Ad Hoc MIDI to Music Box Project Shows Power of Hacker Community

Fair warning: when you post a video of you doing an incredibly tedious process like manually punching holes in a paper tape to transfer a MIDI file to a music box, don’t be surprised when a bunch of hackers automates the process in less than a week.

The back story on this should be familiar to even casual Hackaday readers. [Martin] from the Swedish group “Wintergatan” is a prolific maker of unusual musical instruments. You’ll no doubt recall his magnificent marble music machine, a second version of which is currently in the works. But he’s also got a thing for music boxes that are programmed by paper tape, and recently posted a video showing his time-consuming and totally manual process for punching the holes in the tape. Since his source material was already in a MIDI file, a bunch of his fans independently came up with ways to automate the process.

The video below shows what he learned from his fans about automating his programming, but also what he learned about the community we all work and play in. Without specifically asking for help, random strangers brought together by common interests identified the problems, came up with solutions, sorted through the good and the bad ideas, and made the work publically available. Not bad for less than a week’s work.

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Laser Surgery: Expanding the Bed of a Cheap Chinese Laser Cutter

Don’t you just hate it when you spend less than $400 on a 40-watt laser cutter and it turns out to have a work area the size of a sheet of copy paper? [Kostas Filosofou] sure did, but rather than stick with that limited work envelope, he modified his cheap K40 laser cutter so it has almost five times the original space.

The K40 doesn’t make any pretenses — it’s a cheap laser cutter and engraver from China. But with new units going for $344 on eBay now, it’s almost a no-brainer. Even with its limitations, you’re still getting a 40-watt CO2 laser and decent motion control hardware to play with. [Kostas] began the embiggening by removing the high-voltage power supply from its original space-hogging home to the right of the work area. With that living in a new outboard enclosure, a new X-Y gantry of extruded aluminum rails and 3D-printed parts was built, and a better exhaust fan was installed. Custom mirror assemblies were turned, better fans were added to the radiator, and oh yeah — he added a Z-axis to the bed too.

We’re sure [Kostas] ran the tab up a little on this build, but when you’re spending so little to start with, it’s easy to get carried away. Speaking of which, if you feel the need for an even bigger cutter, an enormous 100-watt unit might be more your style.

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Two-Piece Boxes Thanks to Laser-Cut Flex Hinges

It sounds like a challenge from a [Martin Gardner] math puzzle from the Scientific American of days gone by: is it possible to build a three-dimensional wooden box with only two surfaces? It turns out it is, if you bend the rules and bend the wood to make living hinge boxes with a laser cutter.

[Martin Raynsford] clearly wasn’t setting out to probe the limits of topology with these boxes, but they’re a pretty neat trick nonetheless. The key to these boxes is the narrow to non-existent kerf left by a laser cutter that makes interference fits with wood a reality. [Martin]’s design leverages the slot and tab connection we’re used to seeing in laser-cut boxes, but adds a living flex-hinge to curve each piece of plywood into a U-shape. The two pieces are then nested together like those old aluminum hobby enclosures from Radio Shack. His GitHub has OpenSCAD scripts to parametrically create two different styles of two-piece boxes so you can scale it up or (somewhat) down according to your needs. There’s also a more traditional three-piece box, and any of them might be a great choice for a control panel or small Arduino enclosure. And as a bonus, the flex-hinge provides ventilation.

Need slots and tabs for boxes but you’re more familiar with FreeCAD? These parametric scripts will get you started, and we’ll bet you can port the flex-hinge bit easily, too.

Burn Music On To Anything!

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, and try again. This is especially true when your efforts involve a salvaged record player, a laser cutter, and He-Man. Taking that advice to heart, maniac maker extraordinaire [William Osman] managed to literally burn music onto a CD.

Considering the viability of laser-cut records is dubious — especially when jerry-built — it took a couple frustrating tests to finally see results, all the while risking his laser’s lens. Eventually, [Osman]’s perseverance paid off. The lens is loosely held by a piece of delrin, which is itself touching a speaker blaring music. The vibrations of the speaker cause the lens to oscillate the focal point of the laser into a wavelength that is able to be played on a record player. You don’t get much of the high-end on the audio and the static almost drowns out the music, but it is most definitely a really shoddy record of a song!

Vinyl aficionados are certainly pulling their hair out at this point. For the rest of us, if you read [Jenny’s] primer on record players you’ll recognize that a preamplifier (the ‘phono’ input on your amp) is what’s missing from this setup and would surely yield more audible results.

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Making Laser Cutter Designs Work in a 3D Printer

The main mechanical tools in a hacker’s shop used to be a drill press and a lathe. Maybe a CNC mill, if you were lucky. Laser cutters are still a rare tool to find in a personal shop, but today’s hackers increasingly have access to 3D printers. What happens when you have a design for a laser cutter (2D parts) but only have access to a 3D printer? You punt.

[DIY3DTECH] has a two-part video on taking a 2D design (in an SVG file) and bringing it into TinkerCad. At that point, he assembles the part in software and creates a printable object. You can see the videos below.

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Tales Of A Cheap Chinese Laser Cutter

The star turn of most hackspaces and other community workshops is usually a laser cutter. An expensive and fiddly device that it makes much more sense to own collectively than to buy yourself.

This isn’t to say that laser cutters are outside the budget of the experimenter though, we’re all familiar with the inexpensive table-top machines from China. Blue and white boxes that can be yours for a few hundred dollars, and hold the promise of a real laser cutter on your table.

Owning one of these machines is not always smooth sailing though, because their construction and choice of components are often highly variable. A thorough check and often a session of fixing the non-functional parts is a must before first power-on.

[Extreme Electronics] bought one, and in a series of posts documented the process from unboxing to cutting. Starting with a full description of the machine and what to watch for out of the box, then a look at the software. A plugin for Corel Draw was supplied, along with a dubious copy of Corel Draw itself. Finally we see the machine in operation, and the process of finding the proper height for beam focus by cutting an inclined plane of acrylic.

The series rounds off with a list of useful links, and should make interesting reading for anyone, whether they are in the market for a cutter or not.

These cutters/engravers have featured here before many times. Among many others we’ve seen one working with the Mach3 CNC software, or another driven by a SmoothieBoard.

Well, That Was Quick: Heng Lamp Duplicated

That didn’t take long at all! We covered a pretty cool lamp with a novel magnetic switch mechanism, and [msraynsford] has his version laser cut, veneered, a video posted on YouTube (embedded below), and an Instructable written up before we’d even caught our breath.

For those who missed it, the original Heng lamp is a beautiful design with a unique take on a magnetic switch. As with the original, the secret sauce is a switch inside that’s physically held closed by the two magnets. It’s a pretty clever mechanism that looks magical to boot.

[msraynsford]’s version replaces the floating spheres with floating cylinders, which are easier to fabricate in layers on a laser cutter, but otherwise the copy is fairly true to the aesthetics of the original. Pretty sweet!
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