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  • Writer's pictureLuke

Lets fit a spindle….

A number of years back I pioneered fitting spindles to a Shapoko’s. It’s 2019 now, almost 2020 and we’ve come along way, so I thought it time to revisit the topic.

The Shapeoko is a very capable machine, but some people want more. More power, faster jobs, more control. For the hardcore enthusiast a spindle could be the way to go. They are not cheap, but in the long run can pay off if you are a HD user.

First off, lets get into why you might want to fit a spindle.

Typical benefits of a spindles include:

  • Quieter

  • Allow for a range of bits to be used

  • Ability to run deeper cuts

  • Automatic speed control

  • Automatic start/stop

  • Higher torque and larger range of speeds – better for milling a wider range of materials.

  • Better accuracy and less run off

  • Less heat – meaning wood doesn’t warp when being milled

  • Less maintenance – water cooled spindles are usually bushless which means no need to change bushings and longer life.

In comparison the standard Carbide Compact Router pumps out around 700w and can run between 12,000 and 30,000 rpm. There are numerous spindles on the market, mainly 65mm 1.5kw spindles and 80mm 2.2kw versions, both are available as 110v and 240v. In addition you can also select from water cooled and non water cooled.

Lets compare the most common 1.5kw to a 2.2kw spindle. Note there are versions that can run at lower and higher rpms.

1.5KW ER16 Collets - up to 10mm bitsER20 Collets - up to 13mm bitsPuts out 1.5kw (approx double the standard spindle power)Puts out 2.2kw (approx triple the standard spindle power)0-24000 rpm0-24000 rpmApprox 7AApprox 10A

Your first choice is going to be can you run a 110v or a 240. If you have the required power supply available the 2.2kw is a great option and one of the more popular.

Your second choice will be if you want water cooled or non water cooled. Whilst water cooled are slightly more work to setup as coolant lines need to be added, they are incredibly quiet compared to any other type of spindles (it’s common for them to come under 60db!).

Most people assume that water cooled need more maintenance but it’s simply not the case, once setup there is little to zero maintenance to be done. A worthy addition here is coolant - using water or expensive coolants is not required. A great tip if you go down this route is to use car windscreen wash or radiator preservatives - both are non corrosive and won’t grow bacteria.

What do you need?

If you are going to run a spindle upgrade there are a couple of things you will need. Here we will run through them, what they do and why.

  1. Spindle - big spinny thing :)

  2. HDZ - Our upgraded Z/X axis designed around a spindle upgrade. We do not recommend fitting spindles to the standard axis as they do not have the torque for the weight.

  3. VFD - Variable frequency drive - this controls the spindle speed and controls it’s on/off

  4. Water pump - (assuming you went for a water cooled spindle) This will pump coolant around your system and is usually submersible.

  5. Coolant container - something to hold the coolant and pump

  6. Collets - these are adapters that hold the tooling

  7. 4 Core - 1.5mm or 16awg flexible cable - you need to wire the spindle to the VFD (5m). Many people will argue you need to fit shielded cable, but realistically this is not something that you need on this type of machine as long as the spindle is grounded.

  8. 3 core - 1.5mm or 16awg flexible cable - you need something to wire the VFD to your power supply

  9. 40x15mm drag chains - if you want to run your power and coolant lines through the main drag chains larger drag chains are required.

  10. Spindle Mount - it’s worth noting many spindles might ship with a spindle mount. That said most are cast junk and we do not recommend using them. The C3D one is machined aluminium and really nice. Whilst you don’t have to buy it, we recommend do it once do it right.

  11. 5v relay - you will want something to trigger the spindle enable pins

  12. 2.54 mm header pins and general 12v wire

  13. Patience & electrical skills

Buying advice

In most cases we recommend you take a look at G-Penny - they seem to be reliable quality and come grounded - something which is not common on other brands.

Lets get started….

For this install it’s not for the faint hearted. Your going to get your hands dirty, and need basic electrical experience if you want to take advantage of automated spindle control.


Fitting the VFD

Find somewhere convenient to fit your VFD on your setup. Note this will not be on the rails or inside an enclosure. The VFD regulates the voltage that is sent to the spindle, which means it has a fan, and gets warm. You want it to have adequate spacing and ventilation around it. Some people choose to mount these on the side or the top of an enclosure.

Fitting your coolant setup.

Assuming you are using an open look coolant setup (large tub). You can place this under your enclosure. You will want to make sure you have holes in the lid to feed your water in/out tubes in logical places where they won’t twist.

Coolant recommendation

I personally use windscreen wiper fluid and central heating treatment which stops anything from growing in it.

Fitting the HDZ

Before you look to fit the spindle you need to upgrade your Z/X to the HDZ. We don’t recommend using any other carriages to install a spindle. To install the HDZ follow these instructions - C3D guide can be found here.

Modification to the controller.

Whilst not a requirement, If you want to have automated speed control and auto on/off you need to modify your controller. (Well worth it)

Turn your machine off, unplug everything from the control board - taking note to label connectors for reassembly. If you are fitting larger drag chains remove these along with your existing router.

Step 2. Carefully remove your control board from the enclosure. There are 4 pins near the limit switches which you will need to add a connector to two of these the GND and PWM output.

From here you will want to re-fit your controller and run wires from the GND/PWM to where you fit your VFD. Light gauge 12v wire. Label each wire Gnd/PWM.

Be sure to re-fit all your electrical connections for motors/switches etc and test before going any further.

Hooking up speed control

Now you have your wires coming from your controller to the VFD you need to make the relevant connections. As standard a VFD will do two things - turn on the spindle and set the spindle speed.

In some cases as soon a PWM signal is received a spindle might enable but in most a connection needs to be made through a direct connection between 2 pins - i.e. a switch. We can do this through a 5v low voltage relay like this:

As you can see we hook the PWM from the controller to the VI pin on the Spindle (speed input) and the + on the relay.

Hook the gnd to the ACM (low voltage gnd) to the relay gnd.

Setup the relay so the enable is NO (no current passes through from the common pin to - no pin).

Connect For / DCM as above (this is the external on switch control)

When the relay receives a command i.e. M3 s10000 it sends a voltage relative to the speed setting (0-5v / 0 max spindle rpm) through to the relay and VFD. This in turn turns the spindle on and sets the speed. I.e. on a 24000 rpm spindle a 2.5v signal will make it turn at 12,000 rpm.

To test the above functionality type in M3 S12000 and the spindle should run at around 12,000 rpm or 200hz. M5 will stop the spindle.

VFD settings

It’s a little difficult for us to recommend any VFD settings as these vary from manufacturer to another, but there are some common settings we advise you check. In all cases PLEASE CHECK AND RUN THROUGH THE MANUFACTURER'S RECOMMENDATIONS.

A common brand is the huanyang whilst there are two models one of our community members did a very interesting write up on the parameters. This can be found here:

Hooking up the water pump

In most cases the water pump people will choose or receive is similar to a pond pump - this is submerged in the water tank with an ‘out’ feed. These are really easy to setup. Connect the feed tubing and drop it in. It can then be plugged into a socket. As a tip, you can also remove the plug and connect it directly to the VFD input power - by doing so it will automatically turn on/off with the VFD ensuring it’s cooled at all times. Note when doing this check the polarity of the pump motor in relation to the feed in/out. Whilst there is no ‘wrong’ way to do so you want the pump to be pushing water through the tubes, and not sucking it.

Closed Loop Systems

Some people will want a close loop system, in this instance I recommend looking at a CW3000. I've built a dozen close loop system all cost as much and were not as tidy. I wish the CW3000 was a bit smaller, but it's a good compact unit for the price.

Note it's technically not a chiller, it cools or heats the coolant to ambient temperature. On long ob you might see temperature rise by a couple of degrees, but here in the UK you can expect the temp to stay low 20's.

You could go all out and by a CW5000 which is a chiller, but typically these cost three times as much. I personally don't see a the point and many well known manufacturers will use a CW3000.

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