A CNC router is your best friend when it comes to saving space. The versatile machine can replace your saw, lathe, drill machine, miller and much much more! There’s nothing that can beat a CNC router when it comes to quick manipulation of material and forming of shapes.
A CNC router uses Computer Numerical Code to ensure that all shapes formed using it are highly accurate. That results in very few errors and makes your projects neat.
That being said, a CNC router is neither cheap nor easy to make. Most models start upwards of a thousand dollars, and we see the price soar to over 10,000 when it comes to the larger sized ones. Luckily, you can use our guide to make your own CNC router, and save yourself some cash.
Another important feature of building your own CNC router comes in the form of personalization. When you’re the one making the router, you can decide exactly what to optimize it for!
Remember, this guide provides a very general overview of how to build a CNC router so that you can personalize your router to your needs. If you want very specific models, you can find those on Instructables or your preconfigured build.
Now that we’ve settled what you’ll find in this guide, let’s get started! Here’s how you can build your very own CNC Router!
Table of Contents
Step 1: Design your machine
Before we get to making the machine, we have to design it. There are a number of factors that you should consider when trying to design this highly complicated machine. Let’s look into each one of them.
Firstly, we recommend doing the designing over SketchUp. The software is a very easy CAD program that you can learn pretty easily and helps you see the design in 3D. The purpose of this is to ensure that no parts collide with one another during operation, and your parts fit.
Next, you have to figure out what kind of router you want. Moving table design and a moving gantry design can be used. We recommend using the moving gantry design for a larger cutting envelope. For the non-moving gantry, be sure to have your base twice as large as the envelope you need!
After that, you have to figure out how many axes your machine has. If you plan to use the router a lot, we recommend at least 3. If you’re an industrialist, you should aim for as many as five. The following are the axis that you can opt for.
- X-Axis: Left to right movement
- Y-Axis: Back and forth movement
- Z-Axis: Up and down movement
- 2 additional Axis: For rotation between X, Y, and Z.
The two additional Axis do not add to the cutting capabilities themselves. The machine with 3 axes can cut just as well. The only difference comes in the form of absolute automation, faster speeds, and better finishes since the 4th and 5th axis can automatically rotate the X, Y, and Z, and index them to the ideal spots as necessary.
You also need to configure how deep you need your axis to go. That is how far the blades on each of the motors can cut. We recommend having at least a few inches for each blade unless you plan on making very small cuts. Smaller blades can be used over and over to make larger cuts but that is simply not productive.
For the type of linear motion that you use, we recommend going for the best that you can fit within your budget. That greatly enhances how smooth your cuts will be.
You also have to decide on what type of drive system you will use. While drive screws are commonly used, we recommend using ball screws for fluid motion with no backlash.
You also have to decide on what type of motor to use. We recommend a stepper motor due to how widely they are available. The controller should be compatible with the motor. You’ll need a motor for each axis that you have installed.
You’ll also need to choose the spindle that you require. We recommend getting one that has speed control! This ensures that any cutting that you do is accurate, and you can get nice finishes if you’d want them. The spindle defines what tools you can fit on your machine. The spindle thus decides what material you can cut through.
We recommend the cheaper spindles for a hobbyist. Laser or waterjet cutters are simply not required unless you wish to use the machine on a large scale!
After you have decided your answers to each of the questions, you can then fit them together in Sketchup and see if they fit. If they don’t, you can alter the cutting depths or the machine size to enable your machine to do so. Remember to also factor in an electronics encasement!
Step 2: Buy the necessary materials
Once you’ve managed to find the perfect design for your CNC router, the next step is buying the materials that it will require. The following are the materials that you will need. The exact dimensions depend on your needs, which we identified in step 1.
- Motors (as many as your axes)
- Motor mounds (to hold your motor in place)
- Motor drivers (as many as your motors)
- Power supply for motors (as per their voltage)
- Break out switch
- Power supply for break out switch (as per its voltage)
- On/off switch
- Shielded wire
- Proximity sensors (one for each motor for accurate positioning)
- Drive screws
- Electronics enclosure
- CAD software (whichever you prefer)
- CAM software (whichever you prefer)
- Tabletop or base (to place the machine on)
- Controller software (compatible with your CAD/CAM software as well as controller)
- Dust collector with a vacuum (optional)
- Noise-reducing panels (optional)
- Cooling fans (optional, highly recommended)
- Lights (optional)
Step 3: Assembly
Great, so now we have all the material that we require. Next comes the assembly!
The first step comes in the form of the base. You can either form the base on your own or buy one. You should ensure that the base is sturdy and able to handle the blades and tools that you will be using though. It makes little sense to use a wooden base if you’re going to use blades that are meant to cut through steel!
The base is in the form of a frame. The next step would be to align the axis. You should start with the X-axis and then move to the Y and Z axes.
Each of your axes operates as a separate unit. You have to use nuts or molding to stick them together. You could use glue too but that makes your machine very unsteady and easily breakable. That compromises your safety!
You need to mount a motor using the motor mounts, to each of the axes. The motor will allow for the movement of rails, helping set the spindle at the perfect location. Ensure that all your axes are very well calibrated for the best cuts!
The motors also have to have the proximity sensors attached to them to aid in cutting or drilling at the perfect spots. These should be connected to the main controller so that the motors can be told to move at a certain speed for a certain amount of time.
Now that the motors are all in place, you can mount the spindle onto the build. Again, it is important to ensure that the spindle is mounted accurately and calibrated to the right place. If your spindle does not calibrate to the accurate spot, you’ll get inaccurate cutting.
Step 4: Electronics
Great, so now we have the hardware in place. The next step comes in the form of electronics. The motors would need to be attached to the drivers in order to control their speed and enable microstepping. A spindle needs to be connected to change the RPM as well.
We first need to connect all the sensors, drivers, and the spindle to the main controller. We would also need to connect the controller, the motors, the lights, vacuum, fans, and the spindle to a power cable so that we can supply the machine with a source of power.
That is a lot of wires, and they can get coiled. That is why we recommend making an electronics enclosure. This would help you keep the wires from tangling up, and can also ensure that your wiring lasts longer. We recommend using a singular wire for power source and using connectors.
The wiring infrastructure needs to be well thought out to ensure that no wire ever gets in the way of the spindle!
Step 5: Software
A CNC router is of no use without software to accompany. There are three types of software that you need to get in order to work a CNC router.
The first type of software is a CAD software. This is where you will make your models in. The models would represent what your end product would be after the cut.
The second type of software is CAM software. This is where the CAD-made articles are turned into tool paths, to show you how a machine will cut. The CAM software requires dimensions of things like your spindle tools and the like to work. You can often find integrated solutions for CAD and CAM.
The third type of software is controlling software. This is the software that will translate your code and send it to the controller. The controller will then direct the sensors, motor drivers, and spindles on what to do to create the model that you desire. Controlling software also lets you alter the speed and other such functionalities depending on the motor, letting you decide how fine a finish the output would be.
To run all three software, you would naturally need a powerful system. We recommend that you use a Linux-based system because it is typically easier to use within the manufacturing industry.
Step 6: Testing, perfecting, and adding peripherals
While we did state that you need to calibrate the machine beforehand, it is also important to run tests once your machine built is complete. Chances are that the calibration isn’t perfect. If you find that to be true, simply check what the margin of error is and adjust the machine accordingly.
After running a few tests, you should be getting the result that you desire. There will always be marginal errors, but they are usually too small to be noticed and don’t change much.
The last step is adding peripherals. These include cooling fans, lights, and dust collector vacuums. While you can just as easily add these before the machine has been tried and tested, adding them later is helpful.
That is because you need to know a number of things before installing the peripherals. For a light, for example, you would need to know the perfect spot to make your machine easily visible to you in the dark. With the fans, you would need to know the areas that get the hottest.
Thus we recommend that you adjust the peripherals at the end, and ensure that they are at the right places so that you can make the most out of them.
Remember that this machine requires a lot of power, and is naturally going to be noisy. You should consider getting a stabilizer or an inverter if you have surges of current, to ensure that the machine remains safe. You should also consider noise-proofing the machine by putting it in a separate enclosure.
With that, you should be able to make the perfect CNC router for your needs. CNC routers can be very helpful to anyone that regularly needs to craft models or designs, and are much faster than 3D printing. Added how they can work with any material imaginable, and you have yourself a machine you simply can’t resist!
We hope that this guide was helpful for you in making your own CNC router. Have fun crafting those models, and show how pure and accurate your craftsmanship is to the world, with this simple yet powerful machine.