Direct CNC Control with the Raspberry Pi

If you’re building a CNC router, laser cutter, or even 3D printer, you’ll usually be looking at a dedicated controller. This board takes commands from a computer, often in the form of G-Code, and interprets that into movement commands to the connected stepper motors. Historically this has been something of a necessary evil, as there was really no way to directly control stepper motors with a computer fast enough to be useful. That may not be the case anymore.

A stepstick driver

Thanks to the Raspberry Pi (and similar boards), we now have Linux computers with plenty of GPIO pins. The only thing missing is the software to interpret the G-Code and command the steppers over GPIO, which thanks to [pantadeusz], we now have. Called raspigcd, this software interprets a subset of G-Code to provide real-time control over connected steppers fast enough to drive a small CNC router.

Of course, you can’t directly control a beefy stepper motor to the GPIO pins of a Pi. You’ll let out all the magic smoke. But you can wire it up directly to a stepper driver board. These little modules connect up to a dedicated power supply and handle the considerable current draw of the steppers, all you need to do is provide them the number of steps and direction of travel.

This method of direct control offers some very interesting possibilities for small, low-cost, CNC projects. Not only can you skip the control board, you could conceivably handle the machine’s user interface (either directly via a touch screen or over the network) on the same Pi.

We’ve seen attempts at creating all-in-one Linux stepper controllers in the past, but the fact that anyone with a Raspberry Pi 2 or 3 (the boards this software has currently been tested on) can get in on the action should really help spur along development. Has anyone used this?

Antique Lighthouse Lens via CNC

Before the invention of the high-powered LED, and even really before the widespread adoption of electric lights in general, lighthouses still had the obligation of warning ships of dangers while guiding them into various safe harbors. They did this with gas lights and impressive glass lenses known as Fresnel lenses which helped point all available light in the correct direction while reducing weight and material that would otherwise be used in a conventional lens.

Now, a company in Florida is using acrylic in reproductions of antique Fresnel lenses. At first glance, it seems like acrylic might not be the best substitute for glass, but the company is able to achieve extreme precision using a CNC machine and then polishing and baking the acrylic which makes it transparent and excellent for use in lighthouse lenses like this. The reproduction lenses are built out of brass, and the lens elements are glued in place with a special adhesive. It’s a convincing replication worthy of use in any lighthouse.

Be sure to check out the video below to see how these lenses are built, and although we’re not entirely sure what exactly is being sprayed on the lenses when they are being polished, perhaps someone in the comments section can illuminate that for us. Of course, there are other uses for Fresnel lenses than in lighthouses, and we’ve seen some great examples of them put to use for many different applications.

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Soundproofing A CNC Mill Conversion

The Proxxon MF70 is a nice desktop sized milling machine with a lot of useful add-on accessories available for it, making it very desirable for a hacker to have one in his or her home workshop. But its 20000 rpm spindle can cause quite the racket and invite red-faced neighbors. Also, how do you use a milling machine in your home-workshop without covering the whole area in metal chips and sawdust? To solve these issues, [Tim Lebacq] is working on Soundproofing his CNC mill conversion.

To meet his soundproof goal, he obviously had to first convert the manual MF70 to a CNC version. This is fairly straightforward and has been done on this, and similar machines, in many different ways over the years. [Tim] stuck with using the tried-and-tested controller solution consisting of a Raspberry Pi, an Arduino Uno and a grbl shield sandwich, with stepper motor drivers for the three NEMA17 motors. The electronics are housed inside the reclaimed metal box of an old power supply. Since the Proxxon MF70 is already designed to accept a CNC conversion package, mounting the motors and limit switches is pretty straightforward making it easy for [Tim] to make the upgrade.

Soundproofing the box is where he faced unknown territory. The box itself is made from wooden frames lined with particle board. A pair of drawer slides with bolt-action locks is used for the front door which opens vertically up. He’s also thrown in some RGB strips controlled via the Raspberry-Pi for ambient lighting and status indications. But making it soundproof had him experimenting with various materials and techniques. Eventually, he settled on a lining of foam sheets topped up with a layer of — “bubble wrap” ! It seems the uneven surface of the bubble wrap is quite effective in reducing sound – at least to his ears. Time, and neighbours, will tell.

Maybe high density “acoustic foam” sheets would be more effective (the ones similar to “egg crate” style foam sheets, only more dense)? Cleaning the inside of the box could be a big challenge when using such acoustic foam, though. What would be your choice of material for building such a sound proof box? Let us know in the comments below. Going back many years, we’ve posted about this “Portable CNC Mill” and a “Mill to CNC Conversion” for the Proxxon MF70. Seems like a popular machine among hackers.

Gorgeous NickelBot Serves Up Lasered Wooden Nickels

[bdring] just recently completed his absolutely fantastic NickelBot, which is a beautifully made unit that engraves small wooden discs with a laser like some kind of on demand vending machine, and it’s wonderful. NickelBot is small, but a lot is going on inside. For example, there’s a custom-designed combination engraving platform and hopper that takes care of loading a wooden nickel from a stack, holding it firm while it gets engraved by a laser, then ejects it out a slot once it’s done.

NickelBot is portable and can crank out an engraved nickel within a couple of minutes, nicely fulfilling its role of being able to dish out the small items on demand at events while looking great at the same time. NickelBot’s guts are built around a PSoC5 development board, and LaserGRBL is used on the software side to generate G-code for the engraving itself. Watch it work in the video embedded below.

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Home Made 5-Axis CNC Head Is A Project To Watch

[Reiner Schmidt] was tired of renting an expensive 5-axis CNC head for projects, so he decided to build his own. It’s still a work in progress, but he’s made remarkable progress so far. The project is called Bridge Boy, and it is designed to use a cheap DC rotary mill to cut soft materials like plastic, wood and the like. Most of it is 3D printed, and he has released the Autodesk 360 plans that would allow you to start building your own. His initial version uses an Arduino with stepper drivers, and is designed to fit onto the end of a 60mm arm of a standard 3-axis CNC,  so technically it’s a 3+2 axis CNC. With the appropriate software, it should be able to work as a full 5-axis machine, though, and it should be possible to integrate it with a CNC that has a 5-axis driver board without too much effort.

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A Polar Coordinate CNC Plotter Even Descartes Could Love

Take apart a few old DVD drives, stitch them together with cable ties, add a pen and paper, and you’ve got a simple CNC plotter. They’re quick and easy projects that are fun, but they do tend to be a little on the “plug and chug” side. But a CNC plotter that uses polar coordinates? That takes a little more effort.

The vast majority of CNC projects, from simple two-axis plotters to big CNC routers, all tend to use Cartesian coordinate systems, where points on a plane are described by their distances from an origin point on two perpendicular axes. Everything is nice and square, measurements are straightforward, and the math is easy. [davidatfsg] decided to level up his CNC plotter a bit by choosing a polar coordinate system, with points described as a vector extending a certain distance from the origin at a specified angle. Most of the plotter is built from FischerTechnik parts, with a single linear axis intersecting the center point of a rotary drawing platform. Standard G-code is translated to polar coordinates by a Java applet before being sent to a custom Arduino controller to execute the moves. Check out the video below; it’s pretty mesmerizing to watch, and we can’t help but wonder how a polar 3D-printer would work out.

Have polar coordinates got you stumped? It can be a bit of an adjustment from Cartesian space for sure. It can be worth it, though, showing up in everything from cable plotters to POV fidget spinners and even to color space models.

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Superb Wood Floor Inlay Shows Off Computer-Augmented Tools

It’s been a few years since we first started hearing about “tools of the future changing the way we work” but this astounding whole-room floor inlay might be the best argument for them yet.

The Shaper Origin

A couple of years ago we wrote a hands-on preview of a unique tool called the Shaper Origin. If a milling machine is classically defined as having a stationary tool head with moving stock, the Origin is the reverse. To use an Origin the user adheres specially marked tape to the stock material, then holds the origin down and moves it much like a hand router.

The Origin has a camera which tracks the fiducial patterns on the tape, allowing it to know its precise position, even across an entire room. The operator sees a picture on the screen of the tool that guides them with superimposed lines, while the tool head makes its own precision adjustments to perfectly cut the design in the X, Y, and Z.

Floor in Progress

But what do you use a tool like this for? Cutting boards, small tables, and toy blocks are fine examples but don’t highlight any unique features of the tool. Many could just as easily be made using a ShopBot, X-Carve, Carvey, or any of their ilk. What you can’t do with any of those tools (or really anything besides manual labor, endless patience, and master skill) is inlay an entire floor in situ.

[Mark Scheller] (eight time winner of Wood Floor of the Year awards) used an Origin to cut a curvaceous 22 foot long rendition of the first 9 bars of Handel’s Passacaglia into the floor of a lucky homeowner’s music room. Without decades of practice, it’s difficult to imagine doing this any way besides with a Shaper Origin. You can’t put an entire room into a CNC router. The individual floorboards could be cut, but that would be tedious and increasingly difficult as the room gets larger. With the Origin it seems almost trivial. Do the design, place the marking tape, and cut. The same model is used to cut the inlays for a perfect fit. This is an incredible example of a unique use for this unusual tool!