Automating A Microscope For CNC Micrographs

[Maurice] is a photographer specializing in micrographs. These very large images of very small things are beautiful, but late last year he’s been limited by his equipment. He needed a new microscope, one designed for photography, that had a scanning stage, and ideally one that was cheap. He ended up choosing a microscope from the 80s. Did it meet all his qualifications? No, but it was good enough, and like all good tools, capable of being modified to make a better tool.

This was a Nikon microscope, and [Maurice] shoots a Canon. This, of course, meant the camera mount was incompatible with a Canon 5D MK III, but with a little bit of milling and drilling, this problem could be overcome.

That left [Maurice] with a rather large project on his hands. He had a microscope that met all his qualifications save for one: he wanted a scanning stage, or a bunch of motors and a camera controller that could scan over a specimen and shoot gigapixel images. This was easily accomplished with a few 3D printed parts, stepper motors, and a Makeblock Orion, an Arduino-based board designed for robotics that also has two stepper motor drivers.

With a microscope that could automatically scan over a specimen and snap a picture, the only thing left to build was a piece of software that automated the entire process. This software was built with Processing. While this sketch is very minimal, it does allow [Maurice] to set the step size and how many pictures to take in the X and Y axis. The result is easy automated micrographs. You can see a video of the process below.

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A CNC You Could Pop-Rivet Together

You have to be careful with CNC; it’s a slippery slope. You start off one day just trying out a 3D printer, and it’s not six months before you’re elbow deep in a discarded Xerox looking for stepper motors and precision rods. This is evident from [Dan] and his brother’s angle aluminum CNC build.

Five or six years ago they teamed up to build one of those MDF CNC routers. It was okay, but really only cut foam. So they moved on to a Rostock 3D printer. This worked much better, and for a few years it sated them. However, recently, they just weren’t getting what they needed from it. The 3D printer had taught them a lot of new things, 3D modeling, the ins of running a CNC, and a whole slew of making skills. They decided to tackle the CNC again.

The new design is simple and cheap. The frame is angle aluminum held together with screws. The motion components are all 3D printed. The spindle is just an import rotary tool. It’s a simple design, and it should serve them well for light, low precision cuts. We suspect that it’s not the last machine the pair will build. You can see it in action in the video after the break.

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CNC Upgrade to Guitar Pickup Winding Machine

The idea of winding inductive guitar pickups by hand is almost unthinkable. It uses extremely thin wire and is a repetitive, laborious process that nevertheless requires a certain amount of precision. It’s a prime candidate for automation, and while [Davide Gironi] did exactly that, he wasn’t entirely satisfied with his earlier version. He now has a new CNC version that is more full-featured and uses an ATMega8 microcontroller.

[Davide Gironi]’s previous version took care of winding and counting the number of turns, but it was still an assisted manual system that relied on a human operator. The new upgrade includes a number of features necessary to more fully automate the process, such as a wire tensioner, a wire guide and traverse mechanism (made from parts salvaged from a broken scanner), and an automatic stop for when the correct number of turns has been reached.


All kinds of small but significant details are covered in the build, such as using plastic and felt for anything that handles the wire — the extremely fine wire is insulated with a very thin coating and care must be taken to not scratch it off. Also, there is the need to compute how far the traverse mechanism must move the wire guide in order to place the new wire next to the previously-laid turn (taking into account the winding speed, which may be changing), and doing this smoothly so that the system does not need to speed up and slow down for every layer of winding.

This system is still programmed by hand using buttons and an LCD, but [Davide Gironi] says that the next version will use the UART in order to allow communication with (and configuration by) computer – opening the door to easy handling of multiple winding patterns. You can see video of the current version in action, below.

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New CNC Machine? DIY Machinable Wax!

The folks at Leeds Hackspace have built themselves a shiny new C-beam based CNC mill. As you might expect everyone wants to try the machine out, but there’s a problem. A CNC machine presents a steep learning curve, and a lot of raw materials (not to mention cutting bits) can be used in a very short time. Their solution is simple: mix themselves some machinable wax from LDPE pellets and paraffin wax, then easily recycle their swarf and failed objects back into fresh machinable wax stock.

Making the wax recipe is not for the faint-hearted, and involves melting the LDPE pellets and wax to 130 degrees Celcius in a cheap deep-fat fryer. They bought the cheapest fryer they could find at the British catalogue retailer Argos, you really wouldn’t want to risk an appliance you cared about in this exercise.

Colouring came from an orange wax crayon, though they note recycling of mixed colours will inevitably result in a muddy brown. The finished mixture was poured into Tupperware lunchboxes to set, and the resulting blocks were trimmed to square on a bandsaw. The Tupperware proved not to have a flat bottom, so later batches were cast in a loaf tin which proved much more suitable.

We’ve mentioned the machinable wax recipe before here at Hackaday, but it’s worth returning to the topic here with a description of it being used in the wild. Having watched other environments get through learning materials at an alarming rate with very little to show for their effort, we can see it makes a lot of sense as a training material.

CNC Drag Knife Upgrade with Off-the-Shelf Blades

Drag Knives seem to be the overshadowed awkward kid on the playground of CNC equipment, but they have a definitive niche making stencils, vinyl stickers, and paper cuts. Unfortunately, the drag knife blades for CNC routers are pricey — over $100 for a single blade. [Brian] at the Grunblau Design Studio took the price point as a challenge to build his own end-effector. A few iterations later, he’s created his very own drag knife blade tool that accepts replaceable steel blades for cutting.

From constraint-driven concept, to a 3D printed proof-of-concept, to a fully machined aluminum prototype, [Brian’s] efforts hit all the highlights of a well-engineered project. At the end of the day, dull blades can be swapped for a few dollars, rather than shelling out another $150 for the off-the-shelf variant. We’ve seen bootstrapped CNC vinyl cutters before, but nothing that takes an original re-envisioning of the tool itself.

FR4 Machine Shield Is A CNC Milling Machine From FR4 PCB

The people behind the PocketNC heard you like CNC PCB mills, so they milled you a PCB mill out of PCB. They announced their surprising new open source hardware product, a pocket sized 3-axis CNC machine entirely made out of FR4 PCB material, aptly named “FR4 Machine Shield”, at this year’s Bay Area Maker Faire.

UPDATE: The FR4 Machine Shield is now on Kickstarter

fr4_thumbWe know the concept from quadcopters, little robots, and generally things that are small enough to make use of their PCBs as a structural component. But an entire CNC machine, soldered together from a few dozen PCBs certainly takes it to the next level.

There is no doubt that 2mm thick fiber reinforced epoxy can be surprisingly rigid, although the Achilles heel of this method might be the solder joints. However, it looks like all load bearing, mechanical connections of the machine are supported by tightly interlocking “dovetail” finger-joints, which may help protecting all the solder connections from the strain hardening effects of continuous stress and spindle vibrations.

As you might expect, most of the wiring is embedded into the FR4 frame construction, and to squeeze the maximum value out of the PCB material, the motor driver boards interface via card edge connectors with the (currently Arduino based) controller board. In addition to the milling head, which features a brushless DC motor and a tool coupler, the team wants to develop heads for circuit printing, microscopy, pneumatic pick and place, hot air reflow, and 3D printing.

With all those cost-driven design choices, from the one-step manufacturing process of the frame and wiring to the dismissal of screws and nuts from the frame assembly, the “FR4 Machine Shield” could indeed become one of the cheapest CNC machine kits on the market. The team targets an introduction price of $400 during a Kickstarter campaign in June 2016. Can they deliver? [Gerrit] checked Pocket NC out at the Faire and ended up raving about how they run their business.

Enjoy their teaser video below!

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CNC Clock Mills Itself, Displays The Time

[Christian] wrote and sells some CAM/CNC controller software. We’re kinda sticklers for open source, and this software doesn’t seem to be, so “meh”. But what we do like is the Easter egg that comes included: the paths to mill out the base for a clock, and then the codes to move steel ball-bearings around to display the time.

Of course we’d like to see more info (more, MORE, MOAR!) but it looks easy enough to recreate. We could see redesigning this with marbles and a vacuum system, for instance. The seats for the ball bearings don’t even need to be milled out spheres. You could do this part with a drill press. Who’s going to rebuild this for their 3D printer? You just have to make sure that the machine is fast enough to move the balls around within one minute.

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