Concept to cut tutorial

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This is very incomplete but I needed a place to put what I've learned so far before I forget. Ideally I'd like to figure out how to go from concept to cut using entirely free software.


The pieces

There are 3 pieces of software you will need:

  1. A CAD program to put your concept into the computer
  2. A CAM program to take the CAD file and convert it to G Code
  3. A program to interpret the G Code and drive the CNC

CAD Software

  • AutoCAD (commercial)
  • Vectorworks (commercial)
  • Sketchup (free)
    • You can download a dxf + stl plugin that will allow you to export your sketchup model into your CAM software.
    • plugin download

CAM Software

There are two types of objects that CAM software can work with: 2D and 3D. 2D models can also be used to create something called "2.5D" which is essentially using the 2D object to extrude a tool path which is cut step-by-step into the material.


It is very crude and difficult to use. It has some very primitive CAD capability built-in. There must be something better out there. It doesn't seem to have the ability to work with 3D models, only 2D which it can convert to 2.5D.


Open source CAM software. Can import multiple different 3d or 2d formats. Allows you to do tool change procedures and a whole lot more. Biggest downside is that it takes a long time to generate G-Code, sort of start it when you go to bed and have it done when you get up in the morning.

CNC Software

  • Mach3 which runs on Windows
  • EMC2/Axis which runs on Linux and is free
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