Hi all, new here. I’m contemplating buying an X-Carve machine (500 or 750mm model) and need some advice.
A little background on me: I consider myself a total noob to CNC, I had one class where we used a big commercial CNC for about a week in college quite a few years ago. I’m a licensed professional engineer for my 9-5, but my specialty is in HVAC, refrigeration and thermal systems…not machine/part design. I’m proficient in 3 different CAD platforms we use in the office to create our mechanical designs (MicroStation, AutoCAD and Revit). My big hurdle for me right now is keeping up with the lingo and figuring out all the components of the system and what they do. Enough about me.
I mostly want to machine aluminum parts (occasionally smaller wood items) and would like to be able to machine a wide range of grades of aluminum if possible (haven’t landed on what grade I wanna work with yet, kind of experiment for a while). I don’t really expect fast machine rates compared to a commercial machine, so slow and steady is okay with me. I mostly just want to know exactly what I need to get started machining aluminum to a reasonable degree of accuracy and consistency that won’t be too hard on the machine and produces a nice finished result. From what I’ve read there may be some upgrades to the spindle (VFD) that I’ll need to do as well as providing a chip removal system of some kind. No idea what kind of software would be best…I see that the packages come with Easel, but don’t know how that compares to others I’ve seen mentioned and I’m not sure how I feel about an online modeling software on my home internet.
If anyone has a good clear list of things I’ll need to upgrade/modify on the X-Carve to do what I’m thinking, that would be very much appreciated. Thanks!!
Welcome to the community!
Disclaimer: I haven’t cut aluminium yet.
Nonetheless I hope I can give you a few hints with my thoughts.
First of all:
You’re proficient in 3 different CAD platforms, so I see no problem there. Depending on what you want to make, Easel would be sufficient I guess. I only touched Easel when calibrating my machine. When working on a project I use Fusion 360 and Chillipeppr. I’m a software developer myself and had no clue about anything regarding CAD, but I found myself making huge steps following their tutorials and the inventables forum (my goal was learning in the first place). So I’m suspecting for you that would be a piece of cake
I would definitely upgrade the z axis, since it’s the most weak part of the xcarve in my opinion. After market axis aren’t really pricey and from what I’ve read in the forum they’re worth their money (can’t tell you, I build my own).
Furthermore have a forum search for “mod” “modding” “rigidity”. There are several nice ideas for improving the xcarve (including some really cheap, 5 minutes mods).
A must have in my opinion is a zeroing block, like the triquetra from @CharleyThomas (disclaimer: I’m not getting any money from this “ad” ). I purchased one myself and I’m just happy with it. Customer service is extraordinary.
Have another look at squaring the machine. Then do it. Then have another look and do it again. I cannot emphasize enough how important that step is, same goes for callibrating the steps and adjusting the belts using a fish scale.
Maybe you want some kinde of cooling system when cutting aluminium, I’m sure one of the aluminium experienced users will answer that question.
These are the first things that come to my mind, hope it helps!
ah one thing: blue loctite will be your new best friend
For consistent aluminium work rigidity is your ultimate priority, get your machine nice and tight.
Smaller CNC is more rigid than a larger machine given everything is identical and upgrading to a new Z-slider is good suggestion.
Another upgrade I’d really consider is to ditch belt drive and go with screw drive. The step resolution will be finer and it will help in terms of system rigidity. There are after market options but I havent tested these myself, but I do have a DIY CNC that use screws.
The Dewalt will be fine for aluminium, keep RPM low (speed setting 1).
Chip clearing is one aspect that aid surface quality a lot so an air blast system is nice.
Some jobs really benefit from some lubrication/coolant so a “mister system” is also nice.
For cutting alu 1F upcut tools are good, spend a few bucks on decent tools vs cheaper than dirt, it will pay off in the long run.
Fusion360 is a good suite to use for generating efficient cutting paths for alu, Easel is in this regard very limited.
Thanks guys. Here’s what I’m seeing so far. A lot of these make perfect sense now that I read them, few comments below the list.
- Upgrade Z axis.
- Improve the rigidity of the machine wherever possible.
- Zeroing block is helpful.
- Square the machine and double check it.
- Calibrate the machine and adjust the belts with a scale.
- Cooling system may be recommended for aluminum. Possibly misting.
- Blue loctite is helpful. Have this already
- Recommend upgrading to a screw drive instead of belt.
- Dewalt spindle is likely adequate for aluminum at correct speed.
- Chip clearing is important.
- Use quality tooling.
- Fusion360 is good for modeling and generating cut paths.
Any recommendations for 1 and 8? Also clarification on the exact Dewalt model in 9 would be helpful.
Regarding the Dewalt spindle in number 9, I think I recall a few days ago reading on here where a guy is cutting quality aluminum parts, but he has some kind of an upgraded spindle with a VFD on it to get better speed control. Don’t remember what it was but “.8 kW” sticks out in my mind? I believe he is also dry cutting, which touches on number 6. Would be great to dry cut to eliminate some of the mess, but am willing to do it if it can make the results better or if it just has to be done that way to work with the limitations of my beginning setup. Anyone have thoughts on the spindle, VFD or cooling requirements?
As far as 12 goes, I forgot to mention that all my home computers are Apple products so they’ll have to be compatible with that. I don’t have Parallels or whatever it’s called to run Windows, but could give that a shot in order to get a decent modeling software that doesn’t break the bank. Looks like Fusion360 is compatible, but kind of hard for me to justify a $495 expense on a yearly basis.
Regarding 1 there are mainly two options afair: CNC4Newbie slider and TBD CNC. Which one is better I can’t tell. I suspect both are (far) superior in comparison to the stock z axis.
Regarding the direct drive I think there is a kit. But I can’t tell you the ups and downs, I’m planning a self build one currently.
The DeWalt model coming with the xcarve is a DeWalt 611 (26200 in Europe).
Fusion is free for Hobbyist or small businesses below 100k$ p.a. I am using it since day 1 with my xcarve, never needed to pay anything since my xcarve is a hobby. If by some miracle I will be making 100k $ p.a. with my hobby, I will gladly pay the fee
6 - Misting using denatured alcohol, there will be no mess as it evaporate.
8 - You can wait with this one as belts are okay and once you feel belts cramp your style consider upgrading to screws.
9 - VFD offer lower end RPM which is nice, but not a requirement. Unless you have the Dewalt already the Makita RT0701 is popular as an alternative. Its low RPM limit is 10k vs 16k for the Dewalt. It also seem to pose less wear on the motor brushes, lasting longer. Brushes are replacable BTW for both, VFD spindle dont use brushes.
12 - F360 is free for our use, as outlined by DominikMai
I would recommend a Z-Axis with linear guide rails instead of unsupported linear shafts. CNC4NEWBIE sells both designs for the X-Carve.
This is the one that I would pick if I were buying from CNC4NEWBIE.
LEADcnc SLIDER 7" with SQUARE linear bearings
Otherwise, the ones from TBD CNC is also fine.
Supergrade Z Axis - Belt Drive
Supergrade DirectDrive Z Axis
The TBD CNC design does use an extrusion for the Z-Axis Backplate where the CNC4NEWBIE design uses aluminum stock.
I designed my own and used the X-CARVE to make its own upgrade. Mine uses a solid piece of aluminum stock for the Z-Axis Backplate similar to CNC4NEWBIE since that is the “stronger” option.
Just my opinion on the matter…
Great info, thank you everyone.
Any thoughts on buying a used X-Carve vs. new? I could potentially get a larger unit in case I ever needed it, but my main concerns are warranty, worn/damaged spindle, faulty electronics hardware.
Also, are the bits sold on this site decent or should I look elsewhere for good quality bits? If so, any recommendations on type/brand?
Keep in my mind that a smaller unit is more rigid.
I think whether to buy new or used is up to you and your impression of the seller.
Bits are okay but since I’m in Germany I never bought any again from inventables. There are several vendors of high quality bits though, have a look at the forum here.
So I just ordered a new 500mm model from the site with some accessories to get me started. Will start looking for high quality bits for aluminum and a couple for wood to do some test runs. Thanks to everyone for the pointers, I think I have some good ideas on upgrades based on everyone’s feedback.