Hackaday Prize Entry: A CNC Mill Without The C

It’s a staple of home CNC construction, the 3D mill built on the bench from available parts. Be the on a tubular, plywood, or extruded aluminum frame, we’ve seen an astonishing array of mills of varying levels of capability.

The norm for such a mill is to have a computer controlling it. Give it a CAD file, perform the software magic, press button, receive finished object (Or so the theory goes). It’s a surprise then to see a mill in which the input doesn’t come from a CAD file, instead all control is done by hand through the medium of a joystick. [Mark Miller]’s 3D printed freeform carving machine is a joystick-controlled mill with a rotary tool on an arm facing a rotatable bed, and it can perform impressive feats of carving in expanded foam.

You might ask why on earth you should make a machine such as this one when you could simply pick up a rotary tool in your hand and start carving. And you’d be right, from that perspective there’s an air of glorious uselessness to the machine. But to take that view misses the point entirely, it’s a clever build and rather a neat idea. We notice he’s not put up the files yet for other people to have a go, if someone else fancies making CNC software work with it then we’re sure that would be possible.

There is a video showing the basic movements the mill is capable of, which we’ve put below the break. Best to say, though, it’s one on which to enable YouTube’s double speed option.


We’ve not had a mill quite like this one, but we have shown you a CNC pendant made using a PlayStation joystick.

17 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Entry: A CNC Mill Without The C

  1. My bridgeport interact has hard wired joystick controls, I use them when I can’t be arsed making up a cad file and cam processing it. I just start the spindle up and set the feed rate and steer the table and quill off the joysticks the same way you would crank handles on a manual mill. There’s probably even a video of me jogging it with them on youtube from when I was building it.
    They just act as digital inputs to the direction controls on linuxcnc when I converted it, but they were part of the original MDI control when it left the factory although I got it with no boards so can’t comment on the original implementation’s effectiveness. Its quite convienient. I thought a lot of cnc mill’s had some sort of way of doing manual input at the control?

    1. If you’re running LinuxCNC or Mach3 you can “manually” control the machine using your keyboard. Both also support USB joysticks. Every “pro” CNC machine I’ve used has had a pendant for manual control.

      Heck, I had a DIY CNC router I built that had dual axle steppers for the sole purpose of being able to lock dials on them for manual control. But those wouldn’t be CNC or NC, just C.

  2. If one is an artist, then one could capture the result, and reproduce it. This would be the sculptors analog to the musician with a tape-recorder. The sculptor using this doesn’t need to know cad in order to make reproducible sculpts.

    1. Capture is just the start of what you could do. The operations could be fine tuned, the tool paths optimized, and to play on the music analogy, maybe the capture could be ‘remixed’ to a derivative work.

  3. This could be interesting if you set up a system to augment the manual control for various purposes. Implement a magnification control so you can do fine control of the tool with larger easier movements of the joystick. Or be able to lock two axes so you can cut a straight path in one direction…

    1. I was hoping to see some input in the comments on such a system….perhaps a laser beam that points to material removal areas from data obtained from a scan? No idea how to implement that myself. Would be willing to work and share with anyone on this..Or the capture idea.Please click the request to join this project! I am much more of a mechanical person, so any help gladly accepted.
      I am still improving the STL files and testing the parts before I upload, but they are coming along.

      1. I’m no expert on using the kinect. I was thinking about those sandboxes that project a colored height map ver the sandbox. Maybe that could work as a guide of sorts when carving. My project time and budget is pretty limited these days so I don’t want to get your hopes up.
        Capture would probably need to get ‘hooked in’ after the analog values are converted to digital and just before the data is sent to the motor driver library. That info might be easily converted to gcode and maybe a work can be created with a CNC :)

        1. I got a guy helping me here to get the moves recorded for a record and playback system. We start testing next week.Please follow the project and we will post as we go if interested. No ideas or help offers yet on the guide system.. I too am unfunded and scrounging for survival. Thank you for your comments and ideas. Going to try to make them happen.

  4. CNC without the C is NC– Numerical Control. That was the grandfather of CNC, back in the 1960s into the 80s. It’s when GCode was invented. GCode was written by hand, and punched into paper tape. As a teenager I was a janitor in a machine shop in the early 80s, where I watched them running milling machines this way. It blew my mind :-)

    1. In high school I had exclusive access to a brand new CNC milling machine that, at the time, probably cost close to $20,000. It’d been donated to the school’s industrial program. No one knew how to use it so I took the manual home one weekend and learned what I’d later realize was just vanilla G-Code. The novel thing about this machine was that to run the G-Code you first painstakingly record the commands onto a micro cassette using some tedious DOS based program and writer hardware. Then you’d put the micro cassette into the machine, zero out its positions, and press play on what was probably just a modified cassette player. More like a player piano than a CNC machine, that’s for sure.

      Archaic or not, once I got the workflow figured out I could make all the RC10 parts a high school geek could ever want. I had a nice little side business of selling aluminum hop up parts to my friends.

  5. “You might ask why on earth you should make a machine such as this one when you could simply pick up a rotary tool in your hand and start carving. And you’d be right,…”

    No. You would be wrong. This would allow for way more precision then just winging it by hand. It actually reminds me of surgical robots which are currently hot tech right now!

    I could imagine there would be use cases for this. The only “useless” aspect of it I see is why just one or the other? He might as well wire in a pi or something and have himself a device that carves by computer file OR by joystick.

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