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10 Reasons Buying A Small CNC Machine Makes Total Sense

Is a Small CNC Machine Right for You?

Not every small shop requires a full-size CNC milling machine, CNC router machine, CNC lathe, or other large cutting machines. Today, these shops have more options than ever, and many of their choices come from machine tools that take up little room in environments where space is at a premium.

Often going by names such as desktop CNC router, benchtop laser engraving machine, or mini mill, these small CNC machines have minimum footprints, making them ideal for hobbyists or the DIY CNC machinist working from a garage or workshop. And they can machine almost any material the big guys can, including metals, woodworking, PVC, PCB, acrylic, or MDF.

Terms like “hobbyist” and “DIYer” can give the impression that the person is in machining for fun and is not all that serious about it. However, many who start small find a niche and a profit, and as demand for their product grows, a small CNC machine becomes the answer to higher production, consistent quality, and expansion into other areas.

Whether fun, profit, or both is your goal, consider the type of work you have in mind today and what potential it could lead to in the future before you purchase your small CNC machine. Although many mini-CNC machines have an element of scalability built into them, it still pays to look ahead at the possibilities and match your machine tool to them.

Do Your Small CNC Homework Up Front

With that in mind, check the specs for the following:

  • Table Size and Travel Distance: Choose a table that can handle the largest workpiece, along with room for a vise and clamping. The X-axis and Y-axis travel distance should also cover the extremes of the work area, while Z-axis should comfortably clear the work heights with tooling.
  • Spindle System: Typically, 6,000 RPMs is the minimum speed required for machining detailed parts using small high-speed cutting tools.
  • Rigid Construction: Rigidity might be a limiting factor for a CNC machine, especially if you are planning on machining steel.
  • Stepper Motors: X, Y, and Z-axis micro-stepper motors keep the best CNCs from losing steps.
  • Ball Screws: X, Y, and Y zero backlash ball screws with pre-loaded ball nuts will eliminate play on the table travel, and provide high precision machining.
  • Warranty and Customer Service: Make sure the machine comes with an ironclad warranty and has a history of excellent tech support.

Buying a Small CNC Makes Sense and Here’s Why

1. Small CNC Machine Tools Have an Amazing Nervous System

The control system of any small CNC machine is the CNC controller. The controller provides the link (nervous system) between the computer system (brain) and the mechanical components (body) of the CNC machine. Its primary task is to receive conditioned signals from the computer and interpret them into mechanical motion through motor output. Several components comprise the controller and work together to produce the desired motor movement.

2. It Will Save Space on a Small Shop Floor

Most home hobbyists don’t have a work area the size of a high school gymnasium, and they are either set up in their garage or have a small workshop area that shares space with a lawn mower and weed eater. In other words, there’s no room to waste space, which is one reason small CNCs are becoming so popular.

For example, CNC Masters offers a Table Top CNC Milling Machine with a footprint of under 11 square feet (38” x 38.5”). Even their Bridgeport-type Supra Vertical Knee Milling Machine is a space-saving 24 square feet. Each of these will fit in close quarters while providing full-size benefits for the small shop.

3. A CNC’s Versatility Allows You to Expand

A small CNC in your shop will allow you to take on work that would be virtually impossible with traditional manual machines. You can also add a 4th axis, engraving attachment, coolant, quick tool change, and splash guard shield for safety accessories to the CNC Jr. Table Top CNC. The CNC engraving machine add-on alone could become a lucrative stream of income.

If you want to add woodworking to your resume, a mini CNC router can help you expand your capabilities to do wood carvings, plaques, games, flags, and all kinds of moneymaking projects and gifts.

4. They are Easy to Learn and Use

Hobbyists and beginners could find learning advanced technology overwhelming. However, CAM software has become increasingly user-friendly, and learning G-Code and programming has become less challenging. CNC programming is not very hard if you have basic technical drawing knowledge, computer and math abilities, and manual machining experience.

You can probably start creating G-code and 2D-CAM programs in one week, while complex topics like multi-axis CAD/CAM programming will take many months to master. CNC machines, including the smaller mini CNC machines, are designed to be easy to learn and operate. Excellent tutorials and courses teach you how to manage a modern CNC machine successfully.

5. All Parts Comes Off the Machine Within Tolerance

Repeatability is one of the words you hear in connection to CNC machine tools, and the mini CNCs are no exception. Manual machines are subject to the mistakes made by human operators, resulting in inconsistent results whenever a project requires multiple parts. Although each piece is expected to come off the machine within tolerances, human error can keep that from happening.

Repeatability is one of the primary characteristics of CNC machines, including the mini CNC router machine, small CNC mill, and CNC laser cutters. However, even though consistency is the objective of every small CNC machine, it requires the efforts of a skilled operator and a high-quality mini CNC machine to achieve those results.

6. CNCs are Considerably Faster Than Manual Machines

Whether you are zipping through a flat aluminum plate using carbide router bits on a CNC router machine, machining complex components on a CNC milling machine, or laser cutting an order of hot-rolled steel parts, it will almost always happen faster on a full-size or small CNC.

However, sometimes going through the programming process (for a minor repair job, for instance) does not make sense. In those cases, having a manual mill to hop on and off quickly is good. It’s even better to have a versatile CNC knee mill like the Supra vertical milling machine from CNC Masters since it transitions from CNC to manual mill and back effortlessly to meet your needs.

7. CAD/CAM Software is Just as Effective on Mini CNCs

Modern software handles the CNC’s control unit via USB, and all axis motors plug directly into the Control Unit, driving the axes to their coordinates. Software like the Master MX from CNC Masters comes with “wizards” to quickly generate files without using Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) or 3D CAD software.

Quick tool path creations are possible with circle pocketing, slots, rectangular pocketing, gear cutting, thread milling, rigid tapping (with optional encoder kit), and peck drilling applications. Everything that large corporations have access to is also available on a small CNC.

8. You Control Price and Delivery With a Small CNC Machine

Another reason to buy a small CNC for your shop is control. Without in-house automation, you are at the mercy of other CNC companies, and they control the price. Their schedule also constrains you; sooner or later, your relationship with your customers may be damaged.

Rather than pay inflated prices to your competition and stand in line with their other customers to get your parts, you could buy a mini CNC machine for your business, set your rates, and manage your customers’ deliveries to suit their needs.

9. New Entry-Level CNCs are Reasonably Priced

Curious about how much a small CNC machine will cost? Although a DIY mini router kit is available for around $1,500, you can buy a top-of-the-line CNC Benchtop Mill with software, a warranty, and excellent customer service for less than $6,000 from CNC Masters.

10. CNCs Give You the Opportunity to Turn a Profit

Many manual machine shops today are struggling to make a profit because they are competing against CNC machine tools that make few mistakes, run faster, turn over work quickly, and allow them to accept work that manual machines cannot complete without multiple setups and secondary operations.

Even if you had an opportunity for complex and production work, you would have little chance of turning a profit. Having a CNC machine on board puts you right in the game and on the road to higher revenue.

Talk to Us Before You Purchase a Small CNC

CNC Masters offers options in small CNC machines to fit your work and budget. We sell only high-quality, USA-built machine tools with ball screws, a warranty, excellent service, and all at a competitive price!

Please email us directly at sales@cncmasters.com, call us at 626-962-9300, or visit our contact page. We look forward to hearing from you!

About Peter Jacobs

Peter Jacobs is the Senior Director of Marketing at CNC Masters, a leading supplier of CNC mills, milling machines, and CNC lathes. He is actively involved in manufacturing processes and regularly contributes his insights for various blogs in CNC machining, 3D printing, rapid tooling, injection molding, metal casting, and manufacturing in general. You can connect with him on his LinkedIn.

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MX Software – Easy to Use, Easy to Learn – Included with your machine purchase
The MX software is designed to work seamlessly with your CNC Masters machine. It is made to work with Windows PC – desktop, laptop, or an all in one – on standard USB. Use it on Windows 8 or 10 64-bit operating systems.
No internal conversion printer/serial port to USB software or additional conversion hardware is used with the MX.

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2. Clutter Free Interface
The MX is engineered for the CNC MASTERS machine so you do not have to fiddle with a detailed complicated configuration that can be overwhelming. Just load in the MX and start machining!2. Clutter Free Interface
The MX is engineered for the CNC MASTERS machine so you do not have to fiddle with a detailed complicated configuration that can be overwhelming. Just load in the MX and start machining!

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3. Features Tour and Tutorials Included
The Features Tour will give you a quick run-down on all the features the MX can do for you. The Tutorials are easy to follow even for the first time CNC machinist.
Feel free to download the MX on any of your computers. We recommend downloading the MX along with your CAD and CAM software there at the comfort of your office computer to generate your tool path programs. You don’t need to be hooked up to the machine either to test your program in simulation mode.

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4. Navigate and Edit Your Program through the MX interface with Ease
With a few clicks of the mouse or using touch screen technology, you can easily navigate through the MX interface importing saved programs into the Editor from the File drop down menu. Using standard windows features to edit your program you can then lock the Editor Screen to avoid accidental editing, and if you need to insert a line in the middle of a program, just click on [ReNum] to re-number your tool path list.
You can create a program or import CAM generated G-code tool paths into the Editor
The X Y and Z W arrow jog buttons are displayed from the point of view of the cutter to avoid confusion when the table and saddle are moving. You can also adjust your spindle speed and coolant control while jogging each axis.

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5. Feed Hold – Pause in the Middle of your Program
Feed Hold lets you pause in the middle of a program. From there you can step through your program one line at time while opting to shut the spindle off and then resume your program.
You can also write PAUSE in the middle of your program and jog each axis independently while your program is in pause mode.

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6. Hot Keys
Hot Keys is an alternative method to easily control your machine using your hard or touch screen keyboard. One can press P to pause a program, press S to turn Spindle On, G to run a program, Space Bar to Stop, J to record your individual movements one line at a time to create a program in teach mode.

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7. Pick Menu – for conversational mode programming
Write FANUC style G-codes directly into the Editor or select commands off the [Pick] menu and write your tool path program in conversational mode such as what is written in the Editor box. You can even mix between conversation commands and G-codes in the same program.

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8. Pick Menu List of Options
Use commands such as MOVE, SPINDLE ON/OFF, COOLANT ON/OFF, PAUSE, DELAY, GO HOME…. to write your tool path programs in conversational mode.

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9. Draw the Tool Path to verify it before pressing Go
Hit Draw to view your tool path program drawing, check out its run time, or even simulate the tool path in 3D mode. This can be helpful to quickly verify your program before running it. You can also slow down or speed up the drawing or simulation process.
You can also hit Go within the Draw Window itself to verify the cutter’s position on the machine. The current tool path will be highlighted and simultaneously draw out the next path so you can verify what the cutter will be doing next on the program.

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10. Run each tool path independently to study its movement
1. Run the machine on Trace mode. You can run each tool path independently, one line at a time to study the tool path movement on the machine to verify the position of the application and if any fixture/vise is in the way of the cutter’s path.

2. You can also verify your program by clicking on the Trace and Draw buttons together. This will allow you to view each tool path independently one line at a time in the Draw Window.

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11. Counters display in Inches or Millimeters – Continuous Feed
1. When running a program, the counters will display a “real-time” readout while the machine is in CNC operation without counting ahead of the movement.
2. The current tool path is highlighted while the machine is in operation without causing slight interruptions/pauses as the software feeds the tool path to the machine. The MX internally interprets a program ten lines ahead to allow for “continuous machining” avoiding slight interruptions as the machine waits for its next tool path command.
3. “Run Time” tells you how long it takes to run your tool path program.

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12. Use the “Go From Line” command to start in the middle of your program
If you ever need to begin your program from somewhere in the middle of it, use [Go From Line] which you can find under Tools. The Help guide will walk you through how to position the cutter without losing its position on the machine.

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13. Exact Motion Distance without over-stepping on an axis while jogging
Use “Relative ON” to enter a specific coordinate to jog any of your axes to an exact location without having to write a program. It’s like using “power feed” but easier. You can jog an exact distance on any of the axes without needing to keep the key pressed down and mistakenly over-step the movement releasing your finger too slowly off the jog button.
Let’s say you need to drill a hole exactly 0.525” using the Z. So you enter 0.525 in the Z box. Next, adjust the JOG FEED RATE slider for the desired feed rate. Then “click once” on the +Z or -Z button to activate the travel. In this case you click once the -Z button first to drill the hole exactly 0.525”. Then click once on the +Z button to drive the axis back up 0.525”.

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14. Teach Mode – Jog Input
You can create a tool path program by storing each point-to-point movement by simply jogging an axis one at a time. Click on either of the Jog Input buttons to store each movement on the Editor Screen. You can then add Spindle ON, feed commands, and press GO to run the new program as needed. This is a great feature to help you learn to create a program by the movements you make on the machine without necessarily writing out an entire program first.

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15. Override on the fly to adjust the Jog Feed to Rapid or the Spindle Speed during the middle of a program
1. Jog Feed and Rapid with Override: You can adjust feeds using the slider from slow minimum 0.1″ per minute to a rapid of 100″ per minute of travel. You can even micro-step your jog as low as 0.01”/min. The [-][+] buttons allow you to fine tune feeds in 5% increments while the program is in motion.
2. Spindle Speed with Override: You can adjust speeds using the slider from a slow minimum RPM to the max RPM according to the machine setup. The [-][+] buttons allow you to fine tune feeds in 5% increments while the program is in motion.

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16. Adjust Counters using Pre-Set if you cannot begin the program from 0.00
In a situation where you cannot begin your cutter at it’s 0.00 location, you can “Pre-Set” directly into the counters by typing in your beginning coordinate. You can press Go from here to run your program. You can also “zero all” or “zero” your counters independently. With one click of the [Return to 0.0] button, all axes will travel back to its respective 0.0 on the machine.

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17. Set and Save your 0.00 position for future runs
Set and save your 0.00 position on the machine. These coordinates will be recorded as the first line of the program in the Editor Screen. Should you desire to return to this program at a later date, you only have to click on the Set Zero Return button. This will command the machine to automatically jog each axis to its saved “set” 0.00 position according to the recorded coordinates at the first line of the program.

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18. Create a “Home” position to clear your application and run multiple times
Let’s say you need to machine one application times 100 pieces. This usually requires a jig to retain that physical 0.00 position. But in this case, you want the program to end with a clearance of the axes to easily switch out the next piece of stock and start again. With Save Home, you have the ability to save this offset (home) position while still retaining your Set Zero position where the machine will mill your part out. Pressing [Save Home] will record this new position under the Set Zero line in your program.
Pressing [Go Home] will jog your axes back to your “saved home” position where you originally pressed the Save Home command. You can also input GO_HOME from the Pick Menu as its own tool path in your program. At the completion of your program the axes will end at your Home position. Replace your part, then press [Return to 0.0] button to allow the axes to return to its zero position, and press Go to start your next run.

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19. Disable the axis motors to manually hand crank each axis into place
Easily de-energize the axis motors by clicking [Disable Motors] to crank each axis by hand, and then press [Reset Control] to re-energize the axis motors.

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20. Change up to 30 tools with compensation, and store your tool offsets for other programs
The MX supports…

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21. Use the optional ATC rack up to 8 tools for milling, drilling, and rigid tapping applications
The CNC Masters Automatic Tool Changer Rack and Tools (US Patent 9,827,640B2) can be added to any CNC Masters Milling Machine built with the rigid tapping encoder option. The tutorial will guide you through the set-up procedure using the ATC tools.

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22. Use the optional Rigid Tapping Wizard without the need for tapping head attachments
When you order your CNC Masters machine, have it built with the optional rigid tapping encoder. You can take any drill cycle program and replace the top line with a tapping code created by the wizard to tap your series of holes up to 1/2” in diameter.

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23. Use the optional Digital Probe to scan the profile and/or pockets of your fun/hobby type designs to write your tool path program and machine out a duplicate of your original design To “surface” scan an object, you can program the probe along the X or Y plane. The stylus will travel over the part starting on the left side front corner of the object and work its way to the end of the part on the right side. Depending on how the stylus moves, it will record linear and interpolated movements along the X, Y, and Z planes directly on the MX Editor.
To “pocket” scan an object containing a closed pocket such as circles or squares, the scan will start from the top front, work its way inside of the pocket, and scan the entire perimeter of the pocket.
Under the Setup of the MX software you will find the Probe Tab which will allow you to calibrate and program your probe. Your “Probe Step”, “Feed”, and “Data Filter” can also be changed on the fly while the probe is in the middle of scanning your object.

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24. Use work offsets G54-G59 for nesting applications
The work offsets offer you a way to program up to six different machining locations. It’s like having multiple 0.0 locations for different parts. This is very useful especially when using sub-routines/nesting applications.

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25. Create a Rectangular Pocket / Slot with our selection of Wizards to help you build a tool path program
The Cycle Wizards for the mill or lathe makes it easy to create a simple tool path without needing to use a CAD and CAM software.
On this Wizard, the Rectangular Pocket / Slots, can be used to form a deep rectangular pocket into your material or machine a slot duplicating as many passes needed to its total depth.

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26. Create a Circular Pocket Wizard
Input the total diameter, the step down, and total depth and the code will be generated.

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27. Do Thread Milling using a single point cutter Wizard

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28. Cut a gear out using the Cut Gear Wizard with the optional Fourth Axis

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29. Create a Peck Drilling Program in Circular or Rectangular Patterns
Using the Circular or Rectangular Drilling Wizards, you can program the machine to drill an un-limited series of holes along the X and Y planes. Program it to drill straight through to your total depth, use a high-speed pecking cycle, or deep hole pecking cycle. You can program the cut-in depth and return point for a controlled peck drill application to maximize chip clearance.

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30. The MX interface can easily be interchanged from Mill Mode to Lathe Mode
Use this interface for your CNC Masters Lathe. It contains all the same user-friendly features and functions that comes in Mill Mode. Simply go to the Setup page and change the interface.

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31. Use Tool Change Compensation or the optional Auto Tool Changer Turret if your application requires more than one tool in a single program
You can offset the length and angle of each tool and record it under Tools in your Setup. The program will automatically pause the lathe’s movement and spindle allowing you to change out your tool, or allowing the optional ATC Turret to quickly turn to its next tool and continue machining.
On the MX interface, you also have four Tool Position buttons. Select your desired T position, and the auto tool post will quickly turn and lock itself to that position.

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32. Use the Lathe Wizard Threading Cycle to help you program your lathe’s internal or external threads in inches or metric

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33. Use the Lathe Wizard Turning / Boring Cycle to help you program simple turning and boring cycles without having to go through a CAM or writing a long program with multiple passes

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34. Use the Lathe Wizard Peck Drilling Cycle to help you program your drill applications or for face grooving

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35. Facing / Grooving / Part Off Cycle Wizards – with Constant Surface Speed
These cycles can be used with Constant Surface Speed allowing the spindle speed to increase automatically as the diameter of the part decreases giving your application a consistent workpiece finish. With CSS built into the wizard, there is no need to break down the cycle into multiple paths and multiple spindle speed changes.

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36. This is our list of supported G and M codes which can be found under Tools > G Code/ M Code List in the MX
If you plan to use a third-party CAM software to generate your tool path program, use a generic FANUC post processor and edit it to match our list of codes. As an option, we also sell Visual mill/turn CAM software which comes with a guaranteed post processor for our machines to easily generate your tool path programs based on your CAD drawings.

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37. Our pledge to you…

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