Good luck with it...After lurking on CNCzone for a while now, this is my first post.
[Welcome aboard, Des!]
I would like to buy a mill and convert it to CNC. I will be milling mostly aluminum, but would like the option to mill steel as well. Large volume production and extreme accuracy are not huge priorities as I am mainly interested in learning on this machine as a hobbyist. I have $2000-$3000 to spend on everything (mill, cnc conversion, tooling, software). Since I live in an apartment, weight and noise are an important consideration.
[Yes, those would definitely be limiting factors, as is your budget. But you could get a CNC-ready Taig mill, put together a G-540 based control box for it, and still have enough left for some basic tooling and software. Leave some budget for building an enclosure - you're going to need one.]
The problem is that I don't know much about machining or CNC. I have milled on a Bridgeport manually, but never learned much more beyond how to turn it on and move the x/y/z axis. I have extensive experience with Rhino and AutoCad, but have never used any CAM software. Before I buy anything, I would like to understand what I am doing. The information on CNCzone is amazing, but also overwhelming. If I were to buy something right now, I would probably get a G0704.
[That would be more of a project to retrofit for CNC; do you already have a machine shop in this apartment of yours?]
How should I get started learning about milling? about CNC conversion?
about CAM software?
[You can start by asking questions here on the Zone. Everybody has their own opinions, of course, and there's everybody from seasoned pros to rank amateurs, so you'll get a wide range.]
Are there any good books on the basics?
[The books on G-code and milling I've seen mostly talk about hand-coding; few even mention CAM software operation. I've never seen a book about CNC retrofitting that discusses more than one project.]
Would you recommend taking a class or talking to a machinist?
[Classes tend to be vocationally oriented, so if they discuss CAM software at all (most don't) it will be focused on the industry-leading programs that you can't afford. Talking to machinists is always good - it's even better if you buy them lunch. I'd suggest trying demos of some different programs, once you get your mill running, and seeing how you get along with them, and their tech support people. It might be worthwhile to put a notice in the "Mentors wanted" section of this site to find someone in your area willing to come over and hold your hand as you're getting started. ]
Is it problematic to mill aluminum in an apartment setting?
[I would say so. Have you asked your neighbors how they feel about it? It can get rather noisy, especially when you're taking a heavy cut, and programs can take hours to run. Then there's the volume of oily chips you'll be generating (and hopefully keeping contained in that enclosure you're going to build.) Is this something you're going to have to talk a significant other into as well?]
Thank you for your help!
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