Small CNC Recommendation


I am putting a budget together for a MakerSpace lab space at UC. I need a small CNC machine (desktop) recommendation.

Something sorta like Shapoko in size and capability (small is best), but easiest maintenance is key. I don’t want to have to have Julien around 4 days a week to make it work ;). For working wood and plastics.



That a very interesting subject that I can talk for hours! There is many desktop CNC for many different prices. Here is my recommendations for a CNC that can cut plastic and wood:

The shapeoko 3: A kit for around $1000 using aluminum extrusion and GT2 belt.

the nomad 883: a fully assembled machine for about $2500 using linear bearing and GT2 belt

the Zen toolworks CNC: a kit using linear bearing and lead screws the frame is made of high density PVC but can be upgrade to aluminum frame. They also offer a engraving laser kit to mount on the machine.

from openbuilds:

the OX CNC: a kit using aluminum extrusion and GT3 belt. You can select the working area you want by buying the length of extrusion you need (up to 1.5 m long) . All the assembly is available on two videos and there is a very strong community on this machine. I am currently building one on these in my basement and I am impressed by the stiffness and quality of the design.

The C-beam CNC It’s a kit using aluminum extrusion and GT3 belt. The price is around $500 including the motor but without the electronics.

My two favorites are the zen CNC and the OX. I planned to buy a Zen CNC once I have finished to build the OX. I want to use the Zen to engrave PCB and the OX to mill wood, plastic or aluminum.

We can talk about it next Tuesday if you planned to attend the meeting.


I’ll look over more later, but Zen toolworks looks like a great fit. We’d need a small machine and stable spindle. Anytime I see hose clamps on a router I envision how much time I’ll have to spend after a student worker goes crazy with a leatherman on the accessible nuts. The upgrades are good, and the fact that people have made through-hole pcbs with this. And, I might not have time to supervise putting it together for the DMC lab, so a $200 assembly option is pretty good deal.

Also, this would ideally grow into a community cooperative project, and my proposal also seeks to establish a MakerSpace passport for this lab. :slight_smile:


As a follow up:

To compliment the offerings of the hive and our CCM shop, I am likely more interested in a machine that is good at PCB milling, small precision work, and perhaps, very limited capability with easy to machine metal. What might best fit that role?

I am interested in easy-ish assembly if it is a kit, or an assembled unit. I do not wish to develop more intense projects at work. I’d rather focus that energy on my contributions to Hive13.


For engraving PCB, the most important is the runout of the spindle and the software you are using. The DC spindle that are sold can have a very good runout. Usually when they don’t give it to you, it’s because it’s bad or not measured. The one at zen is good but maybe you can find a good one for cheaper…

For the software, I was impressed by the combo GrBL and chillippr ( The software can probe the entire surface of the PCB to measure the variation of height and modify your G-code in accordance. For this kind of machine, I would recommended the tinyG for the controller. One other nice option on the zen CNC is the 2W UV laser engraver.

At last , engraving PCB is not reserved for bulky through-hole, I have done for work very tiny SMD board for MSSOP-8, SC-70 and leadless packages.