How it started

Earlier this year I had the urge to get back into an old hobby, Electronics!

When I was younger and living with my parents I had my own workshop. In this workshop I would prototype some ideas on breadboard and when I was finished would design a printed circuit board. The traditional method of etching a printed circuit board is using a ultraviolet light box and chemicals to etch away the copper.

However I no longer live with my parents and have no access to a workshop. I am a proud dad with a small office in my house. Having these chemicals in my office was not a option!

Credit - http://timeguy.com/cradek/cnc/pcb

PCB etched via CNC

After some research on Google I discovered that it’s possible to etch a copper clad board using a CNC router. This seemed ideal, and a very fast way to prototype. YouTube clip

Must have one!

Trying to find a local supplier for such a small CNC router was actually quite hard. I turned to eBay. On eBay I found a series of Chinese CNC routers of various sizes at prices that are much cheaper than standard suppliers. This of course led me to review the forums and read some feedback.

It turns out that these cheap CNC routers are actually great value, but with the value does come some compromise. People talk about poor wiring that breaks after a couple of hours of use, used stepper motors… However this didn’t bother me as even if I had to make some modifications, it would be fun to fix… I felt confident!

I should say that the majority of hobby CNC enthusiasts recommend self build. On almost all of the forums, it was a regular statement. It is felt that it’s the only way to guarantee a quality machine. This didn’t phase me too much as I didn’t want to mill aluminium or something tough, I just wanted to etch a thin layer of copper. I would have enjoyed to build one from scratch, but my main goal was a PCB. Maybe in the future!

I placed my “Buy It Now” order on a Monday morning for £415 plus delivery, which is stated was shipped from within the UK (Where I live). On Thursday it was sitting in my living room. The packaging was crazy, very, very well packed, but more foam and padding than you could shake a very large stick at!

Getting setup…

First cut from my CNC 3020

The first cut

To my surprise, it doesn’t accept USB, it uses a parallel lead similar to the type printers used to use. Now I have a quite modern PC, which of course doesn’t have a parallel port. After buying a PCI parallel card, I then discovered that parallel ports are not supported in 64 bit operating systems, this meant I had to install a 32 bit version of windows.

The instructions that are supplied are in English, but you can tell it has been translated. Some things were not so clear, but it’s enough to get started. They recommend using control software called Mach 3. This is available to download as a limited version for free and costs $175 for a full licence. Having installed it and configured the settings as stated in the documentation, I quickly started to look for sample designs on Google to make a test cut.

I found a scorpion and a smiley face. In the picture to the left you can see the results on a piece of wood. What I didn’t realise at this point is that the cuts were 50% too small! The documentation wasn’t so accurate as it appears my stepper motors not the same as documented, they were more accurate!

The result though was great! It took about 2-3 minutes to mill it and besides the size, it is precisely to design. I’m really happy with it and can’t wait to put it to good use.

If anyone is interested in the settings or information about the CNC router, feel free to ask.

I will post more on the PCBs very soon.

  • http://www.thermwood.com/ Patricia Johnson

    You don’t have to be a skillful sculptor or carver all you need is to have cnc router although some program would not coincide on to the device that came along with it but that happens in a rarely occation…

  • http://www.facebook.com/glenn.firkins Glenn Firkins

    This CNC looks not too bad for the money. Your right, I to have read numerous posts about the poor quality of the Chinese machines sold on eBay. But if I did happen to end up with a “dodgy” one I would enjoy the challenge of fixing it. Which particular seller on eBay did you use? Have you found any online shops to buy replacement cutting tools?

    Glenn

  • manthan

    can i make a mouse circuit by this machine

  • Chuck

    i’ve have the 6040 version of this for just over 6 months and yes stepper motors on the x and z drop a phase after a wile EZ fix. , i’ve found mach 3 works better on XP , when my cnc arrived it had no construction instruction . the setting they give are wrong i had to back track the error and calculate the true step size . the say it was 400 steps per cm but ended up being 322.5 steps per cm or something close to that . destroyed the spindle control by switching off the main power wile the spindle was spinning . the main bed has a slight slope , so i need to mill the bed flat at some point not looking forward to that . all in all it is a good CNC for the price . when i have my spindle speed and feed rate set right i can cut 3mm aluminum full depth cut and 6mm plexy full depth cut i think im doing 160 mm per. im at it’s limit for speed , if you have no experience with stepper motors or robots it will be some what changing for you to work around the problems and i don’t recommend it for a beginner geek, even with it’s quirks i love it and so glade i got it

  • Olivier

    // port and PCI cards are supported in 64 bit OS like Windows 7 … may be not the controller you have on your specific card but it’s not general.

    Also it would have been interesting to test with a USB to // adapter so that even a laptop can be used :)

    Thanks a lot for your article anyway :)

  • http://www.workshopshed.com Andy from Workshopshed

    There’s a lot comments on the CNC forums about the issues of using laptops and modern PCs that have variable clock speeds and why USB does not work.

    e.g. http://www.mycncuk.com/forums/drivers-controllers/3701-mach-3-using-laptop-usb.html

    Basically the issue is that the G code interpretation is done in software on the PC and the interfacing board is quite dumb, talking simple “step” and “direction” information and providing power to the motors hence any timing issues introduce means that you could move too far (or not far enough).

    The solution that is used in 3D printers is to move the G code interpretation into the electronics (typically an arduino based solution) and hence remove any timing issues cause by the PC.

    Various people have been using this idea to control their CNC machines and various others are protesting that the old way is better! http://www.buildlog.net/blog/2011/02/modbus-arduino-mach3-and-brains-oh-my/

  • Les

    Nice article, I am looking to get one of these to make my own PCB’s, which one did you get? Is it the 3020 or the 3020T? The latter is a bit more expensive but allegedly has better stepping motors.

    Regards,

    Les

  • http://Nil Adam

    Hi Steven,

    Just reading through your great blog, I recently purchased the exact same model 3020 CNC to complement my workshop and yes now I have the same 50% smaller problem. Can I ask what you did to rectify this issue?

    Cheers,

    Adam.

    • Les

      I think it’s the number of steps in the motor settings, mine from memory is 400. The problem is that even though it is a 3020, because there are so many variations of these with different electronics, the instructions may not be 100% correct. I had to tweak some of the input pin settings on mine to get it working correctly.

      Regards,

      Les

      • http://Nil Adam

        Yeah Les, I played with the “Steps per” and settled on 800 on all axis to get near perfect dimensions. But I’m getting about .5mm less over 100mm. So more tweaking required. My guess the the hardware changes at the moment 1/4 micro stepping as opposed to a 1/2 step system previously. Anyone know know hat the trims are on the YooCNC T62-3AX board?

  • Juan

    Who would you buy a 3020 from? I can only find them on ebay, and there are hundreds of sellers with ridiculously high reputation ratings. Some people say they have received used or broken machines, or missing parts. Thanks!

  • Roy

    I would like to buy a CNC 3020 mainly for engraving but my laptop does not have a parallel port ..does anyone know how to run the cnc3020 from a USB ?

  • Doc Knocks

    Great blog! I need one of these to cut basic shapes out of acrylic. Have you used it on acrylic at all?

    • Adam

      Hi Doc,

      Use single flute cutters and you won’t go wrong. Just don’t get greedy with the feed rates, for better finishes spray a little water and dish-washing liquid mix during the cut and you’ll be amazed…

      Just my two cents…

      You could even flame wash the cut edges afterwards if you like. :P

  • Jim Osborne

    I just bought the same machine (3020) and cannot seem to get the serial port (com1) to drive the motors. Given I have 3 decades in computers I thought the setup would be a snap but no such luck.

    I can move the DROs by using the arrows or running g-code but the router will not budge. I also checked my serial port, com 1, and it looks good.

    If you have any suggestions, let me know.

    Thanks.

    Jim

    • Les

      They are normally driven by the Parallel port not the serial port.

      Regards,

      Les

      • Jim Osborne

        This router requires a 25 pin printer cable configured on com1 (address 0x3F8). Given one of my USB ports was already configured on com1 I had to delete this com port before installing a PCI parallel adapter card (25 pin) which I then configured for com1. For verification I can see com1 in the device manager (Windows XP).

        • Henry Ellingsen

          I thought com1 was the designation of a serial port. Parallel ports or printer ports are LPT1. BTW I just received my 3020T last month and got around to hooking it up yesterday. Nothing works until you get Mach3 or equivalent software loaded.

    • Adam

      Serial connectors are normally used for the encoders in the CNC world. I may be wrong though.

  • Adam

    Guys, I speak from experience. If you buy one of these machines and it misses steps after a while, rip out each of the axis’ wiring and redo do it with quality wire! Mark my words it will save you hours and hours in frustration. But don’t do it if your not that confident, or you could make things worse.

    The spindle motors (the black and ally ones) are crap too! mine lasted less than 10 hours running time.

    Cheers, hope this helps.

    • Jim Osborne

      My Chinese motors look the same as other Chinese motors on other routers. Are all routers made in China or just the motors?

      Sure it is unAmerican to buy Chinese, but I do buy American bits (also made in China) and my wife tells me everything she buys at Wall Mart is made in China.

      Last, I did clock my Chinese motors over 10 hours with my Swiss watch also made in China.

      I speak from experience.

    • http://geekboy.it/ Steven Pearson

      Hi Adam, I completely agree with you! I had to do the same after about 20 hours of use. I will write a new article in the next couple to describe a years experience with it.

  • Idzuwan

    Hi Adam,

    I just bought want of these cnc (3020T-DJ) and still waiting for it to be delivered, you blog and Steve Surgenor video on youtube really help me decide to buy this cnc machine, my main purpose it to cut carbon fiber, fiber glass and pcb circuit milling really liked the idea etching pcb with out using harmfull chemical :)

    Even thought I heard few problem with the stepper motor but it does not keep me from buying it, we can replace it with a good motor correct? since I dont have ancient time pc I have no choice to order one of those USB CNC motion controller UC-100 so I can use mach3 with usb

  • Frank

    i plan on buying CNC 3020Z+4D(4-AXES)ROUTER ENGRAVER DRILLING AND MILLING MACHINE for the soul reason of replicating the iron man suit for a pro but i do want to make this parts out of aluminum or pvc / abs material i want to know if this machine will help me achive this project goals

    CHEERS