[NightHawkInLight] wants what may be the impossible – a dirt cheap replacement for a laser cutter or a water jet. He’s got this crazy idea about using electrolysis to etch sheet steel parts, but he just can’t get the process to work. Sounds like a job for the Hackaday community.
In theory, electrolytic cutting of metal is pretty simple to understand. Anyone who lives in the northeast of the USA knows all about how road salt can cut holes in steel given enough time – say, one winter into payments on that new car. Adding a few electrons to the mix can accelerate the process of removing metal, but doing so in a controlled manner seems to be the crux of [NightHawkInLight]’s problem.
In his research into the method, he found a 2010 video by [InterestingProducts] of etching reed valves for DIY pulse jet engines from spring steel that makes it look easy. [NightHawkInLight] deviated from the reed valve process by substituting baking soda for salt to avoid the production of chlorine gas and changed up the masking technique by using different coatings. We applaud the empirical approach and hope he achieves his goal, but we tend to agree with frequent-Hackaday-tipline-project notable [AvE]’s assessment in the YouTube comments – the steel is just too darn thick. Once the etching starts, a third dimension is created at 90° to the surface and is then available to electrolyze, causing the corrosion to extend under the masking.
What does the Hackaday hive mind think? Is there any way to fix this process for thicker steel stock? Narrower traces, perhaps? Somehow modulating the current in the tank? Perhaps using the Hackaday logo would have helped? Chime in down below in the comments, and maybe we can all throw out our laser cutters.
Hanging plotters, or two steppers controlling a dangling Sharpie marker on an XY plane, are nothing new to our community. But have you ever thought of trading out the Sharpie for a wood router bit and cutting through reasonably thick plywood sheets? That would give you a CNC machine capable of cutting out wood in essentially whatever dimensions you’d like, at reasonably low-cost. And that’s the idea behind [Bar]’s Maslow. It’s going to be a commercial product (we hope!), but it’s also entirely open source and indubitably DIYable.
[Bar] walks us through all of the design decisions in this video, which is a must-watch if you’re planning on building one of these yourself. Basically, [Bar] starts out like any of us would: waaaay over-engineering the thing. He starts out with a counterweight consisting of many bricks, heavy-duty roller chain, and the requisite ultra-beefy motors to haul that all around. At some point, he realized that there was actually very little sideways force placed on a sharp router bit turning very quickly. This freed up a lot of the design.
His current design only uses two bricks for counterweights, uses lighter chains, and seems to get the job done. There’s a bit of wobble in the pendulum, which he admits that he’s adjusted for in software. Motors with built-in encoders and gearing take care of positioning accurately. We haven’t dug deeply enough to see if there’s a mechanism to control the router’s plunge, which would be great to cut non-continuous lines, but first things first.
Taking the wall plotter into the woodshop is a brilliant idea, but we’re sure that there’s 99% perspiration in this design too. Thanks [Bar] for making it open! Best of luck with the Kickstarter. And thanks to [Darren] for the tip.
Laser-cut plywood boxes are cool. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the free projects out there for people to get started with when they get a laser cutter – it’s obviously a popular genre of project. Laser cut plywood boxes with combination locks are even cooler, especially when the combination is entered on four separate number selectors, on four sides of the very same box.
MDF is the cheapest and flattest wood you can buy at local hardware stores. It’s uniform in thickness, and easy to work with. It’s no wonder that it shows up in a lot of projects. MDF stands for Medium Density Fiberboard. It’s made by pressing materials together along with some steam, typically wood, fibers and glue. This bonds the fibers very tightly. Sometimes MDF is constructed much like plywood. Thinner layers of MDF will be made. Then those layers will be laminated together under glue and steam.The laminated MDF is not as good as the monolithic kind. It tends to tear and break out along the layers, but it’s hard to tell which kind you will get.
MDF is great, but it has a few properties to watch for. First, MDF is very weak in bending and tension. It has a Modulus of Elasticity that’s about half of plywood. Due to its structure, short interlocking fibers bound together by glue and pressure, it doesn’t take a lot to cause a crack, and then, quickly, a break. If you’d like to test this, take a sheet of MDF, cut it with a knife, flip it over, and hit the sheet right behind your cut. Chances are the MDF will split surprisingly easily right at that point.
Because of the way MDF is constructed, fasteners tend to pull out of it easily. This means that you must always make sure a fastener that sees dynamic loads (say a bearing mount) goes through the MDF to the other side into a washer and bolt. MDF also tends to compress locally after a time, so even with a washer and bolt it is possible that you will see some ovaling of the holes. If you’re going to use screws, make sure they don’t experience a lot of force, also choose ones with very large threads instead of a finer pitch. Lastly, always use a pilot hole in MDF. Any particle board can split in alarming ways. For example, if you just drive a screw into MDF, it may appear to go well at first. Then it will suddenly jump back against you. This happened because the screw is compressing the fibers in front of it, causing an upward force. The only thing pressing against that force is the top layer of laminate contacting the threads. The screw then jumps out, tearing the top layer of particle board apart.
Heat can be a hacker’s best friend. A little heat can help release a stubborn nut cleanly, and a lot of heat can melt a rusty bolt clean off. An oxy-acetylene torch is handy for these applications, but if you need a more portable setup, and you want enough heat to melt rocks, you might want to look into this field-expedient thermic lance.
Thermic lances have been around a long time in the demolition industry, where cutting steel quickly is a common chore. Commercial thermic lances are just a bundle of steel fuel rods which are set on fire while oxygen is blown down a consumable outer tube. The resulting flame can reach up to 4500°C with impressive results. In need of a similarly destructive device, [NightHawkInLight] came up with a super-simple lance – a small disposable tank of oxygen and regulator, a length of Tygon tubing, and a piece of 5/8″ steel brake line. No need for fuel rods in this design; the brake line provides both fuel and oxygen containment. As you can see in the video below, lighting the little lance without the usual oxy-acetylene torch is no problem – a “wick” of twisted steel wool is all that’s needed to get the torch going. The results are pretty impressive on both steel and rock.
You say you’re fresh out of brake line and still need some “don’t try this at home” action? No problem at all – just hit up the pantry for the materials needed for this tinfoil and spaghetti thermic lance.
[Ben Krasnow] is working on a project that uses an extremely expensive specialty mirror. He needed to cut curves into it, taking care not to chip or shatter the material. He’s found a reliable way of doing this with a CNC mill and is sharing his methods.
The material he’s working with is a cold mirror; it reflects visible light while allowing infrared light to pass through. He had to custom order it, breakage is not acceptable. [Ben] explains that the biggest risk when milling glass is the clamping method used. He built his own jig and uses shims, rather than clamps, to secure the material along the X and Y axes. It is held down on the Z axis using a bar of acrylic spanning from one side to the other with rubber feet on the bottom.
A diamond burr cutter does the work, spinning at 3000 RPM. [Ben] recommends moving the head at the slowest rate possible in order to give the cutter time to do its work. And of course the material needs to be kept cool by pumping cutting fluid across it. As he shows in the video after the break, what you get is a piece of glass that comes out with clean and smooth edges.
In case we’ve sparked your curiosity, this mirror will be used during an MRI scan. The patient looks at a monitor reflected in the mirror at a 45 degree angle. At the same time, an infrared camera records the patient from the other side of the mirror to monitor where they are looking.