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Building The 'CNC 3018 Mill' From A Cheap Kit
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 Posted: Fri Oct 18th, 2019 10:55 am
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Claus60
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Hello.

Some time ago I've purchased a Chinese kit for a CNC mill on the basis of many positive tests. My machine is the "greatest" of the series and has a working area of 30 x 18 cm (11.8 x 7 in). So it's still a mini-mill, compared to what you otherwise can see for CNC milling. The other sizes are 16 × 10 cm (6.3 x 4 in) and 24 x 18 cm (9.5 x 7 in), from which the corresponding type names CNC 1610, CNC 2418 and CNC 3018 derive. The kits are priced about 30 € difference between the 1610 and the 3018, the 2418 often is offered more expensive than the 3018. I had to pay € 199 incl. Shipping to Germany (it was located in Germany already so no problems with customs and fast delivery within three days)  for the complete kit (including electronics and spindle motor). Found on e-Bay (where else?)...

First, a few thoughts on what you can expect from such a mini mill, and what not. Editing steel you need not even try. This won't work for sure. Less hard metals are also not the comfort zone of this device. Who is very keen to experiment, may perhaps try to edit thin brass or aluminum sheet with it. For the people who pull out masterpieces of precision engineering out of brass and steel, this machine definitely is not the tool for you.

I have the most respect for the abilities of these artists, but personally a very different approach. Due to lack of own abilities but also because I "let off steam" and let my imagination run wild. Also my financial capabilities are very limited. True to the motto "Give a man a fish and he's fed for a day, show him how to fish and he'll never got hungry again" is now so instead of one locomotive kit (the "fish"), the machine (the ability to "fish" means locomotives to scratch build) were purchased.
Everything that goes beyond the milling and drilling of printed circuit boards for electronic circuits in metalworking, probably will overwhelm the tiny machine. In addition to the manufacture of printed circuit boards, which works perfectly according to various reports and I definitely want to try it myself someday, it is suitable especially for plastics and woodworking ...
I plan to work especially with polystyrene plates, from windows and doors for buildings (which are as finished parts just terribly expensive) as well as vehicle body and similar parts. Even minor 1:45 buildings are possible with the size of the milling machine. In addition, I want to edit balsa and plywood with it, perhaps even cardboard.

These restrictions should one be aware before buy and try this type of machine. I personally want the mill (so I get as ever assembled) used primarily as a substitute for a scalpel and a ruler as my hands and eyes are no longer the best. The accuracy that I can achieve with a craft knife should surpass the mill easily and clearly ...

To give you a rough idea of the size, here's a photo of the frame parts that I've assembled. The pen is used for size comparison.





In this next photo you can see what I still have to mount:





Although I'm not completely inexperienced with the assembly of such devices (eg I have a 3D printer fairly easily get mounted), has not driven me the tiller almost to despair. It was impossible to screw the parts together, as the nuts stuck in the ALU profiles have constantly twisted. Actually, they should clamp in the upper groove of the profiles and thus enable easy screwing. But unfortunately, the nuts are too shallow or the profiles are too deep. That's why the nuts constantly falling too far by and have no support. Since you can not counter, an assembly is simply not possible ...
I literally needed days to find me a solution to this problem... If you look at the third photo more closely, you can see the solution:





On the far left, in the compartment where the aluminum profiles were supplied for the frame inside, cardboard strips are to find (a cut up cereal box). Pushed into a strip below the nuts, they can not sink so deeply into the profile and as planned maintenance in the groove of the profiles to come ... Only on such a simple solution for such a massive problem, this includes something first ...
You can also see from the photo that the spindle motor incl. Z-axis is delivered fully assembled. And it also is shown that all "special" parts came from a 3D printer. The "rest" are standard industrial components as well as open source electronics.
Next the actual frame of the bridge for the spindle motor must be connected.





This is done using the same ALU angle as in the basic assembly. In addition, you can easily see here how the cardboard strips are used. After assembly, you can remove the strip again.





Additionally 3D printed parts are used to give the whole thing even more stability.





The stability of the frame is surprisingly good. Mounted it makes a trustworthy, solid impression. Better than I expected before construction starts.





As a final step to complete the frame, the bearings for the guide rods of the milling table must be mounted.





The exact alignment of the camp is done in a later step.
Although I have the "cardboard- strip- method" now really internalized, it is still a miserable fumbling that is no fun.
The construction of my 3D printer was a lot of fun. The mill is more of a nightmare. I hope the finished device will compensate me for it extensively (I now can tell it does).
On the next photo you (hopefully) can see the reason for the unpleasant install of the kit.





The right nut is as about 95% of all nuts in the kit. But they actually would all have to be like the left nut. Which is seen and felt thicker and therefore will not twist in the ALU profiles. The right nut, however, wobbles inside the profiles and the easiest breeze or the slightest touch blows them away. A miserable fumbling. Actually a reason to complain about the kit, but although the delivery was from Germany, the seller nevertheless is seated in China. That would have meant even more effort. Aside this, I've only just noticed the different sizes. Previously, only the non-matching size has come to my notice. Fortunately, this flaw does not matter in the finished device, so I fumble me just keep through it.
The next phase of construction is then the router table. More on this in the next post.




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Thanks for reading, Claus

My Blog:
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 Posted: Fri Oct 18th, 2019 11:18 am
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Claus60
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Hello.
Next part of the report.

After the non-matching nuts were processed, the rest of the assembly went out significantly easier.
First, the milling table is to turn. Here four bearing blocks for the guide rails and the mounting for the drive must be mounted. The exact alignment occurs later.





To assemble the table to the frame only one guide rail is first inserted. Most likely one (or even both) of the bearing blocks must be adjusted. If necessary, one of the blocks on the frame could be adjusted too. Since their positions were measured, I tried to adjust only the bearings under the table.





After the first rail is installed, the second rail will be mounted. Here the probability is very high that both blocks must be adjusted to install the rail.





Now it's to check whether it is possible to move the table.





If it is so, let's continue with the installation of the stepper motors. Fine adjustment I made after all the moving parts has been assembled and greased.





In principle, it does not matter how the motors are screwed on the bearing plates. But I have made sure that the connections for the control cable are easily accessible and facing toward the control board. The motor for the Y axis (of the milling table moves) needs it opposite to the fastening holes, wherein the X axis (for the spindle slides) it will be exactly the other direction, to the holes out.





The Y-axis motor has to be mounted centrally on the rear outer profile of the frame.





The motor for the X-axis is, seen from the front (from the milling table), mounted to the right in the middle between the bearing blocks for the spindle slides. Here you will have to readjust because the position of the threaded rod is specified through the 3D printing portion of the spindle mount...





Now the installation of the spindle and the associated guide rails takes place. Here care is needed. First to mount the upper steel rod. Now it is adjusted with the level of the cutting table and this rod in parallel as perfect as you can do. The more precisely you work here the more precise the mill will work. Since my only level is too large for this purpose, I've used an app on the smartphone. The app must first be calibrated so that the results are accurate. It has an electronic level that indicates a fraction of a degree variations. Something that you can not recognize with a conventional level. It is not essential whether the table is 100% horizontal . It is only important that the table is absolutely parallel to the spindle rods.
After the upper rod is adjusted, the lower rod can be assembled. For this, probably both lower bearing blocks must be  adjusted.

Now the four steel rods should be well greased. I've done this with chain grease for bicycles as I had it laying around here. The smoother the carriages are sliding, the more accurate the stepper motors can work. By repeatedly moving the carriage by hand the grease is distributed. If you want to re-grease later times, it will be much more laborious, since then the threaded rods are mounted and you no longer can sleigh move by hand. That is why it matters to grease before the threaded rods are mounted.





Now is the right time for a precise adjustment of the bearing blocks. Only the upper rail of the spindle slide should not be changed, because otherwise you will have to make the parallel alignment again. Both the table and the spindle slide should glide so smoothly and gently as possible back and forth. By precisely adjusting the bearing blocks you can usually get a very smooth glide.





If all slides well, you can mount the threaded rods. The rods are connected with the stepper motor by couplings. The spindle carriage and the "medium" Bock under the table is a receptacle for a special nut who takes care of the backlash-free drive.





On the opposite sides there is an abutment, so that the threaded rod is not wobbling.





The threaded rod for the X axis is mounted the same way. Here probably a slight adjustment of the stepper motor is needed, so rod and motor axis are precisely aligned.





Of course, here is an abutment too...





Thus, the mechanical part of the mill is completed.
The electronics are almost completely pre-assembled. The driver boards for stepper motors are already plugged in. Only the heat sink need to be glued to the IC.





On the picture one heat sink already is mounted, two are still waiting for the (simple) installation. Since a special self-adhesive film is applied to the heat sinks already, the mounting is limited to the removal of the protective film and the bonding of the heat sink.





The assembly of the board at the mill is again somewhat tricky, since spacers must be mounted behind the board so that the board does not cause a short circuit on the frame of the mill.
Last but not least the pre-assembled cables must be plugged. The three cables for the stepper motors are (unfortunately) identical. It would have been more convenient if they had different, adapted lengths. The power cord for the spindle motor is connected with "Faston" connectors, as known from the automotive sector. On the circuit board a reverse polarity avoiding plug is available. A wire of the cable is red, the other black. On the engine near one of the terminals is a small red spot. Here I attached the red wire, which looks like it was right. The manual is silent on this completely.





Finally, I've installed the seat for the milling cutter.





Now a first functional test is pending. This test is performed before the cables are laid and bundled cleanly.





Since everything is connected correctly at first time, I've tamed the cables a little with cable ties.





Now the CNC mill is ready for use.





In the next part of this report, the software and the first trial work will be described. More on this later, because it's a difficult chapter.




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Thanks for reading, Claus

My Blog:
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 Posted: Fri Oct 18th, 2019 03:26 pm
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slateworks
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That's a great "how to" Claus,

and I'm looking forward to seeing what you produce on the infernal machine!





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 Posted: Fri Oct 18th, 2019 04:38 pm
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Claus60
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Hello.
Here is the next part of the building report from my mini CNC milling machine. After the construction was completed, the appropriate software configuration had to be found. And that has proven to be extremely difficult.
As it is no problem to get decent CAD software at zero cost (LibreCAD, FreeCAD, Inkscape, QCAD, ...), the construction of the milling objects can be easily done with open source or freeware.
But the CAM software, which generates G-code for the mill out of the CAD software drawings, is a big problem. All that is useful, cost a fortune. I do not see me buying a 2000€ software like SolidWorks for a 200€ mill. Not to mention that I never could afford it anyway. There are some "Free" programs, but these are all just demos, with sometimes extreme restrictions. Estlcam as example after three uses sets with each mouse click 180 seconds (really 3 minutes) pause in which a requester is shown where you be asked to fill the holiday budget of the authors. Since you can not click away this requester or even put it into the background, the PC is completely blocked for 3 minutes. On top of that G-code generated by Estlcam is full of errors. Of course, I won't definitely not fill the holiday budget of the authors. Other "free" advertised CAM programs are very limited demos only, you really can't do nothing with.
In the mill itself a CAM program is not included. Only the (nice working) control program "GRBL Control" is...





In addition to all those crippled and useless demo versions, there is an (originally Linux based) Python program called bCNC. The program combines CAD and CAM software in an open source project. However, it requires a very old version of Python and various additional packages, very typical for Linux. To use a program, you first must install hundreds of "Dependencies". Nevertheless, the success is questionable. Just as here. I'm really no computer novice, but I didn't manage to get the program working on my Windows 10 PC...
There is a plugin for Inkscape to generate G-Code from the Inkscape drawing. But this is not official, the support is in Russian language and on top of that it's extremely complicated.
A CAM module for the "Professional" version of the open source software QCAD is available too. Sadly it also costs three-digit amount of money, but seems almost to have the best value for money. I thought at least ...
When I was about to give up, I finally found what I'm looking for. The US manufacturer Carbide known for selling reasonably priced ($ 1500 to $ 2500) CNC milling machines that are, similar to my China mill, based on the open source firmware GRBL. They have their in-house CAD / CAM program recently released for everyone. So far it was available only to their own customers. The program is called "Carbide Create" and after you have signed up for a mailing list, is free to use, even for commercial purposes, if you like. For something like that, disposable email addresses exists. Indeed the sign- off from the newsletter actually really works there.





Carbide Create can  import SVG and DXF files and provides comprehensive tools for constructing milling objects. It has basic shapes that can change and combine, like text or bool operations. Above all, it really is simply possible to adjust the dimensions and arrangements precisely. A bitmap (JPG, BMP or something) can be place in the background semi-transparent. If you've loaded such a drawing, e.g.  of a locomotive, from the Internet or scanned, you can set it up scaled as background and trace the forms accurately.
When the drawing is done (regardless if imported or created in Carbide) the paths for the machine ( "toolpath") will be generated. This now is the so important "CAM" module. For this, there are various tools available. You can mill internal, center or external of the drawing lines, "pockets" means engraved to any depth you set can be produced. The "tabs", the holding ridges can easily be created, moved and adjusted. You can simulate the result in a 3D view of the project, before it later will be actually milled. If everything fits, the project can be saved as G code and processed with various milling machines, including my CNC 3018 ...  
For a beginner like me, who has yet to learn anything Carbide Create really is well suited. In addition there are many video tutorials making the beginning very easy. I can expect that experts will miss a lot of features they know from e.g. Solidworks, but for beginners like me I can't find anything better.
Carbide Create is the only CAD / CAM program I could find that is fully functional, easy to use and available for free. That's why it gets my full recommendation. Carbide Create is available for Windows and Mac, but not for Linux.
As the software issue is solved for now, the final tuning bits of the machine is next to do to have a truly operational CNC milling machine. 
I still need a proper seat for the cutter. The supplied brass case is anything but precise. You won't get a proper concentricity with this thing. So a new seat is needed. It makes sense to use the widespread ER11 standard, often used in this type of milling machine. In a direct comparison between the ER11 and the supplied brass case you're suspecting already that everything will be better now.





To mount the ER11, I had to heat it with a soldering iron. The hole really is tight sitting. The grub screws are not actually necessary, as tight as the holder is pressed on the shaft. Of course this is intended to ensure that the cutter runs smooth and clean. In fact, with the naked eye that the concentricity is clearly better than with the brass thing.





Now I miss only decent tools. Here you can really get rid of a lot of money. But a bit that just costs as much as my entire mill, which would then surely overdo it ... First of all I had to find out which cutters are suitable for polystyrene. A first attempt with the ones from an engraving set with mini drill ended disastrously. The polystyrene is firmly melted only at the bit, but have not been cut.
I also have a set of collets ordered in China with diameters of 1 to 7 mm. Then I can use smaller or larger drills in addition to the standard 3.2 mm bits sometimes. As a drill press, the cutter can namely also "divert" ...
So if you even want to build such a mill, you should be either order a kit with ER11 collet holder included or at least hold the money for the ER-11 aside. Without you will certainly not be happy with the machine...
Meanwhile, I have the first parts of the milling machine that I can actually use and will. It is the drive bracket for my GEC locomotive build from a Slimrails kit for which I use a Roco H0 "Koef 3" as drive donor.





The precision of the parts is at least as good as that of the plastic injection molding kit parts, which is more than adequate for my purposes. In the photo, the parts have not been trimmed or otherwise overworked exactly as they came from the mill. The parts above are milled with the standard V-cutter, who was included in the mill kit. The V-cutters are much more robust and also can mill much faster. For this, the parts are not quite as nice as with the thin special cutter. Here the accuracy is enough with the V-cutter as the parts are below the surface. Using a scalpel and ruler I never ever get even close to this quality. 
How much now the fun did cost completely so the router was ready to use?
The kit of the mill has cost me 199€ including postage from Germany on Ebay. The (strictly necessary) ER11 Collet has cost 14,95€ along with the 1/8 inch commitment incl express shipping via Amazon Prime. In addition I have bought 2 Units of 1 mm "1 tooth" cutters to each € 4.95... In order to also use other tools times, I have a complete set of 1 - 7 mm inserts bought via eBay in China at 7.95€ cost including storage boxes and shipping.
These are 4 felt pads come under the frame that I had here anyway (derived from a discount store, I do not remember which). Under all four corners glued they reduce the transmitted vibrations to the table very effective. Now you can use the cutter, without feeling guilty, in a rented apartment, even at night. In the room where the router is running, no one can sleep, but the noise is not so loud that it disturbs next door.
The software to use is free of charge. The drivers and the control program "GRBL Control" are included in the kit and produce for constructing and G code, I use the free "Carbide Create", I'm familiar with very quickly and easily. There is an alternative control program (GRBL Controller 3.0) which is also free and has seemingly more options. I have't tried it so far but, I will do though. Unless the construction possibilities of Carbide Create are no longer sufficient to me at some point, I still can import drawings from Libre CAD, AutoCad etc and processed. At present, I don't see any need for this.
In sum, this makes 231.80€ for a very universal and outstanding feature that offers me endless craft possibilities that I otherwise never would have. 
The construction of my cutter was pretty fiddly and annoying due to the improper nuts. Aside of this (or if you caught a kit with matching nuts) it can be done by anyone who knows where the pointed end of a screwdriver is.
The learning curve in the CNC milling is not as steep as in 3D printing. The time from the beginning to the first usable results is still shorter by some. Sure you can make mistakes when milling and I guaranteed still not hav done all. But compared to the 3D printer the results are definitely easier to reproduce.
The result of the CNC 3018 is much better than a 3D printer in the same price range (ie a Prusa I3 clone like my GEEETech I3 Pro B). For the 3D printer I'm not 100% sure whether the issue was worth it. The CNC router I am.




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Thanks for reading, Claus

My Blog:
https://modellbahnblog.de
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 Posted: Fri Oct 18th, 2019 05:00 pm
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Claus60
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Hello again to the (up to now) last part of this report, the conversion report from a CNC milling machine to a CNC laser cutter. With this rebuild my machine can be converted from milling to laser cutter and back to milling machine within minutes.
Unfortunately, the control board of my router only supported on and off for laser modules. A PWM power control, absolutely required for stronger laser like my 15 Watts module,  does not exist.





So I first had to obtain a new control board with newer firmware. There are numerous options. I opted for the direct successor of the control board that came with my original mill, a Woodpecker 3.0 Board. Firstly, the new Woodpecker 3.4 board coincide with a housing and also I was the safest it will work together with my router without any problems. On Aliexpress this board costs 24 €. However, I have paid more because I was impatient and did not want to wait so long for the delivery from China. Sadly the board arrived massively late from Germany , so it was not worth it to spend the extra money. The seller also receives therefore no positive rating from me.
Here you can see the two boards side by side.





Nice to recognize the housing, the fan for the stepper motor driver and also that the (red) terminal for the laser has 3 pins rather than just two as in the old board (the white). It is this difference there, which made  the exchange mandatory. The conversion itself was a breeze. Disconnect the cables from the old board and then unscrew the board. Then screw the new board. This is with much less fumbling because now the housing takes over the task of the spacers for short-circuit prevention.





In addition, the new board has an on / off switch and a connection for a manual control. The on / off switch is a blessing, because the built-in fan is annoyingly loud. At some point it will be exchanged, that's for sure. The connection for manual control also is a real improvement. So you can use the router without "CNC", if you want. Moreover, it replaced in this way actually a "mini-drill press" or a drill- stand for a Proxxon or Dremel ... but the manual control I have not yet, but as it only costs a few Euros at some point it will join certainly.
Unfortunately, the connector on the control board and the control portion of the laser module do not have the same assignment, as you can see here. The board on the mill has the assignment: + 12V - PWM - GND





And the laser module has + 12V - GND - PWM:





One must compensate this by either configure a corresponding cable yourself or pull out on one of the two plugs the contacts from the plug housing and insert it accordingly again.
But that was the last difficulty in retooling. The laser module itself goes into the Z-axis support instead of the spindle motor. There corresponding notches already exist. Then only reconnect the cables:





and the CNC milling machine has become a Laser Cutter:





I first tried the new board with the spindle motor to see if the "old" functionality as a CNC milling machine has been preserved. At first there are real problems because the control software has stopped working. Neither the included GRBL- Control nor the expanded Successor Candle has been working together with the new board. After a visit to the website of Candle it soon became clear that this is completely normal since the GRBL Firmware 0.9, which is on the old board, is no longer compatible with the new firmware 1.1 what needs other software. So quickly loaded the right to GRBL 1.1 compatible version of Candle, installed it and already the cutter ran again exactly as it should.
I have to try and practice a lot, especially since there is no documentation for the laser module. For example, the controller or the GRBL firmware 1.1f supports two value ranges for the power control of the laser. GRBL is an open source firmware for various CNC machines such as plotters, milling, laser cutter or 3D printer, GRBL is not as common in the 3D area. But almost all cheaper CNC milling and laser cutters use GRBL as firmware. Of course, my machine does too.
The first range goes from 0 to 255, which sounds pretty familiar and "normal" to me as a computer nerd. This corresponds exactly with 8 bit or 2 ^ 8 or 1 byte (one letter, in simple terms), a very common region of values in the computer world. Of course I've tried this first. But that I get not even a light gray cast on white paper. not to mention cutting. The other possible value range  is 0-12000. A "tiny" difference, right?  For sure the second is the range I need to use for my laser module. I needed some time to work out this because it is nowhere described, not even on the internet ...
For the first tests I take the packaging of processed cheese slices. The first time the laser was switched on it works with 100% power, wherein the carton immediately burst into flame. As expected 15 watts are massively too much for cardboard. After I was able to handle the power control properly (I got a  clean cut with only 5% Laser power) I got this as result:





It's amazing how precise such a laser can cut. And this even if the material merely is a packaging. The points of the star are still sharp even at this high magnification. The star is about 7 mm and the square just 19.8 x 19.8 mm. It has been drawn with 20 x 20 mm in Inkscape, where also the addressing G-code was generated. For the very first attempt, without me having any clue of the subject and without calibrating something it's not so bad, I think. If I have correctly anticipated in mind, these are just 1% deviation. The cut in the material is 20.6 x 20.6 mm, which corresponds to a cutting width of 0.8 mm. With more practice when focusing the laser (a bit tricky with the protective glasses and very low power) that's certainly can be better in time.
Then I did a little experimenting with wood. After I had to put performance to only 5% and the feed to 500 mm/min to get a clean cut in one pass through, for the cheap 4 mm thick plywood a bit more power is needed , Plywood itself is not particularly well suited for diode lasers. The actual wood itself is not a problem. But the glue with which the individual layers of plywood are glued, reflects the laser light, so it does not come usually only to a severing of the adhesive layer. It takes a lot of "bang" to cut plywood with a diode laser.
In addition I have halved the feed to 250 mm/min and of course working at full laser power. Still, I needed three passes to cut the 4 mm plywood. In principle, each layer of the wood a pass. but it could be properly cut this way.
In addition, I have also tried engraving. I've used the "Cardboard" power (5% or 0.75 watts) but try the "Wood" speed (250 mm/min) . Again on the cheap plywood, The result is quite impressive, I find:





What also amazes me is the stability of the cut out parts (both wood and cardboard). By the lasers the fibers are not torn apart at the edges, as with cutting or sawing, but melted together somehow. This must increase the stability noticeably.
At the moment I am certainly thrilled although I have very little versed with all CAD software and need to "try and error" a lot. The examples have been made with Inkscape 0.9.4 and laser GRBL as a control program. but for constructing "perfect" models in the future, I must certainly be incorporated into the relevant software a few hundred hours. Although I still do not know what software is actually the "Appropriate" for me or will be respectively. But at least there are many ways, including lots of them in the open source or freeware area...

I hope you've enjoyed my report and didn't find it too much text. Thanks for reading to the end and excuse my English as school is more than 40 years ago and I never was good in foreign languages at all.

Regards, Claus




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Thanks for reading, Claus

My Blog:
https://modellbahnblog.de
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 Posted: Sat Oct 19th, 2019 10:10 pm
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Tom Ward
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Claus - This is very cool. 

Build yer own mill.
Looks like you do excellent work.
 
I'd love to do this but it's gonna take me ten years,
just to figure out the 3D-printer. 

Have fun with that.

- Tom


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 Posted: Mon Oct 21st, 2019 03:19 pm
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Warren G
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I use my mini mill [kit also] to make PCBs for model trains, mostly DC  ...

I have a seperate laser for other work, low power only ...






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