Arduino and Encoder form Precision Jig for Cutting and Drilling

“Measure twice, cut once” is great advice in every aspect of fabrication, but perhaps nowhere is it more important than when building a CNC machine. When precision is the name of the game, you need measuring tools that will give you repeatable results and preferably won’t cost a fortune. That’s the idea behind this Arduino-based measuring jig for fabricating parts for a CNC build.

When it comes to building on the cheap, nobody holds a candle to [HomoFaciens]. We’ve seen his garbage can CNC build and encoders from e-waste and tin cans, all of which gave surprisingly good results despite incorporating such compliant materials as particle board and scraps of plumber’s strapping. Looking to build a more robust machine, he finds himself in need of parts of consistent and accurate lengths, so he built this jig. A sled of particle board and a fence of angle aluminum position the square tube stock, and a roller with a paper encoder wheel bears on the tube under spring pressure. By counting pulses from the optical sensors, he’s able to precisely position the tube in the jig for cutting and drilling operations. See it in action in the video after the break.

If you’ve been following [HomoFaciens], you’ll no doubt see where he’s been going — build a low-end tool, use that to build a better one, and so on. We’re excited to see him moving into more robust materials, but we’ll miss the cardboard and paperclip builds.

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Watch the ClearWalker Light Up and Dip Its Toes

[Jeremy Cook]’s latest take on the Strandbeest, the ClearWalker, is ready to roll! He’s been at work on this project for a while, and walks us through the electronics and control system as well as final assembly tweaks. The ClearWalker is fully controllable and includes a pan and tilt camera as well as programmable LED segments, and even a tail.

When we last saw [Jeremy] at work on this design, it wasn’t yet functional. He showed us all the important design and assembly details that went into creating a motorized polycarbonate version of [Theo Jansen’s] classic Strandbeest design; there’s far more to the process than simply scaling parts up or down. Happily, [Jeremy] is able to show off the crystal clear beauty in his photo gallery as well as a new video, embedded below.

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A Water Jet Cutter From A Cheap Pressure Washer

We’ve become used to CNC mills and 3D printers becoming staples of our workshops, and thanks to the wonders of international trade even a modest laser cutter is not beyond the reach of most experimenters. But there is one tool that has so far evaded all but either commercial operations or the extremely well-heeled, the water cutter. These machines use a high-pressure water jet, usually carrying a stream of abrasive particles, to cut through the material placed beneath them. From our perspective they are interesting in that they can cut metal, something not normally possible with the laser cutters within our reach.

A water cutter is something you might think would be impossible for an experimenter to make for themself, but [Applied Science] is on hand to disprove that notion. He’s taken a cheap pressure washer, and modified it to produce a much higher water pressure for a water cutting head.

His very detailed description of the modifications makes for an extremely interesting watch, and we’ve placed the video below the break. The higher pressure is achieved by modifying the washer’s pressure on-off switch with a newly-machined sleeve and a stronger spring. The description of how the washer switch works is interesting in itself. Then we are treated to a complete teardown of a water cutting head, with abrasive feed, tungsten carbide tube, and ruby nozzle. This last component is surprisingly cheap. He then gives us a run-down of its design, particularly with respect to choosing the size of the orifices to match the pump. Finally we take a look at his abrasive feed system, and the plastic funnel he uses to keep water flow back out of his hopper.

For now the cutter is static, but his obvious next step is to bring it to some form of CNC table. If this project brings water cutting one step closer to the masses, we can’t wait!

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Additive + Subtractive = One Powerful Machine

It says it right on the title of the video below: it was bound to happen eventually. It’s only natural that somebody would stick a 3D printer extruder on the business end of a CNC machine. The long-awaited convergence of additive and subtractive manufacturing is here.

OK, that may be overstating things a bit, but we think [Chris DePrisco] is on to something here. Given the considerable investment he’s made in his DIY CNC machine, an enormous vertical machining center that looks a little like a homebrew Bridgeport, it was a no-brainer to take advantage of the huge XYZ stage. Mounting the Titan Aero extruder to the quill required some custom parts; fair warning that the video below is heavy on machining, but it’s not the seven hours of video he streamed when he milled the heated aluminum bed. Skip ahead to about the six-minute mark if you want to see the first prints and how he optimized the setup.

As we watched [Chris]’ video, we were struck by the potential for adding 3D printing to CNC milling machines. What we’d like to see is a setup where the spindle and the extruder work together to build more complex parts. Or maybe a tool-changing CNC that can pick up a spindle, an extruder, and maybe even a laser or plasma cutter head. Now that would be a powerful machine!

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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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