Recently updated on March 23rd, 2023 at 01:50 pm

CNC has the potential to make any imagined design real, and perhaps successful as a product.  There is an element of art if the design is inspired enough.  Perhaps you’re thinking of designing the ultimate CNC product of some kind.  Maybe it’s purely for your personal enjoyment, or maybe you have in mind something that would be a good Kickstarter project.  One of the things that may help is a good scrapbook of ideas to help stimulate the imagination.  I like to use Pinterest to collect such visual imagery.  It’s available there in great abundance.  As I was recently looking over some of my Pinterest images trying to get ideas for a new PC Case design, I started wondering about some of the different design details CNC can help with and decided to write this post that categorizes some of the motifs.  Whether you’re interested in PC cases, bicycles, gunsmithing, or a variety of other possibilities, you may find it useful to consider ideas along these lines for your own design projects.

Drillium:  Parts Lightening as a Design Motif

I came across the word “Drillium” looking at bicycle parts.  There’s a web site called “Drillium Revival” that talks about 70’s style milling and drilling to lighten parts on bicycles.  I like the word “Drillium” as a way to refer to parts lightening by making lots of holes in the material.  Parts lightening by judiciously removing material without compromising too much strength (ultimately determined by FEA analysis if you’re serious about it) often yields beautiful aesthetics that are highly amenable to CNC and in some cases even impossible without it:


A simple seat post lightened by drilling…


More elaborate and pleasing lightening…


The full aerospace lightening look on this bicycle caliper…


Holes don’t have to be round…

Texturing:  Clean doesn’t have to be devoid of detail

The eye is not used to the absence of detail.  Most physical things around us are full of detail.  The detail helps make things seem more organic and natural.  The walls of our buildings are giving texture, which costs extra, for that reason.  Accordingly, when design is intended to be striking, it tends to be polarized to one of two extremes.  There is either the relentless elimination of such textural detail ala Apple’s iPhone or we may celebrate lots of additional textural detail.  Whether the texture is intended purely as a decorative element or to improve grip, textures are ripe for CNC work:


Golf Ball Dimples at any scale are a fascinating texture…


Texture can be in the form of cutouts, pockets, outlines, or engravings…


Tiled patterns of all kinds make good textures…

Guilloche:  Intricate Engraving and Patterning via Rose Engine

I’ve written in the past about engine turning and rose engines for Guilloche.  This delicate art form is traditionally used as ornamentation for things of great value such as currency and jewelry.  It was done on fascinating and complex machines called “Rose Engines”:


Rose Engines used shaper-like tooling to carve out intricate Guilloche designs based on cams that controlled the motion of the cutter…


Some typical Guilloche patterns…

Modern CNC with the right software can do an excellent job reproducing Guilloche-style patterns.  I’ll have more to say about this in a future article, but suffice to say I have seen it done.

Impossible Shapes

Could you do these things without CNC?  Perhaps.  But CNC certainly makes these things much more approachable.  Move away from straight lines and right angles.  Minimize symmetry.  Consider the more organic look of Nature.  Consider some Impossible Shapes for your designs:


The Jordan Snail Loudspeaker:  Beautiful, and a form that facilitates its great-sounding function…


There are people in this world who could make a gear shift knob by taking a hand grinder to a piston.  I’m not one of them.  OTOH, a good 3D model and the right CAM software with a 4th axis and this is doable…


3D Printing Enables even more design freedom…


These are just a few of the many dimensions of design that CNC enables.  I’ll do another installment down the road with more.  For now, I wanted to get these out there to see what kind of creative juices could be stimulated.  The sorts of creations pictured in this post are what got me interested in CNC in the first place.  It unlocks a bridge from your imagination to the real world of things.  If you have a CNC project that you consider to be artistic or otherwise along these lines, drop me a line.  I’d love to hear about it and maybe publish a roundup of reader’s projects on the CNCCookbook blog.


Like what you read on CNCCookbook?

Join 100,000+ CNC'ers!  Get our latest blog posts delivered straight to your email inbox once a week for free. Plus, we’ll give you access to some great CNC reference materials including:

  • Our Big List of over 200 CNC Tips and Techniques
  • Our Free GCode Programming Basics Course
  • And more!

Just enter your name and email address below:

Full Name
Email *
100% Privacy: We will never Spam you!

5/5 - (1 vote)