Introduction: Tiny Milling Machine

Picture of Tiny Milling Machine

I was talking to a fellow member of my school's robotics team, and we got to thinking that we should build ourselves a CNC mill to machine custom parts with.  While doing some research, I came across and Instructable called "How to make a mini milling machine- manual or CNC!."  The design of this particular machine is very good for a small scale milling machine, and I got to thinking I could scale it down even farther- much farther.  This project is the result.

Now that the Epilog contest has entered the voting phase, please remember to vote for me if you liked this project!

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

It really does not take much in the way of materials to build this.  Here are the tools and materials I used.

Square dowels- lots of them, a few different sizes helps
1/8" plywood.  Mine is marine mahogany, because I have some scraps of it.
Furniture nails- use anything thicker and the wood will split almost every time
Wood glue
Drill with lots of small bits
Brass tubing
Stainless steel axles- these can be taken from RC cars
3 long bolts and twice as many nuts
Dremel tool with flexible shaft attachment. (Other rotary tools will work just as well, such as THIS ONE fro Craftsman
Box cutter- for cutting the brass tubing
Wood carving knife
"U" screws with bolts

Step 2: Building the Base

Picture of Building the Base

In this mill design, the base of the mill contains the Y axis.  To approximately match the length of the axles, I made the base 3.25" square.  To make the rails for the platform to slide on, I drilled 4 holes through opposite sides so that the axles fit parallel to each other at the same height.  All the joints are both nailed and glued in place.

Step 3: Level Up

Picture of Level Up

The next platform up contains the X axis.  It is constructed similarly to the base, but with dimensions of 1.25" by 2.75", and the rails are raised up.  On the base of this level, two sockets are fixed that slide on the rails of the base.  The sockets are short segments of dowel which have been drilled out and have a piece of brass tubing in them.

Step 4: Building the Platform

Picture of Building the Platform

The platform is the part of the mill that whatever you are milling is fixed to.  I estimated the range of motion of the mill, and cut a platform to the corresponding size out of mahogany plywood.  Onto the bottom, I fixed sockets that slide on the rails of the second platform.

Step 5: Building the Tower

Picture of Building the Tower

The tower is the part of the mill that holds the motorized part of the mill (in this case a Dremel flex shaft) and contains the Z axis.  This was once again built with square wooden dowels.  Unfortunately, I ran out of stainless steel axles, so I used some thiner brass tubing instead.  It is very important that the tower extends the right amount outwards, or the milling bit will not be able to cover all of the platform.  With this design, the bit has to be a little in front of the center of the base.

Step 6: Building the Tower, Cont.

Picture of Building the Tower, Cont.

The next step is to build the part of the tower that will actually move up and down, and will hold the dremel.  The base of this part is made up of more plywood.  I added two segments of dowel down the middle and carved their corners out to fit the contours of the dremel attachment.  On the back of the piece, I fitted two more sockets to slide on the rails of the tower.

Step 7: Adding the Movement

Picture of Adding the Movement

In order to make the platform and milling bit actually move, I had to add lots of threads.  In the base of each moving part, between the two rails, I fixed a set of nuts that a long bolt fits through.  If the bolt is held in place and turned, the platform moves forward or backward depending on the direction you turn the screw.  The end of each bolt was fixed with a locknut and a piece of wood to stop it from moving.  It is critical that the nuts are lined up perfectly perpendicular to the rails, or when the bolt passes through them it will not be parallel, which will cause problems when the platform moves.

Step 8: Mounting the Dremel to the Tower

Picture of Mounting the Dremel to the Tower

I mounted the Dremel attachment to the mill using "U" shaped bolts and some perforated aluminum.  In order to not block the rails, the lower U bolt was bent at a 90 degree angle, and the threads protrude forwards instead of backwards like the first.  I bent a piece of perforated aluminum to fit around the Dremel and hold it in place when bolted down.

Step 9: Attaching the Tower

Picture of Attaching the Tower

Mills tend to work better when they are fully assembled, so I had to find a way to sturdily fix the tower to the base of the mill.  I started out by simply nailing and gluing it to the base, but this proved to be fairly flimsy, so I built a larger base and triangular supports for the tower.  

Step 10: Setup and Final Pictures

Picture of Setup and Final Pictures

To actually use the mill, will need to mount whatever you are milling to the milling platform.  I accomplished this with very small wood screws.  Obviously, this will not work with any material more substantial with wood, but past that point the entire mill would probably break, so it is not really an issue.  It is helpful to hang your dremel up above the mill while using it, so that the weight of the flex shaft does not tip the mill over.  I have a loft bed, which makes hanging it above my desk very easy.

If you have a practical use for this mill, be sure to let me know! My current plan is to put it to work carving designs into chocolate bars, but not much else has come to mind.  You can see this project, along  with others of mine, here as well.


RickBeers (author)2013-04-14

I really like that you were able to use basic materials you could find laying around the house to build an simple vertical mill. Anything can be purchased, but for the DIY project, your evolving efforts could lead to a very professional system while also learning a great many skills during development.

I could see this as a 3/16" plywood kit that could be sold for educational purposes.

My personal favorite for a DiY CNC Vertical Mill: made from computer parts

The low-cost alternative for small-travel parts (~$60):

Low-cost complete CNC xyz systems:
and many other sources to include those built in the USA

RickBeers (author)2013-04-14

From this you can build parts for a plastic-based milling machine.

From the plastic based machine the parts for a metal-based machine can be built.

From the metal-based machine the scaling up to a larger machine, and optional CNC machine can be constructed.

Nice work, well done.

bigbodysmallbrain (author)2011-03-04

add stepper motors to that lead screws and have a cnc choclate engraver. then sell custom engraved choclate bars

Ideal for drilling holes in PCB for IC's

BuildIt6000 (author)2011-10-27

Nice project. The discussion of a CNC mill at the beginning is a tad misleading. Just thought you might want to know that.

tilmen (author)2011-07-20

Good project

rickharris (author)2010-11-25

nice build - will the next stage be to add stepper motors and connect to your PC??

ben_k (author)rickharris2010-11-26

I don't think so. As cool as that would be, I doubt I'd be able to do so with out doing some major modifications to parts of the design. Also, I don't know of any stepper controllers small enough for this project.

HOWITZER (author)ben_k2011-07-05

use servo motors, they are small and strong, also easy to control them.

fly_boy_bc (author)ben_k2010-11-29

Why does the controller have to be small? Use the guts from an old 3-in-one printer/scanner/fax for the steppers AND circuitry. There is a good "ible" for just this idea.

ben_k (author)fly_boy_bc2010-11-29

I just think it would be a little silly to have to lug around a stepper controller that is twice the size of the actual milling machine. Not that this is the most practical device anyways...

fly_boy_bc (author)ben_k2010-11-30

There is an "ible" on making a desktop mill from plumbing. It also details a controller ripped out of a printer. The controller is about the size of a large cellphone.

ben_k (author)fly_boy_bc2010-11-30

This one?

If that's the one you are talking about, the controller is not from a printer:

it uses the parallel port from a printer, but that's it.

fly_boy_bc (author)ben_k2010-11-30

Poorly phrased it uses the COMPUTERS port and the controller chips from a printer. Anyway free parts and very small controller.

ben_k (author)fly_boy_bc2010-11-30

The instructables I linked to never mentions the use of controller chips from a printer... and it is obviously not "ripped out of a printer" like you said, because he has pictures of the circuit board he etched himself.

fly_boy_bc (author)ben_k2011-03-13

The CHIPS were ripped out of a printer.

you could always buy a HobbyCNC Easy driver board, (only $60 and the board is like 3" x 3")


Zinventor (author)ben_k2010-11-30

I made a similar device to this for use with my MakerBot Cupcake CNC 3D printer, the software suports both deposition and machining, as it's normal use is as a ABS Plastic Deposition 3D printer, however, using designs such as or it's pretty easy to add a dremel, letting you do subtractive machining as opposed to the additive process used by the extruder...


ben_k (author)Zinventor2010-11-30

Nicely done! I like how you printed the fitting for it with the MakerBot.

Mr Williams (author)2011-05-14

You (or your school) don't happen to be a part of FIRST, do you?

ben_k (author)Mr Williams2011-05-14

No, I'm not. We don't really have the budget for FIRST, so we've done VEX for the last two years.

iurius (author)2011-04-15


I looked at the picture and an old joke came to my mind:

The first Soviet electronic wrist watch is being showed at an international exhibition. A visitor: "Nice watch! But, what's the idea with this truck behind?"
The exhibitor: "Well, you see, it's carrying the batteries..." :)

This could definitely be "World's Smallest Milling Machines", but, unfortunately, the tail is bigger than the dog.

I suggest installing a small high speed motor with a drill head on the machine.

Goog Luck!

dergon (author)2010-12-21

Wow apple computers suck

ben_k (author)dergon2010-12-21

Not when you get them for free, which I did.

dergon (author)ben_k2011-02-05

You got what you paid for.

ac1D (author)ben_k2010-12-30

You got that for free? Woah. Lucky, you are!
If you can get any more, and want to sell, contact me. I am actually looking for one. Tell me the spec, and the price you want for it. Ill also pay shipping, ofc.

woodstockbirdy (author)dergon2010-12-23

NO!!! There just not that good for gaming.

profpat (author)2011-02-03

nice work!

now, how to attach your device to a stepper motor?

Timofte Andrei (author)2011-01-17

it's a lil bit rough but the main idea it's really cool :) i will ask my grandpa to build this for my dremel :) using steel :D good luck :)

ben_k (author)2011-01-01

I milled "YUM" into a chocolate bar for fun. The underline messed up the bottoms of the letters a bit, but it turned out okay:

reyad22 (author)2010-12-24

nice jop my frind thax

venancio (author)2010-12-20

it's incredible and seems simple!!, liked it!

blazinEagle (author)2010-12-13


fedIRE (author)2010-12-13

Crank that milling machine

sdudley (author)2010-12-04

I really like this idea. I might attempt it and in keeping with the simplicity, add DC motors that are controlled via a joystick.

fly_boy_bc (author)2010-11-29


Not even CLOSE!

You can buy a castings set for an ALL METAL horizontal milling machine from several sources which is LESS THAN 1/4 the size of this one! (they also have a lathe,shaper,drillpress,bench grinder etc.

Real functioning machines for metalworking.

I have also seen perfect fully functional scale models of Bridgeport machines WITH built-in cooling pumps and gooseneck lamps about HALF the size of your device.

ben_k (author)fly_boy_bc2010-11-29

I've seen the bridgeport ones, and they are not smaller:

Could you post the link to the first one you mentioned? I'm curious to see how it was designed.

But anyways, the main purpose of the title is to catch peoples' attention. "world's smallest milling machine" is much more interesting a title than anything else I could think of.

fly_boy_bc (author)ben_k2010-11-30

You mean the one you saw at the Craftsmanship Museum was not smaller. The one made by my machining mentor and about 200 other people IS.


ben_k (author)fly_boy_bc2010-11-30

One of the ones at the craftsmanship link said it was 'thought to be the world's smallest bridgeport machine' or something along those lines, so that's why I figured that. Thanks for the link, that machine's pretty cool. I'm not sure I understand how it works though, as it seems the milling bit would be parallel to the milling table, not perpendicular to it. Maybe it is a type I have never seen before. Lastly, do you happen to have any pictures of the mill your mentor made, or any similar ones? I'm interested in seeing the design.

fly_boy_bc (author)ben_k2010-11-30

If you do not count the TABLE that the mill is SITTIN ON then the BP you have been referring to is MUCH MUCH smaller than yours. Your X,Y translation stage is about FOUR TIMES the size of the mentioned machine.

The castings are for a horizontal milling machine. Yours is vertical.

dlginstructables (author)2010-11-29

Very nice! Please post a photo or video when you successfully make something with the mill.

savant77 (author)2010-11-28

I like your base, but that headstock looks ultra flexy. I would suggest using the plywood here in the shape of a " C" where it is also the stand that your table sits on. Two parallel C's with everything else you have should make it a little more sturdy.

I really like your project, I like how you have it setup too, maybe one day we will running these things off our computer USB! LOL

ben_k (author)savant772010-11-28

It was flexy at first, bit this was fixed later on, when it was attached to the base- note the triangular supports.

mmbutler (author)2010-11-28

Caveat: You do need to be concerned with how much side force you apply and how much "runout" the tool/bit has.

But KUDOS for executing. I've been toying with the idea of doing that with my Dremel drill press rig for a while now, only actually doing it NC.

Thanks for the kick in the pants!

mathieulj (author)2010-11-27

Very nice. The first mill instructable I can actually make in my little apartment :)

thepelton (author)2010-11-27

Thin pieces of plywood can be found at

Uncle Kudzu (author)2010-11-25

Making it small, manual, and from such common materials makes this accessible to me in a way that has me looking much more closely at these machines and their possibilities. Very educational for me!

Do you have an example of something you've done with this little machine?

f3rg (author)2010-11-25

Doesn't Dremel already make one of these?

ben_k (author)f3rg2010-11-25

Dremel has a drill press accessory, but no mill as far as I know

rimar2000 (author)2010-11-25

Very good!

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