Jun 21, 2016 | By Alec

As any experienced maker will tell you, a 3D printer is best used in combination with other industrial making tools to enable limitless tinkering. Brothers Dan and Andrew from the DIY Dudes blog – who previously 3D printed this impressive crossbow – are all too aware of that, and have therefore just completed the remarkable DIY Rift CNC machine. Relying on numerous 3D printed components to achieve precise cutting results, it’s a fantastic machine that could really add a whole new dimension to your DIY projects.

As Dan explains, a CNC machine had been on his brother’s wish list for years. “Ever since my brother was a wee boy he wanted a CNC machine. While I was climbing trees, playing tag, and goofing around, he was tinkering with electronics and salvaging parts from old scanners. In fact, he wrote an Instructable on how to build a stepper controller from recycled parts 7 years ago when he was just a kid. Needless to say, a CNC machine was his childhood dream,” Dan recalled.

Though a few previous attempts were made when they were younger, they recently decided to combine all their making knowledge to produce a proper machine. Their first iteration was made from MDF and was quite mediocre, so they switched their attention to 3D printing instead. After building their own RepRap Rostock 3D printer, they decided to work on another CNC machine with the help of their new-found love for 3D printing.

This time around, the brothers opted to go for a complete metal and plastic combination; only the bed is made from MDF. The frame itself is constructed from aluminum parts and rods, while the rod guides are 3D printed in PLA. The linear rail system also features 3D printed PLA bushings, which slide on a 1/2" drill rod. “This is super cheap and works great in this setting,” Dan says, advising it to everyone.

The rest of the Rift features just a handful of off-the-shelf components, including large Nema 17 steppers on the X and Y axes with a 3.75:1 belt reduction. The Z axis, meanwhile, features a smaller Nema 17 stepper with a multi-start 8mm pitch lead screw. “The X and Y axes are belt driven with 6mm GT2 belt. I'm quite happy with this design. The 3D printed parts provide accurate alignment and ease of construction, while the aluminum angle and drill rod provide rigidity and strength,” Dan says.

The final build has a cutting area of roughly 10"x10"x2" (x, y, z). While a 2 inch Z axis seems tiny from a 3D printing perspective, Dan reveals that using a spindle with a 1/8" collet – they used a Dremel – won’t leave much more room in any situation. And as you’ll mostly be cutting into flat objects, you won’t need much more space anyway. Incidentally, they won’t be using the Rift to cut metal or going through huge chunks of wood, instead focusing on milling circuit boards and cutting wood with a reasonable depth of cut.

What’s more, they say that they’ve found that their setup is quite sturdy. “Traditional DIY CNC skeptics would probably suggest that unsupported rods, printed bushings, and printed brackets and fittings would lead to a uselessly flimsy CNC machine, but in fact the machine is more than sturdy enough,” Dan argues. “When it comes down to it, a machine is only as good as its weakest component. In our case the Dremel or the steppers will stall out long before the rigidity of the frame becomes an issue.”

To complete the exterior, the brothers built a pine and plywood enclosure that features a sliding plexiglass door on the front side. For a perfect view, they also added plexiglass windows on the sides of the CNC machine. “The enclosure works great and I can't imagine using the machine without it (sawdust everywhere!)” Dan says. And to ensure that dust won’t go everywhere within the enclosure either, they even added a small shop vacuum, which was hooked up to the head of the machine.

To complete the build, the DIY dudes simply added an Arduino mega with a ramps board. “It is running a version of GRBL. We are currently controlling the machine with BCNC on the computer,” Dan says. Of course, it also includes a big red stop button – a necessity for every CNC machine.

So far, they say, the Rift – named because it fiercely tears great rifts in wood – is running perfectly. You can see it cutting wood in the clip below. While some improvements are already on the agenda – including a proper vacuum attachment – the brothers are immensely pleased with the results. While they are not yet sharing the 3D printable files for their Rift CNC machine, replicating it should be fairly easy when keeping a close eye on the DIY Dudes blog post.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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