I’m a newbie looking to purchase a Shapeoko 4 in the near future. One of my primary interests is to cut aluminum with this machine. Would the router included with the machine be able to do this at a decent pace? I don’t need it to go very fast, but it should do quality cuts with decent speeds. If this isn’t possible with the stock configuration, would an upgrade to a 65mm spindle help mitigate this issue?
I cut lots of aluminum on my stock shapeoko 3. It did it pretty well but there were a few pain points that are shared with the shapeoko 4.
First, I learned to dislike v-wheels. They are the weakest link on the shapeoko 3 and 4 (though they are better on the 4) when it comes to rigidity. They also tend to get chips and dust stuck in them which isn’t terrible when working with wood. With aluminum, chips would damage/deform them slightly whenever they got stuck in them leading to faster wear and surface finish issues. If you can keep chips out of the wheels with some sort of custom cover, the wear problem mostly goes away.
Second, the router is plenty capable of cutting aluminum at a decent pace but the bearings are not as good as what you find in a spindle. This can lead to accuracy and surface finish problems as well as premature wear. My router developed about 0.01" of Z axis play due to wear on the cheap bearings. I eventually replaced it with an 800w liquid cooled spindle and never looked back. Best upgrade I ever did.
I upgraded my machine to use linear rail and it more than doubled my speed in aluminum and greatly improved the surface finish of parts. If most of what you are going to cut is aluminum, I would recommend stretching for something that is based on linear rail rather than v-wheels. The shapeoko pro 4 is a great machine.
I cut a little aluminum on my SO3, a bit more on my SO4, even more on the SO4 Pro at work, and mostly aluminum on my HDM. Also, knowledge and experience are the primary factors with cutting metals. But that is universal and goes for any machine.
Off-the-bat with you saying “One of my primary interests is to cut aluminum with this machine.” I would say Shapeoko HDM. It cuts aluminum like butter. I have cut parts for a research nuclear reactor, car parts, microscope parts, and other precision stuff on it. Cost and bed size are the only negatives for it. It is actually cheap for the features, but it does cost more than the other options.
The next recommendation down the list is the Shapeoko Pro 5. It has a lot of the advantages of the HDM and can get you some more bed size. It is the next down on cost, and again is a good cost/feature ratio. But I think they also nailed the bed size options for the SO5 pro. I have one in 4x4, but have not run aluminum across it…yet.
Up next would be the Shapeoko 4 Pro. The linear rails help a lot over the SO4, and if you’re on a budget, I would consider it the best option.
The router is capable of cutting aluminum, but I 100% agree with @nwallace in that a spindle is far superior. I have the Carbide 3d VFD spindles on my SO5 Pro at home and SO4 Pro at work. If you want to cut aluminum, plastic, or hardwoods, it is way superior.
Then I would say Shapeoko 4. It is the least expensive, but not by enough to justify it over the SO4 Pro. I highly recommend the SO4 Pro being your lowest cost of entry if aluminum is on your radar.
I recommend people build their own setup. I bought my parts from GPenny Machine on aliexpress. I can’t remember where I got my wiring but lots of places sell shielded continuous flex wire. The DIY approach will still cost about $400-500 after accounting for the wire, emi filtering, cooling setup, shipping and taxes. Even more if you do more advanced things with e-stops or other stuff.
If you aren’t comfortable with specing out your own parts and setting up the VFD this is either a good opportunity to learn or you will need to buy a plug and play setup from Carbide 3D or someone like PwnCNC. One note is that Carbide 3D locks down their VFD and will not give you the password. They note this on the store page. For some that is a deal breaker. I am not sure if others do the same thing. The extra cost accounts for the plug and play nature and support.
High Quality VFD
VFD Interface Board
High Quality VFD Cable with Connectors
Cable from VFD Interface Board to Shapeoko Board
Enclosure for VFD and Interface Board
1/4" and 1/8" Collets
Higher Quality than Normal Wrenches
Actual US Based Support (as opposed to none)
It is possible if you spend enough money and time tracking down parts and installing them with precision. But you’ll have far more money and time invested than if you bought the Pro version in the first place. They really do make the price difference very affordable in my opinion.
My personal advise from experience and reading the experience of others is to just save up for a short time longer, and get the Pro. I consider time valuable, both from an economic and philosophical point of view. And the knowledge to properly design, fabricate, install, and set-up linear rails on an existing design is expensive in that regard in my opinion.