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.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Waterspace, A Floating Hackerspace Lab

It’s a boat! It’s a hackerspace! It’s a DIY research platform and an art gallery! It’s Boat Lab!

[Andrew Quitmeyer] lead a project in the Philippines that was nominally charged with making an art and technology space. After a few days brainstorming, four groups formed and came up with projects as wide-ranging as a water-jet video screen and a marine biology lab. What did they have in common? They were all going to take place on a floating raft hackerspace in a beautiful body of water in Manila.

This is a really crazy meta-project, and any of the sub-projects would be worth their own blog post. Even more so is the idea itself — building a floating hackerspace is just cool. The write-up on linked above is pretty comprehensive, and the “Waterspace” book talks a bit more about the overarching process. Boat Lab is a great entry into the Citizen Science phase of the Hackaday Prize 2016.

But we also love the idea of hackerspaces in non-traditional places. The Cairo Hackerspace is working on a van-based space. And now we’ve seen a boat. What other mobile hackerspace solutions are out there? We’d love to hear!

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FabLab Hackathon Gives the Gift of Art Back to a Stranger in Need

If building the James Webb Space Telescope and F/A-18 fighter jets aren’t enough reasons to work for Northrop Grumman, there’s always the FabLab – the company sponsored hackerspace. It’s a place where anything goes and everything is possible, including giving the gift of art back to a stranger in need.

The video below tells the story of [Raul Pizarro], a young man and gifted artist. Diagnosed as a child with muscular dystrophy, [Raul] was getting to the point where the progressive weakening of his muscles was making it difficult to hold up his arm. [Raul]’s art was slipping away – until [Tony Long] caught wind of the story, that is. [Tony] runs the FabLab, and once he put out the word to his colleagues he got a hackathon together to work on solutions for [Raul].

What they came up with was an overhead support system with a tool balancer and custom articulated sling to reduce the effect of gravity and support [Raul]’s arm. To compensate for his reduced range of motion, they also built an easel with actuators that can raise and lower his canvases and position them where he needs them. It looks like the FabLab team paid special attention to making everything as smooth and stable as possible, and as a result [Raul] is back to doing what he does best. Oh, and if [Tony] and the FabLab sound familiar, it might be because he played host when our own [Mike Szczys] visited Northrop last year.

We really like to see hacks that help mankind as a whole, but there’s something special about a bunch of strangers coming together to help just one man too. Hats off to [Tony] and his FabLab team for pulling off a great hack and giving [Raul] back his art.

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1575 Bottles of Beer on the (LED) Wall

Say hello to my little friend, lovingly named Flaschen Taschen by the members of Noisebridge in San Francisco. It is a testament to their determination to drink Corona beer get more members involved in building big displays each year for the Bay Area Maker Faire. I pulled aside a couple of the builders for an interview despite their very busy booth. When you have a huge full-color display standing nine feet tall and ten feet wide it’s no surprise the booth was packed with people.

Check out the video and then join me after the break for more specifics on how they pulled this off.

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Taming A Variac With A Thermistor

The folks at TOG, Dublin Hackerspace, have a large variac. A variac is a useful device for testing some fault conditions with AC mains powered equipment, it allows an operator to dial in any AC output voltage between zero, and in the case of TOG’s variac, 250V.

Their problem was with such a magnificent device capable of handling nearly 3KW, it presented an inductive load with a huge inrush current at power-on that would always take out the circuit breakers. Breakers come with different surge current handling capabilities, evidently their building is fitted with the domestic rather than the industrial variants.

Their solution was a simple one, they fitted an NTC surge limiter in series with the variac input. This is a thermistor whose resistance falls with temperature. Thus on start-up it presented an extra 12 ohm load which was enough to keep the breaker happy, but soon dropped to a resistance which left the variac with enough juice.

This is a simple fix to a problem that has faced more than one hackerspace whose imperfect lodgings are wired to domestic-grade spec. In a way it ties in neatly with our recent feature on mains safety; making the transformer no longer a pain to use means that it is more likely to be used when it is needed.

Via: TOG, Dublin Hackerspace.

Running a Hackerspace is Hard: Egypt Edition

It’s no secret that it’s difficult to run a hackerspace. Different personalities, different material requirements, and often constrained spaces can require continual negotiation. But if you think that having the metalworking types getting their shavings on your electronics bench is a problem, try having your entire hackerspace demolished on short notice.

The situation in Cairo is far from normal at the moment. The building that Cairo Hackerspace had recently moved to was raided, closed for two months, and then re-opened under strict surveillance in February.

All was well until a part of the building unexpectedly collapsed. Then they got a demolition order, followed by postponement, followed by armed police entering anyway and breaking stuff, followed by a further declaration of the building as safe, and now a heritage site. And all of this over a week’s time. While some of the art studios in the Townhouse were saved, the Cairo Hackerspace’s space is gone.


The good news? Nobody got hurt in all of this, and the Cairo Hackerspace crew were able to get their gear out after the initial demolition notice. They’ve been working on a mobile hackerspace-in-a-van approach lately, so hopefully they’ll be able to keep on hacking.

So when you’re bickering over who didn’t clean up the hackspace’s coffee machine, or the proper location of your favorite soldering iron, think kindly about the Cairo crew and get back to doing what you do best — projects.

How about you? What hackerspace tales do you have? Contact us through the tips line — we’d love to hear.

Workshops For Timid Solderers

As a hackspace member, it’s easy to fall into the belief that your own everyday skills are universal. Soldering for example. You’ve handled an iron since you were a youngster, the solder bends to your will as a matter of course, and since you see your fellow makers doing the same thing you might imagine that it’s a universal hackspace skill. Everyone can do it, can’t they?

Of course, they can’t. If you weren’t lucky enough to have a parent who tolerated your occasional propensity for acquiring burns on your fingers then you probably won’t have that innate experience with an iron. This extends to people you might expect to have those skills, indeed as an electronic engineering student a couple of decades ago your scribe was surprised to find that the ability to solder was her hotly tradeable skill, amazingly even a lot of EE students couldn’t solder.

So the ability to solder is not as universal as we might expect, and your hackspace will attract plenty of people for whom it is an as-yet-unknown art. What do you do about it? If you are Vancouver Hackspace, you run a workshop whose participants are introduced to soldering through building a simple AM radio. The kit itself is not too special, it looks like one of the Elenco educational kits, but it is what the workshop represents that is important. A hackspace lives or dies by how it shares its skills, and Vancouver’s workshop is a fantastic piece of community engagement. We’d like to see more spaces doing this kind of thing.

So, perhaps it’s time to put our money where our mouth is. How difficult would it be to run a hackspace soldering workshop for the uninitiated? Assuming your space is used to the mechanics of running events, the challenge is to find for each participant a soldering iron, some solder, and a radio or other kit without breaking the bank. An ideal budget from where this is being written in the UK would be £20 (about $29), into which a Chinese kit from AliBaba or similar and a cheap iron kit could be fitted. Some work to decipher the Chinese instructions with the help of an overseas student member and to write an English manual, and we’d be ready to go. If this comes together we’ll report back on whether the non-solderers of our hackspace successfully learned the craft.

We recently featured a similar educational initiative, a course at Swansea Hackspace teaching robotics through an Arduino robot. We would like to encourage this kind of thing, what is your hackspace doing in this line?