Everyone who is in a similar position as myself, in regards to creating online woodworking content, gets approached by tool manufacturers looking for opinions of their tools. I’ve personally been asked to “review” a few different tools in the past and have turned them all down. Quite frankly, I don’t even like using the word “review.” It just makes me cringe.
Fast forward to three weeks or so ago. I, as well as a few others, was approached by Inventables with the offer of receiving a Shapeoko 2 CNC mill at no cost to me for my honest opinion on the tool, good or bad. To be exact, I am to give my thoughts on the unboxing, assembly, and my “hello world” experience. A opportunity to receive a CNC just to provide honest feedback is something I couldn’t say not to. But like I said, “review” is a dirty word. This isn’t a “review” so the following article is my thoughts on this experience.
As I stated in the video, the box does not contain a CNC machine. It contains what seems like 16 million parts and tiny hardware that you will use to build a CNC machine. Seriously, there are a ton of parts here. Lots of bags with ID tags on them. The best piece of advice I can give anyone taking on this venture is to get a dedicated work surface that you can keep through the entire build where you can take breaks and come back to without anything being disturbed. Organize everything from the beginning and try to maintain a level of organization to keep things going smoothly.
The kit also provides the tools necessary to complete the build which I think is very nice. I didn’t have to break out any of my own tools or hunt down a specific tool to complete the build. All of the parts were there. Another thing would suggest to anyone who may find themselves putting one of these together would be to use some type of container to hold the hardware for whatever step you are on in assembly. A magnetic dish like this one is really handy.
The assembly begins with the V bearings. There is lots of repetition in various steps of this build. The bearings went together quickly with no problems. You can see a plywood block to the right of my right hand in this next picture. After two bearings I found that the process goes by much faster with less stress on my fingers if I used a wood block to press the bearings in place.
After the bearings are assembled the Y axis and half of the X axis carriages are assembled. I thought it was very clever that the kit uses eccentric nuts on the bottom bearings that allow the bolt holding the bearing on to act as a cam. This is used in a later step to loosely tighten the carriages onto the MakerSlide. The motors are also installed on these carriages.
Ready?…… Lube your tap. …. ….. Everyone done laughing? OK, cool. Just before assembling my kit I got word of two other individuals breaking their included tap when tapping the end holes in the MakerSlides. I used some 3-in-1 oil to lubricate the tapping process which turned out to be a lot quicker and easier than I was anticipating. Quarter turn in, half turn out, half turn in. Quarter turn in, half turn out, half turn in. Eighteen holes total I believe. The instructions say that if you are going to upgrade the Z axis to an acme thread that two more tapped holes are necessary on the bottom of the Z axis MakerSlide. I’m not sure if I will or will not upgrade to that at a later date but I am certain that I will probably misplace the tap if I ever do want to upgrade so I went ahead and tapped those holes as well. Make that twenty holes to tap.
Here’s where I wasted a half hour to 45 minutes of time partially due to myself and partially do to the wording in the instructions. When adding the Z axis motor the instructions call for brass standoffs to be used. There are no brass stand offs in this kit. When reading the instructions I always read the part number and instantly search for that part. I found myself looking and freaking out about not having these brass stand offs. I finally read ahead in the instructions to find out that the brass parts were for a previous kit and the new kit has aluminum standoffs. I wouldn’t have wasted so much time if I would have just read the entire instructions for that assembly step before I looked for the parts but honestly I doubt I’m the only one who will do the exact same thing as I did. A better way to identify different parts for multiple versions would be to say “part xx OR part yy” and then give a reason for the use of OR in between part numbers.
The black rails are for the platform to secure to. The plan called for a certain length bolt with a washer to go through the MDF platform to an insertion nut inside the rails. The bolts were not long enough when used with a washer so I could not include the washer for all of these connections. Either my MDF platforms were not properly milled at the mounting locations or the bolts supplied and required by the plan were not long enough. Because it’s just bolting down the MDF I don’t see it as a problem to not use the washers. I finished the rest of the assembly on my table saw as I knew it is by far the flattest surface in my shop. Just like a house, if the foundation is not square and parallel everything on top of it will probably not be square or parallel either.
The Y rails need to be installed half at a time so the X axis can be slid on after.
After the X axis is slid on the other side of the Y axis MakerSlide can be secured.
With all of the mechanical components installed I had 7.38 hours of time invested.
Some adjustments are needed to make sure the rails are square and parallel. The Y rails need to be parallel to one another and the X axis needs to be parallel to the work surface. This is a relatively straight forward process by loosening the bolts holding the Y rails in place and making any adjustments as needed.
The cutting tool can also be mounted. A dremel style rotary tool comes standard with the kit. This is an area where you can easily upgrade at a later date. After reading that just about everyone who gets one of these CNC machines upgrades the spindle I went ahead and picked up a DW660 router that I will be installing at a later date.
In an effort to prevent the typical spaghetti cluster of wires you see behind any entertainment center I took my time to make sure I had all the wires tied down in a nice clean setup. This process also took me a lot longer than it should have. But that was my fault. I ended up hanging out on a G+ hangout while doing the wiring which made me not focus on what I was doing. Luckily I didn’t make any crazy mistakes here due to my lack of attention. I used the terminal block wiring method so on the back side of the X axis carriage I have a single terminal block secured with double sided carpet tape.
I fed the left Y axis motor wires through the double MakerSlide to the right Y axis slide. The wires for both the X and Z axis motors are zip tied together and arch over the top of the X axis to the right side Y axis carriage. More than enough zip ties are included to make the wiring look nice and neat.
This might look really complicated at first but the whole wiring process is quite simple. On this side both of the Y axis motors are paired together in one terminal block with the other terminal block extending the X axis motor wires.
And from there they mount to the gShield. You can simply let the gShield and Arduino sit next to the machine if you want but I wanted them to be attached to the CNC. One of the “experimental” options for wiring mentions mounting them to the side of the right Y axis carriage. I didn’t have room to do that so I used a piece of 5mm hardwood plywood to make a simple mounting board. A few holes drilled in the proper locations and eight zip ties later I had it mounted to the front of the right Y MakerSlide bracket. Simple and it gets the job done.
With the machine in the proper working condition the first thing to do is run a “hello world” file that uses a marker attached to the Z axis to draw out Shapeoko 2. I did that but didn’t record it because it’s quite boring. Instead, I wanted to show the machine actually cutting something. There are several different ways to send cutting information from a computer to the CNC but the method I chose to show was with Inventables web browser app at Easel.com. I initially had some problems with Easel recognizing the CNC but I believe that was driver issues on my computer. After that was taken care of it was smooth sailing. I’m not going to go into the use of Easel in this article but I did briefly cover the process in the video. My “hello world” ended up being a super awesome Mario mushroom with Inventables below it. :)
At some point I will probably add a dust collection hookup for my ShopVac but until then I’m just going to hold the hose near the cutting tool to suck up the dust as it’s created. I was also following the bit around with my sanding pad to remove the fuzzy edges.
As you can see, the initial results were a bit fuzzy on the edges. That probably has a little bit to do with the material I am using and a lot to do with the single edge cutting bit that is included. But, it really doesn’t make sense for the kit to contain a nicer quality, multiple cutting edge bit as the vast majority of people upgrade the cutting tool anyway.
After a light sanding and cleanup with my ShopVac this is the result. Not bad at all. Definitely a more enjoyable “hello world” experience.
So…what do I think?
Overall, I’m glad I accepted the offer to do this. Sending cutting information to the machine can be done with multiple different programs but the Easel app really does make it incredibly easy to make quick work of the process. I had a couple hiccups during assembly but the build process was a great learning experience for what all goes into these machines. Now that I do have the build process behind me I’m confident that any upgrades I may make to the machine will go by a lot easier. I already have a couple upgrades in mind, the next one being to mount a DW660 router on it. I’m not sure what all I will do with the Shapeoko going forward but due to it being both easy and fun to use I do know I will be tinkering with it a lot. If you would like more information on the Shapeoko 2 or the Inventables company click the following Inventables logo to go to their website.