The $500 Maslow CNC


The Maslow $500 CNC kit

No doubt about it, the Maslow CNC is unique. Let’s start with the detail that got your attention. Yes, the price of the Maslow really is $500. Actually, it could be had for as little as $350 if you have a couple of sheets of plywood, a few 2×4’s and a couple of bricks laying around. More about those bricks later.

Next, let’s state the obvious. You get what you pay for. The Maslow is a very simple CNC controlled machine that’s designed for cutting plywood. It comes in kit form, but, looks like it should be simple to complete. You also need to supply your own router. And, being a Kickstarter Project, like all crowd funded projects, there’s potential risk for sponsors. It’s a plus that this team has a track record of delivering on their projects. And, as is the norm, these are projects in the final development phase and so you’ll wait a little while before you can get one.

The Maslow CNC

The Maslow CNC is a simple machine designed to cut plywood.

How does it work?

As you see in the photos of the prototype, it’s pretty basic. Driven by small motors, gears, and chains, a router is moved through the cut in X/Y directions at a slow feed rate. Based upon a hanging plotter design, it’s vertical rather than horizontal. That makes its footprint compact compared to the acres of space a 4×8 horizontal machine takes up in a shop. After checking with the developer, apparently, it’s not hard to make a smaller version, if that’s your choice.

That points to another consideration. At this level, it doesn’t hurt to be a bit geeky to take this on. As always in CNC digital woodworking, you create your drawings in a CAD program and prepare the files for machining with CAM software. But, if you’re on a tight budget there are websites that can do this or free CAM programs available to generate the G-Code that’s needed to run on the Maslow. To run the machine, you need a computer — a laptop should do.



Keep in mind is that there’s no way you can compare the capabilities of the Maslow with what you can do with a serious CNC router. With a solidly built CNC, a woodworker can do serious 2D or 3D machining of solid wood with better than .003 accuracy. The Maslow’s design and simple construction make it best for cutting plywood, MDF and other panel work. Expected accuracy is just .016 or better. That’s about 1/64”. Though hardly precise by CNC standards, it should work for plywood projects without super accurate joinery, jig making, etc. Potentially, it might be good enough for one of my favorite digital woodworking tasks for a CNC: making patterns that you can use for shaping on a router table for repeatable, reasonably accurate, wood furniture parts.

Watching the YouTube videos I got curious and called up the Maslow’s young designer/engineer, Bar Smith for more details. Because the team is located in Port Townsend, near my Seattle area home, I plan on visiting them in the next few weeks to see the machine in action. Looking forward to it. I’ll let you know what I find in future posts.

Now, about those bricks I mentioned earlier. Being a vertical rather than the traditional horizontal CNC machine, you don’t have gravity working in your favor. So, the added weight of the bricks helps push the router into the material being cut and keep the chains tensioned. I told you it was a simple machine.

Curious? Here’s a link to Maslow and their Kickstarter project.

To see the entire series on the Maslow CNC click here.

— Tim Celeski

2 thoughts on “The $500 Maslow CNC

  1. BoredCutter

    Considering its strong limitations, it’s an intriguing concept. I applaud the designers’ hard work and ingenuity, I truly do. I guess it IS a step up from cutting designs in plywood by hand.

    But…. only just a single step.

    The real allure of true cnc systems lies in that pesky (and absent here!) “Z” axis; this is computer numerically controlled only in the broadest sense.

    Precise counter weights (well ok, bricks) do nothing but keep the costs down. The tensioning wire ‘system’, and then plywood and 2×4’s….

    It’s more like ‘my first hands-free plywood cutter’ than anything like real cnc.

    We use a cnc system that cost us around 4 times what these good folks are asking and…. its accuracy was very much worth the price delta from this.

    This little system looks like a. It of very specialized and restrictive weekend fun, but umm… pass.

    1. Tim Celeski Post author

      There’s little doubt that a $500 CNC comes with some limitations. As I pointed out, there will never be any confusion what can be done with the Maslow when compared to a $20k CNC. That doesn’t make it a bad tool. It’s just not meant to replace a hyper accurate and expensive CNC. This is a tool designed with a purpose.

      The trick with the Maslow — or any tool is to recognize not just the limits but also the potential what you can do with it. Then as woodworkers, we get the joy of making the best of it. In this case, the goal is simple. Cut plywood pretty accurately. It might be more than good enough for just that. This is a new design with some interesting new ideas. Let’s give it a chance. I’ll be seeing it in action later this week and will let you know what I find.

      PS. There is an appropriately inexpensive Z axis addon to be offered as an option.

Comments are closed.