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.

Pint-Sized, Low-Cost CNC Machine

A little MDF, a little plywood, some bits of threaded rod – put it all together and you’ve got this low-cost desktop CNC build using very few parts you’d need to go farther afield than the local home center to procure.

We’ve seen lots of e-waste and dumpster diving CNC builds here before; what’s appealing here is not only the low price tag of the build but also its approachability. As the short videos below show, [Thimo Voorwinden] does an admirable job of using the tools and materials he has on hand. We also appreciate the modularity of the build – the X- and Y-axis carriages are nearly identical and could be interchanged to alter the dimensions of the work area, or even replaced with a larger carriage if needed. The Z-axis is a little different from the usual low-end CNC build in that it doesn’t use a Dremel or other small rotary tool but rather mounts the handpiece of a flexible shaft rotary tool. Keeping the motor off the machine allows for more torque, less vibration, and reduced dead load.

The end result is a desktop CNC for about €200 with a work area large enough to fabricate small wooden and plastic parts, or to mill foam blocks for use as casting molds. It looks like [Thimo] has more in store for his little CNC machine, and we’re looking forward to seeing what improvements he can come up with.

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Live Counter Revives Old Nokia Phone’s Utility

Old hardware you may have on hand cannot only inspire projects in their own right, but can facilitate the realization of any ideas you have been planning. Using a Nokia N900, [MakerMan] concocted a light-up sign with a live subscriber and view count of his videos.

[MakerMan] milled out the logo used on the sign with his DIY CNC machine — built from rotary bearings and recycled stepper motors off industrial Xerox printers. The meticulous application of a jigsaw, rotary tool, and grinder resulted in a sturdy frame for the sign while a few strips of RGB LEDs imbue it with an inspiring glow. All that was left was to mount the phone in place and tape it for good measure.

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