posts tagged with the keyword ‘cnc’



I wanted to document how I did the artwork and toolpaths for the MAKE thing I make on the Shapeoko CNC router at BAMspace recently…


I started with my old MAKE design in Inkscape and set it to the size I wanted. I also placed it on the canvas as if it were on the piece of stock, knowing that the lower left corner would be the home position on the CNC router.


After I saved out my SVG file, I loaded it into MakerCam. Now, you can go to and use that, or you can load up the SWF, and save it locally to run on your own machine. (Flash is required either way. I guess the source code is also available, but you probably need Adobe’s Flash development tools to do anything with it.)

If you’re using Inkscape, you need to set the prefs to 90ppi instead of 72ppi before you open your SVG file. Oh, make sure you check out the MakerCam tutorial, help, and about pages.


In MakerCam I created two profiles, one to cut the inside pieces, and one to cut the outside of the entire piece.


These setting worked fairly well. I would up the feedrate or the step down on our machine if using 1/2″ HDPE. This job definitely took a while to run…


Once I had the toolpaths all set in MakerCam I exported the G-Code into a single file, and then loaded that file into OpenSCAM to run a simulation. (Looks like OpenSCAM recently rebranded as CAMotics… guess I should grab the latest version!) Running the simulation allows you to see the toolpaths and check how many passes it will take to cut through the material. I guess you could also use math, but sometimes I prefer visualizations…

That’s pretty much my workflow for 2.5D toolpaths; create art in Inkscape, load it into MakerCam and generate G-Code, load G-Code into OpenSCAM (CAMotics) and see how it looks.


Encoding Discs

While Inkscape is a great and powerful open source vector editing application, sometimes it can’t do it all. Since I primarily use it for creating files for laser cutters, vinyl cutters, the Egg-Bot, etc. I need to have lines. No fills, no objects sitting on top of other objects, no crazy intersections of paths, just lines.

I’ve found that on occasion it’s actually easier to export a raster image, re-import it, and trace it to get the needed vector file. I’ve done this for many files from because they weren’t created with CNC uses in mind, but that’s what I use them for.

Back when I wrote my rotary encoding post I mentioned a perl script that could create encoding disks. It’s simple to use, and outputs an SVG file that I can open in Inkscape. Sadly, it’s not exactly what I need, but it’s pretty close, and easy to fix.

Encoding Disc

Here’s the disk that was created, which uses some neat SVG capabilities to generate it, but makes it quite difficult to edit using Inkscape. You can’t ungroup it, or break it apart, or use union or difference commands on it.

Encoding Disc

I’ve placed a smaller disk on top of it, Right now it’s gray (just so you can see it) but I’m going to fill it with white and give it no stroke. (Normally I would place one object on top of the other and use the difference command to cut a hole in the larger object. In this case, that can’t be done.)

Export at PNG

Once that’s done it looks like I want it to look, but it’s not all lines. It’s really overlapping objects. As long as it looks like I want it to look, I can export it as a bitmapped file. (A PNG file, to be precise.)

Import PNG

Here’s the PNG file. It’s raster, not vector, and again, it looks just like I want it to look. Excellent! Let’s go back to Inkscape and import the PNG file.

Trace Bitmap

Once imported I can use the Trace Bitmap command to easily change this black and white image into a vector file. (Yes, make sure it’s just pure black and white, so it can easily separate the two colors and create the needed path.)


After the bitmap has been traced I’ve got nice vector lines, shown here in outline mode, and it’s ready to be cut with a CNC machine. (Oh, I’ll probably add a center mounting hole, as the encoding disk eventually does need to attach to something.)


CHC Hip-Hop

I don’t know if the Maker Movement has any hip-hop artists in its ranks, but at some point someone is going to want to write a rap mentioning CNC machines, so I’ve compiled a list of suitable rhymes for “CNC” and I present them here.

Note that some of these words/phrases are serious, and some of them are just for fun. It takes all kinds.

  • Jamboree (fun word)
  • Wait and see (should be in reference to the time it takes to finish a job)
  • Filigree (should be in reference to detailed artwork.)
  • My man Adrian B (should be in reference to Adrian Bowyer of the RepRap movement.)
  • Look good to me! (should be in reference to how a job turned out.)
  • Jubilee (fun word)
  • My main man Bre (should be in reference to Bre Pettis of MakerBot)
  • Bumblebee (fun word)
  • Bruce Lee (fun, but could also be in reference to strength/power.)
  • Guarantee (fun word, but could also be used in reference to how a job turns out.)
  • Tree (should be in reference to the consumable used for a job is wood, which comes from trees.)
  • Billy D[ee] (should be in reference to Billy Dee Williams or the other Billy D)
  • Whiskey (fun word, but you should think twice before combining alcohol with any power tools.)
  • Debris (should be in reference to the scraps/waste left after a cutting job is finished.)
  • Banshee (fun word)
  • Emcee [MC] (this one is obvious, I should hope.)
  • Waikiki (fun word, possibly only suitable for Jerry Isdale.)
  • Potpourri (fun word)

Alright! That should be enough to get started… can you think of any more?


Cookie Design

I’m designing a cucoloris (or “cookie”) that I hope to eventually make on the CNC Router at the Milwaukee Makerspace.

The image above was exported from Inkscape. I started with a few basic shapes and filled a rectangular area about 20″ x 30″ with them, rotating and resizing a bit for some variance. (I’m still not 100% pleased with this, so I’ll probably keep tweaking it.)

I can export a DXF from Inkscape and (supposedly) that will go into CamBam which is the controller software the router uses, and a G-code file will be produced from that. I’m hoping once I see that G-code file, I may be able to create it directly from Inkscape in the future, but right now I’m just hoping to get a file that works and cut some wood.

This should be a fairly simple project. It’s pretty two-dimensional, just cutting shapes out of a thin piece of wood. There’s a few more ambitious projects other members are talking about, but I’m a simple man with simple needs for a simple cookie… at least for now. :)


ShapeOko at Milwaukee Makerspace

You may have heard me talk about the ShapeOko, a DIY CNC Mill you can (well, should be able to) build for around $300. Edward Ford, the guy behind the project, just wrapped up a Kickstarter campaign to fund the project. And just to be clear, he’s been working on this project for many years, it’s not like he just had an idea a few months back and launched a campaign. (2004 is when he first attempted to build a CNC Mill.)

Edward was kind enough to make the drive up to the Milwaukee Makerspace and talk about ShapeOko with us. It was great to hear about the project, and I think he may have even gotten a few new ideas while he was here. :)

The goal of ShapeOko isn’t to build a business around selling these things, but to create a project that is fully open source, with easy to acquire materials. Typically when you find web sites describing a DIY CNC machine, they involved getting parts from ebay, or from scrap, or other unreliable sources. Edward wants you to be able to get all the parts you need easily, and not have to scrounge around and have a friend who happens to own a mill to make you parts.

Edward’s demo was great, because he wasn’t afraid to talk about all his failures. He admits he’s not an engineer, and he’s learned a lot over the past 7 years about designing and building things. A lot of his description of the project included “So I tried X, and that didn’t really work, then I tried Y…” type things. Experimentation, a bit of guessing, and a lot of testing.

We also learned a bit about running a Kickstarter campaign, and some of the gotchas involved with that. Like refunds, and how you can end up losing money if you issue one, and what happens when there are insufficient funds. Great tips for anyone interested in Kickstarter.

So now that the Kickstarter campaign is done, and instead of the $1,500 he was hoping for, he’s got about 7 times that much, he’s been ordering parts, and is working on a new design, correcting any of the problems that previous designs have had.

For more on the project, check out the web site at, as well as the blog, Twitter, and the forum.

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