Not all that long ago, numerically controlled milling machines cost more than your house. Nowadays you can get a small-scale milling machine, some tooling, and a cheap PC to run it, all for the price of a fairly spiffy PC. So what?

Well, for one thing, real-time Linux makes it possible by generating motor-drive pulses with microsecond precision, all in software. A cheap PC runs more-or-less stock Ubuntu atop a real-time kernel that makes the right things happen at the right time. You can, in fact, play streaming audio while gnawing metal.

I’ll sketch how all the software hangs together, show how I “program parts”, pass around some Show-n-Tell parts, then demo the actual mill… it’s small enough to bring along, but messy enough that we won’t be doing any actual metal cutting.

Update:Let’s make a mess! I’ll run a plastic part and bring a vacuum cleaner…

Maybe CNC milling isn’t for everybody, but when you need a small part made of Pure Unobtainium, this is how you get it done!