Setting up a New Zen Toolworks CNC Router from 0 to Gcode

I’ll go into the why later, but I’ve now set up three computers to run my Zen Toolworks CNC router. This time I carefully documented what I did, so if you want to set one up yourself, just follow along!


More details on the CNC router shelving unit here.

CNC Router Computer Setup from start to Gcode

Physical Setup:

Software Setup:

  • Install Mach3 or other CAM software, including parallel port driver (further steps assume Mach3).  If purchased, (here) register by putting the key in the root Mach3 directory
  • Restart computer and Mach3.  Under config => ports and pins change the inputs and outputs as described here. – Once this is done, you should be able to move all your axes, but the tuning will be off.
  • If you installed the Y-axis motor on the back of your machine, the Y-axis job will be reversed.  Correct this in the software under config => ports and pins => Motor Outputs by changing the Y-axis “Dir LowActive” to a red “X” from a green checkmark.
  • Under config => native units, change to Inches (if you want to use Inches).
  • Under config => motor tuning, turn the “steps per unit” to 5080 if you’re using F8 lead screws – be sure to “save axis settings” before changing axes.
  • Change velocity and acceleration under config => Motor tuning to 100 in/minute.
  • If necessary, change IJ Mode to “Inc” under config => general config
cd ninja star and "shuriken"

Ninja stars!

Secondary Physical Setup:

  • Oil screws and rods.  Jog the axes around to spread the oil
  • Change torque settings as necessary on the TB6560 board per this document.
  • Load Up some Gcode and Test!  I like to use this “ninja star” code, because it’s a pretty normal range of travel for my ZTW router, and has some semi-complicated geometry.  Be sure to have your hand near the “ESC” key, and setup the zeros in a safe position the first time you try out Gcode on your router!

Further Reading:

  • The official Zen toolworks TB6560 setup wiki has some good info and pictures in it.
  • My router workholder
  • My really cheap frame
  • total beginner’s guide to engraving…
  • Anything in the CNC section of this site.

Besides Mach3, I installed these programs on my router computer.

  • Firefox or Google Chrome web browser
  • Mach 3 – CNC control software,  see my review.
  • CamBam (another 40 uses!) – my thoughts on chosing the correct CAM software for your hobby CNC device.
  • Dropbox – love using it to transfer files between my Linux notebook and Windows router PC (sign up here and get an extra 500 MB free)
  • ESTLCam – I’ve been testing this piece of software out, will do a review soon.

As for why I’ve had to set this up four times, the first computer died recently, but the good thing is that it was a remanufactured computer (A Dell GX280 Desktop PC) from Tigerdirect, so with shipping and handling it cost less than $125.  Not cheap, but cheap enough to be a replaceable component.  After 1 1/2 years, it seems to no longer function correctly.  Being in the garage in the heat, cold, humidity, and router dust as well as a rough trip to the NC Maker fair seems to have done it in.

This time I decided on a different computer, a Lenovo RB-M552 Desktop PC, also from Tigerdirect.  On paper it’s a much better machine than the Dell, but unfortunately, it originally gave me the “blue screen of death” much more often than I would like.

APCAfter a few weeks of dealing with this, I finally decided to call Tigerdirect’s tech support.  Oddly, the site said to call Lenovo, but they (correctly) said it wasn’t their issues.  Once I got through to Tigerdirect though, they really took care of me, immediately sending out a new PC, and a pre-paid shipping label to get the old computer back.  Lenovo #2 has been a really solid machine so far, especially after adding a UPS unit to even out some of the uneven power.

My UPS unit was bought it from Sams, but it’s also Available from Amazon or alternatively this 350 VA model (I haven’t tried it) for slightly cheaper.  I bought the smallest one I found at the store (450 VA), because it’s not meant to protect from outages per se, simply from short power interruptions from other tools.  I really like to hear it kicking on if I turn on my saw or router, knowing that it’s supplying power to my computer even if there’s a temporary surge.

Hopefully you will find this post useful.  A lot of the stuff here should be applicable to any hobby CNC router or other equipment, especially the UPS unit.  I feel like my router is finally to a pretty decent state running-wise, so hopefully yours can be too!


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