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A Homemade CNC Machine at Work

Not long ago, we visited Bill Bode in his garage shop on Long Island.

Mike Sloggatt had said about Bill: “Wait till you see this guy’s shop! He’s the exact opposite of me. You can eat off the floor of his garage.”

“What’s he build,” we wanted to know, “fine furniture?”

(Note: Click any image to enlarge.)

“No,” Mike laughed. “He makes speaker boxes! Out of MDF.”

We don’t know about you, but one of the things we hate most about MDF is the dust. It gets everywhere. That was the first thing we noticed about Bill Bode’s tightly organized shop. No dust. None. But it didn’t use to be that way.

Until he finished building his own CNC machine, Bill cut and routed all the interior support panels for his speaker cabinets with a handheld router and templates. You can imagine the MDF dust. Collecting dust from a router, especially when routing inside shapes, is notoriously difficult. Cleanup is exasperating. And even though router templates are easy to use and they produce precise parts, making too many of those parts isn’t good for your mental health. Besides, Bill wanted to spend more time with his daughter and less time doing mindless chores in this shop, like routing out the hundreds of interior braces he uses for his speaker cabinets.

With the help of a kit and instructions from www.JoesCNC.com, Bill solved a lot of problems by building his own CNC machine. But don’t think that just anyone can pull this off. Building your own CNC machine isn’t like making a model plane. Plus, once you build it, you need some serious computer skills to know how to use it! But the advantages are sweet. Bill can now setup several pieces on his CNC machine, then leave the shop and play with his daughter. When he comes back, there’s no mess to clean up!

And other than a little touch up with a flush-cutting bit to remove the alignment tabs, the pieces are picture perfect and ready to install.

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[Editors' note: Our thanks to Bill Bode for inviting us into his shop for this story.]

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AUTHOR BIO

Growing up, Bill enjoyed working in his dad’s shop, where he received a solid background in all types of woodworking. Later, Bill found work as a car audio installer, and particularly liked the constructive aspect of the installs. He soon became the main fabricator because of his carpentry knowledge and background. However, after many years of endless wiring and climbing in and out of cars, he found himself going back time-and-again to building subwoofer enclosures because he enjoyed that aspect of his job the most.

Now at 43 years of age, Bill has a business designing and building enclosures exclusively. No more wiring and climbing into cars.  Eventually, he decided that a CNC would be needed to produce the volume and quality of products that his business warranted.

Bill is constantly finding new uses for his homemade CNC machine. He is an active participant in online CNC forums, and is constantly seeking to expand his knowledge of CNC automation. He now cuts everything for his enclosures on his CNC machine and could not imagine having to do without it.

Comments/Discussion

12 Responses to “A Homemade CNC Machine at Work”

  1. James Voos

    This is great stuff!

    Can you give us a rough breakdown on parts cost as a ballpark?

    4×4 hardware investment
    Computer Software
    CNC controller, etc.

    This would really help in understanding what kind of budget is necessary for a reasonable CNC setup like Bill’s.

    Reply
    • Bill Bode

      Thanks for all the comments guys.

      The machine as you see it can be built in the range of $3200-5000 depending on software choice. I spent about $3600 including the controller and software. My controller was about $380 including the 4 motors. control and cam software was $780 That is a quick breakdown.

      Bill

      Reply
  2. James Voos

    One other resource. Apress has publised a book called Build Your Own CNC Machine. They include plans, but it is not as nice as Bill’s setup. It uses MDF as well, but not as much aluminum channel, which gives his machine a more professional look. It also doesn’t assume the type of woodworking machinery that most of us have access.

    Worth checking out. The authors are Patrick Hood-Daniel and James Floyd Kelly.
    Haven’t built mine yet, but this article may be the motivation I need to get it done finally!

    Reply
    • Jack

      Other options include mechmate.com for a really industrial strength DIY ($2K to $8K depending on your scrounging), or Shopbot for about $12K to $20K depending on options and model, but that is light commercial quality.

      BuildYourOwnCNC.com book version could be done for under $1K if you watch your purchases, and Joe’s for a bit more than the BYOCNC but not a lot.

      Other commercial models seem to be in the ShopBot and up category pricewise. ( ShopBot is shopbottools.com )

      Reply
  3. Jesse Wright

    Simply Amazing Bill! For the cost of making your own for this type of work it seems worth it. That also looks like a lot of fun!

    Reply
  4. Bobby Slack

    1. How easy is to change tools and have library/memory of other tools used? I imagine that this CNC does not come with a tool changer.
    2. How do you hold the part? With a vaccum?
    3. What is the smallest piece of solid wood you can hold on that table (assuming you use flow through technology)?
    4. Can you do a small nesting program?

    Reply
    • Bill Bode

      Tool changing is done on the router itself manually.

      There is a tool database in the cam software and you can add any new profile as well.

      I use clamps that work in the t slots in the table for holding work. No vacuum (yet)

      Small parts are no problem you just use tabs to hold it all together while machining.

      Nesting can be done automatically or manually in the cam software as well. I use vectric v-carve pro.

      I hope this answers some of your questions.
      Thanks
      Bill

      Reply
  5. JeffB

    I love CNC machines, but hate dust. I have never trusted the bag-based dust collectors and have opted for cyclones with really high quality filters instead. Is the dust collector doing a good job of filtering out the really fine dust? MDF dust can be nasty so you need good suction and good filtering, otherwise you just blow the fine stuff right back into the shop.

    Reply
    • Jack

      On the dust issue, check out Bill Pentz web site http://billpentz.com/woodworking/cyclone/index.cfm on dust collection. He agrees the bags just don’t get it. You need to get down to .3 micron to make it worthwhile.

      If you want to purchase off the shelf, go to http://www.clearvuecyclones.com/ … not cheap, but they work well. They use Bill Pendz’s design.

      This is the way I am planning on going. You can DIY Bill’s design or get a kit from Bill’s son, or purchase a Clearvue. DIY isn’t to bad except for the suggestesd 5HP motor! A few weekends (2 to 4 I guess, someone with better skills than I have a couple of days!) in the garage with a friend should have it fabricated.

      Reply
  6. Dave Mannion

    Bill is the software your using capable of a ramp or helical feed ? Could just be the piece you ran for the demo but it appears that your are drilling straight down before your forward motion is made. This will wear the bottom cutting edges quickly reducing life of even solid carbide spirals. Ramping is less likely to break bits at higher speed rates too, although your machine is not approaching the 700-1200+ IPM rates of larger machines :)

    Just curious as I’m looking at smaller machines for my own shop but I’ve run and programmed much much larger CNC machines in the past.

    Reply
    • Bill Bode

      Hi Dave, That particular file was just one I ran for the quick demo. I do use a 1″ ramp feed almost all the time. Most of my cutting is in the 180-220 ipm range. Since the video I have changed out the router for a spindle. I may soon upgrade to rack and pinion drives so I can cut it the 400-500 ipm range.

      Bill

      Reply
      • Dave Mannion

        Thanks for the reply Bill. With those future upgrades your going to be at a whole new level of machine… like a ShopBot or mini Thermwood :)

        My largest Busellato had 4 main DC spindles and had a 10 spot, on-board tool changer with dual garages (twin work fields). Plus 26 vertical and 8 horizontal drills. Talk about over-complicating things sometimes. I had to create a database to track all the possible tool parts and configurations.

        I used to have a customer that had a 6 head, air drive spindle machine (for wood). It had water-cooled spindle jackets. Insane ! :)

        Reply

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