When you start looking in to CNC you see the term CAD and CAM used quite a lot and you probably know what CAD means but CAM for me wasn’t something I quite understood.
So when you have built you machine you’ll probably want it to make something. So how do you go about it?
You need to send G-codes to you machine so that interface board will convert these in to electrical pluses. These pluses then the move stepper in either direction and hence move the router.
There are many different G-codes each one has a specific task. For example the G-code G0 X5 Y6 Z-.5 will move the axis to 5 mm in the X and to 6 mm in the Y and the Z down to .5, assuming the machine is working in millimetres. You don’t need to learn these codes but its useful to know a few of the more common ones. CAM software takes your design and coverts it in to G-code that’s sent to your machine.
There is quite a lot of CAM software some free and others costing a small amount to very expensive. As a hobbyist I try where possible to us free software but in all my CNC endeavours I’ve spent a significant amount of money on software. Luckily for me the CNC router I’ve built makes us of free software with very good results. With my CNC hot wire cutter I’ve had to purchase CAM software.
SketchuCam or Fusion 360
My first tests cuts were done with Sketchup and the SketchuCam plugin from the PhlatBoyz and its produces some good results. But like any software you need to spend time learning it. There are some great videos here
I did find a few limitations when I was designing a brushless in-runner motor mount for my DeHavilland Mosquito and have started learning Fusion 360. I had a small crash with the Mosquito caused by the in runner motor coming loose, so I decided to use my new OX CNC to make new and better mounts. A good opportunity to lean Fusion 360.
Fusion 360 is free to use for students and hobbyist, I think you just need to re-register every year. Its a very impressive program but has a steep learning curve. I watched this series by Lars Christensen How to learn Fusion 360 CAM. Its aimed at high end milling machines but the principles apply and Lars is very good. Also another clever guy is Martin Barfoed he’s built an OX CNC and now uses Fusion 360 and has made some good Fusion 360 Videos
My recommendation would be start with Sketchup and the SketuCam plugin and then move on to Fusion if you need to.