Sourcing Your CNC Tools in 2016: Buy Them

Hobbyist 3D printers have had a home in the maker space for years now. Along the way, they’ve left a mark in our imaginations. They’ve tickled our fancy for watching a computer orchestrated symphony written in G-code hum away while cranking out parts. They’ve opened a door to the idea that while computer controlled machines may be decades old, having one or two homebrew setups in our garage might not be as far-fetched as we first thought. Now that we’ve seen the steppers and linear slides that go into these setups, it’s not unreasonable for many of us to start asking: What else? Perhaps a computer numerically controlled (CNC) lathe, mill, or even a laser cutter–anything that would add to the vocabulary of tools and techniques that we’re starting to build at home.

VSlot linear rail system for building multiaxis linear actuator systems
VSlot linear rail system for building multiaxis linear actuator systems

Since 3D printers have become somewhat commonplace, it’s not too difficult to find commodity spare parts spilling to the surface of online vendors’ websites. We can even find kit versions for building our own variants. Now that the notion of CNC-at-home is here to stay, the question for 2016 is: do we build our own CNC tools or buy them?

Despite the countless CNC build logs, extruded aluminum kits, and open source G-code interpreters, I’m still convinced that unless your needs are truly custom, buying the machine that fits your needs will have you putting together projects faster and with far less maintenance than you’d need if you assembled the machine yourself. In what follows, I thought I’d explore a few machines that we can find today in 2016 that make the dream of desktop fabrication a reality.

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Lasersaur that cuts 1/2″ Plywood and 10mm Acrylic (Pew-Pew)

Remember when building your own 3D printer was a big deal? We’re starting to think that building your own laser cutter might be the next hot topic.

Boasting a 16,000 square-foot facility, the Dallas Makerspace is an impressive collaboration of local artists, engineers, makers, and thinkers. Recently they embarked on building a serious laser cutting machine. They chose to go with the an open-hardware design rather than buying an off-the-shelf unit. What they built is based on the Lasersaur plans. (Another popular open-source build is the unit.)

They ended up with a huge 24″ by 48″ cutting bed and with a laser tube rated for 100 watts continuous output. It can cut 1/2″ plywood and 10mm acrylic with ease. The entire machine is built from 20mm Misumi aluminum t-slot extrusions, making more like a giant erector set then a commercial built machine. We hadn’t seen too many of the Lasersaur builds out in the wild, so we thought you might like to see one too.

Now, before you start ordering parts to build your own, you should know that a top of the line build like this will run you about $7-10k. But by comparison if you were to go with something with the same cutting area and power, you’d be looking at something like the “Epilog Fusion 40” at a whopping $40k. With that said, we expect to see more budget laser cutter builds. Cost can be cut dramatically when you go for a smaller machine, with less cutting area, and less power. With that, you can use less expensive steppers, drivers, and frame. We suspect a little as $700 for a smart shopper could yield a very respectable laser cutter.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Dallas Makerspace, we took a video tour back in early 2014.

BAMF2011: Lasersaur is one BIG laser cutter!

Psst…wanna buy a laser cutter, but not ready to sell your internal organs? Nortd Labs’ Lasersaur project aims to create an open source large-format laser cutter/engraver that undercuts (har har!) the cost of commercial models by an order of magnitude.

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