Cardboard CNC Machine Boxes Up both a Tool and a Framework

Want to build up a desktop CNC machine without breaking your pocketbook? [James Coleman], [Nadya Peek], and [Ilan Moyer] of MIT Media Labs have cooked up a modular cardboard CNC that gives you the backbone from which you can design your own machine.

The CNC build comprises of design instructions for a single axis linear stage and single axis rotary stage with several ideas on how to combine multiple of these axes together to construct a particular machine. Whether your milling wood, laser-engraving your desk, or pipetting your bacteria samples, the designs [Dropbox] and physical components can be adopted for your end-application.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this project is that, at the high level, it is not just a cnc, but a framework known as Gestalt. This architecture enables users to develop their own machine configuration consisting of multiple software nodes linked together with high-level Python Code. Most of the high level computation is organized by a Python library that calls compiled C-code. This high-level framework processes instructions through the desired machine’s kinematics to output commands to the motor controllers. Finally, the top-level interface does away with the archaic GCode with two alternatives: a Python interface consisting of function calls to procedures and a remote interface to make procedure calls through http requests. While the downside of a motion control language is that commands have no standardization; they are, however, far more human-readable, a benefit that plays into the Gestalt Framework’s aim “to be accessible to individuals for personal use.”


In the paper [PDF], [Ilan] expresses the notion of a tool as an impedance-matching device, an instrument that extends the reach of our creativity to bend and morph a broader range of shapes into forms from our imagination. Where our hands fail in their imprecision and weakness, tools bridge this gap. Gestalt and the Cardboard CNC are first steps to creating a framework so that anyone can design and realize their own impedance-matching device, whether they’re weaving steel cables or carving wood.

The folks at MIT Media Labs a familiar heavy-hitters in this field of low-cost machinery, especially the kind that fit in a suitcase. We’re thrilled to see a build that reaches out directly to the community.

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CNC Milling Photos with a Halftone Generator

Looking for an awesome way to mill out a photo or graphic? Check out [Matt Venn]’s halftone gcode generator which creates halftone CNC toolpaths from any image file. We’ve run across some halftone generators before, but [Matt]’s generator has some interesting features and makes for some pretty unique output.

[Matt] initially wrote a simple command line program in Python, but just rewrote his script with a more user-friendly UI that renders a preview of the output as you change options.  The UI lets you change parameters like drill depth, number of lines, and the step size to tweak the output. It even has an option to map the halftone points along a sine wave which makes an interesting effect as shown in the image above.

[Matt]’s program generates standard gcode that you can use to run your CNC machine. [Matt] recommends milling a material with layers of different colors, but you can always mill a solid material and fill the routed areas with paint or dye instead. Want to grab the script or check out the source code? Head over to [Matt]’s GitHub repository.

Thanks for the tip, [Keith O].

CNC Plotter Uses Only the Good DVD Drive Parts

It wasn’t that long ago that wanting to own your own 3D printer meant learning as much as you possibly could about CNC machines and then boostrapping your first printer. Now you can borrow time on one pretty easily, and somewhat affordably buy your own. If you take either of these routes you don’t need to know much about CNC, but why not use the tool to learn? This is what [Wootin24] did when building a 3D printed plotter with DVD drive parts.

Plotters made from scrapped floppy, optical drives, and printers are a popular hand, and well worth a weekend of your time. This one, however, is quite a bit different. [Wootin24] used the drives to source just the important parts for CNC precision: the rods, motors, motors, and bearings. The difference is that he designed and 3D printed his own mounting brackets rather than making do with what the optical drive parts are attached to.

This guide focuses on the gantries and the mechanics that drive them… it’s up to you to supply the motor drivers and electrical side of things. He suggests RAMPS but admins he used a simple motor driver and Arduino since they were handy.

First CNC Project Results in Coffee Table of Catan

[Christian Finklea] was inspired by a glow in the dark table, and decided to try his hand at making his own… and it’s absolutely fantastic.

He designed the table using SketchUp Make, and overlaid the continents of our planet on a grid of hexagons — Though it looks like he left Antarctica out of the mix — poor Antarctica! Why hexagons you might ask? Well, his CNC machine isn’t that big, so he had to choose a smaller work piece size in order to make the table. Kind of gives off a Settlers of Catan vibe too…

Once he had all the intricate hexagons milled out, he began assembling the table. Lots of wood glue later the table started looking like a table. Now here’s the fun part — making it glow.

Using what looks like a kind of glow-in-the-dark epoxy, [Christian] filled in all of the country cutouts and waited for it to cure. Bit of sanding later, some more lacquer, and boom — he has an awesome coffee table.

Now if only he had stuck some LEDs in there too like one of these RGB coffee tables we’ve seen — Then you could also play Risk anytime!

CNCs and Acrylic and LEDs oh my!

Looking for something unique to spice up his music room [Est] decided he wanted to try making a light that responds to the music — kind of like a VU meter, but a little different. He calls it the Light Effect Tower.

The main structure of the tower was cut out of 6mm acrylic using [Est’s] homemade CNC router. He used a V router bit to do the engraving, which when combined with light, produces a high contrast dynamic with the plastic.

He designed the circuit to fit into the triangular base, which uses a PIC micro controller to sample a microphone to produce the lighting effect. The cool thing is, he’s designed it to calculate the max level of noise, to scale the sample accordingly — that way if you’re playing loud music or quiet music, it’ll still work without any adjustments to the microphone gain.

Oh yeah, did we mention this thing is big? It’s actually 1.5 meters tall! Check out the different modes he programmed in — it’s pretty bumping.

Continue reading “CNCs and Acrylic and LEDs oh my!”

Atari 2600 Controller Now Controls CNC Plasma Cutter

When using any CNC machine the system has to understand where the part to be machined is physically located. This is most commonly done by jogging the tool to a position relative to the part and then indicating to the controller that the tool is indeed at that position. Hobby CNC enthusiasts [Jeremy] and [Yakob] wanted an easy, convenient (and even fun) way to zero their plasma cutter. They decided to make a wireless jog pendant capable of moving and zeroing their machine….. and it’s built into a retro game controller!

The housing is a wireless Atari 2600 controller. Most of the innards were taken out and replaced with a BlueFruit EZ-Key module that takes input signals from the stock joystick and button switches and, in turn, emulates a Bluetooth keyboard signal that is understood by a PC. Most PC-based CNC Control Software’s have keyboard shortcuts for certain functions. This project takes advantage by using those available keyboard shortcuts by mapping individual pin inputs to specific keyboard key presses.

The X and Y axes are controlled by pushing the joystick in the appropriate direction. Pressing the ‘fire’ button zeros the axis. Even though the remote is working now, these two guys want to add a rotary encoder so that they can make minor Z axis height adjustments on the fly since sometimes the metal they are plasma cutting isn’t completely flat.

If you’re interested in making CNC Pendants out of old tech, check out this once-was TV remote.

Home Made CNC Router Boasts Welded Steel Frame and Super Tidy Wire Management

[Cooperman] had been poking around the ‘net checking out DIY CNC machines for a while. He wanted to build one. During his search, he noticed that there was a common thread amongst homemade machines; they were usually made from parts that were on hand or easily obtainable. He had some parts kicking around and decided to hop on the band wagon and build a CNC Router. What sets [Cooperman]’s project apart from the rest is that he apparently had some really nice components available in his parts bin. The machine is nicknamed ‘Tweakie‘ because it will never really be finished, there’s always something to tweak to make it better.

The foundation for Tweakie is a welded frame made from 25mm steel square tubing. A keen observer may point out that welding a frame may cause some distortion and warping. [Cooperman] thought of that too so he attached aluminum spacers to the steel frame and lapped them flat. After that, fully supported THK linear bearings were attached to the now-straight spacer surface. Both the X and Y axes have ball-screws to minimize backlash and are powered by NEMA23 stepper motors. The Z axis uses 16mm un-supported rods with pillow block linear bearings. Unlike the X and Y, the Z axis uses a trapezoidal lead screw and bronze nut. [Cooperman] plans on replacing this with a ball-screw in the future but didn’t have one on hand at the time of assembly.

Mach3 is the software being used to control the CNC Router. It communicates via parallel port with a 3-axis StepMaster motor driver board that can handle providing 24vdc to the stepper motors. All of the electronics are mounted neatly in an electrical cabinet mounted on the back of the machine. Overall, this is a super sturdy and accurate machine build. [Cooperman] has successfully cut wood, plastic and even aluminum!