Build a Drawbot from Two CD Drives and a Raspberry Pi

CNC & Machining Raspberry Pi Technology Workshop
Build a Drawbot from Two CD Drives and a Raspberry Pi

CD ROM Plotter

You may not know it, but your old computer CD ROM drive is a treasure chest of useful components. Inside you’ll find stepper motors, rare earth magnets, bearings, and coils. It’s enough futuristic-looking greeblies to construct your own Star Wars prop, or maybe even your own portable CNC drawbot.

A collection of parts pulled from optical and hard drives. Photo by cordaroyfog
A collection of parts pulled from optical and hard drives. Photo by cordaroyfog

To prove the point of what can be done with a few repurposed CD ROM drives, Norbert Heinz popped open a pair, stacked them perpendicularly, wired up their stepper motors to a pair of H-bridge driver boards, and controlled his new creation with a Raspberry Pi.

CD ROM Plotter Wiring Diagram

The result is a CNC Pen Plotter that can move on an X/Y axis. To take it further and add the ability to have the pen automatically lifted from the surface (on the Z axis), Norbert added a simple servo to lift or drop the lightweight metal arm that attaches the pen to the unit.

You can find the full instructions for creating this DIY plotter posted here, along with the video walkthrough.

YouTube player

I love this project both for its small size and its creative reuse of cheap, old technology. It’s also great to see how Norbert took deliberate steps to make the device portable, including a Wi-Fi adapter to send bitmap image data to the Pi, and adding a lead-acid battery to get enough power to both the motors. That said, if you don’t have a large battery handy, the project can quickly get off the ground with conventional benchtop power supply or probably even a basic breadboard power supply.

Soldering Penguin

So hack away, and show us what you create! You can tweet your creations to me if you feel so inclined. And for more inspiration on scavenging interesting components from old technology check out Make: magazine’s guide to tearing down an old computer printer.


15 thoughts on “Build a Drawbot from Two CD Drives and a Raspberry Pi

  1. Scott Tuttle says:

    pretty neat. just needs a servo strong enough to lift a dremel and you have an engraver :P

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    2. NorbertHeinz says:

      The stepper motors are not strong enough to overcome the side load during engraving work. Have a look at my CNC machine V2 if you’d like to have a tool instead of a toy:

      1. Scott Tuttle says:

        sadly there’s a huge price difference.

        1. NorbertHeinz says:

          I’ll have a closer look at the motors in the old printers / scanners I have in my cellar. They have stronger motors that might be useful do build a cheaper CNC machine sometime…

          1. Scott Tuttle says:

            all the construction info is still valid no matter where you get the parts though. good work, thanks!

  2. James Smartt says:

    maybe a soldering iron, and have a CNC wood burner

    1. NorbertHeinz says:

      …a laser would be the better choice since that would avoid friction when moving along the paths. Stepper motors from CD drives are not very strong.

  3. Bharat says:

    wow… amazing!

  4. Rached Noureddine says:

    can i connect it to a Linux based computer without raspberry

    1. NorbertHeinz says:

      You need GPIOs to control the stepper motors. Of course you can replace the Raspberry with an Arduino to drive the mechanics and so to connect the plotter to nearly any computer through USB, but you will have to do some coding to make it work.

      1. Rached Noureddine says:

        Thank’s Man

    2. TimothyJ says:

      Before the days of Arduinos and Pi’s, we used the parallel port of desktop and laptop computers to provide GPIO for motor control. There’s lots of free software that takes direct control of the parallel port and can drive stepper controllers directly.
      But nowadays a parallel port card (if you can find one) costs more than an Arduino–unless you can salvage an old PC from 1995 or so.

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I make stuff, play music, and sometimes make stuff that plays music. Fan of donuts, Arduino, BEAM robotics, skateboarding, Buckminster Fuller, and blinking lights.

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