You may have noticed a drop in the number of posts here on ToolGuyd, and there’s a good reason for that. Aside from working on a few new reviews, I had been reading up on how to build a small CNC machine.
Basically, a CNC machine (at least with respect to DIY router machines) is a three-axis computer-controlled cutting, routing, and engraving tool that can achieve results that just cannot be done by hand, at least not easily.
I first became interested in making my own CNC machine a few months ago, but recently started looking into it more seriously. This requires a LOT of research, and while I now know how to build a decent DIY CNC, I do not yet have the finances to do so.
Of course should I stop buying new tools long enough to save up the funds for this project, there will be a loooong series of project logs detailing each and every step.
In the course of quite a few hours of research, it became clear that DIY does not necessarily mean cheap. Actually, by my current BOM calculations, a DIY solution will cost me nearly as much as a ready-built desktop CNC frame would.
There are many DIY CNC designs out there, and quite a few free and paid plans are available.
As of now, (if money falls to me from the sky), I plan on basing my own design off of CNC Router Parts’ and FineLineAutomation’s free 2’x3′ plans (as shown above). The plans are free, but they do require several of CNC Router Parts’ custom components for the machine’s construction. To be fair, I’ve read a lot of good things about these two companies, and their products are very well suited for budget-minded DIY machines.
Here are a few refernce links in case I’ve piqued your interest and you’d like to do a bit of research yourself.
CNC Zone Forum – Top reference for DIYers to get ideas, help, and answers.
CNC Router Parts – This links you to the how-to page which offers downloadable plans.
Fine Line Automation – Co-developer of the aforementioned plans, and distributor that offers parts bundles and kits.
K2 Desktop CNC (via Amazon – This is the desktop CNC frame that I am considering in case I cannot construct mu own. Cost-wise, this Kt1414 machine only costs about $50 more than what I intend to try to build.
What projects do you have planned for it?
Building a CNC, while easier than ever before, would still be a huge project by itself. If I can manage the finances and time for it, and it works properly, I would mostly use it for light milling of aluminum and plastic for computer modding projects, and from there I would use it to create creative tool storage accessories. I also have in mind to cut shapes into wood that I just cannot do by hand.
Then, there are robotics brackets and parts I’d be able to carve out of a single sheet of plastic… so many possibilities.
I have been looking at this too. I was leaning towards Joes CNC http://www.joescnc.com/. The Hybrid uses MDF and metal where the 2006 is almost all MDF. For the 2006 there are free plans and cut lists on CNC zone in the Joes forum. I have access to a CNC now that can cut the MDF parts. The one thing that has held me back so far is the software costs. There are free software packages but the one that gets great reviews and looks really nice to me is Vcarve. After adding that to the cost of building a machine you are very close to some of the tabletop packages.
I’ve taken a close look at the Joes2006 plans before, and it does seem to be a great baseline design. I actually stocked up on HDPE at one point in anticipation of giving those plans a try.
There seem to be quite a few free software solutions out there, but you’re right, from what I’ve seen the better software packages don’t come cheap.
what do you expect total cost to be?
My current maximum total estimate is about $1500 including electronics, but excluding software, which I expect will run about $150-$300 total. This also doesn’t include a computer.
I keep flip-flopping about the exact design I would settle on – moving gantry vs. hybrid mill-style moving table.
The estimate I worked out would also provide for spare raw materials that I would be able to put to use elsewhere. Also, there are many ways to save on material and cut costs a bit. If/when I finalize my designs, I don’t expect for the price to exceed $1500.
The stepper motors, driver, and power supply I’m interested in will cost about $550.
Lead screws and anti-backlash nuts are also relatively fixed in price. Ballscrews are an option, but I don’t have a lathe to machine the ends myself, nor am I willing to pay additional cost to have a machine shop handle it. For my needs, a lead screw should suffice, and if I should want to upgrade, they can be upgraded without too much effort.
Then there’s the frame and linear motion components. This can cost as little as maybe $300 if I’m creative, but (without checking my notes) 8020, aluminum, steel, and CNC Router Parts components will add up to maybe $700.
I was seriously looking at one of these kits. http://buildyourcnc.com/CNCMachineKits.aspx
There are different options based on how much fabrication you want to take on yourself. There is even a new desktop version from ShopBot if you’re looking for something ready to use.
This is a great topic, hopefully you’ll post more information as you progress in your search.
Thanks for the suggestions, Jude! I have seen that instructional page, but didn’t know there was new tabletop ShopBot.
I purchased a bit of the hardware for the project and settled on most of the final design features, but ultimately ran into space issues. Right now, space is a big issue for me, and even a tabletop unit would be too large.
I expect to be able to resume the project at full speed at some point, maybe in a year or two.
HOW DO I GET ONE.
Figure out what you want your machine to do, follow the links in the post, plan out the design according to your needs, or follow one of the several free ready-to-build plans available. Or purchase a turn-key solution that’s ready to go right away.
Any updates or progress on your CNC router build? I’ve very interested in building one, but like you, am concerned about the space. I currently have the space for a fairly large unit (2′ x 3′) but know that will limit me on future projects/hobbies and am unsure if these hobby CNC routers are actually useful, or if they become a cool toy that starts collecting dust 6 months after you complete it. Any experience with the difficulty in building designs and CAD and programing the CNC software? If that becomes time consuming then I could see not using the the router as much as I would want.
I have unfortunately put all plans on hold due to time and space issues. It’s not a good idea to build something like this, calibrate it, and then move it back and forth from tabletop to a storage shelf.
What I have seen regarding the software is that design to finished product can be quick and easy or painfully drawn out. There is definitely a learning curve.
It looks that paid-programs make the process a lot easier, but it’s doable to go from CAD to G-Code using open-source software. There’s also a learning curve as the machine is setup from the first time, but once you’re set and calibrated for maximum resolution, it looks to get easier.
Desired project complexity also plays a part. If all you’re look for are cut-out pieces of plywood, aluminum, or plastic, then the CAD and machine code should be easy to handle. But if you’re looking for 3-dimensional carvings, then things can get complicated.
From what I’ve seen, most people love their DIY CNC machines. If things don’t work out very well with the first try, they use the machine to build parts for a revised 2nd edition.
Regarding size limitation, a 2×3-foot machine may limit what you can do with larger workpieces , but it would also open the door to many new things you can do with the material sizes it can handle.
My recommendation would be to start using a CAD program, such as the new Draftsight free CAD package in designing some of the components of your intended build. That experience will either encourage or discourage you from following through with the build before you have a lot of time or money invested in it. Good luck!
Hello my name is Vitor and I live in Brazil and am attending technician in industrial automation,’m already in the penultimate semester and really enjoyed this project. I wonder if it would be feasible and whether it would be possible to be done all artezanalmente a project of this size for a completion of course work and if you have any suggestions I’ll be waiting for your reply. Since I’m already grateful.
I’m not exactly sure I understand the question. Artezanalmente = entirely handmade? If so, it is possible, but it will be very difficult without the use of power tools and jigs to achieve accurate positioning and hole sizes.