Feedback: Nomad after a few months - okay, could be great

It’s been a few months since I got my Nomad and I wanted to give some feedback to the Carbide 3D folks but also share my experience so that others in a similar position to me who are considering the machine can get a realistic idea of what it’s like (also, if anyone has solutions for the problems I’m bringing up, I’m all-ears).

First, I’ll state my assumptions, because I think a lot of what I’m about to say is based on them:

  • The Nomad is intended for people who:
    • Do not intend to use it professionally in the manufacturing industry (i.e. this isn’t a replacement for a Haas).
    • Prefer subtractive manufacturing over additive manufacturing because of the precision or flexibility of materials it offers, in particular, it’s ability to machine metals (otherwise they would buy a much cheaper and less complicated 3D printer).
    • Choose the Nomad over the Shapeoko for one of the following reasons:
      • It is more precise.
      • It is more compact.
      • It is more rigid.
    • Are possibly newcomers to the world of CNC.
    • Want something that is able to mill projects out of the box, if they wanted the machine itself to be a project, they’d do a CNC conversion.
    • Will use the machine on a desk in a residential or office environment rather than say a garage. If a garage or other industrial workspace was available, a larger machine like a Tormach might make more sense.

Now, to the actual feedback.

I personally wanted to get into CNC because after using a 3D printer for a while, I became frustrated with the weakness of plastics and wanted the ability to make stronger things from metal. I was heavily influenced by ThisOldTony on YouTube.

I chose the Nomad because:

  • I wanted a machine that worked out of the box. I didn’t want the machine itself to be a project (I considered other machines like a Sieg CNC conversion or CNC-converting locally available machines), I wanted something that would Just Work™.
  • I live in an apartment and
    • I wanted something that was small and compact enough to sit on the space I had on my desk.
    • I asked around on Reddit and it was suggested that the machine was quiet enough to be used in an apartment.
  • People said the Nomad was built like a tank and could potentially be upgraded later if I wanted (this is msot of why I chose it over Sherline).
  • It was fairly affordable.

Despite living in Switzerland, I ended up ordering it from the US because EU pricing is disgusting, even with VAT removed, and because none of the EU sellers would ship to Switzerland.

The experience immediately after opening the box was fairly decent. I got my machine opened, loaded up the provided material and got my wrench cut without any problems. The biggest issues here were:

  • The machine was loud. I wasn’t expecting it to make anywhere near that much noise. The noise levels to expect should be called out somewhere explicitly (e.g. “imagine a high-pitched lawnmower”).
  • The Aluminium-bonded-to-black-gunk material got everywhere and stuck to everything it touched. I think there’s still some in my machine somewhere. Another material would be great here.

After that, I wanted to get straight into cutting Aluminium, so I used the double-sided tape to tape down a 12mm thick plate of it, put the feeds and speeds that I thought I read into Fusion 360 and let it rip! This is where everything started to fall apart:

  • I didn’t understand that the feeds and speeds for the starter project weren’t appropriate for Aluminium plate. I crashed the machine into the stock and it made very loud, very scary noises.
  • When I looked up proper feeds and speeds, all the ones provided for Nomad were Imperial and as a non-American, I only use metric and was a bit confused at first trying to convert them. It’d be great if the tables could be updated with metric conversions.
  • I ended up opening up the MDI and doing very shallow cuts into my stock to trial-and-error my way to something that worked.
  • The noise was still far too much. I had to do something about this.

At this point, controlling noise became my new project, as the machine just wasn’t viable in an apartment as-sold.

First, I thought it was just vibration from the bottom of the machine, so I added some anti-vibration foam pads. The desk stopped shaking but the noise was still horribly loud.

I Googled around and it looked like an enclosure was the best option. I checked other people’s builds and YouTube videos and settled on a box-in-box design made of MDF with noise absorbing foam on the sides and top and vibration-isolating foam pads on the bottom. This took quite a while to design and acquire materials for, as I’m in Switzerland and can’t easily just buy whatever I need from Amazon.

While I was waiting for the box, I started looking around forums (like this one) and YouTube. I discovered Winston’s fantastic videos, which gave me actual useful feeds and speeds for Fusion 360. I also read feedback that the ZrN-coated cutters were great and might be quieter, so I ordered a ton of them.

Once the box was finally assembled and my cutters arrived (a few weeks ago now), I tried out the machine in its enclosure and it was finally working and able to cut, but I wasn’t able to see into the enclosure since it was made of MDF. I added some LED strips and a Raspberry Pi with a camera and that problem was resolved.

I had a couple of problems with Carbide Motion apparently ignoring my zeroes but the forum helpfully suggested that that might be because the machine lost steps when I was zeroing and had no idea where it was.

And that brings us today. My recent problems are:

  • Due to the size of the bed, it’s difficult to hold large, flat workpieces. I bought the threaded table and clamps but had no idea how to use them. A few weeks later I saw Winston use them in a video and finally figured it out and was able to hold my stock.
  • Due to the limited stickout of the endmills and the thickness of the parts I want to produce, I’m forced to use multiple setups a lot and need to accurately re-zero. There isn’t a good solution for this:
    • The flip-jig isn’t nearly big enough
    • The paper method for zeroing isn’t precise enough
    • Most of the off-the shelf options don’t work
      • I’m yet to see a single “wiggler” edge-finder that’s compatible with the Nomad’s spindle speed range. There used to be one in the store I see but it’s long gone.
      • More expensive alternatives like Haimer’s Zero Master have shanks that are too thick for the Nomad’s ER-11 collet.
  • Due to the sound-isolating enclosure, the machine gets hot after a few hours of cutting.
  • There’s no built-in way to clear chips.
  • Chips tend to get everywhere, like on the lead screws and Y-axis rails.

And my next project is likely to be adding a fan or compressor to clear chips.

To conclude the feedback, I’m okay with the machine at this point but I don’t feel the machine as-sold meets the needs of the people I see it as being sold to (including myself):

  • It’s too loud to be used in a residential/office environment.
  • Despite the software and website appearing to be very beginner-friendly, aside from the starter tutorial, you’re kind of thrown in the deep end. There’s very little provided documentation on how exactly to use the thing. Perhaps the intent is that people will just open Carbide Create and use the default settings and maybe that works but I gave up on it very quickly because as a CAD solution, it’s just not very good. Fusion 360 is free.
  • Features I consider basic essentials like chip-clearing are completely missing and you’re left on your own to provide them.
  • The uncoated #102 endmill was (for me) prone to getting clogged with chips.

What I’d really like to see in order to resolve these issues is:

  • Carbide 3D should provide, either stock, as an upgrade that can be purchased in the shop or at least as a recommendation listed somewhere:
    • A relatively soundproof enclosure with some kind of cooling, made from a transparent material and/or with a webcam and lighting. It could be shipped IKEA-style. I imagine it’d end up being some Aluminium profile, some thick but transparent plastic sheets and some foam padding.
    • Some kind of chip-clearing solution.
    • Some kind of Nomad-compatible probe for zeroing (I’ve been eyeing this)
    • Something to keep chips away from leadscrews and rails (e.g. covers)
  • Winston’s videos should be featured prominently in the onboarding process, to help people get started.
  • Realistic expectations for noise should be set prior to purchase.
  • ZrN-coated endmills should be strongly pushed during the purchase flow, or one could be included in the basic package, or at least the starter set of endmills.

I’m sure I’ll get the machine into a state where it meets my needs in the not-too-distant future but I wanted to give this feedback so that maybe one day it’ll be able to Just Work™ out of the box, as I hoped it would.

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Hey Lucas,

Interesting post - sounds like you’ve had an interesting journey!

You bring up some good points, though I think some of your early expectations might have been somewhat optimistic… CNC’ing with metal is ripping tiny bits of metal from a larger bit of metal with another bit of metal spinning at 10,000 rpm. Even the idea of that is going to make a fair amount of noise :slight_smile:.

The marketing page does have a tone that probably encompasses more people than it should. It’s still a dangerous and technical exercise that requires the acquisition of certain knowledge and skills, despite all of the things the Nomad does out of the box.

However, for balance, its worth noting the marketing page also hints at some limitations/factors that you are listing as issues, for example, “Soft metals, like aluminum and brass up to .25” (ie: 6mm) thick cut well on the Nomad". (I mean the metal’s thickness, not the misspelling of aluminium :)) The working dimensions are also quite clearly specified too. And they suggest you contact them if you are considering purchasing so you can discuss your requirements.

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I think I understood that cutting metal was loud but you’re right, I was being overly optimistic. I read other people saying things like “it’s quiet enough” or “not much louder than a vacuum cleaner” and things like that. Combined with the emphasis on the machine having an enclosure, I assumed that the enclosure would diminish the noise somehow. It’s certainly possible in theory for an enclosure to drastically reduce the noise levels, I just didn’t understand how such an enclosure differs from the stock enclosure until I built one.

The working dimensions are also quite clearly specified too.

To be clear, my issue isn’t with work fitting into the machine, it’s that the endmills are too short to cut through thicker material in one setup.

I’m going to try cutting with the #203Z 1/4" ZrN endmill though, it has a long relieved shank, so should be able to cut the depths that I want it to.

And they suggest you contact them if you are considering purchasing so you can discuss your requirements.

I did contact support prior to purchasing but only asked about the spindle power and cutting thicker materials, which they replied was totally doable, it’d just be slow and I’d need to make sure my endmill doesn’t rub against the edges.

You can get longer endmills. List at:

https://wiki.shapeoko.com/index.php/Endmills#Long_endmills

Note that there is an upper limit on how long an endmill can be and still work with the tool length sensor and Carbide Motion.

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Those manufacturers recommend those mills for woods, plastics and composites rather than metals. Is it safe to use them on Aluminium?

Great write up, thanks for sharing. I just recently got my hands on a used nomad and I was right there with you on machine sound. It definitely made sense that a lead screw driven CNC machine would be loud but the information out there does tend to over promise. I found myself watching Winston’s videos and wishing he would cut to the machine sound more often.

That actually reminds me of another point: moving the axes is actually one of the loudest things. When the machine is in its enclosure, I can usually hear the axes moving louder than I can hear the cutter.

Have you lubricated your machine recently?

Good question (on the long endmills material selection) — I bought mine for cutting Ipê — will have to risk one and see.

I recently moved around the blobs of lubricant that were left on the screws when I received the machine, so that they’d get picked up by carriage movement, didn’t help.

I’m not too clear on where I can buy that particular brand of oil in Switzerland. I’ve contacted the German distributor to see if they’ll sell me some.

It’s used in sewing machines — do you have a local vendor for those?

Yes, if generic sewing machine oil is fine, I can obtain that easily.

Please don’t use generic sewing machine oil — this specific oil is used on certain sewing machines — please check with your local sewing machine shop and see if they have it in stock.

I managed to find the recommended lubricant on Amazon UK, but boy was it expensive (£18 per tube).

It lasts a long time, though. I’m happy to buy you a tube and post it to Schweiz if you think your machine needs a little lubrication.

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Thats a pretty good writeup! First things first - edge finding. I know Carbide3d used to sell a 1/4” shank wiggler edge finder that ran on the Nomad but couldn’t find it on their shop after looking (admittedly briefly). The one you want is made by Fisher Tools and is sold in various places:
https://littlemachineshop.com/products/product_view.php?ProductID=1961

For precision Z zeroing using a feeler gauge in the same way as the paper and then adjusting the zero to take into account the thickness of the guage works more accurately for me. One can do the same procedure with measuring the paper thickness but I find it varies more.

I too have dreams of Haimer style indicating but the big restriction tends to be (a) the shaft size and (b) the available Z height is insufficient to fit one in and clear the height of most material I use. If one was made it would have to specifically made for minimum height. One day I may get to it.

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Wait a minute, am I hearing a product request for the Nomad??! I’m on it! :cowboy_hat_face:

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I use a touch probe from vers.by on my Shapeoko, It has a 6mm shaft. I have their WL model (Wireless with replaceable battery), but looks like they only offer their rechargeable (WLR) and wired (PR) version now. I would just make sure you have enough Z travel for clearance.

Specs: https://vers.by/en/blog/user-guides/vers-wlr

PS, those Edge Finders should be operated at relatively low RPM (~1000), the Nomad is only spec’d as low as 2K RPM.

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@Gerry thanks a lot for the offer! I’ll wait to see if I can hear back from the German distributor though. It also occurred to me that although it makes no sense to ship it here from the US on its own, I could ship it with a larger package, as long as it’s fine to airmail.

@WillAdams I found an Irish distributor that will ship to me for a not-too-insane price but they don’t stock the precise variant of lubricant that was linked, rather they sell “synthetic lubricant” in a spray can or “synthetic grease” in a tube. Will any of these products work?

I also found a Polish distributor that appears to have the precise variant linked but they wanted to charge ~$70 USD for shipping to Switzerland.

@PhilG Are you sure that the linked edge finder is the same variant, that’s safe to be run at 1500rpm?

On the zeroing, I’ll try the feeler-gauge. I ran into the same problems looking at more advanced indicators but the sensor I linked should only stick out 70mm total. I think we could get around it a bit as well with a precisely-machined holder that can go on the Z-axis carriage. This way you’d give up a bit of range on the Y-axis. @TonyDangerCoiro also pointed me to the C8-ER16A-100L, which gives me a larger collet so more flexibility with diameters. It was $8 on AliExpress.

@DanStory thanks for the link, that looks great! It should fit in the standard collet, only sticks out 63mm and it’s cheaper than the one I was looking at as well.

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The grease form is what we use to pack the bearings with in the first place.

Please contact us at support@carbide3d.com and we’ll do our best to work through this with you.

The Wired version is a little shorter at 52mm but the interface is limited on configuration. You will also mostly likely have to split the single probe input a Grbl (Carbide Motion Board) can support, much like they have to do with the Shapeoko BitSetter+Probe.

While the WLR probe supports a tool setter input to join the signals as one (either probe will trip the input) it expects it to be a Normally Closed (NC) tool setter circuit, which I doubt the Nomad uses for it’s tool setter (coming from Shapeoko’s experience). They also offer a converter that you might have to use to convert a NO to NC switch, or if you have the electrics wizardry to do yourself.

Also, third party accessories like these are not going to be supported in Carbide Motion, I don’t know what probing cycles Motion has on the Nomad, but it is going to need to know the tip diameter so you will either have use the MDI and/or manually adjust the DRO when you probe. Alternatively you could use a different g-code sender like CNCjs or Universal G-Code Sender but have to configure and script tool changing and probing operations (might be some sources out there to ease this upfront effort)

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