CupCake CNC build, part 1: Introduction & background

3D Printing & Imaging Robotics
CupCake CNC build, part 1: Introduction & background

Having just arrived home from a quick trip to the hardware store, I was pleasantly surprised to see a large, unmarked, cardboard box sitting on my front steps. This isn’t an uncommon event, since I am constantly checking out cool products and projects for the Maker Shed, however this box was a bit larger than normal.

Oh wow, it’s the CupCake CNC kit from MakerBot Industries! I’d ordered it weeks earlier and had completely forgotten about it. (The truth is out: I have an atrocious memory, sad but true.)


And so the adventure begins! I’m going to document my “out of box experience” with a MakerBot. How many posts will the series be? I’m not sure since I’ve never built one. How often will I post about the build? Again, not sure, but I’ll try to do at least one a week, maybe more, it all depends on how much free time I have between all my other maker-ly projects.

A little background: My CNC experiences


I’ve been tinkering with CNC for about 10 years, and consider myself an enthusiast, not an expert. I do own a few CNC mills, routers, and lathes. I have retrofitted old mills, and even build one from scratch. Pictured above is my mobile CNC machine, dubbed the “MobileC.” I stuffed all the components into a mobile tool cart so I could bring it to hackerspaces, workshops, and events, all in the hopes of helping out fellow makers.


The mill is a Sherline 5400 that I retrofitted for CNC. Also, I added a few extra parts to make it even more useful. It has a longer reach, thanks to the headstock spacer block on the column, and a larger table that I simply mounted to the stock table. It’s a sweet machine. I love my little Sherline!


All the electronics are housed in the cart too! There is a 19″ LCD monitor, wireless keyboard and mouse, desktop computer, and CNC controller. It’s a tight fit, but it works perfectly. There is even an extra full-size drawer for tooling and accessories.


I’m thinking of replacing the computer, keyboard, and mouse with an HP TouchSmart, but I have to save a few more pennies for that upgrade.

Does anyone want to know more about my MobileC? Let me know in the comments. After I build my CupCake CNC, maybe I should do a series of articles on CNC machining?


I purchased the CupCake CNC kit with my own hard-earned cash. I waited several weeks for it to arrive, just like everyone else that placed an order. No favors, no freebies! Why did I buy one? Well, for two reasons.

  • Reason #1 – I like what MakerBot Industries is doing for the open source community and open manufacturing, so I wanted to support them!
  • Reason #2 – I am going to document the build for Make: Online, and if I like it, I’ll let you know, and if I don’t… well, I’ll let you know that too! No biased reviews here.
  • Reason #3 – I am a CNC junkie, and I had to have it, even if my wife was questioning whether I really needed another machine in my studio! “Ha!” I said, “You can never have too many machines!” Oops, only two reasons, right?! :)

Questions & suggestions:

Ask questions! Do you want to see a better picture of a particular part, a different camera angle, a video perhaps? Maybe you have a suggestion for a cool mod or a hack? Let me know in the comments. I’ll try to answer all of them as best as I can. Thanks!

Build history:

58 thoughts on “CupCake CNC build, part 1: Introduction & background

  1. 35mm says:

    Awesome dude, I was hoping someone would do this.

  2. Marc de Vinck says:

    Thanks! I think it’s going to be a fun build.

  3. Jean-Claude Wippler says:

    I also ordered a CupCake – should be in next month. You’ll be my vanguard ;) – looking forward to your progress.


  4. Anonymous says:

    You should remove the “taskforce” and CNC some custom lettering that says “MobileC”

    1. Marc de Vinck says:

      That is absolutely on my list of to-do’s. I didn’t make it yet because I actually don’t know if I like the name. MobileC? I like mCNC too. Any suggestions?

      1. CircuiyGismos says:

        CNC2Go or “toogo” for short.

        1. CircuitGizmos says:

          Obvious finger problem. *shrug*

        2. Marc de Vinck says:

          Hmmm, I do like CNC2go. Could be neat with a superscript “2-go”

  5. Luke says:

    This is great. I’ve been contemplating a makerbot purchase for some time now, so this will help push me off the fence. I would like to see some pictures of the finished parts mostly. What types of parts can it build well? What types of parts does it struggle with (since there is no support material)?

    Also, since you have some experience modding CNC’s, I would like to hear your thoughts on what it would take to expand the build size of the Cupcake CNC. I’ve heard varying reports on what the limitations are, so it would be cool to hear an unbaised report.

    Thanks and have fun!

    1. Marc de Vinck says:

      I’ll let you know about size limitations and/or expanding the build platform as soon as I get it finished. I haven’t seen one in person yet, so I’m not sure. My guess is the biggest issue would be the rigidity and/or mass of the machine. You need “bulk weight” to help stabilize the machine, especially with bigger build sizes. Shaking leads to inaccuracy.

      Ever move a knee-mill? I have, and they are HEAVY…and for a good reason!

  6. Luke says:

    BTW – is it possible to make a special feed for this series so I don’t miss it in the deluge of other make blog posts? Thanks!

    1. Marc de Vinck says:

      There are a few different solutions, I am trying to figure out what is best. I’ll let you know in a bit.

  7. John Park says:

    Now you’re going to make me really want one too! I shake my fist at you!!
    Also, I’d love to see you go into some detail on your mobile CNC rig, too. You know, in all your copious free time :)
    One additional request — would you consider setting up your build area for a time-lapse of the build? I’ll bet you’re already planning that.

    1. Marc de Vinck says:

      I will definitely get more info up about my CNC mill. It’s a great little machine.

      Timelapse? I don’t have a good dedicated system to shoot time lapse, and I plan on building it in several locations over several weeks. (studio, shop, and even my desk for the later parts) It’s a great idea, I’ll look into it more.

      I really should get a cheap camera and rig an Arduino to take the pics over an extended period of time. That would be an easy solution…or maybe my antique USB webcam might be the easiest solution?

  8. PaulBo says:

    How could you possibly *forget* that you’d ordered one of these? This is fantastic; I’ve been lusting after a CNC machine for months. Can’t wait to read about your experiences!

    1. Marc de Vinck says:

      I said I have a horrible memory! :)

  9. Jason says:

    Maybe a bit off topic, but does anyone know of a series of articles like this (or at least a complete easy to order/assemble kit) for a CNC milling machine?

    1. Marc de Vinck says:

      I have a ton of CNC resources. I’ll get a list together and post it up on a future installment, maybe one about my mobile CNC build? (and here too!)

      Off the top of my head, Crank Organ seems fairly popular, but there are a ton of kits out there. Google “DIY CNC kit”!

  10. Wayne Holler says:


    I’m looking to download the plans to construct my own wind generator using a treadmill motor.

    Thanks, Wayne Holler

  11. Chris Norrick says:

    I’ve been keeping tabs on the RepRap for awhile now patiently waiting till it got far enough along in it’s development to make the plunge. While reading a post on the RepRap on the Make blog I made the connection that Bre was involved with this thing called MakerBot and I’ve been drooling over the Cupcake ever since. I’m delighted to see this post and I look forward to the series. I’ve been “running the numbers” and making connections with people I know with laser cutters to see if I can scratch build one. At the very least I have some to the electronics bundles on my christmas list this year!

    1. Marc de Vinck says:

      Me too! I really like RRII – aka “Mendel”. I am hoping to make one using the CupCake machine for all the plastic parts. That will be my next series of posts! :)

  12. wimora says:

    Marc, you’ve hit on several topics that will keep me eagerly awaiting your updates. The Cupcake (and CNC milling) have interested me for some time but I hesitate to dive in because I have no experience with this sort of technology and as yet no way to experiment with it cheaply. The more posts and the more detail the better so please keep it coming!

    1. Marc de Vinck says:

      That’s great! I will try to be as detailed as possible (without going too crazy). Make sure you ask any questions that you might have along the way….I will try my best to answer them. As you can see above, I have a fairly good track record for responding to our readers! :)

  13. jason pepas says:

    I’d love to see an article about MobileC!

  14. tt says:

    I was initially excited to see a product like this, but the more I looked into it, the more I got disappointed. Be sure to see many examples of what is made with this machine in HIGH RESOLUTION before you decide to buy. Also, I suspect there is a fairly high profit margin for this kit and for what you get the some aspects of the industrial design and control interface seem pretty lacking. I am also disappointed in MAKE since the article is a full-blown ad for a product, with no objective review of the performance or significant mention of similar projects.

    The mobileC looks cool and is more of what MAKE should be about!

    Does anyone know of a decent desktop CNC machine in a kit form?

    1. Marc de Vinck says:


      “see many examples of what is made with this machine in HIGH RESOLUTION before you decide to buy”

      Please share some links! I’m always interested in seeing what others are printing. Also, I will take a lot of high-res pics when I’m done.

      “disappointed in MAKE since the article is a full-blown ad”

      It’s hardly an ad. I bought the kit (with my $) and I am documenting the build. A lot of people seem to enjoy it. That’s it. I have no affiliation with them.

      The CupCake has limitations, a lot of them, but it is also around 100k less than most other 3D printers. It’s for “early adopters” and not ready for “mainstream” sales. That being said, I have had a lot of fun assembling the kit. Although, it has been frustrating too. Read the other articles for more details.

      “control interface seem pretty lacking”

      I have worked with a lot of CNC machines. They all had horrible control interfaces! The CupCake’s ReplicatorG is simple, but works fine. Skeinforge, well that’s another story, but that’s not a control interface. It’s used for slicing up the .stl file. Use you own application for that if you want. Skeinforge is fairly awkward to use, and needs improvement. However, it’s free, and I suspect the new versions will be much better.

      ” fairly high profit margin” Really? OK, but I don’t see how that is relevant to me building one, unless I got a cut….which I don’t, but would be more than happy to accept! :) What’s the profit margin on other 3D printers? I’m not sure.

      “The mobileC looks cool and is more of what MAKE should be about!”

      I will be writing that up too! Thanks!

      “no objective review of the performance”

      I need to finish building it so I can give you a performance review. Right?

      “mention of similar projects.”

      I certainly will when it’s done, and I know what it can/can not do. Kind of hard to compare a pile of parts to other machines. Please send me links to any projects you might know of, so I can include them. Thanks!

      1. tt says:


        Sorry for the confusion, most of my comments are directed to the article in the magazine by Becky Stern. This blog entry is referenced by the article. The way the article is written is not really in the spirit of what I thought MAKE is about. It reads like an ad for the hype surrounding this product, with no concrete information for a builder to adequately determine if the kit is worthwhile. I found for the cost, the kit really could be better, which is basically admitted by Makerbot’s roadmap. It seems the open source documentation for replication on your own is obsolete. Also it is sort of disingenuous for them to compare assembling this kit to putting together Ikea furniture. It gets tiring to see these commercial kits (that should be better since they are commercial) get so much exposure when there are MAKERS out there doing some cool work out there.

        1. Becky Stern says:

          tt- Thanks for your honest opinion. My article is not a product review and does not claim to evaluate whether it’s worthwhile for a builder to buy one. It’s about how the company got started, which is very much in the spirit of what MAKE is about. These three entrepreneurial guys are definitely makers in the best and truest sense of the word, and I’m sorry if you didn’t get that sense from my article. If you want to talk about it more, please email me:

          1. tt says:

            Hi Becky,

            Thanks for your response. The issue I have is: the article is within the context of a magazine I read to find information about potential projects, approaches, and technical information. Almost all projects require some kind of purchase/scavenging to complete. The article on the Makerbot Industries is a profile piece, but it features a commercial product very extensively, with an exploded diagram, photos, some specifications, links to a build, etc. It appears from my perspective, that MAKE is endorsing the product since it is so prominently featured in the article. Otherwise there is some good content in the article, which pointed me to the RepRap project (where the main controls design for the CupCake comes from.) I just wanted to point out to others that when you start to look (beyond the hipster hyphy) at the capabilities of the machine, the output quality is really not as great as it seems from the photos in the article, and it is not really a finished product.

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