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.