Want to buy Shapeoko 3 for only aluminum. Will I be disappointed?


(Kyle) #1

I would like to buy the Shapeoko 3 for the sole purpose of milling out custom electronics enclosures from aluminum. Is the design good enough out-of-the-box to support this or will I need to make modifications? Is aluminum well within its capabilities or will I be disappointed with the results? I have seen several videos of people cutting aluminum but I don’t know how much work they put in to get there.

Bottom line: I want to purchase this to use as a tool, not a hobby :slight_smile:


(mikep) #2

Works pretty well. I wouldn’t hesitate to do so. Make sure you get a machine with a big enough working area for the panels you want to make.

Things to know:

  1. Aluminum is generally harder to work with than wood, but it’s that way no matter what CNC tool you choose. Lubrication and chip clearing are mandatory, not optional. That isn’t specific to the SO3, but the Shapeoko doesn’t include any lubrication or chip clearing out of the box. Pretty easy to add something workable. (added note: if you’re only doing a little, doing so by hand works ok)
  2. If you can cut it with a router, you can cut it with a shapeoko. You won’t necessarily get a finish like you can off a $30K machining center, but it generally looks pretty good, and goes reasonably quickly.
  3. I think good clamping is actually the hard part. The t-track kit goes a long way there. There are plenty of methods people use, some work better with thin material than others.
  4. Getting the right speed/feed for what you’re trying to do can be a little tricky because it depends on the endmill, the exact alloy you’re cutting, and a little bit of phase of the moon. That’s not unique to the shapeoko, it’s just the way things are. Use a coated 1/4" endmill anywhere you can :slight_smile:
  5. Setting up the machine flat and square (which is easier if it’s level too) is really important for working with sheet material like you would for enclosures, and >especially so for engraving<. It takes a little time, but it’s worth it. Plenty of examples and how-to’s here on the forum.

If you are expecting to unbox, assemble, and be up and running in an hour, that’s probably going to be disappointing. It will take a few hours to assemble, and a few more to work out the kinks and get things aligned properly. If you’re unfamiliar with the workflow and tools, expect to need some time to become comfortable there too, but again, that isn’t unique to the shapeoko.


(William Adams) #3

I cut aluminum with mine early on: https://www.shapeoko.com/projects/project.php?id=154 — no modifications, and that was back when it had 6mm belts.


(Kyle) #4

I have seen a lot of my friends buy 3D printers and spend more time fine-tuning and upgrading their printer than they actually spend printing stuff. I am afraid that the shapeoko will be the same type of project.


(William Adams) #5

That was the Shapeoko 1/2 — see the wiki — the modifications which folks have done to the SO3 have been far more limited (mostly replacing the bed or the Z-axis).

My suggestion would be to just get an SO3, get the threaded aluminum table, and just use the machine as it is.


(Luke) #6

I mainly mill aluminium on my S3. I’d say it depends if you expect just to press mill and go like you would on a paper printer? Whilst a Shapeoko is more the capable, you have to be willing to spend the time and effort into leaning how to use it properly.


(Peter Gould) #7

I understand the concern about the shapeoko being more of a project itself then a tool. I recently bought an S3 XL to mill aluminum after using a Chinese 3040 for a year. I mostly just cut contours through 1/8 or 1/4 sheet. So far it’s been a big upgrade and it was surprisingly easy to build it and get some decent cuts. Work holding is a major issue with any machine. I cut and installed threaded inserts into the MDF bed so that the heads on 1/4 bolts would snuggly hold 4 inch aluminum sheet (holes spaced 4 in plus a bolt diameters apart). This is working really well so far and is a lot easier to use than t slot and clamps. My experience has been very positive.


(Stephen Brzykcy) #8

@WillAdams
I haven’t seen the aluminum wasteboard in stock, hasn’t it been out of stock for the past 6 months or so?

Do you know if they will be making more of the SO3 standard size anytime soon?


(mikep) #9

There are alternatives around, like these two:


(Griff Carpenter) #10

You will only be disappointed if you do not take the time to learn how to use the machine.

it’s not plug and play, there is a learning curve.

That said, we are here to help, just ask.


(Stephen Brzykcy) #11

Yes, I’ve seen that one on Amazon, it is also offered by the same people on eBay for $400, but it is a two-piece table, whereas the one offered by carbide 3d is a one-piece… I am just checking to see if it is a dead product or if they are anticipating having it in stock in the next 6 months.

Thanks for pointing out the other options though…


(system) #12

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