PocketNC, an Affordable Five-Axis CNC


By Travis Good

Jaws drop when makers see a five-axis CNC at work. That’s what happened to me when I saw PocketNC performing its magic. I peered closely and saw a spindle moving along two axes milling a piece of plastic mounted on a trunnion moving along/around three axes. The result of a three-year, four-prototype development effort of husband and wife team Matt and Michelle Hertel,PocketNC is getting ready for market.

Machinists and mechanical engineers, this couple loves building things. After participating in many Instructables contests and putting in up to 30 hours per week on their entries, they eventually decided to channel their energies into something which they could sell as a product. Matt had wanted a mini mill but couldn’t find what he wanted at the price he was willing to pay. Over the course of their research, they found that many others wanted the same thing so they decided to build their own but jumped straight to five-axes.

While their prototyping efforts started in the house they quickly converted a 10×10 shed to a workshop where they worked. From the start, the mill’s frame was built of aluminum but they are always working to reduce weight, presently at 25 pounds. The mill uses stepper motors and they can cut dependably to a tolerance of +/- 1/5000th of an inch, the spindle turns at 500-6000 rpm for plenty of range for speeds and feeds of various materials. The millable volume is  5″ diameter by 4″ tall. This gem can mill plastic and aluminum and they’re confirming that it can also mill steel and titanium

World Maker Faire was their first big public showing of PocketNC and they found it invigorating. After years spent working on the project in isolation it was exciting to see so many positive reactions from the maker community. They’ve come a long way after multiple prototypes. They still want to test more materials, switch their controller to Synthetos, and then go to market but with measured organic growth till they get it totally right.

Cost? They’re shooting for around $3,000.

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  • I believe the big problem you run into with 3 axis is having to re-mount the work piece, if you want to make a gearbox for example. 

    5-axis which only move when the spindle does not make contact with the workpiece is relatively easy to program and solves that problem, you can mill most pieces in one go!

  • You could make a dynamic pair: makerbot+poketNC

  • It will shake like  hell, for the same price, buy a used Bridgeport knock off, and a CNC conversion kit. Then you have a real CNC machine, that can handle the stress. Applied motion sell great stepper drives, that can be addressed via Serial, Ethernet, or CANopen, you just need to program a UI. I use them at work all the time :)

  • The spindle looks solid..and because the developers, a husband and wife team, are a machinist and mech eng, good practice is very evident in the build. Their about us page states they work in aerospace in WA state.

    +1 with Gary in that a 3 axis would sell cheaper and probably with more volume. It does not take up a huge amount of space either. My guess is that the machinist, works with high end hardware and can see how to transfer that type of tech to a smaller scale. HERE is a development photo from their blog.

    Bravo! I love to see stories of innovation from young folk.


  • Admin


    Some nice points well made!


    TCIII Admin

  • Beautiful, simple, stark engineering, my favorite kind.

    And very interesting choice of which axes move from base.

    From the look of it, they use the same ball slides I use.

    The biggest limitation seems to be its X,Y,Z limits.

    Seems like they could sell a 3 axis version and if they could get the price on that below $2000.00 probably have a really good market with the other 2 axes as add ons.

    Although it is a bit pricey for a KickStarter line item, I'll bet they could get funded if they wanted to go that route, it is just so cool.

  • Wow, $3000? Pretty amazing.  I paid $1800 for a 3-in-1 that's a piece of junk and fully manual, and that was 10 years ago.

  • Admin

    A little pricey, but the price could come down. Sort of like the CNC mill in a suitcase a while back, but somewhat more expensive:-)


    TCIII Admin

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