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If you can dream it, we can help you create it. Welcome to You Create Podcast, the show that teaches you how to take the power and flexibility from a Step Craft 3D CNC system and turn your ideas into reality, so let your ideas flow because we wanna know, what will you create?
Welcome to the You Create Podcast, this is episode 2, my name is Eric and I am your host and I wanna thank you for joining us this week and I wanna thank all the people who listened last week and who were kind enough to send us some comments and some feedback. We really appreciate that. This is a podcast that I am putting together specifically for you and I wanna include subject matter that is most relevant to you and I certainly wanna, as the weeks go on, answer any question you might have regarding CNC and try to take some of the mystery out of it and make it and make it a little less scary to get involved. So this week were wanna dive in and answer a very simple question: Why do you wanna have a CNC machine? Seems pretty straight forward to most of us but if you don’t have a CNC or you have never used one there is a lot of questions you might have. One of them might be, is it worth the investment and what are the advantages of having one versus the way I am currently doing things, so before CNC machines came into existence the process of creating something, let’s just talk about wood for right now, was very complicated, it was an art form that required a lot of hand tools, required a lot of hand-held power tools, required a lot of complicated measuring, you had to have a lot of different measuring devices, you make sure as you remove material you use a gauge , make sure you haven’t taken too much, especially if you are making things that are repeated, for instance if they were four parts to something that are all supposed to be identical the process is very difficult my hand and it required a lot of patience, a lot of talent and a lot of use of measure devices and a really good eye for making sure that everything is exact as you create each piece. So this process, like I said, required a lot of skill and a lot of patience. It really was considered an art form and still is for all of those wood workers and craftsman that still do things by hand. The tools that you use for various materials varied widely so you might have a separate set of chisels and cutting tools for wood than you would for say carving foam and plastic so you had to have a wide variety of tool selection in order to get various projects done and the learning curve was very steep which kept a lot of people from getting involved. They were very limited on the types of projects they could accomplish. Now, I know a lot of people who are diehard hand tool craftsman, who like to do things the old school way and just have no interest at all in adapting CNC into their workshops.
However, for the rest of us the introduction of desk top and CNC machines makes it very easy for us to get involved and be able to create things that are much more complicated than the average person can do by hand. So now that we have talked about why you might want a CNC machine, let’s talk about some of the advantages of actually having one. Automation is one of the biggest things in my opinion, the fact that you could just draw something, and put it through some software, set up the work piece and put a tool in the machine and then press ‘start’ and have it cut and carved and bevelled and drilled holes all on its own while you can go do something else or, if you are like me and you are just mesmerized by watching these things work you might find yourself staring at it for a little while in amazement. But the fact is; it’s completely automated and the interaction that you have with it really just is setting up in the beginning and then maybe having to change tools a couple of times during a job depending on how complicated the part that you are making is. Once the machine is finished it stops and the only other involvement that you have is removing the finished part from the machine, so in my opinion that’s a pretty awesome reason to go with CNC machine. There is a definite reduce skill level to accomplish complicated tasks, the software that is available today makes it very simple with a couple of mouse clicks to tell the CNC machine to do things that you would have to have months and years worth of skill with a hand tool to accomplish the same thing. So you do need to learn some new skills I am not gonna say it’s all magic and push button. You are gonna need to learn how to use a CAD programme or some sort of a drawing programme, even if it’s just simple things that you are doing it’s still a good thing to learn how to use these programmes because you never know what you might wanna create and knowing how to do even basic functions with a drawing or CAD programme is gonna allow you to take an idea and immediately put it into computerized form where you could then create tool pass and allow the material and have your CNC machine produce that idea that part for you in a matter of minutes and there is no doubt that the CNC machine has made this a little bit less of an art and more universal so that more people can get involved with a lot less of a learning curve which is always good. There is a lot less risk for mistakes once the machine is set up, as long as you have done your job correctly in creating the G code file with the software that you are using , something like the CAM software or something like Metric cut 2D, there is very little chance for mistake and in most cases software has the ability to kind of let you preview the file before it run so if there was a mistake or something not set up correctly in the software you could see it, usually virtually at a very accurate rendering to address that problem and correct it before you actually start putting the tool on your material, so faster productivity is also a huge advantage of a CNC machine. As I mentioned before, once the job is started the machine is just gonna run you don’t have to worry about changing tools or clean or plug in something and going to get another tool, changing bits anything like that, it’s set up and it’s gonna run it becomes a very quick process to get parts done especially if you are in business the output is gonna be more precise. The average CNC machine has an accuracy of 2 to 4000s in some cases even better, I know the Step Craft machine we can do 1 or 2000ts without a problem, which is very good considering the cost of the machine, usually you are gonna spend upwards of $10000.00 for those kinds of kinds of tolerances. That’s another advantage to some of the smaller desk top CNC machines. Repeatability is another thing that’s very big, if you are going to be making parts, like I mentioned earlier, maybe you’ve got something that needs four parts that are identical having a CNC and having a programme set up, all you have to do is load the stock in the same place, zero out the machine and when it’s done you are gonna have multiple parts that are exactly the same , that’s another huge advantage, no more eyeballing things, no more making minor adjustments everything that you mill using the same programme is gonna be identical, so you have that advantage. Flexibility, the CNC machine will allow you to work with many different materials all from one machine which is nice. A lot of times you just have to change the tool bit and the settings as far as your speeds and feeds and depth of cut and things like that but on one CNC machine you can go from wood to plastic, to brass and aluminium and then back to foam so you have a lot of flexibility without having to have a different set of tools for each type of material, so CNC also eliminates the need for many hand powered tools, as an example, I have a friend who was a wood worker for a long time, made a lot of cabinets, when you went to his shop it was awesome, he had all kinds a table saws and routers and you could pretty much make anything you want there and one thing I always notice, he had about 7 or 8 different routers that were lined up on a bench and each one of them was set up with a specific tool bit and I always him, I said, ‘why so many routers?’ and he was a cabinet maker, he did a lot of raised panel doors and things like that, so each router was set up with a bit to the exact depth he needed so when he started working on a door he would grab that particular router that had that bit in it and he knew that when he ran it along the wood it was gonna give him the exact results that he was looking for. So in his case he had 6 or 7 or maybe even more routers that were there. I always thought it was funny cause how long does it take to change a bit versus the cost of buying a $150.0 router. But if you are doing this for a living time is money so the ability to just grab something and have it all set up was nice. With a CNC machine you really have to worry about that, yes you may have various end mills depending on what you are doing but for the most part the machine can do an awful lot with one or two specific end mills to take the place of, in this case he had all these different routers and if you are in business time is money and CNC allows you to shorten the gap between starting of a project and the time when you can turn a profit, so that’s always good. That also means you can offer shorter lead times to your customers so rather than having a week or two to complete a project, you might be able to do it in a matter of days, which means you could do more projects back to back which at the end of the day puts more money in your pocket. Additionally, CNC machine allows you to have less waste material because you have the ability with the software to nest multiple parts together in a given piece of stock, that means you can calculate out exactly how to position parts so that you have minimum amount of waste, again, minimizing waste is also gonna save you money in the long run as well and one of the last things that I see as a huge advantage, at least in my personal life, with having a CNC machine is that I think it’s a great family activity. My son uses it all the time he is 13, he’s always got some ideas and we work together to get things milled out for him for projects, whether it be his A TV or a model quad copter that he is building or something like that. My daughter is more into the 3D printing she is always finding things like game pieces or doll pieces and things like that and wanting to know if we can make them on the printer which we do do and I will talk more about 3D printing in upcoming episodes as well. So those are some of the advantages of having a CNC machine and you might be asking yourself well, are there any limitations?
Well there are a couple. I guess one of them, it really depends on the machine, whatever projects you are gonna work on you might require a specific size machine, so you have to consider how big a machine do you need for the given projects that you are gonna do and if you are gonna work on some large projects, do you have room in your garage or workshop for that size machine. Power requirements is another possible limitation, I know some of the larger CNC machine might require 220 volt and if they do you have to make sure that you can accommodate that in your workshop. Now a CNC machine doesn’t eliminate the need for power tools and hand tools, you are still gonna need things to properly finish a job, like a sander, a saw or a table saw comes in handy because if you go to your local lumber yard, you could buy a piece of pine say it’s a 1 by 12 but they may come in 8 or 12 foot lengths so it would help that you have a saw to cut the material down in more manageable sizes to put on your CNC. A table saw is always good too because a lot of times I run into a scenario where I’ve got a board like ply wood or piece of MDF that is too large or too wide for my CNC so it’s nice to be able to put it on a table saw and rip it down, again, to a smaller manageable size. The sander will come in handy because the CNC, while it will give you a nice precise finish it still not gonna sand off the surface and get it prepared for staining or painting whatever you choose to do with the finish. You will need assembly tools depending on the project you have, a cordless drill, some wrenches, screwdrivers things like of that nature. Also your finishing whether you are gonna paint, stain, varnish whatever all that stuff you are still gonna need. So a CNC machine, while it does eliminate the need for a lot of things there some basic tools and supplies you are gonna need to properly finish a job.
Now, one thing it’s important to talk about is determining what size CNC machine you are gonna need. Now Step Craft offers 5 different size machine and if you go to Step Craft.US and click on anyone of the machines we have a tab that says machine size comparison and it will show you in a scale form how big each machine is as you go up the product line. The smallest machine we offer is the 210 and the largest is an 840. That number denotes the length of the bed so the Y axis in millimetres so 840 is 840 millimetres from the front to the back, that’s the workable area for that machine. People call me all the time and they say, ‘what’s the difference between one machine and the other? Well, in our case the 300 to the 840 are all identical machine. The only thing that’s different is the physical size, so I usually get into conversations with people on the phone to try to determine what types of projects they are gonna use their machine for, what is the largest thing that you might do with your machine? I had a gentleman on the phone today who was really big into model airplanes so he had talked about some different projects that he wanted to do with regards to his model airplanes, so after pulling various questions, answers out of him I should say, I was able to determine that the largest thing that he might possibly need to cut on his machine would be wing ribs and he tends to fly what’s called a 30% airplane which are very large so the wing rib at the root near the fuselage of the airplane could be as long as 18, 19 inches and if that’s the case we need to make sure that he got a machine that has enough Y travel to be able to do a wing rib that’s that long. So you really wanna ask yourself; what is the biggest thing that I am conceivably gonna do with my CNC? The last thing you wanna do is buy a machine that’s too small and then you kinda regret it 6 months down the road when you have a project come up that’s a lot larger and you discover you can’t do it in one piece on your machine. So that’s probably the most important question you have to ask yourself when you are buying a CNC system and fortunately with us we offer 5 different versions so we have something for everybody for the most part. So by this point, hopefully I have gotten you convinced that you need a CNC machine and we have talked about a lot of the advantages and maybe you have asked yourself all the questions and you have determined ‘okay I need a machine that is capable of a specific size so we have come that far in this episode. Now we wanna talk about the things to look for in a CNC machine and the company that manufactures them before you decide to make a purchase.
Now, one thing that’s probably the most important thing on any CNC machine whether it be a Step Craft or anything is rigidity. The frame rigidity will enhance your cut quality if the machine is built with a lacklustre frame then you are gonna get a lot of vibration, you are gonna have more maintenance issues and you are gonna find that your tolerance is gonna be less and repeatability will be less from part to part, so you wanna make sure that you have a machine that is extremely rigid and the most important thing to make sure it is rigid is the gantry unit and that’s the section that moves the XVZ it’s the main component that holds the spindle and on a wider machine you’ll find that when the spindle is in the middle the X axis is in the middle of the gantry that that’s where it is prone to any twisting and a nice solid rigid machine if you were to grab the top of the spindle and you were to move it front to back you will not feel any movement at all cause you got to remember if you can move the spindle even a little bit when you look at the tip of the tool as it makes contact with your part that little bit of movement at the top of the spindle could translate to a millimetre or more at the bottom which is gonna affect your level of quality and the accuracy of the cuts that you are making. So definitely look for a machine that’s solid and very rigid.
Now, on the Step Craft systems we have our newest machine which is the largest one which is the 840 and what they did when they designed it was; the designed the 840 to be super rigid and it has a lot wider span than the previous machines and so when you put the X axis in the centre of the tool and you move it, it’s rock solid and what they did after that was when they created the Step Craft 2 machines, they took that rigidity from 840 and they used all the same components, the same uprights, the same gantry parts just in a narrower width to make the smaller machines so the 300, 420 and the 600 all have the same components as the 840 and the 840 was designed to be super rigid so you can count on the fact the smaller machines are as well. I mean that’s a little shameless plug for Step Craft on here but that is a very apparent difference in a Step Craft system versus a lot of the other ones that are on the market and it’s something you should be concerned about when you go and you decide you are gonna buy a machine. Grab hold of that gantry if you can see and put your hands on the machine before you actually place an order and see how rigid it is. I’ve seen some machines that look very rigid the very robust really thick aluminium that’s used and when you grab hold of that spindle when it’s in the centre of the gantry I have seen movement of one eighth to ¼ of an inch at the tool. That’s huge so that’s something that you wanna keep an eye on and just know that the wider the machine you are looking at the more chance there is for flex so that’s when it’s most important to pick a machine that’s super solid.
Now, support is the next thing that you should consider. Does the company that you are looking to purchase the machine from, do they offer email support, home support? Do they have a ticketing system on their website that you could place a support ticket in for? How much information is there on their website, as far as support related info and FAQ and questions on helping you progress as you have the machine? You are gonna have a lot of questions when you get it and you wanna be sure that this company that you choose will be there to answer all of those questions. Are there any other means of support, as an example, I mentioned it in the last episode and we definitely said that this is a podcast sponsored by Step Craft so this podcast itself is another means of support that we are offering and as the weeks go by we are gonna have more and more information that’s very specific to certain thing with regards to CNC machining and with regards to some of the Step Craft systems. We put this podcast together as another means to support our customers and at the same time support the industry as a whole by offering a lot of general information as well. SO you wanna find that out before you decide on a company that you are gonna spend your hard earned money for a CNC machine. The last thing you wanna do is get a machine and have it be more headache than it’s worth because you get pretty discouraged and you’ll never get a chance to really realize how awesome and amazing owing a CNC machine is and what you can really do with it .
Parts availability is the next thing. Make sure that the machine that you are buying, that the company is local to you and by local I mean, at least, in the very sane country whether it be direct or via dealer. What is the cost of their parts? I have seen a lot of times where, especially in the multi router a complete drone and it’s say $1000.0 but then if you break an arm and you call to order it might be $200 for that one arm so I know that companies do make money off parts and that’s fine there is nothing wrong with that but get what a sense for what common things might break and the cost might be. Also consider the warranty from that company; is it a year on parts, is it parts and labour? Is it 2 years and find out what the process is of honouring that warranty, will the company send you the part first in replacement and then once you receive it you send the defective one back? or are they gonna require you to send the defective part back before they do anything? That’s an important thing to find out and ask because that will keep you down for a week or two depending on where you live in relation to the manufacture, so parts swapping is a big question and you should ask any company that you are looking at as far as how they would handle that and we do part swapping so if you were to call Step Craft and need a bearing or something like that, we are gonna send it right out to you and if we need it back we’ll send a package so you can send it right back to us, once you receive it but keeping you up and running is always the most important thing. And the other thing you can ask yourself is; what other optional accessories are there for the machine that you are looking at? What else can it do? Is it just a CNC router or CNC mill? Does it have interchangeable heads? Can you do #D printing with it? Is there a future laser attachment for it? Will it do engraving? This is important because if you are not gonna use the machine as a CNC 100% of the time then having the ability to add different attachments for it can save you money by not having to buy multiple different machines. For example, our machines have multiple different attachments that you can add to it including a #D print head. Now, if you were to go and buy a 3D printer you might spend upwards of $1000 to $2000 easily for a nice machine and then you still need the CNC machine so when all is said and done you might have $5000, $6000 invested between the 3D printer and a fully outfitted CNC router or mill. With the Step Craft System it’s $599.00 to add the 3D print head to any of the existing machines that we have from the 210 all the way up to the 840, so by being able to quickly swap out attachments it increases the flexibility you have among the things that you can do with the machine without having to buy multiple machines. That’s always a huge advantage and that’s something you should really find out when you are making a purchase. Are you stuck with this just as a mill and then in six months you wanna do 3D printing, you are gonna have to go out and buy a full blown 3D printer just for that as well, so ask yourself those questions and I think you’ll be directed to a machine that’s gonna suit your needs really well.
Now in keeping in line with the original theme of this particular episode which was why would you want to have a CNC machine? I want to talk a little bit about what type of materials you can use with CNC. Obviously, there is woods which is all type from soft woods all the way up to hard wood that’s not a problem. I think the only thing to keep in mind is, again, how big is the work area of your machine and also keep in mind the Z height of your machine so if you try to put a six inch block of wood in there and you only have a five inch Z height it is not gonna work. Plastics all types of plastics from ABS to poly carbonate and pretty much anything in between you can mill off foams, one popular foam that a lot of people use is extruded polystyrene which is basically the blue foam board insulation that you can get at most major home improvement centres. That’s great for making models and things like that, prototyping it’s a very popular material to use, it’s messy, you should definitely have a vacuum system when you are doing it because the dust will get everywhere. You could mill carbon fiber sheets, the only warning I give you with carbon fiber is breathing in the dust, it’s very harmful to your body, to your health so make sure that when you are milling carbon fiber make sure that you are milling carbon fiber you are using an exhaust system that’s sucking the dust away from the bit and always wear a face mask and work in an open area with, I wouldn’t cut carbon fiber in my bedroom as an example. They make wax, CNC wax that you can use for making moulds. You can mill rubber, you can mill fiber glass sheets and the you can even mill aluminium with most CNC machines and brass. Aluminium is probably the hardest material that the average hobby grade desk top CNC will mill. I know there is some out there that will do steel some of the smaller machines, at least they claim they will, but for the most part aluminium is gonna be the hardest material that you will run and it’s usually gonna be around a 60, 61 grade which is really strong but still soft enough to mill pretty easily. So those are the types of materials that you can work with on most desk top hobby grade and certainly industrial CNC mill and routing machines.
The last thing I want to touch on in this episode is where can you find projects to actually mill? Do you have to draw them or can you find them online? And the reality is you can work with the simple drawing programmes something like Inkscape or Sketch Up which are both free they are relatively to learn how to use. There is a lot of videos and support online to teach you and kinda walk you through it and regardless I strongly recommend that you spend some time tom learn how to do the basics with these types of machines. If not then there is websites like Finger verse.com which has a ton of free projects you can download and run on your CNC mill and 3D printers so, I mean there’s literally thousands more add every week so you could spend hours just searching through the different projects to find something that will be of interest to at least get you going on your new CNC mill and hopefully that’ll inspire you to wanna learn a drawing programme so that you can make customizations and come up with new things to create on your own. So there is also software out there that you can scan and trace parts and turn that into a tool path which you could then have your mill cut out as example, I have another customer that is into model airplane, there is quite a few Step Craft customers that are into that particular hobby, and he had an airplane crash and there was a part that he needed to have milled out but he didn’t know how to draw the part so he had the two pieces that were broken and I told him to put the two pieces together and put it on his flatbed scanner he has an inkjet combination office machine, scan it at 300dpi and then send me the file and the new versions of vertick software especially cut 2Ds is the one I use a lot for 2 and 2 ½ D stuff has an image tracing feature which will actually turn the parameter of the image into a vector that you could then assign a tool path to, it’s a really cool feature that’s in that programme. Prior to them introducing that into their software it was a little more complicated, you could take the scanned image and bring it into a programme like Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape and actually trace an outline manually around it, either way it worked it’s just that tracing manually was more time consuming but the end result was a file that you could create a tool path on and then you could just put your plywood also in the machine and run the job and before you know it you have a duplicate part to replace the broken one. There is also online services such as elance.com and fiverr.com that you can hire people from all over the world to do various different projects and one of the things that I have been seeing a lot of on these websites are CAD and drawing people, they — you could send them a sketch or something of a project you wanna make and they will actually draw it in CAD and give you back a file that you could convert to run on your Step Craft machine, so there is a lot of options there as far as what you can CNC but as you progress with it I definitely recommend learning how to use even the basics on it, drawing or CAD programme cause that’s gonna open up a whole new world for you with regards to projects that you can do on your machines. Okay, so that’s it for this episode number 2 of the You Create Podcast.
I know there was a lot of general information in this podcast as well as the first podcast and while I apologise to those of you who are kind of waiting for some very specific kind of nitty gritty stuff, I feel it’s necessary as we are starting this from scratch to put a lot of general information in so those of you who are listening that don’t own a CNC machine, we are trying to guide you down the right path and just give you a big overview of what CNC is and things you should be looking for, So bear with me, in the a next week or two we are gonna have some really cool stuff coming up and we will start working on a lot more episodes that are dedicated on how to do specific things. So if you wanna look at the show notes for this week’s episode go to you create podcast.com/002. Please, I encourage you to go to iTunes and rate the podcast if you like what I am doing here so far please give it a 5 star rating that helps pump up the podcast in rankings and that will make it more visible to the newbies who are searching for CNC and 3D printing and things like that to actually find the podcast and see what we are doing. I also encourage you to go to the website and if you have any comments regarding either of these 2 episodes far, there is a add a comment feature right there so please go ahead and do that, and lastly if you have anything specific that you wanna have us talk about on the podcast please drop me an email at contact you create podcast.com Until then, see you next week, thank you again for joining. My name is Eric and I hope you guys have a great week.