Life took me away from my garage and tinkering for the latter half of 2016, but on New Year's Eve I was able to get back into my garage. A project I have dreamed about for over 12 years now was to have my own CNC Router to mill and cut out my designs. Some of my other on-going projects like AX03 and the automated Vacuum Former could really use a large CNC mill for big parts from materials other than plastic. Early in 2016, I stumbled across the MPCNC (Mostly Printed CNC) project. After tinkering with and customizing my own 3D printer, I decided it was time to build my own large, CNC platform based on the MPCNC project.
What was interesting about the MPCNC project is that it is just a platform that can be used with just about any tool that you want to strap on it – router, laser cutter, extruder for 3D printing, etc. Also you can build it in just about any dimensions you would like on the cheap since the rails are just EMT. Basically, the MPCNC is a beefy version of my 3D printed Rapid Prototyping Kit using even cheaper EMT rather than stock square aluminum tubing.
Planning for the project was simple. I only had to decide how big I wanted to build the MPCNC and then design/build a simple table for it to cut from. Instead of searching the web for all of the non-printed parts and electronics, I just ordered the kit from the MPCNC's designer. The limited floor space of my garage and accuracy limited the build size to 24" x 48" x 4" (shorter z-axis means more accuracy). I let my 3D printer loose on several days of straight printing while I waited for the hardware and electronics to arrive.
The table is a simple design that can quickly have more shelves for supplies or other CNC devices added over time. If I am going to carve out precious floor space for something, then I want to get the most of every square foot used. So space and costs were the main drivers here. The table was designed around a single sheet of 1/2" MDF, seven 2x4's, and EMT for the MPCNC rails.
The table actually made a great teaching project for my young daughters as it gave a chance to teach shop safety, design, and building to them. Plus at the end of the weekend we had a huge Etch-a-Sketch that we had made together.
With the table out of the way we turned to assembling the pile of 3D printed parts. hardware, and EMT. Overall it was a fairly easy build and great for teaching kids about mechanics. One afternoon and most of the MPCNC hardware was assembled. Not too bad.
With the table finished and the hardware ready, it was another day of bolting pieces down, wiring electronics, and lots of testing. Any 3D printer software such as Cura or MatterControl can easily drive the MPCNC since it is just an oversized 3D printer.
I can drive it all day long as a 3D printer, but I want to make dust by cutting. Although, it might be fun to drop an extruder on it and try a 4 foot long 3D print. If you need a custom CNC platform, then I would seriously consider the MPCNC. It is not the most beautiful design, but it is cheap (Under $350) and stable.