Introduction: Bigtime Basement Build CNC for Laser and Wood Projects
For this CNC build, I went after a laser, wood, and aluminum cutter/carver. Comparable units from reputable manufactures are over $2000. This one came in under $800.
While I was at it, I made an Arduino Shield to simplify connections and developed new software for hobbyists to drive their custom CNC machines, called the Raising Awesome Carver. This Instructable is to show other enthusiasts how to design, build, and assemble such a thing - as well as offer insights to making your own GCode pusher to GRBL. I also share all my Autodesk 360 design files in case you want to modify for your own design.
Set of Allen Wrenches (usually comes with some of the parts)
Drill and bits
Chop Saw with Aluminum Cutting Blade
Below are direct links to the US store where I bought the materials. The parts are common and readily sourced even with the present world supply chain woes. Links surely will not work in all countries, but to the enthused, you can surely source items by the descriptions. In hindsight, it's a lot of little parts, but because I built from the bottom up over a couple of months, I was able to sneak in such a large project a few parts at a time without getting in trouble with the wife. :-)
Partical Board and MDF to your size desire
2x4's for frame underneath the partical board
24 Volt 6 Amp Power Supply Adapter,100-240V AC to DC 24V 6A Power Adapter with 5.5mm x 2.1mm DC Output Jack Transformers US Plug for LED Strip Light,Security Cameras, Computers - - Amazon.com (for Laser)
TOBWOLF DC 12V 5A Power Supply Adapter 50/60HZ, US Plug, 6.2FT Power Cord, AC 100-240V to DC 12V 5A Switching Transformer Jack 5.5mm x 2.5mm for LED Strip, Light, Cameras CCTV : Electronics (amazon.com) (x3)
Fulton 110V Single Phase On/Off Switch with Large Stop Sign Paddle for Easy Visibility and Contact for Quick Power Downs Ideal for Router Tables Table Saws and Other Small Machinery: Amazon.com: Tools & Home Improvement
Amazon.com: Wendry 3D Printer Motor Mount Plate, NEMA23 Stepper Motor Mounting Plate, Aluminum Mount Plate Flat Bracket for CNC 3D Printer, 3D Printer Parts Motor Mount Holder, 3D Printer Accessories(Black) : Industrial & Scientific
300mm 8mm T8 Lead Screw Set Lead Screw+ Copper Nut + Coupler+Hexagon Wrench + Pillow Bearing Block for 3D Printer: Amazon.com: Industrial & Scientific(just need the copper nut and lead screw actually)
Amazon.com: 80W Laser Module, 10W Optical Power, Laser Cutting Head with Sliding Plate, Compressed Spot, Eye Protection, Compatible with DIY Laser Engraving Cutting Machine/CNC Machine/Metal/Acrylic…(optional laser)
Step 1: Build the Base Table
For the base table, I first screwed particle board to 2x4s. I had Home Depot cut the widths for me to make it easy to haul home and save me the trouble of cutting.
I then installed the rails. I made sure they were perfectly perpendicular simply by measuring with a yard stick. After that, I installed a "spoil board" which was just a MDF panel in between the rails. Optionally, as I did, you can install a Tee Track for hold down clamps as pictured. (Make that your first carving project - just carve right into the spoil board)
Step 2: 3D Print the 3D Gantry Mounts
I actually didn't buy anything beyond the lumber and rails until I made this part and assessed if it would work. It was the deal breaker for me. It needed to not shatter upon the first machine crash. It needed to lock the c-rail in place with zero play.
So, I winged the design from my gut with Fusion 360 against hand measured rail bearing blocks. The results were impressive. If you don't own a 3D printer - stop here and get or build one. It is the most useful of the CNC for the home maker.
Step 3: Assemble the Gantry
You can buy a fully assembled linear actuator kits from OpenBuilds.com or you can print and assemble from my supply list. If you buy, wait until it arrives to confirm the spacing between your rails in Step 2 or you'll either be short or too long. If you assemble, refer to the pictures above to see how they Lego together. Below is the 3D printer file for the end plates.
Step 4: Assemble the Z Axis
The Z axis is very much just like the X axis, just shorter. Refer to the picture above to see how it Legos together.
I use a Makita router as my spindle. It has a variable speed dial. Compared to having a separate variable speed drive and spindle, this is a much, much more affordable solution. I don't see me outgrowing it - but possibly it may spin too quickly for aluminum milling. For wood Carving, of course, it is awesome.
My laser is one of the new designs that combines two 5W lasers. It can cut through 1/2" plywood in one pass. Crazy awesome. The bummer is, it's about a 1/3rd of the cost of the entire build. However, I find myself using the laser more than the wood carving - primarily to mark cut lines and paint stencils.
Step 5: Install the Motors
For the Y axis (pictured left), the motors mount with 3D printed brackets. For the Z (vertical axis), I used a purchased metal bracket as shown above. For the X axis (the cross member), I made a bulky 2-piece spacer that allowed me to adjust belt tension. You may just be able to use the same metal bracket I used on the Z access, though. The 3D printer files are below.
Step 6: Install the Electronics
For the electronics, I used off the shelf motor drivers. You wire them up per the labels on their cases. To make the connections strong on the Arduino, I designed and made a shield at PCBWay. You can make one out of protoboard, buy one online, or get mine at PCBWay.
To wrangle the cables, I 3D printed some brackets found below.
Step 7: Run a Project
Now for the fun part - Driving around the gantry and carving a project.
Autodesk Fusion 360 is best for generating GCode. It's free to the hobbyists. With that, they are changing the future of the world. As I see with my son, the next generation of engineers will do remarkable things - with a great thanks to Autodesk Fusion 360 team making this product available to young inspiring minds.
You will also need software to push that Gcode to the Arduino with a firmware that will drive the stepper motors. LaserGRBL and Candle are two very well supported free packages for this, but I'm looking to introduce a third that handles both Laser and Wood carving.
Let's talk firmware. To control the stepper motors, the Arduino Uno runs a github package titled GRBL which you need to flash to the Uno. The easiest way to do that is to install LaserGRBL on your Windows machine and use the Flash option in the menu. LaserGRBL is good to have regardless for laser etching.
However, with LaserGRBL and Candle, I found myself getting frustrated with my mistakes when driving the gantry. I'd drag my bit along my work piece or accidently push a wood carve gcode to the laser which would end in me staring bare eyed at a laser beam when the Z axis suddenly raised the laser 20 mm into full view.
Sure, call me a CNC rookie, but by today's standards, software can be a little smarter to prevent such mistakes. Heck, cars are driving themselves these days - why not have the CNC coded to know when it's about to ruin your workpiece. So, I continued this hyper obsession on to the Unity Engine to make a CNC driver.
You can get my software here: Raising Awesome Carver
To avoid repeating info, here is a link to another Instructable I made for the Raising Awesome Carver: 3018 CNC Getting Started Guide With the Raising Awesome Carver : 6 Steps - Instructables
Step 8: Summary
That's it! As you see, it's really just a big-boy Erector-Set. Excluding trimming/pulling cables, it takes longer to order and print the parts than to assemble. Our first project to be made with it is a Stratocaster Re-imagined Eddie's Guitar from Stranger Things 4. Pictured above the pickguard and body design we made.
If this project seems a bit daunting, a quick way to get into CNC is simply buy the cheapest 3018 CNC you can find. This gives you a handy tool great for indoor projects at the kitchen table. That is what inspired me. I hope this build will inspire you!
Step 9: Bonus Tool
After using our CNC for a week, we quickly realized we needed a way to manage dust. It got very old holding a shop vac which still just left dust everywhere. So, we researched some images and designed our own. This is somewhat of a tool-for-a-tool, so we figured we would include it with this build.
The attachment can be a tight fit, so if you look to use it, you be sure to double check measurements and modify to your design.
You'll need to repurpose some old paint brushes or even better, buy this:
This is an entry in the
Build a Tool Contest