Good footprint size for 1" build for Aluminum?

Hi. I found out about these machines recently. I have a shapeoko 2 currently and have been making some modifications to cut aluminum. I’m hoping to start a 1" conduit MPCNC build soon with the intentions of being able to cut aluminum. The cut area on the shapeoko is about 10"x10" so I would like something larger, but want to find the right balance between size and rigidity. Anyone have and advice on a good compromise? People who are currently having good success with aluminum would you mind sharing the specs on your build size? Thanks!!

I don’t have one that fits 1" conduit, I have a 3/4" conduit (23.5mm OD), 25mmOD, and a 25.4mmOD. The 1"OD fits 1"OD stainless steel. Sorry for the confusion.

Of course the smaller the better, but the most important is a short Z axis and short legs. That will help retain rigidity. You can cut aluminum with bigger machines but it tends to take some experience to generate appropriate gcode for a larger machine. If you need to cut really big aluminum just slap a plasma cutter on it and full sheets should not be an issue with the LowRider CNC.

Which axis is giving you troubles on the shapeoko? I assumed it was pretty robust? I am itching for some first hand shapeoko details.

I’m not going to answer your question, sorry. I have only made one MPCNC and no Al cutting on it.

I would just point out that you don’t need to stress too much. Changing the size isn’t a huge deal. You can start with 12"x12" cutting area, and either leave the pipes, table, and cables long enough to grow or just replace them with larger ones once you think you’ve got it the CAM and chip rate stuff tuned in. You can start big and reduce the size too, but if you are the type to get quit when you get frustrated, this has obvious problems.

@Ryan, I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but it would be nice if there was a page with some reference sizes/types as a starting point. We see this question quite a lot. You see a lot of machines being built and see what they’re used for, you could probably come up with ideal-ish sizes for:

  • Printing and engraving small stuff. Desktop size, basically.
  • Stiff CNC work, like Al work like this. I would guess this is larger X,Y and smaller Z, but needs SS tubes.
  • Wood working medium machine. Sign making, through hole boxes, etc. Small Z big X,Y. Maybe even larger than the stiff machine, and SS isn’t really a requirement for art. Maybe you’d have your own take.
  • Maybe an ideal laser size? I haven’t done the laser either. I’m not sure what size is good for that, but not a big Z. It’s not as heavy, right, so maybe not SS either.

I’m guessing it would help if someone came in with a question and said, “I made it to the Desktop size, and my problem is blah blah.”

I tried to do it here,, but it gets hard to be anything other than vague and just give guidelines. Anytime I try to give exact dimensions someone always pops up with “well mine is this big and it works fine”.

I will look at it again today. It would be easier If I could do some sort of flex tests and give actual numbers.

Oops. No worries, I was just reading the sizes wrong, but that makes much more sense. I guess I need to make some calls and get some quotes on SS tubing, if I wanna go with the larger tube rails.

Not really needing to cut very big pieces, just would be happy with a bit more room than what the Shapeoko can do. Ideally something like a 24"x24" cut area would be plenty big enough. Mostly looking to cut 1/8" or 1/4" pieces and parts.

I have a shapeoko 2, which is actually more like the current x-carve machines. The Shapeoko 3 is the newest version and I believe is more rigid. It seems like it will cut aluminum with a bit more work. My issues were more related to the spindle. Mine originally came with a knock off dremel tool. I replaced it with a DIY spindle made from a ER11 collet and brushless RC motor. I just finished a new, more compact version, and am just trying to get it dialed it. It’s close, but need to make some small adjustments to square it up.

Thanks, that’s a very good point about changing the size and one of the reasons I liked this machine. I’m on my 3rd iteration of spindle on my shapeoko, so a little trial and error isn’t an issue. Always nice when you get something totally dialed in, but tinkering can be fun as well.

Wonder if it might be helpful to have a thread where people can list the specs of their machine with the sizes and materials they’ve had success cutting? Might quickly become to unwieldy and hard to follow, but might be helpful?

The videos I have up with aluminum are on a machine with an outside footprint of 24x24x4, and from a few revisions ago. The new parts are much more sturdy and the firmware and CAM programs have improved greatly since. With that being said for your machine I would try to do a large axis and a smaller axis. Like a 2’x1’(or maybe 1.5’). Keep the z axis at around 3 inches and move the material closest to the gantry when possible.

Not that a 2x2 isn’t possible but I would say start smaller, it will be much faster. You can make the machine larger by simply leaving the tubes at the right length and moving the corner blocks later. At the same time, there really are not any commercial mills out there capable of 2x2 aluminum anywhere even close to this in price so please keep that in mind. for things like this waterjet, plasma, and lasers are used and they have many many more zeroes attached.

Hi Keith,
I have a 40"x40"x3.5" build with ss tubing that I mill 1/4" aluminum with. Given my projects needs I went with that size, but defiantly would have scaled it down if I could have. I have my spoilboard built up as close as I could go to the gantry. Check out Trochoidal milling, has worked out great for myself as I was having issues with conventional milling with aluminum ( could be user error).

I would see if you can find a local supplier in your area for the ss tubing. I have a metal and steel supplier about twenty minutes from me. I paid $15 for ten foot length of 1"od, .065 wall ss tubing.

I would recommend buying the elctrocnics/hardware kit from this site. I sourced the parts on my own, didn’t save any money, probably cost me a bit more. I had a friend stop over when I was building my machine and he decided to build one as well. Had him buy a kit here and we picked up ss tubing for him, and I talked him into making it smaller then my machine.

Thanks for the all the info everyone. I figured it would be better to just bump this thread than start a new one. I think I’m going to try for something on the order of a 1’x2’ cut area.

For the people who are having decent luck with aluminum. Are you guys using conduit builds or SS tubing?

That’s a great price. I haven’t had any luck locally yet, but all the price lists I can find online are more on the order of $50 for a 10’ piece. Too bad your supplier isn’t in Ohio.

I’m working on a build with similar goals - glad I finally found this thread.

What’s the recommended spindle for 1/4" aluminum? Should I try to source a spindle, or just go with a dw660?

I feel the dewalt 660 is the best bang for the buck.