C10 Laser Engraver
A C10 CNC mill/engraver (Computer Numerical Control) is a great tool to compliment your 3D printer. A 3D printer takes plastic and builds an object from nothing. That is called additive manufacturing. A CNC mill builds and object by cutting away from a source material like a block or sheet of wood. That is called subtractive manufacturing. Most people think of big CNC milling machines that companies use in factories. They usually mill things from material like steel or aluminum.
Thanks to hobbyists, CNC milling can now be done from your home or garage. May build the larger 4X4 or 4X8 feet for their shops or garage called the mostly printed CNC (MPCNC). But now you can buy a small desktop one for your makerspace. The Alfawise C10 is a 300mm X 180mm X 40mm CNC. Do to the sawdust it creates you should build a box for it if you keep it in a room of your home. I built a box for mine, and because I have the laser engraving option it is also vented through my fireplace with a fan. It blows the smoke out of the box. Because I sealed it with silicone none of the smoke gets through into my makerspace.
I have years of experience on 3D printers and a printer is basically a CNC that builds up instead of down. They both use G-Code as instructions for the firmware to interpret. With 3D printing there are 3 main steps:
- CAD (Computer Aided Design) or download a 3D object often of .stl file type.
- Slice using software that builds the G-Code to lay down the plastic layer by layer.
- You print the object you want from the G-Code on the printers controller or streamed through USB
CNC milling also uses 3 steps.
- CAD or download objects.
- CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) which creates the G-Code only different from slicing software.
- You run the G-Code from software on a PC or controller.
So What can you do with the Alfawise C10 CNC/Laser Engraver? Let’s find out!
Alfawise C10 CNC/Laser Engraver Technical Specifications
30cm x 18cm x 4cm
33cm x 40cm x 24cm
Benbox / GRBL
Windows XP / Win 7 / Win 8 / Win10 / Linux
DC 24V 5.6A
Unboxing is uneventful as always. This is a Kit that comes completely unassembled except the Z axis. The parts come in three layers of parts with the bed on the very bottom. This engraver is what is known as the 3018 which is a reference to it’s X (30) and Y(18) size in centimeters. Unpacking is easy just keep a vacuum or garbage can close by. When they cut the aluminum extrusions and bed it leaves lots of shards that cling to the plastic wrap that protects from scratches. Probably not good if you have a carpet.
This kit brings me back to the start of the 3D printer kit days when you have to assemble all of it. I like to assemble kits like this except the instructions are lacking. Being mostly in Chinese, I don’t understand why someone in China doesn’t create a translation service because what little is in English doesn’t translate well. But what is important is the measurements in the instructions which are clear so you can get through it. Important points I learned from building 3D printers is that you can’t just use the measurements and be done with it. Any slightest bend or misalignment can bind an axis. So what I do is before you install the belts (or lead screw in this case) you keep the screws loose on the smooth rods and move the bed all the way forward then tighten the front screws. Then move the bed all the way back and tighten the screws. Then slide the bed to ensure you get a smooth motion. Then you can install the leadscrew. You can do it with the leadscrew installed but it is cumbersome. The same should be done for the X and Z axis. Also be careful where you plug in the spindle and the laser. I didn’t get the laser in the images on the site and the instructions has entirely different controller board. The laser is the middle 3 pin one and the spindle is the one beside it.
This is where I really struggled. This machine comes with a mini CD that contains the instructions, the software and a copy of the firmware (which is outdated). There are no real instructions for the software but with the internet it’s not hard to find videos to watch. So why did I struggle? Well no matter what I tried I couldn’t get the included software to work. So I was on the hunt to find out why or software that works. So I tried updating the firmware but it didn’t want to update. I tried a few different ways and was finally able to update it without errors.
The CD comes with an older version of GRBL Controller which now called Candle. I gave it a try and couldn't get the spindle to turn. After updating to the newest version I had issues with it returning to home. Not sure if it was the config of the firmware but I eventually added physical endstops.
When you power the machine it sets your home point as the current location. So what you need to do is move the tip of your tool to the bottom left corner of your work area. Then set your home position to that spot in the software.
My first couple attempts with the included software simply gouged the wood and also printed much larger than expected. I’m sure it was something I was doing wrong.
So I loaded the iPhone cnc sample file that came with the CD. It carved out very tiny word iphone. That and I used a bit from my dremel which didn’t help. I then set the steps per mm in the firmware.
I managed to create a usable g-code file of superman. I first tried it with the 3mm bit that I used on the iphone. It didn’t look to well.
So I ran it again with the V shaped bits that came with the Alfawise C10. This time it came out okay. Although engraving on this type of wood chipped away in the fine detail of the superman logo. I’m okay with it. I still need to clean out grooves where sawdust seemed to get stuck in there. Running it twice didn’t seem to help.
I then went to the Dollar store and picked up some pieces of craft plywood. I used Inkscape to trace out a nice image of a lion to try with the V bit. If you ask me it looks ok but again to much detail.
So now let’s talk more about the software. After giving up on Candle (GRBL Controller) I turned to Google and Facebook groups. I found inscape is the goto to software to turn your images into vector graphics (.svg files). You use the trace tools in the Path menu. I’m not going to make this a tutorial, just point you in the right direction.
The next step (and this is engraving only) is to import them into a cam program. The one I found to work is called Easel from inventables.com. It’s easy to use and free. There is a pro version but the free one seems to be ok. You bring in an svg files or use the shapes in the app to make images. All the items in the project can be set to cut at different depths. Easel was made for Carvey brand machines and can connect and run on them directly I think. But you can also export the g-code and run it from other controller software.
And that brings me to the last bit of software the controller for the C10. I found a program called Universal G-Code Sender. It’s what worked for me and is also free to use. There is too much to get into how it works. It’s open source and there are other applications like estlcam you can try.
Here are a couple of pics from my Easel carvings.
The small CNC mills benefits from a few modifications. First being a firmware upgrade. It’s best to update the GRBL and learn to configure it. It’s not to hard.
Next I added endstops so the machine won’t crash into the ends of each axis. You will need to enable them in the firmware.
I greased the lead screws to cut down on noise. Which allow my family is happy 🙂
Then if you plan to cut your stock all the way through you need to add a waste board. So it’s not cutting into the aluminum bed. Make it as thin as you can to save more of your Z work area. Mines too thick but I will change it soon.
Another great modification and one I made for my laser, is a box to vent the fumes but it works to keep the dust in on the CNC mill.
I created a little holder for the bits and uploaded it to thingiverse to share.
If you like to make things from wood, plastic, plexiglass and other softer materials then this can save you time. Not only will you get much nicer cuts but you can work on other stuff while the CNC mill does the work. Do you like to make personal gifts to friends and family? This makes very nice engraving and outline cutting. With the laser attachment which I will be doing a write up on soon, you can mix cutting, cnc engraving and laser engraving in the same pieces. Below are some of the cool items you can make with this tool. You can even mix 3D printing and CNC in your projects using wood when you need strength. Or use 3D printing to make parts to complicated for the CNC.
For more articles around the C10 check this other recent article from Pevly.
So should you get this tool? If you like to make crafts or if you like 3D printing and small hobby electronics, then you would probably like the added support of a CNC mill. I’m having so much fun my next tool is going to be a C02 Laser cutter. Then I will have everything I need to make cool projects. You could even make a bit of money making and selling things like custom keychains and other type of trinkets.
Check out this very cool weather station that uses CNC and 3D printing.
If you Google CNC project art images then you will see the many cool things you can do with a CNC.
Thanks for reading I hope you enjoyed my take on the Alfawise C10 CNC machine!