Open Source Torch Table

Lawrence has finalized the open source torch table design, after 11 days at Factor e Farm. tt-technical-drawingToday, we are preparing the workshop space and he’s putting together the frame. Our goal is to complete the prototype in the stated 30 day

The design has come a long way since our initial work from 2008 and redesign of 2009. The open source torch table has now reached the technical design stage, according to our open source product development method. The project is part of our flexible fabrication workshop infrastructure, which we discussed initially in an earlier post.

We now have the completed and documented design for an open source, GPL license or compatible, CNC torch table. You can download the Blender design file, which is dimensionally correct and contains the entire design. This design is now up for review, so please comment if you have experience with building CNC machines, or if you can direct other qualified individuals to this work.

We challenge, once again, anybody to propose any further simplification that does not reduce performance. The design uses stock steel throughout, with consistency of parts in the x, y, and z directions. The only fabrication requirement is bolting, after all the steel is cut. This lends itself well to selling CNC torch table kits at competitive cost, especially because the torch table is designed to be self-replicating. With a plasma torch head, one can cut out all the metal parts required to build another torch table!

In this sense, RepRap is our brother, and in fact, we will join the happy family of Arduino controller and RepRap motor drivers to reduce the electronics costs of future torch tables by about 75% below the present $460. The dream of open source fabrication infrastructure is coming alive – at Factor e Farm.

We have a complete bill of materials (BOM). Complete sourcing information is provided in the BOM. The summary BOM is shown here for reference, including parts we bought and outstanding parts:


The torch table features designed into the Prototype 1 build include:

  • Full industrial duty torch table, capable of cutting up to 4×8 foot slabs of 1″ steel
  • Cost of DIY production is 5-10 times lower than purchasing commercial equivalents
  • Fully consistent with OSE Specifications for replicability
  • Fully consistent with GVCS pattern language for open source technology infrastructure
  • Self-replicability of torch table, and direct link to optimized CEB press and tractor fabrication
  • Ready adaptability to router or other cutting heads
  • Control via laptop is so far proving effective

These are the technical merits. We must add on the organizational milestones. Lawrence is presently succeeding in doubling Factor e Farm’s technical development capacity under his Dedicated Project Visit (DPV) – by demonstrating capacity to succeed in his stated goals. This has encouraging implications for scaling the project in general – as Lawrence is well on his way to demonstrating the power of well-thought out DPVs in terms of their ability to move design and build efforts forward. Personally, I am inspired – because we’re seeing that aligned effort can accomplish a great deal.

The above should be compelling reason for supporting our first torch table prototype build – as a part of a greater process towards optimized, open source product release. We’re equipped with a robust design, initial review is complete, we invite any further comments, and we are ready to move. Our outstanding costs are $800 for the Everlast plasma cutter , and under $600 for remaining gantry parts – for a total outstanding cost of $1358 including shipping. See BOM above. And then, ChipIn:

Hear Lawrence’s comment on the topic:

This is Lawrence and I have some updates for you.
After 10ish days of work, I have a spiffy blender model, a build of materials, and have laid waste to a whole host of bad ideas that seemed like good ideas at the time.

This project rocks because it is philosophically aligned with open source goodness and is backed up by the GPLv3 to prove it. By the time it’s completed in another 20ish days, it will document the whole work flow process from model generation, g-code compilation, computer-to-motor translation, and plasma torch integration. For Version 2, we want to replace the motor controller to PC setup with the RepRap hardware, which will knock down another brick in the wall. With the second version, we are also going to take a closer look at replicable rapid prototyping the whole machine, so Version 1 should be building Version 2. We also want to take a cold hard look at what a plasma torch can do. The way we have this thing structured, we can do cnc metal gouging. If we can build in enough fine control for this, we might have ourselves a no contact plasma torch lathe, by adding in a constant speed motor to turn the work piece.

At this point, we are looking at a 10/3 price reduction. Ten times (roughly) cheaper than a professional setup, three times cheaper than the DIY plans for MechMate. MechMate is similar, but it’s not a torch table. In our opinion it is too complicated to build – it requires too many steps, and is not buildable by an average person.

How you might ask, did we accomplish such a feat? It is a community effort. Because this is a community effort, please take a look at the design and rip it apart. Most of the calculations were napkin worthy and others might be toilet paper worthy. So flush it out on the wiki, and we’ll get a forum up soon for discussion.

Let’s get this project moving!



  1. Ray

    one more step toward independence 🙂

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  3. Steph

    As usual, the slightly obtuse technological developments of open source ecology et al fill me with excitement…BUT as ever, I am not quite sure why. As a self-confessed layman with not even a beginner’s understanding of engineering, can you tell me, in words designed for idiots:

    1. Why this ‘torch table’ is important? 2. what is a torch table? 3. where does it fit in building an open source society? and 4. what will society be able to accomplish with it that it would not have been able to accomplish without it?

    Answer these 3 questions and you will have a common man’s guide to the revolution – which might even help with your fundraising:) Keep up the great work! Steph (the office-based revolutionary)

  4. Lawrence

    Thank you Steph for taking the time to ask for clarification. I’m kind of knee deep in this, so please excuse me.

    1.Its important because it automates the hours of labor that goes into making perfectly cut metal pieces and turns it into a job that takes minutes. It expands the types of projects that we can achieve here by giving us capabilities that we could only dream of.

    2. A “torch table” is a computer controlled cutting “torch” that moves in the xyz direction with the help of motors. In this case the “torch” is a plasma cutter, which is appropriate for cutting steel.

    3. This product fits by enabling a laymen to produce complex steel cuts without the effort of having to learn metal working skills themselves. It is a meta work saving device, by taking a single purpose work saving feature and abstracting it by being very very general.

    4. In more general terms, this is the first tool at FeF that can help make itself. It will be used to make new parts for itself and will be used to speed up the production of the LifeTrac, MicroTrac, and all the other future products. It also has vast untapped potential. If you add on an extruding tip, instead of a “torch” you could make coil pots. You could build a very large table that could lift and place bricks for intricate brick laying patterns. You could use it in conjunction with something that spins a metal bar and make a lathe by gouging the metal with the torch.

    I’m a Roboticist at heart, and in that vein I want to study how flexible meta machines can work in conjunction with us to be used as useful tools. I’ve never met a tool I didn’t like, but I have seen a lot of misused tools on the wrong problem.

  5. Abe

    This is an awesome development. Something cool to add would be an interchangeable cutting utensil, so you could slap on a router and cut wood as well, a water drill and cut stone, etc. Great work!

  6. Inga

    If I’m not greatly mistaken, Lawrence and Marcin are already thinking aloud about a router.

  7. […] Table Project was detailed here, and you can see my commitments for the project here. Here is a choppy update of the Torch Tables […]

  8. Lawrence

    Thats right. The major need is to be able to cut metal, but the design we used should be able to handle the extra strain from cutting wood if we replace the plasma cutter tip with a routing bit.

    A water bit sounds interesting, but for right now we don’t have any stone to cut. There are also some interesting issues involving water reuse and containment which are a bit above the scope of this project.

    The reason we are going with plasma right now is because for the precision, it is the cheapest possible method of cutting steel we could find that was appropriate for a cnc table.