Can you make functional Dremel accessories with parts salvaged from common electronic appliances? Why, yes... yes you can... and thanks for asking.
This guide shows how to make a "cutting sled" from either an old scanner or a smaller version from the carcass of a CD/DVD player. Both work really well for my level of needs and, with a few modifications, the same parts can be turned into a drill press, router-planer or template follower.
I also discuss how to make a 2-axis duplicator/copier for routing. Although this project did work, I can't call it a true success. It needs more improvements to be a really useful tool. I included it to give you some ideas to work with.
But why do all this? A Dremel (or any rotary tool) is meant for hand-held work isn't it? From previous lives, I know that somewhere between the skipping, chattering and crooked lines of hand-held Dremel work and the fancy, expensive CNC milling machines is the world of sleds, sliders, jigs, rigs and templates. I don't have an actual "shop" anymore, I barely even have a studio. And I don't really need a full shop since most of my hobby time is now spent with 3d design/printing and electronics projects.
But I recently started integrating wood, metal and plastics into my enclosure designs for my 3d and electronics projects. So I needed some precise parts and a way to create them with nothing but a Dremel tool. Hand holding the Dremel just wasn't giving me the results I needed.
Sure, you can buy great pre-made commercial products, but I have boxes and buckets of salvaged printer and scanner parts with more waiting to be torn apart and scavenged. So when I needed a sliding sled for my Dremel work, the most difficult part was selecting the easiest existing mechanism to work with from the wide variety of shapes and sizes that I already had.
I didn't expect the supposed one-time use to turn into a series of projects, but it did. Along the way I realized that there are many people who don't have or need a real shop or fancy commercial products - they just want a cheap way to straighten their Dremel cut lines. So I decided to document the process.
There are also better and more permanent ways of doing these projects. All of these ideas are inspired by previous creators, even other Instructable authors. The legendary mikeasaurus did a Easy Table Saw Sled, TheAccentPiece did a Router Flattening Sled, and Adran did a Dremel Carver/Duplicator. So the concepts are all classics.
But I wanted to keep everything as simple as possible. For example, a custom 3d printed mounting bracket would be better to hold the Dremel tool, but (I know it's hard to believe) a lot my artisan crafter friends don't even own a 3d printer. So I went with the hose clamps instead.
Basically, everything in these projects should be available from the garbage bin or the dollar store. You, of course, will make a much more refined and better functioning version.
Step 1: Finding and Using Salvaged Parts
Why scavenge parts when you could just buy them new? The best reasons to use salvaged parts are low cost and high quality. Commercial electronic appliances have precisely manufactured components that can easily be removed and re-used. With printer/scanner combos selling for less than $30, you could easily pay more just for the same quality parts than you would pay for the entire appliance. If you get the appliance for free, the cost is only time for the disassembly.
Check out my videos on salvaging parts from old electronics or how to re-use the control boards. Most people also want to harvest the motors, steppers and electronic components. For this project we only need the mechanical slides and sleds, but save the other stuff as well.
Let's take a look at what to find in typical appliances:
Most older scanners use a sturdy metal guide rail and follower. These are perfect to re-use in applications where you need precise and smooth linear motion. Although many people use just the shaft and maybe the follower, many scanners also have a stable base with mounting for the rail. (Some new scanners have a different mechanism.)
All we need for this project is the bottom of the case, the guide-rail shaft and the follower-sled. But there is so much more to scavenge
The follower is moved along the shaft rail by a belt that is often driven by a stepper motor. There are great instructables on making a full CNC mill from old scanners, but this is a much more complex project than what we will build here. Others have repurposed the built-in light and the high-quality stepper motors can be re-used in any number of projects from robots to clocks.
The trays and other mechanisms are made from sturdy plastic and metal. The motors and controllers are precise. I use the sliding plastic trays to create interesting actions in my electronics enclosures. The tiny stepper motors and gears are capable of very precise movement that can be re-used in all kinds of creative art projects. People have even made small CNC machines with the inner mechanisms. But this is the first time I've used a tray to create a functional tool.
Step 2: Router Sled From Old Scanner
When I realized I needed a cutting sled, my first thought was all those old scanners I had gathering dust. I have made lots of camera sliders and even some simple 2d drawing-bots with them. So I knew the linear rails would be strong and precise enough for my needs. And this project did not even need to be motorized.
I searched through my collection of scanners. Every one of them had a different shape and configuration. Many of the sliders would need to be modified to accept the Dremel tool. But I found one with a simple sled that made it easy to attach a Dremel. I had already gutted the sled, so all I had to do was remove the belt from the scanner base-plate and the sled to get a sturdy, moving platform that also lifted and rotated... everything I needed at the time.
I then secured the Dremel to the sled with a couple of hose clamps. That's about as simple and easy of a solution as I could find. It seemed sturdy enough, so I started testing it.
It worked great. I could move the Dremel back and forth easily. I could lift the Dremel to control the depth of cut or to make a plunge cut. I decided to test it on a metal washer, the kind I use in jewelry and craft projects.
You Still Need Clamps
The new cutter sled seemed secure at first, but I quickly realized that I still needed to clamp down any movable or throwable parts. The sled gave me more control than hand-holding the rotary tool, but not enough. The base of the scanner just wasn't heavy enough to resist movement. If I had the cutter emerging from the side attached to the guide rail it all operated smoothly, but the sled would bind and catch occasionally. And it would probably get worse as sawdust and metal chips started collecting on the rail and slider.
However, if I mounted the Dremel with the blade on the "floating" end opposite from the rail-side, the binding problem occurred more frequently. Whenever I applied too much torque or twisted the sled from the movable end, the sled would bind and the entire scanner-base moved. This is not a very safe arrangement.
I needed to clamp or bolt the scanner-base to a heavier, unmovable object. And unless I needed to manipulate the material being cut, it would be a good idea to use a clamp on the object as well. Both fixes were simple and eliminated most of the binding. It was easy to drill some holes through the scanner-base and secure it to some scrap wood. After that, even when the guide-sled did bind, everything remained in place - there were no flying parts or runaway blades. A few bolts and a clamp or two made it much safer, and also made it easier to work with.
So it wasn't perfect, but it worked... I could cut thick metal washers cleanly and easily. I could make very precise and repeatable cuts in wood much better than I could do by hand. I could sand out shallow perfectly straight and level strips, route straight and narrow grooves, turn corners. I could even cut sheet metal... with a few adjustments for blade size and angles.
Not bad for some free throw-away parts. I could see myself using this new cutting sled fairly frequently.
Oh No, I Have Another Idea:
For a brief moment, after the initial success, I considered adding more parts to turn this into a 3-axis manual mill with the possibility of automating it into a real CNC mill. Yes, you can make a nice drawing bot, or even a basic 3d printer from the same parts. However, it only took a few minutes of testing to determine a CNC mill was not a realistic idea.The scanner and other parts are reasonably well made, enough for a cutting sled to be sure. But even one degree of slop, multiplied on three axis, then multiplied again by distance, made the concept unfeasible. And when you start applying forces - significant lateral, twisting, turning forces - well, it just wasn't sturdy enough. There's a reason even the cheapest DIY CNC kits have all that bracing. Check out the 3d printed CNC build for an idea of what it takes to make a real, dependable CNC mill.
But it did give me an idea for a simpler, manually operated machine...
Step 3: Duplicator/Copier for Router
If I couldn't make a reliable CNC, maybe I could make a manually controlled "router duplicator." That seemed doable. And it was something I wanted.
I like to design and 3d print, but making everything with plastic was getting old. I wanted to be able to make wooden copies of the things I 3d printed. Making a duplicator seemed fairly easy. I looked up some other Instructables to get ideas and to understand how a duplicator actually worked. Once I thought I understood the basic concept I went searching through my junk harvest and started designing. I wanted my version to be flat and easy to store, move along two axis with a double flex in the third. And I needed to make it with parts that I and most other people could salvage.
The design worked, but it needs a lot of improvements. I decided to document it anyway, just in case anyone else is interested in making one.
I chose to use the ink-cartridge sled-assembly from an old inkjet printer to make the left-to-right guide rail. That's the part of the printer that moves the printhead back-and-forth over the paper. I had to clear out a lot of small parts to strip it down to just the carriage and rail. Once that was done I used the Dremel to carve the end of a heavy board so the carriage and rail fit onto the end of the board, then screwed the rail to the board.
There was not a flat face on the cartridge, no convenient place to attach the next piece of the duplicator. So I cut down a piece of wood to fit inside a small recess on the carriage, then screwed the wood onto the carriage from underneath. The X-axis rail was complete.
I needed something shorter for the Y-axis rail. The scanner and printer rails were too long. It took a while for me to think of using a CD/DVD tray. I have used them to make slide-out holders for my electronics enclosures, so I had some in my collection.
I removed the player mechanism and saved it. The one I chose had a motor that opens and closes the tray, so I also removed the motor and controller board. But I left the other gears in place because the slight resistance gives the slider a smooth and fluid feel. I also removed the "lock" mechanism so the tray wouldn't get stuck when fully retracted.
Every CD/DVD player is different. The one I used did not have very large surfaces to connect to the other parts of the duplicator. So I cut a small backer-block and connected the back of the CD-sled to the X-axis.
I cut a rectangle out of some laminate flooring and attached it to the small flat areas at the corners of the tray. I cut the rectangle longer that the tray so I could attach a hinge to it and connect to the holder for the router and follower.
Router and Follower Holder
I just used the circular-routing jig that came with my Dremel kit. The Dremel tool fits into the holder. I used the built-in center-spike to hold one side of the hinge. And I cut a small piece of thin plywood to fit in the groove underneath the jig. I screwed through the slot in the jig into the plywood a wide-head screw.
For the follower I used a long screw that extended past the bottom of the jig to the same depth as the router bit. This was just a quick test, but it worked because the screw was about the same width as the burr bit I was using.
One basic door hinge connected the Y-axis (CD Tray) to the X-axis (ink-cartridge rail). A second door hinge connected the other end of the Y-axis CD-tray to router jig.
What Worked - What Didn't
Overall, the design worked and I could get a decent copy of a shallow design.
The biggest issue was the slop in the hinges. I think a pair of precision piano-hinges would improve the accuracy. In fact, I might not even need the hinge between the CD-tray and the router jig. I envisioned being able to swivel the router and make undercuts for elaborate shapes. I never really needed that functionality. So just a single hinge to lift the router off the work area could be enough. Eliminating one hinge and reducing the number of flex points would probably increase the rigidity and accuracy of the entire assembly.
The router jig attachment did not allow me to use very deep or very wide bits. It also hid the work area, which made it difficult to follow the pattern of the original. I was basically routing by feel instead of sight. A better holder that allows me to see the work and use a wider selection of bits could make this much more useful.
If I continue to use the duplicator, I will also need to make a better follower so that I can mimic the shape and size of various router bits.
It also took a long time to duplicate even the simplest shape. After spending an hour slowly nibbling away at several shapes... and always making a mistake... I realized this is exactly why you want a CNC mill and lathe. It's fun doing it by hand for the first ten minutes... seeing the shape emerge from a block of wood, smelling the sawdust, feeling the tool react to the material... then it just becomes tedious and kind of boring. It felt less like crafting and more like washing dishes.
I an improve this design, but if I really want repetitive tasks done reliably, I probably need to invest in a CNC mill and lathe.
Step 4: Small Sled From Old CD/DVD Player
After seeing how well the CD/DVD slider-tray worked in the duplicator I decided to use one as a smaller version of the basic cutting-sled. The scanner version allows me to cut 18" parts. But a lot of my work I only need a few inches of cut, so a smaller version could be even more useful to me on a daily basis.
I also have lots of old CD players, so I gutted one, took out the CD mechanism, motors and locks, but left the gears. The gears give the movement a smoother action that I liked. By now I knew to look for a version that gave me places to screw to or bolt through. I choose a CD tray that had lots of wide flanges with pre-exiting holes. I used the holes and flanges and screwed the entire sliding mechanism very securely to a heavy piece of scrap wood. This time, I made the foundation board large enough that I could clamp a work-piece directly to it so the Dremel tool, cutting-sled and the work-piece were all connected solidly together.
The sliding portion of the tray was flat enough for the Dremel to rest on securely. It also had a large opening in the center for the hose-clamps to pass through. All I had to do was loosen the clamps so one end could pass through the hole, then re-assemble them and tighten them down.
And that was it. The cutting sled was ready to use. It was sturdy, large enough to make a drill press using a full-sized drill or a Dremel but all I needed was a sled, so clamped everything securely and repeated the washer cutting.
It worked great... it's a perfect size for my current needs, it's stable and safe and makes clean cuts and surfaces. I can store the entire thing in a shallow drawer, then take it outside and clamp it to the deck railing and make a clean, straight cut or groove then disassemble it and put it back in storage, all it in a few minutes. And I always have the scanner base for larger cuts.
This one is a keeper.
Step 5: Summary - Going Further
Both cutting sleds work very well for something that was so simple to make. Making holders for the piece I'm cutting often takes longer than making the sled itself. After repeated uses, both sleds have held up well and continue to function with only standard cleaning. Not bad for something made in a few minutes exclusively from scrap... for free.
The duplicator, on the other hand, has sat on the shelf since the initial test. Although it works, it needs improvements and I'm not sure I would ever really use it. Even those tiny $300 toy CNC kits would probably do a better job than I could with a duplicator. And the repetitive work, while soothing in it's own way, takes away from my design time. But it might be a perfect starting point for you and your projects.
Of course, I can't leave an idea alone just because it works well. And I can't stay away from designing in Fusion 360 and 3d printing. So I have a few ideas for the next version.
While I like feeling the weight of the Dremel (I think it gives me more control) I might try using the flex-shaft attachment in the next version.
Some way to adjust the angle of the Dremel tool would be nice, or at least have the option of horizontal and vertical mounting.
A quick-release system could be 3d-printed and cut down the mounting-time from 30 seconds to five.
Some of the scanner-bases have wider sleds with longer rail-guides that would reduce the binding and twisting problems. But I would need to design a 3d object to interface the sled with the Dremel tool. Luckily, a quick look on Thingiverse shows designs for almost any Dremel model so all I would need to do is design the interface with the sled.
I don't need a drill press right now. But I see a lot of design for them, so I probably will at some point. So I'm already working on a modular system that can transform from a drill press to a side cut slider to a pattern duplicator. But that's starting to morph into an entirely new project. And I'm totally okay with that.