posts tagged with the keyword ‘diy’


CNC Machine

Hopefully you’ve read Little CNC Milling Machine (Part I) in which I completed the mechanical build of a tiny CNC machine. Here’s Part II!

CNC Machine Electronics

The electronics didn’t take much time at all, it was pretty much “plug and play” as far as connecting the three stepper motors and the spindle. No stripping, cutting or crimping wires. The only issue I had was once I tried running it nothing was happening. Turns out the power supply was DOA. I found a 16 volt laptop power supply in my junk bin and tried that, and it still didn’t work (or so I thought.) I ended up cutting the barrel jack off that power supply and putting it on a 24 volt supply I found. It was then I realized that the spindle wasn’t responding because I never set the “spindle speed”. So yeah, steppers worked fine with the 16 volt power supply (but not the original 24 volt supply I got) but the spindle didn’t go, because I’m a fool. All good now! I’ve got functioning 24 volt power supply and a functioning CNC machine.

CNC Machine Electronics

I’ve used Grbl before, usually with an Arduino and a CNC Shield with some steppers. Some of these kits seem to use an Arduino Nano, but this one is its own board with an ATmega328P and a CH340 chip. So yeah, an Arduino with Grbl 0.9 pre-loaded.

There are no endstops, but it looks like there’s room on the board to add them in the future. I can think of a few other improvements as well. I may add an e-stop, or just an “on/off” switch for the power supply. One nice thing about these machines is that if you make a mistake, like jogging the head too far in one direction, you can just cut power to the motors and the software will keep going, assuming the motors are moving, and then once the software is done, you can resupply power and try again.

Oh, you might also notice that next to the spindle connector on the board is a spot to plug in the laser. Yes, there’s also a 500mw laser that can be put in place of the spindle. I’ve not really tried that yet, and have to figure out the software to control it first. (I’ll get into software in a future post.)

CNC Machine Bed

Another area that could use some improvement is the bed. Attaching things with the screws meant to attach things to the Aluminum extrusion is not great. I’ll work on a better clamping system. (Maybe a 3D printed piece, not sure yet.)

You might also notice I left the lead screws hanging in mid-air. I did have a little bit of a binding issue with the x axis, so I just removed both lead screw holders. I think it’ll work fine without them, as the lead screws are not that long.

CNC Machine Collet

The machine came with two tiny collets that allow you to attach bits to the spindle shaft. It also came with super-small set screws. I’m pretty sure I’ll lose the screws, but…

M3 Set Screws

…luckily a few years ago my friends at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories sent me a lifetime supply of M3 set screws of various sizes. I think I’m good!

CNC Machine Electronics

And yes, I did actually mill something. I’ll cover that in the next post. Overall I have to say I’ve been pleased with this machine (so far, it’s still early, obviously.) It was easy to put together and it works. Once I get things dialed in I’ll look into milling PCBs, and foam, and wax, and chocolate…

Stay Tuned!


Little CNC Mill

I’ve completed the mechanical build of a small CNC mill/engraver. I’ve seen these on eBay from various sellers (like this, this, this, and this) and I’ve even seen one on Amazon from LinkSprite. I didn’t order from any of those sellers…

Somehow I happened across a blog post at TC Maker about a CNC Building Class at The Hack Factory. While I would have loved to have attended the class, I couldn’t make it, but I got in touch with Alex to ask a few questions, and the next thing you know I’m ordering a kit from him.

Alex said he’ll be doing another class, and hopes to sell these to other people as well. (I guess I’m one of the first customers?) I was attracted to the mill because it’s small (my workshop is cramped already) and it runs Grbl. I’m hoping to mill PCBs with it, and other small things. If I get really ambitious I can extend the machine with some longer lead screws and Aluminum extrusion. But first I have to get it working… I still have the wiring and electronics to deal with.

I’ll go through a bit more about building it in this post, and probably follow up with a few more posts once it’s complete.

Little CNC Mill

First, let’s talk about the instructions. Remember, Alex does an entire class on building this, which I did not attend, but I’ve built a few CNC machines in the past, so I wasn’t too worried. I did get a construction manual, and it was helpful, though in the end it sort of reminded me of building my RepRap. At some point the instructions seem to lose their usefulness and you just have to figure things out. Luckily, there’s the Internet.

The page titled DIY CNC 3 Axis Engraver Machine PCB Milling Wood Carving Router Kit Arduino Grbl is helpful, as is the video LinkSprite DIY CNC 3 Axis Engraver Machine installation tutorial. I should mention that these kits come from different sellers, and they all seem just a slight bit different. Minor things here and there, so again, if you can figure things out on your own, it’s not that bad.

There’s some videos from Jingfeng Liu that might be useful, including LinkSprite CNC Kit base Video 1, How to assemble LinkSprite CNC kit front video 1, and How to assemble LinkSprite CNC kit front video 2. Again, use them as loose guides.

Little CNC Mill

The worst problem I had during the mechanical build was dealing with the rod holders. Now, I’ve used rod holders before to hold smooth rods, and didn’t have issues, but these caused me some heartache. The one on the front right was the first I dealt with. I tried to tighten it up on the rod, and I could not get it tight enough to hold the rod. After I sent an hex key flying across the room, I tried one more time to tighten it up enough by putting a Torx bit in a drill (I know, bad idea.) This just stripped out the screw, and now it’s in there, and not coming out. (Oh, before I over-tightened/stripped it, I tried to put a little tape on the rod. Kapton tape seemed thin enough, but was still too thick.)

Little CNC Mill

I still had three rod holders to deal with, so I took a different approach. I put one in the vise and cranked on it to pre-bend the metal just enough to hold the rod tight, but not too tight. Well, I managed to do that with one of the rod holders. The next one I cranked too much, and then had to pry open a bit with a slotted screwdriver. (You can see in the photo above a little bit of the damage from that. In the end I got them all working good enough, except for the first one, but since the back rod holder is good, I may not have to worry about the front one being tight enough. (It doesn’t wobble, but I was able to rotate the rod when it was just in the front holder.)

CNC Machine

There’s a 3D printed part on the front for the lead screw to set in, with a bearing. I have not mounted this yet, as I’m not sure it’s a good idea. Some builds use this, or a metal plate, and some let the lead screw hang free in the air. (The x axis has a similar holder.) As this is not a super-precise machine, constraining the lead screws might not be the best thing…

Little CNC Mill

The shaft coupling is one rigid piece, which means that if not perfectly aligned, constraining it on the other end could cause binding while trying to turn. I’ve used flexible couplings before and they might be a better option. Again, I’ll probably get the machine up and running first to check the performance before I think about upgrades. (I talked to Alex and he suggested that flex couplings might not work as well as I think they would. I’ll do more research on it.)

Little CNC Mill

The mechanical build took an evening, not a late-night evening, but a full evening. I expect the electrical portion to take maybe a few hours at most, including getting it up and running. Hopefully I’ll find some time this week to get that going, and report back.

Stay Tuned!


Power Strip

This is my current power strip situation… Things are tight, tighter than I’d like, and there’s a lot of power strip being wasted. There are three wall warts, and one of them is horizontal while two are vertical. Originally all three were vertical, but I switched one out because there just wasn’t room due to wall warts often take up two outlets because of their width. (I’ve also got a height issue since this is going in a cabinet.)

Power Strips

There are many options for power strips. Sometimes the outlets are vertical, sometimes they are horizontal, or a combination of the two, or some weird twisting rotating thing. For a custom thing, like three wall warts, often the existing solutions aren’t very good. (Especially when space is limited.)

Power Connector

I mentioned that in an ideal world I could just design my own power strip, and then a friend of mine said “Hey, just get these and make your own case!” And then I thought, “Hmmm, maybe that’s not a bad idea!”

But I’m still trying to figure out if it is a bad idea. I don’t know that I could build a surge suppressing power strip for less than the cost of buying one, but maybe that doesn’t matter. Could I design and build something that would be a better fit for what I need. Now, if I were to build a power strip and stick it into a museum exhibit and then ship the exhibit to someone, would that be a bad idea? Maybe… I can see a customer looking at it and questioning the professionalism (and safety) of it. Would a 3D printed power strip pass muster? It seems some power strips are made from ABS, but they typically say “ABS Fire Retardant Plastic Casing”, which may not be the same as 3D printer filament. This could all go terribly wrong, right?

What are your thoughts on a DIY power strip?


Two Cardinals

I’ve got a confession to make; lately I’ve been busy doing work that’s keeping me stuck behind a computer (or a camera) and while you may be concerned that all those lovely tools in the basement are sitting idle, they aren’t… in fact, Dana’s been putting them to good use.

She’s started documenting some of her most recent projects at Yes, my wife is now making and blogging. Pretty sweet! Since I haven’t made anything cool lately, you might as well check out what she’s been up to. :)

In the past few weeks she’s refinished a sewing table, made a bird-tracking chalkboard, showed off some personalized switch plates, and protected her plants.




I like to think that there are 3 stages that a project can exist in:

  1. In-Progress
  2. Completed
  3. Abandoned

In-Progress might mean you are in the planning stages, or you’ve completed it, but are revisiting it, perhaps improving it. Some projects never move out of the In-Progress stage, and that’s fine, for multiple reasons.

Completed usually means “it’s done!” (but could mean it’s a project you don’t actively work on anymore.) Maybe there’s little things here and there, maintenance issues, if you will, but for the most part, it’s considered done. You might even just call a project Completed if you get frustrated and don’t want to take it any further.

Abandoned is an interesting one. You might think that some projects get abandoned before they even get started, but since I consider the planning part of a project In-Progress, I would suggest that every project exists as long as you are thinking about.

Thinking about a project is a good idea, but if you take it further, you might talk about it, and hey, you might even write about it.

In any stage of a project, you can document it. You can write about it, and take photos of it, and even shoot some video. (You may also publish this documentation, which is a good thing to do!) Documentation allows us to look back and learn about what we did. It allows others to look at what we did and learn from it, and maybe improve upon it, take it further, solve the problems we couldn’t. Even if you had an idea, started a project, and abandoned it, there is great value in documenting it. Others can learn… learn what went right, what went wrong, and maybe decide to try solving the problems you could not.

Documenting (and publishing) information about your project has another value: inspiration. You can inspire yourself (and others) when you look at what you’ve done.

So please, document your projects… the world needs more inspiration.


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