The DIY CNC Machine You Must Know How To Build!

BIG CNC_1If you’re the type of person who likes to build things on your own, you know that the equipment needed to complete larger projects is dauntingly expensive. As a matter of fact, if you’ve looked at commercial machines, you’ve probably come to the conclusion that it’s cheaper in most cases to just buy the product than it is to buy the equipment to do it yourself.

Well, that time is past. I put my thinking cap on and came up with a design that allows you to build your very own Computer Numerical Control machine for a fraction of the cost of its commercial equivalent. The advantages of an automated woodworking machine are that you get precision and save hours that you would normally invest in creating each piece by hand.

I’ve created some videos that walk you through the process of building both a hobby CNC and a professional CNC, and the process is much easier than you probably imagine that it could be.

This project started from the need to create some parts for a mechanical project I was working on. I was in need of three plastic gears, and the first thing I did was to go to a local workshop and have them fabricated.

After a few days, I got my gears. I went home to test them out on the motor I was making; they were the right size, but something was off. When I was turning them, I saw that the gears were actually oval instead of round. I paid $100 bucks for some oval plastic gears that wouldn’t even work for the project I was working on.

I live in a small city and at that time, there were no professional workshops with automated machines to make proper gears for me. Out of curiosity, I begin searching online to learn how these gears were made. I stumbled upon some articles about a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine. Basically, it’s a milling machine controlled by your personal computer.

This piqued my interest and set me on a totally different path; it made me want to build this machine so that I could build the parts I needed for my projects on my own instead of paying for oval gears that wouldn’t even work for me.

Starting from not knowing what a CNC is, up to getting my first hobby CNC version up and running took two weeks, including the time it took for the parts I ordered to arrive. It was a surprisingly simple build. The only issue I had was setting up the drivers with the computer software.

There are a lot of settings to create if you don’t have a base to start with but now I have a configuration file that just needs to be copied and pasted. You can change a few settings if you have a different make of motor, or need a different size on the CNC. That’s all there is to it and you’re good to go.

There are commercial versions of CNC machines, but they start at about $3000 for a basic machine. You can build it on your own for less than $500.

In the video you’ve watched, you could see two versions of CNC machines. The Hobby version cost me around $400 and took about 4 days to build it and get it up and running once I had all the parts. The commercial equivalent for that table size is $4600, which means I saved $4200! The only difference is that the commercial one has some aluminum insertions and a lighter wood frame.

You can choose to make yours out of any material you have laying around. There are also DIY ways of making the bearings so cheap that you can build 80% of the CNC on your own, and just buy the motors and drivers.

Here’s an example of linear bearings made from cheap bearings. The first picture below is the DIY version:

linear bearings

And here is the commercial version:

Commercial version

We didn’t do it with this build, but I wanted to let you know that you have an option to want to make it even cheaper than we paid using some retail parts.

A Few Words about Costs

On the bigger version of the CNC, the one we called “The Professional Version”, we made it out of steel, with big motors, bigger drivers, bigger everything.  It’s pretty costly for a DIY project, but it makes sense to have it if you are serious about getting into this business and you need more or larger parts built  in a hurry.

The entire build cost $5800 with shipping of parts included. As I said, the price sounds pretty high, but compared with buying the retail one, we saved more than $30,000. The size of the machine is 11 feet by 8 feet, so you can probably build a small boat on it.

You can make any type and shape of furniture you can imagine on this machine, without an army of workers drilling holes and sculpting and carving wood. The only thing you will need to do is put the material on the table, hit the run button on the software, and make sure you are using the proper tool for that job. That’s all there is to it.

As I stated in the video, we have documented these two builds already, edited most of the videos and have begun working on a written version of this guide, with photos and diagrams so that everyone can properly understand what is going on.

If you would like to watch this type of guide that takes you through the process of building and using a CNC from beginning to end, we have the guide available for sale now. Click the banner to get this incredible offer!

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This article has been written by Alex Grayson for Survivopedia.


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Alex is a former engineer who worked for 20 years in the car industry. Now he is retired and works all day long in his garage on different DIY projects. He is the happy father of 2 children and grandfather of three grandchildren. His biggest wish is to create a small community of people that share the same passion for tech DIY projects. In order to achieve this goal, he is sharing his knowledge and helping others to overcome the issues he encountered at the beginning.

Latest comments
  • Sure...I would love a guide and plans. I have been fascinated with CNC machines for ages, but the cost has always been a barrier.

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    • I have built a mini cnc plotter machine. I am using Gcode sender and my laptop with windows 7. I tested the three axis ok. When I tried to print a draw the plotter drew a diagonal line and lifted the axis z, the axis stayed up at a few mm from the paper and the machine continued working as it was drawing on the air. I would appreciate if you help me to solve this problem. Thank you so much.

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  • Yes! I would totally be interested in this!

    I am a designer who hires a sign shop to make materials for me - mostly dimensional letters out of Gatorboard. When I see how "fast and easy" they make it look, I feel like a fool for paying $100 a hour... But I know they're trying to make back their investment too.

    Been dreaming of having my own and then I saw this email come through on my husbands account! It certainly helped bridge the gap between my husbands interests and my own...!

    I had reached out to a guy independently to see if he could build one but his costs were still much higher. We've got the time, we just need the "how to!"

    Thanks,
    Christine

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    • I have owned four cnc machines over the years. Always going for a better machine.The one thing you didn't mention is the learning curve on what you wish to make for the programming. It takes time to learn how to use the machine.

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  • Really need to modify your email saying "Click here to get the fully detailed plans for this project." The article is not what is expected. That being said, I have seen multiple build plans of homemade CNCs. Big issue with a lot of them is the parts listed are surplus, or not from a consistent source. Yes, an instructional DVD would be beneficial if done well. One aspect that would expand the use of such a rig is developing an extruder that could be put in place of the router/mill head so the machine could do double duty as a 3d printer. The heated bed might pose an issue there, but one could also design a laser module head and use the same base for laser cutting or etching The mechanics are teh same for all 3, however, bed materials would have to be considered

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  • Yes please, looking forward to CNC guide.
    Best Regards

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  • This looks very interesting. Never thought it was possible to build a CNC machine as a DIY project. And for a lot cheaper than a 'store bought' one. Would be very interested in the details as I have a need to drill several holes in thin sheetmetal and i looks like your design can be adapted to drilling. Dave

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  • Looks awesome I'd definitely be interested in a step by step guide especially for the larger one been looking to do something like this recently

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  • Hi Alex,
    I would be interested in a metalworking CNC machine. Do you anticipate anything like that in the near future?
    Thanks, Vic Balint

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    • Hi Vic,
      I have in mind how I can convert an old milling machine into a CNC machine. For milling steel and stainless steel you need a compact and powerful machine. The low speed servo spindle tend to be quite expensive if you buy them as new. So replacing the handles with motors on this old machine is what I would try first. The price of such a machine is half than what you would pay for a brand new water cooled spindle.
      https://www.dropbox.com/s/mh0g749bkpkmxl6/DSCN0298.jpg?dl=0
      It won't be as pretty as a modern machine, but I think it would do the job, as long as it didn't lost too much of it's precision and the gears function properly.
      Let me know what do you think about this option. It won't be a hard work to do that..

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  • I'd like to know more. How can I get plans for both versions?

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  • This is great. I would be interested in knowing more depending on the cost of the booklet.

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  • I would like to get more detailed instructions on "How to build a CNC".
    Thank you.

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  • I would be interested in plans/parts list for this CNC machine. Nice work!

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  • Hey everyone, I want to thank you for the time spent to read this article and for your feedback about the CNC project. I will be noting everything from your comments and will add as much as I can to the existing plans and guides.

    I like the idea KEVIN ZELHART mentioned, to extend the rig with a plastic extruder. I've been thinking before to add a plasma cutter to the bigger version of cnc, but will be great for the smaller one to make it a large 3d printer.

    Thanks again guys, will work to make this guide appear ASAP.

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  • I am a retired auto worker with a need to be active and continue to work as long as possible. To build a CNC machine that can help me do so is a dream come true. To make toys and useful articles to give away and even sale would be fantastic. Yes I would like to have have the plans, parts list and watch the videos.

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  • This sounds affordable and now that I'm retired I would be interested in building one to use as a small source of income.

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  • Yes, I'm interested, please let me know once the guide is ready, I will certainly look into this!
    A

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  • Sounds great! I'd love to have accurate plans to work from and build each of these machines so I could start a retirement business fabricating odd parts for others in my area to make a few bucks! Let us know where to secure these plans when available. Thanks!

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  • I would be interested in plans and details on how to build and where to obtain parts for the small version.

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  • Alex,
    This is an idea that has a lot of merit. However it would be a good idea to let people know that a hobby machine will not have the kind of precision to make things like a true circle. A higher level machine, which has the ability to do precise work, will require a builder with a higher level of mechanical skill to construct. Since you are an engineer, you have those skills. These talents are not generally possessed by the average individual, and can cause them to have unrealistic expectations.
    I have been involved with CNCs for over a decade, and have built a machine with a 5x12 table, vacuum holddown, and a 5hp spindle with VFD for speed control. The advantage with a vfd is that you can control rotation speed, say 6000 rpm for drilling, 15000rpm for cutting.
    An idea you might consider would be to put together a kit that people could purchase, and you could then furnish higher precision items like linear bearings. (This is where the amateur will have problems.)
    In any event, thanks for an informative article.
    Jim

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    • Hi Jim,
      To solve the problem of people building imprecise machines, we put together some paper templates with the holes that will have to be drilled. This will make it easier to align the parts.
      For spindle on the hobby version a dremel, black decker or even a regular drill can be used, all of them having variable speed. I successfully used a drill before to drill my table holes made of aluminum (on a wood cnc). I use a black decker which can go up to 20 000 rpm and is perfect for engraving and woodworking. I used it to make some parts in aluminum for my 4th rotary axis. With a lower federate and cut depth it worked just fine.

      About not having a true circle, this sounds like a not properly calibrated machine or maybe if you push the cnc speed and feed too far you might get this problem, usually will hear it struggle and the cut won't look as good if this happens. But if you adapt the feeding to the machine (which is another thing we are including in our guide, a spreadsheet with various bit sizes, tested feeds and speeds for both machines), everything should be alright.

      We are considering making a ready to assembly kit, but this will depend on what people prefer. As making your own parts and knowing everything is built from scratch by you is some of the fun of building this project.

      Greatly appreciated your feedback, if there are other concerns you would like me to address, I will try my best to answer them.

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      • If possible, you should offer both, a DIY Kit with most/all of the parts or at least the "hard parts" and a set of detailed instructions on building your own from scratch, with the option of getting some of the most difficult parts from you.

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  • Yes, I am very interested in learning how to build these.

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  • Need the plans for both if you have them ready

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  • Yes would be interested great idea

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  • Yes, that would be GREAT! As soon as I could afford the lower cost I would build one and create more things to have fun with.

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  • Would love to build one of these. Please let me know where I can get the plans

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  • Yes , definitely would like plans and details.

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  • yes ... very interested ... would even be willing to pay for it... LOL

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  • I would love to build one of these. I have designs to redo my Simulator and with CNC machine I could manufacture a lot of my own parts. Tis would be great. Please let me know when the finished plans would be available to purchase or download. Great Idea!

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  • I would like to adapt this to engraving small flat items such as keys. Your opinion?

    I'd buy the video/plans.
    Thanks,

    Danno

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  • Absolutely Yes!

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  • Yes, I would be Very interested in the plans and instruction DVD.

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  • The CNC hobby version looks like it would be fun to make and play with. Waiting for the guide and plans.

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  • This idea sounds really exciting. Taking the place of endless research of what is needed and how to accomplish making a cnc and then wondering if it will really work. Having everything in one place would be revolutionary. People could get on with the experience of creating rather than spending most of their time wondering how to create. Sign me up!

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  • I would love to build a CNC machine once the plans are available.

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  • yes would like to buy kit to build one of these.

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  • Info on actually building a CNC for MAC is what I am interested in.

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  • When is this happening? Very interested.

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  • Very interested in future information-well done.

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  • I am very interested in learning more.

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  • I would buy these plans and videos sets! I'm thinking I could build the hobby one first. Start making some money with it making wood items like furniture. Then I would build another one optimized with a plastic extruder to make even more money making 3D plastic items. Then I would build the Pro model with vacuum holddown, and a 5hp spindle with VFD for speed control, etc. Make even more money with it doing larger wood and soft metal projects. Then build another one optimized to use a plasma cutter. So in the end, my shop would have the four machines and I could even offer some employment for the local young people who would like to work with their hands. This could be a real bootstrap local business opportunity. Thanks!

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  • This would be great! Even to start off with the cheaper version for wood projects to get a good feel for how it works and upgrade to the better version later for some more serious metal/aluminum projects. Sign me up!

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  • Everyone has heard that your house is only as good as your foundation. In machine building the machine is only as good as it's base. I have been in the automated machinery business since early 1990's. I came across this company with quality machine bases: http://www.interlakesbases.com/ I made a similar machine in 1986 and found my weak point was that my DIY table/base was not built with the exact tolerances and therefore issues like vibrations and other unintended problems haunted me. Even though I got years of use out of the machine, after looking back, I wished I had built a better base. Word to the wise!

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  • hey Alex,
    Great idea, great post, great video. Been looking into buying one for quite sometime but a lot of the manufacturers seem to be on the cusp of newer (more advanced) technologies ie. wireless (that's a big deal actually) so your computer doesn't have to be tethered to the machine in a dirty environment (but has the option if one wants/ needs), interchangeable tools (mill, dremel, laser, extruder, plasma cutter/ oxy-acetalene torch) etc. all being a big deal for me. Ideal solution(s) should be quick & easy to change out + software (should work seamlessly within multiple programs being CAD, 3D modeling &/or draw programs that are already in main stream use ie. Solidworks, Autocad, Sketch up, Softimage 3D Max, Lightwave, Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw) etc. Not really big into always having to learn new software, so being able to make drawings (&/or 3D objects) in programs that I am already working with is a HUGE plus for me + bridging those divides will/ would attract those in the respective fields to the product to get involved. Draw programs such as Adobe Illustrator & Corel Draw not to be taken lightly as sign makers all over the globe use these programs to design scale-able artwork to make signs (& a huge business when using plastics & foam for making signs). Thinking system should also have method of automatic dust collection (for wood, plastics & foam etc.) & circulatory lube system for cutting into steels & metals (whichever operator chooses). I realize that such a system would pose many problems for cut particulates (one being collection & separation thereof) & the other being cleanliness of work pieces &/or different materials thereof when changing over system for same). Suggestion would be that given the aforementioned (whatever the design) it should meet this criteria. Design of the aforementioned should also easily prevent contamination of either system (being either dust of any sort ie. wood, plastic, foam) vs. liquid (being lubrication of any kind for steel or metals + suspecting some form of filtration for lube system would be required if designed as circulatory which would be preferred). Clean up between either configuration should be relatively quick & painless. Also thinking that system should support "servo" or "stepper motors" whichever one chooses (& should be retro-fit-table should one decide to convert later down the line for whatever reason). Lastly, the system should be able to work on round/ cylindrical objects (such as pipe or tubing). I realize that this would be a challenging task (a "tall order" if you will) but certainly not impossible, in fact..... as I am writing this, the realistic possibilities of such a machine are coming to me (although some potential "bugs" to the system would likely have to be ironed out). At any rate..... something that could be built afford-ably to meet these specifications, would be of high interest to me (& many others I would suspect).
    Wishing you well & if you would like to interact on further thoughts in this regard I would be happy to share my thoughts in a more detailed manner (this is very much possible) although I do admit that looking at it initially from the surface (given the dust/ air collection) vs. the lubrication system for steel & metals, it does appear to be more than one machine.

    Sincerely,

    Darrell Flegel
    FLEGEL ENTERPRISES Inc.

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  • I have watched several people over the years on Youtube run these machine but not knowing how to build one. I would be very interesting in learning to build one of these machine.

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  • First, let me tell you that I am a CNC programer. To say there is a "learning curve" is an understatement. Unless there is a programing language for a DIY machine that is really simplified for the average person, most people will give not have a clue what they are looking at. That said, what I saw your machine doing while making your sign was very impressive. The thing I would like to stress the most is, if you want a high degree of accuracy, don't go for the "cheap" bearings. Even if they hold accuracy at first, they will wear out quickly (depending on the weight of the material you are working on). Remember, if you want high quality parts, you need high quality tools. Also, keep the ways and bearings covered. Not many things will wear your nice new machine out faster than wood shavings or saw dust. Other than that, I think you have a GREAT idea.

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  • Alex,
    A CNC for prepping, You bet. I started down this path by building the pipe cnc on istructables. just to get my feet wet so to speak, and to learn the basics of how the machine operates. There are other tutorials on you-tube as well. The DIY community has been very helpful in sorting the things that crop up in any build, someone, somewhere has done it before. When I started on the second CNC build I wanted a stouter machine, as the first does not have the rigidity to do the things I wanted. The second machine uses 8020 extrusions and linear bearings, all of the components were purchased from e-bay, Precision Automation and, Inventables.
    During the build of the second machine I needed some custom parts, 3D printed parts. Instead of trying to do the printer from the ground up I purchased an Ord-Bot Hadron kit, the control electronics, extruder and some filament. The build process is pretty straight forward with the wiki instructions and you-tube videos. The control electronics for the printer is an Arduino Mega with a stepper shield and stepper drivers, all can be purchased as a kit from e-bay or amazon. the arduino will have to be programmed with firmware, there are several choices ( mine is Merlin). All the software that I use for my 3d printer is open source, free (donations are appreciated). There are commercial versions available as well, most with free trials.
    It is different for my cnc machines. I use Mach 3 for the machine control software it can control up to 5 axis of machine movement. You can set up multiple machines in mach, mills, lathes, plasma etc. I am currently trying different software packages for the G-code editor and haven't settled on which I am going to use.
    As for the creation of the things I make in the 3d environment I'll be using Sketchup. There is a book out, brand new, that deals with this. 3D printing and CNC fabrication with Sketchup. There are some plugins that you will need to add to Sketchup to export the files in the proper format for machining or printing.
    With these machines what you may want or need is only limited by your imagination....

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  • Yes I would love some plans. My small business would see a real competitive edge with a CNC.

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  • Sign me up

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  • I like the option of the kit with most of the difficult-to-find parts with the plans and software instructions. And you should definitely charge for your intellectual tour-de-force in moving from the dreaming phase to the hardware build.
    Thanks for stimulating my dreams.

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  • Having a small machine already I'm interested in expanding. Your guide sounds like the exact resource I could use to accomplish this!

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  • Yes, I would be Very interested in the plans and instruction DVD.

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  • Alex Yes, I would be Very interested in the plans and instruction DVD.

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  • Very interested

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  • Sir I am a Mech. Engineer. Want to build a CNC Milling Machine. I have done design in Solidworks but unable to synchronize Servo motor, and computer and other electrical or electronic parts with the machine. Please help me to complete the project. The machine will be used in my micro scale business. My mail ID is [email protected] Mobile No + 91 9007168003

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  • I too am very interested in the availability of the plans and instructional DVD.

    Thank you!
    Kelley Jernigan

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  • Great

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  • As a machinist apprentice, I absolutely love the idea of building my own CNC mill! I really enjoyed this article. The video, being only 2:39, I thought was a nice quick overview, but I'd like to see the entire build for both versions. Great stuff here, thank you for sharing!

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  • Hi, how do I get the plans instructions etc that is needed for this build please?

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    • Vicky, thank you for asking. Click the banner at the end of this article to go to the product, please.

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