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CNC mills for PCB creation?
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Music Tech DIY  
Author CNC mills for PCB creation?
After seeing this 8 I wondered if anyone was using cheap CNC mills for making PCBs?
In particular any recommendations for machines available in the UK would be great.
I, occasionally, use my equipment for pcbs, but its awkward (and this is on an expensive machine, rather than a cheap from china unit).

PCBs are so cheap now, that, unless you just want to knock something up that afternoon, its not really worth the bother.

Below are a couple of examples -

a) from a press and peel graphic, but with some basic eagle added to the front (which is why it looks odd)

b) from an old digisound overlay

Ive done more complex too, but you reach the limit fairly quickly. I did a couple of OSCar midi boards a while back, so its possible, but, if youre designing from scratch, rather than using old graphics, its a way better idea to just buy commercial pcbs.
I've got an Inventables x-carve: and it's OK. I've heard a lot of good things about othermill for pcb work

which gets the job done, but I'm sure any small mill with gerbl or tinyG would work well with things like FlatCam and Chillipeppr. The whole scene is pretty established these days.

It's true what @julian said. It's really only useful if you want to kick one out in an afternoon, but the troubleshooting of the whole process, sometimes having to cut multiples to get a good one, and having to adapt boards to the cnc vs a pcb house has lead me to just make most of my boards at the PCB house since I'll likely want to share copies with other people anyway.

I did cut a panel yesterday for the first time which was super fast and nice to have.

tbh, I'd be more interested in CNC to make front panels smile
Hm, people have mixed feelings about this clearly. I may try one of these mills anyway, because:
I am time-poor, and once the machine is set up production could be quick;
I don't like dealing with chemicals and their disposal;
I don't want to order a minimum of 5 PCBs from a fab house, especially as i'm a newbie and anticipate making mistakes. I want to make one-off boards for testing and then for my own use.

Maybe my logic is out somewhere.
I might try a prototype PCB service to assess that option in any case. Anyone in UK recommend a service which is cheap and fast-ish?
LoFi Junglist
I have a tiny mill (CNC3020) but it, like most consumer mills/routers, isn't suitable for large PCB routing. (It's OK for small areas though, the smaller the better)

The main problem is that you need to have the copper clad board perfectly perpendicular to the cutting head at every position on the board. You are only cutting 1-2mm deep (the thickness of the copper) and if the board is 1mm higher at one edge than the other you're not going to cut the PCB at an even depth across the whole project. Worse case scenario you dont cut completely through the copper layer on one side of the board and have to make a second pass.

The obvious solution is to run a Fly-cutter across the entire surface of your mill/router, but most off-the-shelf systems dont have the power to run one.

The other option is to get a piece of wood/plastic, and create a fixture by milling a pocket the size of the PCB you want to work on. It's messy, and you would need to recut that pocket every time you remove/reattach the fixture.

I'm not a fan of chemical etching (there are a lot of good tutorials here in the DIY subforum though), and I'd definitely recommend a cheap service out fo china, particularly the ones that include DHL free. Turnaround can be as little as a week, ordering from Australia.
Hi Lofi Junglist, have you looked at z-probes, e.g. ?
The idea is to probe the board first and make a map of the z-axis, so that the cutting depth will be adjusted to compensate for board warping etc.
People seem to be getting good results using this approach, with the latest generation of low-end CNC mills.
LoFi Junglist
Cheers for the headsup man, I haven't seen that before.

I always make a fixture with a pocket (in MDF, which is super messy)
I used to etch my own boards, then I made a few on a CNC machine. I've stopped doing all that now.

PCB's are basically free these days. You get silkscreen, soldermask, and plated through holes. My time messing around with etching or milling, then ending up with a poor quality board is simply not worth it.

A good website to help find a low cost PCB manufacturer is
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