Development Tools of the Prop-Making World

We’ve seen them before. The pixel-perfect Portal 2 replica, the Iron Man Arc Reactor, the Jedi Lightsaber. With the rise of shared knowledge via the internet, we can finally take a peek into a world hidden behind garage doors, basements, and commandeered coffee tables strewn with nuts, bolts, and other scraps. That world is prop-making. As fab equipment like 3D printers and laser cutters start to spill into the hands of more people, fellow DIY enthusiasts have developed effective workflows and corresponding software tools to lighten their loads. I figured I’d take a brief look at a few software tools that can open the possibilities for folks at home to don the respirator and goggles and start churning out props.

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Hacklet 31 – Software Tools

For every computer error, there are two human errors, and one of them is blaming the computer. Whenever a human blames a computer for something, there are two tools, and one of them is the computer.

Not all of your nifty tools need to be fancy robots, CNC machines, or nifty Robertson screwdrivers; a computer is equally capable of being a fantastic tool, provided it has the right software. For this week’s Hacklet, we’re going through some of the best software tools on

6653681421957570397[Alan] was inspired to build a software tool for making sewing patterns. Sewing patterns are usually designed for the ‘average’ person, but if you’re making custom wearables, you should end up with a piece of clothing that fits perfectly.

The first project [Alan] is using this tool for is a fleece cap that fits the contour of his head. He captured a 3D mesh of his head, imported the mesh into Blender, and unwrapped the resulting mesh. The two halves of the hat were then plotted with a Silhouette Cameo, cut out of fleece, and sewn together. The result is a beanie that fits perfectly around [Alan]’s head. It’s an extremely cool and novel application of 3D modeling, and if you ever need to wrap a 3D object with a 2D material, this is the project you want to check out.

5869061407871295021 And you thought the autorouter in Eagle was bad.

[Anderson] built a tool called Pyrite that will take a schematic and build a layout in three-dimensional space. He calls them Volumetric Circuits, and it’s basically the point-to-point wiring found in old radios and amplifiers taken to the next level. We featured this project before, and there haven’t been many updates since then. Maybe giving [Anderson]’s project a few skulls will help motivate him to get back to the project.

133031421839442989 Not satisfied with the existing free and open source CAM programs, [Snegovick] started work on his own.

[Snegovick] calls his project BCAM, and it’s exactly what you need to mill holes in PCBs, cut gears with a CNC router, engrave plastic, and anything else a 2.5 axis CNC machine can do. The project is written in Python, and yes, the source is available. Supported operations include drilling, path following, offset path following, and pocketing.

Write enough microcontroller projects, and you’ll eventually come up with your own library of common code that does one thing and one thing well. If you’re smart, you’ll reuse that code in future projects. [ericwazhung] is cutting through the hard part of developing all this code and released some things that are useful in a whole lot of projects.

Included in the commonCode library are the usual ‘heartbeat LED’, non-blocking input, a standard interface for AVR timers, bitmaps of text characters, DC motor control, and a whole bunch more. Extremely useful in any event.

That’s it for this round of the Hacklet, bringing you the best has to offer.

The Radius T-T Velomobile

The Radius T-T Velomobile human powered vehicle


Over the past year, [Dave] has been hard at work on his human powered vehicle. One year and six hundred hours of build time later, the Radius T-T Velomobile is complete. This 80 lb. vehicle features a custom body, mirrors, and integrated lights.

The Radius T-T started out as a TerraTrike recumbent tricycle. [Dave] built the body by laying up fiber glass on a foam mold. To that he added a variety of 3D printed accessories such as lights and mirrors. Inside the cockpit, the driver can control turn signals and flashers.

[Dave]’s blog provides a massive amount of documentation on the build. Everything from 3D modelling of the vehicle in Blender to the rear view mirror design is discussed. This great looking build should move along quickly with its lightweight design, but we’re still waiting to hear how fast it goes. Either way, it should be a fun mode of transport which will definitely turn some heads.

Do You Have Any Idea How Fast Your Blender Was Going?

blenderSpeed Some people really love their smoothies. We mean really, really, love smoothies and everything about making them, especially the blenders. [Adam] is a big fan of blenders, and wanted to verify that his Vitamix blenders ran as fast as the manufacturer claimed. So he built not one, but two speed measuring setups. Scientific blender measurement method requires one to cross check their results to be sure, right?

Measuring the speed of a blender is all about the RPM. Appropriately, [Adam’s] first measurement tool was an LED based stroboscope. Stroboscopes have been around for hundreds of years, and are a great way to measure how fast an object is rotating. Just adjust the speed of a flashing light until the rotating object appears frozen. The number of blinks per second is then equal to the Rotations Per Second (RPS) of the object being measured.Multiply by 60 seconds, and you’ve got RPM. [Adam] used an Arduino as the brains behind his stroboscope. He wired a dial up on his breadboard, and used it to adjust the flash rate of an LED. Since this was a quick hack, [Adam] skipped the display and just used the Arduino’s USB output to display speed measurements on his laptop.

There are possibilities for error with stroboscopes. [Adam] discovered that if the stroboscope was flashing at a multiple of the blade’s rotation speed, the blades would appear frozen, and he’d get an erroneous RPM value. Thankfully, [Adam’s] Vitamix had asymmetric blades, which made the test a bit easier. He calculated his blades to be spinning at 380 RPS, or 23,000 RPM. Not satisfied with his results, [Adam] brought out Audacity, and ran a spectral analysis of the blender in operation. He found a peak at 378Hz, which was pretty darn close to his previous measurement. Since the blender has a 4 inch blade this all works out to a blade tip speed right around the claimed value of 270 MPH. We’re glad [Adam] found an answer to his blender questions, but our personal favorite blender hack still has to be the V8 blender created by the Top Gear crew.   [via HackerNews]

3D Printering: Making A Thing With Blender, Part II


So you have a 3D printer and need to print something of your own design. That’s a problem if you don’t know how to create and edit 3D objects.  In this post, we’re continuing our previous misadventures with Blender by making a ‘thing’ torn from a very old book on drafting.

Previously, we’ve made the same part in other 3D design packages. Here’s some links to those other ‘Making a Thing’ posts:

We’ve already done half the work to make a ‘thing’ in Blender, so now it’s time to finish the job. Check out the rest of the tutorial below.

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3D Printering: Making A Thing In Blender, Part I


In case you weren’t aware, having a 3D printer is nothing like owning a real-life Star Trek replicator. For one, replicators are usually found on Federation starships and not hype trains. Secondly, the details of how replicated objects are designed in the 24th century is an issue completely left unexplored by TNG, and DS9, and only a minor plot point in a few Voyager episodes. Of the most likely possibilities, though, it appears replicated objects are either initially created by ‘scanning’ them with a teleporter, or commanding the ship’s computer to conjure something out of the hologrid.

No, with your own 3D printer, if you want a unique object you actually have to design it yourself. Without a holodeck. Using your hands to move a mouse and keyboard. Savages.

This series of ‘Making a Thing’ tutorials aims to fix that. With this post, we’re taking a look at Blender, an amazing 3D modeling and animation package.

Because we still haven’t figured out the best way to combine multiple blog posts together as a single resource − we’re working on that, though − here’s the links to the previous “Making a Thing” posts:

This list is sure to grow thanks to your suggestions on what 3D modeling software to feature, but for now let’s make a thing in Blender.

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Blender CAM – Open Source CAM Software


[Vilem] sent in a tip about a plugin he’s been working on for Blender, called Blender CAM. It allows for exporting directly from Blender to a G-code file. He has been working on it for several months, and releasing regular updates with various tweaks and improvements. While the project isn’t complete, [Vilem] has made some very impressive progress. It currently supports 2D and 3D strategies, various cutter types, simulation of 3D operations, and even automatic bridges.

The image above was made using the plugin, and it shows the level of detail possible. We can’t wait to see the 4 and 5-axis support that he is planning on adding.

A basic tutorial video is embedded after the break. As with anything Blender-related, it isn’t incredibly automatic, but another free tool is definitely a good thing. It looks like [Vilem] is looking for some other developers who could help out. If you have the knowledge, you might consider contributing.

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