And another special project of mine

While working on "The King's Treasure," I was also writing two other non-LEGO books. (Don't ever do this - completely crazy and will take a few years off your lifespan.) One of these other books is something that I'm extremely proud of and would like to share with The NXT Step readers... it's titled "Build Your Own CNC Machine" and it's coming out at the end of November 2009.

Here's the cover and a couple of pictures for you. Some details:

* It has a 2' x 4' tabletop workspace with about 1.5" of non-usable surface around the perimeter. So, you can realistically work on wood, aluminum, or plastic that fits within the 2'x4' boundary.

* Depending on the router you choose to use, you can work on material up to about 7" tall, but the depth the router can cut down (on the z-axis) is dependent upon the surrounding area not impeding the up/down movement, so the depth of cut into super-thick material will really be limited to your bit depth/length as well as any material blocking the further downward movement.

* The entire thing can be built for less than $800.00. Yes, $800.00US. While most 2'x4' comparable CNC machines are running $7000 and higher, this is a completely reliable and fully functional 3-axis CNC machine. The book provides plans for cutting, drilling, etc... all the parts from MDF (very rigid and strong) and my co-author (Patrick) and I provide parts #s and locations to get all the electronics. Chapters show you how to wire up everything as well as where to get the free software used to control the stepper motors.

During the writing of this book, three separate machines were built - I built one, my dad built one, and my tech editor built one. All three are identical, working right now, and are very impressive to watch.

I can already hear someone asking "Can it cut out parts for my robots?" - Yes, it can. But it can do so much more.

One of the reasons Patrick and I did this book was to make CNC technology available to a larger group of users - traditionally, these machines have been (and are) expensive to own and complicated to operate and repair. Well, when you build your own CNC machine, you know every part, how it all comes together, and you'll know how to fix it...

It's not an NXT robot or product, but if you're into robots, you're sure to enjoy something like this. We have a website, discussion forum, videos, full color photos for downloading, etc... all to support readers of the book who want to build their own machine. We're hoping to hear from students, shop teachers, parents, and after-school groups who take on building their own CNC machine(s) and we'd love to see photos and videos of your machine and your designs.

Again, the book is out in late November... if you have any other questions, let me know.



Unknown said…
Fascinating idea, Jim.

Whoever does not know from the instant what a CNC machine is: CNC reads "computer numerical control"; a CNC machine is more or less a manufacturing machine where motion is controlled by a computer.
A nice introduction article can be found here.
Or in Jim's book, of course. :)
Andreas Kahler said…
Wow, the machine looks great, I guess I'll buy your book.
Do you have a web home for the project? I'd like to see some videos/pictures of the machine in action as well as some example parts built with it.
The website isn't public yet - won't go live until the book is released... I can talk about it more then.

In the meantime, I'll hunt up some photos of some things we've made and post them soon.
NickNackGus said…
1. The hyperlink labeled "here" in the first quote does not work on my computer. It changes color when hovered over, but other than that, it acts as all the other text on this page: it can be clicked on, but nothing will happen.

2. Technically, can't I attach some servos, a servo controller for the NXT, and control it using my NXT? That way, people who already have an NXT can save even more money.

3. Can I set this up so it can also rotate and hold multiple items, and thus make it put together an NXT robot? Think about it: an army of NXT robots, doing your work for them, fixing themselves, only asking for your creative abilities...Once they start earning a considerable profit, program the system to do all manual labor for free, and you can pretty much bring an end to the economy, just not in the way anyone expected! No one would need to work, and anyone could get whatever items they wanted or needed, within reason. (Nothing the government says you shouldn't have: save that for the Mythbusters.)
Awesome! Prototype something, patent it...then sale it for a million dollars!

Step one: Buy This Book.

It is very cool to be standing in front of this thing watching it go about its work...

It's loud, too - so invest in some ear protection. Eye shields are a given since the router is cutting into the material at 20,000+ RPM.

But there is nothing cooler than seeing something you design on screen cut/milled/drilled and then picking it up off the worktable.
Shep said…
I can appreciate this. My two hobbies are woodworking and Lego robotics.

I have built many things out of MDF, and I wonder how you manage to keep the shop clean when working with such a dusty material?
Same here, Shep - love doing woodworking projects.

As for clean - yes, the CNC machine generates some serious dust. Although the machine is built from MDF, not much has been milled with MDF... so it's really just been plain sawdust.

When we were cutting and drilling all the parts for the CNC machines, we wore dust masks - you don't want to breath in MDF dust and we point that out early in the book. Most of our cutting and drilling was also done in a large opened garage with a fan blowing outward... I had no real problems with the MDF dust, and I have very sensitive lungs.
Brad said…
Very cool, I will definitely buy the book, in fact I have always wanted one of these machines, but I have a question. How difficult is it to program in your design? I am a pretty confident builder but my programming skils are limited to working with the NXT.


There is no short answer to your question. But let me see if I can get you started on your own digging/research:

1. You come up with something you'd like to cut/drill/mill with your machine.

2. You use CAD software (pricey AND free-versions available) to design the 3-D object.

3. You render your CAD object with CAM software - this converts it into something called G-code that provides the cnc machine with the path to follow, cutting depths, etc...

4. You submit the G-code to the CNC machine using Controller software (such as the free Mach3 that we use in the book).

5. CNC machine does its thing and out comes your object.

Now, CAD and CAM software are left up to the reader because there are just so many of them - we make some recommendations, but as long as your CAM software can convert to G-code (an industry standard) you'll be fine.

As for designing objects to create, that all depends on how deep you want to get into learning CAD software.

I'll have to ask others who know more, but I believe that some of the free LEGO CAD software available will work with most CAM software... but haven't tried it yet. (This may be a job for my good buddy, Chris Smith...)
wow that is absolutely amazing. It looks like a fun project but what is the price it would cost for all the parts? I cant wait for the website I just want to see a video of this thing in action :)
NickNackGus said…
Can you supply the source for an *.nxc file to run this? I would like to replace the steppers and controllers with NXT compatible stuff, as directly as possible. The official NXT hardware or Mindsensors servos accepted, and Mindsensors is prefered.

I'm also trying to figure out how to read and write MIDI and *.png images, but I still can't really read or write anything to *.txt yet. I will probably need help with this as well.

My email is, and I don't recieve a lot for Email, so feel free to Email me tips or interesting NXT robots. I'm mostly interested in freeware and open-source stuff, as well as the mechanics behind electrical and mechanical devices, and I am trying to understand file types, how to simulate harmonics using JUST the tone generator, and all sort of functions and 3D graphics.

Yes, I do this research at home. Not for a living, but because I find it fun.
Sorry, Tim... no nxc files to provide.

While I certainly think it's possible to build a cnc machine from the NXT, you're probably not going to get enough power to cut into anything other than maybe wax or styrofoam...

Unless I'm wrong, you'd basically have to code (in C) all the controller code for all 3 axes... spindle speed... etc.

Not my specialty.
GrizzledGeezer - I received your comment but there was no email address for me to respond to...

NickNackGus said…
I'm going to buy the book. (When I can afford it, and its available... I'm fixing a power pproblem with one of my computers...)

I can porbably use the NXT to do all of these high-power tasks, but I will probably need an external power source. Pnuemtic engine or car battery, engine or battery...
NickNackGus said…
Just thought you ought to know: I do the same thing. I tend to work on several projects at once, most of them at the college level...and I'm still in high school.

I'm also working on prototypes for digital, hopefully NXT-compatible holographic projectors. I have found a company that makes 3D cameras, but when I asked for more information on how to order, I got a(n automated?) message saying that they were not selling to individuals or looking for buisness deals at this time. I'd at least like to know if I could build my own 3D camera...

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