Upgrading Stepper Motors

Is it possible to upgrade my stepper motors to Nema 34? Also, would I gain noticeable performance/rigidity? I’d like to cut/carve through 1.5" thick aluminum.

You could theoretically connect them to the controller but you won’t be able to install them on to the x/y plates. They’re massive compared to nema23 and they require much more power than your 24v power supply delivers. You can cut aluminum with a stock setup without any issues just have to be smart about it. Follow Vince Ramirez posts to see how its done. Don’t get me wrong but if you’re asking this kind of question, believing that installing HUGE motors will solve your problem, you have a lot to learn, so I’d suggest reading through the most popular ‘aluminum topics’ on this forum. This forum is a great resource for anyone looking to cut aluminum on a desktop cnc.


You can cut aluminum w/ NEMA17 motors as was done back in the Shapeoko 1 days, or see this Nomad project:

As @BartK noted, the biggest consideration for a desktop CNC machine is learning the machine’s limits and how to work within them — once you’ve fully grokked that you’ll be ready to consider upgrading. Upgrades arranged in bang-for-buck order:

  • belts — the 6mm to 9mm upgrade was an obvious improvement, with no drawbacks. Better quality belts will help as well (if not running Gates branded belts, get them from SDP/SI or BB Man. or some similar reputable source). Different materials have different tradeoffs and work well for some folks
  • aluminum wasteboard — big improvement in rigidity, no drawbacks aside from expense and the nerve-wracking worry over dinging it (I don’t use the one on my Nomad until I’ve tested out a file with the MDF in place)
  • upgraded Z-axis — the improvement on Z-axis rigidity and accuracy/precision works well, but creates the possibility of a crash doing more than skipping steps on the motors or belts

Beyond those upgrades, the tradeoffs in cost/convenience begin to argue for replacing the machine — the X-Carve folks do this sort of thing a lot, and we used to do it on this side of the house back in the SO1/2 days (Brandon Fischer rebuild his SO1 from leftover parts after finishing his last upgrade), and my own SO1 had upgrades on all 3 axes (Y: shaft drive for double belts, X: double Makerslide, Z: Acme screw), but there’s a lot of work which can be done w/in the machine’s limits before starting on that road:

The big thing to remember is you’re not going to power through cuts on a machine with aluminum rails and plastic wheels — a more nuanced approach to feeds and speeds and toolpaths is required — if you don’t have CAM which does adaptive/trochoidal milling, that’s the biggest upgrade.


I suspect upgrading the spindle would fall either right above, or right below aluminum wasteboard, depending on which spindle it is — certainly it was an obvious thing to do back in the SO1/2 days, but not so easy to justify now that a trim router (which is a surprisingly good value) is standard.


The steppers are an issue for surface finish and rapid speed (ie. when not cutting), the spindle has much more to do with how deep a cut you can make. You CAN cut 1.5" aluminum with a stock SO3, you just have to work within the DOC you can get away with for that amount of power, with that size endmill. It’s honestly not a problem. See the amazing stuff Vince has made.

That said, there are higher holding 23’s that fit (they’re longer, not wider), but you need more powerful drivers as well, and as soon as you go there you’re realistically talking about a different controller board that won’t work with carbide motion. It’s not a trivial task, but it’s not very difficult either.


@WillAdams I already upgraded my router to a 2.2KW water-cooled spindle. Also added an XXL size Fixture table custom metal aluminum plate, and a mist cooling lubrication spray system cool sprayer to cool off the bit and the workpiece.

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