How To Choose The “Right” CNC Machine

- Mar 20, 2019-

                                     How to Choose the “Right” CNC Machine

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Have you ever stood in the cereal isle at the grocery store and been paralyzed by the sheer number of options? Choosing a CNC machine can be equally challenging. From routers & mills to lathes & 3D Printers, with so many choices which one do you pick?

I used the following process to decide which machine was right for me.

1 – What is your goal for the machine?

That may seem like a strange question. For me I wanted something that I could use to build other machines. A CNC mill seemed like the best fit.

2 – What do you expect to cut with your machine?

I plan to cut wood, aluminum and steel while building my army of mechanical minions. Again a CNC mill can handle those materials.

3 – What are the SWaP limits of your space?

What the heck is SWaP? It’s an acronym that stands for Space, Weight and Power. Often used in industry to define the requirements by which a component to be replaced is evaluated. That is how much space is available, how much does it weigh and how much power will the device consume. In my case it went something like this.

Space – I am fortunate to have a garage workshop. However, there are limits. The shop is a small two car attached garage which also holds the family washer and dryer. Yes, the wife has invaded the hallowed man cave. At least the car port is all mine. The space is also home to my wood working tools, table saw, chop saw, planer and joiner as well as the lawn care equipment, lawn mower, leaf vac and weed eater. I needed something compact. I would love to have a Tormach PCNC 1100 or a proper VMC. Those just are not in the cards yet. A bench top machine was the right choice for me.

Weight – This was less of a consideration given the garage setup. It’s not like I have to get the machine into a basement. I know people have successfully wrangled a PCNC 1100 into the dungeons of their homes.

Side note, I am considering taking the mill on the road to maker fares. This is certainly not practical with anything other than a Mini Mill. If any one has tried this, let me know I would love to hear more about your setup. Leave a comment below or e-mail me at Tim(at)

Power – Ah if only we lived in a perfect world where 3 phase power was available to us lowly residential power customers. There are options to make 3 phase power at home. American Rotary makes phase converters to run industrial equipment in a residential setting. For me, the wiring in the garage is not well grounded. 220 is available but without a solid ground I did not want to risk a machine like the Tormach PCNC 1100. Again, the mini mill with its single phase 110 volt requirement is the best I can do for now.

What SWaP considerations did you face choosing your equipment? Do you run your shop on solar power or other form of non-traditional power source? We would love to hear about it in the comments below.

4 – How much money vs time are you willing to invest?

Most people in our situation only consider the cost of the machine. However, we really need to consider both the time and dollar cost. If you don’t have the time to invest in your machine then your dollar cost will increase. If you don’t have the money to invest in your machine then the time cost will increase. See the equation below.

                                                      Time x Money = CNC Machine

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