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If you have any interest in purchasing a kit version of this machine please click the above button and complete the form so that I can gauge the level of interest.

This instructable will show you how to construct a CNC Router that will allow you to cut 3-D shapes out of wood, plastic and aluminum using a standard hand held router.  Recently I have noticed that more and more projects on instructables have involved the use of some sort of CNC machine, be it a laser cutter, 3d printer, milling machine, etc.  I wanted to join this revolution of digital fabrication and start making my projects even better using these tools.  So about a year ago I set out to find a way to make this possible and came to conclusion that a simple 3 axis CNC router would be the best option to get things going.  I started doing some research and decided to design and build my own machine.  This instructable steps though all the parts needed to build the machine I have designed and the reasoning behind why I built the machine the way I did. It also includes an explanation of CNC technology and would be a great reference for anyone looking to learn some metal fabrication skills.  My hope is that someone might use these plans to build this router for themselves or at least draw some inspiration from my design.  I have created 2d drawings of all the parts with complete dimensions and specs, details on how to build each part, a complete parts and tools lists with prices and links,  a basic wiring diagram and an explanation of the design.         

I have designed this router to be very versatile and hope to also use this same machine as a 3-D printer and a hot wire foam cutter in the future.  This machine is constructed from rectangular steel tubing and aluminum plate and was fabricated using a small horizontal band saw, bench top drill press and flux core MIG welder.  There is no need for high precision and expensive tools to build this machine.  Using the techniques I have listed in this instructable for marking, centering, drilling and tapping anyone with the desire to build something well, will be able to complete this project.  There are no angles to cut or parts that seem impossible to get right, just straight cuts and holes to drill.  The machine bolts together and can be adjusted for square and levelness on each axis.        

For those of you who already know about CNC routers here are the specs for my machine.
Travel:  X-Axis 23in
               Y-Axis  13in
               Z-Axis 6in
Linear Guide: Fully Support Round Linear Rail and Mounted Bearings (20mm, 16mm, 12mm)
Linear Drive: 1/2”-10 5 Start Precision ACME Screws and DumpsterCNC Anti-Backlash Nuts
Drive Motor and Controller: Gecko G540 Controller with Gecko 280oz-in NEMA 23 Stepper Motors
Construction: Welded 1”x2” Steel Tubing and 3/8” Thick Aluminum Plate
Spindle: Bosch Colt Trim Router  
Rapid Speed:  200ipm (inches per minute)
Cutting Speed: 1/4" end mill, full width cut, 0.100" depth of cut, 50ipm, material - hardwood (This is a fairly easy cut and is probably less than half the true cutting capacity)

This video is a time lapse of the assembly of the router, an hour and half condensed into 45 seconds.

There is also a video of the very first test of this machine on the last step.  The CNC writes the classic "Hello World"
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Kjetil Egeland made it!2 months ago

I made this, and have just got to run it once with a temporary handheld router. I am making a box for all the electronics for it as well. Very pleased with the results, but the X travel could be better. Now its only about 210mm travel. All the other black and red parts, I made with my Velleman K8200 3d printer ..Works great ..! Thanks for sharing the project...!

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I've started the process of making this with ballscrews, my main issue is bearing to motor mounting. Where did you get those blue standoffs that go around the bearings?


Hello..! Do you have a 3d printer, or do you know of somebody that have one..? Then you can check ,and find yourself a motor mount. Or I can send you the file I used for my bracket. I use them still, but I would like to make one in aluminum some time.

Good luck !

Doug Costlow (author)  Kjetil Egeland2 months ago

Great Work! Looks like you used ball screws, is that right? Where did you get them?

Thanks ;) I am really pleased with the rig...but I ordered the wrong size of rails and ballscrews. So I had to downsize all of it a bit. The only drawback is the narrow X axis movement. It might be better to have the rails on the outside to improve this. I bought the ballscrews and rails as a kit from China. Its all right.

Have you been able to machine aluminium ok with your rig..?

Doug Costlow (author)  Kjetil Egeland2 months ago

I only did aluminum once and it was only 1/16" thick. I also recently got an aluminum plate to use as a work surface instead of the MDF. If you do aluminum just make sure its secured really well and the work surface is just as rigid. The small vibrations will limit how far you can go with aluminum.

pmazz8501 year ago
First i want to say thanks for this write up and the time you've put into it. I'm building this machine and am almost done. I have a question for you on the gantry uprights. It seems like you wouldn't need to drill holes the whole lenghth of the tube as the Z axis has a good amount of travel. Thats alot of holes to drill if there not usefull. Would you say after using the machine that all those holes are a little overkill?
Also i added some support plates under the Z axis motor mount plate as it wanted to tilt forward a hair binding the leadscrew. Thanks for all the info and hope to hear back about the uprights....
Doug Costlow (author)  pmazz8501 year ago

That's great that your building the machine, please post pictures when its done. The holes on the gantry uprights allow you to adjust the height of the gantry and the clearance between the bit and the work table. I designed it this way but did not fully follow through on the other change that makes this more useful. The idea is that for tall parts you can move the gantry up to get the needed clearance. For shorter parts, like sheet material you could move the gantry down closer to the part. The part I have not done is add a second set of mounting holes on the router mounting plate. The other set of holes would allow you to space the bearings on the z-axis further apart. This does two things. With the bearings further apart the router mounting plate becomes more rigid to resist higher cutting forces but it also reduces the travel of the z-axis. This reduced travel is fine though because you can move the whole gantry closer to the part and because the part is not as thick you don't need the full travel.

The idea really boils down to, if your cutting short materials, like sheet material, you can adjust the machine to optimize it for the material. Then if you want to cut something thicker you can adjust the machine to get max clearance and travel.

You are right about the holes though, I could have done less, maybe just enough for a low ,medium and high setting. But the router mounting plate still needs more holes to make this complete.

I actually plan on doing this soon because I want to use the machine to drill a bunch of holes and moving the gantry lower and gaining some rigidity would make the machine better suited for this purpose.

Here are the pics of my build of this machine. Very straight forward instructions. Also the dust boot i had to make for the machine.
Doug Costlow (author)  pmazz8501 year ago

This looks great! Nice job.

mentor4823 days ago
(removed by author or community request)

Really Nice Job, will have mine finished in about a week. I used 3" tubing instead of 2".

Will you ever have this for sale in a kit form? I’ve got some $$ burning a hole in my pocket!!


Doug Costlow (author)  dooliebandman1 month ago

I know I've been saying I want to offer this machine as a kit and I want to do it right. Start a real business, get a website up, work with suppliers, etc. This is something I want to do but have not had the time to accomplish. I also want to do a little redesign of the machine to improve a few things and reduce the cost. You and the list of people who have expressed interest is now enough to motivate me to do this. Give me a couple more months to get things in place and you can be the first customer.

pbertsch2 months ago

I would like to know what programming software you use and the motors and controllers you use. Please. Please send back to me at Thanks

AhmedE153 months ago

Great design and very thorough instructions, thanks for posting and sharing. I have a concern though, by tapping the 1/16" (0.065") steel tubing, did you get enough threads there to hold things tightly? I can't imagine more than two threads present in such thin steel, was wondering how much holding force that actually gave.

Doug Costlow (author)  AhmedE153 months ago

Your right the steel is thin and allows for two threads which is enough for the small M5 screws. Plus there are multiple screws for each bolted part. As long as you don't try to tighten the screws with a half inch breaker bar it will be fine, theres no need to really crank down on the screws.

AhmedE153 months ago

Great design and very thorough instructions, thanks for posting and sharing. I have a concern though, by tapping the 1/16" (0.065") steel tubing, did you get enough threads there to hold things tightly? I can't imagine more than two threads present in such thin steel, was wondering how much holding force that actually gave.

hasannebso4 months ago

you are amazing i love to build this router please can you send me the plane and the sketchup drawings

cvhodges24 months ago

This is an awesome project...I want to make one, but am wondering if I have enough projects to do to justify the cost/time. What kinds of projects are people doing with their CNC routers???

ahstwin4 months ago

Excellent guide. I am using this as a baseline to build my machine. Something which I don't really understand though: How does the acme screw held in place? This is my understanding of it (Let's use the x-axis as an example): On the non-stepper motor side, we have a threaded collar with the bushing. That stops x motion of the screw away from the stepper. On the stepper side, we have the oldham coupler (1/4" on stepper side with the disc then a 1/2" hub) followed by the McMaster collar and bush. These are non-threaded collars so how would they (Both the oldham hub and the collar) grip onto the threaded screw without slip?

rtandon6 months ago


Thanks for the wonderful write up.

In respect of welding and fabricating the frame out of steel, I would like to know about the linearity issue. The linearity (linear accuracy) of the pre fabricated rails will obviously be more precise than the steel tubing used for all the axes' frames. I guess it might affect the parallelism of the finished frame with rails bolted? Any insight into this or any insight to inspect the accuracy of the steel tubing and specific trick to keep the final structure accurate in terms of linearity and parallelism.

Doug Costlow (author)  rtandon6 months ago

yes the frame needs to be welded with as much precision as possible. That why I used the right angle welding clamp. I also purchased shims to place between the rails and the steel but I did not need to use them. I think i just got lucky though. If i ever redesign the machine it will be bolted together to allow for adjustment of the parallelism of each axis. As far as the steel stock, if its bent you may have problems that are not easily solved. The only easy way to determine if the machine is square meaning each axis is 90deg from the rest is the build the machine and cut some part and measure the parts. Adjustments can be made using shims to square up all the axis.

Aluminum plates are important ??
no problem if replaced with another material ??

Doug Costlow (author)  mguillenramirez6 months ago

Aluminum is a good material but other metals would be just as good. HDPE plastic might also be a decent material.

salamala7 months ago


I love your project I am planning to use Nema23 stepper motor 425oz-in Dual &
DM542A on it hop it fits, Also one important question as I am running out of
money and I cannot buy it locally instead of Trapezoidal screw ACME can I use at least for beginning
normal screw that I can buy
in a store if yes can you tell me whar are the cons. and if not can you at lest
tell me why not.

a lot for the answer as I searched google and couldn’t find any answer to this question.


Doug Costlow (author)  salamala7 months ago

You can use normal screw threads. The cons are they don't have high lead and you will probably have more backlash on a single nut. Read through step 2, I put more info about the acme screws there.

Either thread type will, ACME is just a better choice for CNC.

Great layout!! 1500.00 is good price if it was backed product...warranty..etc. DIY'ER are like the craigslisters....we want it all for little to nothing. If you get busy selling in Dallas area...lemme know if I can help!!

steve787611 months ago

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I am hoping to draw a little more of your experience out here... You said accuracy is roughly +/- 0.003". This is pretty good, but have you found the limiting factors and how to perhaps improve this (still think it is mostly due to runout in the spindle)? You also mention that the motors are plenty sufficient to machine Aluminum, and that the limit is the spindle speed of typical routers. Do you have any experience with actual air-cooled cnc spindle motors? With the proper RPM, do you still think the 280 oz-in steppers are sufficient to properly machine Aluminum? Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is Gecko the only US based manufacturer you know of for the motors and drivers? I have found some tempting options ( but have been burned by cheap chinese goods so many times I will not risk buying anything unless someone can vouch for quality. Lots of questions here, but thank you so much for your time and help!

Doug Costlow (author)  inspired1171 year ago

Spindle runout is probably the key issue for accuracy on a machine like this. Trim routers are not to designed to the same standards as true cnc spindles. Check out the spindles on Shopbot machines as a possible upgrade. I seen those machines in action but don't have experience.

For aluminum, I do believe this machine could handle cutting 1/4" thick aluminum plate into shapes but I would not recommend it for billet aluminum machining. A spindle upgrade would probably be required if you wanted to cut aluminum plate all the time. Even then it may take some effort to cut the plate with even a reasonable surface finish. If you want to properly machine aluminum get a milling machine.

Gecko sells good products but you have to put everything together yourself. I recently found flashcut CNC which another CNA controller maker in the US. They sell whole systems with usb control. A friend of mine got his steppers and controllers from automation tech for his G0704 mill conversion. he got the newer digital drivers and has not had any issues. I don't think you'll get burned going with that 3 axis kit.

I have another quick question. Is there a design issue with placing the x-axis rails facing out rather than in? I can't see one, but wanted to ask. It seems this would gain you ~4" more machining room without making the footprint any larger and the feet are already needed at the corners to elevate and level the entire assembly giving room for the drive nut mount. Your thoughts are appreciated. Thanks!

x-rail out.PNG
Doug Costlow (author)  inspired11711 months ago

Your right this would give you more clearance for your your material without increasing the footprint. There is one issue I see with this though. I designed the machine to use only a single 6ft length of ACME screw that I cut to length for each axis. That way there was no waste on this expensive component. The 6ft length is what mcmaster sells. By making the gantry wider you will either need a longer screw for the y-axis or design a new way to hold the shorter screw on a wider gantry. If your not worried about the screw length and will just buy the lengths you need then I see no problems with this change.

All great advice, thank you very much for sharing.

Will make a difference if I have a 425 oz motor for this machine? Mine is six inches longer and six inches wider.

Doug Costlow (author)  cncprogramer1 year ago

As long as your controllers are properly sized for the motors you should be fine. Is your machine built the same way mine is? If so it would be great to see some pictures.

Yes it is built the same way. Once I have the machine finished I will post some pictures.

Do you have any idea about time for sales to start? Very interested!! Thanks for your work on this project.

Doug Costlow (author)  dooliebandman1 year ago

I hoping to do a beta sale this summer but things have been very busy and I have not had the time to put into this that I have wanted to. I want to make sure I can sell a quality machine, produce it efficiently enough to keep cost down, and have a legitimate business behind all this. Fill out the form I have linked on the first step and I will contact you when its ready. Thanks for the interest.

Here is my contact info
BIll Doolan
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