Next to accessorizing your Shapeoko with things like side shields or stepper motor upgrades, an enclosure can be one of the most useful additions you can bestow on your CNC. Not only can you cut down on noise and dust, but with the right setup you can even turn your desktop CNC into a portable milling station.
One of the most persistent challenges I’ve encountered in milling (other than uncooperative materials like Polyurethane) is keeping my workspace clean. Dust and swarf always seem to find a way to escape the suction of my vacuum and reach every corner of the room I’m in. I’ve been doing a lot of research into other peoples Shapeoko setups in an effort to improve my machining experience, and there seem to be two common solutions:
1) Use a dust shoe
2) Use an enclosure
Since I like seeing exactly what my end mill is doing, a dust shoe wasn’t an option for me. Instead I set my sights on building a cheap but sturdy enclosure out of wood. Soundproofing wasn’t a primary objective, but I could incorporate acoustic tiles in a future upgrade if I wanted.
Here’s a rough breakdown of what I bought for this project:
1/2″ plywood, 2×4′ – $10
1/4″ (5mm) plywood, 4×4′ – $10
3/32″ Optix Acrylic sheets, asst. – $30
Wood screws, asst. – $8
LED strip & 12V adapter – $15
Plexiglass is one of the biggest cost drivers for this project, so if you are willing to sacrifice visibility you can replace one or two walls of your enclosure with plywood. Not only would you save money, but you would improve the acoustics as well. As for assembly, I would recommend getting a pocket screw jig instead of the cheap but slow method I used.
Your mileage may vary, but already I think building my enclosure was time well spent.
Two useful CNC techniques to know when you’re first starting out and looking for projects are image vectorization and tool changing. Being able to create toolpaths from jpegs and performing multi-step milling operations will open up a lot of project possibilities. Here’s the results of my own experimentation with these techniques.
Some other thoughts: Inkscape may not be the most user-friendly tool to use, but if you focus on learning a few features at a time (like image tracing) you’ll find the program progressively less daunting. At least that’s how I felt about it. Also, buying a variety of carbide bits on ebay is a great way to experiment on the cheap.
We all know the Shapeoko is good for carving designs in soft materials like wood and plastic, and is capable of cutting through copper-clad boards and aluminum (albeit slowly). But Shapeoko Forum users Xaracen and KevinB have been playing around with something a bit further off the beaten path: Slate
As it turns out, slate is a viable material for engraving because although it is very rigid, it demonstrates very little fracture propagation. Instead of an end mill gouging out large chunks of material, slate readily pulverizes locally. This allows fine designs to be laid into the stone without a lot of unsightly chips forming.
As for sourcing the slate, you can scour your backyard for sufficiently flat specimens OR take a trip to your preferred hardware store and ask for floor/wall tiles.
I often go to the Shapeoko Forums for inspiration and these were two projects that really intrigued me. I’ll definitely be trying this out for myself in the future.
Photo Credit: Xaracen (top), KevinB (Bottom). Click images for direct links to forum posts.
CNC projects can be as simple as plaques, or as complex as something like a geared clock. Building up to the latter means understanding what is CNC-able, and planning out the kinematics of your desired mechanism. Here’s a fairly basic project I undertook last week, a shoulder stock for my plywood hex nut slingshot. I designed a set of interlocking pieces that ratchet backwards when adjusted for user comfort.
For my past few projects I’ve been using MeshCAM to generate gCode for my Shapeoko. So far, it’s worked quite well for my needs. But for those of you who are just starting out in CNC, you might be wondering if you really need to shell out two or three hundred dollars to enter the wonderful world of 3D milling. The short answer is: no. There are a handful of options out there you can download for free and start using with just a few clicks.
The long answer is a little more complicated. While there are indeed free 3D CAM programs out there, you really need to try them out for yourself to see if their features, capabilities, and limitations are a good fit for your application. This week, I’m taking alook at two options: FreeMILL and PyCAM and discussing where they excel and fall short.
A quick weekend project to fix one of my minor office annoyances.
Having to pick up your phone to read your notifications may seem like a first world problem, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be dispatched in an elegant way. In the pursuit of desktop nirvana, I set out to make myself a simple smartphone stand with as little assembly as possible. The plan of attack was to machine out a predetermined shape in Acrylic and then thermoform it in what would essentially be plastic origami. You can judge the results for yourself, but I think version 1.0 doesn’t look too bad.
You can read about some recommended cutting parameters for different materials here: http://www.shapeoko.com/wiki/index.php/Materials, but from my limited experience, I would say the most important thing in cutting acrylic is to keep your passes fast and shallow. Thermal dissipation in a small diameter cutter tends to be very poor so heat management is key. You may want to do some test passes in scrap plastic at different spindle speeds to find the sweet spot for your machine.
There are a few things I would improve such as widening the back “foot” for stability and upgrading to 0.125″ thick acrylic for more rigidity, but those plans will have to wait until next time.
Adding 802.11 wireless networking to your ShapeOko is easy thanks to the really neat RN-VX WiFly module
For those of you who might have tried this using Xbee’s fear not, this mod really works, what’s more its cheaper and you get the benefit of controlling your ShapeOko from all your PC’s etc. and LESS WIRES Read more »
One of the most difficult parts of starting out in CNC is the software, that digital purgatory between idea and product. There are dozens if not hundreds of CAM software options floating around on the internet and figuring out where or how to start is a problem the guys (and gals) over at Inventables are trying to tackle with Easel. But while we wait for it to become publicly available, there are still plenty of good options for CNC hobbyists to make use of. Some of them are free (like MakerCAM, HeeksCAM, Freemill, etc), and some of them are for-purchase (like CamBam, VCarve Pro, and MeshCAM). Which one is right for you depends largely on your needs. Read more »
The following post is the first of many to be written by Winston Moy, the newest member of Team Shapeoko.
Winston caught our eye with his amazing series of videos documenting his Journey into CNC via Shapeoko. We touched base with him and, he agreed to come aboard and help show everyone what you can do with a little knowledge and some ambition.
Without further ado, here is Winston!
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