Estcam contains CAM and CNC motion control programs. Vector graphics (dxf and svg) and 3D (stl) files can be imported and machined using Estlcam. While doing everything in Estlcam is the simplest and most reliable route, the programs can be used individually to generate G-code for another controller (GRBL, Mach3, etc.) or to machine G-code generated by another CAM program (Vectric, Fusion 360, etc). The Estlcam control program is free, the CAM program is free to try (becomes nagware w/ increasing wait times to generate/machine G-code) and ~$60 to buy.
The Estcam motion control program is easy to install on a lot of ATmega microprocessor/GRBL compatible hardware (e.g. Uno/Nano) and Estlcam will backup anything currently installed on the hardware. If the hardware isn't recognized, USB drivers may need to be installed (drivers for FTDI or WCH serial chips are the most common). See also: Hardware
While the Estlcam User Manual is rather incomplete and the visuals not always up to date, there is a lot of useful information there. The videos (EN playlist) can move along quite fast, slowing them down (Shift-less/greater than) and backtracking (Shift-left/right arrow) may help.
This site is an attempt to provide a bit more information, things I've had issues with, what works for me, etc.. The following topics and subcategories (Carving, Hardware, and Setup) are pretty random and most are incomplete snippets, questions and comments are welcome.
To setup the sensor go to Setup : CNC controller : Length sensor. I use a speed of 60mm/min for all automatic probing functions. The settings fixed location option requires homing be enabled, but a fixed location at (what I use), or relative to, the project origin/0,0 point is also possible (Texts : Tool change).
Warning: Unlike other probe options, the Z-axis will start moving when you click the icon. When you move the tool over the sensor and click the icon, the tool will automatically travel down, touch and retract. After the first touching off of the tool length sensor, the material top also needs to be touched off/zeroed. After that the sensor will automatically adjust the Z-axis zero point after tool change sensor probes. Note: 1) After a sensor touch off, Esc does nothing and the message will only go away when you do something else. 2) The default 6mm/min speed is typo - super slow, pretty much undetectable (v11.244).
A 3-axis probe plate works great for one-off projects where the corner won't get machined away. With the tool a bit in from the corner (wherever you normally start a 3-point probe) start by clicking the length sensor icon. Do the 3-point auto probe after and you're good to go. After tool changes go to that 'in from the corner' position, slide the probe plate in position and click the length sensor icon. To have the machine automatically go to that 'in from the corner' position for tool changes, add G00 coordinates (e.g. G00 X15.0000 Y15.0000) to Setup: CNC program : Texts : Tool change.
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You can either mark the center of the material and manually center the bit/zero X/Y, or use the Estlcam center finding probe options to precisely center the bit and automatically zero X/Y. Note: The probing options work on parts/outside and holes/inside, e.g. zero probing inside and outside corners. Probing at 45 degrees also works and can be handy when probing circles.
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This example image is a layered DXF generated by the BeeHome project and imported into Estlcam. The layer names provide all the information needed to auto-select (e.g. weighted inside/hole) and set the parameters for cutting the paths (bit size, cut depth and pocket). I spent a whole lot of time on just one part of that DXF trying to edit all the paths in Easel before deciding it was just too tedious for a one off project.
While Estlcam can lock/unlock DXF layers to allow (auto-)selecting paths by layer, running auto-select multiple times (e.g. on multiple layers for multiple bits/DOC's) requires locking the already selected/configured paths and the layer so that they don't get modified or re-selected on subsequent runs.
Since it took me a while to get it:
The View : Layer list : layer lock only prevents the creation of (new) paths on that layer.
The Edit : Lock only prevents the modification of already created and selected paths.
Note: There is no need to 'unlock all' and there seems to be a bug (v11.244) where hole/part paths can revert to on line when unlocking all (...has only happened to me once).
Depending on the project, I use Autosketch or Inkscape for creating my layered DXF files... Because I find Inkscape easier for text and Autosketch easier for geometry, I've found a use for Estlcam File : Insert which adds the inserted file as a new layer. Only DXF and .e10 (Estlcam project files) can register automatically with the current project.
When Opening (or Updating) a drawing file Estcam creates a bounding box bottom-left origin. When using the Insert option Estlcam uses the origin embedded in the drawing file (could be anywhere). DXF files will only register with the current project if they have a bounding box bottom-left origin. The top-left of inserted Inkscape SVG images will register with the Estlcam default origin (seemingly regardless of the SVG page origin). I was registering inserted SVG's by fiddling with X/Y coordinates (Move DXF) until I discovered that inserting saved as v14 DXF (with a appropriate origin) removes that hassle. It was also cool to discover that Estcam project files can be combined via Insert, e.g. I now have an insertable keyhole cutting project file.
...It seems the Estlcam has a problem with (too many?) identical objects on multiple DXF layers, e.g. with only one layer active some of the duplicated objects may be missing. Since any DXF object can be used to create any number of paths there is no need for duplicate objects. Planning reusable layers takes a bit more work, but the end result can be simpler and easier to use (less layers).
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One of the key functional differences between Estlcam and Easel is that Easel can only cut inside/outside of a closed line/path (e.g. a circle). Any shape with ends that don't meet (e.g. a line) can only be "Cut on shape path". I'm guessing that the closed line restriction/awareness is why Easel will never cut into an adjacent line (on the same closed path). Any irregular pocket cutting (e.g. text) with a straight bit is affected. If the space between two lines is smaller than the bit, Easel won't cut it.
While Estlcam will cut into the adjacent line if the space between two lines (e.g. text) is smaller than the bit, it can cut to the right/bottom or left/top of open paths, e.g. lines. While this is a very useful feature, e.g. being able to cut a shape on the end/edge of a board, it has some bass-ackward constraints.
The default is bidirectional cutting. While bidirectional cutting is fast and efficient (great for roughing) any machine/bit flex will create noticeable ridges on the cut face because each pass will flex the machine in the opposite direction, i.e. not ideal for hobby level machines... On the other hand, I wonder if light bidirectional engraving with a V-bit (or ball end) might make for a cleaner cut (less fuzz).
The solution (when one side of the cut is waste) is to add a finishing tool pass to right or left of the line cuts. It's not a very efficient solution because both the roughing and finish pass cuts are unidirectional. While less than ideal, the loss of bidirectional roughing would be acceptable if the configured cut direction settings were honored, they are not.
When a finishing tool is selected, right of the line cuts are always climb cut and left of the line cuts are always conventional cut (both cut bottom to top, top and bottom of the line paths are cut right to left). The cut direction workaround is to manually set the point to point path (1st point = cut start).
... I'm still rather confused about how the right and left of the line work, but I do know that selecting right of the line and setting a point to point path in a conventional cut direction works for all conventional cut paths, e.g. left to right = below the line conventional and right to left = above the line conventional (opposite of what happens using auto select). Setting a default bidirectional path for roughing (w/ a finishing allowance, w/o a finishing tool) and a separate/second point to point path for finishing might be the most efficient solution.
Another area where Estlcam and Easel differ is when cutting pockets. The example is a complex maze and both programs were set to cut parallel/offset (Estlcam changed/Easel default). Both generated paths that jump around a lot and it isn't obvious which moves around more. Both appear to use an ~40% stepover, but Estlcam leaves an ~20% path around the perimeter. While this does result in an additional path in some places, that 20% path is cut last - no finish pass required... Side note: Estlcam set to parallel provides the best results on narrow pockets, but the algorithm is too conservative/safe, i.e. too many unnecessary and time consuming passes... because parallel stepover is limited to 45% (regardless of bit settings).
The Easel generated path includes some full width cuts along the perimeter (more likely to leave wall marks and top tearout). While both can leave islands (which can break and tear grain) and it would be nice to see everything cut from center out, Estlcam saving the perimeter for a 20% wide final pass is a big plus.
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While entering something like 8.016mm for X-axis distance per revolution will be rounded to 8.02 on screen, the stored/used number will be 8.0159997940063477. I have no idea where that number comes from, but it is only off by .0000002mm. For a frame of reference, the rounded .004 difference divided by 20,000 equals the .0000002 stored/used difference.
...All G-code numbers have four decimal places (default). While setting a .0001mm tool property (e.g. DOC) is rather pointless (too small to be realistic), it will show up in the G-code as entered even though the tool property entry is is rounded to 0.00mm.
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