This instructable will show you how I built my CNC router. I hope you can draw some inspiration from my build and that this instructable will be helpful for your future projects. This instructable shows all the steps I went through in designing and building this CNC router.

The main thing I like about a CNC router, is that it is so versatile. You can use it as a drilling machine, a router, a saw, a mill and even as a lathe. Because my workshop is very small (it’s more like a shed), I didn’t have the  room for all of these tools, but I still wanted to be able to make very precise parts for different projects. That’s why I started to think about building a CNC router.

After doing some research I decided to design and build my own machine. It took me almost 6 months to build and design the machine from start to finish. Before starting the actual designing of the machine, I did a lot of research on the web. I recommend taking a look at the following websites: cncroutersource.com and cnczone.com. These websites will provide you with a ton of information and answer most of your questions on CNC related topics.

Please note:
I built this CNC router as final project for school (also called 'profielwerkstuk' in the Netherlands). When I started the build, I was 16 years old and I finished it when I was 17. Although I have done a couple of larger projects in the past and have been doing FTC robotics for the last few years, I didn’t have that much experience with building CNC machines. This machine actually is the second CNC machine I built.  The first one was a wooden test machine, which I built to gain some experience and learn more about CNC machines. I tried to build this machine as good as possible, with the tools, the knowledge and the budget I had at the time. I think the machine came out pretty nice and I hope you enjoy reading about it.

Step 1: The design

Before starting to build a machine, you will always have to make some sort of a design. Sometimes it only has to be some sketches on a piece of paper, but for this machine a more precise three dimensional drawing was required. I made my design using google sketchup. Google sketchup is a free cad program, which you can download from the web. I found it was very easy to work with, although I had never worked with a cad program before. You won’t be able to draw as complicated designs as you can, by using other programs like Autocad, but for my purposes it worked just fine.
My main goal was to get all of the proper dimensions for my parts, so that I could order them online. I wanted to see if all of my parts were going to fit together. Because the machine consists of a lot of moving parts, I wanted to make sure that nothing would hit one another while running the machine.
When I started designing the machine I already had some parts like the linear rails and the ball screws. I bought these from someone who had built a test machine for his webshop. I used the same electronics for this machine, as I used for the wooden test machine I had built earlier.

These are the basic dimensions and parts used for the machine:
Overall dimensions
X: 1050mm
Y: 840mm
Z: 400mm
X: 730mm
Y: 650mm
Z: 150mm

Motors: Nema 23 - 3Nm
Controllers: Leadshine M542 V2.0
Spindle: Kress FME 800
Linear rails: X: Sbr 20
Y/Z: Sbr 16
Ballscrews: X/Y: 16mm 5mm pitch
Z - axis drive screw: M10 with homemade delrin nut
Aluminum profiles: 30/60mm Misumi 100mm
Aluminum plates: 15mm thick
CAD/CAM software: CamBam
Controller software: Mach3

The machine is almost entirely built from 15mm thick aluminum plate and 30x60mm aluminum extrusions. I built this CNC router using a very limited amount of tools. The main tools I used were a drill press and a lathe. Because I didn’t have the right tools to cut the aluminum plates to size, I designed the machine around standard sizes and ordered the plates online, already cut to length. The aluminum extrusions I used were also cut to length and I ordered these from misumi Europe.

When designing a CNC router it is helpful to ask yourself a couple of questions. Here you will find the design process I went through for my CNC router.

What type of CNC router do you want to build?
There basically are two types of CNC routers: the moving table design and the moving gantry design. Moving table style designs are often used for smaller size CNC routers. They are easier to construct and can be built more rigid than a moving gantry style machine. The downside of letting the table move instead of the gantry, is that the overall footprint of the machine in retrospect to it’s cutting envelope, is about twice as large as with a moving gantry design. Therefore it probably is better to make a moving gantry style machine, if your cutting envelope is larger than about 30x30 cm. Because I wanted to build a machine with a cutting envelope of about 65x65 cm, I used the moving gantry style design.

What do you want to cut with the CNC router?
This determines pretty much every answer to the questions below. I wanted to use the machine for plywood, hardwoods and plastics mainly, but also for aluminum. If you want to cut materials harder than aluminum, I recommend building a CNC mill, instead of a router.

What material will you use to construct the machine?
This is determined by the question above. A good guideline is that the material you use to construct the machine is stronger or as strong as the material you want to cut. So if you want to cut aluminum, you should use aluminum or even steel to build the machine. I have seen wooden CNC routers that can cut aluminum (you will find some on youtube), but this went very slow and the machines have to be very well constructed. Because I wanted to cut aluminum with this CNC router, I built it out of aluminum. I could have used steel, but this is more difficult to machine and I didn’t have the proper tools for that.

What length of travel do you need for each axis?
My first intention, was to build a CNC router that could handle standard size sheet goods, like plywood and mdf. In the Netherlands these are 62 x 121 cm. So for the Y - axis, I wanted a travel distance of at least 620mm. The machine is placed in a small shed in my backyard, with a very limited amount of space. I couldn’t make the machine too big, because then it would really get in the way and take up all the space. So the X - axis only has 730mm of travel. This is less than the full length of a sheet of plywood (1210mm), but I figured that if I wanted to machine something really large a could cut the first part, than slide the sheet forward and cut the last part. By using this technique you can cut pieces that are much larger than the normal X - travel distance. For the Z - axis I figured that 150mm would be enough to possibly use a fourth axis in the future.

What type of linear motion will you use for the machine?
There are many options to choose from for linear motion: drawer slides, ball bearings on V rail, V-groove bearings, unsupported round linear rail, fully supported round linear rail and profile linear rail. The linear motion system you use will to a large extent determine the cutting quality that you can achieve. I would recommend going for the best system that you can afford. After doing some research, I found that fully supported linear rails would be the best option, that I still could afford. If you search on ebay for SBR12, SBR16 or SBR20 you will find a number of different sellers and sets to choose from. If you are building a 3 axis CNC router, you should buy a kit consisting of three sets of linear rails and two linear bearings per rail. Linearmotionbearings2008 is a good ebay store from China, that sells a number of different kits, even with the ball screws included.

What kind of linear drive system will you use for each axis?
The basic options to drive each axis are: timing belts, rack and pinion and drive screws. For homemade CNC routers, drive screws are most commonly used. Screw drive systems work by placing the stationary nut on the moving part of the machine and holding the screw in place on both ends.The screw gets attached to the motor. If the motors starts to turn, the nut with the moving part of the machine attached to it, will move along the screw and set the machine in motion.
For the X and Y axis, I used ball screws. Ball screws provide very smooth motion, with virtually no backlash. Backlash is the amount of play between the drive screw and the nut and is something you don’t want in a CNC router. If you want to read more about backlash, I recommend taking a look at the website cncroutersource.com.
Ball screws are more expensive than ACME screws (which are a good alternative), but will again highly improve the cutting speed and cutting quality you can achieve.
For the Z-axis I used high quality stainless steel M10 threaded rod, with a homemade delrin nut.

What type of drive motor and controller are you going to use?
Concerning the motors, there are two basic options: servo motors and stepper motors.
Servo motors are mainly used for high end CNC routers and are very expensive. They use encoders to provide position feedback and require more expensive controllers. Stepper motors are widely used on homemade CNC routers and there are many different types and sizes. The size of the stepper motor you need depends on what you want to cut, how fast you want to cut it, what type of linear drive and motion components you use, how large the machine is etc. I used 3Nm stepper motors for my machine, which is probably overkill.
The controller must suit the motor that you’re using. You can use individual drivers for each motor, as I did, or you can buy a 3 or 4-axis driver board. You can read more about the electronics I used in step 14.

What type of spindle will you use?
Most homemade CNC routers use a standard woodworking router or trim router as the cutting spindle for their machine. Mine is no exception. I used a Kress router, which is of slightly higher quality than standard wood routers, and it has a nice 43mm clamping flange. If you want to cut a lot of different materials, some sort of speed control can be really handy. The Kress router has a built in speed control but you will find this on most routers. If you are going to be doing a lot of really heavy cutting you might want to look into air or water cooled spindles. You can find these on ebay as well, but they will cost you a lot more than a standard router. They use a VFD for speed control and can be much quieter than standard routers.

What will be the total costs for the machine and do I want to spend so much money?
I estimated the total costs for this CNC router to be around 1500 euro. A CNC router is expensive but you can save a lot of money by building one yourself.

After I had found the answers to all of the questions above, I came up with the final design for my CNC router. As you can see, my design is not extremely detailed. You won’t see the exact hole locations on all of the parts for instance. It is difficult to determine how many bolts you should use to put two pieces together, if you have never held those pieces in your hands before.
For me, this design was enough to give me a good view on how everything was going to work out and which parts I should order.

After the design was completed and rejected/redesigned a couple of times, I could start ordering all of the parts needed. The 30x60mm aluminum extrusions and all of the aluminum plates for the gantry and Z - axis which I used for the X - axis were pre-cut to length. I also ordered some heavy duty anti-vibration leveling feet.

<p>i will try for this one useful &amp; great experience Thanks </p>
Very nice machine and a great instructable. Maybe I'll build one of my own this summer.
<p>Hello , Maybe you could help me . I just build a machine with a bed of approx 6feet by 3 feet . using RM2005 balscrews and nema 34 1600 oz/inc. But I am realy strugeling to even jog the machine at 3000mm/sec ,cutting max of 2000mm/sec . how fast should I be able to go ?</p>
<p>3000mm/Sec sounds a little fast, that's 3 meters/10 feet a second.</p>
<p>3000mm per seconde?!?! hoeveel haal je per pas eraf bij 2000mm p/s?</p>
<p>mooie machine, ik ben van plan om er ook een te maken. ik doe dan niet echt een technische opleiding maar dat is handig voor dingen te graveren of uit te frezen in hout. deze post was heel behulpzaam. maar de elektronische dingen daar ben ik bang voor dat ik faal. is dat moeilijk of is dat makkelijk te begrijpen?</p>
<p>hi! nice project! and very useful, but I have a question that is driving me crazy, hope you can help me, &iquest;how the system( electronics and software) knows how many steps are each millimeter ? because you are using pulleys, diferent drive screws,the motors maybe has different steps, etc..</p><p>Are there some parameters you need to set in Mach3?</p><p>thank you, a lot!</p>
<p>Great project! I supervise IB personnal project in Qu&eacute;bec (French-Canada). I'd like to present your project to my students. Do you have a video of your CNC?</p>
<p>What's the difference between a CNC mill and a CNC router? </p>
I just started researching this project to make my own. Your instructable has very detailed information and the machine looks very clean. Thank you for this, job well done. I see you are making another, if you have a chance can you please send me your sketchup drawings for the new version? nels66@tds.net. Again, nice job!
<p>I only have Solidworks drawings for my new machine. It is based around linear modules from Bosch Rexroth. These modules are normally very expensive (I got them from ebay) and not easy to obtain. Even if you have Solidworks I don't think the drawings are very useful since they use these custom parts. It looks a lot like this:</p><p><a href="https://d2t1xqejof9utc.cloudfront.net/screenshots/pics/1b4d6c747faa01a481f5ba106a25c747/large.png" rel="nofollow">https://d2t1xqejof9utc.cloudfront.net/screenshots/...</a></p><p>An open source project by the Dutch cnc forum.</p>
<p>Congrats Benne, this is a very impresive job!</p>
<p>smart idea i have seeking such that idea but for aluminum</p>
<p>Great instructables, i found stepper motor, stepper motor driver and psu on here <a href="http://goo.gl/zT0D7b" rel="nofollow">http://goo.gl/zT0D7b</a> is it good deal? the controller is different from yours can i still follow this guide if i want to build 1?</p>
<p>Awesome project! I am currently trying to design something similar, so this is a great resource and inspiration :)</p><p>Regarding your choice to use timing belts to reduce the machine's space footprint, wouldn't that introduce more error into the machine? You're sort of throwing away the accuracy and precision the ball-screws are known for! Or am I misinformed in this regard?</p>
<p>Well this depends on the type of timing belts you use. I used HTD timing belts which are known to be absolutely backlash free. The belts are very short so stretch is also not an issue. </p><p>It's nice to hear that you can use some of the information from my post for your design, I am currently building a knew machine as well. The knew machine looks quite a bit different and it deals with all the small problems i had with my previous machine. It looks a lot like this:</p><p><a href="https://www.google.nl/search?q=damencncrouter&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=7OCgVbPIMere7AaP54-ADw&ved=0CAgQ_AUoAg&biw=2560&bih=1329#tbm=isch&q=damencnc+router&imgrc=ckb4fdCcS30Q2M%3A" rel="nofollow">https://www.google.nl/search?q=damencncrouter&amp;sour...</a></p><p>The biggest problem from my previous design was the X-axis. It's driven with only one ballscrew in the middle. If I am machining on the side of the cutting area, the gantry tends to twist a bit, because it's only held in place in the middle. The machine uses relatively cheap linear rails and these are not enough to keep it absolutely straight. A better idea is to use two ballscrews, one on each side. You could use the exact same design as my previous machine and just add an extra ballscrew, but I think the picture shows another improvement i want to make. It has a high base and the Y-axis is just a beam that goes across. This way you can create a large cutting height by making the sides higher and keep the whole structure very stiff. There is nothing that goes under the table, so it's easier to make the table stronger as well.</p><p>This design will be more expensive, since it uses extra ballscrews, motor and drivers etc. but I think it will work better.</p>
excelent project! i'll follow this one to build my own. but tell me,why belts instead of direct? it will helps in vibrations? <br>thanks
May I ask you where did you buy standard sizes aluminum plates that are already cut to length? I am searching auch pkates for a looong time :)<br><br>Thanks!
<p>Awesome instructable - thank you. Great detail and clearly stated.</p><p>I wonder if it would be possible to add augmented reality positioning like this: <a href="https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/creationworkstation/creation-workstation-large-format-personal-desktop/posts/1251580" rel="nofollow">https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/creationworks...</a></p><p>I would imaging a webcam and the software would be all that's needed. Not sure if you'd even have to have it integrated with Mach 3 to be useful. This would be very useful for avoiding the trial-and-error tests required to get the machine set up.</p>
<p>Great Instructable, so lucid and crisp. Thanks for sharing. This is one of the projects in my wish list. I hope to take up soon, as I am already 64 years young! </p>
<p>Nice job. Congratulations.</p>
Only 1500 for all aluminum cnc? Thats pretty good
Hi dude, could I get your email? I'm looking to start making a cnc machine but I have some questions. I speak dutch so communication won't be a problem.
<p>Great Job,</p><p>Could you please send the source files to my mail: wdvalenz@gmail.com please.</p>
<p>Hello there :)</p><p>firstly... wooooow, that's VERY impressive :P</p><p>Secondly, I need a hand. Maybe a couple of hands. I am a heavy sketchup user, I designed lots of things, usually houses and pieces of furniture. Recently, I've been confronted with the need for a new bed. Looked on Ikea and some other places and found something that might fit but looking at the thing, it's not really worth the money. So I sat down and I designed my own bed in sketchup. Since I would like to be able to take the thing apart and I'm no big friend of metal... joints. MANY joints. The bed is basically built like a wooden jigsaw puzzle, using commercially available beams - usually around 45x45x2400mm, 19x100x2400mm, 25x50x2400mm and so on. Once all pieces are ready it can be assembled and used (at least according to sketchup design) without using any nails, screws or glue. I have a router (my boyfriend does). And a saw and mostly manual woodworking tools. But with the amount of joints in the design, it would likely take me and my boyfriend ages to finish the actual bed.</p><p>So I've been looking after a CNC router and I've come across your design. I think I'd like to build one myself, rather than buy one, because if I build it (based on your design) and it breaks (or, more likely, if I break it) at least I can fix it myself.</p><p>Do you think you would be ok with sharing more than the 18 steps (as in... really detailed) and maybe help me if I have questions during the building process? (If needed I can make use of german or danish).</p><p>Many thanks for your help and once more... wooooow coool machine :))))))))</p>
<p>Oh, I just tried opening the sketchup file at the end of the article, unfortunately my version of sketchup (8) can't open it. For the time being I haven't yet taken the step to sketchup make because I'm still running vista on my machine.</p>
<p>What kind of materials can it cut? </p>
It can cut all materials softer or as hard as aluminum. Aluminum works well, but I'm currently building a new machine that's a lot more high end and ridgid that will work even better for this. I haven't tried steel, but I don't think it's ridgid enough for that.
<p>Ola boa tarde! Parab&eacute;ns pelo projeto!</p><p>Podes me enviar seu projeto em PDF para meu email? Pois n&atilde;o estou conseguindo baixar: jeffersonalmeida22@hotmail.com</p><p>Muito obrigado!</p>
<p>Thank you Benne you are an inspiration.</p>
<p>Ben is this--&gt; </p><p><a href="http://www.ebay.com/itm/3-lead-Screws-ball-screws-RM1605-300-800-1150mm-ballscrews-3-sets-BK-BF12-/251771250868?pt=BI_Heavy_Equipment_Parts&hash=item3a9ebc68b4" rel="nofollow">http://www.ebay.com/itm/3-lead-Screws-ball-screws-...</a> </p><p>your set of ballscrews?</p><p>If not what was your choice?</p>
<p>which type of cutting bit are you using in your project</p>
<p>like your cnc i want to build one can you send me your drawings and about how much does it cost my email nhm.khalid@gmail.com plzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz</p>
Both the total cost and the drawings that I have are in the Instructable
<p>Hi! Nice Job! Any chance to see a video of it in action? And can you do 3D parts by using the appropriate software to e.g. sculpt wood moving all 3 axis simultaniously? Is this a hardware or software limitation if one can move all 3 axis at once? I have noticed that a lot of people use two motors on the x axis. Have you noticed any need for that? Have you ever thought about driving the nut on the z axis and not a threaded spindle? Would there be any advantage of not moving the z axis stepper motor along with the z-axis? Yes and like one other commenter already stated you did an very good job writing English. Easy to read and understand!</p>
<p>i like your cnc i want to build one can you send me your drawings please and about how much does it cost thank you jdt_66@yahoo.com</p>
<p>wow you amazing i love to build this router please can you send me the plane and the sketchup drawings </p><p>h.nibso@yahoo.com</p>
<p>I just added the Sketchup drawings to step 1 of the Instructable. The drawings are not very detailed and not fully complete but I hope they will be helpful. I dont have a full set of plans, but the sketchup drawing and the pictures + documentation should be enough to build your own machine.</p>
<p>hi i am very interested in building this machine , can you give me the autocad file so i can modify the size of the machine before printing the design , thank you very much</p>
<p>here is a great cnc build I found- http://www.cnczone.com/forums/open-source-cnc-machine-designs/171805-starting-48x96-cnc-router-parts-build.html </p>
<p>Great piece of engineering and building. Have build one CNC machine already in wood. Need to move up to the next realm. Would you please send me your sketchup drawings. Thanks. docphil111@gmail.com</p>
<p>hi first of all thanks for sharing this info... great project i want to build this same design but in 2x scale is the same electronics will work and motors torque should be enough for acrylic or aluminium ??? and if possible please send me the plan on r.hamza_shahid@hotmail.com i should be really thanks-full to you thanks </p>
<p>How much did this cost overall?</p>
<p>Wow this is such an amazing machine!!! Its so awesome how you made your own machine that you use to make parts! You did such a nice job on this!</p>
Thank you!

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