CNC Machine Operation Steps

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For organized information on using the CNC Machine at All Hands Active, please [see this document]


AHA Login password/username or guest account.


  • End Mills can Snap
  • Spindles will pull your hair in
  • Safety goggles are a must
  • Toolpath - Test your paths before running live.
  • Do not leave it alone when running.

Mounting your Material

Use the shorter studs go into nuts mounted in spoil board and ensure they do not go below the bottom of the nut or they can collide with the gantry.

If you plan to cut through or around your material, your material will move. You can use double sided table or the create tabs option in the VCarve software to prevent the work piece from moving after it is detached.

Changing End Mill

  • Get appropriate end mill
  • Get collet
  • Put end mill in collet
  • Put collet w/end mill into collet holder
  • Tighten with adjustable wrenches to the spindle
    • Tight, but don't crank down on it
  • You can raise / lower spindle holder Z height if your part is too high or too low using two screws on the mount of the spindle.

Mach 3

  • Power on CNC mill
  • Start Mach3 and pick Fireball
    • If you receive an error that the SmoothStepper is not detected restart Mach and check the USB connections to the CNC machine. Try to toggle the control box.
  • Reset button in Mach is triggered on start, enable movement by clocking it.
  • Move the mill with the keyboard
    • Up moves towards the wall.
    • Down moves towards you.
    • Left moves it left
    • Right moves it right
    • Page up raises the Z Axis.
    • Page Down lowers the Z Axis.
    • Tab brings up the jog pain to switch speed.
  • Set mill to what you like to be the zero point and press Zero button on each axis. You can use goto zero to return to this point later.

If you are moving and you have to estop

  • Write down all the coordinates it is at
  • Then move it out of the way
  • Then move it back to the spot

If you ESTOP and reset:

  • It thinks the spindle is still moving, you will have to manually start the spindle up
  • Hit the Spindle Button to turn on / off

Feed rate controls:

  • If the machine sounds like it is straining while cutting, you can reduce the feed rate by hitting + or -
  • You can go beyond 100%, but that might not be safe
  • When starting - Set feed rate at 50% and see how it sounds.

Cycle Start:

  • Starts G Code

Cycle Stop:

  • Stops machine run after execution of current instruction.


  • Loads a gcode file.
  • Shows an example of what it will do in the top right
  • You can rotate, zoom in / out

Red lines are where there is motion but NOT cutting. Blue lines are where it will cut


  • Yellow line is where it is at
  • If you stop, it stops immediately at that spot.
  • If you start, it will start immediately at that spot
  • If you want to restart, you haveto tell it to rewind

When first starting: It will raise the tool head, start the tool head, and wait for it to come up to speed. After it's dwelled for a few seconds it will lower and start cutting your work piece.

VCarve Pro = 2D Software

  • File, New
  • Size of job: Inches or Millimeters? Ideally stick with Millimeters. Vcarve will translate to mm if needed
    • We're doing 2" x 2" for example
    • Setting the Z or Zero, Setting it at the top, and center of workpiece. When we start the end mill will be at the center of our design
  • You can draw your tool path
  • You can create it in inkscape or illustrator.

Import Path:

  • Export from inkscape as a DXF
  • Vectors must be CLOSED
    • File: Import -> Vectors

Import a Bitmap:

  • Import Bitmap from file menu.
  • Under edit select Trace Bitmap and the tool will create vectors from your imported file.

Creating Toolpaths


  • Profile cuts around the shape (can be set as outside, inside, on the line)
  • Pocket will hollow out a shape
  • Drilling (you would need a drill bit)
  • Quick Engraving (letters, circuit boards)
  • Fluting allows you to create a pocket that something fits into
  • Inlay toolpath allows you
  • Texturing toolpath: Runs the end mill into the wood to give a distressed look

Sample creation

  • Click a vector
  • Choose a Toolpath: Profile,
  • Select tool: AHA Section has our tools: Using hardwood soft media, 2 flute 1/8th"
  • Click okay on tool selection screen.
  • Edit Passes: Set pass thickness
  • Setting it to do 2 passes
  • If you wanted to cut all the way out and wanted to add tabs, here you can do that
    • You can select where you want tabs on the shape and manually set how many tabs you want.
  • Calculate

Multiple Paths, Multiple end mills

  • If you have multiple paths with different end mills order your paths in VCarve as needed and then select them by clicking the check mark next to each.
  • If you have two in a row that use the same end mill, export that as one path file.
  • Export each path that doesn't follow that rule into different files. You will run each file and change mills as needed in between.

Exporting Tool Paths

Save tool paths:

  • Select toolpaths
  • Save toolpaths
  • Output all toolpaths
    • Mach 2/3 Arcs, Millimeters
  • Save toolpath
  • Generates gcode text file!

Load into Mach 3

  • Load the GCODE
  • Safety Goggles on
  • Press Rewind
  • Estop Off and press reset in Mach if it's enabled.
  • Move machine to Zero point (see CNC page for current key mappings)
  • Zero each axis.
  • Peform a test without your material or the spindle plugged in to see if things are working okay.
  • Then with material in place and spindle zero-ed, run your work piece.

Generate file in inkscape

Save as Desktop Plotting (DXF) autocad Default settings

Cut 3D

Works like VCarve but allows import of 3D Models (.STL files) to generate tool paths for 3D Models and cuts with the CNC Router.