Things to think about when choosing your first CNC router
I often see people post a question in forums and Facebook groups that goes something like this, "I'm looking to get into CNC routing and I'm a total newbie so what machine should I buy?" And of course, right away they face a barrage of answers from people that, although their intentions may be good, they really just give the newbie a bad case of confusion. They are basically just saying "I have one of (insert brand of machine here) and I love it so you should buy one too." The individual that is asking for machine advice should take a minute before asking the masses and ask themselves a few simple questions.
Question # 1 What do I plan to use the CNC router for?
Do you have an idea what kinds of things you want to make with the CNC router or are you already making a product and want to automate the process and increase repeatability? In my opinion it's always a good idea to have a real need for a CNC before you make the decision to purchase one. If you have a real need for one it will give you the desire and motivation for learning and unless you already have some experience at running a CNC it can be a pretty big learning curve.
Question # 2 How much shop space can I afford to commit to a CNC router?
How much shop space you have will help to determine what size machine you should be looking to purchase. There are lots of CNC routers out there from itty bitty to gigantic and they all pretty much do the same thing but if you get one that is too small you will quickly outgrow it and if you get one too big you will quickly become frustrated with the amount of shop real estate it takes up making your shop cramped.
Question # 3 What is my realistic budget for a CNC router?
When you sit down to determine your budget for a CNC router you have to think about ALL the things that are needed to run a CNC router. For example, you may or not need a computer/laptop to use with your CNC router. Most people already have one but if you don't you will need to consider this in your budget. If control software is not included with your machine you will need to purchase control software (such as Mach3/4 or UCCNC) or similar. If your machine purchase does not include design/programming software (such as Vectric's V-Carve Pro/Aspire) or similar you will need to purchase that also. You will have to look back at the answer to Question # 1 to help you determine what kind of software you need to buy to make the products you want to make.
While there are many other factors to consider I think the answers to the three questions above should be known to the newbie before they ask the question "what CNC router should I buy." Otherwise, you will get a lot of suggestions for machines that are an unrealistic choice for you. Once you have narrowed down your choices of CNC routers to the ones that are a good match for (1) what you want to make, (2) your available shop space, and (3) your budget then it's a lot easier to make a decision. I would recommend talking to people who own a machine you are interested in purchasing and ask them what kinds of things they make with it to see if it's compatible with what you want to make. For example, if you want to make detailed 3D carvings and signs and that person only uses it to cut 2D parts he will not be able to vouch for it 3D capabilities. Try to find someone in your area that has the same machine you are interested in and see if you can come by for a visit to see it run it person. Remember, if you visit someone who owns and runs a machine they will most likely tell you both the good and the bad things about the machine unlike the salesman at a store or trade show that will only tell you the good things.
Now, after saying all of that, would I like for your first machine to be a Gatton CNC DIY kit? Of course, but it is more important to me that you are happy with whatever CNC you purchase. Just be diligent in your research and you will find the right CNC for you.
This is a must have book for every CNC beginner written by George Vondriska and Randy Johnson.