Milling Time: The (Near) Future of Desktop CNC Milling

By Ben Light

Lately, I've been working with various desktop CNC milling machines. Over the course of a few articles, I've shared what I discovered and what I’ve made from those tests. Today, we'll talk about the future of desktop CNC milling, and what I'm excited for.

Over the past month and a half, we've explored a variety of desktop CNC options, including an affordable ready-to-cut mill, a build-it-yourself hackable kit, and a pricey 4 axis machine. But what does the (not too distant) future of desktop CNC milling look like?

Things are moving very fast these days. It seems every week there is another new CNC mill project on Kickstarter--a little reminiscent of the desktop 3D printer boom. In the next few months, half of the machines listed below are expecting to start shipping. And new versions of established machines are already coming our way. Needless to say, there are a lot of options out there. I've read up on most of them, and the following mills are the ones I'm most excited about.

Note: aside from the Othermill Version 2, I have not worked with any of these machines in person, yet. What you are about to read is mostly based on information from the companies, secondhand accounts, or are just my initial takes on what I've seen so far.

Othermill Version 2

Photo credit: Other Machine Co.

ITP got the latest Othermill a few weeks ago, and it has already become a key part of our shop. It does everything the Othermill Version 1 does with some nice additional features. The cutting spindle is more powerful and cuts aluminum beautifully. This model is a bit more enclosed, and this makes a big difference in noise and mess. And now there are T-slots on the mill bed, perfect for fixtures and jigs.

It's available for purchase now, and costs $2,200.

X-Carve

Photo credit: Inventables

I mentioned a little bit about the X-Carve in a previous article. It is the latest CNC kit from Inventables, which can be purchased piecemeal -- to easily upgrade your Shapeoko 2 -- or as a fully loaded kit. The kit has custom parts that replace the complicated assemblies in previous models. This ensures an easier build, a sturdier machine, and a better cut. And there are two sizes available, standard (work area 12" x 12") and large (work area 31" x 31"). If you already have a Shapeoko 2, it seems like a no brainer to upgrade to the X-Carve.

X-Carve and accessories will start shipping by April 30th. It costs $1,278 for a fully loaded kit.

Shapeoko 3

A bit of a departure from the Shapeoko 2 design, the Shapeoko 3 sports bigger rails and beefier hardware. It still arrives in kit form, but with a much shorter build time (2 to 3 hours). The work area is larger (16" x 16" x 3") and the stepper motors are more powerful than the Shapeoko 2. All parts made in the U.S.A., but the spindle is not included. It looks like a workhorse and I'm curious to see this machine in action.

The Shapeoko 3 is expected to ship in May, and costs $1000.

Carvey

Photo credit: Inventables

The Carvey is a ready to run fully enclosed CNC from Inventables. They claim it is clean enough and quiet enough to use in the home ("you can be talking on the phone while it is running"). It is compatible with any software that exports g-code, but they recommend their easy to use web app Easle.

I love the idea of being able to run a mill in my apartment.

Carvey ships in the Fall of 2015 and will cost $2000.

Nomad 883

Photo Credit: Carbide 3D

Another enclosed, ready to cut model, the Nomad 883 is made by Carbide3D. The mill has a solid metal frame, but you have the option of finished bamboo or durable HDPE for the enclosure trim. Custom software comes with the Nomad, Carbide Motion to control the machine and MeshCAM for creating tool paths. There is an end mill sensing probe that makes "changing tools a breeze". This sounds very helpful.

Available for pre-order now, it's expected ship date June/July 2015 and will cost $2600.

Pocket NC

The Pocket NC might be the machine I'm most excited for--it's a 5 axis desktop CNC mill! Wow. This is a radically different design from most available desktop machines and has the potential to make some amazing parts out of wood, plastic, and aluminum. Unfortunately, the Pocket NC is not available yet. According to their site, they are planning a long awaited Kickstarter campaign "soon". I can't wait to get my hands on one of these.

Projected cost for the Pocket NC is $3500.

Handibot

Photo credit: Shopbot

ShopBot produces a few table top CNC's, but the model I'm most interested in is their Handibot--a portable jobsite-ready CNC router. Their website claims you can use the machine "on a table, the floor, the ceiling, the wall, wherever you need to precisely cut, drill, or carve." Yes, you read that correctly, the ceiling.

Handibot is completely open source. All design files for both the hardware and software are available and ShopBot encourages modifications and remixing. I think this design has a ton of potential.

It's available now and costs $2800.

BoXZY

BoXZY was successfully Kickstarted a little over a week ago. This machine can rapidly change functions, it can CNC mill, 3D print, or laser etch. It's kind of the Swiss Army Knife of CNC's. I'll be interested to see if it can do all of these operations as well as a feature-specific machine.

It's available for pre-order and costs between $2500 and $3000.

Conclusion

Obviously, there are many more CNC mills available than just this list. One of the hardest parts of the milling process might actually be deciding on which machine is right for you.

We live in exciting times. We have access to affordable, quiet, clean, easy to use, safe machines that can live next to our office printers, or at least in your garage. With just a bit of practice and software know-how, you can create accurate and durable objects with relative ease. Like with 3D printers, CNC mils aren't anything new, but the ability to have one in your personal workspace is pretty amazing, and gets us one more step toward the future that science fiction has promised. The next step is for you to try your hand at it and get busy making!

Find more of Ben's projects on his website.