This is a ridiculously easy (in terms of power tool use - see below) way to make a lower precision XY Table.  With the wide availability of T-Slot extrusions on Amazon and Ebay, and using simple home improvement store hardware, this is a great way to build these kinds of projects.  Using patio door rollers on an angle is a low cost and easy way to handle what are often complex mechanics on CNC machines.

You can try this project out live on the Internet!  It's at the TeleToyland Sandbox 2.

This is a second version of a previous Instructable, and is another approach to making a lower cost, lower precision XY table.

How easy is "ridiculously easy"? Here is a list of all the fabrication required:
1) For each of the six timing belt pulley brackets, cut 2.25" of channel aluminum, drill two 1/2" holes (pro-tip: use a step drill), and two 13/64" holes.
2) Cut 7" off the ends of two 1"x2" t-slot extrusions.

That it! The rest is like assembling an Erector set. Nuts and bolts. T-Slot is so cool! :-)

The previous approach is working well, but having the ability to easily adjust each of the parts is a great advantage of the T-Slot.  Tightening the timing belts with screws in wood can be challenging to get just right, but with T-Slot it's very easy.  While the cost is a bit higher by using bearings vs. drawer slides, we don't have the drawer slides sticking out like we do now, getting tripped over and caught in bicycle spokes. :-)

In addition to the T-Slot, we tried to keep the parts easily available (i.e. from home improvement stores), and as always, requiring the least amount of precision drilling etc.  We've built a lot of projects, and anything that requires a hole to be drilled in a particular spot seems to be hard to get just right.  We do have the tools - punches, drill presses etc., but it's just cooler to be able to use a hacksaw and hand drill! :-)

Here's a video of it in operation during testing:

Step 1: Parts

T-SLOT  (~$85):   We used the 1" 10 Series line from 80/20.  We didn't look around too much, and there are definitely other manufacturers.  The 80/20 product is available on Amazon and Ebay, so it was easy to obtain.  For this project, the 1" profile seemed good.  The 20mm profile (about 3/4") flexed a bit at the spans we had.  We have seen some nice CNC tables made with the 1.5" profiles - they look great, but we did not need that amount of strength for the Sandbox.

We used 1"x1" profiles for two of the X axis sides, 1"x2" profiles for the other two sides (to allow the Y axis rollers and drive belts more clearance), and a 1"x3" piece for the Y axis. 

All pieces are 48" long
(2) 1"x1"
(2) 1"x2" - cut 7" off the end of these to make the Y stage Chassis
(1) 1"x3"

OK, we are going off the T-Slot script here.  You can get very nice connectors from the manufacturers, and they work really well, but the cost can add up.  For the 1" T-Slot, though, we found that #10 machine screws with square nuts works pretty well.  The square nuts are better than hex since they won't spin in the slot.  Also, they can just fit in sideways if you are in a situation where another screw is blocking the track.  You can get these at the hardware store, or order them from McMaster-Carr - in stainless, but that is not a requirement.  This hardware is available from many other sources.

For the list below, "M" is the McMaster-Carr part # - nothing special about them - just what we used.  Small Parts Inc. might be a good source too. For some of the brackets, the Stanley brand from the hardware store seemed better - the holes were more uniform and better aligned - the best ones are in the links below.  The screws and most of the plates can be found at local hardware / home improvement stores too - larger quantities, hex heads, stainless etc. may be easier to find at online parts suppliers or maybe you have a nice hardware store nearby, but for the lower quantity items, any old hardware store screws are fine too. We used the stainless ones - some people prefer the black oxide finish.

(4) 3/4" angle Brackets - to hold the 1x2 t -slot to the 1x1 t-slot to make the frame - we got them at OSH - The 7/8" ones at McMaster will work, but the holes are not consistent, so order a bunch and pick out the best ones.  Just make sure the vertical side holes line up with the middle of the T-Slot.  Getting extras of these is a good idea - we ended up using 4 more for the frame and you can also use them to hold the frame down to a workbench.
(8) 1" angle Brackets - for the Y axis carriage bearings
(4) 1.5" angle Brackets (M 1556A42) - for the X axis bearings - the main thing with these is that it's easier if the holes are in-line.
(4) 4" plates for the Y axis carriage
(42) 10-32 x 3/8" stainless screws - hex head (M 92949A263 - box of 100)
(4) 10-32 x 7/16" stainless hex head screws (M 92949A264 - box of 100 - way more than you need)
(46) 10-32 square nuts (M 94785A411)
(4) 10-32 washers (M92141A011)
(4) 10-32 split lock washers (M92146A550)
(12) 1/4-20 x 3/4" hex head cap screws (M 92240A540)
(12) 1/4-20 jam nuts (M 91847A029)
(12) 1/4-20 washers (M 92141A029)
(12) 1/4-20 split lock washers (M 92146A029)
(12) 1.5" (white) Nylon rollers (with brass ball bearings in the middle) for screen doors from Home Depot or here - this is the secret lower cost ingredient to this design! :-)  They are Prime-Line Products D-1506 1-1/2" Sliding Glass Door Rollers.  If you can't find the nylon ones, brass ones might work.  The angle brackets in this project were based on the 1.5" diameter ones, so that is the important  dimension.  The D-1799 rollers are the same - just cost a dollar or so more since they come with additional hardware.

For the angle brackets, you may need to drill out the holes that will be for the bearings to 1/4" for those 1/4" bolts. Some of the brackets we tried have holes that are big enough already - kind of hit-or-miss on that.


We used the same pulleys and belts as the previous project since they have been working well.  We greatly improved the brackets, though, and they can be made fairly easily with hand tools.  The T-Slot really shines here since adjusting the belts is now super-easy.

Channel Aluminum: This is to make the brackets for the bearings.  You will need at least 15" of 1.5"x1.5"x1/8" thick channel aluminum. McMaster-Carr may have this, but we got ours at Online Metals - 6063 T52 aluminum channel. They also sell 36" lengths on Amazon.  24" is $7.74. You will need to cut this into (6) 2.25" lengths, then drill two 1/2" holes in the sides and two 7/32" holes for the #10 bolts in the bottom of each (see step 5). Use a step drill for the 1/2" holes - it's way easier than trying to use a 1/2" bit.

(12) flanged bearings 1/4" inside diameter, and 1/2" outside diameter (just needs to match the holes in the aluminum channel) VXB.com Kit776 or similar (~$40/10 of them, or M 57155K323 - $5.70 each). 
(12) thin washers (M 93574A513) - these keep the collars from touching the outsides of the bearings - saves buying extended flanged bearings.
(6) timing belt pulleys (M 57105K21)
(3) 770XL037 timing belts (M 6484K454)
(12) 1/4" shaft collars (M 9414T6) or here
(2) 1/4" shaft couplers for the motors - see step 7 for options with these
1/4" shaft (plain - not threaded) - ~44" for the long piece on the X axis to prevent racking, and (2) 2.25" pieces, and (2) 3.25" pieces. aluminum or steel should be OK.  The steel one from my home store seemed more precise - the aluminum was slightly large for the shaft collars and bearings.
(3) 2" mending plates to hold the timing belts down to the t-slot


See step 7 for more detail, but you can drive this project in a number of ways.  Stepper motors will work (our slightly under-powered setup cost about $100), but we decided to use the Pololu JRK 21v3 motor controllers ($50), with motors like the Lynxmotion GHM-16 ($22) - you can get those elsewhere - they are 12v 200RPM gearhead motors with 6mm shafts (nicely close to the 1/4" shafts we are using).  We are using the same the 10-turn potentiometers from Jameco or Mouser etc. (Bournes 3540 series or similar ~$20). So, together, that's about $200. The advantage with this approach is that the position is absolute - no limit switches needed, but it's potentially less precise than steppers. The JRK controllers are easy to setup - they have a Windows app to calibrate and adjust them. You can control them from a Arduino or PC, or from a servo controller.

For the TeleToyland Sandbox, we control these with an Arduino ($30), and Ethernet Shield ($40).

<p>Hi, can i have the programming for this?</p>
<p>There is a link to the code in Step 9. Also, this project has some related code that might help: http://www.instructables.com/id/Table-Sized-Arduino-Joystick-Controlled-T-Slot-XY-/</p>
<p>CarlS,</p><p>Can this x-y table support 5-10 lbs of loading while moving?</p>
<p>Possibly. There is only one screw holding each roller wheel, so those may be OK, but it might be better with a more rigid structure and multiple screws per roller. Also, with that kind of weight, there would be a lot of inertia in the system, so ramping the motors up and down carefully would be important.</p>
<p>Thanks a lot for the response. So if we ramped the motors up and had a more rigid structure it sounds like we still should be fine. </p>
<p><a href="http://www.instructables.com/member/SachinY/" rel="nofollow"></a> <br></p><p><a href="http://www.instructables.com/member/SachinY/" rel="nofollow">SachinY</a>22 seconds ago<a rel="nofollow">Reply</a></p><p>Hi Carl,</p><p> Thanks much for <br>sharing this - this is great. I have a question, on step 5, picture 3, <br>can you give the details of all the pieces which will help us hold the <br>nylon ball bearing on the aluminum channel. I can see that you have:</p><p>a. Two washers (M 93574A513) and </p><p>b. Two flanged bearings (M 57155K323) </p><p>c. Pulley (M57105K21)</p><p>But <br> then you also have a cylindrical rod along with 2 black round things. <br>I'm <br> assuming it is a shaft with 1/2&quot; diameter along with a shaft collar (M <br>9414T6).Can you please let me know if this is correct. </p><p>Also for shaft, I'm planning to buy the following and then cutting it into 44&quot;, 2.25&quot; (2) and 3.25&quot; (2)</p><p><a href="http://www.mcmaster.com/#precision-shafts/=wesr2v" rel="nofollow">http://www.mcmaster.com/#precision-shafts/=wesr2v</a></p><p>Please let me know if this will work.Thanks a lot- your help is <br>is much appreciated.</p><p>Best,</p><p>Sachin</p>
<p>Yes, that is a short piece of the <strong><em>1/4&quot;</em></strong> shaft (not 1/2&quot;) since it fits on the inside of those 1/4&quot; ID bearings, and the black things are the shaft collars. I just got my shaft material from the local home store.</p>
<p>Thanks Carl for your prompt response. Much appreciated.</p><p>Best,</p><p>Sachin</p>
<p>Hi, Greetings from Colombia, I'm working doing a project for my university that is based on the xy table, you could be so kind as to let me see the code you used in Arduino please.</p><p>Thank You</p>
<p>Step 9 has some code, and also, this similar one that is joystick controlled. Hope that helps! http://www.instructables.com/id/Table-Sized-Arduino-Joystick-Controlled-T-Slot-XY-/</p>
<p>Hey CarlS,</p><p>outstanding Instructable! As a retired Mechanic and Mechanical Engineer your comment about having the &quot;Nice Toys&quot; to improve the fit of the parts I can suggest the following. The photos show the pulleys and shafts skewed to the slots. That is understandable since the slots are meant to easily insert a screw and nut and it's up to you to apply a square and tighten until red in the face to hold the alignment! One suggestion: there are u-tube and Instructables about soldering aluminum with a low temperature torch (propane or butane) that really holds. Cutting pieces of aluminum strap material a little oversize you can file the piece to just slide into the mating slot. Then, squaring the piece of aluminum to the piece you wish to locate, clamp it and solder away. Touch up with a fine tooth file can give you the fit you are looking for. No great expense, practice soldering on aluminum scrap, and when ready, build a machine that looks and is accurate. The aluminum solder holds up against stress and strain far beyond what you will face with your design here. Outstanding! Thank you for the instructable!</p>
<p>Thanks - good ideas!</p>
<p>hi..may someone help me in my project..i want to make project to move <br>object from one place to another base on this project </p><p>can i do it?and how..please help me</p>
<p>Hi, awesome project! I to would appreciate if you do not mind sharing code to control two 4 wire 12v stepper motors with a joystick or something of the sort, if you have know it. Also what the circuit would look like, sorry I'm really novice, but learning as implementing this into a school project.<br><br>thankyou inadvance, any direction will be helpful!<br><br></p>
<p>Hi, I am doing a similar project . I would appreciate if you do not mind to share your arduino code used to control the system especially the internet control.</p><p>Thanks in advance</p>
<p>I think I replied via message, but to get it in the comments... The code should all be in this Instructable, and I am happy to answer any questions.</p>
<p>Carl,</p><p>I would just like to say thank you for all the help. Your documentation was very easily to follow and adapt as needed for our XY stage application. Per my school requirements. Would it be okay if I add you as a reference along with the pdf build procedures in my thesis. An email concurrence is okay. Thanks a bunch once again. </p>
Absolutely. I'd love to see the report or some pictures of what you built. If you have anything online, I can also link from the site if you would like.
Appreciate the detailed instructions. This will be really helpful for my project. Would it be possible to get a copy of your arduino code used to controll your system with the stepper motors. This would really help for my project application. Thanks in advance
Thanks. I will PM you the code since it is not pretty! :-)
would you please send it to me too? thank you
May i have the code too for step motors?please
<p>I went ahead and added it to Step 7 since there have been a few requests.</p>
OK, I sent it
Thank you so much! :)
<p>How is the stepper controlled ? by joystick?</p>
<p>That was just a test, and hard-coded with an Arduino. If the project was switched to stepper motors, it would work as it does now - with commands being sent to the installation from the web site.</p>
<p>Congratulations on your work, your projects are awesome Carls.</p><p>Do you think im able to do the same with an arduino and an adafruit motor shield v2? </p><p>My project is similar to yours but with a positioning table, do you think it's better with step motors or servos ?</p>
<p>Most lower cost precision tables use stepper motors, so that may be worth checking. The Adafruit shield may work. With DC motors and potentiometers, you would need to write code for the motion control - preferably with PID control, which may work. For this project, I used the Pololu motor drivers to off-load that functionality. The other concern with the Adafruit board is if you can have motors with sufficient power to move a project of this size and mass - I am thinking that shield may not be able to supply quite enough power unless you are building a smaller one, but I have not tried it.</p>
Hi Carl <br>You instructions are amazing and I used your idea to base my project that uses the xy table on your design. The issue that I am having is that following the analog calibration the commands don't seem to correspond to a linear mapping i.e commanding the jrk to go to 2045 does not drive the motor to the centre of the range. Rather it behaves somehow logarithmically. I have double checked the specs of my potentiometers and are definitely linear. I was wondering if you experienced a similar issue? <br>Thanks <br>Apollon <br>
Very nice work. <br> <br>I sent you a PM. <br>Bye Mr. Carl.
Beautiful project and a really nice write-up! <br> <br>I'm tempted to try something like this myself, but I find myself balking a little bit at the $50 (each!) motor controllers. Are there any other closed-loop options? Seems like it's just a microcontroller with an A/D input and an H-bridge... shouldn't be more than $10 in parts. But I know the devil is in the details. I know Pololu does great work, but were there any other options you considered?
Thanks! Most of the people who use this design use stepper motors, so that is one way to go. You would either need to manually home the system every once in awhile, or use limit switches and automatically home it...<br><br>For the DC motor approach, you may be able to use H-Bridge chips and an Arduino or something to do the motor control. I just like the JRK controllers since you can calibrate them (PID, max accel, and travel limits) easily with the Windows program.<br><br>For the Y Axis, you could use a hobby servo pulled apart - see the previous design Instructable that is linked in the intro of this one. For the Y axis, a reasonably powerful servo will work. For the X axis, though, there seems to be a bit too much momentum for regular higher power servos to handle. There are some monster servos, but then you are getting back up to the same price point.<br><br>Good luck!
What a great work! Congratulations.
I have a very strong motivation to build my own mill, or cnc machine. I VERY much like your choice of frame materials and overall construction method. But higher resolution will be necessary, as some of the parts will require military spec final dimensions. (Not aerospace specs mind you...) Stepper motors and a control system are obviously indicated. What other factors am I obviously missing? I am an absolute novice yet at this point. But, on a positive note, I'm very quickly assimilating information on processes and materials. My problem with many of the current build I see are materials used in construction, and especially max size of parts. I don't need to machine &quot;large pieces&quot;, but I need something larger than a pencil box.
You should definitely look at other home made CNC projects. This one was designed to be low cost and low precision, so it would not work for your application. Many of the materials (t-slot &amp; timing belts) are used in other CNC machines. Good luck!<br>
This is a great design and write-up, thanks for taking the time to document it so well. <br>I am looking to do something similar but on a rather smaller scale, roughly about 1/4 of what you've made. I want to be able to cut a designs into 3&quot; by 6&quot; sheets of 0.02&quot; vinyl. I will be using MicroRAX instead of T-Slot for the smaller cross-section, but what other changes would you recommend to fulfill those needs?
Another user was building a smaller one too, though I think he is using the same design with a smaller frame. It's important to note that this design is not very accurate since it's just a sand box. You most likely want stepper motors etc., and there are a lot of great CNC designs on the web. I have some MicroRAX, OpenBeam, and MakerBeam extrusions - all about 10mm, and you would definitely want to test it out to see how it flexes, but on a smaller scale, it might be great. Some of the 3D printers, like the BukoBot, also use T-slot, and work in a very similar fashion. Good luck! I am also interested in making a more portable one to show at Maker Faires etc.
Is it possible to purchase this as a kit or at least grab the parts from a single online retailer? :)
Sorry - it was a custom project. The parts and sources should all be listed, though.
@ CarlS, I'm looking to make a larger desing of this XY Linear table, do you know what changes in the potentiometer, motor, and controller will I need. I found longer T-slots, hardware and programing will be the same, but also can' <br>t find a longer timing belt right now. Do you think you could help point me in the right direction?
The motors and controller would be fine. The trick with the potentiometer, though, is that the design in the Instructable uses almost all of the 10 turns that the potentiometer allows. So, using the same setup would require some other approach - maybe gearing the potentiometer down (at a lower resolution), or a different approach like using stepper motors or DC motors + encoders. <br><br>For longer belts, I think they make ones that are adjustable - you make any length you want.<br><br>Good luck!
@ CarlS, <br>Thank you for the helpful hints. Hopefully the 10 turn potentiometer can be geared down enough to cover the length of the linear table. Would you think using one with more turns would also be ok? As far as the adjustable timing belts, I tried looking around for them but can't seem to find, would you happen to know where they sell those? <br>Thank you!
I guess getting one with more turns and gearing a 10-turn one down are about the same - you would be getting the same voltage range across the table. With either approach, you probably want to use as much of the range of the potentiometer as possible so you will get the most precision. If I were making a larger one, I would probably consider using steppers or a dc motor with encoders. <br> <br>For the belts, maybe this page will help. I have not used them myself. <br>http://www.mcmaster.com/#timing-belts/=ign0e1 <br> <br>I am not sure how you join them - the plate may work if it can travel from one pulley to the other, and not go around a pulley.
Thank you for your help, think I might gear down the 10-turn pot or try and find one with more turns, decided to use cable wire and more pulleys instead of trying to find an exact longer belt pitch pattern, we were planning to use 3x3&quot; frame t-slots, but the moving X and Y axis beams would still be 1 x 3&quot;. I couldn't quite tell but did you use the same motor for the X and Y axis? Also we may not need a pot if we use a stepper motor appication, but well see. And also I couldn't quite tell if you had a separate controller for the X and Y axis? BUt thank you for all your help, I love the design of the Arduino stage.
Yes, I used the same motors for each axis, and two JRK controllers - one for each axis. With the larger frame, momentum may be more of an issue, so the motors may or may not be powerful enough. You can set the ramp up/down with the JRK, so that may help.
Also, check out Matthew Epler's design below - he used steppers. I did some tests with those too. For my project, I needed it to be un-attended for long periods of time, so I opted for the potentiometers over using limit switches with steppers, but I could have gone either way - with steppers I would just have had an auto-home feature with the limit switches.
Hey there, I finished the seed-dropping machine based on your design. Couldn't have done it without you doing all the heavy lifting. Many thanks. I hope to put it in &quot;the field&quot; (heh) when it warms up. http://mepler.com/#2598027/Earth-Printer-A-Work-in-Progress
I just watched the video - very nice! What stepper drivers did you use?

About This Instructable




Bio: A Maker since childhood with all the classic symptoms, a robot builder, and an Internet software CTO by day.
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