CNC Machine Boasts Big Bed, Impressive Power from Off-the-Shelf Parts

A lot of homebrew CNC machines end up being glorified plotters with a router attached that are good for little more than milling soft materials like wood and plastic. So if you have a burning need to mill harder materials like aluminum and mild steel quickly and quietly, set your sights higher and build a large bed CNC machine with off-the-shelf components.

With a budget of 2000 €, [SörenS7] was not as constrained as a lot of the lower end CNC builds we’ve seen, which almost always rely on 3D-printed parts or even materials sourced from the trash can. And while we certainly applaud every CNC build, this one shows that affordable and easily sourced mechatronics can result in a bolt-up build of considerable capability. [SörenS7]’s BOM for this machine is 100% catalog shopping, from the aluminum extrusion bed and gantry to the linear bearings and recirculating-ball lead screws. The working area is a generous 900 x 400 x 120mm, the steppers are beefy NEMA23s, and the spindle is a 3-kW VFD unit for plenty of power. The video below shows the machine’s impressive performance dry cutting aluminum.

All told, [SörenS7] came in 500 € under budget, which is a tempting price point for a machine this big and capable.

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Converting Parallel Port CNCs To USB

If you’re looking for a small, benchtop CNC machine for PCBs and light milling the ubiquitous Sherline CNC machine is a good choice. There’s a problem with it, though: normally, the Sherline CNC controller runs off the parallel port. While some of us still have a Windows 98 battlestation sitting around, [David] doesn’t. Instead, he built a USB dongle and wrote the software to turn this mini CNC into something usable with a modern computer.

First up, the hardware. The core of this build is the rt-stepper dongle based around the PIC18F2455 microcontroller. With a bare minimum of parts, this chip converts USB into a parallel port for real-time control. It’s fast — at least as fast as the parallel port in the ancient laptops we have sitting around and plugs right into the CNC controller box for the Sherline.

The software is where this really shines. the application used to control this dongle is a hack of the EMC/LinuxCNC project written in nice, portable Python. This application generates the step pulses, but the timing is maintained by the dongle; no real-time kernel needed.

There are a lot of choices out there for a desktop CNC machine made for routing copper clad board, wood, brass, and aluminum. The Othermill is great, and Inventables X-Carve and Carvey are more than up for the task. Still, for something small and relatively cheap, the Sherline is well-regarded, and with this little dongle you can actually use it with a modern computer. Check out the demo video below.

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Making Metal Dominoes

Nearly as versatile as a deck of playing cards, dominoes are a great addition to any rainy-day repertoire of game sets. [Apollo] from the Youtube channel [carbide3d] has manufactured for themselves a custom set of domino tiles replete with brass pips.

Cutting the bar stock to the appropriate size, [Apollo] ran a few test engravings and hole sizes for the brass pips. That done, all they had to do was repeat the engraving and milling process another couple dozen times, as well as all the requisite wet and dry sanding, and buffing. [Apollo] opted to use paint marker to add a little extra style to the tiles, and advises any other makers who want to do the same to set their engraving depth to .01″ so  the paint marker won’t be rubbed off when buffing the pieces.

When it came to installing the brass balls, [Apollo] undersized the holes by .001″-.002″ for a snug press fit — adding that the hole depth is a little greater than half the ball’s diameter. They used 1/8″ balls for the pips, and 3/16 balls for the center of the tiles which also allows the tiles to be spun for a bit of fidgeting fun during play. Check out the build video after the break.

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CNC Turns Empty Cans into Action Figures

[apollocrowe] at Carbide 3D (a company that does desktop CNC machines) shared a project of his that spent years being not-quite-there, but recently got dusted off and carried past the finish line. His soda can robot action figures were originally made by gluing a paper design to aluminum from a soda can, but [apollocrowe] was never really able to cut the pieces as reliably or as accurately as he wanted and the idea got shelved. With a desktop CNC machine to take care of accurate cutting, the next issue was how to best hold down a thin piece of uneven metal during the process. His preferred solution is to stick the metal to an acrylic wasteboard with hot glue, zero high enough and cut deep enough to account for any unevenness, and afterwards release the hot glue bond with the help of some rubbing alcohol.

Assembly involves minor soldering and using a few spare resistors. A small spring (for example from a retractable pen) provides the legs with enough tension for the figure to stand by itself. The results look great, and are made entirely from a few cents worth of spare parts and recycled materials. A video of the process is embedded below, and the project page contains the design files.

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Electric Arc Furnace Closes the Loop

When we think of an Electric Arc Furnace (EAF), the image that comes to mind is one of a huge machine devouring megawatts of electricity while turning recycled metal into liquid. [Gregory Hildstrom] did some work to shrink one of those machines down to a practical home version. [Greg] is building on work done by [Grant Thompson], aka “The King of Random” and AvE. Industrial EAFs are computer controlled devices, carefully lowering a consumable carbon electrode into the steel melt. This machine brings those features to the home gamer.

[Greg] started by TIG welding up an aluminum frame. There isn’t a whole lot of force on the Z-axis of the arc furnace, so he used a stepper and lead screw arrangement similar to those used in 3D printers. An Adafruit stepper motor shield sits on an Arduino Uno to control the beast. The Arduino reads the voltage across the arc and adjusts the electrode height accordingly.

The arc behind this arc furnace comes from a 240 volt welder. That’s where [Greg] ran into some trouble. Welders are rated by their duty cycle. Duty cycle is the percentage of time they can continuously weld during a ten minute period. A 30% duty cycle welder can only weld for three minutes before needing seven minutes of cooling time. An electric arc furnace requires a 100% duty cycle welder, as melting a few pounds of steel takes time. [Greg] went through a few different welder models before he found one which could handle the stress.

In the end [Greg] was able to melt and boil a few pounds of steel before the main 240 V breaker on his house overheated and popped. The arc furnace might be asking a bit much of household grade electrical equipment.

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Fidget Pyramid with Help From a 2500 Pound Robot

Depending on whom you ask, fidgeting is an unsightly habit or a necessity for free-form ideation. Fan of the latter hypothesis? Well, why aren’t you making yourself a fidget pyramid?

[lignum] sculpted his fidget toy out of a chunk of 2000 year old bog-oak using hand tools and a little precision help from a Kuka KR 150 industrial robot arm. A push button, a toggle switch, a ball-bearing, and a smooth side provide mindless distraction on this piece.

Two plates of 1.5mm aluminium — also cut using the robot arm — are used to attach the button and toggle to the tetrahedron, while the ball bearing is pushed onto a cylindrical protrusion left during the cutting process for the purpose. The build video makes it look easy.

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Friday Hack Chat: Mechanical Manufacturing

Join [Sylvia Wu], a Senior Manufacturing Engineer at Fictiv, for this week’s Hack Chat. [Sylvia’s] work at Fictiv gives her a unique viewpoint for modern manufacturing. The company connects engineers with rapid manufacturing by taking in a design and routing it to a shop that has the tools and time to fabricate the part quickly. This means seeing the same silly mistakes over and over again, but also catching the coolest new tricks as they pass by. She also spends time tearing apart consumer products to see how they have been manufactured, adding to their arsenal of available processes, both time-tested and newfangled.

Anyone interested manufacturing needs to get in on this Hack Chat. Mark your calendar for this Friday, 3/10 at noon PST (20:00 UTC)

Here’s How To Take Part:

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging.

Log into Hackaday.io, visit that page, and look for the ‘Join this Project’ Button. Once you’re part of the project, the button will change to ‘Team Messaging’, which takes you directly to the Hack Chat.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Upcoming Hack Chats

On Friday March 17th the Hack Chat features chip design for oscilloscopes with engineers from Keysight.