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Getting Started: What Hardware Will I Need?


A simple 3-axis CNC router is a common entry level platform.  On this page, we will give you a brief overview of the hardware and how it works.


For a typical 3-axis CNC system, the router is held by the Z-axis, which is held by the Y-axis, which is held by the X-axis.   The router is moved up and down above the work surface via the Z-axis.  The work surface itself is in the X and Y plane which you move along using the X-axis and Y-axis.  


Each axis has drive components (i.e. motors, leadscrews, ball screws, bearings, racks, pinons, couplers, connectors…) and carriages or gantries to support the subsequent axes or tools (routers, spindles, plasma cutters…).   


The motor in each axis needs to be driven, and the power to drive each motor depends upon its size and type. However, the SmoothStepper is not nearly strong enough to drive the motor directly.  The SmoothStepper will generate Step and Direction signals required for your motors, but these signals will feed into a motor driver that is appropriately sized for your motors.  The motor driver will take the low voltage, low current signal and then source a higher voltage, higher current drive signal that will move the motors and all of the attached hardware.


How do you get the signal from the SmoothStepper to the motor driver?  If your motor driver takes a parallel port interface, it can be connected directly with the appropriate cable.  However, it is typically much more convenient to connect the SmoothStepper up to a BOB or Break Out Board, which will allow you much more flexibility in making connections.   


If you are using an ESS (Ethernet SmoothStepper), you will need to supply 5V to it from an external power source.  If you are using an USS (USB SmoothStepper) you can power it from your PC or an external source.


Finally, you will need a PC running anything from Windows XP to Windows 10.  Here are the recommendations for the ESS and the USS systems.


If you go to our BOB Vendors page, our Distributors page, and also our Solution Partners page you will see links to companies that sell BOBs, motor divers, enclosures, cables, CNC components and whole CNC systems!


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