Apple CNC

It’s a shame to toss out those beautiful boxes Apple products come in. The Apple iMac computer in particular comes in a big, gorgeous box made of quality cardboard that’s just begging to be repurposed into something great.

James Coleman, founder of the design group ParaPractice, saw a discarded iMac box as an opportunity to create a CNC drawing machine.

An illustration of the various positions of the Sarrus linkage.

An illustration of the various positions of the Sarrus linkage.

Unlike many drawbot designs, which make use of flat CNC plotters or wall-mounted cable systems, Coleman’s design transforms the iMac box into a Sarrus linkage. A stepper motor and connected shaft within the cardboard linkage orients the pen vertically. For horizontal movement, a stepper motor in a nearby rotary table slips the paper back and forth beneath the pen.

Because the system only uses two axes, the design does not allow for a way to control the pen to be lifted off the page. Instead, images are processed into a single, unbroken line. Whether that’s seen as a limitation or a prized bit of artistic character is up to you.

Coleman has beautifully documented his entire project online, including this hilarious chart highlighting the various prime cuts of the iMac box.

Know your cuts of iMac box. Illustration by James Coleman.

Know your cuts of iMac box. Illustration by James Coleman.

Before you jump in, though, it’s worth noting that the heart of this rig is a custom fabricated driver board known as the Gestalt Node. There are resources available to build the board on your own, but that facet of the project quickly takes this out of the shallow end of the Maker pool.

That said, there’s no reason the Sarrus linkage cardboard design can’t be applied to any combination of motor shield and control board you’re comfortable with. So if you like what you see, check out the project, download the cutting template, and go to town.

Linkage assembly, illustrated by James Coleman.

Linkage assembly, illustrated by James Coleman.