STEPCRAFT Specifications

Working With Plastics

How come my circles are not perfectly round?

Then you are machining circles on a CNC and your circles are not coming out perfectly round, it is commonly caused because there is some backlash developing on the machine.  Backlash is a tiny amount of play that appears over time and is noticed when a drive changes direction.

When running in a positive direction, the gears/lead screw are engaged with the lead screw nut on the gantry, but when the stepper motor reverses direction there is a tiny space between the lead screw and the lead screw nut that has to be made up before there is positive engagement in that direction.  After many, many hours of use or if your machine is not properly maintained and lubricated, then this backlash can develop.

If this is happening to you, please download this document: Stepcraft UCCNC Backlash Compensation.

This will show you how to setup backlash compensation in UCCNC so that you can “dial” out any backlash and go back to having perfect circles again.



What is the correct end mill and speeds and feeds for Dibond or MaxMetal?

MaxMetal/Dibond is a very common material used in the sign world.  It is basically two thin pre-painted sheets of 0.012″ aluminum with a solid polyethylene black core.  Some, as in our sample video, come as brushed aluminum or in a brass color which have the look and durability of aluminum without the price.  The material is very easy to cut on a CNC.


The best settings to cut MaxMetal/Dibond on a STEPCRAFT D-Series CNC System are:

End Mill/Cutting Tool: Amana 51411 1/4″ shank, 1/8″ Cutting Diameter
Feed Rate: 33 mm/sec
Pass Depth: 0.0625″
RPM: 16,000
Ramp: 1″ smooth

NOTE: Be careful NOT to have double-sided tape under the cutting path or it can gum up the end mill and cause melting on the plastic core and/or affect the finish quality of the final cut on the metal.

The Video below shows an example of cutting this material with the above settings on a STEPCRAFT D.840 with an MM-1000 Spindle.

What is the best bit or end mill to use when cutting Acrylic, and what are the best speeds and feeds?

Acrylic is a very common material to cut on a CNC.  It can be used for anything from making windows in projects to making edge-lit LED signs.  Acrylic can be a tricky material to cut successfully, mainly because many people will run the RPM of the cutter too fast with a feed rate that is too slow, thus causing melting of the plastic.   The trick is to get nice clean chips as you cut.

The following article goes into this in detail:  Cutting Acrylic – 8 Guidelines To Getting The Best Results

What is a surfacing bit used for?

A surfacing bit typically has a larger than normal cutting diameter (1 to 3 inches) and are used to flatten or level uneven surfaces on your project material.  They are also used to take the thickness of a material down to a final required size.  For example, you might have a piece of rough cut lumber that measures 1 inch in thickness but you need it to be 3/4 inch thick.   If you don’t have a surface planer in your shop then you can use a surfacing bit with a pocket tool path to plane the material down.

Another common use for surfacing bits is to clean up and level a spoil board.  After continuous use your spoil board’s surface will have a lot of cuts in it and you might want to clean it up so it is perfectly smooth again.  A surfacing bit is perfect for this, especially with machines where the spoil board is physically attached to the machine – you might want to prolong the use of it for as long as you can before replacing.

Leveling your spoil board is also important. If you are looking to engrave .005″ into a piece of metal and your bed is off by a couple thousandths from one side to the other or front to back, then the thickness of your engraved lines will vary.  By using a surfacing bit, you will ensure that your spoil board is perfectly level in relation to your gantry which will result in a uniform engraving.

Note: Because of the larger diameter of a surfacing bit, it is important to note that you can not take as deep of passes or run as fast as you might with smaller end mills on most machines.   Consult your machine’s manufacturer for assistance with proper speeds and feeds for surfacing bits. 

Can I use MDF as a spoil board when cutting aluminum?

Often times when cutting aluminum you will need a spoil board under the aluminum, especially when you are cutting all the way through the material.  MDF is a very common material to use as a spoil board for the following reasons:

  • There is no grain so it cuts the same in any direction
  • It is usually pretty flat
  • It cuts easily so when your bit goes through your work piece, there is no additional strain on it when it makes contact with the MDF
  • It is easy to find and relatively inexpensive.

Some things to be careful of when machining aluminum with an MDF spoil board:

  • Make sure the MDF is secured well to the machine bed
  • Make sure the Aluminum is clamped tight to the MDF/machine bed – if it is not you will get vibration, chatter, poor cut finish, and can possibly break your cutting bit.
  • You can not use any lubricant when you use an MDF spoil board!  It will swell and expand if it gets wet.  So using spray or mist coolant or oils like Tap Magic is not recommended.

An alternative spoil board that we use is acrylic.  Acrylic is hard, flat, easier to machine than aluminum so it will not strain your machine and if you want/need to use lubricant, then you can without worrying about it damaging the spoil board.

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