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Mini CNC Machine Buyer’s Guide: Avoid the duds!

Mini CNC Machines, also known as micro CNC or desktop machines, are on fire in 2019. And why wouldn’t they be?! These devices can turn a hobbyist into a big-league machinist within thirty minutes of opening.

Any questions? Just ask JohnnyQ90 who according to himself knows very little about 5-axis CNC machining, but who used this little beauty…

Courtesy of JohnnyQ90: Check out the full video

To make THIS part:

Courtesy of JohnnyQ90: Check out the full video

If you are in the market for a mini CNC machine, then you should be very excited about your production line for the next year. At the same time, and we hate to be the bearer of bad news, you need to PROCEED WITH CAUTION. You don’t want to buy an inferior product. And there are tons of them out there.

We’ll help steer you in the right direction with a couple simple tips.

Buying a Desktop CNC Machine: How to spot the bad ones

The first thing we need to mention is that the price and size of these mini CNC machines have significantly lowered the barriers to becoming a manufacturer of small things. That is awesome because many more self-made hobbyists are joining the machining network. If this will be your first CNC purchase, then welcome! Get ready for one of the most exciting and fulfilling past times of your life!

But there is a darkside too. Since many mini CNC buyers are relatively new to the field, there is a higher likelihood that a purchase will be less than the ideal match for the buyer’s needs. In some cases, it looks like vendors are even scamming customers!

So tip number 1 is: don’t get scammed!

Actual Tip 1: Remember that Kickstarter is like playing the lotto with a grand prize mini CNC Machine…be prepared to lose

We’re not going to pull any punches here. Many of the worst reviews we’ve seen come from Kickstarter campaigns. That’s because projects will look great upfront. It seems like they have an amazing prototype already, so how hard could it be for them to develop the first batch of awesome mini CNC machines?

Well, it turns out to be more difficult than you might expect. While some of these are outright scams, many of the worst cases are even more tragic because the innovators seem to be the real thing, but they just don’t know how to manage a complex project.

Take a look at Goliath CNC, a project that initially looked to raise a humble $90k and instead pulled in a whopping $1,000,000. You’d think that would be enough to pull off the first set of orders without a hitch, right?

Wrong. The project was amply funded in 2017, and as of April 2019, no one has received their promised CNC robot. To make matters worse, the group refuses to grant refund requests. Who knows if they will ever finish?

Do you really want to buy a CNC machine that arrives in two years? Proceed at your own peril, but know that Kickstarter is for gamblers; plenty of existing manufacturers create, sell, and service working mini CNC machines. They are a surer bet.

Tip 2: Know what you want to create

Source: Giphy

OK, so we said that a bunch of mini CNC machine buyers were unhappy. Unhappy is the result of having higher expectations of something than the real experience ultimately provides. Sometimes, as with many Kickstarter projects, the unhappiness is a result of false promises. In other cases, buyer expectations are not aligned with reality.

We plugged a search for a “mini CNC machine” into Amazon. It turns out that Amazon is a much better place to look for your machine, but still not ideal. On the first page of results, we found some CNC machines but also a Micro Mill, which functions completely by hand. It’s a step up from a Dremel, a fine machine to be sure, but you would be very unhappy if you expected Computer Numeric Control (CNC).

User expectations run subtler but no less important. Many of the poor experiences on Amazon result from complaints of “too much noise,” “not large enough for my project,” and other mismatches between project and machine.

To avoid this, we suggest spending more time in the sourcing phase. Definitely draw, graph, or CAD an example of what you want to create. Know the material you want to work with. Will you need to create multiple pieces or just engrave on an existing material? The more you consider what the total manufacturing process will look like, the better you’ll know what you need.

Final word of advice

The best way to source CNC machines is MachiningCloud. Basically, we give you free access to a complete database of vendors and advanced tools that professional machinists use to save 3 out of every 4 minutes spent on sourcing.

Depending on your experience, some of these tools might not make sense to you yet, but don’t let that stop you. Just looking at our application interface and running through our tutorials will help introduce you to the wonderful world of CNC machining.

But whatever you do, good luck, and have fun out there!

MachiningCloud is a one-stop, industry-wide resource that gives you the ability to fast-track the process of creating tool assemblies. Our application reduces the time it takes to find, select, and assemble tools by 75% or more, so try MachiningCloud today. It’s easy to get started. 

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