It seems like every year, it gets a bit easier to build your own CNC. From the Enhanced Machine Controller (EMC) project of the early 1990s to Arduinos running Grbl in the late 2000s, the open source community has moved ahead in leaps and bounds. Grbl is at its core firmware that interprets G-code and commands stepper motors, usually to move a tool head in such a way as to make something. Tons of systems have been built around it, including early Makerbot printers.
Its also spawned a plethora of other projects (the Grbl GitHib repo has 2,400 forks!), including a 32-bit flavor called grblHAL. This version is at the heart of a fantastic CNC controller board developed by [Phill Barrett]. Ditching the Arduino for a more powerful Teensy 4.1, [Phil]’s controller supports full five-axis control, variable frequency drive spindles, dust extractor control, and flood and mist coolant control. It can run at blazing stepping rates of up to 160 kHz (standard Grbl on an Arduino hits 30 kHz) and can be assembled with either a USB or Ethernet interface.
There’s no shortage of interesting Grbl-based machines out there — including a revamped Atari plotter and a three-axis rotary CNC (shameless plug for the author’s own project) but it’s always exciting to see new hardware developed that will undoubtedly find its way into the next generation of a family of projects. We can’t wait to see what comes next!
Here at Hackaday, we pride ourselves on bringing you the freshest of hacks, preferably as soon as we find out about them. Thanks to the sheer volume of cool hacks out there, though, we do miss one occasionally, like this e-waste horizontal CNC mill that we just found out about.
Aptly called the “CDCNC” thanks to its reliance on cast-off CD drive mechanisms for its running gear, [Paul McClay]’s creation is a great case study on what you can do without buying almost any new parts. It’s also an object lesson in not getting caught in standard design paradigms. Where most CNC mills mount the spindle vertically, [Paul] tilted the whole thing 90 degrees so the spindle lies on its side. Moving it back and forth on a pair of CD drive mechanisms is far easier than fighting gravity for control, and as a bonus the X- and Y-axes have minimal loading too. The video below shows the mill in action, and it’s easy to see how the horizontal arrangement really helps make this junk bin build into something special.
We think [Paul] did a great job of thinking around the problem with this build, and we’re glad he took the time to tip us off. Apparently it was the upcoming CNC on the Desktop Hack Chat that moved him to let us know about this build. Here’s hoping he drops by for the chat and shares his experience with us.
If you’re building a CNC machine from scratch, the number of decisions you have to make is nearly boundless. Metal or wood construction? Welded or bolted? Timing belts or lead screws? And even once the mechanical bits are sorted, you still face a universe of choices in terms of control electronics. That’s where something like this modular CNC controller could really prove to be a game-changer.
The idea behind [Barton Dring]’s latest creation started with his port of GRBL to the ESP32. In fact, the current controller bears a strong family resemblance to his version 1.0 dev board, with a few conspicuous and intriguing additions. First, everything is modular — the main PCB is basically a motherboard with little more than a 5-volt power supply and some housekeeping electronics, plus a lot of headers. There’s support for up to six channels of steppers, either directly on the board with Pololu-style modules or as external drivers using pluggable screw terminal blocks. There’s also room for five IO modules; the current collection of modules includes a four-channel switch input, a relay output, an RS-485 module and a 0-10-V interface for talking to a variable frequency drive (VFD) spindle controllers, and buffered 5-V output module. The best part is that the IO module spec is completely open, so designing custom modules should be a snap.
The video below gives a quick tour of the controller. We’re really impressed with the thought that went into this, and we’ll venture a guess that having something like this available is going to kickstart a lot of stalled CNC machine projects. We can think of one shop that finally lost its last excuse for making the move.
For under $300 US of parts and a few nights working in his pajamas, the aptly named, pajama micro laser engraver is a pretty nice little machine for its class. Not having the space for a full size machine and not necessarily needing its capabilities he aimed to produce something compact.
The frame is aluminium extrusion, the movement is core-XY an H-bot on linear rails, and it appears to just be a grbl board with a Chinese laser module on it. He took a bit of care to make the frame a cube which allows him to easily vent the fumes from the little unit. There’s even a small air pump to blow the off-gas from the cutting away from the laser.
All in all a nice little hack useful for all sorts of things from solder masks to cutting wood veneers. You can see it zipping around in the video after the break.
When it comes to building a new CNC machine, you’ve got a wide world of controller boards to choose from. Whether you’re building a 3D-printer or a CNC plasma cutter, chances are good you’ll find a controller that fits your needs and your budget. Not so much, though, when you want to add CNC to a pen plotter from the early days of the PC revolution.
[Barton Dring] just posted the last installment of a five-part series in which he documented putting an Atari 1020 plotter under CNC control. The plotter was a peripheral for the Atari line of 6502 machines from the late 1970s; the guts of the little roll-fed, ballpoint-pen plotter appeared in Commodore, Tandy, and TI versions as well. [Bart]’s goal was to not add or modify anything to the mechanically simple device apart from the controller. That was easier said than done, given the unipolar stepper motors controlling the pen position and paper roll, and the fact that the pen lift mechanism uses a solenoid. Support for those had to be added to his Grbl_ESP32 firmware, as did dealing with the lack of homing switches in the plotter, and adapting the Grbl tool change command to the pen color change mechanism, which rotates the pen holder by bumping it into the right-hand carriage stop. The stock controller was replaced by a custom PCB that fits perfectly within the case, with plenty of room to spare. The video below shows it plotting out a vexillogically relevant sample.
An eggbot is probably the easiest introduction to CNC machines that you could possibly hope for, at least in terms of the physical build. But at the same time, an eggbot can let you get your hands dirty with all of the concepts, firmware, and the toolchain that you’d need to take your CNC game to the next level, whatever that’s going to be. So if you’ve been wanting to make any kind of machine where stepper motors move, cut, trace, display, or simply whirl around, you can get a gentle introduction on the cheap with an eggbot.
Did we mention Easter? It’s apparently this weekend. Seasonal projects are the worst for the procrastinator. If you wait until the 31st to start working on your mega-awesome New Year’s Dropping Laser Ball-o-tron 3000, it’s not going to get done by midnight. Or so I’ve heard. And we’re certainly not helping by posting this tutorial so late in the season. Sorry about that. On the other hand, if you start now, you’ll have the world’s most fine-tuned eggbot for 2020. Procrastinate tomorrow!
I had two main goals with this project: getting it done quickly and getting it done easily. That was my best shot at getting it done at all. Secondary goals included making awesome designs, learning some new software toolchains, and doing the whole thing on the cheap. I succeeded on all counts, and that’s why I’m here encouraging you to build one for yourself.
If you’re reading Hackaday, you’ve probably heard of OpenBuilds. Even if the name doesn’t sound familiar, you’ve absolutely seen something on these pages that was built with their components. Not only is OpenBuilds a fantastic place to get steppers, linear rails, lead screws, pulleys, wheels, and whatever else you need to make your project go, they’re also home to an active forum of people who are passionate about developing open source machines.
As if that wasn’t enough reason to head over to the OpenBuilds website, [Peter Van Der Walt] recently wrote in to tell us about some new free and open source software he and the team have been working on that’s designed to make it easier than ever to get your creations cutting, lasing, milling, and whatever else you could possibly imagine. If you’ve got a machine that moves, they’ve got some tools you’ll probably want to check out.
“OpenBuilds CAM” is a web-based tool which imports SVG and DXF files and creates toolpaths for all sorts of cutting, whether your machine does the business using a beam of angry photons or a simple drag knife. The resulting GCode can then be plugged into “OpenBuilds CONTROL”, which as you may have guessed, does the actual controlling of the piece of hardware connected to your computer. There’s no worries about vendor lock in here either, CONTROL will talk to any Grbl-compatible board.
But what if you don’t have a board? Well, it just so happens that OpenBuilds offers a very slick new piece of gear they’re calling the BlackBox. This beefy CNC controller includes a laundry list of features that [Peter] says the team is very excited about, including stepper drivers powerful enough to run NEMA 23 motors. As an interesting note, they’ve actually made the enclosure for the BlackBox out of cleverly solder masked PCBs; a fantastic trick we don’t see often enough.