Archive for the ‘woodshop computer’ Tag

Troubleshooting & Tips For Setting Up Your Probotix Nebula   3 comments

Saturday afternoon was not about the CNC; it was prep for our pizza oven to get back into action. It was worth it.

It was set up, but we didn’t know what to do with the left over cables.

It was Friday night.

I told the Engineer that I would have recommendations by morning from my people. I put a post up on, upon whose members’ recommendations I had put significant weight towards my decision. I also put a post up on Facebook in a CNC group that I’m a member of.

The Engineer asked me what I thought the solution would be … what was wrong? My answer is that I thought we had done something wrong in our ignorance, based on the obviously poor instructions that we had received. My guess is that it was a fix that could be figured out by the smart people I was in touch with, and then we’d be OK.

I was right.

Getting CLOSE

By Saturday morning, I had multiple answers from both groups I had questioned. Another theme was there, as multiple people told me to get in touch with Len, who I knew as my – and the – sales guy, and he would fix me right up. By Saturday evening, Len had responded to me, copying support, and telling me that the problem was probably that we had put the parallel cable in the wrong parallel slot.

And that is what had happened. Come to find out, there were two parallel slots, and the computer shown in the directions was different from the computer in my garage woodshop. The Engineer had plugged the cable into the parallel port that he thought was most like the illustration, but he chose poorly. We swapped ports, plugged the other, newly identified parallel cable that controlled the Tool Length Sensor into the other slot, and booted it up.

We were golden. Everything worked. Everything. Worked. Plug & play, indeed.

Sometimes, it is about who you know.

First cut.

I have now used the CNC for several hours. Love it. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve broken bits. I’ve had to go back and watch a few videos over. And over.

And, once the machine was wired correctly, it has been absolutely what I expected. It’s plug & play. It’s perfectly predictable & repeatable.

And, I haven’t made a perfect piece yet. I’m still working on that, in my spare time. I still have to feed the monster that my out-of-control hobby is. I need to make cutting boards, in addition to the blanks & pieces that are needed to feed the CNC learning process. I will get there – quickly – but it will take some time. Stay tuned.

So, that stated, here are some things I have already learned that would have helped had they been on my checklist a few weeks ago. If there’s a CNC in your future – especially a Probotix CNC, which I wholeheartedly recommend – then you might benefit by checking off this list before there’s a CNC in your shop.

  1. Power distribution. I never asked where the power for the unit needed to be, and I should have. I had an electrician install a 220v circuit, and it was properly placed. Unfortunately, the power inverter came with a 6′ pig tail, and the plug barely reached to the new power cable I had installed. Further, the inverter runs 24/7 if there’s power to the unit, and I don’t have an off switch other than the breaker panel. Ooops. All of the power needs to be delivered to the shelf under the front of my CNC, which was not a problem … but could have been. I could have asked, but didn’t think of it. Now, you will.
  2. Lighting is essential. I installed my CNC in a dark corner of the shop, so I installed additional lighting before it arrived. If you can’t see it, you’ll have trouble making it. Get the lighting right, first.
  3. Building a stand. As previously reported, I didn’t consider building my own stand, and I probably should have. That way, I could have had a full shelf under the table (why oh why does Probotix not do that?). The time to build the stand would probably have been about what it took to assemble the Probotix model, though it would not have been as spiffy.
  4. The computer needs a mount, too. I bought the computer mount offered by Probotix, and already don’t really like it. It has a very limited range of motion, and I would like to have more flexibility than that. You’ll need a way to have the computer monitor, keyboard & mouse adjustable to move around in your shop as needed. Getting it up out of the way is essential in my small shop, too.
  5. No game controller. There was no game controller with my Nebula. I don’t miss it; I  thought it was gimmicky when I saw it. Still, I expected it and it was not in the box. Nope.
  6. You need oil! The drive screws need to be oiled daily. Some of Probotix’s info says they send lubricant with the unit, but they don’t.
  7. Dust collection. CNCs create a lot of sawdust. A lot. Be prepared with a dust collection solution out of the box. I wasn’t … it just slipped my mind. If you’re buying Probotix, then you may need a 1.75″ hose to mate with the magnetic dust boot for your spindle. Love the magnets! In addition, of course, you’ll need an adapter to get the 1.75″ hose to whatever dust collector you use (in my case, I’m going from 1.75″ to 2.5″). I ended up ordering that hose from Oneida (no clue why Probotix does not offer it!), and the adapter from Peachtree. I’m still not quite sure how I’ll mount the hose to the spindle, the gantry and then the table, but I’ll figure that out when it’s in hand.
  8. Where’s your storage? I’ve already got several CNC bits, 10 collets for the spindle as well as the 2 wrenches to secure the bits in place. There’s the dust boot. The 3-in-1 oil. The job summaries. The jigs. They’ve got to go somewhere, so get ready. Solutions don’t have to be permanent in the beginning, but those expensive CNC router bits have to go somewhere!
  9. Mounting your work piece. There’s no wrong answer here. Double stick tape is how I mounted my first cut … and the tape failed before the piece was done. I’ve read about some DIYers that use super glue and masking tape, and they’re welcome to that. The advanced class will go to vacuum hold downs, and that’s where I’m going when I have the time and money to build it. Meanwhile, I’m making MDF jigs with push clamps, and screwing the jigs to the spoilboard. This works, though it’s not without its own idiosyncrasies, which I’m working through. Whatever you do, you’ll need the solution in hand before you turn on the machine.
  10. Cut scrap at first. You’re going to make mistakes, and you’re going to have problems. Don’t cut expensive work pieces until you know what you’re doing. Cut MDF, or plywood, or even the 2x4s from the shipping crate that your CNC arrived in. Until you know what you’re doing, cheap is good.
  11. Other tools. I have brass brushes to help clean fuzzies off of the workpieces that require it. A large brush is great for clearing shavings, as is a portable dust collector hose.



Installing The Probotix Nebula

Buying A CNC: The Probotix Nebula

That’s No Garage, That’s My Shop

Installing The Probotix Nebula   3 comments

It’s here!

After more than a year of shopping, deciding, saving and waiting, the Probotix Nebula was in my driveway.

Now what do I do?

The shipping instructions were very clear: refuse the shipment if the crate was damaged. And, of course, it was. They put what I would call furring strips on the seams of the crate, which was made out of particle board … and those furring strips provided almost no structural integrity to the crate, especially when broken and splintered by the fork lifts that have moved the crate.

The crate wasn’t on a pallet; it was balanced on 4x4s that were strategically placed to mimic a pallet. Until they come off. Further, the broken furring strips resulted in the bottom of the crate sagging open. I could see into the crate as it sat in the truck.

I decided that the damage was not significant, and accepted the shipment. I was proven correct … but not before the delivery guy tried to give me heart failure by balancing the crate on 2 of the 4x4s and rocking it onto the lift gate until he could almost get it to fit, with 2′ hanging out over the front. “I do this every day,” he said.

Not with my new CNC, you don’t.

As the Bard said, however, “All’s well that ends well.” The crate didn’t crash off the lift gate, the delivery guy put the crate at the top of the driveway, and we moved on to the main event: setting up the CNC.

I popped the lid of the crate, and then opened each of the boxes that were carefully packed on the internal framework of the crate. I opened the boxes inside of the boxes, and got to work.

I found a Quick Start Guide in one of the boxes – similar to one that I downloaded from the Probotix website. This one had more pages, though.

Too many.

It had pages for different configurations. It had pages for different equipment. It had no table of contents. It had conflicting information. And, it had the directions on how to build the rolling stand for the CNC to sit on … which I found only by reading a page with no title and no way to tell it was directions for the rolling stand. I was dumbfounded.

These directions were absolutely horrible. They were apparently written by an engineer who knew what he/she was describing … and I, the ignorant customer, was supposed to just catch up. Unfortunately, I didn’t know what a 60/60 extrusion was. I did figure it out, inferring it from the instructions that were written with a certain panache, shall we say:

6) Next step you will slide the corresponding amount of T-nuts into the 30/60 extrusion to be able to secure the 30/60 extrusions to your 60/60 legs. Measure the bottom of the 30/60 extrusion to the base plate to ensure your shelf is at the desired height, and start with bottom extrusion while securing them down as you will not be able slide T-nuts further past your top most extrusion. Place the top 30/60 extrusions level with the top of the 60/60 extrusions.

I read this point many, many times and still didn’t understand it. I did finally figure it out: bottom of the extrusion is NOT the same as bottom extrusion. “Desired height” is never explained in any way. The format and grammatical errors, well, I guess those are just for fun.

There were 16 points to the assembly instructions for the rolling stand. There were pictures after the first 2 points, and then no more. I finally figured out that if I turned the page, after the instructions, there was an illustration showing the extrusion lengths, which was helpful once I knew what an extrusion was. The page after that indicated, somewhat incorrectly, how to place the CNC onto the stand for attaching.

I had the cart most of the way assembled when the Engineer showed up to help. We did the rest of the cart, rolled it out of the garage woodshop to the CNC that was still sitting on the crate bottom, and started the main event.

Getting the CNC onto the stand was easy. Attaching it took quite a while. We had to tweak, and loosen, and adjust, and get level … it took both of us, and we could have probably used help. We worked all around and under the table. I only got one muscle cramp, and lost a little bit of blood, before we were done.

I bought the Probotix Nebula because I wanted a plug & play solution. At this point, I gave the instructions to the Engineer & asked him to wire it. He would plug so I could play. Sounds fair.

I mean, wouldn’t you? He’s the one with two engineering degrees from prestigious universities. Time for him to sing for his supper, if you will.

There are 7 pages in the instructions that show how the CNC should be wired up. Of those 7 pages, only 5 were relevant to our setup, and we had to figure out which 5. Of the 5 that we were to use, 4 of the 5 had errors or misinformation on them.

Let that sink in for a moment.

The Engineer finished the wiring, and only had 3 wires left over. Ooops. One was the yellow plug for the router set up that I was not using (I knew that I had the extra set up when I approved this unit for shipping). Then, there was an extra parallel plug, and an extra black wire with a spade plug. What were those 2 for? No clue. Both were unlabeled.

The black wire seemed like it might be the earth ground to the machine frame, but it was not labeled in any way. Neither of us wanted to plug an unlabeled wire into the new machine just to see what might happen. But, it was “just” a grounding wire, so we determined we would be OK to turn the machine on. And …


There we were, late on a Friday night, and the machine did not function. The computer booted just fine, but it did not control the Nebula. And it was Friday night, so tech support was a very long weekend away.

Next up, and coming soon: Troubleshooting & Tips For Setting Up Your Probotix Nebula


Buying A CNC: The Probotix Nebula

That’s No Garage, That’s My Shop


Buying a CNC: The Probotix Nebula   10 comments

Time to up my game.

I’m a one man shop, and I’m slowly being overwhelmed by the amount of things I’m wanting to make. Being asked to make. Have to make.

Hiring help is not an option: I am committed to doing this myself. I say it at every event: “It’s just me in the shop.” So how do I get more efficient?

I get a better machine.

A CNC router (CNC = Computer Numerically Controlled) will allow me to have one machine making something while I’m working on something else. I’ll essentially become a two man shop.

That’s the plan, anyway.

I started shopping for a CNC last year. When you start crowd sourcing information, you find a lot of people will talk about building your own CNC. I heard “Make it just like you want it,” and “Save money.” I’m sure those statements are true, but I wasn’t interested in a DIY project. I wanted to save TIME, and buy a machine that would essentially be plug & play.

The next decision was budget. I considered less expensive, hobbyist-level machines, and quickly rejected them. Reviews are good for many, but I needed a machine that would keep up with my burgeoning, out-of-control hobby. I wanted a machine capable of working long hours with high reliability. You know, like me. High reliability means the price will go up, of course.

Size of the table (how big an item you can work on) is the next factor. The idea I seized upon here is that you should buy your second machine first. Don’t get a machine that’s “just big enough” for current needs, but get one that will do the projects you will want to do in a year or three. Good tools last a long time, after all, so buy the tool that is big enough for the future.

OK, go.

The first machines I looked at seriously were those sold by my favorite woodworking store, Rockler. Rockler is geared towards the hobbyist (red flag!), and they sell several models of CNC machines. Their “affordable” models are smaller, hobbyist machines. I wanted more.

Their most expensive model is by a traditional woodworking tool manufacturer, Powermatic. They have a good reputation, but I wondered what a manufacturer of table saws and drill presses would know about a computer-driven routing system. Their CNC machine was a relatively new offering; they’re late to the party. I moved on.

A person I’ve hired to do some CNC work for me recommended ShopBot exclusively. They make great machines, I’m sure, but were simply out of my price range. I’m not a corporate buyer; I needed a machine to fit in my budget.

I got very interested in Legacy machines; they had a great reputation and great training, I was told … and some totally bad transactions, too. They either had the best customer service, or were awful. And, in the end, they were out of my budget.

Finally, some people I respect in the group highly recommended Probotix. Great customer service, I was told. Interestingly, they used Linux for their operating system, and were a family owned company that started in Illinois. That sounded very similar to the company I work for, Smarts Broadcast Systems, that is a family owned company based in Iowa; we use Linux for our operating system.

Probotix was my choice. I determined I would buy their largest machine, the Probotix Nebula. The work space is a massive 45″ x 61″ … far beyond the minimum 24″ x 36″ that was what I needed today. I totally respect their use of Linux … and they provided a plug & play solution for me. On the other hand, I know the style of company that they are.

Clearly, Probotix is quirky. They are very personal, but they are not polished. The materials they have online are hardly impressive. However, I went with the recommendations of people who I respect, and selected a large machine that was within Mrs M’s stretched budget.Options had to be decided:

  • You need to specify the mount for whatever router you want. I chose an air-cooled spindle, after research told me that spindles – that require 220v – are tireless workers. Routers will wear out quickly when used in cuts that may go 30 minutes without stopping. Go for the spindle.
  • A “Z Touch off Puck” allows you to easily establish the height of the workpiece – so your machine knows what height to send the router bit when it begins. Sold.
  • And ATLaS Tool Length Sensor is supposed to speed up bit changes, so you don’t have to touch off every time when you change bits. Sold.
  • They offered an 8 piece router bit “starter set,” but I decided to buy my own bits based on my research into the kinds of bits I would need for the kinds of work I anticipate doing. So, no to their set.
  • They sell a 4th axis rotary so you can carve in 3 dimensions by rotating your work piece automatically. I thought about doing this, but didn’t to save money. I can always add it later.
  • Choose your spindle … and I chose to have them install an air-cooled spindle for me. Not the most expensive, but it was still more than twice what I paid for my last 3-1/4 horsepower router.
  • The machine only does what it’s told, so you need software. The program they offer is by Vectric, and I elected to buy the upgraded software directly from that company. It’s called Aspire, and the people I was consulting on this purchase told me I would not regret buying the best CAM software out there for CNC routing. OK, so no to the CAM software from Probotix and yes to the upgraded purchase from Vectric.
  • Dust collection is an option, and I know that I MUST have it, but I already have the powerful V3000 from Oneida. I don’t need a baby system just for the CNC, so no to their system, but yes to the dust boot that my system will attach to.
  • The table itself is commonly referred to as the spoil board (as it’s going to be cut up on occasion). You can get it with a grid and threaded inserts installed, which I seriously considered … and did not do to save money. I’ll do my own mounting jigs to hold work pieces in place.
  • Want to make dovetail joinery? It can be configured to do that. I like being fancy. Sold.
  • Want a rolling stand to hold it all? I could build my own, but … I am trying to save time here. Sold.
  • A keyboard/mouse/monitor arm was offered that would attach to the CNC’s stand. Probotix supplies the computer setup, along with the software they’ve developed to run the machine. You’ve got to put it somewhere, so yes, please.

I ordered my Nebula, and was told it would be 2-3 weeks before the unit would ship (they build each unit as ordered for each buyer … just like my company). Unfortunately, it was almost 4 weeks before it would ship. I got a call on a Friday morning, and was told that a Nebula they had just built for another customer (in front of me in line) could be mine if I was OK that it was configured for a 110v router as well as for the 220v air-cooled spindle that I selected. All I had to do was say yes, and the unit would ship on Friday.

Yes. Of course. YES. Ship it.

I paid extra for quick shipping. I was told it would be delivered in 3-4 days, but this would be a residential delivery that required special handling. It took 5 days to get to me, and only delivered that day because I proactively followed the shipment, and called the shipper when the website noted that the crate would be arriving in Los Angeles on a Thursday. I scheduled my delivery before the shipper even received the crate.

Delivery was last Friday.

Next up: Installing the Probotix Nebula

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Installing Oneida’s V3000 Dust Collection System

The Big Install