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hacksaw44
03-15-2012, 01:25 PM
Hey guys, going to start a Router build and the one I am working on is a Pilot Pro by PDJ . I am wondering about software. I have Mach3 to run it but was wondering on Turbocad or Autocad. Wanting to do different shapes other than just flat cuts ( If I am describing this correctly ). Any help would be greatly appreciated .

datac
03-15-2012, 02:49 PM
Well Hacksaw, there is no "best". I bet most here use a gaggle of different programs to achieve their goals. If your goals are to make things that have basic geometric shapes, a decent 2d (or 3d) Cad program will be a must. The good news there is you can find that inexpensively. Myself, I'd take Autosketch or Punchcad (both under $100) over TurboCad any day when it comes to being inexpensive yet fully, fully capable.

If your hoping to do things that are more artistic, then you may try an old version of Corel Draw (payware), or you can do pretty well with the freeware vector programs like OpenOffice Draw or Inkscape.

In either case above, you will essentially need to export your drawings into a program that will create your G-Code to run the machine. This is typically referred to as a Cam program. You should be able to use a DXF to G-code converter, but it can get difficult depending on what you want to make. True, low budget Cam programs exist out there... Sheetcam is one on the top of my head for 2.5D.... I think Inkscape has a G-code add-on for free. Of course, sometimes free just means user headaches.

For a little bit of hard earned cash, you probably just can't beat purchasing VCarve from Vectric (or Aspire). You can import all sorts of stuff into it, you can draw your basic geometric shapes in it, and you can create artistic work in it. The best part is you can also create your G-code in it that's ready to send to your machine.

Above all that stuff you find the true "Cad/Cam" programs, which start around the $1000 mark and work their way up to many thousands of dollars per user. "Best" really doesn't exist. What various people call best (for them) can be found in arguments all over the forums.

hacksaw44
03-15-2012, 04:22 PM
Wow nice reply. I guess I didn't mean Best just trying to get a feel for what I need. Been thinking of this project for a while and really want to get started on it.

DonFrambach
03-15-2012, 05:05 PM
I'm a huge fan of the Vectric software. They have a number of different products all with demo's you can download from their website. You might find their Cut 2D (for $149) to be a good place to start. Here's a link: Cut 2D - Overview | 2D Hobby CNC Machining | Contour machining | Text Engraving (http://www.vectric.com/WebSite/Vectric/cut2D/c2d_index.htm)

brtech
03-15-2012, 05:16 PM
For design, it's hard to beat free. Google Sketchup is awesome. The free version requires a hack plugin to export dxf, but lots of DIY is done that way. If you have experience with Autocad or another older CAD program, it's often hard to make the switch to the way Sketchup works.

For CAM, Sheetcam is okay, lots of folks like the Vectric products. I'm a Cambam fan. There is also Meshcam. There are a couple of freebie CAM things out there, but none of them met my needs so far.

vtx1029
03-15-2012, 05:35 PM
I like the vetric software as well. Its pretty easy to learn IMO and if drawing in 2d I mostly just draw it up in it also..

jckstrthmghty
03-15-2012, 05:35 PM
If you are like me and have limited experience designing with vectors graphics Cut2D is awesome.

louieatienza
03-15-2012, 06:48 PM
You can use TurboCAD or AutoCAD to make 3D models, but then you need 3D CAM software to create toolpaths. There are some free (HeeksCAM, CNC Toolkit), some shareware (CAM BAM), some basic 3D art stuff (Cut3D, MeshCAM, ArtCAM), some more expensive 3D art stuff (Aspire, ArtCAM Pro, DeskProto, MeshCAM Art), and then you have 3D model geometry-based machining (VisualMill, BobCAM, OneCNC, SurfCAM, GibbsCAM, etc.)

A lot of the decision will be based on what you are making. If you are doing 3D relief signs, then maybe Aspire (over $2000), ArtCAM (from $149-$7500), or VCarve Pro (about $600) and free VectorArt3D software or Cut3D ($300) may be right for you. If you are making 2.5D (pockets and profiles) parts, then PhlatScript (free, need SketchUp), CamBam, Cut2D should be fine. If you are making prototype parts, jewelry, work mainly with STL files, then Cut3D, DeskProto, MeshCAM might be right for you. If you are making machine parts, mechanical parts, or otherwise geometry-based parts where accuracy is important, you'll need a more robust 3D CAM solution (VisualMill, OneCNC, BobCAM) - and be prepared for the cost!

While you could take any 3D file form and convert it to STL, depending on the part you're making, it may not be accurate enough because you cannot selectively machine surfaces with an STL file... STL may be great for a relief carvev, but not so good if you need to machine a bevel gear, for example...

As for free... Tried CamBam, not the easiest software, but there's a guy in the CamBam forum making wristwatches with it! OneCNC is as wasy as 3D gets, and the price reflects that! CNC Toolkit is not easy, but has support for 5-axis. The problem with it is you need 3D Studio MAX, which is NOT free! VisualMill is probably the most feature-filled CAM for the money.

But basically, your CAM sftware will be determined by your needs.

ger21
03-15-2012, 06:56 PM
If you are making machine parts, mechanical parts, or otherwise geometry-based parts where accuracy is important, you'll need a more robust 3D CAM solution

A great many mechanical parts can be machined with basic 2D drawings and simple or free 2.5D CAM software, and be just as accurate as an expensive 3D CAM program using a solid model.


CNC Toolkit is not easy, but has support for 5-axis. The problem with it is you need 3D Studio MAX, which is NOT free!

It also works in GMAX, which is free. But it's still not easy. :)

louieatienza
03-15-2012, 07:21 PM
A great many mechanical parts can be machined with basic 2D drawings and simple or free 2.5D CAM software, and be just as accurate as an expensive 3D CAM program using a solid model.

Yes, provided your parts ARE 2.5D. Since the OP mentioned doing cuts other than flat cuts (which I take to be pockets and profiles) I assumed he meant parts with 3D surfaces... I have cut wooden clock parts for a friend using only Cut2D very easily, and the parts came out well.

zool
03-15-2012, 08:32 PM
Like other have stated: There is no best.

What I found is that my needs have evolved as I have grown more able with CAD, CAM and all things CNC.

I started with Alibre, but it was too much.

GMAX and CNC Tool Kit are stunningly versatile and open-source [free], the learning curve is steep. I have been workign with it for about a year on and off, and am now starting to produce shapes and "air machine" machine them.

If you want immediate results:

1. Google SketchUp, coupled with the many many great plugs ins, fulfills all my needs right now. Simple to learn, great tutorials from everywhere [Fine Woodworking and Popular Woodworking each have great blogs on SketchUp]

2. Cam Bam for both 2D and 3D. Very capable program and very helpful forum, plus the inventor is heavily involved on a day-to-day basis. 40 free uses before you have to buy.

adprinter
03-16-2012, 03:30 PM
Hey guys, going to start a Router build and the one I am working on is a Pilot Pro by PDJ . I am wondering about software. I have Mach3 to run it but was wondering on Turbocad or Autocad. Wanting to do different shapes other than just flat cuts ( If I am describing this correctly ). Any help would be greatly appreciated .

Like others have suggested on here, there are many options available. And they ALL depend on what you want to do. The "Best" software to use, just doesn't seem to exist. Each has it's own strengths, and weaknesses in terms of ease of use, learning curve involved, and capabilities. Personally, I may use as many as 5 different programs to achieve a finished piece. Say for example, I want to carve a 3D plaque as a memorial for someone who has passed. I start out designing the basic artwork in Corel Draw, (a vector-based graphics program), and assign various colors to the different areas of the drawing to be used in defining the 3D shapes later in another program called MeshCAM Art.
I decide on the size needed for the plaque, and adjust the page size in Corel Draw to match the desired plaque size. After getting the artwork drawn (and colored) to my liking, I then copy the artwork to a second page in Corel Draw (to preserve the positioning of the drawing) and create the text to be engraved on the plaque. I use Corel Draw's text capabilities to arrange the text on the drawing.

Here is where things begin to really get complex- since text items imported into DXF type files come in as outlines of the text characters, they are pretty much worthless. For text items (which are to be engraved), I have created "Copies" of various fonts I use in Corel Draw, which are actually Bezier curves of each character in the font. So, I open the file which contains these Bezier curves -"Simulated Fonts", and copy them onto the desktop of the original artwork drawing document (desktop- is the area of the screen OUTSIDE the page border of the document).
Then copy EACH individual character, and drag them onto the position of the text items in the drawing, resize and rotate as needed, until they fit exactly onto the letters in the drawing. Once I have done this, for all the letters, I then select the actual text letters in the document and DELETE them. True, this is a real time-consuming painful way of doing things.

The reasons for doing it in exactly this way are:
1-Corel Draw has some powerful capabilities in placement of text, wrap across a circular arc, or fit the text to a unique shaped path such as an S curve, etc. So, I use this "Strength" in Corel to achieve the proper typography of the lettering for the engraving operation of this plaque.
2-As mentioned, all text comes into DXF files as Outlines of the actual fonts used. Rendering very small characters unreadable, when actually engraved on the CNC (because the lines which form the outline of the fonts are so close together, that the cutter just routs out a hole in the plaque, instead of forming the actual letters).
3-The hand-drawn Bezier curve "Copies" of the fonts used in the document, come into the DXF files preserved as single-line "Simulated Fonts". This results in a clean engraving of the letters' actual shape (instead of the Outline which would result from using actual Fonts).

Continuing in Corel Draw- After placing all of the Simulated Font characters on the artwork drawing, I then select the artwork drawing (remember, that we are working with a COPY of the actual artwork drawing on a second page in Corel Draw), and DELETE the drawing. I then select all of the Bezier curve Simulated Font characters, and group them into a single object. I then use the Rectangle tool to create a rectangle around the Simulated Font which is equal in size, to the dimensions of the artwork drawing. I click the Simulated Font group, and the rectangle to select both, and Group them together as a single object.

With this object still selected, I then use the File Export function in Corel Draw, and Export the selected object as a HPGL.PLT file. This preserves the scaling of the object to it's actual size. I give this PLT file a name which matches the plaque to be engraved, such as "Plaque.PLT". This file will be used later, using another program which comes with Mach3, called LazyCAM Pro (IF you opted for this package when purchasing Mach3, if not, I highly recommend you upgrade to this option!).

NOW, that we have taken care of the engraving portion of the plaque, let's continue with the 3D portion. Navigate in Corel Draw back to page 1, which contains the original artwork drawing. Click on it, to select it and click on File, Export, and select Portable Network Graphics.PNG format. A window will open with other options to specify the resolution of the image, etc. I use 200 DPI resolution. Make certain that the Interlace option is unchecked, And give it a name which matches the plaque such as Plaque.PNG At this point, I close Corel Draw (and answer the Save As question as Plaque.CDR to save the original artwork file).

I then launch MeshCAM Art, and load the Plaque.PNG file which opens a window which prompts the user for the X size, I enter the exact X dimension of the original artwork drawing (width), the Y dimension is automatically filled in (since MeshCAM's default setting is to preserve aspect ratio). I then click on the Allow Resize button, and then click the Resolution and enter 85 DPI. (Remember that we exported the image from Corel Draw as a 200 DPI image file- this high resolution will push the limits of your computer, and MeshCAM Art's capabilities- so REDUCE the resolution here to 85 DPI or less!).

Next, click on the set Black as NEGATIVE Z. The image will open into MeshCAM Art. There is a lot going on here, as MeshCAM Art has a lot of math processes going on, so be patient until the image, and ALL of the menu items have been redrawn to the screen. I always begin, by holding the Shift key, and left-clicking on the image to Zoom out slightly. (and then again WAIT until the screen redraws), and then left-click on the screen area below the image and drag the mouse upward (which tilts the image in such a way as to make the bottom of the image appear closest to you, and the top furthest away from you).

I then zoom back in on the image by clicking View, Fit to Screen. FINALLY, we are ready to begin the editing process!
Click on the Relief button at the top of the screen, to open a drop-down menu, and click on Flatten Image option. Your image will seem to dissappear! Don't worry, it's still there, it is just that all heights have been set to a flat plane. Again click on the Relief button at the top of the screen, and click on the Shape Editor option.

A new window will open, with a full color image of your artwork, and a bar along the right side of this image containing the various colors used in the image (up to 32 colors). The colors can be selected by either clicking on the color bar, or directly on the desired color in the image itself. Click OK, and the Shape Editor window opens. Where you can select the desired shapes Round, Angle, or Flat. The desired angle, starting height, height limit, and Add or Subtract. Click OK to execute.

This is where the "Sculpting" process is achieved, by experimenting with the different settings for each color in the image. After a few seconds of processing (or even a few Minutes depending on the complexity of the shape), a 3D representation of the result will appear on the screen. Continue this process for all of the colors in the image until you have achieved the desired result. Then click on the create toolpath button on the left side of the screen, and enter the desired tooling information for the Roughing Tool and Finishing Tools. And click OK to generate the toolpaths.

After a few minutes of processing, a 3D Mesh will appear on the image. Click on the Save Toolpath and give it a name which matches your project such as Plaque.NC
We are now ready to exit from MeshCAM Art, and launch Mach3.
Once Mach3 has launched, click on the Load File button, and navigate to the folder where you saved the Plaque.NC file to load it into Mach3. Load your stock onto your table, and set the Zero to the lower left corner of area of the stock where you wish to begin the carving. Also set the Z zero to the surface of the Stock. Navigate to the Toolpath Screen in Mach3, and click on Simulate Toolpath Cycle.

You want to Pay attention to the Status bar at the bottom of the screen, which will read Roughing, when you see the message change to Finishing, glance up at the Elapsed time. This will give you an estimate of what time the tool change will occur. Once the Simulation has completed, navigate back to the Program Screen in Mach3, and Click Cycle Start to begin carving the 3D portion of the plaque. Once the 3D carving has completed, click on File LazyCAM to launch it. Once LazyCAM has loaded, click on File, Open Vector file, and navigate to the folder where you saved the Plaque.PLT file and select it to open it.

When the file has finished loading into LazyCAM, click on the Reset Origin to Minimum (which sets it to the lower-left corner of the image). Then click on the Autoclean button at the top of the screen. This will create separate layers for the objects which are Inside the rectangle, and the Outside will be the rectangle itself.

Click on the first layer in the Project list, which will appear along the left side of the screen, and select the desired cutting tool to be used for the engraving, and select Send to All Layers option. Click the Layers button along the bottom of the screen, and enter the desired cutting depth information (rapid=0.1", start=0.0", depth=0.05") and Set Layer, Set All Layers option.

Click on the Outside Layer from the project list along the left side of the screen, and set the cutting depth (rapid=0.1",start=0.1",depth=0.1") which will create a toolpath with follows the outer edge of the shape, without actually cutting anything. I frequently do things in this way, and then once I have completed the engraving operation, go back into LazyCAM and select the engraving letters to delete them, and work with just the rectangle to create Offsets for using special bits like molding cutters, etc. for decorative purposes to carve a "Frame" around the plaque, etc.

Or even adjust the cutting depth to be almost equal to the stock thickness for actually cutting the plaque out. LazyCAM Pro is a very useful control tool in the shop! Sorry for the BOOK about all of this, but I hope that you find it useful!

harryn
03-16-2012, 03:44 PM
Wow - lots of info.

adprinter - your post has so much info it is amazing. I will admit though, it would be easier to read if there were a few more paragraph breaks in it.

Can you add a few more line spaces in there to make it an easier read ?

Thanks

Harry

louieatienza
03-16-2012, 07:58 PM
Like others have suggested on here, there are many options available. And they ALL depend on what you want to do. The "Best" software to use, just doesn't seem to exist. Each has it's own strengths, and weaknesses in terms of ease of use, learning curve involved, and capabilities. Personally, I may use as many as 5 different programs to achieve a finished piece. Say for example, I want to carve a 3D plaque as a memorial for someone who has passed. I start out designing the basic artwork in Corel Draw, (a vector-based graphics program), and assign various colors to the different areas of the drawing to be used in defining the 3D shapes later in another program called MeshCAM Art. I decide on the size needed for the plaque, and adjust the page size in Corel Draw to match the desired plaque size. After getting the artwork drawn (and colored) to my liking, I then copy the artwork to a second page in Corel Draw (to preserve the positioning of the drawing) and create the text to be engraved on the plaque. I use Corel Draw's text capabilities to arrange the text on the drawing. Here is where things begin to really get complex- since text items imported into DXF type files come in as outlines of the text characters, they are pretty much worthless. For text items (which are to be engraved), I have created "Copies" of various fonts I use in Corel Draw, which are actually Bezier curves of each character in the font. So, I open the file which contains these Bezier curves -"Simulated Fonts", and copy them onto the desktop of the original artwork drawing document (desktop- is the area of the screen OUTSIDE the page border of the document). Then copy EACH individual character, and drag them onto the position of the text items in the drawing, resize and rotate as needed, until they fit exactly onto the letters in the drawing. Once I have done this, for all the letters, I then select the actual text letters in the document and DELETE them. True, this is a real time-consuming painful way of doing things.
The reasons for doing it in exactly this way are:
1-Corel Draw has some powerful capabilities in placement of text, wrap across a circular arc, or fit the text to a unique shaped path such as an S curve, etc. So, I use this "Strength" in Corel to achieve the proper typography of the lettering for the engraving operation of this plaque.
2-As mentioned, all text comes into DXF files as Outlines of the actual fonts used. Rendering very small characters unreadable, when actually engraved on the CNC (because the lines which form the outline of the fonts are so close together, that the cutter just routs out a hole in the plaque, instead of forming the actual letters).
3-The hand-drawn Bezier curve "Copies" of the fonts used in the document, come into the DXF files preserved as single-line "Simulated Fonts". This results in a clean engraving of the letters' actual shape (instead of the Outline which would result from using actual Fonts).

Continuing in Corel Draw- After placing all of the Simulated Font characters on the artwork drawing, I then select the artwork drawing (remember, that we are working with a COPY of the actual artwork drawing on a second page in Corel Draw), and DELETE the drawing. I then select all of the Bezier curve Simulated Font characters, and group them into a single object. I then use the Rectangle tool to create a rectangle around the Simulated Font which is equal in size, to the dimensions of the artwork drawing. I click the Simulated Font group, and the rectangle to select both, and Group them together as a single object. With this object still selected, I then use the File Export function in Corel Draw, and Export the selected object as a HPGL.PLT file. This preserves the scaling of the object to it's actual size. I give this PLT file a name which matches the plaque to be engraved, such as "Plaque.PLT". This file will be used later, using another program which comes with Mach3, called LazyCAM Pro (IF you opted for this package when purchasing Mach3, if not, I highly recommend you upgrade to this option!).
NOW, that we have taken care of the engraving portion of the plaque, let's continue with the 3D portion. Navigate in Corel Draw back to page 1, which contains the original artwork drawing. Click on it, to select it and click on File, Export, and select Portable Network Graphics.PNG format. A window will open with other options to specify the resolution of the image, etc. I use 200 DPI resolution. Make certain that the Interlace option is unchecked, And give it a name which matches the plaque such as Plaque.PNG At this point, I close Corel Draw (and answer the Save As question as Plaque.CDR to save the original artwork file). I then launch MeshCAM Art, and load the Plaque.PNG file which opens a window which prompts the user for the X size, I enter the exact X dimension of the original artwork drawing (width), the Y dimension is automatically filled in (since MeshCAM's default setting is to preserve aspect ratio). I then click on the Allow Resize button, and then click the Resolution and enter 85 DPI. (Remember that we exported the image from Corel Draw as a 200 DPI image file- this high resolution will push the limits of your computer, and MeshCAM Art's capabilities- so REDUCE the resolution here to 85 DPI or less!). Next, click on the set Black as NEGATIVE Z. The image will open into MeshCAM Art. There is a lot going on here, as MeshCAM Art has a lot of math processes going on, so be patient until the image, and ALL of the menu items have been redrawn to the screen. I always begin, by holding the Shift key, and left-clicking on the image to Zoom out slightly. (and then again WAIT until the screen redraws), and then left-click on the screen area below the image and drag the mouse upward (which tilts the image in such a way as to make the bottom of the image appear closest to you, and the top furthest away from you). I then zoom back in on the image by clicking View, Fit to Screen. FINALLY, we are ready to begin the editing process!
Click on the Relief button at the top of the screen, to open a drop-down menu, and click on Flatten Image option. Your image will seem to dissappear! Don't worry, it's still there, it is just that all heights have been set to a flat plane. Again click on the Relief button at the top of the screen, and click on the Shape Editor option. A new window will open, with a full color image of your artwork, and a bar along the right side of this image containing the various colors used in the image (up to 32 colors). The colors can be selected by either clicking on the color bar, or directly on the desired color in the image itself. Click OK, and the Shape Editor window opens. Where you can select the desired shapes Round, Angle, or Flat. The desired angle, starting height, height limit, and Add or Subtract. Click OK to execute. This is where the Sculpting process is achieved, by experimenting with the different settings for each color in the image. After a few seconds of processing (or even a few Minutes depending on the complexity of the shape), a 3D representation of the result will appear on the screen. Continue this process for all of the colors in the image until you have achieved the desired result. Then click on the create toolpath button on the left side of the screen, and enter the desired tooling information for the Roughing Tool and Finishing Tools. And click OK to generate the toolpaths. After a few minutes of processing, a 3D Mesh will appear on the image. Click on the Save Toolpath and give it a name which matches your project such as Plaque.NC
We are now ready to exit from MeshCAM Art, and launch Mach3.
Once Mach3 has launched, click on the Load File button, and navigate to the folder where you saved the Plaque.NC file to load it into Mach3. Load your stock onto your table, and set the Zero to the lower left corner of area of the stock where you wish to begin the carving. Also set the Z zero to the surface of the Stock. Navigate to the Toolpath Screen in Mach3, and click on Simulate Toolpath Cycle. Pay attention to the Status bar at the bottom of the screen, which will read Roughing, when you see the message change to Finishing, glance up at the Elapsed time. This will give you an estimate of what time the tool change will occur. Once the Simulation has completed, navigate back to the Program Screen in Mach3, and Click Cycle Start to begin carving the 3D portion of the plaque. Once the 3D carving has completed, click on File LazyCAM to launch it. Once LazyCAM has loaded, click on File, Open Vector file, and navigate to the folder where you saved the Plaque.PLT file and select it to open it.
When the file has finished loading into LazyCAM, click on the Reset Origin to Minimum (which sets it to the lower-left corner of the image). Then click on the Autoclean button at the top of the screen. This will create separate layers for the objects which are Inside the rectangle, and the Outside will be the rectangle itself. Click on the first layer in the Project list, which will appear along the left side of the screen, and select the desired cutting tool to be used for the engraving, and select Send to All Layers option. Click the Layers button along the bottom of the screen, and enter the desired cutting depth information (rapid=0.1", start=0.0", depth=0.05") and Set Layer, Set All Layers option. Click on the Outside Layer from the project list along the left side of the screen, and set the cutting depth (rapid=0.1",start=0.1",depth=0.1") which will create a toolpath with follows the outer edge of the shape, without actually cutting anything. I frequently do things in this way, and then once I have completed the engraving operation, go back into LazyCAM and select the engraving letters to delete them, and work with just the rectangle to create Offsets for using special bits like molding cutters, etc. for decorative purposes to carve a "Frame" around the plaque, etc. Or even adjust the cutting depth to be equal to the stock thickness for actually cutting the plaque out. LazyCAM Pro is a very useful control tool in the shop! Sorry for the BOOK about all of this, but I hope that you find it useful!

That's quite a bit of work to do a relatively simple task. I don't use CorelDraw a lot but have one client that sends me files created in CorelDraw and exported as .eps or .ai. I then import it into Cut2D or VCarve Pro, pick my toolpaths, tools, and depths, generate toolpaths, and save each one individually or together depending whether I need a toolchange or not.

Once done, I go into Mach3, zero my workpiece and tool, load the toolpath file, and hit Start.

There are a few jobs where I will do cuts with Cut2D or VCarve, and then do all the 3D features with OneCNC. For example, V-carving is cake with VCarve Pro, maybe not so with OneCNC.

I also will do metal work exclusively with OneCNC, since I have complete control over the tool engagement, and for use of high-speed toolpaths. It's not as easy to control this with VCarve or Cut2D, though I had found workarounds. I've only recently started using HS toolpaths on wood, and have been able to do full depth pocketing which saves a bit of time (and better on the tool).

Grunblau
03-16-2012, 11:28 PM
My workflow is relatively simple, but I use RhinoCAM (not the cheapest option).

I draw everything in Rhino... 2D, 3D, text, stock etc... then fire up the RhinoCAM plugin and choreograph the operations on the original, non-export compromised geometry.

I have been intrigued by people using Grasshopper(free) to generate G-Code out of Rhino.

adprinter
03-16-2012, 11:57 PM
I then import it into Cut2D or VCarve Pro, pick my toolpaths, tools, and depths, generate toolpaths, and save each one individually or together depending whether I need a toolchange or not.
.

I was very impressed with the Vectric products, (after trying the free download trials). And really wish that I could afford to purchase at least VCarve Pro (although Aspire is the one I REALLY want!).

However, after two years of unemployment, and ultimately a forced early retirement I am too broke to pay attention. Let alone actually afford to purchase much of anything, (If I can't eat it, or put it in my gas tank, it's really low on the priority list!).

Since I already had Corel Draw, and was able to negotiate a deal with the author of MeshCAM Art for a license, and had already purchased Mach3 with LazyCAM Pro prior to the plant closure, I have learned to do the best I can with what I have available.

But I have to agree with you, in terms of ease of use- the Vectric products would definitely be the way to go, if one can afford them. However, even these programs have their limits. When it comes to combining operations such as a 3D carving, with delicately engraved lettering, and custom frame cuts, etc. There just does not seem to be a SINGLE program, which can "Do it ALL".

I think that anyone with experience would agree with this statement. The best that one can do, is to learn how to orchestrate multiple programs to achieve a given result. A CAD program installed on the shop computer comes in handy for simple operations (like planing a piece of stock Flat, by creating a simple rectangle in CAD, exporting the DXF into LazyCAM, and creating a pocket tool path).

Delicately engraved lettering is best achieved with multiple passes, starting at a very shallow depth of cut, and loading the file into LazyCAM to adjust the depth of cut a little deeper. Until the desired results are achieved. And if the surface to be engraved is at varying depths, this operation can sometimes involve resetting the Z zero multiple times to achieve the desired results.

I am not aware of any single program which will generate a tool path which accomplishes this automatically. And since the stock to be carved is generally wood, this invovles variables like knot holes, or varying densities of the wood, which may involve the engraving of a single character a little bit deeper into the stock to achieve the appearance of a uniform depth of cut of all lettering engraved.

Just some of the tricks which experience has taught me to do. Sometimes I have even navigated to the Diagnostics screen, turned on the spindle, and navigated to the MDI screen and manually jogged the machine to perform certain simple tasks, like cutting a horizontal groove along one edge, etc.

It is, after all a "Robot". And a tool to be used, just like any other in a shop.

louieatienza
03-17-2012, 02:13 AM
I was very impressed with the Vectric products, (after trying the free download trials). And really wish that I could afford to purchase at least VCarve Pro (although Aspire is the one I REALLY want!).

However, after two years of unemployment, and ultimately a forced early retirement I am too broke to pay attention. Let alone actually afford to purchase much of anything, (If I can't eat it, or put it in my gas tank, it's really low on the priority list!).

Since I already had Corel Draw, and was able to negotiate a deal with the author of MeshCAM Art for a license, and had already purchased Mach3 with LazyCAM Pro prior to the plant closure, I have learned to do the best I can with what I have available.

But I have to agree with you, in terms of ease of use- the Vectric products would definitely be the way to go, if one can afford them. However, even these programs have their limits. When it comes to combining operations such as a 3D carving, with delicately engraved lettering, and custom frame cuts, etc. There just does not seem to be a SINGLE program, which can "Do it ALL".

I think that anyone with experience would agree with this statement. The best that one can do, is to learn how to orchestrate multiple programs to achieve a given result. A CAD program installed on the shop computer comes in handy for simple operations (like planing a piece of stock Flat, by creating a simple rectangle in CAD, exporting the DXF into LazyCAM, and creating a pocket tool path).

Delicately engraved lettering is best achieved with multiple passes, starting at a very shallow depth of cut, and loading the file into LazyCAM to adjust the depth of cut a little deeper. Until the desired results are achieved. And if the surface to be engraved is at varying depths, this operation can sometimes involve resetting the Z zero multiple times to achieve the desired results.

I am not aware of any single program which will generate a tool path which accomplishes this automatically. And since the stock to be carved is generally wood, this invovles variables like knot holes, or varying densities of the wood, which may involve the engraving of a single character a little bit deeper into the stock to achieve the appearance of a uniform depth of cut of all lettering engraved.

Just some of the tricks which experience has taught me to do. Sometimes I have even navigated to the Diagnostics screen, turned on the spindle, and navigated to the MDI screen and manually jogged the machine to perform certain simple tasks, like cutting a horizontal groove along one edge, etc.

It is, after all a "Robot". And a tool to be used, just like any other in a shop.

I hear you, having also been laid off from a great job a little over two years ago as well. Knowing the end was near was the impetus for getting my first machine, a Solsylva, built. I took on every side job I possibly could, as much as it sucked, to keep going while I built my machine. It started to pay off modestly; but researching software beforehand tempered my budget for my first build. All the great components in the world mean squat if you can't get it moving the way you want, in as efficient a manner as possible.

Using only the income from my machine, I upgraded from Cut2D to VCarve Pro5, upgraded my machine from wood and skate bearings on pipe to phenolic and linear guides, upgraded my contoller from a xylotex to GeckoDrive, purchased OneCNC XR3 Mill Advantage, upgraded to XR4 Mill Expert, and currently am constructing a dedicated router for non-ferrous metalwork. I purposely keep my machining income separate from my side work income (and recently got a part-time job as a bar manager and maintenance man) so I can track my progress. This is all in a span of two years. I've cut guitar parts, miscellaneous aluminum panels and brackets for local shops, assorted car parts (currently cutting 3/8" G10 parts for a speed shop), signage in wood plastic aluminum and brass, furniture and cabinet parts, arts and crafts stuff. I'm working on a line of guitar hardware as well, and am cutting custom guitar parts small scale for a local builder... I haven't turned down a job yet, and don't even advertise! Heck, my bit and endmill collection is probably worth more than my current machine! This is not meant to brag, but to demonstrate that you can do it if you put your mind to it. I originally only intended to do guitar parts, but the other jobs just seemed to come after people I knew found out what I was doing. That $149 I invested in Cut2D allowed me to upgrade to VCarve Pro. And the work I did with VCarve Pro allowed me to purchase a used seat of OneCNC XR3...

Engraving over an irregular surface is not easy, especially of the lettering is small. The latest issue of Digital Machinist has plans for building a probe. Aside from 3D scanning, I'd like to be able to take any irregular surface and model it. From there it's trivial to take that data into OneCNC, and project lettering (or whatever) onto the scanned surface, and engrave (or whatever) normal to the surface. I've already done this with curved surfaces that I modeled. For example, milling fret slots on a guitar at a constant depth relative to the fretboard surface, leaving as much wood as possible. Those slots are only .060" deep.

As far as your example with re-cutting a single letter, it is also simple (even in Cut2D) to select one letter and create the toolpath for it. You can even send the job directly to Mach3 from Cut2D.

I guess my point is, you're obvously a very talented individual. And while these workarounds you've developed work fine, I believe you're capable of much more if you have the tools to do it, and an easier workflow so you can do MORE of it (and that's how you get even better!) I was also reluctant to spend money on even basic CAM like Cut2D, but it opened the doors for me and eventually the 'floodgates!'

And try to take advantage of the other free stuff there... since you have the time,you might be ale to crack the GMAX/CNC Toolkit code! PhlatScript is a free plugin for SketchUp, which is also free. HeeksCAD/HeeksCAM is free, and HeeksCAM is full 3D. And of course FreeMill for relief work. Not many people I see do it, but you could easily rough and finish with FreeMill (though toolpath control is very limited, there are a lot of videos of Chinese machines running it).

For those out there building a machine, take a moment to consider what you intend to make with your machine, and find out what CAD and CAM you need to produce it, and factor that cost into your build.

DonFrambach
03-17-2012, 02:34 AM
For those out there building a machine, take a moment to consider what you intend to make with your machine, and find out what CAD and CAM you need to produce it, and factor that cost into your build.

Very well said.

ger21
03-17-2012, 08:49 AM
Sometimes I have even navigated to the Diagnostics screen, turned on the spindle, and navigated to the MDI screen and manually jogged the machine

There's a spindle on/off button on the MDI screen, or you can enter M3 in MDI to turn it on, or you can use the F5 key to turn the spindle on and off.

No need to go to the diagnostics screen to turn on the spindle.

adprinter
03-17-2012, 09:25 AM
There's a spindle on/off button on the MDI screen, or you can enter M3 in MDI to turn it on, or you can use the F5 key to turn the spindle on and off.

No need to go to the diagnostics screen to turn on the spindle.

THANKS for that Gerry! I obviously need to invest more time reading the Mach3 manual- (Which I initially did when I first built my machine, but haven't spent much time in it since getting everything tuned up and running!).

hacksaw44
03-17-2012, 10:41 AM
Nice replies guys. I will look over them all.

zool
03-18-2012, 07:11 PM
To this point, what all the excellent postings show is that there is no "best way".

Further, what may seem "inefficient" to some is "efficient" to another based on their dispositions, the software, and experience. An example is be that maybe someone has a circuitous manner of going about a project, but in the end they know what the result will be.

As usual: Accuracy over speed.


PS. A thread like this one is what makes CNC Zone so cool.

louieatienza
03-18-2012, 07:31 PM
For most software listed here (and others not) you can usually download the trial software for free, and in some cases actually use it to machine parts to insure it will work with your machine as well. I had done this extensively with many vendors before settling with Vectric and OneCNC product. All our talk means nothing if YOU can't be productive with the software!

It may be slightly unfair, but one litmus test I used for testing software is the '30 minute' test. Take your file, import it into the CAM software you're testing, and see how easy it is to manipulate it and create toolpaths. As a noob, I was able to create toolpaths in Cut2D in about 5 minutes. I did it in 10 minutes with OneCNC. VisualMill was about the same, though the dropdown menus for all the settings seemed more cumbersome and overwhelming than OneCNC's wizard-based approach. Vectric stuff is so simple it's almost mind-numbing; I find it hard to belive this is 'pogramming!' SurfCAM is simple to use, but at $10K it better be! I also found MeshCAM easy to work with.

Software that didn't pass the test? I stared at MasterCam's screen like a vegetable for hours, and had a hard time, even after watching some videos online. BobCAM looked promising, but when I did the online/phone demo and watched the guy (who was very knowledgeable) hit 'Cancel' to end each operation that drove me nuts! Why not use 'Close' for that button? I tried CamBam for a little bit, but gave up on it. A friend of mine had 3DS Max so we installed CNC Toolkit... I had a hard time with 3DS Max, let alone CNC Toolkit though it is very powerful.

The easiest free software I've actually used is FreeMill; though it's a one-trick pony, it does it pretty well.

zool
03-18-2012, 08:49 PM
Louis stated: I tried CamBam for a little bit, but gave up on it.

Cam Bam has changed A LOT in the last six-months.

The Cam Bam interface has been changed and is much easier to learn and follow. The 2D interface and the 3D interface are almost identical, which makes learning easier.

One forum contributor took the Cam Bam HELP files and changed them into a PDF file. I printed this out in color, and it really made Cam Bam easy to learn.

The Cam Bam forum has gotten much much better in the last 12-months.

The Cam Bam inventor is much more involved than he previously was.

I learned Cam Bam in my jump from 2D to 3D, so it was arduous, but in the end was well worth it.

Louis stated: A friend of mine had 3DS Max so we installed CNC Toolkit... I had a hard time with 3DS Max, let alone CNC Toolkit though it is very powerful.

Very hard, OH YEA. Very powerful, OH YEA. I have been working away at these for a year now [I printed out whole manual plus rewrote parts of it; the order of the manual can be confusing, it took me three times though to figure that out. Unlike Louis, I am too stupid to give up.] and am at the point of doing "air cuts". This combination is really necessary if one plans to have a B/C head and a rotary axis. If I were not headed to a B/C head and a rotary axis, I would stick with SketchUp and Cam Bam.


Louis stated:The easiest free software I've actually used is FreeMill; though it's a one-trick pony, it does it pretty well.

Geez, that Louis is so smart!! Free-Mill is one of my stepping stones to Cam Bam.