engraving, the strengh and regidity of rails can be less and therefore cost less. If you want metal that puts the $$ requirement more.

You can find plans out there with chain drive and buy your motors and drivers and build it for real reasonable $$. Also think about what you are going to do to drive that machine. CAD/CAM/Control

I went with a quasi commercial system for the support which you will need! I’m an IT professional in my daytime job so understood the concepts and had been using CAD for a long time, and I struggled for about 6 months. (you will get it). That learning curve was much less due to the professional support by my vendor. They respected i was a newb.

Finally the biggest thing I had to learn fwas feeds and speeds. It is critical to success. I’d reccomend cnc cookbook’s G-wizzard. Great and its worked every time. PUt in your material and some othe key details and it will calculate it for you.

The software can be expensive but is the most critical part. I have mach3 as the control software and the support community is great to help. I think its like 125 150$ can’t remember.

The cad software you use is the $$$$! I have used sketcup for a long time and its great at 2d and has a cam pluggin that I thought I would leverage. However its got limitations. It was recommended that I go with v-carve pro and I did and don’t regret it. That was almost 700. And the more robust version aspire is another 1100. Add real 3d capabilities like rinocam or others and the $$$ go up even more.

If you are not sure if CNC is for you the x-carve is a real good entry point, but do to its nature don’t expect commercial cnc results.

My intended use was for both learning and getting into it and i’m building my kitichen cabinets for my next house so wanted a 4×8, so thats why I went the cnc router parts. It was half the cost of a commercial off the shelf build unit. It was still well above your limit. A 2×4 unit if that works for you can be had for 100k but you will have to get parts and build it yourself or use the x-carve.

There is so much to cnc as I found out, once i got the machine together, have patience and don’t be discouraged.

PM me if you have some specific questions. I spent almost 2 years researching and deciding prior to my purchase so i know where you at.

Good luck!

-- Sooner or later Liberals run out of other people's money.

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160 posts in 2073 days

#8 posted 12-17-2016 02:56 PM

Thank you guys so much!
I would LOVE to build my own cnc but i am afraid i might screw it up and i cant really afford to do that.
I am leaning more toward building my own though as I can make it whatever I want!.
Once again thank you guys and if you know any great diy cnc plans/sites, please let me know.

-- "If she dont find ya handsome, she better find ya handy"

View Ger21's profile


1100 posts in 4592 days

#9 posted 12-18-2016 03:06 PM

Even if you build it yourself, the quality will still depend on your budget.
The bottom line is that there’s a minimum amount you have to spend, to get a decent machine.
Meaning you still need to spend about $2000 or so on the machine itself. Where DIY has it’s advantages are in larger and more high end machines. While you’ll still spend several thousand dollars, you can build a larger, high performance machine for a fraction of the cost of buying one. Provided you have the knowledge and skill to do it.

There are very few plans that I would recommend, as most plans for low cost machines are for low quality, low performance machines. When the goal is an inexpensive machine, you end up with a low quality machine.
One set of plans that is very popular is the Momus.
Joe’s cnc is a very popular machine, but is larger, and will cost at least $3000 or more, depending on upgrades and options.

I recommend staying far away from any chain driven machines. One website selling kits is way overpriced, and way under performing.

-- Gerry,

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1100 posts in 4592 days

#10 posted 12-18-2016 04:47 PM

This machine is far better than an X Carve or ShapeOKO.
About $2000 + spindle and control software and hardware.

-- Gerry,

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9618 posts in 2849 days

#11 posted 12-19-2016 03:49 PM

You may want to search LJ for some of the blogs and projects for DIY CNC builds. There are several and you could ask some of them how they went and some may even have some advice about how difficult it was and some pitfalls to avoid, not to mention some information about costs.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View jschmitz1949's profile


56 posts in 4522 days

#12 posted 12-19-2016 04:01 PM

If you’re studying ME, you really should consider building your own. The learning experience will be very beneficial. There are some great plans and partial kits like Dave Gatton’s Sidewinder. What stage of your program are you in if your CAD skills are at the stage of drawing a box?

Maybe engineering programs have changed a lot since 2000, but even as a ChE I was in CAD classes my second semester.

View CherryWood's profile


22 posts in 4700 days

#13 posted 12-19-2016 05:27 PM

Not gonna happen for $1,000.

BUT – look at EBAY, there are machines for $1,000 or less. Get watcha pay for I guess.

Rigidity is a key element needed on any CNC machine.

Wanna be an ME? Building a machine is a GREAT experience – one you will never regret.
That is unless you want to be one of those engineers that doesn’t get his hands dirty.
The best engineers live in the trenches.
I am an ME and my hands get plenty dirty.

Cutting Stainless steel on a low end CNC – NO – you are NOT going to be doing that – not even just engraving.

I would put a budget amount for a “nice” ridgid 24×24x 6 CNC router at around $3,000 – $5,000
Build it out of Aluminum plate, nice and solid.
Extruded 80-20 is also OK but not as rigid as solid plate.
MDF willl be much less rigid,

View Mario's profile


208 posts in 4857 days

#14 posted 12-19-2016 05:39 PM

For $1,000.00 you are basically buying the requiered software. IMHO either save until you can afford a quality machine in the $2,000 – $3,000 range or find a fablab around your area, rent some cnc time and learn as much as you can. Once you jump into the CNC wagon you will notice that money in the thousands is the common language.

View jonnybrophy's profile


160 posts in 2073 days

#15 posted 12-19-2016 09:30 PM

Thanks guys!
I havent started my ME education yet(im still taking the gen ed classes in college[im 18])
I WANT to be one of the people in the trenches, I love that stuff!
I have sort of taken it upon myself to learn as much as I can even before school. I just love the subject and i really am just trying to do basic stuff(im a beginner). A cnc machine may be a little bit of an overshot for me, but i feel like im up to it.
I think im going to try and build a small one first with as low of a budget as possible(just for experience)

Thanks a ton for the support guys!

P.S. the only makerlab near me is ~30 min away and too exspensive for me.

-- "If she dont find ya handsome, she better find ya handy"

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