Written By: Bill Griggs - May• 31•13

Aluminum Warp Drive Project

I love to make CNC Router tables. I am constantly modifying my 3 axis CNC Router table to add new features and functionality. I originally built the machine in 2009 and have done 3 major upgrade prior to this. Each upgrade has worked  better than the previous version so I decided make an aluminum CNC router build. I am adding machined aluminum parts to replace all the MDF parts.

The original machine was built from a set of plans I got from Joescnc. the plans showed a basic machine that could be easily built and modified with out the need for metal working machinery. I have slowly been tweaking the machines construction for the last 4 years to the point that it is now a distant cousin to the original 3 Axis CNC Router with MDF carriages and Lead screws. After my 3rd rebuild (Warp Drive Project) was so successful I decided to finalize the design in aluminum.


3 Axis CNC Router with MDF carriages and Lead screws.


This time around I am adding all aluminum parts that I designed nearly 2 years ago. Time and money kept me from completing the project up till now. I have been slowly chipping away at the project and building the parts one at a time. First I completed the Y axis plates from 3/4″ 6061 aluminum bar stock.

Y axis plate

3/4″ aluminum Y Axis carriage plate.

The new Y plates will support rack & Pinion drives from CNC Router Parts. I did all the design work using Alibre Design and Mastercam.

V-bearing standoffs

V-bearing standoffs

The plates will ride on V-Bearing mounted to specially designed steel standoffs. The V- Bearings are fully adjustable for tightness and contact. The neat V Bearing standoffs were developed by the students for the Y carriages. The standoff is threaded into the plate so it can be adjusted by screwing it in or out. There is a smooth surface for the CNCRP drives to rotate on and a threaded stud for the lock nut. I replaced the threaded rods with these.




The original MDF carriages worked great in most application so why build in aluminum? Because I am a maker and like to learn new things. I just like building machines and always wanted to learn how to work metal. I was fortunate to have the chance to work along side the Mechanical Engineering Technology students at Morrisville State College  and help  the  students make A CNC Router table.

I supplied my own materials and provided the sweat equity to build my parts from aluminum bar stock.  during the process I learned quite a bit about machining and taught the students more about CNC Router tables. I will continue to volunteer at M.E.T. program because I believe in what they are doing. Training the next generation of Engineers to tackle unusual projects.


I wanted to make the X axis easier to adjust and keep in aligned to the  angle iron guide rails.  I also wanted to make the X axis extrusion less prone to flexing. To do both of these things I decided to double the thickness of the extrusion. I did that by bolting two identical pieces of 8020 extrusion together with threaded inserts and bolts. I joined two 8020 rails together with special threaded inserts. I milled/drilled through both rails while they were clamped together on a Bridgeport mill. Then I drove the threaded inserts into the 8020. This setup gave me a very solid rail and allowed me to use materials I already had.

Threaded Inserts

Threaded Inserts join the 8020 extrusion together.

I also changed the mounting point of the extrusion from the sides to the ends. This allowed me to bolt the Y carriage plates directly  to the extrusions. The new mounting system is very robust. I have yet to see any flexing on the machine we built at the college (which uses the same 8020 mounting scheme.

On the X axis carriage I widened the bearing mount rods and eliminated the threaded rods in favor of a shaft and spacer bushing. I turned the spacer bushings on a  metal lathe to ensure a tight fit.  I also added an adjustable bottom bearing system with set screws to lock the carriage in place. Adding these made the carriage rock solid.

x gantry

X Gantry assembly prior to mounting.


Z axis

Out with the old. Two prior MDF versions.

The new Z axis is quite different from previous versions of the Z axis. The major Z axis change from the first version is to do away with the lead screw in favor of a Rack & Pinion system. I spent a good deal of time on that modification (The Warp Drive Project) and even made plans available. The aluminum CNC Router build takes the Warp Drive Concept a step further. I added the ability to tram the head, a wider range of adjust-ability for the bearings and hardened guide rails.



So was it worth it doing all these modifications? In my opinion yes. I have a more serviceable machine now with extremely rigid construction. The rails roll smoother than before and the cuts look better. The tramming head feature alone was worth the change. Besides that, I got a great deal of pleasure from experimenting and building things in a new way.

The new Aluminum CNC Router build  has one other benefit I was not counting on.  It is able to lift significantly more weight on the Z axis. My next change will include adding an air cooled high speed spindle to the Z axis. it should allow me to cut 3/4″ plywood in a single pass.


I haven’t decided if I should make plans available for the aluminum CNC Router parts.  I have plans available for the MDF version already. Most people could build that version without advanced tools. What do you think? Let me know by leaving a comment below or reach me on Twitter: @BillGriggs.





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  1. Leslie Ubeda says:

    Hi Bill,

    Great work you’ve been doing. I would like to know if you decide to make plans for the aliminum CNC Router parts. Let me know please


  2. mcduffey says:

    If the plans didn’t cost too much I would like to build this machine. Is there a way of getting them?

  3. Bill Griggs says:

    Thanks Leslie. Do you have the equipment to machine aluminum?


  4. Bill Griggs says:

    I have plans for an MDF version available but have not decided if I should make plans for the aluminum available.

  5. Bill, i’d like to take a look at them for the purpose of a new build.

  6. Mike Falkner says:

    Great job and very nice presentation. Do you have plans that you want to sell?

  7. Rick McCaskill says:

    Great job. Love how smooth it is. Will follow your progress.

  8. Bill Griggs says:

    Thanks for the encouraging words Rick. I have had fun building it and it taught me a lot.

  9. Francisco Gutierrez says:

    I like your work so much!! If i have your plans it would be simply perfect

  10. Bill Griggs says:

    Thanks Francisco. Check out this link for more CNC information.


  11. Bob Avery says:

    Hi Greg … nice job on the router. I see you also are involved in RC Planes …. I have my controller and steppers all together … I like your design …. the old KISS principle … nice. I am up north for the holidays but will be back down to my home in Florida before Jan … I’ll order you plans when I get there. I have a full metal and woodworking shop there. No problem putting this project together. Have a good holiday and keep the young boy interested … take care, Bob

  12. Bill Griggs says:

    Hi Bob,

    Glad you like the site. Yes I have flown R/C for over 40 years.


  13. paul dake says:

    nice to hear that model airplanes are still being built–
    I still build the old fashioned way with balsa and made gliders for the grand kids for Christmas this year–

    Question–did you use the mdf machine to make your aluminum one??

    Have a great holiday.

  14. Bill Griggs says:


    Nice to see a fellow airplane builder. No I did not use the MDF machine to make the aluminum parts for the new machine, but I could easy have. I have cut aluminum with the old machine but it makes a mess with chips everywhere. Since I had access to a machining center I used that instead. There is no reason why you couldn’t make the aluminum parts using the MDF carriages.

  15. Angela Hornback says:

    Im interested in a set of the aluminum plans. How much are they? Yes I can machine aluminum and steel as well as draw any parts and dxf/svg/eps needed. thanks

  16. tony cervone says:

    Nice work, Bill. I am curious to know a bit more about how you joined two identical extrusions for additional strength. I , too, am modding an old cnc and need double up on some 8020. How far did you space the bolts? thanks

  17. Bill Griggs says:

    Thanks Tony.

    I used threaded inserts I showed in the article. I spaced the bolts every 12″.


  18. Severin says:

    We have a CNC machine for MDF mainly, but we are thinking about aluminium milling. Is it really possible to machine both of these materials on the same CNC router?

  19. Bill Griggs says:

    Certainly, you can machine aluminum with a CNC Router table. Proper choice of endmill and feed and speed rate are critical.

  20. Lew OHare says:

    I built one out of MDF but would like to convert to aluminum. As a retired Prototype Jobsetter I can work with aluminum and steel. If your plans become available please let me know.

  21. steve cseley says:

    i like the gantry plate do you sell them and what it cost im building cnc mashine slowly and need a good plate thank you steve

  22. Nic says:

    I would love to get a copy of the aluminum build!

  23. Eric says:

    Very nice build!
    Do you have an estimate of the total materials cost including stepper motors and controls for this build?

  24. Bill Griggs says:

    About $4000.

  25. Wolfgang says:

    Excellent work Bill! i have access to various machining tools and would very much like to build a CNC aluminum router version. Are the plans available?

  26. Bill Griggs says:

    Thank Wolfgang. i have not released the plans for the aluminum version.

  27. Luis Miguel Mediavilla says:

    Hi,I’must living in an industrial area,I have an easy access to laser cut,water cut,and a lot of parts,for me,will be great the plans for anext aluminium cnc machine,thanks.

  28. The oracle says:

    Don’t think twice…release the plans … it will be a blessing

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