Building A CNC Router To Call My Own

As with most writers for [HAD], I enjoy doing projects as much as I like writing about them. As a mechanical Engineer that writes for a blog mostly about electronics, a CNC router seemed like something I needed in my garage. Building a router like this requires a bit of expertise in both electronics and mechanics, so it seemed like a good challenge.

This router kit, made by Zen Toolworks, comes fairly complete frame-wise, but requires a lot of knowledge on the electrical side to get things running correctly. In order to make it look decent and work correctly, I had to rely on some zip-tie and basic diagnostic skills that I’ve honed as a former engineering Co-op and technician. Also, I had to figure out a way to cheaply stack everything in my garage as we park two cars there (the footprint is 14″ x 22″, so I consider that a success).

One of the bigger challenges that I still have to overcome with this project is learning “G-code” and how to use software to generate it.  Although I’ve done some basic programming already, as seen in the video after the break, there’s still much to learn. I’d hope that having this tool around can lead to better projects as I won’t have to be restricted to simple milled lines and circles anymore.

As for my work as an engineer, it’s rare that I’m called upon to machine parts myself, however, having this background helps immensely when designing machinery. Additionally, working as a manufacturing engineer, nearly everything I deal with involves some sort of electronics, so having a basic understanding of this is really essential. I’d encourage anyone thinking about going into this field to learn as much as they can about electronics and how things work in general. [HAD] is a great source for this, so keep reading and submitting your hacks!

As a bonus, here’s another stop-motion video of everything going together:


17 thoughts on “Building A CNC Router To Call My Own

    1. Haha, good guess, but it was at Timken/Torrington. I think it was unique to that particular plant, but they really let you use the machine shop a lot and wire whatever you could handle. Was a really good learning experience.

  1. This looks like a pretty excellent piece of kit. I’d really like a smaller version for milling pcbs. I’m quite impressed by the footprint, all of my (attempted) projects take up damn near a square mile. I suppose one of these will be next in line after I finish my reprap.

  2. Nice build :D

    Does anyone know a company that ships kits like that in Europe? I can only find USA companies, and the shipping for heavy machines like that are NOT nice.

    (Also, the 2nd “movie”, a photo album would be better, so I can see the photo’s at my own speed)

  3. It’s so CUTE! To help with g-code generation and the CAD/CAM process, I can suggest MeshCam, MeshCam Art, and if you can get your hands on a copy of it, MasterCam. That program is the ultimate in cnc machining.

  4. Hey Jeremy, how do you like the machine? I was thinking about getting the 7×7 complete kit.

    Can you post a few pics of PCB milling, something complex that you may ave done recently?

    Have you ever used it for aluminum?

    1. take a look at:

      all of your questions are answered there and you can get an idea of how that small community operates and the service you can expect from the company.

      generally speaking these little machines are not well suited to milling aluminum, but can do it if you go slowly and use shallow cuts.

      You will also get to see pictures of circuit boards that have been milled on these among many other interesting projects.

    2. Jarek – Yeah I really like the machine so far, but I just got it running. As alwhorley says, that forum is a good source of information.

      Also, it’s worth noting that the bed (at least of my 7×12 router) is larger than 7″x12″. Apparently the X x Y dimension is actual usable area – very nice!

  5. Nice build!

    Last spring, I started acquiring the bits-and-pieces necessary to build “my very own” CNC router. I’ve got pretty much everything I need except the material to build the actual table (that’s the easy part for me).

    Now I just need to get off my lazy butt and build the darn thing!

    1. I got you beat. I think I am about 6 yrs. out on my started project. I too need to dust it off. I’m bad about starting one project and before I finish it, I see something else that is “cool” that I “have to try”.

  6. I’m nearly finished with my own Zen CNC. I bought the 7×7 3D printer model in long lost hopes of attaching an extruder to it and printing, but it’s just not fast enough.

    I did want to mention, however, that I was able to use an Arduino and 3 Pololu stepper controllers to control the machine. I uploaded GRBL on the Arduino and it actually works. I’m not done putting the whole thing together, since I was afraid I’d accidentally destroy it, but the motors respond properly so it’s good to go.

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