Teams who have CNC mills and other expensive tools, how did you get them?

Just wondering how teams aquire their tools. Lots of sponsors? Donations? Big budgets? 2nd hand tools? When I look at these fabrication tools they’re always in the 10s of thousands of dollars price ranges. Any insight would be great. Thanks!!

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All of the above?

We’ve gotten tools second (or third) hand before, and are still using them today.

We’ve gotten tools as part of a large budget (Added onto the cost of building our space at the school).

We’ve gotten tools as part of our normal budget, which can be described as lots of sponsors.

We’ve gotten tools by specifically soliciting sponsorship for them, usually in the form of a single donation.

So, consider everything! But first, prioritize what you want, based on what will have the biggest impact on the team.


Manual Mill we bought on the cheap from… someone with a relative involved with the team.
Small lathe we got free from another coaches husband.
Laguna 4x8 CNC we got by working with the district to receive funding from a grant.

Our high school shop about 3 miles from our facility also has lots of great equipment, but we just haven’t used that as much since receiving the Laguna.


We have machines that were surplused from our corporate sponsor that the team was given the first right of refusal on before they went up for sale. This is how we got a couple manual mills, lathe and TIG welder. We took the opportunity to take the machines and got a local rigger to donate moving the machines.

We also purchased a lot of tools from the corporate surplus store that used to exist to clear out old tooling from UTC divisions.

Additionally we have purchased new through the school Tech Ed budget and we have applied for grants specifically to purchase machines.

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As far as I know, we get most of our stuff from grants from the school, but they’re purchased for the STEM facilities at our school, and the robotics team is allowed to use them.

We got our only really expensive tool (an Omio X8 CNC machine, about $4,000) with a specific grant from the Gene Haas Foundation. They love to give FIRST teams money to advance their machining and fabrication abilities and the skills of their team members (that being what the Foundation was set up to support.) So that was the way we afforded a tool that we otherwise could never have bought within our regular budget. We have had much greater success at raising grant money and other contributions recently and that’s allowed us to buy a lot of only modestly expensive tools (large bandsaw, 3D printers, etc.) and to gain big concentrations of equipment, like a donation from Lenovo of 6 really expensive laptops (about $14,000 of computers all told.) But for the really expensive individual stuff, we’ll be writing specific grant requests well into the future.


Sometimes you luck out with things that are factory seconds or have been damaged in shipping. As with a lot of things it’s “who ya know”.

Our first router (Gerber 4x8) we were able to take off another teams hands for free I believe as it was broken and being replaced, we then fixed it and continue to use it to this day. Over the years, most of our other machines (Tormach 770, markforged mark 2, Boss 420 laser cutter) have been acquired over time through various grants and sponsorships. This year, we recived a series of large grants from our district and some other sources, allowing us to purchase a Tormach 1100MX, Tormach 24R router, and wazer watter jet. But the important part is that it has taken a decade of work and menuvering to build up our shop, and, quite honestly, a good amount luck.

Out of curiosity, how did you go abot gettig the lenoveo grant? Becuade our software theam has been in desperate need of new devices.

+1 to the Haas grant, the application is simple and the money gets you most of the way to an Omio, which can build a powerhouse robot solo.


We hooked up with this because a team parent has a connection to Lenovo, so that was a good inside track to getting a donation, as they put us in touch with a particular person they knew involved in that part of the company. But the company does do a fair bit of community outreach and I know they support other FIRST teams, so we’re not unique. Try looking on their corporate website for their Community Engagement pages. They were actually much happier giving us product rather than money and we were extremely glad to get it, since all the team laptops were very old and slow and we couldn’t depend on district-supplied devices (no way to load software on them since we couldn’t have admin access.)


We’ve done a bit of everything. We barrow tools from mentor/students like 3d printers, our old mill and lathe, and a few other things, we’ve bought tools by spreading the cost over several years such as our current Bridgeport, our lathe was donated by a friend of a mentors parent when we put out a call for a small one for sale, our Haas was donated by a sponsor who was getting rid of it anyway (old with many broken parts), and in 2021 we cut robot spending to a bare minimum for a new bot, and used most of the remaining budget to buy a 5’x8’ Avid CNC router.

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The team bought a CNC when they didn’t qualify for Worlds one year. As background, the team had planned and budgeted to be able to go to Worlds, and didn’t make it. This left extra funds, and thus the team bought a CNC.

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We were extremely fortunate to be a part of a school remodel that was funded through a referendum (Haas VF2SS, Boss Accucut 1kw fiber laser, Omax protomax warerjet, Baleigh cnc press brake) . Other big ticket items were purchased through Perkins funding like our old tourmaline l Tormach 1100, Slantpro lathe and high temp 3D printers. We use all equipment in both class and for our team.

Our biggest sponsor, Baxter provided most, if not all, of our machines we use, which consists of a cnc mill, cnc router, cnc lathe, our 3d printer farm, among others. Our machine shop, which is named the Baxter Innovation Lab, is located inside of our school, and is pretty much exclusively used by the robotics team.

Our school pretty much supports little to nothing for the team, so we’re really fortunate to have Baxter as a sponsor.

You wouldn’t happen to hav ethis persons contact info, woud you?

We’re a self-funded community team. We set a goal of purchasing a CNC machine, then spent several years saving - we looked for large-scale projects that could earn the team money. A local government grant to run a major STEM program over two years put us over the line.

We got our Mill second-hand from a family contact, but had to spend some time with extra fundraising activities to make the purchase.

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What is the level ($) you needed to fundraise and how did you keep it separate from your regular fundraising goals?

Our goal was to save somewhere around $25,000 AUD for a new CNC machine. It had to fit our space and weight restrictions, so we had to be a little choosy.

We are a community team, so have full control over our bank account. It was reasonably simple to earmark/separate funds into a separate section. The hard part was getting the funds in the first place.

It took a fairly concentrated effort to obtain the machine while still being able to cover FRC participation costs. If you’re interested, I’d be more than happy to walk you through our specifics - maybe there’s something you could copy?

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