DIY CNC machine? Build it yourself!

A CNC machine is basically a router  that moves in all three axes over top of a material to carve out the shape that you desire.  The router is controlled by a computer so that very precise and consistent cuts can be made.  I have wanted a CNC machine for about 10 years now, so what’s stopping me? Well they cost about $10,000. So until I have a lucrative furniture design business, this isn’t likely going to happen.

Unto this Last makes all of their creations using a large format CNC machine. The materials are plywood or other sheet goods and the computer optimally cuts out all the pieces.  This is a key element to their products as they can arrange the cuts so as to not waste any material whatsoever.

In the last issue of Make magazine, they had an article about DIY CNC machines. These very precise instruments were something that I had never dreamed were possible to be made at home, however the author assured the readers that they are not only possible to make, but fairly simple in their construction. I was absolutely hooked, I read the article about 10 times…

My next step was to visit their website where they had vast tutorials and how to’s involving DIY CNC machines.  The site is being constantly updated and has tons of helpful stuff on it.  It’s nice to see feedback from other DIYers saying what works/doesn’t work on their machines and simple work arounds.

Finally I couldn’t help myself, I went online and bought their newly written book Build Your Own CNC Machine.  I’ve read it all the way through already!  The book is well laid out with easy to follow instructions as well as helpful suggestions on where to buy some of the more hard to find parts (motors, etc.).  The design in the book is for a 2’x4′ machine, however the website shows bigger versions as large as 4’x8′.

So what’s my next step? Well, I obviously can’t get started on this till after our Parisian excursion, but I’m planning on building this in the fall. I’ve already set aside some money for the electronics, while I have most of the wood already laying around the garage.  I’d like to see if I can upscale the design to build it for a 5’x5′ sheet so that I could use sheets of baltic birch.

Over the summer I plan to do some reading and playing with CAD programs as well as work on some designs to test out the new machine once it’s built.


5 thoughts on “DIY CNC machine? Build it yourself!

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  4. My dad and I are in the finishing stages of building a modified version of the “book” machine. All the electronics are connected, and we’re going to lube up the axis rods and give it a shakedown sometime this week. It might even work.

    We bought the “electronics package” from the guys. Saved a bunch of time sourcing stepper motors, drivers, breakout boards, etc.

    Since we’re just doing hobby stuff now, I’m using InkScape / CamBam / EMC2 for CAD / CAM / machine control. Inkscape and EMC2 are free/OSS, and CamBam is free for the first 40 uses, after which you should be able to pay for the license from all the stuff you’re selling on Etsy 😀

    CamBam / EMC2 are a great way to get started, and you can find lots of .dxf vector drawings floating around online. Although, it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of free / open .dxf’s for furniture, in contrast to e.g. the files for Makerbot 3d printers that people are posting at Thingiverse.

    About building a DIY machine- the book gives pretty good instruction, but it’s a bit ambiguous at parts. It’s more of a “this is what we did” than a “you need to do everything exactly how we tell you.” And it’s confusing because the plans/dimensions at the website are slightly different from the plans/dimensions in the book… and then we went and made our table 3′ x 3′ instead of 2′ x 4′ so that mucked it up a bit too.

    As we got into building the thing, it made me realize that Ikea could probably pop these things out for about a hundred bucks, including all the fasteners you need, and make money on every one. Of course they wouldn’t supply leadscrews or electronics, so you’d still need to spend $300 or whatever on those, but as far as the machine itself is concerned, it’s a perfect package for Ikea self-assembly.

    The only thing I would change now that we have it all put together (heh, before we’ve even made the first cut) is the z-height of the gantry that supports the router and allows movement on the Y-axis. I thought that since we were building this thing with six or eight inches of Z-height motion, (as specified by the book plans, pretty much) that would be enough to accept feedstock that was six inches tall. But we eventually realized that the nut that holds the drivescrew at the bottom of the Y-axis is the lowest point on the moving part of the machine, and that nut is only about 3.5 inches above the zero point on the table surface. Since the nut doesn’t move up or down at all, that’s the effective limit on the height of the feedstock.

    I think if we were starting over again, I’d want to build the gantry arms taller to get that nut at least another two or three inches up off the table. And that means we’d probably need to make the Z-axis rails a bit taller too.

    Anyhow. Long comment, but it’s a complicated thing. I’d be happy to chat more about our experiences if you decide to go through with it.

    • Thanks for the comments, I’m still very interested in making one of these but my current travel and lack of work shop have put it on the back burner for now. I am curious to see how different the quality is on a home-made machine versus one of the lower end store bought models. I’ll have to do some studying up on the software, while I don’t have a CNC, I could be learning how to design and set up the programs I guess.

      I’ll take you up on your offer of further help once I get going on it, Thanks!

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