Two-Stage Tentacle Mechanisms Part III: Putting it All Together

Welcome back to the final chapter in our journey exploring two-stage tentacle mechanisms. This is where we arm you with the tools and techniques to get one of these cretins alive-and-kicking in your livingroom. In this last installment, I’ll guide us through the steps of building our very own tentacle and controller identical to one we’ve been discussing in the last few weeks. As promised, this post comes with a few bonuses:

Nothing like a fresh batch o’ parts.

Design Files

  1. The Almighty Bill-o’-Materials
  2. Vector Drawings for laser cutting
    1. DXF files pre-offset (0.003″)
    2. DXF files original
  3. STL Models for 3D Printing
  4. Original Tentacle CAD Model Files
  5. Original Controller CAD Model Files

Depending on your situation, some design files may be more important than others. If you just want to get parts made, odds are good that you can simply cut the pre-offset DXFs from the right plate thicknesses and get rolling. Of course, if you need to tune the files for a laser with a slightly different beam diameter, I’ve included the original DXFs for good measure. For the heavy-hitters, I’ve also included the original files if there’s something about this design that just deserves a tweak or two. Have at it! (And, of course, let us know how you improve it!)

Ok, now that we’ve got the parts on-hand in a pile of pieces,let’s walk through the last-mile tweaks to making this puppet work: assembly and tuning. At this point, we’ve got a collection of parts, some laser-cut, some off the shelf. Now it’s time to string them together.

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Two-Stage Tentacle Mechanisms Part II: the Cable Controller

A few weeks back, we got a taste for two-stage tentacle mechanisms. It’s a look at how to make a seemily complicated mechanism a lot less mysterious. This week, we’ll take a close look at one (of many) methods for puppeteering these beasts by hand. Best of all, it’s a method you can assemble at home!

Without a control scheme, our homebrew tentacle can only “squirm around” about as much as an overcooked noodle. It’s pretty useless without some sort of control mechanism to keep all the cables in check at proper tension. Since the tentacle’s motion is driven by nothing more than four cable pairs, it’s not too difficult to start imagining a few hobby servos and pulleys doing the job. To get us started, though, I’ve opted for hand controllers just like the puppeteers of the film industry.

Enter Manual Control

Hand controllers? Of all the possibilities offered by electronics, why select such an electronics-devoid caveman approach? Fear not. Hand controllers offer us a unique set of opportunities that aren’t easy to achieve with most alternatives.

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The Bootup Guide to Homebrew Two-Stage Tentacle Mechanisms

What’s not to love about animatronics? Just peel back any puppet’s silicone skin to uncover a cluster of mechatronic wizardry that gives it a life on the big screen. I’ve been hunting online for a good intro to these beasts, but I’ve only turned up one detailed resource–albeit a pretty good one–from the Stan Winston Tutorials series. Only 30 seconds into the intro video, I could feel those tentacles waking up my lowest and most gutteral urge to create physical things. Like it or not, I was hooked; I just had to build one… or a few. This is how you built a very real animatronic tentacle.

I built this. And you can too!

If you’re getting started in this realm, I’ll be honest: the Stan Winston Tutorial is actually a great place to start. In about two hours, instructor Richard Landon covers the mindset, the set of go-to components, and the techniques for fabricating a tentacle mechanism with a set of garage tools–not to mention giving us tons of real-film examples along the way [1].

We also get a sneak peek into how we might build more complicated devices from the same basic techniques.  I’d like to pick up exactly where he left off: 4-way two-stage tentacles. And, of course, if you’ve picked up on just how much I like a certain laser-cuttable plastic at this point, I’m going to put a modern twist on Landon’s design. These design tweaks should enable you to build your own tentacle and controller with nothing more but a few off-the-shelf parts, some Delrin, and a laser cutter… Ok, fine, a couple 3D printed parts managed to creep their way in too.

bom_graphicIn a good-ol’ engineers-for-engineers fashion, I’m doing something a little different for this post: I’m finishing off this series with a set of assembly videos, a BOM, and the original CAD files to make that beast on the front page come to life. As for why, I figured: why not? Even though these mechanisms have lived in the robotics community and film industry for years, they’re still lacking the treatment of a solid, open design. This is my first shot at closing that gap. Get yourself a cup of coffee. I’m about to give you every bleeding detail on the-how-and-why behind these beasts.

All right; let’s get started.

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How To Build Anything With Delrin And A Laser Cutter — Advanced Tricks

Everyone wants their prototypes to look polished, as opposed to looking like 3D-squirted weekend afterthoughts. The combination of Delrin and a Laser Cutter make this easy, especially if you learn a few tricks-of-the-trade that will make your assemply pop, both functionally and aesthetically.

Last time, we took a deep dive into fabbing parts with Delrin and a typical 40-watt laser cutter, and we discussed some of the constraints of the material. More recently, [Gerrit] gave us a close look at the material itself. It’s been about a year since our first post, but the list of tricks is far from complete.

If you’re just getting started in this domain, let me introduce you to two classic techniques for laser-cut prototypes: puzzle-piecing and the T-nut-slotting. While these techniques are tried-and-true, I hope, fearless reader, that they’ll leave you hungry for something cleaner, something more refined. If that’s the case, read on!

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Materials to Know: Acetal and Delrin

Delrin, Acetal, and its many trade names is a material properly known as Polyoxymethylene or POM. It is one of the strongest plastics and is a good go-to material when you want the best properties of plastic, and don’t need the full strength of a metal part. It was originally formulated to compete with Zinc and Aluminum castings after all.

I won’t go too deep into the numbers behind POM. If you need the Young’s Modulus, you probably don’t need this guide. This is intended to be more of a guide to its general properties. When you’re looking for something to fit an application it is usually easier to shift through the surface properties to select a few candidates, and then break the calculator out later to make sure it will work if you’re uncertain about the factor of safety.

The most popular property of POM is its ease of machining. While doing this research every single site I came across referred to it as the most machinable plastic. That’s about as objective as subjective praise can get. It doesn’t tend to grab tools like, for example, HDPE. It also chips nicely unlike UHMW and Nylon. Some plastics, like UHMW, have the unfortunate tendency to render the dials on a mill or lathe meaningless as the plastic deflects away from the tool. POM does not do this as much. Of course these other plastics have their strengths as well, but if any plastic will do, and you’re machining, POM is a very good choice.

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Drawbacks of Laser Cut Delrin–and How to Slip Around Them

Welcome back to part II in this ensemble of techniques with laser-cut Delrin. Thanks for many of the great insights along the way in the comments. In this guide, I’d like to go over some of the more immediate kinks that come to mind when getting started with this material.

Sourcing Delrin Sheets

When it comes to shopping, there are a variety of suppliers to choose from, but there are a few key words and thoughts to keep in mind.


First, Delrin, is the “brand name” that refers to the Acetal homopolymer. Variants may also be labeled, acetal or acetal homopolymer. Delrin’s natural color is a soft white, but dyes can take it into a range of other colors. Black and white are, by far, the most common, though.


In the previous guide, all of the examples were cut from a small range of sheet thicknesses (0.0625[in], 0.09375[in], and .125[in]) sourced from OnlineMetals. As the thickness of the sheet increases, the tolerances on the thickness rating will also become more loose. You might buy a .125[in] plate and find it to be .124[in] in some places and .126[in] in others. If you purchase a .250[in] sheet, however, you’ll find that it may vary as much as .126[in] oversize though!

Buy it Flat

Despite McMaster-Carr being my go-to solution for one-off prototypes where rapid build iterations trump BOM cost, I don’t recommend purchasing Delrin from them as their sheets don’t have a flatness rating and often gets shipped bent in (oddly sized) boxes. (Seriously, has anyone else gotten a few oddly-sized parts in a gigantic McMaster-box before?)

Internal Stresses

Extruded Delrin has internal stresses built up inside of the sheet. There are a variety of reasons why this could be the case, but my biggest hunch is that the extrusion process at the factory results in different parts of the sheets solidifying at different times as the sheet cools, possibly causing some parts of the sheet to tighten from the cooling before other gooier sections have yet to finish cooling. What this means for you is that as your part gets lased out of the sheet, you’re, in a sense, relieving that stress. As a result, the part that you cut–especially for thin sheets–may come out of the laser cutter slightly warped.

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How to Build Anything Using Delrin and a Laser Cutter

Need a simple fab process to go from a humble vector graphic to a final part — in a matter of minutes? The CO2  laser cutter might be the right choice. As these tools open themselves up to widespread use through hackerspaces, I decided to give Delrin some well-deserved time under the spotlight.

The laser cutter yet-again proves itself a formidable tool with the construction of GameCube-Bot V2

This guide is a brief collection of tips and techniques that I’ve either learned from others or discovered on my own over the last couple years working with laser-cut Delrin (a.k.a Acetal) for functional prototypes. I hope this guide serves you well as we keep exploring the limits of the material.

As a disclaimer, keep in mind that in no way are these techniques unique or limited to Delrin. Many are not only years old but also common practice in either engineering design or the local machine shop. This article simply highlights the techniques shown here that perform both repeatably and predictably with Delrin and a couple hand-tools, and I hope to share them with a growing audience of laser cutter enthusiasts.

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