Literally never used it

Hey all
Been a while since I popped in here.
Gotta be honest, I got so fed up messing around with Estlcam and trying to get it to do basic stuff, that I have literally not switched the CNC on since I finished the wireless tablet controller months ago.

I was spending more time setting up, messing up, restarting, messing up again - repeat… than I was just cutting out what 2mm ally plate I wanted using a hacksaw and filing it down.

Add into that the infuritaing delay EVER single time you create a file in Estlcam (yes, I know… pay to get rid of it… but it’s just too janky for me to spend on), and you have a setup for frustration.

So… is there a guide anywhere… an idiots guide to getting this thing to work, without losing half a day trying to do something simple. I realise it’s me, but I am at a point where I want this machine out of my workshop to free up some space.

As the last few months have proven… life’s too short!


So, I can’t help any with EstlCam, because I’ve never used it either.

There are a number of other options for doing the CAM.

What CAD platform do you prefer?

There is a Fusion360 post processor for the Marlin / MPCNC. Someone else could probably provide a link.

I think Kiri:moto has Onshape integration. It seems to be under active development, and the developer is active on this forum. Here is a thread on the topic.

I’ve mostly been using FreeCAD for both CAD and CAM myself.

I’ve also been using F-Engrave and I’ve played around with Dmap2Gcode for V-carved signs and images.

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Curious about FreeCAD

Do you find it intuitive to use?

When using it for CAM, what board are you using and does the CNC program go directly to it, thru Repetier Host or ???

I don’t know that I’d call it intuitive, but I have no prior CAD experience and didn’t have much trouble learning the basics.

Some videos from a user and FreeCAD developer using the handle Sliptonic, were the most helpful with learning the CAM.

There are a number of tutorials on the CAD, including a series from a channel called Invent Box Tutorials that helped me get started. A youtube search will come up with more.

My Lowrider is controlled by a TinyG control board, and I’ve been using a linuxCNC post processor. Based on a thread on the FreeCAD forums, the grbl post processor should probably work for Marlin based machines.

FreeCAD does not have any provision for controlling the CNC directly, it just produces a gcode file.

Repetier Host, Octoprint, CNCjs (what I use), SDcard, etc. should all work for sending the gcode to the machine.

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Thank for that! I’ve been watching a number of InkScape tutorials as I think it may be useful to me but still need to learn a CAD program. What I learned with years ago was more like electronic drafting than what I see now, basically doing a 3-view but still had the capability of creating curved surfaces between points. I don’t know if it’s just a bit ingrained as I used it quite a bit or if I’m just getting dumber as well as older. :scream:

My take on “intuitive” is in keeping with the idea that…

“The only intuitive user interface is the nipple. After that it’s all learned” 8^)


:grin: What makes me think some are and some not so much is I learned on version VIII of a program and picked it up pretty quickly just by doing.
My friend whose shop it was in was coerced into ‘upgrading’ to version X and I had much more difficulty trying to learn that and reverted to VIII as did my friend. I’m sure X actually was an upgrade for those using it multiple hours everyday but for a hobby user such as myself, VIII just seemed more like an extension of my thought process of how to do what I wanted to do.

What a bummer. You’re clearly willing to put in the time. You’ve got a great controller, so the issue isn’t at the machine. I think it’s 50% frustration with the cam and 50% the fact that cnc still requires a lot of thought.

I know when I learned I was hoping for a 3D printer experience. One where I could just copy a shape from the Internet and send it to the machine and I’d have a smoking part a few hours later.

For one thing, I do have to spend more time in CAD. There just aren’t many complete designs ready to go that I have found to cut. When I do find something I can cut, I don’t have the right material, or I don’t know the exact dimensions of my material.

Estlcam is love/hate for me. The options are laid out there, and the tooltips are generally all I need to figure out what I’m doing. Once I made a few cuts, I paid for it. Because in those few cuts, I think it earned its pay. But that was version 9, and I have 11 installed, so I’m getting the delay again. I do have constant stress that I will forget a step, like adding holding tabs, or overcuts, or leave a toolpath at the default depth.

There are some good videos from some old guy coding. He shows himself operating estlcam and he knows it well enough. He shows his mistakes and he has some good tricks for workflow, like selecting multiple paths to edit their settings.

There is a steep work curve when you’re starting, because you have to get the feeds and speeds dialed in. In wood, it is easy enough to just go slower and make one more pass. But once you find settings that work, you don’t have to mess with tool settings anymore. I haven’t tried aluminum, but the impression I get is that the working settings have a much smaller window of success. I honestly am not going to try it unless I had a 2.5D or carving operation I needed. I don’t do metalworking though.

Switching to a different CAM might help. Kiri:moto comes at it from a completely different direction. You always start with a 3D model and then choose settings. The CAM decides what to cut. It moves your control from CAM to CAD. I haven’t decided if this is better or not. There are a few minor speed issues getting resolved, but I suspect those will be cleared up soon. It may really be a good fit, because once you set things up, I bet you can just zip right through the cam with the right cad. It gets closer to the promise that slicers have given us.

There are also some jobs that are better for cnc than others.

If you are making 5 of some board per week, you can hone the CAM and then just reuse the gcode. I never do that, because I only build for myself.

If you are making signs, with carved letters and logos, you will save an enormous amount of time (even if you are already a skilled carver).

If you are making larger pieces out of sheet goods that need to fit together, you can do that work on the bandsaw/router table. That can sometimes require fiddling to get it just right, and a CNC can make that easier, but it depends a little on the scale. Just a few angles or curves might be easier by hand. A multiple compound curve piece might actually be easier by hand. A lot of curves or joints would be easier again for the cnc.

2.5D work, like a dug out box would be easier with a CNC, unless you are gluing layers together. And if it’s a small project, you can make a few with very little incremental cost.

Cutting out single, specific jobs, with relatively simple structures and it isn’t the right tool for the job. It will work, but it isn’t the fastest. I wouldn’t cut out a square out of plywood on my cnc. I have a table saw. If I was a cabinet maker, I might be making a bunch of the same cabinet sides, and I could justify the time to get the cam right.

There is some excitement from using a robot to cut stuff. The pride and awe can push me through some projects.

I’m sad you’re not using your cnc. I’m very impressed with your build, and your dedication to projects. Now that some of that initial excitement has died down, I hope you can find something that makes it go smoother and reduce the resistance enough to get back to it. But you may just be doing operations that are easier with a hacksaw and file. In that case the barrier to getting it right is too high, and the other solution is easy enough. It isn’t the right tool for the job at that point. If you end up getting rid of the machine, I hope you find someone that can use it. It is an awesome build.


I don’t want to be negative… it’s a great machine (I think).
Trouble is… finding the time to learn yet more new stuff. I started on Freecad but just have not had the time to jump back to it.

But, for the REALLY basic stuff, like plates… Tinkercad can fire out an SVG file that will go into Estlcam and produce a working file.
Load that into Repetier and watch the bit snap off and fly across the room (as just happened).

I have some 2mm Ally here (which actually appears to be a pain to cut because it’s thin).
I had a 3mm single flute bit, 0.4mm Z step, 5mm /s. 2mm holding tabs. That didn’t go well.
Whole sheet of ally wasted now.

Round tip? Flat tip? Flat tips grab and shear off even at 0.2mm step.
So, I am thinking 3mm rounded tip and start off slightly high (even if that means wasted passes doing nothing) and then cut about 3+mm deep to ensure I get right through.

Oh hang on. I’ll just cut it out on the bandsaw :thinking:

Right just tried a 3.1mm round tip, single flute bit. 0.4mm Z step, 5mm/s.
Crashed and burned. I actually don’t think the entire centre assembly is sturdy enough for this task.
Doesn’t seem to have much flex, but clearly it’s not up to it.
I cut barely into the ally and suddenly got a wobble on. Emergency stop before the bit broke.

Need to decide whether to pursue this bit of kit

I think trying aluminium right off is jumping in at the deep end. I haven’t tried it yet myself. Is it really required for the project?

I think it would be much easier to try plywood or acrylic or something first.

My understanding is that “trochoidal” milling is very helpful for ally, and slotting cuts are very difficult. FreeCAD does not have trochoidal capability.

Have you seen the Aluminim Guide?

Ally is aluminum?

Yes. I found that design work in Inkscape and OnShape allow me to do what I need to do, but that initial learning of these programs were a bite. I rarely find a part that I can print right out and it fulfills what I need.

I paid the money and am happy for having done it. Makes learning it worth the effort. I started with some basic boxes and made a whole bunch of them until I figured out the workflow. You are right, there are some issues that can bite you which you don’t learn to avoid until you mess up a project. Then it gets a bit tedious to save and do the test run, and then air cut and then keep waiting. I think the nag screen can be self-defeating for buying the product. I’d much rather have a full fledged version that self-destructs so I can test it out without limits. When folks are starting out, you just have to save the project too many times and the nag screen becomes a block to even trying.

That being said, the Kiri:Moto app is excellent for basic 2.5 D milling. I’d be happy to work with you in getting to know that interface and setting up your machine. It’s free and @stewart has been updating it with some nice features.

As to the aluminum plate, that is a challenge. Workholding is critical for everything, but the more dense a material is, the more difficult it is. When I switched to hot glue/CA glue for workholding, I started getting more consistent results because I wasn’t having parts shift and vibrate. That whole work holding and tool path planning can get you.

You definitely know your way around a shop by the posts about your build, but you’ve been struggling with CAM for too long. I’d love to help you get over this hump.

Oh, one more thing. I spent about a month carving foam until I figured out EstlCAM and CNC control with CNC.js


Yes, I have read the Aluminium guide.
Unfortunately, most of what I build it ally or plastic. This part does have to be ally.

I have made the panels now the old fashioned way. Jigsaw, Dremel and file.

Just stripped the centre axis apart. A few of the bearing now don’t freewheel, but that doesn’t seem to make any difference to the movement (but I will fix that).

If you lift the very left hand side of the centre assembly you can hear a VERY slight clonk on the Z rails, so something isn’t 100% tight… but I can’t see it and I can’t even slip a piece of paper between any of the rollers and the bearings.
The centre assembly is not what I would call ‘loose’.

I don’t think thin ally is a good thing anyway. I did do some thicker stuff a while back and that was slightly more successful.

I have a horrible feeling this is going to become a workshop elephant that I just don’t use.

You really can’t start with metal. It is extremely difficult compared to wood. Plastic is considerably harder to get right compared to wood and metal is way above that.

The problem with CNC for beginners is too small of a bit and too big of a bite (too slow or too fast) produce the exact same results. You never know which way to go, on top of material holding and bit selection.

I strongly urge you to get some practice in on wood. Iterate with a small shape with a slot, pocket, and hole. Go faster and slower. Learn what a real good cut sounds like, as odd as that sounds the first indicator is your ears. You can hear it before you ever see a chip. Then try plastic, it acts the same as aluminum, it will gum up a bit or snap it. When you figure that out, then start with aluminum.

Are you using an alloy known to machine well?

One you get it right, it is very easy after that. Getting it right the first time is not easy. I still can’t vcarve aluminum. I snapped two bits and have not tried it again, yet others tell me it is easier than cutting things out.


I cut the tops off 2 drywall screws only metal I’ve cut


I have done a whole pile of wood. That went fine. Don’t get me wrong… not jumping in the deep end.

The ally is machinable. I use it on the milling machine all the time at a workshop I sub-contract to.

Just checked what is knocking on the centre assembly. It’s the thread of the lead screw. There appears to be slight vertical play in it (very slight).
Would not think that would matter. Maybe I am wrong

Normally it would not but you are only taking a 0.4mm bite, so now that play might be half your bite. And the other thing is with metal if you do not take enough off you are actually work hardening it for the next pass and will break your bit. You need to take the right sized bite. Have a look at my old aluminum cutting videos. Those should be halfway decent starting numbers…and move the metal as close as you possibly can to your gantry, literally every mm matters here.