Now that I am gainfully employed, I bought myself a benchtop CNC.
As my latest toy in my workshop, I purchased a benchtop CNC. With 3D printers all the rage, why did I go with a relatively old for industry, new for home use Computer Numeric Control milling machine? Well, the reasons are numerous; I can’t make printed circuit boards in a 3D printer, and I don’t like the texture of 3D printed items on a home quality 3D printer, I can work with a variety of materials, and have an upgrade path.
My main goal with my CNC milling machine is to create custom circuit boards. For the amount of boards that I want to make, it is really not worth the costs associated with contracting with a board house. If I accidentally create something popular, it will be as strait forward as sending the Gerber files to get made. The file formats that get used for my CNC are the same as the files used by professionals. In the future I will detail what tools I use to create circuit boards. I can fabricate a single layer, 2 sided board in a matter of minutes using relatively inexpensive blank boards.
The second thing that I don’t care fore is the texture and strength of 3D printed parts. I know a lot of it is determined by the type of plastic used, but it still is a limiting factor. I can take an injection molded plastic, like a housing for a controller or joystick and mill out whatever custom patterns I desire and end up with a full strength plastic housing with all the expensive mold work done for me already. The tolerances of CNC are superb as well. Many, if not all, of the molds used for plastic molding were produced on a CNC, with a little human finishing at the end.
The other advantage I like with CNC is the variety of materials I can work with, it can be plastic, printed circuit boards, wood, and even metal. There are sites out there with patterns to be used with a benchtop CNC or you can just make your own 2D drawings and import them into the CNC software. Everything I have used so far is open source, so the only money I have spent has been on the hardware, not the software.
Finally, there is an upgrade path with my little CNC. If I want to upgrade the spindle motor, I can, and work with harder materials. You can even swap out the spindle motor for a laser cutter. When researching which CNC to buy, the next tier up is over $1,000, and I can order a lot of boards for that kind of money.
For now, I will enjoy playing with my little CNC, coming up with custom controller housings and maybe some fun art as well. On top of that, I am learning gcode and how to control a CNC, and maybe I will upgrade way down the line.