Team Hack-A-Day CNC

team hackaday dxf

The Team Hack-A-Day forum recently started a thread to discuss homebrew CNC. Computer Numerical Control machining is a very popular topic in our community because of the prohibitive cost of buying a machine off-the-shelf. Searching through the archive it seems we’ve only covered one actual CNC machine; since people have been building these things for so long, it’s hard to come up with the definitive CNC project. We’ve also featured the Etch CNC, designed by the AXIS developers to verify their software.

My coworker Will O’Brien, who writes how-tos for Engadget, recently started working on a new CNC mill. You can expect a write-up on that in the future. Also, Lady Ada recommends Drill Bit City for sourcing cheap carbide bits.

If there is enough interest, Team Hack-A-Day might add another forum for CNC projects.

For those who don’t know: Team Hack-A-Day was founded by Hack-A-Day readers to support our Folding@HOME efforts. Through their work we are now the #37 team (and still gaining) having produced nearly 20 million points in the last 8 months.

[thanks Tired2, op for #hackaday on EFnet]

19 thoughts on “Team Hack-A-Day CNC

  1. If anybody out there in HaD land has any good ideas about what sort of swag we might make on our rigs, let us know. We’re hungry for new and interesting ideas. Drop on my the forums and give us a shout. We don’t bite, I swear.

  2. hey cool we made it…
    consitering this made it on here… my thread on the forums about the AQUILA-L1 tablet might be post-worthy i guess. i mean it was on digg. im also sooo happy to see one of our projects getting up on here… YAY THAD

  3. About eight months ago my FIRST robotics team aquired a a 1960s bridgeport NC mill. Both the mill and the controller were in excellent condition, considering that we found them in a junkyard. The problem, of course, was that the mill controller looked something like this ( and ran on punch tape. Not having an idea where to start, we started to call slo-syn (the maker of the controller) and bridgeport (the maker of the mill itself) asking for the syntax for running the mill over punch tape. We more or less got laughed at by everyone. Finally, as a last ditch efford, we emailed the webmaster of He promtly emailed us back with a full PDF copy of the mills originally manual. With this information in hand, we have designed and built a replacement controller for the mill that is roughly the size of a desktop computer. It is basically a bunch of relays that can communicate with a computer over USB which emulate the punch tape moving through the reader, and a microcontroller which emulates the logic of the original controller. We are currently in the process of writing a piece of software to parse gcode into the binary to which emulates the punch tape.

    Why do I tell you this story? A few reasons. One, if you want a low cost CNC solution, ressurecting an old machine may be a good idea if you have some time. Our project has cost our team a little over 1000 dollars, most of it going to initial mill purchase. The project could be made much cheaper with a smaller mill. Secondly, if you are trying to do this, the guy who runs is a great resource, use him. Third, when we eventually reach some sort of finished state, expect a much better writeup submitted here.

  4. im going to try this. ive got a little pic controler i just need the programer for it. i also have a stepping motor, but, i need 2 more. i will see about building the x/y/z plains out of an old modified slab mill.

  5. I’m almost done building my CNC machine, from scratch. All aluminum construction, servos, Gecko brand drivers, THK ballscrews and rails. I’m using a 2-1/4 HP DeWalt router as the spindle, the working area will be about X-22″; Y-22″; Z-5″. I’ll be able to cut plastic, aluminum, and brass/copper.

    All told I’m in about $2,500, which is way less than it would have cost to buy a similar machine. You can cut the price by using scavanged steppers, basic hobby controller (or roll your own), and a laminate router for the spindle. Use all-thread and gas-pipe with skate bearings, instead of ballscrews and rails. MDF for frame, instead of aluminum.

  6. Everybody interested in homebrew-CNC should check out John C Kleinbauer’s site. ( He’s got lots of designs. I built his ‘Brute’ a few years back. It wasn’t very difficult, and it only cost me about $350. If you buy his plans you get access to his forums which are full of very helpful people, all of whom have experience building homebrew CNC.

  7. I trashpicked a couple daedal linear slides, bought another one, scrounged motors, bought a few parts, and put together a machine. Total cost was probably around $400, plus a couple hundred worth of free parts and stuff I already had.

    I’m using the brain dead install of EMC to drive the mill and various little java apps I wrote to generate g-code. I’ve played with using qcad to make DXF and Ace Convertor for dxf -> g-code, that works fine, though Ace Convertor only runs under window s (for now…)

    What are the rest of you using for software? One of my goals was to use all open source code, but there’s a read lack of CAM programs. sagcad is supposed to have NC output, but I haven’t been able to get it to work, or at least EMC doesn’t like the files it makes.

  8. there are dxf to gcode converters. Lots of cad programs will generate dxf. Not so good for 3d, but pretty good for lots of things. You may still have to edit the output to get emc to handle the file. That is one of many areas that Mach3 has over EMC. However, it costs money, it’s maintained by one guy, and Bill Gates can decide he wants to break it with the next automatic update, and you’re screwed. You can find it at You can download it for free and use it for limited length input files.

    For those who don’t know, EMC can be found at There is a selection of live CDs and install disks that install a linux distribution plus the EMC software. I’m not up to date on the best distribution right now. It’s not a good idea to try to install it from scratch unless you know how to install RTAI or RTLinux.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.