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Ragnarok 06-15-2012 11:10 PM

Ragnar's Adventures in CNC - Sept 2014 Update?
I just purchased the documentation for that includes five different CNC 3-axis/gantry router systems from Solsylva. While my intended use for this isn't primarily RC in nature, there are lost of things I theoretically could do with it, ie. chassis plates, suspension parts, etc., but I'll likely defer that stuff to more capable guys here (Toyrannosaur, Outcast, et al.). My intent is to build the 24" x 48" and maybe one of the smaller units initially.

A few things I've decided on:
  • Routers. I'll develop an adapter for the gantry so that I can run three different kinds of routers: Porter Cable 3.25HP SpeedTronic for most stuff, Porter Cable VS 2HP for other things, and some kind of rugged laminate-trimmer class router for tiny things (engraving, PCB milling, etc.). I won't have the space or money to build a mill for each router, so this is the acceptable alternative.
  • Materials. I'll be using a lot of aluminum and thick phenolic material to make sure this thing is dead rigid.
  • Secondary tools. I'll have to get me a few extra things that I don't have in the shop right now. Primarily a scroll saw and my own jigsaw. We have the latter already, but it's been handled poorly and is as accurate as using a baseball bat for brain surgery. The scroll saw will likely be DeWalt's unit or the new machine that Delta released not too long ago.

What I don't have lined up yet:
  • Controller boards. USB interfacing would be preferable to Parallel port, but I have a lot of research ahead of me before I settle on what exactly I need.
  • Computer system. Any computer with a Parallel port made in the last 12 years would work, but I want to use a compact, fanless machine with an SSD (no moving parts!) that could be used in a shop environment. MSI has an Atom-based that's caught my eye.

There are some that are available in kit form that look awesome, and I won't discount them until after I've done a bunch of research with the plans I purchased. The only alternative I've found that looks pretty good is the BlackTOE from What I don't like is the materials it's made from: 3/4" cabinet-grade plywood. It is superior to MDF on a lot of levels (MDF is simply really thick newsprint paper and it comes apart really easily), but there are better materials yet that this could be made from. If the hardware was available in a kit with plans for the plywood parts it would probably be the one I'd get. I figure I can build a Solsylva machine with 3/4" phenolic and plate aluminum for less than the $3k BYCNC wants for the BlackTOE. The disadvantage is I'll have tons of hours in R&D that I wouldn't have with the BYCNC machine. All are things I'll be weighing over the next 45 days.

As far as exactly what I'll be using this thing for is still under wraps, but it'll get plenty of use in my box making and my lutherie experiments. For those who are interested, there are several YouTube videos showing off what the Solsylva CNC rigs can do. I'm all at once excited and scared.

:excited: + :blink: = :crazy:

IKke 06-16-2012 03:23 AM

Looking forward to see the build :nice: CNC is great

Ragnarok 06-18-2012 12:48 PM

Thank you, sir. :chug:

I've been watching this guy's videos really closely, and so far I'm really liking the mods he's done to the Solsylva design.

Check out his YT channel to see this thing (and its predecessor) in action doing stuff like guitar parts building, metal work, clock making, etc.

The one thing about the old Solsylva design that I'm not fond of is the belt-drive. After "thumbing" through the plans I purchased, there are provisions for R&P setup, which will be tons more robust for big or aggressive cuts.

Ragnarok 06-18-2012 11:00 PM

Another YouTube user has a very detailed worklog in assembling a CRP4848 (4' x 4') unit.

You can get the plans from as a free download in several different formats. They have plans for both a 4' x 4' and a 4' x 8'. You can get a hardware-only kit (includes machined parts, fasteners and bearings, but no extruded aluminum or steel), a near-complete kit (sans electronics), and some other things. Their design is a killer machine and I'd consider it immediately over the's kits. (For hobby-grade or light duty, the BYCNC units are awesome. I just think the CNCRP units are better for more professional, all-the-time usage.) It's made entirely of aluminum with some steel. It's something I'm considering as a viable alternative to the Solsylva for my main, large unit. Because my needs are different, if I were to go this route, I'd probably not go with the 1600 oz./in. steppers as I won't be cutting steel or much aluminum (at least no aluminum thicker than 1/4") - the 960 oz./in steppers would be plenty for 99% of my needs. Nor would I go with the water-cooled spindle cutter. Due to my budget and need for simplification, a good variable speed 3.25HP router will be ideal. If I were running two machines simultaneously with high, high volume and speed requirements every single day, a spindle would no doubt be a must, I'm sure.

Even if I went in this direction I still consider the $40 I spent on the Solsylva plans a worth while purchase, mainly because it's great reference and has such explicit direction and instruction. I'll still need a small, engraving-type machine and the one outlined in the Solsylva plans is very nice.

Ragnarok 06-21-2012 12:44 AM

Okay, I've changed my mind about the router vs. spindle argument. I'd most likely want two routers on-hand due to bearings or brushes failure (which is likely to happen quite quickly, especially if I'm doing some multi-hour sessions), and the cost there in the two (at minimum) routers, plus all the down time in maintenance and repair…the spindle is much cheaper. They're less maintenance, quieter, more powerful, smaller, etc. than a typical 3.25HP router. I found a 3KW (4HP) liquid-cooled spindle with Japanese bearings (apparently the spindle itself is Chinese <_<) and VFD for less than $600. I know there's more to this than just that (ie. coolant pump, potential issues of 110V/220V complications, etc.) but I have a marginally less tenuous grasp on understanding how to make this a better tool from the beginning than I did before.

One thing, though, is I have to be careful with Feature Creep. If I let it get out of hand, my ~ $3K budget could skyrocket to $6K or more. Can't let it happen.

Ragnarok 06-21-2012 01:12 AM

Okay, more results from research. The VFDs that come with these Chinese spindles are worse than junk - they're dangerous. Cute. I found a retailer in the US that sells a 2200W/3HP spindle all by its onesey for under $500, so I could get that and pick up a real VFD. It appears that the model I want is the Hitachi X200, which is ~ $250. Seems like a better deal than the $600 unit I mentioned before that's likely to have its VFD kack my spindle or, worse yet, hurt me.

Ragnarok 06-25-2012 02:53 AM

Definitely decided on a spindle. 2.3KW/3HP, 8A unit, $380, ships from PA. I would have chosen the 3KW/4HP spindle, but my choices for a VFD unit becomes much slimmer. I couldn't go with the Hitachi X200, but rather the Polyspede Spedestar PC1-50 (about $600) or I'd have to use the 5HP Hitachi X200 VFD that requires a phase converter, which is weird because the VFD is a phase converter itself. :huh: We have two Roto-Phases at our shop, but I don't want to run one the entire time I have the CNC rig running because they're loud and very taxing on our electricity bill. So if 4HP is really that important to me when I'm ready to put the money down on a spindle, I'll probably get that PC1-50. For now, the 3HP seems like it'd be enough for 95% of everything I would need.

UgraCNC have an eBay Store, but I'd just as soon purchase it from their actual storefront. Looking at this fall for my ground breaking, with a goal of having it together and in working order by Febtober 2013. I have to generate some cash before I can start buying parts and equipment, otherwise I'd have started on this two years ago. For the time being this thread will be me talking to myself (and anyone that wants to add anything) as I sort out the direction this will take.

lefty_josh 06-25-2012 02:54 PM

sounds like youve done a ton of research, let me know if you need proto testers j/k :nice:

Ragnarok 06-25-2012 04:12 PM

Some research, not a ton. Not yet anyway. A ton of research can be officially marked when I have at least 400 printed pages of specs, "bill of materials" lists, sketches, examples of other people's machines, and an actual business plan, all of which need to be sitting on the table next to me. :lol: This tool has to feed me to make it justifiable, so it's got to be built right the first time (I can't spend a bunch of time in R&D after it's built - all of the scary stuff that can be anticipated has to be worked out before I buy anything) and it has to have a "job" waiting for it. There's a potential that things at work may be changing fairly soon, and if I'm not ready for it it'll be a disaster. I see this as part of my preparation for those changes, which if I am ready it could present itself to be a great opportunity.

I think the next major step is to decide on the axis motors, controllers, and whatever other electronics between the mill and computer that will be needed. I've seen full turn-key motor/driver/etc. kits for about $2500, and that seems excessive to me. I'll see what a roll-your-own setup would cost.

outcastrc 07-12-2012 12:43 PM

400 pages? that won't take long....

Go with Kelings digital drivers and stepper motors. I did a wack of research and I still think it was the best bang for the buck. The mill is extremely powerful and I don't miss any steps.

You can also go servo but it gets expensive.

I can hunt down my order sheet so you have an idea. I might have put the info in my cnc thread, I'll have to check. I made a couple mistakes with ordering / being a newb so I can save you from making the same mistakes.

Ragnarok 08-02-2012 12:18 AM

Thanks a bunch, OC. I'll get a better read on your CNC mill during the week.


I've had to alter a few things I want to accomplish with my router. The water-cooled 3HP spindle is staying, but I can't go with my original intended size. I wanted a 4' x 4', but I'm shrinking it to 2' x 3'. There's no room in our current shop for such a machine. The 2' x 3' is the smallest I think I can get away with and still accomplish most of the things I want to do with it. If I find new digs for my own operation at some point, then something bigger - like a 4' x 8' - would be a real possibility.

Ragnarok 09-01-2012 11:07 PM

Something of an update, but probably not that interesting. I've been doing more thinking on what I hope to accomplish with the tool. I'm thinking of eventually taking it to 4-axis. The initial plan is still 3-axis at the beginning, but I've been doing a lot of brainstorming and, for the time being, I've come to the conclusion that in order for this to meet its full potential I'll need to add at least one axis once I'm ready to move to Stage II.

I looked at doing the 5 or 6-axis thing, and the only thing that came to mind after about an hour of research was, "Are you insane?" The only way to make that work is to build it as a 5/6-axis from the start. I have access to information resources I can exploit should I decide to lose my mind and take that route, but it would mean that my initial cost would be 2.5X to 4X as much as my current plans are. It's still a steal compared to the least expensive commercial 6-axis rig I've seen ($40,000), but regardless, I still can't afford it.

In my mind, the rotary 4th axis should allow me to do most of what I could do with what is essentially an articulating robotic router arm. Adding a 4th axis is pretty simple - it's just a rotary mount that allows the workpiece to rotate under the spindle, and retrofitting any CNC rig with won't take a lot of engineering work.

outcastrc 09-01-2012 11:55 PM

One thing to consider is that there are very few cnc programs that will run 4 axis without huge expenditures.

It's hard enough to pick decent software for 3 axis. Near impossible for 4 axis. Soon as you say you have a budget they just laugh and tell you to stop bothering them. (ok, not literally but you sure feel that way...)

Ragnarok 09-02-2012 02:35 AM

You're right: the software side is something I really have to take into consideration. I actually found open-source software that goes up to 5-axis control here -->

As far as how easy it is to implement, I have no clue. :huh:

I've found some commercial CAM programs that will run 4 axes, like BobCAD, but that's like $2,500 for the initial 3-axis + $600 for the 4th axis add-on. There's also CAMWorks, but no price to be found on that. My brother uses DeskProto, which will do 5-axis, for his multi-axis mill for his master sculpts, and that's about 1K Euro. And the old stand-by Mach 3 looks like it'll do 6-axis itself, but I haven't dug enough into it to see if it does that out of the box, or if it requires a lot of messing around with prefs and macros.

Ragnarok 10-02-2012 10:22 AM

1 Attachment(s)
Well, I've made my decision on my initial setup. It's a little bit of a change from what I had been thinking about, but issues related mostly to budgetary things, my time, and the question of "how much do I really need at first?" have lead to this. I'm getting a Zenbot CNC 1624.

Attachment 85400

It has a 16" x 24" x4" work area. Not as much as I originally wanted, but I think I can still work with this. A lot of my projects won't be more than 8" x 11". Leadscrew movement. HDPE construction (I can replace that with aluminum parts milled out on the machine later). I might modify the Z axis later on to gain a few more inches, but at that point I may already be working on a new machine altogether, so it might not be worth it.

I have so much work to do elsewhere and tons of training that I'm doing in unrelated areas that I just don't have time to spend six months on this working with a set of plans and buying parts piecemeal. A kit or turn-key machine that I can have throwing chips within 72 hours of arrival is what I need. Once this is working for me, then I can go about making larger or more specialized tools.

Going with this unit also means I'll actually be using a router instead of a brushless spindle at first. The biggest router motor this can handle is 2.25HP, which should be enough power for a lot of things. I'll employ a Hitachi M12VC as it's an inexpensive and reliable variable speed unit. Later on I'll make a mount for the 3hp liquid-cooled spindle I talked about getting a couple of months ago.

Like I mentioned earlier in this post, cost is a serious issue for me. The 1624 shipped to AK is less than $1900, and that includes my router mount, all electronics (motors, controllers, etc.), and Mach3 software. All I have to do is supply the router and computer. I already have the modeling software (Blender 3D).

Anyway, that's where I'm at. I hope to have this before the end of this year. I think this is attainable.

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