Where to START, as a NEWBIE

I don’t have a machine yet, and am saving up for one. I am not at all familiar with the software.

Before I acquire a machine, what is a great way for me to start learning how to operate a machine, from a software (apps) point of view? I do not currently know how to design a part, either.

Sketchup? Fusion360?

I intend to work in wood, metal, plastic and sheets like for stencils. Router, plasma, drag knife and laser.

The world of this is daunting to me, and I’d like to know where and how I can best enter this realm.

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Sketchup doesn’t do CAM (generate g-code for the cnc). Fusion360 or one of the Vectric products (like VCarve Pro or Aspire) would be what you are looking for (I am a newbie myself.)

Fusion360, I feel, is more oriented to the “whole project” (i.e. things like assembling a bookcase) whereas VCarve/Aspire is oriented to what you can do to something sitting on your CNC.

I personally have both Fusion360 and Aspire but that is a pretty hefty investment so that may not be something you can do/want to. They both have free demo/trials so you can see which one(s) you like.

Stay away from Sketchup, it’s a waste of time from a machining perspective. I used to use it to design furniture but since I learned Fusion 360 I have never looked back.

You should get the trial copy of Vectric Aspire or VCarve. The vectric products are the fastest and easiest way to get into CNC routing.

Once you get the hang of the Vectric software (or at the same time…) try out Fusion 360. Definitely a much higher learning curve, but once you understand it, it really opens up a lot of design flexibility (easily resize designs, parts, etc.)

I use both Vectric Aspire and Fusion 360 now. I go with vectric for quick and dirty or simply 2D work and carving 3D models or most anything in wood. I use Fusion 360 if I am designing and assembly that has multiple parts or for anything aluminum.

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On that note, working w graphics on Sign Projects, Vectric Pro is quite helpful. Is Adobe Illustrator something that makes this vector translation more efficient for some projects?

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Probably the easiest CAM program to start with is VCarve. There are a ton of tutorials on YouTube, and in general it’s pretty easy to get your head around. SketchUp actually is really good at doing things like cabinets and other furniture type of stuff. As said by others, it doesn’t have CAM but you can use the SketchUp importer in VCarve.

Fusion 360 is powerful, but fickle. There’s a lot steeper learning curve with it, but if you stick with it you can harness some really powerful toolpathing.

My recommendation would be to start with VCarve because you can do just about anything with it. Once you get to a place where you start thinking “This should be easier/faster” when using VCarve you can look to Fusion/SketchUp to see what would best solve your needs.

You have several categories to learn and think about depending on your skills and experience.

  1. Have you done any wood/metal projects before?
  2. Do you have experiencing in CAD/Drafting design software or by hand?
  3. Are you good at computers?

I used to do everything by hand when my dad owned his own shop so transferring everything to computers is a little different.
Computer drafting/CAD is different from pencil and paper.

If you want to learn vetric check out Learn your CNC YouTube channel. It has so many good lessons. There is a pay course too but you can learn quite a bit just with his extensive YouTube channel

Can confirm that Kyle from learn your cnc is great!

As many have said Fusion 360 is probably the hardest computer design one to learn, however it is very powerfull in what you can design…like you could do a jet engine. I found the tool path (ie. CAM) took a long time to get thru, as the tool path you wanted router to take, wasn’t always easy to get done…so many settings, types of routs, etc. For example, recently I wanted to do a dado on a shelf (1/4" wide). Easy peasy on Fusion360. I went to CAM mode, I had a 1/4 bit, and it wouldn’t generate a tool path (i believe it had a clearance problem with tool size and dado size being exactly the same)…I had to use a 1/8th, and then it moved the cutter in an incredibly small arc (to make it 1/4 wide) and it took forever. I finally just wrote the CNC code…3 lines. But it took an hour for each dado…as I did it in 3 passes. I did each path, by changing the z offset down each time…probably a much better way to do it, but i really didn’t want to get that deep in the Gcode stuff.

I’ve looked at Vectrix, and it seems ideal for signs, carvings, plaques…things of that type. However, the import of pdf’s could be were the power of it comes from…don’t know. And Mach 4 is yet another software piece you need to learn. In essence its a 3 step process, 3d design the item, gen the tool path, gen the cnc code…move it to Mach4 and set the CNC machine up, zero, run the code with your hand on the emergency stop. It can be very frustrating.

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I’d be happy to walk anyone through getting confident in Fusion 360, it’s cake once you understand the premise of the intended workflow. Please message or email me. jaughenbaugh@nkcps.k12.va.us

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Thank you. Nice to know I’m not the only newbie.

That is two death blows for Sketchup. Really good feedback.

What makes 360 “fickle”?

I had been considering learning one software, that now being 360. You think learning V-carve makes more sense and move on from there?

I work in wood and metal plenty. Quite comfortable with them.
I have tried Sketchup 3-4 times. It was cumbersome and slower than pen and paper for me. I can see those who are proficient in it are very fast and have great abilities.
Eh, am I good at computers? I’m not 19. I use a computer, I have given up on trying to configure or fix my computer. Does that answer your question? Every time updates change my settings I struggle.
I can see the value and the power available in computer drafting, it is getting to it I’m having challenges with.

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Gulp!

Yeah, by then I would have broken out my router and a guide and been done in 5 minutes. Hahaha. However, you describe my frustration very well. I know what I want, I can do it the old way, there is a great reward available in doing it with CNC and taking 24 times as long is discouraging. Hence my initiation of this thread.

Thank you, truly. That is a very generous offer indeed. I may take you up on it eventually.
How would you treach/train? Live video feed?

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This is what I am seeing the trend is in the responses.

Learn Vectric/V-carve first.
Check out Learn Your CNC on YouTube
Fusion 360 is the cat’s meow, graduate to it when I feel I really need it. Mr. Auggy has made an amazingly supportive offer.

My next steps will be to check out YT and V-carve.

I really love the support you have all shown! Thank you.

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You’ve got a long road ahead of you! But it’s a fantastic journey, first off as said in the pervious comments, you’ll need a software than can do cad and cam, or find two programs to satisfy each. The good ones are not cheap, but I highly recommend getting familiar with the flow of cad work first on something free like the basic version of fusion 360. Cam is the execution of your project, cad is the conceptional part of your project.

But that’s just the beginning, you’ll have to figure out and understand a whole host of things such as feed and speeds, tool and material choices, machine constrains, tuning, backlash, Gcode, etc. There is a ton of amazing resources online with a bit of digging and research. Good luck and keep cncin’

I’ve got a pretty decent Library of files and video clips I’ve made to help folks get feeling confident with Fusion. Typically, I give a live introduction in google meet or zoom, then share a bunch of clips and exercises.

After the basic stuff, I share the next set of files and video clips based on what kind of things are of interest. For example, I certainly wouldn’t show a furniture enthusiast tips or approaches for making toys or do-dads.

Don’t knock it until you try it! :slight_smile: I designed all of this stuff in SketchUp:




I used Vectric’s SketchUp importer to cut all of the parts.