The Complete Beginner’s Guide To Building A CNC Machine

Despite appearances, [This Old Tony]’s latest series has little to do with CNC-ifying an Etch A Sketch. Although he certainly achieves that, more or less, automating the classic toy is just the hook for a thorough lesson in CNC machine building starting with the basics.

Fair warning: we said basics, and we mean it. [Old Tony]’s intended audience is those who haven’t made the leap into a CNC build yet and need the big picture. Part one concentrates on the hardware involved – the steppers, drivers, and controller. He starts with one of those all-in-one eBay packages, although he did upgrade the motion controller to a Mach4 compatible board; still, the lessons should apply to most hardware.

By the end of part one, the Etch A Sketch is connected to two of the steppers and everything is wired up and ready to go for part two, the first part of which is all about inputs and outputs. Again, this is basic stuff, like how relays work and why you might need to use them. But that’s the kind of stuff that can baffle beginners and turn them off to the hobby, so kudos to [Old Tony] for the overview. The bulk of the second part is about configuring Mach4 Hobby, with a ton of detail and some great tips and tricks for getting a machine ready to break some end mills.

For someone looking to get into a CNC build, [Old Tony]’s hard-won CNC experience really fills in the gaps left by other tutorials. And it looks like a third part, dealing with making all this into something more than an automated Etch A Sketch, is in the works. We’re looking forward to that.

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Already Impressive CNC Router Gets An Extra Axis

The type of CNC machine within the financial reach of most DIYers is generally a three-axis affair, with a modest work envelope and a spindle that never quite seems powerful enough. That’s not to say that we don’t covet such a machine for our own shop of course, but comparing small machines with the “big boy” five-axis tools might leave the home-gamer feeling a tad inadequate.

Luckily, there’s a fix that won’t necessarily break the bank: adding a fourth axis to your CNC router. [This Old Tony] tore into his CNC router – a build we’ve featured before and greatly admire – to add a machine spindle that lets him work with the machine much as if it was a CNC lathe. The first video below covers the mechanical part of the build, which involves welding and machining a sturdy assembly to hold a spindle connecting a four-jaw chuck to a Lexium MDrive, a stepper motor with integrated driver and feedback that makes it act more like a servo. [Old Tony] covered integrating the drive into Mach4 in a previous video.

The assembled machine spindle is a beefy looking affair that can smoothly ramp up to 3000 rpm and has decent enough holding torque to allow it to act as an indexing head in addition to a lathe. The second video below shows some tests turning aluminum and steel; we were surprised by how aggressive the cuts can be before stalling the spindle.

No, it’s not a Tormach or Haas or even a Pocket NC, but it’s a great addition to an already capable machine, and we’re looking forward to what [Old Tony] cranks out with it.

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Delta Bot Plucks Out Tunes on a Mandolin

Is there no occupation safe from the scourge of robotic replacement? First it was the automobile assemblers, then fast food workers, and now it’s the — mandolin players?

Probably not, unless [Clayton Darwin]’s mandolin playing pluck-bot has anything to say about it. The pick-wielding delta-ish robot can be seen in action in the video below, plucking out the iconic opening measures of that 70s prom-theme favorite, “Colour My World.” The robot consists of two stepper motors connected to a hinged wooden arm by two pushrods. We had to slow the video down to catch the motion, but it looks like [Clayton] has worked out the kinematics so that the pick can be positioned in front of any of the mandolin’s eight strings. A quick move of the lower stepper then flicks the pick across a string and plucks it. [Clayton] goes into some detail about how he built the motion-control part in an earlier video; he also proves that steppers are better musicians than we’ll ever be with a little “Axel F” break.

It’s only a beginning, of course, but the complexity of the kinematics just goes to show how simple playing an instrument isn’t. Unless, of course, you unleash an endless waterfall of marbles on the problem.

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Smooth Moves from Cheap Motors

Building an electric motor isn’t hard or technically challenging, but these motors have very little in the way of control. A stepper motor is usually employed in applications that need precision, but adding this feature to a motor adds complexity and therefore cost. There is a small $3 stepper motor available, but the downside to this motor is that it’s not exactly the Cadillac of motors, nor was it intended to be. With some coaxing, though, [T-Kuhn] was able to get a lot out of this small, cheap motor.

To test out the motors, [T-Kuhn] built a small robotic arm. He began by programming his own pulse generating algorithm that mimics a sine wave in order to smooth out the movement of the motor. An Arduino isn’t fast enough to do these computations, though, so he upgraded to using the ESP32. He also was able to implement the inverse kinematics on his own. The result of all this work for a specific platform and motor type is a robotic arm that has a very low cost but delivers performance of much more expensive hardware.

The robot arm was built by [T-Kuhn] too, and all of the details on that build, as well as all the schematics and code, are available on the project site if you need a low-cost robot arm or a good stepper motor controller for a low cost. There are many other ways of getting the most out of other types of low-cost motors as well.

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Mini LEGO Technic Tank Patrols Your Desk Under ESP32 Control

We probably don’t have to tell the readers of Hackaday that LEGO isn’t just for kids; we’ve seen plenty of projects that live in an enclosure made of the multi-color bricks, and let’s not even get started on the Mindstorms builds we’ve seen over the years. But while LEGO (and especially the Technic product line) is fine for prototyping and putting together quick projects, the stock electronic components aren’t exactly top of the line. Which is why [Jason Kirsons] has been working on bridging the gap between LEGO and “real” parts.

His LEGO Technic tank is a perfect example of this principle. While the tank design itself is standard LEGO fare, he’s gone all in on the electronics. With an Adafruit Feather ESP32, custom motor controller board, and NEMA 8 steppers with 3D printed Technic adapters, this little tank has a lot more going on under the hood than you might expect. While this project is more a proof of concept than anything, the methods [Jason] demonstrates might be something to consider the next time you’re building with Billund’s best.

[Jason] chose the Feather ESP32 because of its small size, but you could get away with a generic board if you’re not trying to compress everything down into such a small footprint. Of course, if you go with another board you won’t be able to use the PCB he’s designed which attaches to the Feather and holds four Pololu DRV8835 motor drivers.

Easily the most broadly applicable element of this project is the work [Jason] has done designing adapter plates that let you use NEMA 8 motors with LEGO Technic parts. He’s put the adapters up on Thingiverse, for anyone looking for a drop-in solution to give their Technic creations a bit more oomph (technical term).

LEGO has a long history with hackers and makers. We’ve covered some absolutely incredible projects built with the famous construction set, and we don’t see any sign of it slowing down in the future.

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Bot Makes Etch A Sketch Art In One Continuous Line

Introduced in 1960 for the princely sum of $2.99 ($25.00 today), Etch A Sketch was to become a standard issue item for the Baby Boomers’ toy box. As enchanting as the toy seems, it’s hard to see why it had staying power: it was hard for young fingers to twirl the knobs, diagonal lines and smooth curves required a concert pianist’s fine motor control, and whatever drawings we managed to make were erased at the slightest jostle of the tablet.

Intent on righting these wrongs, [Sunny Balasubramanian] not only motorized an Etch A Sketch, but he’s also given it a mind of its own in a way. For those unfamiliar with the toy, it’s basically a manual X-Y plotter that drags a stylus across the underside of a glass screen, scraping off a silver powder clinging to the glass to make dark lines. Replacing the knobs with steppers is straightforward, of course, but driving them is the trick. [Sunny] hooked his up to a Raspberry Pi and wrote some Python code to drive them. The Pi also accepts input image files and processes them for rendering through the plotter, first doing Canny edge detection in OpenCV, then plotting a single path through the largest collection of connected pixels in the image. From there it’s just a matter of spinning the motors to create surprisingly detailed images. Check out the short video below to see it in action.

It’s hardly the first automatic Etch A Sketch we’ve seen – here’s one that automates everything including the shake to erase the drawing. That one cheats a little though, in that it rasters across the screen like a CRT. We really like how this one just does a single path. Pretty clever.

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Automated Turntable For 3D Scanning

Those just starting out in 3D printing often believe that their next major purchase after the printer will be a 3D scanner. If you’re going to get something that can print a three dimensional model, why not get something that can create said models from real-world objects? But the reality is that only a small percentage ever follow through with buying the scanner; primarily because they are notoriously expensive, but also because the scanned models often require a lot of cleanup work to be usable anyway.

While this project by [Travis Antoniello] won’t make it any easier to utilize scanned 3D models, it definitely makes them cheaper to acquire. So at least that’s half the battle. Consisting primarily of a stepper motor, an Arduino, and a EasyDriver controller, this is a project you might be able to assemble from the parts bin. Assuming you’ve got a pretty decent camera in there, anyway…

The general idea is to place a platform on the stepper motor, and have the Arduino rotate it 10 degrees at a time in front of a camera on a tripod. The camera is triggered by an IR LED on one of the Arduino’s digital pins, so that it takes a picture each time the platform rotates. There are configurable values to give the object time to settle down after rotation, and a delay to give the camera time to take the picture and get ready for the next one.

Once all the pictures have been taken, they are loaded into special software to perform what’s known as photogrammetry. By compiling all of the images together, the software is able to generate a fairly accurate 3D image. It might not have the resolution to make a 1:1 copy of a broken part, but it can help shave some modeling time when working with complex objects.

We’ve previously covered the use of photogrammetry to design 3D printed accessories, as well as a slightly different take on an automated turntable a few years ago. The process is still not too common, but the barriers to giving it a try on your own are at least getting lower.

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