CNC Machining and DIY 3D Printing on a Mac


There has been some discussion in the community about running a CNC or a 3D printer on a Mac and not much resources in the way o this, luckily one of our readers contributed this piece to us.

I once made a X/Y axis plotter entirely out of cardstock (thick paper, really nice stuff). Amazingly you could manually move the x and y axis, with a sharpie as a plotting pen, and draw some precise shapes. I can’t find the pictures because I think I lost them when I reformatted my old iMac.

Well I want to take it even further. I actually want to make it again only this time put more thought into making it stronger and more like home made CNC tables I’ve seen. This CNC machine will actually have small toy mot

ors attached to all-thread screws and a nut attached to the sliding axis. The linear bearings for the slider are going to be rolled up rubber bands like wheels and using a paperclip as an axle. This will act as a bearing that rides on card stock tubes or triangular prisms. The new and improved CS CNC machine will be build sturdy. I don’t expect it to hold a dremel tool, but I do expect it to be able to use a knife or writing tool, and maybe a small custom made motorized drill that can drill balsa or paper.

The craziest thing about this CNC is I want to use my 16/16/0 Phidget Interface board and drive each motor with off and on controls (no speed control). With some tricky programming, I hope to make things like angles and cur

ves by rapidly turning off and on the x or y motor, up to the maximum refresh of the board which is 125Hz. I know this is crazy, but I am an expert on making things with cardstock and I don’t have to spend lots of

money, time, fabrication to make a test CNC machine. Plus this would be awesome to show people that I made a CNC machine out of paper, toy motors, a phidget board, and especially a Mac. I had simple and interesting idea. Red/Blue/Green LED’s are cool; they can make any color my changing the 3 voltages. I was thinking o

f a way to represent numbers like on a binary clock

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A while ago, I became fascinated with homemade cnc xyz engraving/plotters. Around this time I got my iMac and got r

eally into Macs and Apple. I did a Google search for Mac controlled hobby CNC tables and only found two websites, both which don’t have any working software for download or very out of date running on classic Mac OS. So I figured I will have to make real CNC software for Mac OS X and a table to run it on. Ok, I personall

y don’t have enough experience writing cocoa apps to actually make anything, but if anyone reading this can I would really appreciate your help. So the first thing I need to do is make a Hobby CNC xyz table with interchangable tools such as a Dremel. There are plenty of plans out there but I need to find a good one for the t

ype and size of projects I want to use it for. I want to be able to engrave materials like plastic or aluminum or cut pieces out of thin materials like balsa, paper, and maybe soft sheet aluminum. Another cool thing that you can do is engrave traces for a PCB; Eagle PCB making software is even ported to Mac. So I decided

I want a table with a moving tool instead of a moving table because I can adjust the size of the table and not have to worry about mounting. But first I have to figure out how exactly how I am going to control the motors. I thought about using regular DC gear motors, because they are more efficient, powerful,easier to make s

mooth curves, and I already have the controllers and motors. Also I can more easily control the speed from the software instead of figuring out controlling a stepper and messing with the timing. the only problem is I will have to use encoders to accurately control where the tool is located and at what speed and apply braking to the

motors when needed.  There is so much to deal with like writing the software, motor control from the Mac, building a reliable table mechanically and accurately controlling a DC motor instead of a stepper, but in the end I think it will be a great project for the advancement in robotic control with the Mac.

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2 thoughts on “CNC Machining and DIY 3D Printing on a Mac

  1. Hi,
    I plan to build my own CNC routing table ( and pilot it with a mac (PC if not) for 2 1/2D applications. I am trying to see what CAD CAM software to use and also what electronics to buy. You mentioned the Phidgets one. Can you elaborate ?

  2. I have been building a 4 axis CNC machine. I am lucky enough to have a small Lathe and a pillar drill and can make many of the parts I need. I plan to use stepper motors and a 5 axis stepper control board I bought on Ebay. In fact I purchased most of the parts needed on Ebay. I first got the idea from a web site called Instructables where a couple of fellows got together and built a 3 axis machine using drawer slides purchased from B&Q these have to be used in pairs to remove side slop. This is probably the tricky part, eliminating back-lash throughout all the drives. I chose to use an old Zucor draughting machine slides for 2 axes and the slides from a charity shop skying machine for the third axis. this should give me a CNC envelope of 4ft x 2ft x 3″ (1220 x 610 x 75)mm. The 75mm is limited by the reach of the tool head/chuck and tool projection.
    I had planned to use software called Mach3 from “Artsoft” on a PC as my new iMac and indeed, most newer machines. doesn’t have the 25pin printer port needed. However I have heard of an interface board that uses a usb port. It is also supposed to be faster as it is dedicated to the job, unlike the computer. As I have just said. “I heard” of it and, if anyone can help expand my knowledge about this board It would be much appreciated. I Plan to mainly use it for model making and hot wire cutting. In future, after I get it working well, I plan to look into using a small Lazar for cutting.
    Hope this gives some ideas and inspires anyone feeling it is beyond there means to build a CNC machine at home.

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