Updated: Jan 13, 2020
Having seen so many people ask what to buy or not to buy when getting into Stepcraft CNC, I decided to put something together that might help people when deciding what to get or not to get when first buying your new system. This is all very subjective, it's my opinion and a reflection of my experience over the years with my own Stepcraft D 2/840. This does not reflect the opinions of Stepcraft nor are they involved in any way, the responsibility of the information in this post is entirely mine. What you do with the information, the responsibility is entirely yours.
Most of the images in this article belong to Stepcraft.
Step 1: Choosing a system.
The D-series is a hobby level/small business machine, and you can expect some regular maintenance to be necessary, cleaning and lubricating and eventually, as parts wear out, you'll need to partially disassemble it. Also if there's ever any mechanical fault, it will be very valuable to understand how it works. Because of all that, I think that it's better to buy the construction kit than the pre-assembled option. If you are mechanically inclined, it's a lot of fun to build, the instructions are very clear and easy to follow, and it's like Lego for grown-ups.
As for which model (size) to choose that's entirely up to you, your budget and your needs. The only thing that changes is the dimensions of the work area.
Step 2: Selecting the options.
Stepcraft offers different options for the software/interface. I recommend you choose the option 'UCCNC Software OEM Package'. UCCNC is more widespread except maybe in Germany, and it will be much easier to find support for it. If you buy this package, you get the UC100 interface, the parallel daughter board for installing inside the CNC, the UCCNC software and you'll also get the Stepcraft installer which has pre-made profiles for UCCNC which help you get started with minimal setup. It will all be preconfigured to get you going. If you are new to the CNC world, this will make it so much easier to get started.
Language and power is all up to your needs.
Step 3: Accessories
The T-slot table is a really good option if you can afford it. The original blank composite table has very limited options regarding clamping. I've seen people create their own wood versions of a T-slot table, so maybe that's an option for you. I got the aluminium table and I'm very happy with it.
If you decide to get it, have a look at the clamping options, I use two sets of 'Clamping Set M6' and a 'Bench Vice PM60', and I couldn't live without them.
Stepcraft have an enclosure for the D-series. I have not purchased it, because I didn't feel the need for it, but if you work in an area where dust and noise are undesirable, maybe it's something you might want to consider.
The performance kit was introduced recently to improve the performance of the Y-Axis. It replaces the belt driven system for direct drive, so instead of just one motor moving both sides of the Y axis, it has two high performance motors and adds a detection system that stops the machine if there's a blockage on either side. I would consider this a must have. I never liked the belt system, it was difficult to properly setup to synchronize the position of both sides and it was one more thing to worry about for maintenance. The performance kit takes that completely away, the synchronization is automatic and you never have to worry about a belt failing again.
Lead Screw Nut RG10x3mm (adjustable) for Stepcraft-2
The system comes originally with non-adjustable nuts. They will eventually wear out and create backlash (the distance a change of direction of the lead screw will not translate to movement, due to a gap between the nut and the screw). An option to prevent this is to purchase adjustable lead screw nuts. These can be adjusted as the wear increases the backlash. You can choose to install these when you assemble the machine, as installing them later will require extensive disassembly. They will make your CNC quite more precise, but also create another step in your setup, as over tightening them can cause the motors to be unable to move. There are four nuts to replace, two in the Y axis, one for X and one for Z.
This is by far the most expensive option for lead screw nuts. I have them installed on my own 840, but this mod requires some DIY. If this is something you might be interested in, feel free to contact us, we can fabricate the nut holders for you, and also supply the ball nuts. But expect the parts to be in the neighborhood of €500.
Here's a video that should give you some idea of how they are installed:
Step 4: Choosing a spindle.
Stepcraft offers several options for spindles and if you are interested in something a bit more DIY, have a look at our products, as we offer integration with a 1.5kW Chinese spindle.
The HF-500 is a Stepcraft made 500W spindle. This might be a good option if you don't need a heavy duty spindle. It's relatively quiet compared to the other alternatives from Stepcraft, and the speed and activation are software controlled. It uses ER-11 collets, which are easily available with sizes up to 8mm. Don't forget to select the option for the clamping nut, the one for the 1/8" ER-11 collet (maybe you'll want to add more collets for other end mill thickness) and possibly the exhaust adapter (for connecting to a vacuum cleaner for dust removal).
There are a few variants of these spindles, but they are very similar to one another. You might consider these if you need a heavier duty spindle. They are quite loud, so consider that if you have any noise restrictions. These spindles use brushed motors, so eventually the brushes will will wear out and need to be replaced. Choosing one with external speed control will allow you to control the speed from software, which is very convenient. The Kress and MM models use proprietary collets, the AMB uses ER-16 collets.
Chinese 1.5kW Spindle
The 1.5kW 65mm Chinese spindles that can be found on eBay are also an option, but require a lot of modifications to the Z axis. They are quite heavy, but they use a 3 phase motors and come with a VFD. They are way quieter and more powerful that any of the other options. For what you get they are quite cheap also. The extra weight on the Z axis requires you to have the Z axis always very well setup to work properly, so I wouldn't recommend this modification for anyone who can't solve problems on their own and isn't very familiar with the Stepcraft D-series system. If you think you can tackle this, have a look in our products, we make a kit for installing this spindle. It preserves the software control of speed and on/off.
Step 5: Laser engraving
The DL455 laser tool is a 3W diode laser. It can be used mostly for engraving non metallic objects. It can cut thin wood, but if that's a priority for you, you should look into purchasing a separate CO2 laser machine. Diode lasers are very slow for cutting any considerable width of material. The DL445 offers many safety features which make it appropriate for use for example for education purposes.
Chinese "15W" laser module
The "15W" Chinese modules found on eBay can be used with the Stepcraft D-series using the kit we offer in our products. These modules aren't really 15W, at most 6W, but can be a cheaper alternative, for someone more DIY-inclined. They do not offer all the safety features, so they should be used by someone who understands the risks and has it for own use only. This is also quite more affordable than the alternatives and integrates seamlessly with your system.
I guess that covers most of it. There are many other options but I think this is the most important information to start with.
If you are in Europe or outside the US, check https://shop.stepcraft-systems.com/
In the US, go to https://www.stepcraft.us/shop
Also you can join the Stepcraft Carfter's Club on Facebook, I'm usually there, as are many other users willing to help you out. And some people who work for Stepcraft. If you are in the US, Erick Royer is your man, he's the head of Stepcraft US and he's very helpful.
I hope this helps you get started and good luck!