Best Aluminum Milling CNC Machines [2021]-Desktop Size

Best Aluminum Milling CNC Machines [2021]-Desktop Size

Best Aluminum Milling CNC Machines [2021]-Desktop Size

If you are a hobbyist, DIY enthusiast or maker looking for a CNC machine that can cut aluminum, I have compiled some of the best CNC machines that does just that.

Generally, metal machining requires a relatively more rigid CNC machine than for milling non-metals.

Any vibrations or flexing of the machine components can affect the quality and finish of the machined part.

The factors I considered while choosing these machines were, rigidity, drive mechanism, accuracy, feed rates, customer support, and price.

Note that some of the CNC machines in this list ship as DIY CNC kits, while the others ship pre-assembled.

If you also want to do some steel milling as well, note that some of these machines can do that as well, albeit slowly.

MellowPine is reader-supported. When you buy through links on my site, I may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you.

Here are the best Aluminum CNC Mills available today [2021]:

Aluminum CNC MillCategory
1Sainsmart Genmitsu 3018-PROVerAluminum Engraver
2Nomad 3Aluminum Mill (under $3k)
3Onefinity MachinistAluminum Mill (under $3k)
4Shapeoko 4 (Standard)Aluminum Mill (under $3k)
5Tormach xsTECHAluminum Mill (under $3k)
6Pocket NC V2-10Premium Aluminum Mill ($5k+)
7Avid CNC Benchtop Pro 2424Premium Aluminum Mill ($5k+)

Best Aluminum CNC Mills [2021]

Best CNC Machine for Aluminum Engraving

Sainsmart Genmitsu 3018-PROVer

SainSmart Genmitsu 3018 PROver with the offline control unit
SainSmart Genmitsu 3018 PROVer

The Sainsmart Genmitsu PROVer is a compact machine capable of engraving on aluminum if the spindle is upgraded.

The standard spindle motor that arrives with the PROVer is best suited for engraving on soft materials like wood, MDF, plastic, PCB and acrylic. 

It can go up to a speed of 10,000 RPM with a maximum power of 120W, which is not optimum for engraving on aluminum. But can still do the job at a slower pace.

You can upgrade the PROVer with the Genmitsu GS-775M 20000RPM CNC spindle motor, a recommended upgrade for engraving on aluminum.

Upgrading with the high RPM motor is easy as it only involves swapping the motors and connecting the wires.

Make sure to buy the version with the collet holder pre-attached to the spindle. The collet holder is attached using a friction fit. Removing it from your old motor and attaching it on the new one will require a lot of heating and hammering.

The upgrade will provide you the capability to engrave on aluminum but expect the process to be slow.

You get an effective engraving area of 10.2" x 6.1" x 1.4" and takes up about 16.5" x 13.4" x 11.0" area on your desk. Moving the PROVer around is easy as it weighs just about 20 lbs.

The PROVer has an aluminum chassis and can withstand the stress and vibrations of engraving on aluminum.

You can control the CNC using the offline controller provided, eliminating the need for a dedicated computer for running the machine.

The offline controller is equipped with a 1.8" touch screen that gives you complete control over the machine. Meaning you can do simple engraving operations right from the controller.

PROVer has an easily accessible emergency stop button that you can press to stop the entire machine in case of deviation from normal operation. 

The acrylic enclosure provided on the two sides protects from debris generated during engraving on aluminum. Engraving on aluminum can produce more noise when compared to soft materials.

However, the front and rear are left open, for which you can buy the enclosure for PROVer from Sainsmart that costs around $100. The full enclosure will contain all the debris and also dampens the noise.

PROVer comes with limit switches on all the axes that prevent the gantry from colliding with the frame.

For calibrating the workpiece height, you can use the Z probe provided with the PROVer, which is a really useful feature.

The TB6S109 Toshiba stepper drivers used are more silent and reliable than the drivers used in the previous versions of PROVer.

The stepper motors on the X, Y and Z axes are 1.3A motors with 35 oz-in (0.25 N.m) of holding torque. 

However, the drivers are rated for up to 4A of current for each motor, meaning you can upgrade the motors without changing the drivers.

Stepper motor drives handle high currents, and during hard stops, the current can significantly increase. The optocoupler on PROVer isolates the mainboard from the driver and protects it during such events.

The kit contains the 3018-PROVer CNC Router Machine, an offline controller, tools box, and a screw/ nut accessories box.

The machine arrives almost assembled and will take about 30 minutes to set it up. Meaning you can start producing without delay.

The PROVer is an affordable choice when you need a machine that can work on aluminum for under $500.

PriceCheck on Amazon
Work area10.2" x 6.1" x 1.4"
Material capabilitiesEngraving on Aluminum, soft materials
Drive mechanismLead screws
SoftwareGRBL Candle
Assembling time~30 minutes
WarrantyNo formal warranty

Summary of Sainsmart Genmitsu 3018-PROVer
Sainsmart Genmitsu 3018 PROVer
  • Class leading value got even easier to use. The 3018-PROVer is the latest version of the 3018 Desktop CNC DIY Kit Series. Now Pre-assembled and no fuss with assembly taking less than 30 minutes out of the box.
  • Still based on open-source Grbl v1.1 the PROVer has stepped up to more powerful but silent Toshiba TB6S109 drivers with added life and performance along with added Optocouplers to protect your mainboard from hard stops without risk of damage and eliminate signal noise for more consistent projects and longevity.

A more detailed review of the PROVer can be found here-Sainsmart Genmitsu 3018 PROVer.

Best CNC Machines for Milling Aluminum under $3,000

These mills are ideally priced for hobbyists and are really popular for Aluminum milling.

Size-wise, all of them are desktop CNC mills.

1. Nomad 3

Carbide3D Nomad CNC
Carbide3D Nomad CNC

Nomad 3 is a popular desktop CNC machine from Carbide 3D, the makers of Shapeoko CNC machines.

It is a good pick for prototyping, jewelry works, metal works and good at handling aluminum.

The Nomad 3 can do smooth machining on wood, plastic, PCB, aluminum ( including 6061 and 7075 alloys), brass and copper.

In the hands of a skilled machinist, the Nomad 3 has been pushed to machine titanium and steel, but it is not the ideal machine for that purpose.

Size and build

Nomad 3 has a 19" x 17 ½" footprint and allows you to machine aluminum workpieces with a maximum stock size of 8" x 8" x 3".

The machine weighs around 65 lbs and doesn't take up much space on your table due to its small footprint.

Machining aluminum can produce noise and quite a bit of debris. The Nomad 3 comes with an enclosure that helps keep the work area clean and reduces the noise from machining aluminum.

Lead screws with anti-backlash nuts drive all three axes. Lead screws are known to provide good accuracy, and combined with anti-backlash nuts, can give you a high level of precision.

For linear motion, the Nomad 3 uses linear rails and not V-wheels, which gives it good rigidity and, as a result, good accuracy.

The chassis is made from aluminum and provides sufficient rigidity to machine aluminum workpieces.

A lack of a chip evacuation system limits the machine's capability as you have to go slow to prevent damage to tool bits due to debris.

Nomad 3 color options
Nomad 3 color options

If aesthetics matter to you, the Nomad 3 has a sleek and neat design. In addition, you can choose from three color options HDPE, Grey HDPE and Bamboo.

Spindle

The spindle on the Nomad 3 has a power rating of 130W and a speed ranging between 9,000 and 24,000 RPM.

The spindle has enough power to handle aluminum stocks with considerably higher feed rates than Shapeoko 4.

Nomad 3 comes with ER 11 collet that supports ⅛" tools meaning the cuts you make on your aluminum stock is going to be small and will require a few passes to make a deep cut.

Controller and electronics 

Nomad 3 uses the same controller board as the Shapeoko Pro, which runs on GRBL firmware and can control three axes. 

You will find a fourth port for connecting a fourth motor, but it is the mirrored Y-axis. Moreover, GRBL based boards can only support up to 3 axes.

The controller can handle upto 4A of currents for each motor that it controls.

Carbide 3D has provided internal illumination on the Nomad 3, which is a good feature that enables you to work under low light conditions.

In addition, you get homing sensors to home the device properly. The door interlock feature prevents the machine from operating with the door open.

However, when lubrication is required while machining aluminum, the door interlock feature can be a nuisance. But people have bypassed it successfully with the help of Carbide 3D's online community.

Software

The Nomad 3 comes with four software programs:

  • MeshCAM for 3D machining using the Nomad 3
  • Carbide Create 2D CAD/CAM software for 2D modeling and machining
  • Carbide Motion for controlling the machine
  • Carbide Copper for PCB machining

These software programs, except Carbide Copper, are not cloud-based, and you can install them on your Windows or MacOS computers.

The software has an easy-to-use graphical interface and is intuitive.

The software capabilities of Nomad 3 allow you to create complex 3D designs on aluminum.

Assembly

The Nomad 3 comes pre-assembled, and therefore all you have to do is connect the wires, install the collet, install the wasteboard, download the software, and start machining.

The instructions for assembly are very clear, with proper illustrations and pictures.

The unpacking and assembly will take less than 30 mins and is an easy-to-do job.

Community and support

The Nomad 3 comes with an 18-month warranty from Carbide 3D, which speaks for the quality of the build.

Like in the Shapeoko 4, Carbide 3D provides the 30-day replacement policy, whereby Carbide 3D will replace any part damaged due to operator error, free of cost in the first 30 days.

It can be helpful for beginners who might be afraid of breaking the machine while putting it together or during the initial learning period.

Carbide 3D offers an 18-month warranty on the Nomad 3, and any damage that occurs within the first 30 days due to operator damage will be replaced free of cost by Carbide 3D.

Carbide 3D is known for its technical support, online community and forums that come with their machines. Moreover, the Nomad 3 is made in California, and replacement parts are delivered quickly. 

Their support videos on their official YouTube channel are quite helpful, and they even provide tips and tricks for using their machine through videos.

If you are looking for a compact machine that can produce good quality parts, the Nomad 3 is a good choice but remember to be patient.

Price~$2,800
Work area8" x 8" x 3"
Material capabilitiesAluminum, Steel (with coolant)
Drive mechanismLead screws with anti-backlash nuts
SoftwareCarbide Create, Carbide Motion Control, MeshCAM
Assembling timePre-assembled
Warranty18 months, 30 days replacement for operator error

Summary of Nomad 3

More about this CNC- Nomad 3 CNC Review [2021]

2. Onefinity Machinist X-35

Onefinity Machinist X-35
Onefinity Machinist X-35

The Machinist X-35 is a CNC Router by Onefinity CNC for Aluminum milling.

Size and build

The Machinist X-35 is built with a size convenient for tabletop milling of small aluminum stock.

With a footprint of 28-¾" x 28-¾", the machinist gives you an effective cutting area of 16" x 16".

If you feel the cutting area is less for your requirement, then you can consider the Onefinity Woodworker X-35 which has twice the lengths in each axis.

This CNC has been built with a better frame than most desktop mills out there.

The frame on the Machinist X-35 is made of hollow steel tubes with 35 mm diameter and that is why the model is named as X-35.

This is a major difference between other CNCs with a similar price point as most of them use aluminum extrusion.

The steel frame makes the Machinist stiff enough to accurately mill aluminum consistently.

Unlike the Shapeoko and Nomad 3 which use Leadscrews, the Machinist uses Ball screws in all 3 axes for linear motion.

The quality of the ball screws used in the machinist are excellent and that helps in bringing the backlash to almost zero.

Ball screws drive the linear ball bearings that run on the steel shaft.

Almost any user who's assembled the Shapeoko will tell you that V-wheels are annoying.

The linear bearing on the machinist replaces the inferior V-wheels and that results in much better accuracy and overall efficiency.

The only better option than the liner bearing would be linear rails like in the Nomad 3.

However linear bearings need a bit of maintenance compared to V-wheels in terms of lubrication to prevent corrosion.

Spindle

The machinist ships without a stock router or spindle and this must be bought separately.

Onefinity recommends the makita RT0701C router.

Controller and electronics 

The controller on the Onefinity is based on the buildbotics controller design.

The buildbotics controller is truly a 2021 controller and it is remarkably better than most other controllers out there.

At its core is a raspberry pi which is a min-computer in itself.

This controller supports 4 axis support with built in WiFi and Ethernet support.

What this means is that you can control your CNC from your phone and that's amazing.

Curiously, the touch display unit that you can get with the Machinist acts as an offline controller, so you don't even need to be connected to your computer for jogging the CNC.

On top of all this, the integrated stepper drivers on this controller are really powerful and that lets you upgrade your stepper motors later down the road if you want.

Software

Unlike most other brands in this list, Onefinity does not provide a CAD/CAM software of their own.

This also means you're free to choose whichever one you prefer.

A lot of hobbyists prefer Fusion 360 for CAD and CAM work.

Once you have generated the toolpaths (G-code), the control software which is built into the controller can read the code and start machining.

Assembly

The extremely short assembly time is one of the biggest perks of buying a Onefinity CNC router.

Like many other desktop CNC machines, the machinist ships as a DIY CNC kit that is to be put together.

However, the kit comes in the form of four pre-assembled modules, and you only need to fasten those four modules to each other.

This results in a total assembly time of roughly 30 minutes which is mind-boggling for a desktop CNC that is sold as a kit.

Community and support

The forum at Onefinity is quite active and although not as large as the Carbide 3D forum in terms of users, the numbers are constantly increasing.

Onefinity is known for standing by its customers and has an excellent reputation among its customer base.

Also, Onefinity offers a 1-year formal warranty on all its products.

The company Kirbre Enterprises Inc. that owns the onefinity brand is based in Ontario, Canada, and the machine ships from that location.

They offer phone support and email support to all customers.

Overall, its clear that makers of the Onefinity has taken the time to understand the issues with the current crop of CNC machines.

The Machinist is truly a 2021 CNC that is ideal for milling aluminum and the scores of videos on YouTube that show happy users is proof to that.

Price~$1,800
Work area16" x 16" x 5.25"
Material capabilitiesAluminum, Copper
Drive mechanismBall-screws
SoftwareNone (have to use third-party software)
Assembling time30 minutes
Warranty1 year

Summary of Onefinity Machinist X-35

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3. Shapeoko 4 (Standard)

Shapeoko 4 CNC Wood Carving Machine
Shapeoko 4 CNC Wood Carving Machine

The Shapeoko 4 CNC Router was launched in May 2021 by Carbide 3D as the successor of the popular Shapeoko 3 with significant performance improvements.

You can machine wood, plastic, and other soft materials with Shapeoko 4.

Aluminum can be machined at slightly slower speeds compared to wood, and other non-metals.

Shapeoko 4 has three versions, the standard, XL and XXL. I have chosen the smallest among the three as workpiece sizes in aluminum are small.

The standard version is priced at $1,700, including the hybrid table but doesn't come with a router.

Size and build

Shapeoko 4 standard has a 33" x 24" footprint and weighs 70 lbs.

You can machine aluminum stocks with a size up to 17-½" x 17-½" x 4". 

The machine is made from aluminum extrusions designed by Carbide 3D and is rigid enough to handle the stress and vibrations while machining aluminum.

However, due to its lightweight construction, the size of cut you can make on your aluminum stock is limited and requires you to make multiple passes, making the process slower.

The large work area and the hybrid table with T-slots make work holding easy and ensures a snug fit while working.

It uses V-wheels to move the gantry, the V-wheels on Shapeoko 4, which are more rigid than the previous versions.

V wheels do not require regular lubrication, unlike linear rails that tend to rust in the absence of lubrication.

The x and y-axis are driven by belt drives. Belt drives are considered to have less responsiveness and accuracy.

Shapeoko 4 addresses this by using broader belts that are 15 mm wide compared to 9 mm belts on Shapeoko 3 and makes it a capable machine for cutting aluminum.

The drive system used on the Z-axis of the Shapeoko 4 is the lead screw drive which handles stresses while machining aluminum better than belt drives.

Carbide 3D also offers a ball screw drive upgrade for the Shapeoko using the Shapeoko HDZ ball screw kit, which can be bought from their website and can significantly improve rigidity.

Shapeoko 4 Desktop CNC
Shapeoko 4 Desktop CNC with dustboot and vaccum

Shapeoko 4 ships with a Sweepy 65mm V2 dust boot that keeps the work area clean. 

However, it is recommended to connect a vacuum to ensure that chips are cleared properly to ensure smooth machining.

Motors and spindle

Shapeoko 4 uses four NEMA 23 stepper motors to move the three axes. The y-axis is driven by two stepper motors instead of one, which improves precision.

While machining aluminum, the y-axis can move out of sync. A dual-motor drive prevents that by providing equal torque at both ends.

Although the Shapeoko 4 doesn't come with a router, you can add the 110V Carbide Compact Router with an RPM range of 12,000-30,000 for around $80.

You can use your own choice of a router with the Shapeoko 4. Carbide 3D recommends routers with a 65mm diameter like the Makita RT0700C. 

If you wish to use a DeWalt router, you'll have to purchase additional mounts. 

However, for machining aluminum, Makita is recommended by Carbide 3D over DeWalt due to the higher RPM that Makita offers.

Controller

Shapeoko 4 uses the GRBL based Carbide Motion V3.0 board, the same board used on the Shapeoko Pro.

The control board connects via USB with your computer with well-labeled pins to connect the stepper motors and a port to connect the BitRunner controller.

Each time you work with the Shapeoko 4, you need to manually turn the spindle on and off. 

You can hook up the spindle to the BitRunner accessory available on their official website for around $80. This addition will let you control the spindle via G-code through the controller board.

The controller is robust and can provide quality step signals to produce aluminum parts with good precision.

Software

Carbide 3D bundles the Carbide Create Motion Control software, and the Carbide Create software at no extra cost with the Shapeoko 4.

You can install the software on both Windows and MacOS computers, and the software integrates well with each other and provides an all-in-one software experience.

It functions as a CAD, CAM, Simulation and controller software, and the best thing is there is no yearly subscription fee.

Carbide Create lets you create designs on aluminum parts with ease. It is easy-to-use and beginner-friendly software.

The capabilities of the design software provided is limited to 2D designs, with the capability to do 2.5D machining.

For 3D modeling, you can purchase the Carbide Create Pro software, which can be a necessary tool if you intend to create complex aluminum parts. For simple parts, 3D software is seldom required.

You can also use the software of your choice to run the Shapeoko 4. However, it would require some initial configuration.

Assembly

Just like the Machinist, the Carbide 3D Shapeoko 4 ships as a DIY CNC kit.

Assembling the Shapeoko 4 is made easy by the well-detailed instruction manual and step-by-step guide videos on Shapeoko's official YouTube channel.

Most of the parts come pre-assembled, which drastically reduces the time required for assembly.

However assembly time is a bit longer compared to that of the Onefinity Machinist CNC.

Community and support

The online community of Shapeoko is large and quite helpful with any queries.

Carbide 3D has excellent videos to guide you on your CNC journey on their official YouTube channel.

You can also refer to their detailed video on the different feed rates and speeds you can use for machining aluminum.

Carbide 3D offers a one-year warranty against manufacturer defects for one year.

But what's interesting is their 30-day replacement policy, whereby Carbide 3D will replace any part damaged due to operator error-free of cost.

It can be helpful for beginners who might be afraid of breaking the machine while putting it together or during the initial learning period.

Shapeoko manufactures its machines in Torrance, California or Sterling, Illinois, and has a US-based customer support team, meaning you get quick delivery of replacement parts and a reliable resolution for your queries.

If you need a CNC machine that can work on 17” x 17” aluminum sheets for under $2000, then the Shapeoko is a good choice.

Price~$1,700
Work area17.5" x 17.5" x 4"
Material capabilitiesAluminum, Steel (with coolant)
Drive mechanismx and y axis - belt drive, z-axis lead screw
SoftwareCarbide Create and Carbide Motion Control Software
Assembling time~5 hours
Warranty1 year

Summary of Shapeoko 4 Standard

4. Tormach xsTECH

Tormach xsTECH
Tormach xsTECH

The xsTECH is a compact machine designed for small-scale prototyping and hobby use.

xsTECH is popular in educational institutions for teaching students the basics of CNC milling.

It is an easy-to-use machine and doesn’t require you to have expertise in machining. You can use it for machining wood, plastics and aluminum.

You can purchase the xsTECH for around $3,500 from their official website.

Size and build

xsTECH has a 15.4” x 15.7” x 16.7” footprint and weighs 33 lbs. As it is a compact machine the stock size you can use on this machine is limited to 8.6” x 6.3” x 2.4”.

The xsTECH has a steel and aluminum chassis that provides good rigidity for cutting aluminum.

The enclosure provided helps keep the work area clean and reduces noise levels while providing safety to the operator.

It uses a belt drive mechanism to move the axes, and hence for machining aluminum, you should use reduced feed rates.

Spindle

It uses an 80W brushless spindle motor with speed ranging between 5,000 - 20,000 RPM, which is sufficient for cutting aluminum.

The maximum feed rate you can achieve on xsTECH is 120 inches per minute, but the feed rates for cutting aluminum will be lower.

The spindle is suitable for use with ER11 collets, and Tormach provides a 16-piece carbide cutting toolset.

Controller and electronics

The controllers on Tormach CNC are produced in-house. The controller for the xsTECH comes with an integrated 10.4” touchscreen.

It has an electronic tool setter to measure the tool length after changing the tool on the spindle.

The package includes a Wi-Fi module, a keyboard, a mouse and a jog shuttle. In addition, the emergency switch provided improves the safety of operation.

The machine runs on a 120 V 50/60Hz AC power supply. However, Tormach also has a 230V version.

It supports aftermarket accessories like probes, robotic part loader, and auxiliary pumps, which can be triggered using M-codes via the controller.

Software

The software used on the xsTECH is Tormach’s proprietary software, PathPilot, which is integrated with the controller.

You do not require a computer to run xsTECH, you can use dropbox to transfer files wirelessly to the controller or use flash drives.

PathPilot supports upto four axes and can generate conversational G-code, an excellent feature for those new to G-code programming.

The software is easy to use for beginners and is a good tool to improve the expertise in machining.

You can access the controller remotely and use it to run simulations.

Assembly

The xsTECH comes pre-assembled, and the setup involves connecting the pre-assembled parts.

The entire setup will take less than 30 minutes, and you can start machining aluminum right away.

Community and support

The official support from Tormach is good, with a collection of well-documented resources available on their website.

They even provide templates that you can use to create your projects.

Price~$3,500
Work area8.6” x 6.3” x 2.4”
Material capabilitiesAluminum, Steel engraving
Drive mechanismBelt drive
SoftwarePathPilot
Assembling timePre-assembled
Warranty1 Year

Summary of Tormach xsTECH

If you want to machine materials other than aluminum as well, then check out my guide on the best desktop CNC machines for hobbyists.

Best Premium CNC Machines for Aluminum Milling ($5,000+)

These are premium options which are built for best performance while milling aluminum and cost more than $5,000.

1. Pocket NC V2-10

Pocket NC V2-10
Pocket NC V2-10

The Pocket NC was designed to be a tool for those who create small components with high precision. 

For its size, the Pocket NC V2-20 packs a punch in what it can do.

It is a five-axis CNC machine that can create complex parts like the impeller of an RC-turbine engine with accuracy and finish.

The industrial-grade output of the machine makes it a good choice for creating medical equipment parts using metals.

The Pocket NC V2-20 can machine G5 Titanium workpieces but is not the ideal machine for titanium. But can handle all other metals softer than G5 titanium like aluminum with ease.

However, for the industrial-grade quality and finish and the capability to cut through hard metals, you have to shell out around $6,000 for this machine.

Size and build

The machine has a 17.5" x 12.5" footprint. If you purchase the enclosure, the footprint increases to 22" x 11" x 18".

It weighs around 30 lbs without the enclosure, and the enclosure weighs roughly 25 lbs.

The workpiece size is determined by the way you mount it and the toolpaths you use. However, PocketNC V2-10 has X-axis travel of 4.55", Y-axis travel of 5" and Z-axis travel of 3.55". 

The rotational axis A can rotate between (-25° to 135°), and the B-axis has a travel between -9999° to 9999°.

You can find plenty of videos on YouTube that shows the Pocket NC V2-10 cutting steel with ease, and hence the capability of this machine to cut aluminum is undoubtable.

The additional two axes mean you can rotate and manipulate the stock to make complex cuts.

For linear motion, lead screws are used with preloaded nuts that reduce backlash, and for rotational motion, worm drives are used.

The machine's frame is made from 6061 aluminum alloy with ±0.001" squareness which means the machine has excellent accuracy.

The machine has a rigid construction and can withstand the vibrations and stress of machining aluminum and steel.

You can achieve tolerances of up to 0.005", and if you are careful with it, you can achieve a maximum tolerance of 0.002".

5-axis machining of aluminum can produce a lot of chips and debris, which flies off in all directions. An enclosure is highly recommended to contain the debris and keep the work area clean.

Pocket NC sells the enclosure for V2-10 for around $570 without the safety switch on their official website.

For work holding, Pocket NC provides a vise that is shipped with every machine. Additionally, you can also purchase an ER40 fixture and collet for holding your workpieces.

Milled using Pocket NC CNC
Milled using Pocket NC CNC

Motor and spindle

Pocket NC V2-10 uses five NEMA 17 motors to control the movement of the five axes.

The X, Y and Z-axes can be moved at the speed of 60 inches per min. The rotational axes A and B can be rotated at a maximum speed of 40° per second.

Travel speeds on the V2-10 are relatively slow compared to other machines on this list, but the amount of aluminum it can cut per pass is significantly higher, making it faster than the rest.

It comes with a 200W brushless spindle motor with a speed that can be varied between 2,000 RPM and 10,000 RPM, making it capable enough to plow through aluminum with ease.

The spindle has a runout of around 0.0005", which in my opinion, is highly accurate for a CNC in this price range.

The spindle comes with an ER11 collet that can hold tools with less than ¼" shank.

Even though the spindle motor is a 3-phase motor, you do not need a 3-phase power supply.

Controller and electronics

The V2-10 uses the BeagleBone Black as the main control board, a mini-computer with an ARM Cortex A-8 processor.

Since it is a 5-axis machine, GRBL firmware cannot be used and uses the Rockhopper firmware based on the Machinekit platform.

Machinekit is a platform developed specifically for machine control applications.

The controller can connect to your computer via USB, ethernet or mini USB and accept standard G-code.

An interesting thing about the V2-10 is it has a universal power input. Meaning you can plug it into any socket that has an AC supply voltage between 90-264 V within a 47-63Hz frequency and any DC supply between 127-370 V.

At maximum draw, the V2-10 requires less than 4A of current to operate.

Software

V2-10 has its software installed on the controller board. You can access it via any internet browser on a computer running any operating system.

The BeagleBone control board does all the processing, and a computer is required only to provide you an interface.

Which is a good thing as it makes sending instructions faster due to the availability of a dedicated processor.

It does not require an internet connection to run. However, you need an internet connection to update the drivers.

As it accepts standard G-code, you can use any CAM software to generate G-code.

Pocket NC provides post processors for the popular CAM software like Fusion 360, which helps the software to generate G-code that is more relevant for the V2-10.

The online simulator tool from Pocket NC can be a useful tool to simulate how V2-10 will perform and check your G-code errors. You can access it at 'sim.pocketnc.com'.

Assembly

Pocket NC V2-10 CNC
Pocket NC V2-10 CNC

The machine comes pre-assembled, and there is little that you have to do to get it up and running.

The entire process, from unpacking to working, will take about 30 minutes.

Pocket NC provides detailed videos with clear instructions to set up your machine.

Community and support

Even though the online community is comparatively less than the other machines on this list, the official support from Pocket NC is excellent.

They make their products in Belgrade, Montana and provide a one-year warranty for their CNC machines.

Pocket NC has US-based phone support that is reliable and customer-friendly.

The accuracy that you get and the reduced cycle time compensates for the roughly $6,000 price tag.

So, if you want a machine that provides incredible precision, produces small parts with quality and with a reduced cycle time, the Pocket NC V2-10 is a good choice.

Price~$6,000
Work area~ 4.55" x 5" x 3.55" (depends on mounting)
Material capabilitiesAluminum, Steel, G5 Titanium
Drive mechanismlead screws and worm drives
SoftwareProvides interface that works with all software
Assembling timePre-assembled
Warranty1 year

Summary of Pocket NC V2-10

2. Avid CNC Benchtop Pro 2424

Avid Benchtop Pro
Avid Benchtop Pro 2424

Avid CNC is known for making some of the most rigid and accurate CNCs machines affordably.

Benchtop Pro 2424 produces good quality parts comparable to entry-level industrial-grade machines and can work on large aluminum workpieces.

The strength and rigidity provide optimum performance while cutting aluminum and takes up little space in your workshop.

The Benchtop Pro will cost you roughly $3,575. However, it requires you to purchase parts like a router, stepper motors, controller, software, collet and tooling separately, which makes it expensive.

Avid CNC Benchtop Pro 2424$3,575
Plug and Play NEMA 23 CNC Control System$1,695
Dewalt DW618 Router with Mount$3,00
Pepperl + Fuchs Proximity Sensor Kit$285
Auto Z and Corner Finding Touch Plate$150
Mach4 Software$200
Total$6,205

Rough cost estimate of Benchtop Pro 2424 build

Size and build

The footprint of the machine is 43” x 43” x 37” and is the largest on this list with a work envelope of 26” x 26” x 6”, meaning you can machine thick and large sheets of aluminum with ease.

It uses a ball-screw drive mechanism on all axes and a dual ball-screw drive for the gantry for improved stiffness and accuracy, particularly good for machining aluminum.

The bed is made of aluminum with T-slots which makes work holding and changing a smooth task.

Benchtop Pro uses an aluminum chassis that has enough rigidity to machine aluminum at good speeds. 

The feed rate that can be achieved is around 200 inches per minute which is slower than some machines on this list.

However, Benchtop Pro has the highest depth of cut and can use larger tools than the other machines.

It has a resolution of 0.0002”, repeatability of ± 0.001” and precision of ± 0.005” meaning you can make accurate parts with a good finish.

Motor and spindle

You can select any NEMA 23 or NEMA 34 stepper motor. Selecting a NEMA 34 motor will allow you to choose a spindle with more power, which will improve the feed rates.

Avid CNC does not bundle a spindle with the Benchtop Pro, which gives you an option to choose a spindle of your choice.

Avid CNC offers two spindle options that you can purchase, a 4 hp and an 8.7 hp VFD spindle priced around $2,000 and $3,900.

For reference, a 3 hp spindle running at 20,600 RPM on the Benchtop Pro can remove 8.85 cubic inches of aluminum every minute at a speed of around 200 inches per minute.

Controller and electronics

All the electronics on the Benchtop Pro are customizable. You can buy the parts from Avid CNC, or you could select from the wide variety of choices avaialble elsewhere.

The controller that Avid CNC offers can be purchased for roughly $1,550 and supports upto five motors.

It uses the Ethernet smoothstepper board and requires Mach4 control software.

Software

Benchtop Pro is a customizable machine, and as such, no software is bundled with it.

The software options will depend upon the controller you choose for your Benchtop Pro.

If you choose the Avid CNC controller, you will need the Mach 4 control software, a paid software.

Avid CNC provides post processors for their CNC machines for a wide range of CAM software.

Assembly

Avid CNC ships the machine disassembled and packed in well-labeled boxes. The well detailed documentation provided are of immense help in assembling the machine.

It will take you around three to five hours to set up the framework for Avid CNC Benchtop Pro.

The time required for setting up the electronics and controllers will depend upon the configuration you choose.

Community and support

Avid CNC has an online forum that has a good number of active users.

The official support is good enough and is based out of Washington. You can expect a reliable resolution to your problems over mail or call.

The Benchtop Pro can be customized as per the exact needs you have and has a rigid chassis. Therefore, it is a good option. However, it would require you to spend some time putting it together.

Price~$6,205
Work area26” x 26” x 6”
Material capabilitiesAluminum and other non ferrous metals
Drive mechanismBall-screw drive
SoftwareMach 4 (optional), customizable
Assembling time3-5 hours
Warranty1 year

Summary of Avid CNC Benchtop Pro 2424

Other Options for Aluminum Milling

If you don't want to use desktop CNC mills like the ones above, then an alternative is to use a benchtop mill.

The drawback with such a mill is that work area is limited and not ideal for milling non-metals.

The other option is to buy a manual benchtop milling machine and convert the mill to a CNC benchtop mill.

If you are looking to make products that are round or circular in shape, then using a CNC lathe might be a better idea.

Factors to consider while selecting a CNC machine for machining aluminum

Rigidity of the machine

The rigidity of the machine will determine the amount of vibrations and stress it can handle which in turn will determine the accuracy you achieve.

A more rigid machine will allow for faster feed rates and reduced cycle time than a less rigid machine.

Heavier machines can dampen vibrations better than light ones.

Drive mechanism

The drive mechanism determines how power is transmitted to move the axes. A belt drive mechanism is less responsive than lead screw mechanism as belt drives tend to stretch under force.

Lead screw mechanisms can have backlash due to the space between the threads of the screw and the nut. However, backlash can be reduced by using ant backlash nuts.

Ball screw drives are resistant to backlash but can be back driven by the load, which can be prevented by using stepper motors with sufficient holding torque.

Spindle

Consider purchasing a machine with a variable high speed spindle with enough power to provide good cutting speeds.

You can use online calculators to figure out the best RPM, power, and feed rates for a given depth of cut and choice of tool.

For hobby machining of aluminum it is better to purchase spindle that can accommodate small collets that hold tools with small shanks. The diameter of the tool determines the speed at which the edge of the tool rotates, a small diameter tool translates to more number of cuts per minute.

Number of axes

The number of axes determines the complexity of the parts you can make. For complex parts such as turbine blades a 5-axis machine is preferable.

More number of axes allows you to work without having to change the orientation of your workpiece.

However, the cost of the machine increases with the number of axes it has and investing in a machine with more axes is not advisable when you have no use for the extra axes.

Software

The software is what allows you to design and control your CNC machine. Choose a software that can handle the designing requirements of the projects you undertake.

You can choose from a multitude of free and paid software out there. Where the free software usually have a large online community the paid software provides excellent features and official support.

Cost of the machine

When you consider the cost of a machine do not limit it to the money it will cost you. Consider the time the machine can save for you and also consider the cost of tools, accessories and maintenance cost.

It is not wise to purchase an expensive machine with advanced features and capabilities if you those features are not going to be of regular use to you.

Always keep the complexity and requirements of the projects you intend to take up, while choosing a CNC machine.

About John

Hey I'm John. I talk about CNCs and Power Tools at Mellowpine. I'm a CNC hobbyist who has been making CNCs and writing about CNCs for a while. I currently also work as a consultant for business owners and hobbyists setting up their own CNCs. If you have any questions related to CNC, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at john@mellowpine.com

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John

Hey I'm John. I talk about CNCs and Power Tools at Mellowpine. I'm a CNC hobbyist who has been making CNCs and writing about CNCs for a while. I currently also work as a consultant for business owners and hobbyists setting up their own CNCs. If you have any questions related to CNC, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at john@mellowpine.com

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