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Building a DIY CNC mill (sort of) {in progress}

“Ok look dude, I’m not a nerd or whatever. What the jazz is a CNC?”

Uh oh, only a nerd would ask that question!

A CNC is a machine that is designed to be controlled by numerical means (pretty much always by a computer). CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control.

small CNC

Apparently this is a small CNC mill!


“That doesn’t really help, all you did was copy paste a bunch of stuff from wikipedia.”

Yeah, I suppose you’re right. Maybe I’ll just explain it my own way.

For our purposes, a CNC mill is a drill (also called a spindle) that can take some instructions and then move around all by itself. The smaller and more affordable machines move in the X, Y and Z directions but your $$$ machines can also have several rotational axes. With enough imagination and creative engineering you can use it to make pretty much anything! Although there are certainly exceptions, the axis movement is achieved by one of two means: by moving the gantry or moving the cutting table (in the video below: X and Y are varied through cutting table movements and Z is done through the gantry/spindle). For a general purpose machine it doesn’t matter all that much which one is used.

One major draw-card for me was the ability to produce PCBs without the use of toxic chemicals such as ferric chloride/cupric chloride. On top of this, once the machine is built there is no messing around with fiddly processes like toner transfer or photoresist exposure; you just slap down some copper-plated FR4 and you are good to go!

“Where do you actually get a CNC machine though? Can’t exactly pick one up at the supermarket.”

I got hold (well, still getting bits and pieces) of mine from Build Your CNC. They just released the BlueChick 4.2 CNC kit which comes in pieces and is predominantly made from birch plywood. A real cost/timesaver for me, considering there aren’t many cheap Australian suppliers of mechanical components who will sell to individuals. You can get full machines from companies like ShopBot or Roland DG but expect to pay a 5 digit price as a minimum.

“Kits are for pansies; are you a pansy?”

I guess so.

more to come!


“You’ve convinced me this is awesome. Now where can I find more information and parts? (frankly, yours was pretty limited)”