Setting up the CNC 3018

So, I finally got a CNC machine! I always like to dip my toes in with a cheaper option before spending too much money on a new hobby, and this was about the cheapest one I could find, paying less than $250 Canadian for it including some extra drill bits for it.

tl;dr: It's a pretty great machine for the price, buy one yourself here!

Building the CNC

It came as a kit, meaning I had to assemble everything myself. Using the included manual, this would have been quite the puzzle, but some people have made really helpful video guides on youtube. I personally followed along with this one, and got everything put together in a couple hours. Youtube guide

Installing Software and Drivers

To get my computer talking to the CNC, I had to install some drivers for the device, as well as software to control the actual cutting

For the driver, download and install the executable from here

Next, you'll need to get a program called grblControl. grbl is the open source firmware that runs on the circuit board of the CNC machine. There's a bunch of different pieces of software that can interface with grbl, but this is the one that was recommended to me, and it works quite well from what I've seen so far. Download grblControl here

Fixing Inverted Axes

After getting my software installed and connecting my CNC, using the arrow keys in grblControl, I noticed my X axis and my Z axis were moving in the wrong direction. After digging into this a bit, I found out that you can change huge amounts of configuration settings that alter all aspects of the CNC machine. Using the table below, I was able to send a command that reversed the movement of the two axes I needed. It may be different for you, but I needed to change my configuration to Setting 5. From the configuration guide found here, you can see that the variable $3 is what determines which axes are inverted. So, to fix my issues, all I had to do was use the small console in grblControl to send the command $3=5, and all my control issues were fixed!

Setting Value Mask Invert X Invert Y Invert Z
0 00000000 N N N
1 00000001 Y N N
2 00000010 N Y N
3 00000011 Y Y N
4 00000100 N N Y
5 00000101 Y N Y
6 00000110 N Y Y
7 00000111 Y Y Y

Considerations and issues

  1. For the price, I had no expectations of this being a perfect machine, and my expectations were correct, though they pale in comparison to the kind of problems I was expecting. After my first test cut, I had a strange issue where the machine got stuck in a mode where the machine was moving much further than it should. For example, when the movement step was set to 1.0 mm in grblControl, the machine was moving closer to an inch. A simple act of turning the machine off and on again (my years of IT training paid off!) fixed everything, but not before running into another minor issue this machine has.

  2. This machine has no end stops for the axes, meaning if you tell the spindle to move outside the bounds of the machine, it'll keep pushing and pushing into the side of the machine until you unplug it. While this didn't seem to have any impact on my CNC when it happened, it definitely makes me think twice and double check things before I send a cut job to the machine.

Overall though, this is an impressive machine for what I paid, and I'm surprised by the level of detail I'm able to get, even in these early stages when I'm still getting everything all configured properly.