The Maslow is a large format CNC router capable of cutting wood and other materials with precision and repeatability, based on a digital file. A CNC (computer numerical control) machine allows makers to automate the cutting process in woodworking and other manufacturing operations. When the Maslow kit is built and software is installed, makers will have a fully functional CNC machine able to cut a surface of 4×8 feet, with adjustable cut depth. The design is open source so anyone can build it, from scratch or from a kit.
The application for this tool is enormous. Cabinet makers, hobbyists, sign makers, woodworkers, furniture makers, and more have all seen the value in automated cutting that can multiply their productivity and produce extremely intricate designs. Whether for personal use, side hustle, or full-time day job, the Maslow CNC is an incredibly versatile tool. You can build it for about $600 if you’ve already got an ordinary fixed-base router, and unlike traditional flatbed CNCs, its upright design takes up very little floor space in your shop or garage.
Maslow began as a hobby project of Bar Smith in 2015. In 2016 Hannah Teagle joined to help run a Kickstarter campaign to build an open source community around the project. In 2017 they showed the machine at Maker Faire Bay Area, shipped four batches of kits sending thousands of vertical CNC machines around the world, and watched the community take off.
Soon the logistics of packing and shipping kits became too much, and Bar and Hannah asked the Maslow community for help. They publicly posted the design files and made the factory tooling available to anyone who was willing to take on the task of continuing to make kits.
Maker Made CNC stepped forward and made kits available again only a few months after the last kit from Maslow shipped. Their mission is to continue the work of Bar and others by investing in updates to make the kit accessible to a wider audience of makers, and introduce products and accessories that will further enhance its functionality and capabilities.
BUILDING YOUR MASLOW CNC
Building the Maslow is a true DIY project. You can follow the complete, user-editable assembly guide here.
Scratch builders can also get schematics, blueprints, and CAD files for the custom parts on the Maslow website, so a local shop with a waterjet cutter and a press brake could easily make them.
Here’s an overview of how it all goes together.
1. Build the frame
To reduce cost and ensure the Maslow is available to as many makers as possible, the frame is built by the user from materials sourced at their local hardware store. While there are multiple options for the frame, we recommend the wooden Default Frame designed by the Maslow community; it’s the most common and the simplest to construct . Full plans can be found here.
The top crossbeam, which holds the X and Y motors in place, is the most structurally critical element in the frame. This piece is made from a single, 10-foot-long 2×4 beam. The rest of the frame is there to support the piece of plywood being cut. The default design is made from eight 2×4s screwed and glued together.
Frame customization is also common, with designs made to fit user spaces. Some fold away when not in use, are enclosed to reduce noise, or make the machine larger or smaller than the default design.
Once the frame is built, you’ll mount the X-Y motors and tensioning pulleys, and hang the drive chains.
2. Assemble the ring
At the center of the machine is a ring where the two drive chains meet to support the router. This ring kit ensures that as the sled shifts and rotates from the pull of the motors, the router bit remains centered and undisturbed for a smooth cut line. Full instructions for assembly can be found on our site.
3. Assemble the electronics
Maslow is built around time-tested electronics. An Arduino Mega 2560 is used as the “brains” of the machine, while the custom motor controller shield allows for individual control of the multiple motors.
The motor controller plugs into the Maslow’s three gearmotors (we use a closed-loop control system which is a little fancier than a stepper motor) and connects via USB to a computer where the machine is controlled using software openly available for Windows, Mac, or Linux machines.
No soldering is required to put the electronics together, although the open architecture can be modified to add additional features.
4. Set up the software
To run the tool, you need two pieces of software: the machine control software for your computer, and the firmware for the Arduino. Both are free (and both come pre-loaded on a flash drive that comes with your kit from Maker Made).
Download the open source Maslow Firmware, then follow the instructions there to upload it to the Arduino Mega.
The machine is controlled using open source software called Ground Control, available for Windows, Mac, or Linux computers. From within Ground Control, you can move the machine to where you want to begin a cut, calibrate it, open and run a G-code file, or monitor the progress of an ongoing cut.
Ground Control is written in Python because it has good cross platform support and is relatively simple to work with. Two of the goals of Ground Control are: for it to run on as many platforms as possible, and to be as easy as possible for the community to contribute to making the program better. You can download Ground Control. Follow the instructions to install it, then check out our User Guide to learn how to run it.
The machine uses G-code, which is a very popular file type among CNC users and hundreds of software applications. These applications will accept varying design file types, with DXF and SVG being the most popular. DXF files are commonly created using AutoCAD, and SVG files can be created using design programs like Illustrator, Inkscape, and Gimp.
5. Cut the final sled
To function properly, the Maslow kit requires one component — the round sled — to be cut by CNC. Of course, this leads to a “chicken or the egg” question: How can the machine cut parts for itself before it is built?
The solution is to manually cut and install a rough, square version of the sled, at which point the machine is complete enough to cut a replacement sled. Cutting the final sled with all its mounting holes is a great first project and a useful way to learn to use the machine.
A successful build will guarantee that the router’s bit rests at the very center point of the sled, ensuring that the bit will remain along its designated cut line, regardless of how the sled may rotate.
With the final sled mounted, your Maslow is ready to cut.
6. Add the Z-axis
Once you’ve got your final sled working, go ahead and mount the Z-axis motor and brackets, then couple the motor shaft to your router’s depth adjustment screw.
Plug the motor cable into the Arduino motor shield, enable the Z-axis in the Ground Control software, and you’re ready to start using your automated Z-axis!
The Maslow community has made countless improvements to the basic design and also shared many modifications. One of the most popular upgrades is the Meticulous Z-Axis, with a plywood gantry and leadscrew that move the entire router (not just the depth adjustment), a plexiglass dust window, 3D-printed dust chute, and more. Check it out and click on the Forums tab to see the 200+ post conversation that led to that design. Another good thread can be found here.
We hope this brief introduction demonstrates the amazing possibilities of the Maslow CNC and gives a flavor of the build process. One of the great advantages of the Maslow kit is the incredible dedication of its community of supporters. To really become a Maslow master maker, spend some time on our forums. You’ll find an enormous wealth of support, project ideas, tips, tricks, giveaways, and discussions that will take your skills to another level.
Router, fixed base, with depth adjustment We recommend the Ridgid R22002 for U.S. customers. International users have been successful with Bosch routers.
¾” plywood, 4’×8′ sheet
2×4 lumber: 10′ lengths (6) and 8′ lengths (2)
You can build your Maslow from a kit by Maker Made CNC ($499, makermadecnc.com), and they’re offering free shipping to Make: readers (use coupon code MakeMag2019). Or you can build it from scratch by sourcing the parts yourself. Key components include:
Arduino Mega 2560 microcontroller board Maker Made (MM) part #810 or Amazon #B01H4ZLZLQ
CNC motor controller shield for Arduino MM #800, or maslowsurplusparts.com/products/arduino-shield-v1-2. Or make your own, using the design files and components list at github.com/MaslowCNC/Electronics.
Heat sinks (2) included in MM #800, or try Digi-Key #345-1102-ND
Gearmotors, worm drive, 191:1 reduction, 7ppr encoder (2) MM #880, or maslowsurplusparts.com/products/maslow-cnc-motor-single. The key is that the encoder is on the back side of the gearbox so the 7ppr encoder gets scaled up 191x, then quadrature encoding gives us 4 steps per pulse, so at the output shaft you have 7*191*4 = 5,348 steps per rotation.
Motor cables, custom (2) MM #900
Power supply, 12V 5A, 2.5mm × 5.5mm plug MM #850 or Amazon #B07D3TCXVK
Z-axis gearmotor kit with cable, mounting brackets, and shaft coupler MM #910
Motor mounts (2) for the X-Y motors;
MM #890 or Amazon #B073NZ81M9
Router sled ring, custom included in the Maker Made ring kit, #860. The CAD files for these parts are at github.com/MaslowCNC, so your local laser cutting or waterjet company could fabricate them easily.
Sled ring bearing carriage brackets (2) included in MM #860
L-brackets (5) included in MM #910 and 860, or try maslowsurplusparts.com/products/l-bracket
Sled ring bearings (4) included in MM #860, or maslowsurplusparts.com/products/sled-ring-bearings
Roller chains, #25 (2) MM# 830 or Amazon #B018H9ZAD2
Motor sprockets for #25 chain, 10 tooth, 8mm bore (2) included in MM hardware kit #840; or the 9-tooth #SPR-2509P from electricscooterparts.com. There’s software setting for the number of teeth.
Slack sprockets for #25 chain, 16 tooth (2) included in MM #840, or robotshop.com #RB-Sct-228 looks like a good alternative.
Pulleys, 4mm × 13mm × 7mm (2) included in MM #840, or use Amazon #B017691AJW
Elastic cords (2) MM #820 or Amazon #B06W5279YL
Assorted bolts, nuts, washers, screws, and fasteners included in MM #840; see complete bill of materials at maslowcommunitygarden.org/Maslow-CNC-Kit.html?buy=true.
Screwdriver or drill/driver
Computer with Arduino IDE and Ground Control software free downloads at arduino.cc/downloads and github.com/MaslowCNC/GroundControl
Your Maslow CNC can cut anything that can be cut with a hand router. Maximum thickness is only restricted by your bit size and router travel. The recommended Ridgid R22002 router has 1½” of travel, and the machine will make multiple shallow passes to cut through thicker materials. The most popular materials are:
» Hard plastics: acrylic, nylon, uPVC, hard PVC
» Soft plastics: polycarbonate, polyethylene, soft PVC