Wednesday, June 23, 2010

CNC Machine Build - Part I

I've started a 'little' project that promises to take up most of my free time (what little there seems to be of it at the moment) - I've decided to build a CNC machine.

To be honest, I've had gadget lust for a CNC machine for some time now... all the talk on the blogs about Cupcakes and Makerbots and RepRaps got me looking into CNC machines some time ago. I could never bring myself to spend the money on one though since they're a little pricey. The cheapest options that looked any good were the Zen Toolworks machines, which came with stepper motors but no power supply, controller boards or router/spindle. The cheapest of these can be got from Amazon for under 350 dollars. Still, it only works on a 7"x7"x2" area. The next machine up is around $600 and works on a larger area of 12"x12"x2". At this price I get a little scared and only being able to carve a foot is a little disapointing.

Anyway, I held off for ages but then came across these plans at which detailed the construction of a CNC machine that would cost a little bit more than the larger zen toolworks one (all inclusive), would use mostly materials from Lowes or Home Despot and also promised to be pretty easy to follow (a definite bonus for me, since I chose to do needlework and cookery rather than woodwork and metalwork when given the choice at age 13...). I've seen lots of online instructions for building various types of CNC machine (like this one, and this one, and this one... well, you get the idea), but they all left me a bit confused and unconfident about being able to build something worthwhile.

The promise of the solsylva plans were enough to make me order the 25"x25"x7" plans to see if they were idiot proof enough to give me the confidence to get started.

I received the plans a few weeks ago, read them over and then excitedly started to spend money on wood, bolts, washers, screws, pipes, all thread (threaded rod), forstner bits and skate bearings. So, yes, they appeared to be detailed and simple enough for me to follow from start to finish.

I like the fact that the solsylva plans allow for someone who doesn't have a truck. The wood measurements are for planks 8' and smaller, which fit fine in my little Nissan disappointment (with the back seats down). Recently I've been taking advantage of craigslist in order to pick up a few power tools on the cheap. I got hold of a drill-press ($50) and a miter saw ($60), which have been very useful so far. You'll laugh at me, but they were a bit intimidating to use at first - especially the miter saw. I kept having these images running through my mind of flying fingers and trips to the ER (in my defense, the miter saw is very loud). After a bit of practice I've become flamboyantly reckless much more confident. I'm definitely enjoying learning the new skills involved.

The pictures at the start of this post are the main base of the machine, put together over a few hours on the weekend. In the picture below I've added the X-rails and X-stepper motor support (this was done on the following weekend).

So far, it seems that things are going well. I'll keep you posted.


Patrick Linehan said...


Jay said...

Very excited to see this progresses, I've been eager to have myself a CNC as well, but spending ~1k on one is out of the question for what I would use it for.

PaulBo said...

Hey Jay (Collette?),

I'm not sure how much cheaper this option is going to turn out. Part of the appeal is to learn the woodworking and general tool skills that go into it (not a strong argument though since those could be learned on cheaper projects).

As far as price goes, lets see, the site claims that the basic parts should cost ~ $250 (I'm keeping track, so I'll post those details when I'm finished). I just bought the stepper motor/driver-board and power supply from xylotex. That came to $330. I bought the belt and pulleys for $60 I have a computer I can use, so no extra expense there. So, I'm hoping this machine will come in under $650, but that may be optimistic.

Pois said...


Me wants VIDEOS! :)

Seriously, now,(not that I like some videos of that) great work, and, here's a couple of brothers that do wonders with woo, and have a gear generator app, see the stry here:

MAC_SAP said...

This is great piece. like the works you did star wars, etc...