Review: Stepcraft build

Setting up the HomeShop

Since we moved to a new house a year ago I finally got enough space to set up a proper HomeShop and started so by building separate areas:

  • Workbench (sawing, grinding, boring, drilling)
  • Worktable (projects & parts)
  • Electronics Work Area (soldering and measurements)
  • Space for machinery (not yet existing)

The last one is intended to be used to place machines like a milling machine or a lathe.

Why I bought a CNC Router

When deciding what equipment, you need in your shop you should always think of the things you want to do with it, right? Well in my experience this is only half true. First of all, you need to know if you are really buying a machine to make something. Sounds strange, but a recent number of makers I know are buying machines to collect and for the challenge to refurbish them. This is a hobby by itself and may never end up having a full set of machines running to build other stuff. For sure this is a lot of fun, but not my motivation to acquire machines. I have always built parts with what I had, which was sometimes limited to hand files and hand saws. The other “half” is filled up with minor or mayor questions like:

  • Material you want to work with (soft plastics vs. hard metals)
  • Speed of machining (time you spend at the machine)
  • Degree of automation (manual vs. computer controlled)
  • Typical shape of the final part (cylinder vs. complex 3D structure)
  • Space in your shop (1m cube vs. 3m cubes)
  • Transport to your shop (garage door vs. narrow round stairs)

Of course, it is only short extract of a much larger list, these were at least my most significant factors. I needed a machine I could transport myself down to a basement over a narrow and round stair with limited place in the HomeShop. Therefore, heavy and large machines where immediately out of focus. The second question is the one involving time consumption. Whenever you are working with machines, you must be careful and mindful. Otherwise you risk damaging the machine/parts or seriously hurting yourself. This is crucial, as I do not have enough of this quality time during the week. My solution in the past has been to use CAD and CAM during the week to prepare my projects on the weekend. Especially with 3D Printing, it worked quite well to prepare until Friday evening and start printing on Saturday morning. So, the production time might be higher when using a light and small machine on metals, but it fits perfectly to the above-mentioned approach.

Why I bought a Stepcraft

Well that is quite simple, because I like it. The versatility of the original tools and reasonable prices for replacement parts made I easy for me to decide.

Assembly and Installation

After purchase it took not to long until I received a well packed package of Metal parts, Motors and Electronics:

But before I could start with the build of the Stepcraft I had to define the later location of the CNC. Therefore I built a 2 stage table out of spruce with spacers that include rubber dampeners to avoid vibration related issues. In order to be able to clean it from time to time I coated it with a white polyurethan finish. As you can see on the picture below, it was still quite a mess in the HomeShop at the time of assembly.

Instead of wathing the paint dry, I decided to assemble the z-axis in parallel. This assembly was not to demanding. I took some extra time to get a “good feeling” with setting the friction of the bearing correct.

The assembly of the x and y axis were also fun to do. Here i realized that it could be noted somewhere that you will crash some parts if you try to assemble on a flat desk. Luckily, I had some spare parts left from cutting the wooden desk.

The electronics seems to be quite organized, but I am still woundering why there are no heatsink on the power electronics? Maybe not a bad idea to include in future.

The integration into the machine wasn’t an issue but the accessibility is not the best as you have to turn the whole CNC on its side. Not optimized for maintenance on the other hand I don’t expect the need any time soon.

The main task left was to install the aluminum base plate which has quite a weight and should support the stability of the machine. Afterwords it took not much to install the high speed spindle and PC connections. Afterwards I milled my first plywood part with UCCNC.

Since the spindle in action is quite loud and a lot of dust flew through the air, I started building the housing immediately.

To reduce noise, I bought some noise dampening foam. Please be careful whenever you use this foam, it should be compatible with your application. In this case it should be fire resistant as most likely hot chips will land on this foam. To be 100% sure I even tested it with a torch. It shrunk / melted and did not ignite or burn.

I also included LED lights into the x-axis of the machine in order to observe the machine from outside when the housing is closed. An extra wiring to the outside of the housing is nice if you just want to have a look from time to time.

With the front door closed and the monitor connected the final setup looks like the picture below.

The final configuration which I am using today has a touchscreen TFT mounted on the left side of the machine, where I have access to a keyboard and a mouse as well.

Final thoughts:

I have been machining parts for my hobbies for roughly a year now. Of course it took some time to find the optimal settings for each material. In summary I had good experiences with many different materials, such as PVC, Aluminium, Brass and even CFK. Of course the best CNC does not give you good results if you do not have the right endmill. Therefore I bought quite a lot of them from Sorotec (which isn’t cheap but worth the money).

I would still buy the same machine if I had to decide again today!

Best wishes,

Florian