My Notes on the A4

The complete microCarve A4 CNC

Observations from a user...

The microCarve A4

For me, it's like having a Roland CNC at about 1/5th the price. (Not that I wouldn't still love to have a Roland! They're not exactly congruent, after all.)

More to Come...

Overall, I have to say I'm really, really happy with this machine. It's still far better than my skills can test it.

Like any machine, it needs a bit of TLC. But surprisingly little. As I write this, I've got about 65-70 hours of operation in on my machine. So consider this for what it's worth. I'm still just getting started.

I have a regular routine of maintenance at this point, that'll probably change some as I learn more. I check the tightness of nuts and screw about every 3-4 hours of operation. The things that should be pretty tight (though not gronked down, just a bit more than finger-tight) are:

  • the nuts on the threaded rods across the back of the machine,
  • the nuts on the screws that hold the bearing support blocks,
  • the Z-axis screws and spindle mount screws,
  • the leadscrew shaft collars,
  • and of course the set screws on the leadscrew couplings.

This is really checking Too Often, once the machine has worked itself in. For the first few hours of operation, it's worth doing a check between every piece you work on. I'm just a bit cagey right now, because I had a coupling set screw fall out during a cut. As it is, since I got the first four or five hours of operation in, I've only had to tighten any of the fasteners once.

It's also worth noting that I have not tightened the shaft support screws. I did them up finger-tight only when I originally assembled the machine, and have left them ever since. Tightening them up is only asking for increased friction on the shafts. As they are, they are perfectly secure, and the shafts are not distorted by the excess force of tightening them any more. My slides move nicely along the shafts without any significant friction. If a shaft starts making noise on fast moves, I rotate the shaft, or sometimes the support, until the noise goes away and all is smooth again. This has only happened once since the machine's earliest hours of operation.

Blog Posts

I posted several times on my blog while I was assembling the A4. Here are the relevant posts:

Build Log

There's a bit more info to be gleaned from my CNCZone Build Thread, where I discuss power supply problems I ran into while getting set up.

Looking Back

It was almost exactly a month from the day my A4 arrived to the day I made my first cut with it. Looking back, it doesn't feel that long. At the time I thought it was forever, of course, though I tried not to let it get to me. Even with all the preparation I did ahead of time (like building up the controller PC, loading it with OS and software and getting familiar with it) didn't really speed things up too much.

This is a hobby that takes time. As it is, I've only managed as much as I have in less than two months (including building a new wing onto my website) because chance has thrown me some extra time to play with. Like about a whole week without work getting in the way, and another week where the time was planned to be turned over for CNC work.

And, I still fret (a bit) about my upcoming schedule. The summer that's upon me as I write this looks to be full of interferences with working on my CNC. Hopefully I'll actually have plenty of time and I'm just borrowing trouble when I worry about it. But I like my CNC, plus it represents a pretty big investment for something that's pretty much just a hobby at present, and I want to get a lot out of it--which takes me putting time into it.

I'm sharing this so that you'll know that if you have feelings like this, you're not alone. And when each hour or day feels like a year wasted, remember that things really do only move so fast, and usually that's good enough.

Here's hoping you enjoy your CNC as much as I enjoy mine. And that you fret less.

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