Easy to Build Desk Top 3 Axis CNC Milling Machine

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Picture of Easy to Build Desk Top 3 Axis CNC Milling Machine
Here is a way to make a computer controlled milling machine. That puts the real power of a computer control machining into the hands of the average human. Small enough to set on the desk but scalable to any size. As inexpensive as possible without sacraficing accuracy (too much). All most all the parts can be purchased in local retail stores. And above all CHEAP you can be up and running for well under $200. With it you can do 2 Dimentional engraving and PC board etching and 3D milling and modeling in Foam, Wood, Plastic and other soft materials.
Also try watching the YouTube movie at the end (the last frame).

New information on the Motor Driver Circuit is (HERE).

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Step 1: The Frame

Picture of The Frame
The frame needs to be a flat base that you can mount everything on horizontally and a goose neck of some kind to hold the Z axis (the up and down part with the motor tool)firmly in place. I used one inch pipe just for fun but as it turned out it was pretty handy too. When I needed to make adjustments I could just tap it with a hammer. As you can see the post that holds the Z axis doesn't have to be in the center. It just needs to be firm and the water pipe does a good job of that. Later, after you are sure all the pipe joints are in the right place, you can add a drop of thread sealer to the joints and it will be a good solid structure.
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Quick question. What type of bit did you use for drilling into the steel? I had quite a bit of trouble with my current bits. Threading it was a breeze though.
Tom McGuire (author)  userhck7 years ago
I found that a sharp bit works the best (just Kidding). I just used a regular high speed steel bit. It's hard but after you get the X Asis rails and motor set you don't have to drill steel any more.
Well that's good. I guess I'll try a higher speed on the press. Oh by the way, what kind of motors did you use? They look like Vexta, but i'm not sure. I am about to order some Superiors myself, don't know how well they will mount to the frame though. Guess I'll find out.
Tom McGuire (author)  userhck7 years ago
I got two of the motors out of an old coppier and one out of a floppy drive. They all worked at different voltages but all I had to do is change the light bulb to get the torq that I wanted. Slightly larger motors wouldn't hurt, The smaller ones tend to get a little hot. As long as you've got more than 4 wires comming out of it you can be 99% sure it will work with the circuit.
Well I am using a pre-made driver board, and the motors are 60oz, so ill be able to use them later hopefully.
fjr1226 years ago
I just won the auction on some stepper motors on ebay and am looking in more detail at building this. I just wanted to ask you to please explain the roller bearings in more detail, like what kind you used and how you secured them to aluminum you used. Thanks --Josh
Tom McGuire (author)  fjr1226 years ago
OK here I just posted a youtube video on how to make a bearing fixture. Enjoy

Awesome! Thanks a lot for posting extra videos to give us a better idea how some of the parts were done. Question -- Where did you get the tiny bearings? I'm having an awful time trying to find a source for bearings. Thanks in advanced, and thanks a lot for keeping up with us.
Scratch my question -- I should have read more comments. Thanks everyone.
Cool, I will start building mine soon. :)
Tom McGuire (author)  fjr1226 years ago
I just discovered a really good source for bearings. Just go to your local skate board or roller blade shop. Or try this
Then just take a flat head screw with a head that's a little larger than the hole inside the bearing. Screw the bearing to a small piece of aluminum.
I'll try to put up a video of it soon.
I've been looking at bearings for months.

The least expensive I've found is definitely .
They have many many sizes and more than a few that are less than $1/bearing.

The last time I built something with bearings the best way I could figure to get a solid structure was to use some 8mm shoulder bolts from (about $3 each) and some 8mm washers ($0.79 each). So I'm really wondering how you got your bearings good and steady without using shoulder bolts or expensive washers.
gus_4520006 years ago
Some photos of the build so far, everything is going very well and I am very pleased with it so far. Hope that Tom can still recognise his design but here in UK very limited to what I can get hold of, hopefully the bits for the interface will arrive and I can build that and see if it all works :o)) The mini tool I found in a second hand shop for £3.00 about $6.oo and works very well up to 25,000RPM and 145watts so we shall see. Keep building and posting, you started something very good here Tom. Will post again when the interface is built and I have some photos of the fist mill. regards Gus
Hi, I loved your frame design! Can you please post the height, length and width of it? Thanks
Hi, the back piece is 14" long the legs are both 9" long and the neck is 9" long all working except for the Z-axis due to a faulty counter chip (replacement on its way, Mine is almost finished and as you build you notice the weight going up and up, its now very heavy. Thanks to Tom's great design been using the machine to draw pictures and lifting lowering the Z-axis by hand, great fun. regards Gus
In case you need to know the X-axis on mine are 19 1/2" and the Y-axis is 11 1/2" the neck is 4" away from the end of the frame, try and get it a little closer to the end is you can it will give you a slightly larger cutting area. regards Gus
Tom McGuire (author)  gus_4520006 years ago
Hey Gus looking good. That's the first Z axis I've seen. I think everybody gets a little stuck there. Now for the motor drivers and you'll be up and running.
ERockDesigns2 months ago

Hi Tom,

You've concieved of an amazing machine. My wife and I made a milling machine we call the ThrAxis based on your frame and stage design. I've written a blog post about what we built at

Thank you so much for your inspiration and hard work getting this design made and documented.

jameshumig3 months ago

You know, I started looking at instructables for CNCs about two years ago. I started building your version, then I saw the drawer slide version, then started looking at the buildyourcnc design. At one point I decided to try out a hybrid of the three and had the x and y axis going, but never finished the Z axis. After starting on a new version that was mostly based on the buildyourcnc design my family and I ended up moving across the country (south to north, not that it matters). I'm just now getting back to building a CNC, and although I won't be building your design I do feel that it is worth saying that your instructable was definitely an inspiration. Thank you.



fenwaydog7 months ago

Is it possible to get software that allows me to hook this directly to a computer and have the computer direct the motor versus the computer sending data to a cnc 3 axis driver then to the motors?

haseogu10 months ago
What can we do so this CNC can mill the metal?
And where will i get that pipe (frame)?
PCgee10 months ago
Could i use other types of pipe such as pvc as they are a lot easier to drill through?
david xu11 months ago
Cool ! if any one want the parts of the machine , frame , driver , motor,spindle,ball screw ect ,please contact me at or skype:david02162
lewac11 months ago
just ran across this site and more specifically this design. what I'm looking for is a method of auto pick & place without draining Fort Knox! I don't have a lot of room to do this either and have relatively small PCBs (not motherboards) on my build list. and what impressed me here was KISS. using "skids"! now why didn't more people think of this? my requirements require only very light loading (the machine weighs a LOT more than what I'm working with) so this concept should work perfectly. before beginning though gotta take a look at this software. I run win7 out of a VM under linux so both OS's are available (but prefer linux). also need to purchase a parallel port daughter board (as my motherboard no gots). I've already built 3 unipolar motor drivers so all set there. I can also use my 10 amp bench power supply to power this project.
Diynitesh11 months ago
could you tell me all the elecs used
Is this anything like these Vertical Milling Machines? Looks awesome.
Yes the 3 axis machine as built in this instructable will do the same basic thing as those 3 axis machines on the link you provided. Although some of those machines have larger work areas, this machine can be scaled up to provide a much larger size of work area, albeit for about $20,000 to $40,000 less in price.
rfelts1 year ago
Tom I love this design. What kind of resolution are you getting for circuit boards?
R-A1 year ago
Wow, this is the easiest CNC milling machine design I've seen yet.

But, I have one major problem: Neither my PC, nor laptop has parallel ports, nor do I even know where to get a parallel printer cable in my country anymore. Is it possible to use a USB print cable instead, or perhaps even an Arduino? I've seen many 3D printer projects (but haven't built one yet) that use an Arduino to send the sketch to the stepper driver.
Hi nice work, I am planning on doing something like this myself but one trouble I'm having is that my 8mm milling bits won't fit into the tiny chuck of any dremels I've seen, I would like to know how you got around this? Cheers.
ksafaet1 year ago
great ... i should try....
dmlong1 year ago
What is the brand and size of the motor used for your CNC machine?
blinkizod1 year ago
Awesome project mr. Mcguire...
i am from Guatemala city (Central America) I wish someday build a 4x8 feet cnc with a friend but here is some hard to get the information and materials... but would be a great idea import the motors and drivers from USA. we are looking for information because due to language is some hard to find projects like CNC in spanish pages i appreciate your help. greetings from Guatemala

vkorie1 year ago
it is time to put all that we know together in other to propagate the gospel of technology...
batonas1 year ago
that drill thing is stationary so a vacuum cleaner hose could be mounted to it to clean up the mess at the same time, but I guess its not a problem to clean up that little mess by hand :)
timbit19851 year ago
Also, approximately what size did you make your stages?
timbit19851 year ago
Hey Tom, I love your project. Do you have a link to the stepper motors you used? I'm trying to figure out what size motors I need.
j-rhod241 year ago
would this be able to mil 7075 aluminium about 8" wide 6" tall and 1 1/2" thick?
I cant wait to do this... I have a question though... I am electronically ignorant, I will be buying a kit with the motors and the drivers and such (do you recommend a kit). my first question is, do I NEED a parallel port? I only have a laptop and it has no parallel port on it.
im.brad1 year ago
Please remember to always clamp your work pieces in a vice before drilling. Do not hold small pieces with your hand and drill. This can be an easy habbit to get into, but it can be a dangerous mistake that can cost you the use of your hand.
Great Instructable btw! Really enjoyed it.
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