Introduction: Build a CNC Router From Scratch (Part 1): Complete Video Tutorial

Picture of Build a CNC Router From Scratch (Part 1): Complete Video Tutorial

Completely build a CNC router from the ground up without plans, just your hands, some cheap materials and basic tools, and common sense. Did I mention you don't need plans? It's easy, and I guide you through a process of building that the measurements are derived through a logical approach, so all the pieces will fit and the structure will be solid. Moreover, you'll be able to build a CNC with almost any dimension.

And when you finish Part 1, don't forget to head on over to Part 2 where I detail the z-axis and y-axis and I start on the Gantry.

A while back, I built a very shabby machine and I knew there must be a better design. You will be able to take advantage of what I've learned from a great depth of research on the internet and personal building, testing and experimentation.

The instructable will be very long. I will probably take the cake on the length, so I'm separating the instructable into several parts. This is part 1 if you haven't already determined that. It is this long due to the amount of detail I will be providing. Since we are discussing detail, I will also provide almost all of the detail via video. Pictures say a thousand words, but video must be exponential. I really hope you enjoy this series and provide comments to help me improve and be more effective.

Even though there is another instructable on building a CNC router, it details a completely different approach and I feel that this video series will contribute to the understanding of mechanical components and unique building methods.

What is a CNC router you ask? I will define it as a computer controlled router, where the router will move on three axes and the computer controls the motion for these axes.

What you'll need:

95% of the structural components can be found at the local hardware store, like the MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard). Have the hardware store do most of the cutting, you'll mostly need 4" widths by various lengths (you don't know the lengths yet because in this build, you can make almost any size CNC router). Don't get particle board. Aluminum angle 3/4" and 1/8" thick.

A few basic tools like a screwdriver and a miter box saw. Both are pretty inexpensive and 4" width pieces usually fit into a miter box saw, especially if it plastic and the miter box can flex a bit. A circular saw would be helpful, but use the hardware store cutting service to your advantage.

A couple of links that you may find useful for these types of builds are My official build of this machine is here at my site with almost all of the video step, but don't cheat and skip to a later step. The series is developed to follow a logical process to get measurements, etc.

Step 1: Linear Slide Bearings Video

The CNC router would be useless without a way to move the router on the axis without play. Linear slide bearings are the answer. They enable a very stable and smooth sliding motion without binding. this method of bearings has been used many times, so you can be sure they will work.

The slide bearings are one of the most important component to the CNC router, and it's good to get the concept down in the beginning. You will need about 6 of these in the CNC build at varying sizes (the gantry slide bearings will need to be much longer than the y and z axes.

You will need regular skate bearing (609zz), 5/16" nuts, 5/16" x 3/4" bolts, various drill bits and a 5/16" tap/drill bit set.

Step 2: Right Angle Joint Video

Another concept to get out of the way is the joint that is used throughout the build. I'm using 1/4" bolts and nuts. The bolts are 2.5" long to reach the nut. You simply drill a 3/4" hole to receive a nut and a transversal hole, the size of the 1/4" bolt. Since the screw is centered through the middle of the piece, the boards can be used to tension things like the slide bearings. You'll understand this concept better throughout the later video tutorials.

If cross dowels are desired, I give some instructions how to use these.

Step 3: Z-Axis: Two Videos

Now let's get started on the actual meat of the build. You will start with the z-axis. The z-axis is the axis that will move the router (or any other cutting/extruding/drawing/spraying/heating tool) up and down.

Two linear slide bearings will be needed here at approximately 3.5" long. You will also need a piece of MDF 4" wide and a length that you will be able to cut several pieces. You will also need a router for this step because the rails will be aluminum angles and the angles need 45 degree chamfers to be securely held in place. Who knows, maybe you can use this tool as the main cutting tool for the CNC, so it's justified.


DerekJ25 (author)2017-01-22

Nope, video's are not visible in any of my browsers.

Tried Chrome, Opera & Edge.

MarkkuN (author)2016-08-14

The video links are dead so this instructable should be removed because there is no way to see what or how something is made. The error below can be found for each of the video links.

NetworkError: 404 Not Found -

So it is not your computer/phone/tablet. The video simply does not exist.

dandrews1138 (author)2014-11-16

Do you have these videos posted anywhere else? I've tried the ones above on my phone (Galaxy S5, my iPad 2, and two different computers (my work Win7 computer and my video editing Aliewnware with Win8 and LOTS of codecs). I can't get them to play on anything. When I try to start one the video window just goes black and a spinner comes on which never stops spinning. I'm dying to see these, but I haven't been able to run them here and I can't find them on YouTube.

JohnA113 (author)dandrews11382015-10-13

I have the same problem I just started trying, I noticed you posted this 11 months ago, were you able to find the videos?

Hollywood Hacker (author)2014-07-24

Just wondering when posting this you said about 6 gantry slide bearings, what lengths were you using that required 6?

wanabop (author)2012-03-13


I'm going to build this! However, I'm going to use MDO rather than MDF. Is this a good idea, any problems with it?


phooddaniel (author)wanabop2012-03-13

I would recommend MDO as this is the material I use for all of my machines at Go ahead, its a great material.

reggy_a (author)2009-07-17

Hello all, Being a machinest for quite a few years I really don't have much of a problem building a 3 axis machine from sand. However I must admit to being a complete novice of the fundamentals of CNC. I will be building my machine from steel and aluminum and the first question would be Is an acme thread or v-thread sufficient for smooth movement of both x and y tables and also the z axis which would be on a column, or do I need to spend more money for ball-screws and anti-backlash nuts? Which controller, and step motors would I need for a machine of this caliber? I am assuming that they are offered in different torques? Is there software available for the controller and 2 and 3-D cutting without having to spend big bucks for a CAD program with a dongle or hasp? Sorry for the breezy message, but as you can see I know very little. Thanking you in advance is, Reggy

pfred2 (author)reggy_a2011-09-22

Your breezy message will require a much breezier reply to touch upon every issue you bring up. I'd like to point out you have not mentioned what purpose you will dedicate your machine to. Like what jobs do you plan on doing? Woodworking, metalworking, something else entirely? Work area plays a determining factor in machine design as well.

Use acme thread unless you can afford (beg, borrow, steal, or some happens to fall out of the sky and land at your feet ) ballscrews, or absolutely need the performance only ballscrews can deliver. There is no good reason to use all thread as CNC lead screws. Check out my Instructable if you go with acme leads.

unless you can "borrow" one from work :)

If you want a typical hobbyist CNC setup get Gecko motor drivers

and motors to run your machine.  Yeah sure there are other choices but in the long run you're likely best off with those. If you're an electronics nut like me you can make your own:

You're going to be doing some "electronics" making your own CNC machine anyways so I hope you're not squeamish when it comes to such things.

CAD and CAM can come packaged together but they are usually separate. The two big choices are Mach3 and EMC2 for CAM.

Mach is closed commercial and of limited utility due to its nature. Many prefer this though as it runs in an environment they are familiar with.

EMC2 is free, open and virtually unlimited in its scope. Most who try this excogitate why any choose differently. I'm sure they have their reasons, none worthy.

CAD you're on your own as choices vary widely and it really depends on your budget and what you're after. The sky is the limit with both costs and complexities.

algviper (author)2011-07-03

How precise is your machine?

twighahn (author)2010-11-04

one of your videos has been removed

hammercwm (author)2010-08-29

I clicked on the video and it says it's been removed from Metacafe? Where else can I see it.

phooddaniel (author)hammercwm2010-09-02

You should be able to see them on If not, please let me know so I can post them on youtube.

rjasso (author)2010-07-19

wow man great videos. cant wait to start to build my own cnc machine. im fifteen but my dad has all of the tools that i need. thanks again

phooddaniel (author)rjasso2010-07-21

Good luck. Let me know if you have questions throughout the build.

portela22 (author)2010-07-15


Loooser (author)2010-06-25

Did you try making a pcb with the mill?

phooddaniel (author)Loooser2010-07-02

Yes, I have created PCB's with the machine.

abadfart (author)2010-05-28

what steppers are you going to use 

slowswim (author)2010-01-11

 a couple of quick questions.  one: i see you're only using a single rail system for the x axis (as opposed to 'sandwiching' the bearing around two rails for the y and z axis).  why did you not use the same approach for the x axis as the y and z?  do you think the machine would be more rigid if you used the 'sandwiching method'.  second: how are you attaching the aluminum angles to the edges of the mdf?  thanks!

phooddaniel (author)slowswim2010-01-14

 This method help reduce gantry racking since the piece underneath is in a bit of tension and the bearings are compressed against the rails towards the center of the table rather than towards the center of each side.

ydeardorff (author)2009-12-06

I am interested in making one of these as well. I love these instructables many thanks to their makers. But yes, how does one affix the work piece to the table without drilling, screwing, or gluing it into the tabel itself? Then once the work piece is immobilized, how does one zero out the router, to the work piece height, table height, as well as let the computer know the size, thickness, and location of the work piece on the table?
I plan on making  positive halfs of molds to be vaccum formed later for cars.
Also, when cutting out pieces from a larger piece. How does one prevent the part from moving while its being cut out?  As the piece becomes less in contact with the parent piece, it can pop loose, and or chatter against the bit, damaging it. Possibly a solution would be to not cut all the way through?
Any help on this would be great!

phooddaniel (author)ydeardorff2010-01-14

 There are many methods of clamping, or affixing the workpiece to the table.  It's actually board enough to have an entire tutorial on the subject, but I will give a few ideas.  

Screw it to the table somehow:  machine screws, at the edges using a block of wood to clamp the piece down.

Use wood screws.  This will damage the table, so a sacrificial (spoil board) can be used.

For PCB, super glue and acetone to remove glue afterwards, or my favorite, carpet tape that leaves no residue.

Fence clamp at the edges,

Standard clamps at the corners.

speedhump (author)2009-11-16

Maybe I missed this - but so far haven't seen the problem of a clever, universal means of fixing the work piece.

likes56 (author)2009-11-02

hi' can ask what type of stepper motor your using and how much dose it cost...where having a project on making a 3axiscnc router.^_^.


phooddaniel (author)likes562009-11-02

I use the one on my site:   These are 425 oz-in bi-polar stepping motors.

rock crawler (author)2009-08-18

hey. i am 15 and really into rc cars and trucks. i was wondering if this could be used to mill derlin, aluminum, and other soft plastics and metals? any advice would be greatly appreciated.

phooddaniel (author)rock crawler2009-08-19

Hi Rock Crawler, You will have no problem with Delrin, but aluminum is tricky. Aluminum has a relatively low melting point and this will cause a BUE (Built Up Edge). Also, the tool may gum up. The way around this is to mill at extremely shallow depths per pass with a high feedrate. Adding a bit of lubricant also helps, but it's good to practice and find that perfect balance with depths, speeds and feeds.

rock crawler (author)phooddaniel2009-09-05

hi again, forgot to ask wether this will cut carbon fiber?

phooddaniel (author)rock crawler2009-09-06

I have never tried to cut carbon fiber. I would suppose with the right end mill (diamond coated) and an extremely shallow cut per pass, you should be able to. The machine may require some reinforcements so there is absolutely no flexing when shear load is put on to the end mill.

rock crawler (author)phooddaniel2009-08-20

cool! thanks for the quick reply. cant wait to get started on this project. peace.

chriswillb (author)2009-07-30

There's no video

phooddaniel (author)chriswillb2009-07-30

Metacafe rejected the purely instructional video for some reason. I ported these videos to youtube. Here is the link:

Many thanks and my apologies for the inconvenience and my screaming children, Patrick

chriswillb (author)phooddaniel2009-07-31

Oh thats ok, thank you for responding i'd probably prefer youtube anyway.

hisb79 (author)2009-04-19

I cringed when I saw where your fingers were when you were using the hand drill with small drill bit. I have seen a bit break in the middle and the remaining bit in the drill go straight through a thumb. It was my thumb when I was a kid :S

dedetc (author)2009-03-28

Distance for drilling? Centered?

stuwegie (author)2009-03-05

What is the width and thickness of the aluminium angle?

kvcummins (author)stuwegie2009-03-10

"Aluminum angle 3/4" and 1/8" thick."

stuwegie (author)2009-03-05

These videos are excellent. Im fairly competent at building things however i also lack a proper work space and am constantly trying to improvise with the few tools that i have. I managed to build a few electric guitars in my bedroom much to the dismay of my girlfriend as i got sawdust over pretty much everything in the room. Im slowly collecting the parts i need to build this as without a band saw etc its not feasible to build the others on this site. Wish me luck with my build.

jack8559 (author)2008-08-14

How difficult would it be to make this project out of steel plate so I could mill metal objects?

bombmaker2 (author)jack85592009-02-22

i'd think it would be easier

hjartland (author)2008-05-26

Dude I should be asleep but I just can not stop watching this. Thank you! My brain is slush rightnow, but I'll build this soon! You rock!

mortso (author)2008-04-28

Dude... This is SO amazing! Your wife must be a saint. You need to sell these so you can afford a garage! I love the Baby Babble too! Sweet!

dimmaz88 (author)2008-02-17

Hey, do you know how much this project will cost to complete?

phooddaniel (author)dimmaz882008-03-07

Depending on the controller that you use, it can be as low as $500, or so.

millingabout (author)2008-02-12

I found this technique so interesting it was the first Instructable I tried! I found it time consuming to make. However, I am willing to write that off to inexperience. I did find it to be very strong. My initial test joints used a 3/4" hole to receive the nut. However, a second test with a 1/2" hole worked just as well. The difference that I found between the two tests was that as the "nut hole" gets smaller the accuracy of the placement of the "nut hole" and traversal holes become more important. I was using 1/2" MDF, and tried counter sinking a flat head screw. Some loss of wood occurred on the board edge, but the experiment largely worked. The loss of thickness (1/2" minus counter sink hole) on the MDF did not seem to affect the joint. My suspicion is that with a 3/4" MDF board, edge loss won't be an issue. Thank you phooddaniel for inspiring me to try an Instructable!

phooddaniel (author)millingabout2008-03-07

You're very welcome. These videos are intended to give that extra nudge.

fmlywomn (author)2008-01-31

this is awesome, I will have to share this video with my husband and children. thanks....

bnlacava (author)2008-01-04

i would hand-thread and use some lube

ivanirons (author)2007-12-16

Great Instructable Dude! I am glad you video'd each step. Perfect for beginners to CNC.
I also instruct others. I have made a number of tutorials on various CNC Projects. I like to walk people through each step during the CNC Process. I get great feedback from people just entering our cool CNC Hobby.

Here are the videos:

Then click on the link on the left.

Thanks for your contribution,
Ivan Irons

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm an Urban Designer for Downtown Houston. My formal education is from University of Miami, Bachelor of Architecture, and Masters at University of California ... More »
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