Some questions about the X-carve from a newbie

So I have a lot of questions that I was hoping people here could help with. To give you a little bit of my background, I started this journey as a freshman in high school where I accidentally took a senior level course on 3d CAD. After that I took a handful of classes on engineering, manufacturing, and CNC machining. After school in started CNC machining for a living and have been doing that for the last 6 years. I have had jobs as CNC operator, set up, and manual machining. It was only a month ago I learned it was possible to do this at home. I had no clue machines like the X-Carve even existed. Now that you know about me I will move along to the questions I have.

What upgrades are worth getting right away, and which are worth getting later down the road?

How hard is the X-Carve to set up and calibrate with no electrical knowledge?

What are some good quiet spindles that work well on soft metals like aluminum and brass?

I’ve seen people here talking about water cooled spindles. How hard are they to set up and use?

Is there a way to simulate manual machining without writing a program?

Are there any upgrades to increase the Z axis workspace?

Is there a physical control box or is everything run through a computer and program?

Do all CAM created programs have to be converted to GRBL, or is there a way to run “full” G-Code like I am used to?

Can you manually write a program? Not using Esel or any CAM software.

And lastly, what did it cost you to set up your machine? I mean for everything, programs, table to put it on, the machine itself, tool, ect. I am hoping I can get everything for around $2000. Right now all I have is a spare bedroom that is empty. I am just hoping someone can confirm my estimate is in the ballpark, or whether I am under or over estimating it. Thank you all for your time.

GRBL is: "An open source, embedded, high performance g-code-parser and CNC milling controller ". It accepts standards-compliant g-code. In a Nutshell… Its just the name of the g-code parser the X-Carve runs (Think of it as the Firmware)

I don’t see any reason you couldn’t create the g-code by hand and use something like ‘Universal G Code Sender’ to send it to the machine.

To answer your other questions… It really depends on what you plan on using the X-Carve for. What do you want to do with it?

If I were you I would ask at work for copies of the software you already use. I would also consider a Gecko controller instead of the stock electronics. Google Gecko G540. You may have a tremendous advantage by using tools you are already familiar with. You would just need the Gecko, a computer and the x-carve with motors (nema 23), and skip the other electronics. Most commercial CAM programs will let you type code directly into the interface and program interface buttons with macros (which it sounds like you are fully capable of doing).

Keep us informed of your progress!

One of the biggest costs after the X-Carve itself was the requirement for a decent dust collection system. You will need to build or purchase a dust shoe for your spindle and connect that to a serious Dust Collector. Since you will be using the machine in a spare bedroom you should look at a system that has a 1 micro filter bag. Many people use a normal shop vac, but that has some down sides since it is not designed for long periods of continuous use. I recommend a dedicated dust collector system with a 4 inch hose. I purchased the 2 HP Harbor Freight unit and it has been performing cery well. When it is on sale you can pick it up for under $200

Some of the ideas I had to start with were coasters, lithophanes, pewter/plastic molds, edge lit signs, board games ranging from chess and cribbage to D&D, and vaping mods for any vape enthusiasts (tabacco free since September!)

Thanks for that. I forgot all about dust collection when I started planning

Woodcraft magazine has a coupon for the Harbor Freight Dust Collector for $169.00.

That Gecko G540 controller looks interesting. I will have to read more about it. Sadly it will be a few months before I can order my X-Carve. My car decided to die a month before I planned on buying it so all my money is going to that instead.

Maybe your boss would be interested in sponsoring you for some “training materials” for home study!

Lmao, I wish. The company would pay for any classes I attend as long as I can show it would benefit the company. Sadly that is about it.

Also as for the software, almost everything here is written by hand. I am probably going to go with Fusion 360, and V-Carve/photo V-Carve along with Easel. I think that should do me for now.

@Zach_Kaplan - this is an interesting idea. Developing a course in CAM where the x-carve is text book and curriculum.

Chapter 1: Machine components and structural rigidity
Chapter 2: Motion control electronics
Chapter 3: Software tool chain
Chapter 4: GCode and variants
Chapter 5: Advanced toolpath manipulation
Chapter 6: Software Module Development
Chapter 7: Incremental hardware integration

P.S. I would try to get a Mach 3 license or buy Mach 4 for a more real-world analog.