CNC Newbie here

Greetings all, so I’ve just ordered my X Carve and I have a couple questions. I plan to work with both wood and soft metals. What would my must-have bits be? Secondly, do I need to look at an an additional CAD/CAM software package such as Fusion 360 or V Carve? Or am I getting ahead of myself. I do plan on using my X Carve for business purposes so any kind of input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much in advance!

Well to start off with I’d get the larger of the 2 end-mill packs. It has a nice assortment. Once you find your goto end-mills you’ll get more of those. Now ALWAYS have extras, especially if this is for business and you will break end-mills so having spares is critical. They aren’t that expensive.

Now depending on what you want to do metal-wise this is likely not going to meet your needs at a production business level. I mean you aren’t going to be hogging a 4" shell mill around is aerospace grade Ti with a Dewalt router; don’t watch a Titan CNC-porn video and think your X-carve is going to do what his Makino will. But you can do some smaller flat milling of aluminum (slowly). Now challenges for aluminum milling is you need chip evacuation and cooling. For an x-carve being totally open framed obviously flood coolant wouldn’t work (or more than once :crazy_face:) so that leaves you with a fog-buster which will spray a fine mist of coolant along with compressed air to move chips away and cool. Now can you mill Aluminum without that? of course aluminum is super soft, but you will get way better surface finishes and longer life from your tools. You should upgrade the collet from the stock Dewalt to a precision collet (you can’t turn anything larger than 0.25"/6mm anyway). Now another point is key here, which is end-mills for metal are not the same as for wood. You can get some nice 3-flute 1/8 and 1/4" from Yg (available on Amazon) or Lakeshore Carbide. Make sure they are for the metal you are cutting (in this case aluminum) as the flutes are different for different metals. A 1/4" end mill is the Ford F-150 of aluminum machining for normal people. For metal machining Easel is not adequate as it doesn’t have good machining strategies for metals (again you can likely get away with it for simple things). Fusion has way, way better metal CAM (with a much steeper learning curve).

Take a look at the Vectric software.
It’s great, great support, and it is not tied to the internet like Easel or F360
You can download a full version free for tryout.

It would be helpful to at least know what category of work you’re planning on doing. Signs? Skateboards? Airplanes?

So for signs, Fusion would be A) overkill and B) awkward (not saying you can’t, just a lot of overhead for something most drawing packages can do vs. full mechanical assemblies then Fusion is perfect (or OnShape or other legit CAD).

Thanks for the replies you guys. Yeah Henry, I was looking at my original post and it was awfully vague. I will be working mainly with wood but trying to integrate other materials as well. I will definitely NEVER be looking to create/prototype/do mechanical assemblies/build 747’s :wink: Mainly signs in both metal and wood, simple furniture, etc… I hope this extra tidbit of info helps. Thanks again!

So I would learn on Easel because the learning curve is minutes, and if you find that it’s not doing what you need for your clients, then I’d look at V-carve Pro.

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Start off with Easel. It is an excellent software to learn. It is very easy and you will have success quickly. Take a look at some of Steve’s projects and look at some of my projects. It sounds like you want to do similar projects. Welcome to the community


You may want to consider a plasma cutter as well (Tormach just released one this week) as for cutting large sheets of metal hard to beat for the price (a water jet is awesome, but get stupidly expensive for large sizes). You can probably cut sheet steel on an x-carve really slowly but not a massively rigid machine (the advantage of a plasma cutter or water jet is no force is applied). A water jet also has the advantage of no fire risk.

Thanks Phillip. Much appreciated. I just subscribed to your YouTube channel. Great stuff and I hope to learn lots from them!

Hey Henry, I only WISH I had room in my teeny shop for a Tormach. Probably won’t be working metal that large, but who knows. Looked at a water jet but they are so doggone expensive I just couldn’t take that plunge. But it’s definitely got me interested.

The Wazer for smaller signs fits pretty easily in a small shop (if you can fit an x-carve). The only challenge of what to do with a water jet is disposing of hundreds of pounds of used garnet powder… The guy told me at MFNY to just use it in the garden (essentially rock powder)

I’ve got hundreds of hours cutting AL on my X-Carve for the High School First Robotics team I’m coaching. I gave up on cheep bits to cut AL a long time ago. A good bit will last me a long time so I don’t mind spending a little extra (even 10x). Truth be told, I usually end up doing something stupid to ruin the tip before the mill goes dull (running into steel hold down screw while cutting, ramming the tip into the surface during setup, etc.). I do not use coolant, I cut everything dry. Because of this I cut almost exclusively with single flute end mills. You just cant get enough chip clearing with multi-flute end mills and you will definitely end up with rubbing that melts the AL rather than cutting and things go down hill fast!

I really like the single flute Amana Solid Carbide Aluminum Cutting Up bits (51417) for routing parts out.

Amana Tool - 51417 Solid Carbide CNC Spiral ‘O’ Single Flute, Plastic Cutting…

Amana Tool - 51417 Solid Carbide CNC Spiral ‘O’ Single Flute, Plastic Cutting 3/16 Dia x 5 - -

I have found that I can run a 3/16" bit faster than the 1/8" bit. The 1/8" bit flexes too much and will chatter sooner. The 51417 bit has a 1/4" shaft which helps reduce flex. I tried a 1/4" cut, but found that I had to go slower due to system flex and not really having enough power to cut the AL faster. I added stiffeners to the to the X and Y axis, and replaced the Z-axis which increased cutting speeds about 3x. I also upgraded to a 800W VFD which helped some. Having a vacuum or compressed air to remove chips is also very helpful. As soon as you start getting any chatter, stop or you’ll be dealing with a gummed up or broken bit. The one downside to the single flute is that it does not plunge cut well and will wobble as it goes in. So it does not make circular holes well.

For plunge cutting holes I use a two flute 1/8" Kodiak solid Carbide end mill:

Kodiak Cutting Tools KCT149560 USA Made Solid Carbide End Mill for Aluminum and…

1/8 Inch Diameter Solid Carbide End Mill - HP 45° 2&3 Flute for Aluminum 1/8" Shank 1/2" Length of Cut 1-1/2" Overall Length 2 Flute Carbide - High Performance - 45° For Alum.

The Kodiak does a great job of plunge cutting holes, but it does not side cut as well as as the single flute Amana. So if it is a big job, I tend to use the Kodiak to plunge cut holes first, then cut out the actual part with the Amana.

If you are really going to do a lot of AL cutting I recommend stepping up to an Openbuilds Workbee or one of the Chinese 6040 mills. These machines are much more rigid and can cut much deeper and faster. My Workbee cuts about 3x faster than my fully upgraded X-Carve ever could, which is a real big time saving since most of my X-Care jobs took a couple hours to complete and can now be done in under an hour. Additionally I spent more time and money upgrading the X-Carve than the complete Workbee cost me. So cut your teeth on the X-Carve (not literally :slight_smile: ) and then purchase a more rigid machine if your time warrants it.