Production level aluminum milling with .8KW water cooled VFD

I have had a number of folks ask me about milling my aluminum parts on the X Carve with the new VFD spindle. I am going to let the pictures do most of the talking and welcome any questions.

500x500 X-Carve with: Upgraded NEMA 23 185oz 3a steppers, Planet CNC MK3 controller, 4X Leadshine DM442 DSP drivers, 1.5KW 220V VFD & .8KW water cooled spindle and forced air chip clearance system. End mills used: 2.5mm 1/8" shaft carbide drill, 1/8" 3 flute Destiny Viper “Stealth” coated end mill.

Since I use a more advanced controller from Planet CNC which is no longer GRBL, I can not use UGS, Easel or Chilippr any longer. The controller runs on standard RS274/NGC G-code instead of GRBL. So it is fully compatible with Gcode from MESHCAM, V Carve Pro, HSMxpress and HSMworks along with SolidCam and many others that GRBL at times has issues with. It understands and uses advanced Gcodes like G40,G43, G49, G54 and such. Planet CNC has their own advanced Gcode sender/GUI. It is closer to MACH 3 than it is to Chilipeppr and such. It is not cloud based so no more worries about internet issues or needing to download a new version of a server to fix a bug or work with a new update. It has many great advanced features which work great on both a small mill like the X Carve such as 3d digital probing/mapping and auto leveling, full support for GERBER file milling (PCB), along with native support for DXF files and even some great features for larger mills like automatic tool change and support for up to 9 axis mills. I switched all three of my mills to it after experiencing a growing number of issues with a TinyG and Chilipeppr. Since switching I have had zero controller caused issues. Now just down to good old fashioned human error on my part.

Enough talk. Picture time!

Forced air chip clearance system test mount.

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Closed loop .8KW water cooling system mounted atop mill enclosure.

167mm x 200mm 1/4" Alca 5 5083 aluminum tool plate with 173 2.5mm drilled holes. These are later tapped to M3 with a tap head on a drill press.

5 reference holes are used to hold the plate down and center hole is origin point (X0Y0). My days of milling with the TinyG and Chilipeppr taught me to drill these holes on the outside chance I needed to rezero after a crash. Old habits die hard though as the new MK3 controller is rock solid and these are more habit than needed now.



Mill is cutting down about 4.75mm in this cycle to produce a raised flute on the pieces. The forced air system is keeping the cut and area around it clear of chips.

A few hours later and the 174 raised flutes have been milled. The amount of chips is impressive.

The right side of the plate shows the area of the final cut and how free of chips it is compared to the rest of the stock.

Nice clean cuts and good holes. So far so good.

174 #2 sheet metal screws inserted…

…And screwed down and ready for the next step.

Another nice pile of chips

Again the area of the last cut is clearly shown by the clearance of chips by the forced air system.

Looking good and ready to be unscrewed.
Ready to hit the tumbler and be prepped for anodizing then off to their life as part of a carbon fiber end cap for a 3D printer hot end mount.

Larger format: 168.75MM x 320.675mm 1/4" Alca 5 5083 tool plate. End mills used: 2.5mm 1/8" shaft carbide drill, 1/8" 3 flute Destiny Viper “Stealth” coated end mill, 45 degree 4 flute Chamfer end mill.

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2.5mm holes drilled and #2 sheet metal screws inserted.

Lots done here.First more 2.5mm holes drilled with pecking cycle. Then end mill changed to 1/8" Viper. Screw recesses milled, End mill change to Chamfer end mill. Screw recess Chamfered. Viper end mill changed back in then screw hole bored out and finally screws added to hold down mounts once they are cut free. A shallow 2.5mm recess has been milled in on the flat sides of the center recesses. Then a 13mm circle has been milled down 3mm.

Chip clearance system doing a great job of keep the cut clean. Rest of the mill is mess which is fine as it is enclosed for this very reason.


All done and ready for cleaning and anodizing before heading off to become a hot end mount for a 3D printer.

Prepped for anodize

Details of the stepped center cut

Final products all come together.

So if anyone really wants to know the secret behind great aluminum milling it is really pretty simple…

You just need a giant Maine Coon engineer kitty to keep you company at 3am as you work in CAD. That is if you can get her to give up your chair after you go check on the mill in the next room…

More than willing to answer any questions if anyone has them. I am not an expert by any means but I do seem to get very good results so far. The VFD spindle is really good and the right end mills really make a huge difference.

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Super awesome machine you have, thanks a lot for sharing. As I may have alluded to in my first thread, I’m also quite interested in aluminum milling with the x-carve, although I don’t necessarily need to run production cutting speeds.

First questions that come to mind with your machine:

  • Those mills dont list on the website what they actually are. ‘Stealth coating’ is just some brand wankery. Are they VHM/Carbide? What is the coating actually, is it just alumina or Zr? I mean let’s be honest, they’re not going to have something super exclusive, it’s just going to be a rebranding of something that has existed for 30 years already.
  • What’s your airflow through the forced air evacuation? Not pressure, but airflow (so many people quoting pressure for this stuff… what use is that?)

I use the Destiny Viper end mills and they have this to say about their coating…
Black Stealth MoS2 Molybdenum Disulfide:Molybdenum Disulfide Coatings (MoS2 coatings) , also known as Moly Coatings are commonly used in applications where operating temperature and coefficient of friction are primary concerns. This coating provides effective lubrication in a wide range of loads, in many cases exceeding 250,000 psi. Moly coatings lubricate sacrificially by transferring lubricant between the two mating surfaces, which helps to reduce wear and coefficient of friction. Molybdenum Disulfide (MoS2) coatings are a dry film lubricant.

Initially developed for dry machining applications, MoS2 is used in applications where increased lubricity or a very low coefficient of friction will be beneficial. MoS2 based coating is applied in a PVD process. This unique coating is sometimes referred to as Teflon®-like in that nothing sticks to the coating. MoS2 can acts as a barrier to material galling. Dry machining applications are a natural fit for MoS2 coating, especially when machining aluminum or other “gummy” materials. The easiest way to understand our Stealth coating is to think of the coating as being ‘clear’ and not ‘black.’ As soon as the tool enters the cut many people comment that the “color has worn off.” We can assure you that this is not the case. There’s several physical and chemical changes that cause this visual change and space does not permit here to explain the science.

That’s part of the reason we call it “stealth” because you can’t see it any more! What’s important is the this coating has a lower co-efficient of friction than just about everything else on the market. Our geometry works ideally with this coating. Used for our Viper and Diamond Back series tools which are for all Non Ferrous Alloy milling: N (green) materials."

http://www.destinytool.com/viper-dvh.html is the link for their product line I use and swear by.

The forced air system is driven by a spare blower fan i had laying around. It is a 110V unit and is roughly about 8-10" or so. So pretty small. It is two speed ( I use the high speed). It has a squarish outlet for the airflow. I 3D printed an adapter to funnel that down and into a CPAP hose which they has another adapter which changes to the twin 5/8" (I think) hoses which go though my hook up plate on the side of the mill enclosure and over to the mount you see in the pics. It is basically a small motor like you see on a dust catching system, but a small version and I use the output to blow the cips out of the way. It has decent pressure, but moves a good deal of air into the systema nd keeps the chips clear 100% of the time so far. It is hooked up to the controller as a “mist” coolant setting so i can program it into the Gcode in CAM and it turns on and off with the controller. I am sorry to say that it is not marked with much info and I know it is over 10 years old and not much remains of the label to look stuff up for it with. I can post some pics of it if you would like me to tomorrow.

OK, so it’s just moly disulfide. Good to know. That stuff will not last long, though. It’s an extremely good high-temp lubricant, but in a free environment it will wear off very quickly. Can’t imagine it being that much of a difference unless you switch tools every 50 hours or so.

I’d love to see pics of the air system if you don’t mind taking them. Reason for it is to basically put together the best parts of your and Barfoed’s machine parts to upgrade my own machine to fit my needs. I’m also trying to stay to a tight budget without trying to skimp on the stuff that should be good and chip evac is one of the things that can get really expensive quickly. It’s useful to know what systems are tested to work well in this machine.

That is a really nice setup. Can you talk more about the electronics you use to run the CNC? I’m interested in using HSMworks, but am new to CNCs and am not sure of all the intricacies involved with stepper drivers and controllers. Also, what advantages does the VFD spindle offer over a router like the Dewalt 611?

Very impressive @Travelphotog nice work.

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Very cool setup @Travelphotog. Do you prefer 5083 to 6061 for milling? Or is your choice of alloy based on anodizing performance or some other factor?

Well, I’m convinced. I need to get that PlanetCNC controller, now.

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Thanks! If you guys want I can do a more detailed write up as a project for this type of aluminum milling. Just let me know! I mill a few of these plates a week so would be easy to do some more detailed shots and a good write up like the PCB milling one I did.

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It partly is a hold over from the days of the Shapeoko and super shallow cuts. The normal 6061 stock is not really flat at all on the scale of .1mm DOC milling. It can load up the old DC spindle on the Shapeoko pretty fast and cause lots of chatter. I started with Mic 6 back in the day but it anodizes poorly as you probably are aware of due to micro pores that hold on to the electrolyte solution and keep the dyes from bonding to the anodize properly without a nitric acid dip. Alca 5 was made with anodizing in mind and has a much better pore structure which anodizes as good or even better that 6061 does. I find that since it is harder, it mills easier and makes great chips and has a beautiful finished edge right off the mill. The 6061 tends to get “gummy” and cause too many issues when dry milling and is no where near as flat as the tool plate 5083 is.

So i guess over all I would say it is really both, I find it mills better with the higher RPMs of the VFD spindle and that it anodizes really well for me. I also like that I no longer have to face mill it to get a good finish and keep flat enough for the spec on the part I am making.

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Where do you buy your 5083 aluminum? My triggers are an odd size (.16") so I probably won’t be able to find it, but I do make paintball grips from .125" aluminum.

I have only been able to buy the Alca 5 in .250" and thicker. I have been sourcing my 6061 from Rose Metals on Amazon. They have a huge selection, prime shipping and the price per square inch is VERY good overall. Best of all they have a beautiful and pristine finish when it arrives unlike most of the ebay sellers. Though I did have one I use a bit on Ebay which was http://www.ebay.com/usr/aluminum.only?_trksid=p2057872.m2749.l2754 and the best on Ebay i found for not getting beat up stock was http://www.ebay.com/usr/metalclm?_trksid=p2057872.m2749.l2754 who sells Mic 6 plate that is very nicely packaged and shipped. Surwe wish he sold Alca 5 also.

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Good lord, Rose Metals has 1/8"x12"x12" 6061 plate for $15 with prime shipping? See ya onlinemetals.com, looks like I found a new supplier, haha.

Been trying to tell folks!

For anyone looking for aluminum bar or plate in the Netherlands, I highly recommend aluminiumopmaat.nl. Their prices are about 50% on top of raw material price, i.e. that 12x12x1/8" plate you pay $15 for is only €5.40 for me. They even have anodized plate and they don’t have a MOQ, so you can do crazy stuff like buy 16 tiny pieces of bar for €0.02 a piece, cut to size at no extra cost.

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Yes, please do!

That’s very awesome, super impressive. One question is : at that point of modification and added cost why stick with the X Carve and not go to more professional ready to use, pre-tested set up with the appropriate customer support ?
In any case the result is pretty superbe !!

The next step from an X-Carve is either a home built machine, converting a manual mill, or something like that new Tormach 440 that just got announced/released. The Tormach will run you $6k, a huge initial investment. The diy cnc or manual mill conversion may cost close to what the X-Carve costs with all these modifications, but you still need to front thousands of dollars.

The reason an X-Carve is so appealing (to me at least) is that you can start with a base X-Carve and slowly upgrade over a long period of time, investing $50 here, $150 there, or if you want to go wild you can dump $600 on a VFD and electronics. The way I’ve been doing my upgrades have been very incremental. As with everyone else, I started with a spindle upgrade (there weren’t many options back then so I went with a dewalt 660). Then I got very cheap things like an automatic air assist ($30), then bought better terminal connectors and the crimping tools ($30) and other small improvements here and there. Then I decided to drop $80 on misumi extrusions for a new bed. A month or 2 later I dropped $250 on a VFD/spindle combo. Now I’m looking at electronics. In the meantime while all this is happening I’m still cutting, and making money off the machine. I’m taking some of the profits of those cuts and reinvesting them in the machine, not only to improve production, but because its a lot of fun, too.

The way I see it, prebuilt systems are for people that just want to produce stuff and have the capital to buy a turn-key system.

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That is a very fair question. I think the answer from my point of view has a few sides to it. I guess the first aspect of my answer would be that I never expected to be milling aluminum on this scale. I am a sports photographer by trade and a Maker on the side. But more and more the Maker side is catching up to the photo side in time and income level. So when i started out wanting a mill for PCB routing, the Shapeoko 2 and later the X-Carve were perfect for that use. I started milling aluminum as a side project and just to push the mill as far as I could. one thing led to another and soon I was milling aluminum 95% of the time the mill was running.

Inventables contacted me and asked if I would work with an X Carve in Aluminum, stone and other odd mediums that most folks think it can never mill. I accepted the challenge and set about working to see what it would take to mill in some of the harder items folks might throw at the X-Carve.

I currently have 3 mills. The X-Carve, The Shapeoko 3 and a custom built large CNC router with full ball screws and dual Y axis ball screw drive. I also am very much looking forward to the new PCNC 440 from Tormach. But at a opening price of $5000 the PCNC 440 is not something that most guys will consider unless they are turning a good profit in a specialized market like I have been lucky enough to find. I do agree that the DIY CNC kits are very “wild west” and you have to put a great deal of work into them, which is why you have a much lower upfront costs.

I would never try to tell someone that the X Carve is able to stand toe to toe with say the new PCNC 440 by any means. But it was never meant to either. It is like an iPad next to a laptop,. The iPad was never meant to replace a laptop for power usage in say something like CAD. For for someone who needs thing like email and to REVIEW CAD models with a client on location, the Ipad fits the bill perfectly and for much less cots than a full blown i7 laptop would.

The X Carve is meant for the hobby guy to get his feet wet in the CNC world and for most folks it seems to be just about all they need for the type of projects they use it for. Were it not for the Shapeoko 2 i would never have discovered the talent I have in CAD and CAM and would not be entertaining the types of jobs I am now in this field of CNC milling and programming. I will always have my Shapeoko and/or the X-Carve in my shop as it is where I got my start in something I enjoy very much and is turning into a very profitable venture for me. But I surly hope to look into buying the PCNC 440 down the road until I can see the demand for a larger mill in the shop.

I think in the end it comes down to what you need and what you are willing to pay. For over 20 years I made my living 100% from a camera in my hand and I only shot with a 1 series Canon EOS digital camera and L series glass. They stood up to the job and gave me great results in all weather and locations. They were tools and I beat them up while using them and they took it 100% of the time. But at $6k a body and needing 4-6 bodies to cover remotes and the like for sports work. I could only use them because I make a good living with them in the first place. I would never expect a parent for hobbyist photographer to shoot with a $6k camera when a $1k or less body will cover all there day to day needs.

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Well said!