Homemade MDF CNC Router

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Project by dogsop posted 10-19-2011 02:38 AM 16242 views 30 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

My first CNC router, based on this Instructables design.

It is built of MDF, using skate bearings and 0.5” steel rods for the bearing surfaces. The working area is approximately 13” x 8”. It is never going to cut metal but I’m having a blast learning to cut signs and other wooden patterns.

9 comments so far

View PurpLev's profile


8645 posts in 4654 days

#1 posted 10-19-2011 02:43 AM

very cool build!

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View live4ever's profile


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#2 posted 10-19-2011 02:50 AM

Cool! Thank goodness I don’t have space for one of these…otherwise I’d definitely be trying to build one.

Post something you’ve cut with it!

EDIT: Oh, you did!

-- Optimists are usually disappointed. Pessimists are either right or pleasantly surprised. I tend to be a disappointed pessimist.

View Raymond's profile


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#3 posted 10-19-2011 02:57 AM

Great job was this your own design? I have always wanted one.

-- Ray

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Michael Wilson

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#4 posted 10-19-2011 03:48 AM

Love it! Is MDF sufficiently rigid for this kind of thing?

View exelectrician's profile


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#5 posted 10-19-2011 08:48 AM

That is so cool, mix electronics, software, and wood and this is what you get.

-- Love thy neighbour as thyself

View dogsop's profile


19 posts in 3419 days

#6 posted 10-19-2011 02:14 PM

Thanks for the comments.

Someone ask about the stiffness of the MDF. There is some flex in the long beam but it works fine as long as you don’t try to cut too deep or too fast.

When we get around to building a replacement, something which supports a larger router and has a larger base, it will probably be made out of plywood or laminated 1” lumber. Still, starting small isn’t a bad way to go. All of the electronics and some of the hardware will get reused.

View ABQJohn's profile


16 posts in 3866 days

#7 posted 10-19-2011 02:51 PM

That’s fabulous, and I love the Christmas ornaments you’ve cut out –

Could you post a more detailed project page on your router – what electronics did you use? I see limit switches… were they hard to set up?

For anyone interested in exploring CNC, check out

As for MDF versus wood, the consensus I have seen is that wood is not a good idea, due to the close tolerances required. Just a little wood movement can adversely affect the machine. That is why MDF seems to be the low-cost starting-out choice. It sounds like a lot of it depends on the humidity situation where you live. Most wood-based machines cannot cut metal (or can only cut certain aluminums at very slow speeds).

For upgrades, most second machines are often based on aluminum extrusion.

On the CNCZONE website, a lot of people start with the MDF-based JGRO machine, then migrate to the more detailed MDF-based machine Joe’s 2006 R-2 (or the extrusion-based Joe’s 4X4). I have my electronics kit (, but it needs assembled. I plan on building a JGRO router for my first one.

A big hearty congratulations on getting one built & able to cut!!

View dogsop's profile


19 posts in 3419 days

#8 posted 10-20-2011 04:13 AM


I added a picture showing my electronics. I also built my own electronics. I got mine from He sells blank PCB’s rather than kits but I have a local source for the parts. The cost was probably similar to what you paid for a kit from by the time I paid for the parts.

I did like the fact that each axis was a separate board, it made troubleshooting easier since I could swap controllers between motors. I did damage one of the chips during my setup. Replacing a chip was a lot cheaper than having to replace an entire commercially built controller.

Limit switches aren’t hard. Each axis has two switches, wired in series. In my case the limit switches connect to my breakout board, in your case the breakout board and the controllers are all on the same board. It is worth adding the switches, I still bump into one occasionally if I move an axis manually and the PC controller software (EMC2) loses track of where the router is in relation to the ends of the axis.

View ABQJohn's profile


16 posts in 3866 days

#9 posted 10-21-2011 10:19 PM

Thanks for the update.

I can see where it might be nice to have a board for each axis – (but I am thinking from the “I screwed it up” perspective – if I screwed it up seriously enough, I would still have two more boards and a ruined one, not just one ruined one!).

I am rusty with my soldering skills, so I bought some basic kits from Radio Shack to practice on before tackling the HobbyCNC board.

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