Building A Robot Without Using A Machine Shop

We usually avoid the prospect of buying new tools just for one project. In the long run we’re sure we’d use them again, but sometimes even with that outlook you can’t afford it. Case in point is our life-long-lust for a laser cutter; we just can’t justify the upfront cost but we sure would use it constantly if we had one.

If you do find that you’re interested in taking on a project that calls for laser cut parts, [I Heart Robotics] shows you how to do it with a few simple hand tools. The bot seen above is their TurtleBot. You can cut your own parts using a laser cutter, you can buy a kit from them, or you can bust out a ruler, compass, drill, coping saw, printer, and tape to make the pieces by hand.

It’s a simple enough concept. Print out the templates, tape them to your hard board, then start drilling and sawing. You won’t get the precision a machine tool can, but in some cases you don’t need to be all that perfect.

[via Adafruit]

14 thoughts on “Building A Robot Without Using A Machine Shop

  1. Don’t fret over not having a laser cutter. They are not that impressive. The burns, the rough edges; what they do well is straight lines. Google up some woodworking techniques to calibrate whatever you have be it a tablesaw, bandsaw etc.. and you can get results that only very expensive laser cutters can produce. The parts will even have a better surface finish should you use quality blades and jigs.

    The first ‘fine woodworking’ project I took on was making a sharpening jig that required three points of precision to get the perfect mirror edge on plane irons and chisels. With just a digital caliper and some crappy off the shelf stuff (since I needed to make a sharpening jig to make them not crappy) it was totally possible to turn a chunk of hickory into the perfect 1.187 inch tall block.

    If you are curious that specific number was needed to have the extension setup to a nice round number on my favorite plane iron, saving quite some effort later.

  2. “We usually avoid the prospect of buying new tools just for one project.”

    Hahahaha. How do you think most of us amass as many tools as we do?

    Sure, I need that 12″ bearing puller and 30 ton machine skate set.

  3. I also love the:

    Option A: a laser cutter, done.

    Option B: ruler, compass, drill, coping saw, printer, and tape to make the pieces by hand. Print out the templates, tape them to your hard board, then start drilling and sawing. Oh and it’s not as precise.

  4. A third option is building a low-cost CNC from scrap. It takes the place of a multitude of tools, can upgrade itself, and can do a ton of things a laser cutter can’t. True, a laser cutter can’t be beat for 2D work, but for a couple thousand dollars it had better be freaking awesome at it.

  5. I like that doing it the old way has become a hack. You’d think folks just pop into Best Buy and pick up laser cutters and build CNC mills every other bowel movement here at HaD lol. Good to see some ingenuity still going on out there. Next week, we’ll put a capacitor on an Arduino and make blinking LEDs in 10 lines of code ;)

    Kudos to the builder and love the recent Roomba links as I have recently inherited several that will keep me busy this winter with their antics.

  6. $179.95 for a Modified Kinect? really trying to sell this to people who like to build robots? at least they have to option of buying the whole kit or just separate parts.
    $499.99 for the whole kit… minus the “cost” of their Kinect that is still a whole lot of $’s for a few poles and a couple of bits of wood and “Power and Sensor Board with Gyro”. any way refer to the rule “If you can make it (within reasonable time, size extra) cheaper than you can get it in the shop then don’t buy it”
    it’s a fairly competitive market selling robotic kits.

  7. Oh snap you can actuall build things without spending thousands on computer controlled machine hardware????


    no actually people used to make things like this, and because of the skill and time and effort it was better than anything that will ever be made by cnc

  8. TurtleBots are open source hardware!

    Willow Garage published all the information necessary to build your own at and I Heart Engineering is a licensed vendor. I Heart Robotics is the blogging division of I Heart Engineering.

    Now on to pricing…

    We really don’t want to be in the business of modifying Kinects, but we will provide the convenience of not modifying them yourself for a price.
    $179.95 = cost of Kinect + parts to modify cable + labor to modify cable and test + opportunity cost for stocking Kinects instead of something else + cost of rent for storing Kinects + possible warranty costs of replacing broken modified Kinects + maybe profit.

    We are working hard to bring down the costs of the TurtleBot design so that everyone, even people on unemployment and grad students, can afford to have a robot friend but it takes time. Next week we will be publishing more how to information for other parts of the process of building your own TurtleBot using basic tools you probably already have.

    If you value your time and it costs less than the prices we charge not only should you build it, but we want to help you build it yourself!

  9. “no actually people used to make things like this, and because of the skill and time and effort it was better than anything that will ever be made by cnc”

    I disagree. CNC is faster, more accurate, able to do things humans physically cannot do.

  10. The statement that “power tools are nice but not required” should be common sense. Your laser cutter, table saw, band saw, drill press, etc will make parts faster if you’re willing to spend the money on them, but we really shouldn’t have the idea in our minds that we can’t make things without them.

    Just as an example, I’m getting ready to make a key for a lock for which the blank is unavailable. That means I’ll be starting with plastic to make an initial key with a hand file from an old credit card. Once I have the plastic key made, all I have to do is copy it in brass, aluminum, or mild steel (probably will use brass – easy to machine and corrosion resistant). It would actually be harder to do with power tools than it would be with hand tools.

  11. “CNC are able to do things that humans physically cannot do.”

    Disagree, humans build the tools, they use said tools to build better tools, the better tools make the best tools. Humans build CNC machines, they do not build themselves. A CNC is nothing more than a tool. The CNC will do nothing unless it is told to do something, the one who is doing the telling, human.

    THE driving force behind the tools we use are our ideas. Show me a tool that will do something that does not have a human involved at some point. A CNC machine can not build the Space Shuttle. A CNC can not build the Golden Gate Bridge. A CNC can not build the Sistine Chapel. Show me a CNC that can have an idea.

    Show me a CNC that can build a wooden desk better than Norm Abram. He can cut straight lines. He can glue, and he can put the pieces together. Plus he can theorize the desk.

    You can worship at the altar of CNC all you want, but CNC will be replaced with something else, and I will bet that the one developing that something else, will not be a CNC.

  12. “Show me a tool that will do something that does not have a human involved at some point.”


    CNC machines build wood desks better than and faster than Norm. He makes great stuff too of course but you don’t clone him, enslave him and force him to make desks all day long to supply IKEA. You build machines that make functional outputs.

    Our ideas are important of course but I can imagine the most amazing masterpiece of artwork in my head but without the right tools, I can’t produce it. But with one click of a mouse, I can print out a 1:1 Mona Lisa in seconds.

    So a CNC may not be able to build the Sistine Chapel but it sure as heck can reproduce it better than a human can once it knows how.

    I am not arguing that CNC is sentient or can think on its own. But I am arguing that CNC can do a lot of things far better, faster, cheaper and more reproduceable than a human can.

    And in some cases, CNC can do things that humans simply can’t. 5 axis milling machines can produce outputs on the level of thousandths of an inch. CNC welding surpasses even the most expert human welders. CNC plasma cutting is leaps and bounds ahead of any human. CNC spin welding, CNC laser welding, CNC electron beam 3d fabrication, CNC 3d printing, CNC embroidery, CNC textile cutting – all of these things simply leave humans in the dust.

    Ever wonder why the manufacturing industry keeps firing workers while increasing productivity? Because when 1 machine can do the work of 10 people for the same price per hour as a single employee – you buy the machine and fire the workers and run it 24/7.

    Machines can’t design, invent and create the concepts. But they sure can do a whole lot else faster, better, cheaper and more accurately.

  13. yeah, serious waste of words… the article, not bashing the article. It seems a few people fell pretty happy to critize the thing, and for good reason.

    it was well writen, good hook, “just how many tools do you realy need?”

    then a mod, that was suposed to be a tool pitch I guess… but then the “tool” needed more tools?

    So then the reader is like:
    What the F***?! or on the internets “WTF?!>?1 :)”

    So inturn that was just a bad article. this also is week moaning.

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