Starter machine

Good morning folks,

Looking to start a cnc business up, mostly wood to start out with but I’m currently working in metal fabrication and see that that’s where it would end up going (hopefully) so I’d like to be able to do nice aluminum parts too. There’s a SO3 XL, and a few SO3 xxl around me that are used. Would it be good to start off with a cheaper, older used machine or wait for a SO4/pro?

If you’re ultimately planning on cutting parts out of aluminum, save yourself all the headaches and just get the HDM. I know it’s MUCH more expensive than a used so4 or pro, but you’ll save so much in a long run. There’s a huge difference in a capabilities of a belt vs screw driven machine. Both can cut aluminum, but you’ll get much more consistent results from the HDM.

I bought a so3 couple years back, invested so much into upgrading it to linear rails and ballscrews. That took money, time and lots of mistakes were made in the process. Honestly, going a diy route I would’ve been better off just building a printnc but it wasn’t available back in a day. Same concept but the frame is made of steel. If you’re going to use it for business just start with the best possible option. Get the HDM and if you’re not satisfied I’m sure you’ll find a buyer in no time.

Just my 2c.

My first project on my Launch edition SO3 (serial #0006) was in aluminum:

and folks have done quite well w/ SO3s:

The big determination should be time constraints — if you can trade a reduction in machining time and an increase in productivity into money, then yes, the newer machine which can cut faster/deeper is what you need — if a lower-priced machine is where you are at financially to get started, you can allow for more time in machining, taking a lighter, slower cut and still get good results.

We will gladly support you either way and do our best to assist.

It also depends on whether you already have CNC experience?
There are quite a lot of things to learn, so if you have the opportunity to get some machine time on one of the older SO3s around you, I would definitely start there and practice for a while, make the most common mistakes, and then make up your mind about which shiny new machine to get. This would also serve as a baseline for you to understand the machining times that each machine allows. I’m not sure if any data was ever shared about relative productivity, and I have no data to back this up so take this with a grain of salt, but my feeling is that with a Pro you can roughly double the material removal rate compared to a regular SO4, and with the HDM you can probably double it compared the Pro, and/or get better finish (due to the increased rigidity) if that matters for you.

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I think a Shapeoko or the like is a low money and relatively painless way to introduce oneself to computer-controlled router work. You can make mistakes and learn with very little in the way of repercussions. While learning, you can keep an eye out for commercial grade machinery better suited for commercial use. Provided you have the space, vintage non-desktop equipment is plentiful, and can be very cheap… sometimes free.

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Here are my thoughts as relatively new owner and new CNC user. They don’t answer any questions because you’re the only one that can judge your budget vs. your needs vs. your business plan.

It sounds like the HDM is a good option for aluminum if time and efficiency are important (which is most likely the case for a startup business). If not, I’m finding that the Pro is quite capable of cutting aluminum parts to reasonable accuracy.

When looking at the HDM vs. the Pro (and SO3 in this respect), you should also consider machinable dimensions you get with each. A lot of the people who work with wood here might have a hard time on a HDM due to the size of some of their projects. For me, largely working in aluminum, the Pro XL has been a good size. When I bought it, the HDM was on a ~6 month lead time so I didn’t even consider it. Had both been available for immediate shipping, I probably would have gone with the HDM just in case I needed the extra power but luckily I’ll probably never know what I’m missing.

As far as the SO3, I can’t comment because I have never used one.

Another thing to consider in your budget: there’s a very good chance that if you are machining aluminum commercially, you’ll want to get at least a single Saunders Machine Works fixture plate and vise. I personally have a full set of the fixture plates and 3 vises to allow me to secure long pieces of aluminum. This adds a fair bit of $$ to the purchase price but it also adds a great deal of rigidity and repeatability that I found was key in my happiness.

I mostly machine wood on my 2016 Shapeoko xxl purchased used in 2019. I see xxl machines on forum for around $1500. Where I live hobby cnc machines seldom come up on craigslist and when they do they are not there long.

Since you are not in business for yourself right now the idea of starting cheaper is a good idea. Your production wont need to be as good in terms of time while getting your feet wet. If things dont work out you should be able to resell your machine for what you paid for it. On the other hand if you are sure of what will happen then put your $5000.00 on an HDM. Again if it does not work out you can sell at likely a larger percentage loss compated to a used one with a lower price to start with.

Starting a side hustle would seem to be a good idea right now. Some predict a recession possible in the next 2 years. You could lose your primary job and have something to keep catsup and hot water in the house for tomato soup. I have been through many bust boom cycles but the one thing you should be able to rely on is yourself.

One more thing to consider is inflation. The official numbers are not reflecting the real numbers. With prices increasing eventually the c3d machines will increase in price. The used market will likely remain stable in price due to people underestimating the value. Plus if we have a recession people will need to liquidate assets especially hobby stuff to make ends meet.

So my advise is covering both sides of buying new or used. Since it is your money you have to spend it wisely. My suggestion is buy used, get your feet wet and see what happens. Afterall maybe rainbows and unicorns will breakout every where but I doubt it. Hope for the best plan for the worst.

On youtube Izzy Swan has a video about making a million dollars a year with a cnc. He debunks that possibility with hard facts.

Not sure that I can help from a machine perspective (I own a S04 XXL and love it) but I have started several successful businesses and have found that minimizing your burn rate (i.e. cash outflow) as you figure things out is critical. Small businesses almost always run into unexpected expenses (insurance!) and economic challenges. Having a lower overhead is always critically helpful during these times. This having been said, I would err towards the lower cost options even if it means a slower rate of production until you have your market, machining practices and economics figured out.

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Afternoon folks,

Thank you for all of you that have commented and shared support, I’ll try to pick up this Shapeoko 3 XL on Friday, it seems like all I’ll need to get started, and it looks to have the Z+ upgrade.

However I’d like to upgrade to a 2.2kw spindle, mist/flood coolant system, and some SMW plates. To get it all fine tuned to my liking.

For a 2.2KW spindle you should get an HDZ.

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Your ears and sanity will thank you for replacing a router with a water cooled spindle. Same goes for a low noise dust extractor (preferably with decent filtration) for cutting wood.

As for coolant, you’d likely need to build a complete catch basin and remove all the MDF to go to flood coolant. There’s quite a few folks using fogbuster type mist coolants, but again, replacing the MDF wasteboard with an Aluminium fixture plate is a good idea even with mist coolants.

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