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.

Ancient TV Remote Becomes a CNC Pendant

DIY CNC Pendant

Needing a control pendant for his CNC machine, [Bob Davis] took to his scrap bin and started looking for parts. What he came up with is pretty cool — that’s a rather old Zenith TV remote providing the enclosure!

When building a homemade CNC machine, many people overlook one of the most handy components — the control pendant. On a commercial machine, they can get pretty pricey — on a homemade machine, most people just use the computer to control it, but if you’ve used a pendant before you know how handy they are for manual operations!

So what should you do? Well, you could make a second dedicated keyboard for your CNC machine (arguably not much of a hack, but rather clever) — or you could build a pendant from scratch like [Bob] did. It’s pretty simple; he’s using a 555 timer, a few momentary toggle switches, an LED, and plans to add a potentiometer in the future for speed control. It’s all housed in the old TV remote, and seems to do the trick just fine — take a look in the following video:

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A Brilliant and Elegant CNC Pendant


[Mike Douglas] has a small hobby CNC router, which works great — but you’re limited to controlling it from your PC. And unfortunately, there just aren’t pendants made for this consumer level stuff. Annoyed at having to reach over to use his keyboard all the time, he stumbled upon a simple, but brilliant solution: A dedicated USB 10-key pendant keypad.

These USB keypads are designed for laptops that don’t have full size keyboards. They can be had for a few dollars from China, and let you expand your keyboard possibilities… All [Mike] had to do was print off some stickers to put on the keys!

It’s easy to program new hot keys in Mach3  — and there you go! Why haven’t we thought of this before? While you’re at it, why not build a cyclonic dust separator for your CNC too — and if you’re having trouble clamping down work pieces, [Mike] has a pretty cool solution for that as well.