CNC Circuit Board Fabrication

[Jonathan Ward’s] pcb mill is as impressive as it is inexpensive. Twenty-six plywood parts, labeled A-Z, are used to assemble the machine along with the customary precision rods, stepper motors, and router assembly. His bill of materials prices the unit at $458.18, a small price to pay in order to forgo a multi-step etching process.

His test board shows some fairly fine pitch that could turn out most home-project circuit boards. We’ve contacted [Jonathan] regarding the specifics of milling the plywood parts out of a 2 foot by 4 foot sheet of plywood. Watch for an update with any information he’s willing to share. We hope he’ll make the milling files for the plywood parts available so that you can build a copy of the device for your own use.

[Thanks Charles]

35 thoughts on “CNC Circuit Board Fabrication

  1. Your welcome for the find. I can not take credit for it thought. I was first linked to it by Bre Pettis on his blog and Twitter.

    I hope he plans on releasing the design files and more info on this project. I would love to set one beside my RepRap.

  2. Just got a reply from Mr. Ward. Here it is below.
    Hi Charles,
    Yes, the machine is open source. I’ll be posting DXF and ShopBot files this afternoon. Feel free to make or modify my design to meet your needs.


    Jonathan Ward

    So it looks like we will know more this afternoon.

  3. “We hope he’ll make the milling files for the plywood parts available so that you can build a copy of the device for your own use.”

    Or if he could get them milled and then sell kits for say $600. That would be a great price, and he could make a decent profit if he started buying parts in quantity.

  4. It looks like a nice design, but you can make it for a lot less money by sourcing parts elsewhere. You can, probably, get equivalent motors for much less at a place like (disclaimer: I’ve never purchased from them myself). Also, while McMaster-Carr tends to be convenient they do tend to be more expensive than most other sources. Besides going elsewhere, you could consider going with normal threaded rods, nuts, and shafts instead of “acme” and “precision”. It’d be a little less accurate, but a lot cheaper. Lastly, I don’t see motor controllers listed anywhere on his BOM which, unless he has some alternate way to control it, is normally one of the most expensive parts in a build and would drive up the price a great deal.

  5. I updated my site with the DXF and ShopBot file. The boards shown took about 12 minutes to mill w/ a 1/64″ endmill. Currently, I’m using unipolar stepper motors and an xylotx drive with EMC, but motor controllers are 2 dollars on digikey

    This machine will be able to mill the boards for the motor driver.

    I should have the motor controller done in a couple weeks for bipolar motors, and I’ll post the schematic. I would really like to get the cost of this machine down by using other vendors. Thanks. I’ll check out alltronics.

  6. I really like the design, jonathan. I have my own homeade cnc that I’ve been using for a year now with good results.

    My experience w/ driver boards:

    In the process I went through 3 driver boards. First, a cheap “MDfly” board from ebay that burn up every driver IC and never worked. Second, a Xylotex board that burn one driver IC. Tried to repair it but it’s an SMD IC and I ripped up the traces upon trying to remove the IC. After talking to the guy at xylotex, he basically said i was screwed and wouldnt offer me a replacement board for $70 (he usually does if you’ve already paid 150)…this really ticked me off since he doesnt even repair the boards, he just sends new ones.

    The board I found to be the best was the last one i got here:

    It’s a very similar design to the Xylotex board but it offers one major design advantage: Sockets for the driver IC. That means if you burn one up (it’s super easy) you can pop out the burnt one and replace it with a spare for $4-5 instead of buying a new board for 70-150.

    So far I haven’t burnt any more up but I at least know I’m safe and the board works perfectly with my 3 axis setup.

    I’ve yet to mill PCBs because my machine isnt that precise/level yet.

    I’d be interested in buying a kit with the precut wood pieces, btw.

  7. Looks like a very nice job.

    As usual I’m interested in knowing how many you get out of what (priced) bits (and $4 spindle motors). Certainly the fixed cost points are interesting, but I’m personally more interested in the marginal ones.

    Well done.

  8. How do you go about finding someone with a Shopbot? I’m in the UK, and I can think of a couple of things that I wouldn’t mind being able to turn up somewhere with a cad file and go away with CNC-cut parts. Not least this, so I could do smaller things myself.

    Who does this as a service for one-offs?

  9. If you go to the shopbot site there is a directory and an estimate system that will point you towards someone near you with one. You can also post your request and they will have people send your estimates via email.

    I am in the process of converting the .DXF file to a .EPS so you could have the parts cut out of plywood at ponoko.

  10. I sent an estimate request for the parts to be cut on a shopbot via the shopbot site and got a reply today. Prices range from $65usd a set to $100 a set. The shop that quoted the $65 said that they normally charge $85/hour on the shopbot but discount opensource projects.

  11. I am interested in buying this as a kit for the spontaneously community manifested price of $600. (Although I prefer synthetic materials over wood.) The nature of my workspace limits my choice of means for PCB manufacture, but this is the best solution I have seen so far.

    I wish you good luck and profits should you decide to sell these.

  12. Hello all, I’d just like to say that if anyone could get a half decent CNC mill (like this) to market in the UK via eBay or similar, they would clear up in no time. There is nothing at all (to my knowledge – I’d very much like to be proven wrong) currently available at anywhere near this price. In the UK, like many other countries, there is a huge hobby/cottage industry market. This machine would go down a storm if someone could offer kit/pre-built and good aftersales support. I make between 10 and 50 circuit boards a month using the photo-resist UV/developer/ferric chloride method – messy and time intensive. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that this is a perfect gateway product for a user to ‘get into’ CNC milling. I’m very excited to see this and hope to follow in Mr. Ward’s footseps in creating a very similar machine. Thank you and good luck.

  13. I am very much interested in the pcb machine. I have the x and y table and the z axis, it is time to install the stepper motors (3 6 wire motors), which I also have. It is time to think about the interface these motors with my desk top machine which will be the dedicated machine for my circuit drilling machine. I figured it would be best to etch the boards and then drill the holes for the components. I also see there is two ways to to make the cnc machine. I have chose to move the parts instead of the spindle. I will be interested to see the next part of the system and then where I might get the operating system. Thank Robert

  14. I’m refining their plans business trip to Norway, Sweden, as well as Finlandin 04, 10. Might anyone kindly to tell me personally how many days it will be,generally, for Easter vacation in these 3 nations? Many thanks!

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