This whole idea started when I was making my last Paladin costume for BlizzCon. I spent a lot of time doing something that I thought was fundamentally absurd... I took something that existed in the video game as precision-generated 3D models, and tried to replicate it by hand in real form. I thought, "If only there was a way to have a computer create it for me, using the 3D model data that already exists." Well, it turns out there is lots of Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) machinery out there, and it's getting cheaper and more easily personally owned.
I remembered something from my childhood, which was a 3D Darth Vader bust puzzle. You assembled it by taking cardboard "discs", of various shapes and sizes, and stacking them onto a center pole. The variation in shapes caused it to generally outline Darth Vader's form as you built them up.
My thought was that I could cut shapes out of thin plywood, maybe 1/4" thick, and stack them up much like this to get a generalized "form" of what I wanted to build. After thinking about this some more, I realized that I didn't want to spend a million hours cutting out shapes with a bandsaw or scrollsaw. So I started looking around online, and found the ShopBot CNC Router, which is one of the most popular lines of machines around, but not cheap at $8000-20000.
Ok, so that kind of money is out of the question. So I started looking for DIY alternatives. And that was when I found Patrick Hood-Daniel's site, BuildYourCNC.com. Patrick has spent the last few years coming up with his own innovative designs for low-cost CNC routers, that use Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) as their structural material, and can be built for $500-2000.
So now my plan is to build this machine, in the coming months. From there I should be able to make a lot more things, much faster. One of the coolest things about these machines, is that they are not just 2D, they can actually sculpt in 3D, within their travel limits.
The CNC technology extends farther than just these wood routers though. As far as the machine is concerned, it does not care what type of tool it is manipulating, whether it be a wood router, Dremel tool, plasma cutting torch, oxy/acetylene cutting torches, a marker/pen, extrusion device (like a hot glue gun or syringe), etc. Once you get into this technology, you learn a lot of valuable knowledge and skills that are immediately translatable into other related fields.
Here is a video of a tube notcher that works by rolling a tube, while it cuts it with a plasma cutter. This particular machine is a DynaTorch setup.
For those that wonder what they are building, it's a tank! This company, the developers of the Ripsaw, is building an unmanned fast-attack tank for the military. How cool is that?