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174 of 181 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2010
Zen Toolworks DIY CNC Machine Review:

Short reviews are great but I decided that mine should be a bit longer and in depth so anyone who reads it will have a better idea of what exactly a Zen Toolwork CNC Kit is. In short It is a GREAT item. If you want a short review see below.

Short Review: A Must have. One of the Best Investments I have ever made as far as tools go. Buy it!!!

Long Review:

A MUST HAVE for anyone who wants to get started with CNC with an excellent well made precise and affordable machine. If you want to design prototypes, carve foam, plastic metal or wood (this machine is perfect for doing wood engraving as it has a fantastic detail level even when down to extremely small designs with the right bits) or even if you just want to make small custom and/or precision parts on occasion for models or RC vehicles; or perhaps just do a little custom engraving once in a while this machine is more then able to handle the task without emptying your wallet. And it's a Kit! So you get to have a great time building it!

Arrival: From the time it shipped to the time it was at my door was 2 days. I live in NJ and the CNC kit came from CA so that was very fast shipping!!!

Upon opening the box I found everything very well packed, very tight and secure. I did a parts count and everything is where it should be with a few extra screws, bolts and washers.


The material that makes up the body of the machine is very strong. Much stronger then I would have initially though. The box must have weighted in at over 40 pounds, as the body material is very heavy and sturdy. Anything that was not made of the gray body material (such as the driver screws or the rails) was steel or stainless steel.

Quality: All parts except the motors are brand new. However in the description it does say that the motors are used. Considering that the Stepper motors are probably the most expensive part of a CNC machine this is where the real savings are as the motors while used are very well made and appear to have a lot of life left in them. I don't think I will be burning out any of these 3 motors any time soon. So everything came as described or better. For the price paid the quality can not be beat and surpasses what most people would expect for a CNC machine priced well under $1200 even under $300 as Amazon has them listed at an absurdly low $299.95. As far as CNC machines go less then $300 is near free when you compare it to others of the same size. This machines ability appears to on par and in many cases better then the "cheap" desktop models others are selling for $1100 on up. After building it and seeing what can be done I can say that this is one of the best deals out there for any type of CNC machine or tools. All moving parts have multiple ball bearings so nothing is dragging. Even after reading all the positive reviews I was still pleasantly surprised at the sturdy design and well made parts.

Ease of Assembly: All you really need is a cheap Walmart $1 Hex Key set, a small vise, a Phillips screwdriver, a power screwdriver (saves a lot of time but not really needed) and some common sense. Total tool cost for what is needed to assemble this kit if you don't have any tools at all (everyone has screw drivers right?) would be less then $30 and that is with a cheap power driver or about $10 to $15 without the power driver. The tough part is getting the small side of the driving screws to fit the ball bearings as it is a tight fit and they need to be pressed into the bearing. I found it easiest to get the driving screws into the bearings first as I do not have a drill press handy (a cheap $40 one from Sears could do it) and then use a small vise to gently press the edges of the bearings into the body parts. If you have access to any kind of drill press this can be done really easy using the press to put the driving screw into the bearing after it is in the body. It took me about 4 ½ hours to assemble and I had to back up a few steps because I forgot to check the alignment of a few holes (this means I put a few panels on backwards because I was not paying attention) and had to disassemble a few steps back to reposition a few of the body parts about 3 or 4 times. That was my fault however. The only customization that needs to be made is a mount for your cutting tool. I have a dremel tool so fabricating something was easy enough. Even a quick fix however would be fine because once attached you can use the machine to make a better mount. I will say I had a great time just building this machine. I am already tempted to order another one just to build it. Maybe I can talk a few friends into buying them and letting me do the assembly. Everything was easy and well made and fit where it was suppose to fit. When you read the online instructions for assembly it says that you should take your time and it does not have to all be built in one day but once you start you just get into it and have such a good time that you really want to finish it all at once. This was a 0% frustration build and very fun.

You will still need to buy a power supply and driver card but they can be found cheap online. You will have to make your own interface cables for the driver to talk to the motors but it only takes about 10 min a cable (You will need 3) if you want to wrap it nice and make sure it is all insulated. This is the one area you don't want to be cheap on price or time about (I spent about an hour doing cables and about $10 for wires, tape and connectors at Radio Shack. Get the color variety pack. It helps to color code). If you cross a line you could fry out your board or your stepper motor so make sure everything is separated nicely and insulated well. Most importantly make sure you have a male/female Printer cable! I did the whole build, wires and all; and at 1:30am I was looking forward to a dry run with just a sharpie to check out the level of details that can be done and to make sure everything was working correctly after building the unit and getting all excited about running it when I realized I had no printer cable. Plus it was snowing so badly that everything was going to be closed the next day so I had to wait a few days to get one. These are all over EBay if you just type "CNC Cable" in the search so if you don't have one you can get one shipped for less then $10 if you look online. If you have any mom and pop computer shops nearby they may have one there if you look and odds are it will be free or only be a few dollars as the cables are not used much and just take up space. Everything went together really easily. Electronics as well.

Size: This is a desktop CNC Machine so it is small enough not to be in the way, about the size of a large desktop laser business printer or about 1 ½ times the size of a desktop printer/scanner/copier and 2 times as high; which is great if you do not have a lot of room. I currently have mine sitting on a rolling laptop table and it takes up about 60% of it. 100% with the card and power supply but that is because I have it mounted to a Plexiglass base as I am in the process of building a housing for the electronics) Do not let the size fool you however. The work area sounds small on paper but once it is built there is more working room then initially thought. There are many things that can be fabricated with a machine this size that would surprise you. If you check out Youtube there are some good postings of some of the basic things this machine can do as well as a great video of a detail engraving on an aluminum block. While Zen Toolworks appears to be a young company and this CNC machine is still a fairly new product, I expect to see a lot more of these videos soon as it is the least expensive machine you can buy and one of the best investments anyone can make for their shop. This desktop CNC Machine is just big enough to make almost anything you could want a small 3 axis CNC machine to make in the work area AND the worktable is raised enough so that a larger then 7x7 item could be fabricated and/or engraved in sections without the frame getting in the way. It is small enough to be out of the way if you have a small shop or even an apartment with limited working space.

Level of Detail: The first thing I did once I got the machine built was to use a small metal bar and attached it as a mount with some screws to hold it in place and some zip ties for a pen so I could do a test run on a sheet of paper. I used Mach3 and jogged the unit manually to see how accurate it is. Jogging produced a good level of detail but the small amount of time that it takes to tap a button doesn't allow for a real test of the machines detail levels as you can not get really fine levels just manually jogging the machine. So the next thing I did was to use Mach3's Lazy Cam feature and just typed out my Fiancés name, picked a font and did a drag and drop. It took about 5 min to do the 8 letter name. I had the machine set for a fairly small font with the lettering outlined so it was a hollow letter which is why it took that long to make. The font size on paper would be similar to a #10 font size if you were to use a printer. Just using a cheap pen and only being held in place with zip ties I was able to produce an extremely accurate and very fine level of detail. No misses, skips or miss alignments. It doesn't sound like much but considering the small size and type of font once you see it done it is very impressive. To get an idea find a hollow text font and in size 10 print out a name. This machine did that with a pen and with a much thinner line going point by point without missing a beat. Let's say that after that I was very impressed. Not only was it perfectly drawn the round parts of the path where actually round and not just short lines. Next I found a Dragon image I liked so I used inkscape to create a Vector path and had the machine draw it out. It was a fairly detailed path and again it was hollow like the text so each line was really 2 lines and every object had a border. Total time was a little over 27 minutes and the detail level again was excellent and very surprising. I am very impressed and the fine level of detail that can be achieved with this machine and it is more then worth the price. Again one of the best tool investments I have ever made. The level of detail is far better then I expected even after reading the other reviews and I plan on doing some wood carvings this week. If you have to do any engraving, prototyping, fabrication, light production or 3D carvings especially in wood this is the best you can get without spending several thousand dollars.

UPDATE: ---------------

After a few weeks of playing around I have been able to fabricate parts from Wood & Plexiglass with no problems. The level of repeatability is amazing. I can cut 3 custom shape panels from plexi and lay them one on top of the other and they are perfect copies of each other right down to the drill holes lining up perfectly every time. I also did some wood cutting in layers. After 3 or 4 passes with this machine over the same spot slowing cutting a thick wood part out everything looks like just 1 cut. this is a quality product.
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107 of 119 people found the following review helpful
on December 6, 2011
If you buy the "complete" package approximately $175 of the cost will be for the Artsoft Mach 3 software. This software is required to control the CNC. This software runs on Windows XP although there are a few ports to 32 bit Vista. AFAIK there are no 64 bit ports.

When I contacted Zen they told me I should "buy an old Pentium with XP". Fair enough - but this should be obvious up front. The "complete" package should really include a five year old computer - with a parallel port (USB to parallel will not work). So be aware, the computer you have at home probably will not work - unless you have an old XP machine in your attic.

Finally, if you post questions to the ArtSoft Mach3 support groups be prepared for very experienced folks who are very happy to give you responses that show how clever they are -but are not particularly useful.

I'm not saying this is a bad product or Mach3 is a bad product - but it does have some very significant restrictions and constraints - that are not obvious until after you buy.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2011
This is by far the cheapest real CNC machine I have ever seen. When I received this kit, I was immediately impressed with a number of things:

1) ALL moving contact points are metal
2) Motors and motor connectors are included
3) Motor mounts are included
4) Flex couplings for the motors are included
5) All three axis's slide on roller bearings
6) Brass anti-backlash nuts on all three axis's
7) Ball bearings at both ends of the leadscrews
8) All major metal parts are stainless steel

After assembling this unit, I am also impressed by it's design, and the tolerances of everything, even the plastic. Pieces just fit together exactly the way they were supposed to. When assembled, it's quite stiff. I wanted this machine to make precision cuts in plastic, and it's very adequate for that. I've heard some have cut aluminum, but if you regularly want to make thick cuts in Aluminum, you might be better off with an aluminum or steel machine. However, if you're in the market for a plastic-framed CNC, this should be the machine to look at. A 7x7 machine might be small for some, which is why they also have a 12x12 machine, which I haven't seen, but looks just like a bigger version of the 7x7. There are a few downsides, but none that were dealbreakers for me:

1) No limit switches included, or set places for limit switches. Everybody seems to come up with their own mounting methods and places.
2) Not a complete CNC kit, although they now are selling separately a motor controller, and a spindle motor, making it more of a complete set.
3) If you're not mechanically and electrically inclined, you may have a steep slope ahead, and may be better off with an assembled kit.
4) Motors are used. To me, that just means they were pre-tested :)

This kit includes everything needed to make the mechanical parts of a CNC machine, minus the spindle motor (A dremel-type tool works nicely). Even two holddowns are included. No electrical components are included, except the motors.

Best of all, there is an active support forum, and even a Wiki.

If you want to make a CNC machine for under $350, and don't mind assembling it yourself, you really have only two choices. You can design your own machine, gather all the parts, and put it together yourself, or you can get this kit. Frankly, this kit would likely be cheaper than ordering all the parts separately, and the results will likely be better.

This kit isn't for everyone, but if it's for you, I HIGHLY recommend it.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2010
I purchased a zentoolworks 7x7 cnc machine locally about 3 weeks ago. Overall for the price I don't think there is anything comparable on the market right now. The machine is pretty amazing. It was fairly quick to setup, has been durable so far, allows for new attachments, has amazing customer service and has opened lots of new possibilities for this maker.

You get a box with everything you need. It has precut plastic panels which look like they have been finely machined. It comes with all of the fasteners you need and a few extra incase you misplace a few or decide you want to add on later. The fasteners all appear to be stainless steal and very good quality. The bearings so far have kept the machine running very smooth. It came with a CD containing a PDF document that walks you through the entire process. I had it build with the help of a friend in about 3 hours or so. Overall the parts feel like they are built to last.

I have been running the machine for roughly 3 weeks now and for instances of 8 hours at a time with no problems that weren't caused by my own hand. Usually those were just from my poor programming and I break a bit. The machine hasn't skipped a beat though. The cuts are very precise (also purchased the spindle listed here on amazon). They are easily in standard with several hundreds of an inch or higher which is more then I need for most of my prototyping needs.

Since the platform is made out of a durable plastic that is fairly modular it leaves quite a bit of room for add ons. I installed a vacuum attachment which sucks away dust and filings as the machine moves forward. I have also seen people build fittings for the machine to use other tools such as a Dremel. The company has seemed to be fairly support of that as well.

I ran into a few problems while I was setting things up which were mostly due to my inexperience with cnc machines but there has been great customer service from the company. Usually within half a day I got an email reply with details about how to solve the issue. In the event something breaks since the machine is modular it is extremely easy to replace or fix. The company also keeps spare parts stocked. I actually haven't had anything break yet. They also have a fairly large google group and wide documentation online which they include you on when you buy the product. The community has been great for seeing what others have built and to walk you through the common questions you have. In the community there are lots of people experimenting with what is possible with the machine such as converting them into 3d printers, or using open source controllers such as arduinos.

Since I have had the machine I have been playing around to see what was possible. I have etched glass with diamond bits (attached as examples), cut out circuit boards, done 3d profiling of images in wood, and done profile cuts into different media to cut out 2d objects for rapid prototyping. It is amazing how many doors it opens up to be able to design something at home on your computer and then convert that into a real object with exact measurements.

Overall I would say this is a great starter CNC machine. I have really learned a lot about the process since purchasing the machine and have built some pretty awesome things that would have never been possible before. I mean for $350 where can you go wrong?
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2010
The kit got to the east coast in lightning time. The kit is very well manufactured, and relatively easy to put together. The documentation is new, and a little lacking, but Zen has already made improvements in the week I've had my kit. You are buying this from an American small business owner, who must spend all day on Google supporting his product. If you have a question, it will be answered directly by him, in less then an hour. It is also supported via Google groups with a forum of some knowledgeable people as well, it's very newbie friendly.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2010
I got the Zen 7X7 and the spindle kit sent over to Israel by a friend.

It arrived with good instructions and i managed to build it in a couple of days.

For some reason a few weeks after i got it one of the chips in the stepper board was burned.
Xin, the owner, sent me 3 chips at his expense and promptly answered many of my newbie questions. this exceeded all my expectations of support and of product.

This is why I'm writing my first amazon review!

I strongly recommend this and any other product Xin sells.

Good luck!
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2010
I ordered this item from an Ebay auction. It came packaged into a small USPS box, carefully and neatly. All the parts were there with extras as well.

It took me about three hours to assemble it. Make sure you have a good vise with at least a 3" jaw to help you set the bearings and bushings. Keep an eye on the orientation of the parts as well so you only have to build it once :) The online build guide is well thoughtout and easy to follow. And the online community is active and ready to help.

My goal was first to build a model CNC mill. To start from the beginning and learn as much as possible. This kit certainly did that for me. Once finished, and under computer control, I stuck a small pen into the spindle and did some lettering with serifs. Even under high magnification the curves and tips were perfect. Very accurate and capable unit!

Ive been cutting foam now for casting molds and just happy as can be. The performance is good, the accuracy is high, and its just plain fun to watch it run. Plus the kit aspect makes it even more fun :)

Thanks again for the coolio and fun project! The price is outstanding for the educational value of this kit, and when your finished, you get an outstanding tool for your workshop too boot!

Pictures of my unit [...].
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2011
I would give this product 4.5 stars, if I could.

This product is almost a DIY kit. Unfortunately after spending several hundred $$$, some of the instructions are still missing.
How to assemble the tool is great.
How to wire up the motors is mostly trial and error.
(You sold me the motors and the driver board. Is telling me which color wire to connect to which terminal too much to ask?)
Configuring Mach3 is basically absent. You can download a configuration file, but there is nothing even closely resembling a 101.
Telling me to check the on-line forums is ok, but not if it is necessary just to get the darn thing started.
On-line forums should be for how to enhance, tweak or hack.
Wishlist: Provide a very basic how-to on configuring Mach3. Just enough to get me up and running.
The Mach3 manual is too comprehensive to be useful to a novice.
I dislike on-line forums primarily because all too often the experts supporting them seem to enjoy berating newbies.
If I were an expert, I wouldn't need help.
Note: some of the assembly instructions are obviously for a previous version of the product.

OK, now for the good! This was a VERY fun kit to build.
Don't start unless you have a few hours to finish, because you're not going to want to stop.
I am still trouble-shooting a "grinding" noise that I get when I plug the parallel-cable into the controller board.
For the do-it-yourselfer who has time to spend trouble-shooting, this is a great project.
For the person who needs to use this as a tool for a project and is under a dead-line, CAUTION.

Hint #1 follow the assembly instructions as exactly as you possibly can, and in the order they are presented.
Hint #2 make sure you have a fully charged powered screw-driver before you begin.

I was very underwhelmed with the product's documentation until 5 minutes ago when I got a call from someone at Zen asking if he could help.
Now I'm much more impressed with the company, but would have preferred to have better instructions delivered with the kit.
I like being able to figure things our for myself, I.e. I hate being forced to ask for help.

Final note. I prefer buying from Amazon because Zen toolworks website uses PayPal, which I hate with a passion.

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2010
I just purchased one of these beauties a few days ago. I purchased the machine, spindle, driver board and power supply.
So my review for the moment is not about the functionality of the machine. It is only on service.

The shipping was super quick. It took me about six hours to assemble. Another couple of hours for wiring and software installation.

They responded quickly to all my emails with questions and invited me join their user group.

What prompted me to write a review at this point was the call I received last night to help me set up the Mach 3 software.
It saved me a good 3 days (with luck) of work, researching, studying, and playing to set the machine.
The call was 17 minutes.
This is a class act.

I will update the review once I start using the machine.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 11, 2010
I received my 7x7 kit in a nicely organized and well packaged box. Like buying from Ikea. Every item were labeled also by probably the same CNC machine. The instructions are clear for a complicated machine but it only took me 3 to 4 hours to put it together and get it up and running from my other CNC controller. I ended up buying a dedicated power supply and controller from Zen Toolworks. The power supply and controller are also really nice. I could not believe that I could be running a CNC machine for this much. It is not a toy either. It actually mills my aluminum parts just as quick as the $3000 one at the shop.
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