Super Cheap Super Simple DRO

If you have an old manual lathe, mill, or even a drill press, a digital readout (DRO) is a very handy tool to have. A DRO gives you a readout of how far you’ve cut, milled, or drilled into a piece of work without having to stoop to caveman levels and look down at a dial. Here’s a stupidly cheap DRO for all your machine tools. It should only cost five bucks or so, and if you need it, you already have the tools to manufacture it.

This build is inspired by an earlier build using the same single component – a digital tread depth gauge. This digital tread depth gauge is commonly found in countries that don’t use the US penny as currency to measure the depth of tread on a tire. The throw isn’t that large – only about 27mm – but with a few modifications it can fit on any machine tool.

The modifications include a small bit of metal glued to the back and four tiny neodymium magnets.  For the ‘tool head’ of this DRO, only a tiny plastic collar and another deo magnet are needed.

This digital tire depth gauge looks like – and probably is – the same mechanism found in those super cheap calipers from the far east. In theory, it should be possible to extend this modification to those digital calipers, making for a simple DRO with a much larger throw.

Thanks [Ben] for sending this one in.

Open-Source Laser Cutter Software gets Major Update, New Features

The LaserWeb project recently released version 3, with many new features and improvements ready to give your laser cutter or engraver a serious boost in capabilities! On top of that, new 3-axis CNC support means that the door is open to having LaserWeb do for other CNC tools what it has already done for laser cutting and engraving.

LaserWeb BurnsLaserWeb3 supports different controllers and the machines they might be connected to – whether they are home-made systems, CNC frames equipped with laser diode emitters (such as retrofitted 3D printers), or one of those affordable blue-box 40W Chinese lasers with the proprietary controller replaced by something like a SmoothieBoard.

We’ve covered the LaserWeb project in the past but since then a whole lot of new development has been contributed, resulting in better performance with new features (like CNC mode) and a new UI. The newest version includes not only an improved ability to import multiple files and formats into single multi-layered jobs, but also Smoothieware Ethernet support and a job cost estimator. Performance in LaserWeb3 is currently best with Smoothieware, but you can still save and export GCODE to use it with Grbl, Marlin, EMC2, or Mach3.

The project is open to contributions from CNC / Javascript / UX developers to bring it to the next level. If you’re interested in helping bring the project even further, and helping it do for 3-axis CNC what it did for Laser Cutting, project coordinator [Peter van der Walt] would like you to head to the github repository!

We recently shared a lot of great information on safe homebrew laser cutter design. Are you making your own laser cutting machine, or retrofitting an existing one? Let us know about it in the comments!

A Hydra Of A 3D Printer

3D printers are great for producing one thing, but if you need multiple copies, the workflow quickly starts to go downhill. The solution? Build a 3D printer with multiple print heads, capable of printing four objects in the same amount of time it takes to print one.

This build is an experiment for [allted]’ Mostly Printed CNC / MultiTool. It’s a CNC machine that uses printed parts and 3/4″ electrical conduit for the frame and rails.  That last bit is the interesting part: electrical conduit is cheap, easy to acquire, available everywhere, and can be cut with a hacksaw. As far as desktop CNC machines go, it doesn’t get simpler or cheaper than this, and a few of these builds are milling wood with the same quality of a machine based on linear rails. It won the grand prize in the recent Boca Bearings contest, and is a great basis for a cheap and serviceable 2.5 or 3D CNC.

[allted] already has this cheap CNC mill cutting aluminum and engraving wood with a laser, showing off the capabilities of a remarkably cheap but highly expandable CNC machine. It’s a fantastic build, and we can’t wait to see more of these machines pop up in garages and workspaces.

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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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Build a Shapeoko The Hard Way

[Caleb Peters] looked at the Shapeoko 3 CNC kit, a kit designed to make building an entry level CNC router a possibility for anyone, a kit to take the guesswork out of the equation, a kit that removes all those difficult technical barriers. He looked at all of that ease and thought, “nah.” He wanted to learn! So he decided to build one the hard way. Like the early American Pioneers, he’d build his Shapeoko from scratch, suffering piously all the while.

His goal was to build an improved iteration of the Shapeoko 3, for less than the price of the kit. The first problem was the rails the gantry would run on. Inventables wasn’t going to sell him the rails, and he wasn’t sure if the delrin wheels used would be able to hold the weight of his heavier design. After some strife he determined that aluminum hard coat rails and steel wheels should last long enough, and if the aluminum wore away, the more expensive steel rails were a drop-in replacement.

Similar problems were overcome at each step. He couldn’t exactly copy the Shapeoko design. The Shapeoko’s steel pieces can only be made on a larger machine like a waterjet or industrial laser. He did have a knee mill and managed to cleverly avoid the need with some slight redesign. He kept at it, doing cool things like drilling a hole through the housing of a wood router, used as the spindle, and putting a hall-effect sensor just behind the commutator and brush assembly to get a spindle rpm reading.

Fortunately for us, he documented it all very well and filmed a nine part video series; the last of which you can see after the break.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: DIY Automatic Tool Changer

Choosing between manually changing endmill bits on a CNC machine and investing in an expensive automated solution? Not for [Frank Herrmann], who invented the XATC, an eXtremely simple Automated Tool Changer. [Frank’s] ingenious hack achieves the same functionality as an industrial tool changer using only cheap standard hardware you might have lying around the workshop.

xatc_carouselLike many ATCs, this one features a tool carousel. The carousel, which is not motorized, stores each milling bit in the center bore of a Gator Grip wrench tool. To change a tool, a fork wrench, actuated by an RC servo, blocks the spindle shaft, just like you would do it to manually change a tool. The machine then positions the current bit in an empty Gator Grip on the carousel and loosens the collet by performing a circular “magic move” around the carousel. This move utilizes the carousel as a wrench to unscrew the collet. A short reverse spin of the spindle takes care of the rest. It then picks another tool from the carousel and does the whole trick in reverse.

The servo is controlled via a WiFi connected NodeMCU board, which accepts commands from his CNC controller over HTTP. The custom tool change sequences are provided by a few JavaScript macros written for the TinyG workspace on, a browser-based G-code host. Enjoy the video of [Frank Herrmann] explaining his build!

Thanks to Smoothieboard creator [Arthur Wolf], who is currently working on a similar project, for the tip!

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