Newbie, like really new, help

Hi everyone, I hope this is the appropriate place to post this. I have always loved woodcraft. I do pyrography and marquetry by hand and love it but am interested in taking the next step as a hobbyist. I had a chinese laser cutter which I really enjoyed experimenting with but its at the point where I need to pour more money in it to make it work and I think a CNC machine would be a better investment for me. Someone recommended that I look at these machines as they are user friendly and have an active support community. I’m a nurse by profession, and a mother to a 1 year old, basically no woodworking skills. My question is how do I even get started in the CNC world? I’ve done research online but it’s so hard to find the beginning in a field that feels so vast. Does anyone have recommendations of resources that could start me off? I’d love to go to a makerspace and learn from someone in person but unfortunately the pandemic makes that impossible. I have a lot of covid exposure at work and pretty much isolate myself the rest of the time to keep everyone safe. I’d like to have the CNC machine to really get into something to make this long winter pass a little quicker.

Another question…does anyone have insight as to whether I should go ahead and purchase the machine so that I can experiment as I go or should I do a ton of research beforehand and then purchase? I’m definitely someone who learns by doing but I don’t want to make a mistake and purchase the wrong thing.

Thanks for any advice!

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@ahliv Welcome to the club, Olivia. You will find lots to learn from here.

It’s tough to advise on the order of things. If you have done enough research that you are confident that a CNC router is for you, and you have the space to accommodate one, I would suggest that you place your order. While waiting for it to arrive, you will have lots of time to learn more about what you can do with it. There are Youtube videos galore by hobbyists using machines in the same class as the Mill. Some are very software specific; others not so much. I strongly recommend Mark Lindsay’s youtube channel. He uses Vectric software products, which are excellent, but pricey. However, you can learn much from watching how he creates and cuts projects.

On top of all that, this forum and the videos done by our hosts are excellent learning tools specifically geared to the Mill.

I don’t believe that you can go wrong if you choose one of the Mill models.


@ahliv Welcome from me as well!

I definitely echo the comments from @gwilki. I had purchased a small CNC run by a Black & Decker rotary tool and was immediately hooked. The issues with that machine was that it couldn’t handle large jobs very well, it was underpowered and pretty slow. Slow isn’t always bad, though in the CNC world.

I started looking for a larger machine and was impressed by Shapeoko and X-Carve as that is what I found almost immediately. I heard and read ALOT about those machines and was convinced that the larger size and capability were perfect for a hobbyist - who is supplmenting his wife’s business making wood and tin signs, decore and small cutout pieces for various projects.

I then stumbled on the Longmill and was impressed by the price and what came with the machine for the money. Seemed less expensive and a little more robust and capable than the other two (just my opinion). I was also impressed by the support through the forum. I probably read through almost every post related to capabilities, trouble spots, software and even some design.

If a CNC is the way you want to go with the hobby to create what you want to create you can’t go wrong with the Longmill, the support and everyone on the forums. I would also suggest checking out some of Paw Paws Workshop Youtube videos. He uses Easel (Generally free) and they are well done showing some of the basics in a much simpler program. (It was great for my beginning skills using my small Whittle CNC)

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Thank you both for your responses. I had mostly been reading, but I checked out both the youtube channels you mentioned and definitely found that more user friendly. I do think I’ll need the machine and cheap material (thanks for your response in the other thread @gwilki) to practice with as I go, but as you mentioned, I can learn while I wait for the machine as well as they’re on backorder at the moment.

This is embarrassing but I didn’t even know I had to purchase the router separately until recently. Would you recommend buying the one that is for sale from this company or a different one?

I should mention that my husband is a lot more technical than me (both in using power tools and in computer related things) and he’ll be helping me get started, so I’ll have some protection against cutting my fingers off, etc.

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The Makita Router (RT0701-C) that is offered for purchase with the system is typically less at a local big box store. In the States, Home Depot has the best price around $100 for the router. Up to you though, if you want an all inclusive package and don’t want to look for a supplier of the router.

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@ahliv Steven said it. I bought mine locally at a Home Depot in Canada. It was just a few bucks cheaper than our hosts sell for. I didn’t buy locally to save money so much as to have a local place to take it if there was any issue with it. It has been trouble-free to date.

Don’t forget, too, that you need bits. The starter kit from our hosts is a good place to start.

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Welcome as well!

In addition to what the other have said I found reading through the ‘Resources’ section on the website really helpful. It’s roughly in an order that’s easy to understand. I’d recommend giving it a read through while you wait for your CNC to arrive. That way when it gets there you’ll have an idea how it all gets put together and what to do after initial setup.

I recently started from zero knowledge myself and have had pretty good luck learning as I go so far. Having been recently through it I’d also recommend you think about the following topics. None of this is to scare you off - just things to think about while you are waiting for your new machine to arrive. That way you won’t be disappointed when you’ve got it all setup and aren’t actually ready to go.

What kind of bits will you nee for the type of projects you want to use?
Usually I’ve just used 1/8 and 1/4 end (flat) bits. Having a ball end is handy if you want to some nice rounded bottom things. If you’d like to do lettering I’d say a 60 degree V bit is a must have.

How will you hold down the piece (work holding)?
I built the ‘T bolt’ wasteboard shown in the resources section of the Sienci website and really like it. I built some ‘cam’ style clamps, but they don’t work too well. A flat two bolt clamp like they show works way better. My dad cut some out of aluminum, but I think cutting them out of wood would have been fine.

How will you manage dust?
Shop vac and the Sienci dust shoe seem to work great. My shop vac had the smaller diameter nozzle. I just duct taped one length of the pipe to the dust shoe so I can pull it on and off easily (kind of like a real DIY adapter hahah)

Will you be making your own designs or cutting ones you downloaded?
Even after downloading you can expect to do some tweaking (thicknesses, size, that kind of thing). I’ve spent some time looking at different tools and have found Carbide Create to be a nice balance between function and ease of use. For 2020 they are giving away 1 year pro licenses as well!

Where will you setup?
You’ll need roughly a 4’x4’ space for the machine itself, some space to maneuver around it, a spot for a computer and vacumm, and some basic storage (a simple tool box or drawer is fine).

As a final note I noticed that Sienci recommends using UGS to interface with the machine. I switched to CNCjs and have been liking it a lot more. Seems more responsive and reliable. Both are free, this is just my two cents.

What will you cut?
I’d grab some inexpensive wood to get started. MDF is cheap and flat, but throws a tonne of dust. Softwoods are inexpensive but have larger fibers and can ‘tear out’ a bit. Hardwoods are relatively expensive but cut very nicely. I haven’t played with acrylic or other plastic materials yet, but see others have had good results with them.

You’ll need a computer
I’d recommend an inexpensive Windows based laptop to get started (but this is just personal preference). It shouldn’t get dusty so moving it from the cutting area to other spots isn’t really an issue. A laptop is easier to setup than a raspberry pi, and can be used to both design things as well as to control your CNC.

Have fun!


Thank you so much for that very comprehensive response, all of that is extremely helpful. It’s actually auspicious timing as I just got the email earlier today that my CNC will be shipping this week. I meant to do more prep but life got in the way and I haven’t been able to really get after it yet. I think I’m going to be learning as I go like you did. These are great considerations that I will review carefully. Thanks again!