Hacklet 57 – CNC Hacks

Everyone’s first microcontroller project is making an LED blink. It’s become the de-facto “Hello World” of hardware hacking.  There’s something about seeing wires you connected and the code you wrote come together to make something happen in the real world. More than just pixels on a screen, the LED is tangible. It’s only a short jump from blinking LEDs to making things move. Making things move is like a those gateway drug – it leads to bigger things like robots, electric cars, and CNC machines. Computer Numerical Control (CNC) is the art of using a computer to control movement. The term is usually applied to machine tools, which cut, engrave, or perform other operations on wood, plastic, metal and other materials. In short, tools to make more things. It’s no surprise that hackers love CNCs. This week’s Hacklet is all about some of the best CNC projects on Hackaday.io!

charliexWe start with [Charliex] and Grizzly G0704 CNC Conversion. [Charliex] wanted a stout machine capable of milling metal. He started with a Grizzly  G0704, which is small compared to a standard knee mill, but still plenty capable of milling steel. [Charliex] added a Flashcut CNC conversion kit to his mill. While they call them “conversion kits” there is still quite a bit of DIY ingenuity required to get a system like this going. [Charliex] found his spindle runout was way out of spec, even for a Chinese mill. New bearings and a belt conversion kit made things much smoother and quieter as well. The modded G0704 is now spending its days cutting parts in [Charliex’s] garage.


makesmithNext up is [brashtim] with Makesmith CNC. Makesmith was [brashtim’s] entry in the 2014 Hackaday prize. While it didn’t win the prize, Makesmith did go on to have a very successful Kickstarter, with all the machines shipping in December of 2014. The machine itself is unorthodox. It uses closed loop control like large CNC machines, rather than open loop stepper motors often found in desktop units. The drive motors are hobby type servos.  We’re not talking standard servos either – [brashtim] picked microservos. By using servos, common hardware store parts, and laser cut acrylic, [brashtim] kept costs down. The machine performs quite well though, easily milling through wood, plastic, foam, and printed circuit boards.


reactronNext we have [Kenji Larsen] with Reactron material processor: Wireless CNC mill. [Kenji] started with a  Shapeoko 2, and gave it the Reactron treatment. The stock controller was replaced with a Protoneer shield, which is connected to the Reactron network via a HopeRF radio module. The knockoff rotary tool included with the kit was replaced with a DeWalt DW660 for heavy-duty jobs, or a quieter Black and Decker RTX-6. A tool mounted endoscope keeps an eye on the work. [Kenji] mounted the entire mill in a custom enclosure of foam and Roxul insulation. The enclosure deadens the sound, but it also keeps heat in. [Kenji] plans to add a heat exchanger to keep things cool while maintaining relative quiet in his shop.

cnc2Finally we have a [hebel23] with DIY Multiplex Plywood CNC Router. [hebel23] wanted to build a big machine within a budget – specifically a working area of  400 x 600 x 100 mm and a budget of 800 Euro. As the name implies, [hebel23] used birch plywood as the frame of his machine. He chose high quality plywood rather than the cheap stuff found in the big box stores. This gives the machine a stable frame. The moving components of the machine are also nice – ball screws, linear bearings, and good stepper controllers. The stepper motors themselves are NEMA-23 units, which should give the CNC plenty of power to cut through wood, plastic, and even light cuts on metal. [hebel23] spent a lot of time on the little details of his CNC, like adding an emergency stop switch, and a wire-chain to keep his gantry control wires from ending up tangled up in the work piece. The end result is a CNC which would look great in anyone’s workshop.

If you want more CNC goodness, check out our brand new CNC project list! Did I miss your project? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

13 thoughts on “Hacklet 57 – CNC Hacks

  1. I see so many projects on HaD of people making CNC machines out of dremels, and horrible Grizzly mills. Most seem more expensive than just buying a brand new Taig CNC mill for ~2k. Hell, you could get the base mill for less than 800, and convert it yourself for less.

    I just notice how many people want a CNC mill, when there is a great starting point in a well made American machine that’s easily converted cheap, or bought converted new for what seems to be near some of the projects I’ve seen on here, with custom enclosures, aftermarket ballscrews, etc.

    I’m not a shill for Taig, I’m just a maker with a very small budget, and own one of their mills and lathes. Hell, their lathe is cheaper than the chinese lathes I see at harbor frieght, but it’s better made. You could even buy the spindle cartridges and parts for the mill and lathe, and use them instead of a dremel, and build your own mill or router or lathe that works well, is much more rigid, and takes proper ER collets with real accuracy. So why do I never see anyone here do that?
    Doesn’t anyone realize they can do things like that?

    Just utterly confused. I only comment on this at length today because I am also a CNC machinist by day!

    1. I could either buy a finished mill that did what i wanted (and i wasn’t sure what i wanted), i looked at the Tormach which seems pretty decent, or build one up from a chinese one, make the parts for it , learn whats good/whats bad, how to work around the bad stuff (like cutting circles on lead screws) i’ve learnt a tonne about the process, and the tools in the interim, its been a great learning experience, its been frustrating and enjoyable to do.

      I’m building another CNC this weekend, the openbuilds C beam, if it’s arrived at home like it was supposed too today, and then i’m going to finish up the ballscrew mounts.

      Also i’m not American ;)

      -> charliex

    2. The Taig and Sherline lathes and mills are tiny, only good for tiny work for models, toys and other fiddly little work. I’m converting an older Jet 9×20 (It’s grey and black instead of cream with the red and black stripes) lathe to CNC, refitting a 1990 Acra CNC knee mill with a 10×50″ table, building a very rigid 3D printer that will have all ball screw actuation, and own a ProLIGHT 2000 CNC mill.

      1. The Taig is smaller than a full size Bridgeport, of course.

        But tiny work on models, toys, and fiddly work? Again, I am not here
        representing them, but are you crazy?

        At the risk of sounding like an ass, do you work as a machinist?
        Sherline stuff- yes. It is for small work only. Their mill is pathetic looking,
        but the lathe is quite accurate if adjusted properly, yet still for small work.
        I know many professional watchmakers that use the lathe for small parts.
        Granted, it’s not a Shaublin, but it works.

        The Taig lathe as well, for small work, but beefy. But the Taig mill is pretty
        beefy for its size, especially compared to the chinese stuff in it’s range that’s
        just pathetically rigid. There’s simply no contest. The build quality is high,
        and I said it- if you know what the hell you are doing, you can hold +/-0.001″
        no prob. It’s a decent small machine- it’s not for fiddly work unless you are a
        fiddly operator that doesn’t know how to set up a machine well or use it properly.
        Much like any machine. I’ve seen people use swiss equipment with no clue or
        skill and make junk too.

        I’m not here to insult your skill at all man- but I don’t think you understand
        the capacity of the equipment you use. Owning JET equipment is not something
        I would admit. It’s expensive poorly made Chinese, when there is better Chinese
        even with things like the castings of Syil machines.

        The Taig website is horrible and outdated though, agreed. And the design is simple-
        but I can mount a 6″ Suburban sine plate on it, using a sherline rotary table, and do
        high precision 3+2 axis machining. It’s not a piece of junk at all.

        The last thing I’ll say is this- you can throw ballscrews at anything and get movement
        accuracy, but if your machine frame has no rigiditiy, your ballscrews aren’t ground,
        or you don’t know how to access the inherent quality of any machine’s setup,
        you can throw all the stervo motors in the world at something, and you will never
        produce good work.

    3. I have a Taig Mill that I tried to CNC converter at one point. The connection system to the axes was very odd, but that is probably the fault of the designer of the adapters more than anyone. The woodruff keys are totally jammed in their slots, and you have to call them to get a verbal walkthrough on how adjust the gibbs.

      Little things like that can add up.

  2. I am currently making a CNC my budget is really low (£300) If you look for a bargain you will find one. I could make one for £200 but I wanted some extras. Alibaba is great for getting sample orders of parts really cheap. Ebay is good too. If you have enough time to source everything it is totally do able.

  3. Greg Jackson, co-founder of Tormach, fell overboard from a sailboat on Lake Michigan and drowned. Waves were high, he was wearing a PFD and was tethered to the boat. That’s probably what did him in, being dragged under by the tether instead of being able to float free away from the boat.

    1. That is sad. I didn’t know. Saw Tormach machines in person at the Cabin Fever show
      earlier this year- there are some things left to be desired, but I was actually impressed
      with the build quality of their stuff. If I had more space and some cash, I’d love one of
      their CNCs and surface grinders.

      Tormach seems to be a good company to me. All American made, though that doesn’t
      neccesarily mean much anymore… They hand finish all their machine castings, unlike
      Syil and others…

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