Tuesday, March 1, 2011

First Stepper Motor Test: Tetris!

Well, I have to admit this is something I've wanted to try for a long time:

Now we know the motors work!

Monday, February 21, 2011

More hardware: guess I'm committed now!

The CNC machine still exists largely in my imagination. For the last while I've had nothing to show for it other than that cute little box of bearings. Over the past week I've started to receive packages in the mail, however, and the more stuff that piles up (and the more charges appearing on my credit card!) the more it sinks in that I'm really going to do this!

First was the package from vxb.com, containing another pile of bearings (hey, I love you, West 49, but mail order is way cheaper). They also threw in a digital caliper (is it one caliper? A pair of calipers?) as a nice little bonus with my order. I also did a little shopping at the local hardware stores and picked up miscellaneous other nuts and bolts, all pictured above.

Yes, that's my kitchen counter. And this is on my kitchen island:

After much hemming and hawing, I finally ordered my stepper motor kit from Xylotex. I went with the lower-torque motors, because I intend to start with All-Thread rod, and these are rated better at higher speeds. (Perhaps eventually I'll get to Acme Precision Rod and anti-backlash leadnuts... once I find a company that actually will ship the stuff to Canada.)

The stepper motor/driver kit was certainly a chunk of change (I ended up choosing the company that had by far the cheapest shipping to Canada. Hint, hint.) Having now purchased the kit (oh, and add another $44 for taxes/duty/fees at the post office), I feel like I'm really committed to build this thing now...

Monday, February 7, 2011

Bearing down on the start of the project

I took the first step toward building the CNC today (well, if you don't count the nearly $50 I've already spent on books and plans): I picked up a package of skateboard bearings at the local West 49 store. These Destructo Sendai bearings look pretty nice, ABEC-7 rated, but what do I know about skateboarding?

They were kind of expensive at $20 for the set of 8. I'm going to need at least 30 of these things. Going on the assumption that I don't need to have super nice bearings, I've ordered a bunch of bearings from vxb.com. They likely won't come in such nice packaging, but they're half the price.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Today I started a free 30-day trial of Netflix in Canada. Followed quickly by watching episodes of all kinds of interesting TV shows. Not a lot else got done...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Friendly Forums

So I joined the CNC Zone forum. I did a search to see what other people thought about the Solsylva 25x25 CNC build I'm about to embark on, and found this build thread which details one person's experiences. The thread is many pages long, but it is mesmerizing. Over the span of about a year and a half, he builds his first machine, creates some pretty cool stuff with it, then begins using the machine to manufacture new parts to improve itself. I'm excited by reading the thread. This promises to be a real interesting learning experience. As I said before, I haven't got my hands dirty in electronics -- or anything of a mechanical nature -- for a long time.

The folks in the forum seem to be very friendly, and I may even be getting some help from Mr. Crane himself. Very cool.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Decisions, decisions

The CNC book arrived quicker than I expected. It was a fun read, flipping through the pages and figuring out the design mechanics. That got me started on a lot more reading and Googling. Turns out there are actually a lot of different DIY CNC plans floating around the internet, and whole forums dedicated to their construction!

To summarize an entire evening of Googling and reading into the wee late hours, I stumbled upon the Solsylva CNC plan site, and purchased a set of plans for the Solsylva 25x25 CNC machine. This came in the form of a very large PDF file filled with great-looking instructions and plans for what seems to be a very solid looking machine. It was basically between the Solsylva and the "book" machine, and what it came down to for me was that I was far more comfortable working with dimensional lumber than drilling countless bore holes into pieces of MDF. That's just personal opinion.

Of course at this point everything is still very theoretical. I've done a lot of reading but haven't actually, you know, built anything yet...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


I haven't posted much to the blog because I promised myself I wouldn't be that guy who always posts "sorry I haven't posted to the blog" posts. There just isn't that much to talk about.

This week, however, I started making the first steps down a road that could potentially be worth blogging about:

I want to build a CNC machine.

This is possibly the biggest impulse "I want it!" I have ever had, besides this and this. I stumbled on MAKE magazine and saw a feature article about some guys that published a book about how to make your own CNC machine using little more than MDF boards and aluminum angle. It all just clicked. Woodworking, robotics, motors, computer control: it's all there!

I promised my camp colleagues that I would create a bunch of signs around the campsite. I had previously looked for router letter templates or instructions on how to route the signs freehand. With my own CNC machine, I could just program the design into a CAD/CAM package and let it rip!

But really, that's just a justification. I already know I want to do this. It's a great excuse to get my hands dirty again. I've always loved playing with electronics. I had one of those Radio Shack project kits with the sproingy terminals that showed you how to create, like magic, your own radio, or sound maker. As a kid I had all kinds of designs for robots I was going to build -- one day. In high school I sketched out a schematic for a Z80 based computer -- from scratch. I built my own digital clock, one chip at a time, on a breadboard in first year university -- just for fun. My fourth-year project in university was a pan/tilt camera controller for a robotic vehicle. But I haven't touched any of that stuff since then -- 10 years ago.

It's time to get busy again! I've already ordered the book.