Inventables Community Forum

Middle School purchase

looking at adding a CNC machine to our technology lab. I teach middle 7th and 8th graders. Looking for any advice on which unit and maybe why.


I taught middle school for 29 years with 300 kids a year. I like the X carve but it is a hobbiest machine and you probably would spend more time fixing than working. My co worker had a modular lab and the stuff was cool but not industrial strength. Something was always breaking.

I would suggest something with supported linear bearings, anti backlash screws, and lots of weight and rigidity. You’d be looking at about a 5-6000 dollar machine these days for a larger machine. You want something you don’t have to adjust everyday. Just my 2 cents. Kids are hard on machines and don’t treat them the same that an adult might.

By the way, I built my first cnc router for the school I was working in out of hardware store materials using John Kleinbauer’s plans

Something like this should work out in school.

I have a probotix controller on my other machine. They also sell routers:

These guys have been selling to schools and industries for at least 15 years.

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I have grade school aged children and we have participated with the local maker space scene. Most of the spaces have 3D printers and laser cutters. I’ve never seen the kids do any projects with the CNC machines even though the maker spaces have them.

The laser cutters draw the biggest crowds of kids because the 2D designs are easier than 3D designs and the lasers are fast.

In a classroom situation it’s hard to pull off a complete 3D print of CNC job in a typical class period.

If you continue down the CNC path, you will need to go for a fully enclosed unit like the Carvey. I would go for several 3D printers and a good laser like the Dremel which is UL listed.

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@GarickeRubin Can you tell us more about your class / space? What do you plan on doing in the classes? Are you asking specifically about a CNC router? What’s your budget look like?

I have two X-Carves in a middle school woodshop. I manage a third in a university maker space. The machines are by far the most popular thing we have in the middle school shop, even more than the 3d printers. Admittedly they were a management nightmare (not as bad as 3d printers though) to begin, but I trained a small group of students as “key operators” and then put them in charge of day to day operation of the machines in class. The older students train the younger students, so I have a training pipeline in place along the lines of an early last century machine shop. For the most part the students have far surpassed me in skill and creative use of the machines.

I do take the machines home over the summer and give them a thorough annual overhaul. They get new motor brushes and I re-torque every fastener, replace any lost inserts, adjust or replace any damaged belts, and clean the machines thoroughly.

I use EASEL as an intro to CAD and to reinforce my school’s math instruction. I discourage kids from uploading outside images and pre-made icons. I try instead to get them to use the CAD tools in EASEL to design their own interpretations of logos and icons and to create their own original designs as much as possible.

I keep the shop stocked with 1/8" Masonite tiles cut to 5 7/8 x 5 7/8 as practice pieces. Once they master the machine, I keep a supply of 2 color HDPE, and some larger tiles of 3/4" MDF that they can carve into whatever they wish. Kids also find/buy their own materials including large (12-16" inch diameter) log rounds that some kids have carved into clocks.

The machines are available to the students for 8-12 weeks each semester and I encourage the kids to think of them as ways to create components for larger projects that also integrate processes and parts manufactured on other tools in the shop.

For uninteresting Windows 7 end of life reasons we were unable to use the machines last fall, so they have been mothballed since last May, but I have one machine up and running again this week and should have both at full capacity by the end of next week. I’m working to change them all over to Raspberry Pi control over the next month which should enable the students both at my school and at the university to run the machines from their assigned classroom Chromebooks (or other laptops) via VNC

I raised donations to pay for the first machine. Then we used it to make fidget spinners which sold well enough to pay for the second machine at the middle school and I’m planning for two more 500mm machines at the middle school in the next 18 months. The maker space at the university paid for the third one from member fees.

If you can only afford one x-carve for a school shop, get a 1000mm machine, but for middle school students I have found that the 500mm machine automatically constrains spindle time, helping to keep most carves within the confines of a single class period.

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