Zen and the Art of Arduino

A zen garden should be a source of relaxation and escape from the everyday. The whole point should be to escape from–among other things–your electronics. Unless you are [MakrToolbox]. Then you’ll make a beautiful zen garden end table that allows you to make patterns in the sand using a ball bearing and an Arduino. You can see a video below.

Technically, the device is almost an upside down 3D printer with no Z axis. The mechanism moves a magnet which controls the steel ball and draws patterns in the sand. However, the really impressive parts of this project are the woodworking for the end table and the impressive documentation, should you want to reproduce this project yourself.

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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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Hackaday Prize Entry: A CNC Mill Without The C

It’s a staple of home CNC construction, the 3D mill built on the bench from available parts. Be the on a tubular, plywood, or extruded aluminum frame, we’ve seen an astonishing array of mills of varying levels of capability.

The norm for such a mill is to have a computer controlling it. Give it a CAD file, perform the software magic, press button, receive finished object (Or so the theory goes). It’s a surprise then to see a mill in which the input doesn’t come from a CAD file, instead all control is done by hand through the medium of a joystick. [Mark Miller]’s 3D printed freeform carving machine is a joystick-controlled mill with a rotary tool on an arm facing a rotatable bed, and it can perform impressive feats of carving in expanded foam.

You might ask why on earth you should make a machine such as this one when you could simply pick up a rotary tool in your hand and start carving. And you’d be right, from that perspective there’s an air of glorious uselessness to the machine. But to take that view misses the point entirely, it’s a clever build and rather a neat idea. We notice he’s not put up the files yet for other people to have a go, if someone else fancies making CNC software work with it then we’re sure that would be possible.

There is a video showing the basic movements the mill is capable of, which we’ve put below the break. Best to say, though, it’s one on which to enable YouTube’s double speed option.

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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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Moving Microns with a High Precision Linear Stage

As anyone who has experimented with their own home-made CNC machinery will tell you, precision isn’t cheap. You can assemble a gantry mill using off-the-shelf threading and kitchen drawer slides. But it’s a safe assumption that if you put the tool at a particular position it won’t be quite at the same position next time you return. But if you take your budget from dirt cheap to reasonably priced you can do much better. [Adam Bender] designs high-precision automation systems for a living, so when he needed a precision linear stage for a personal project he achieved micron level accuracy for under $500.

micron-precision-linear-actuator
Red parts are the two spring-loaded nuts

He explains the problem of backlash with an inexpensive lead screw — the wiggle between threaded components that cause positional chaos. His solution uses two nuts preloaded against each other with a spring. There is still a stick-slip issue; a tendency to move in lurches due to differences between the coefficients of static and dynamic friction between the materials. Careful choice of machining stock for the nut to picking materials in which these coefficients were almost identical reduced the stick-slip to as little as possible.

He goes into significant detail on the design, manufacture, and testing of all the components of his stage, its body, sealing system, and control. If you are a precision CNC guru maybe you’ll find it interesting as a cleverly designed component, but if you are a mere dilettante you’ll find it fascinating to read a comprehensive but accessible write-up from a professional in the field.

This build probably goes a step beyond most we’ve featured in the past, but that’s not to say we’ve not seen some pretty good efforts.