Where to Begin?

So you’re thinking about building or buying a CNC machine but you’re not too sure where to begin. Before you even start thinking about a CNC machine, think first about what you want the machine for. What are the main types of materials will you be working with and how big will the materials be?

Your CNC machine needs to fit your needs, which is why it is important to know exactly what you want the CNC machine for. Once you’ve got a CNC machine you will be limited to what it does well and not so well, each type of CNC machine suits one type of job more than the other.


What Type of Material?

I imagine by now you might have some idea of what you want a CNC machine for. Perhaps its custom wood work, or working with sheet metal, or maybe working with two or more different materials. It is important to know for sure what materials you’ll be wanting your CNC machine to handle so you can build or buy a CNC machine which will do the job you want it to.

Generally speaking if you want to cut wood or plastic you won’t need a huge, steel frame CNC machine as you would need for cutting metal. However this is all up to you; you can get away often with a cheaper, less equipped CNC machine that will do the task. But you may want a CNC machine that does the task to an extremely high degree and do not mind paying more.

What Size Working Area?

Working area refers to the maximum travel of a CNC machine. If you don’t know what I mean by travel, its a way of measuring how much the CNC can move in any direction. How much it can move back and forth, left and right and up and down.

Knowing how much working area you will require from your CNC machine is very important. You should spend some time thinking about the biggest piece of material you may want to work with, now and in the near future. The last thing you want is to find yourself with a CNC machine that can’t cut something because it’s too big to fit on the machine.

A good way that I found to decide working area for my own CNC machine was to think about the many projects I hoped to do in the future. One of these was using my CNC machine to cut out guitars. So I went and measured up my guitar and made sure that my CNC machines travel was at least a fair bit larger than the size of a guitar. From that point I could rest assured that my CNC would be able to cut out a guitar if in the future I did go ahead with that project.

So Where to Now?

When you decide exactly what you want from your CNC machine be sure to write it down:

  • What type of materials you know you will be working with.
  • What type of materials you possibly may want to work with in the future.
  • What is the ideal working area you’d be happy with.

If you know all these you can start to know exactly what kind of CNC would fit your needs best.

  • If you want to work with medium to large sheets of wood, plastic and light gauge sheet metal then a CNC router would be a good choice.
  • If you want to work with blocks of aluminium or steel then you will want a CNC milling machine.
  • If you want to work with sheet steel then a CNC plasma table might be what you need.

These are just some basic suggestions, there are a million and one set up’s for a million and one different people’s needs. But now that you know what you want, you can start to get in to specifics and narrow down your search for the perfect CNC machine for your needs.