Materials to Know: Medium Density Fiberboard

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.

Proper way to attatch a fastener to MDF.
Proper way to attatch a fastener to MDF.

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.

Continue reading “Materials to Know: Medium Density Fiberboard”

Machine Shop Soaps Are Good, Clean Learning Fun

At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss the creation of custom bath soaps as far outside the usual Hackaday subject matter, and we fully expect a torrent of “not a hack” derision in the comments. But to be able to build something from nothing, a hacker needs to be able to learn something from nothing, and there is plenty to learn from this hack.

On the face of it, [Gord] is just making kitschy custom bath soaps for branding and promotion. Cool soaps, to be sure, and the drop or two of motor oil and cutting fluid added to each batch give them a little machine shop flair. [Gord] experimented with different dyes and additives over multiple batches to come up with a soap that looked like machined aluminum; it turns out, though, that adding actual aluminum to a mixture containing lye is not a good idea. Inadvertent chemical reactions excepted, [Gord]’s soaps and custom wrappers came out great.

So where’s the hack? In stepping way outside his comfort zone of machining and metalwork, [Gord] exposed himself to new materials, new techniques, and new failure modes. He taught himself the basics of mold making and casting, how to deal with ultra-soft materials, the chemistry of the soap-making process, working out packaging and labeling issues, and how to deal with the problems that come from scaling up from prototype to production. It may have been “just soap”, but hacks favor the prepared mind.

Simple Headphone Bracket Shows Off Carbon Fiber Basics

The carbon fiber look is a pretty hot design element for things these days. Even things that have no need for the strength and flexibility of carbon fiber, from phone cases to motorcycle fenders, are sporting that beautiful glossy black texture. Some of it only looks like the real stuff, though, so it’s refreshing to see actual carbon fiber used in a project, like this custom headphone rack.

True, this is one of those uses of carbon fiber that doesn’t really need it – it just looks cool. But more importantly, [quada03]’s build log takes us through the whole process, from design to mold construction to laying up the fiber mats and finishing, and shows us how specialized equipment is not needed to achieve a great result. A homemade CNC router carves the two-piece mold out of Styrofoam, which is then glued up and smoothed over with automotive body filler. The epoxy-soaked carbon fiber mats are layered into the mold with careful attention paid to the orientation of the fibers, and the mold goes into one of those clothes-packing vacuum bags for 24 hours of curing. A little trimming and sanding later and the finished bracket looks pretty snazzy.

We’ve discussed the basics of carbon fiber fabrication before, but what we like about [quada03]’s build is that it shows how approachable carbon fiber builds can be. Once you hone your skills, maybe you’ll be ready to tackle a carbon fiber violin.

[via r/DIY]

Turning a 3D Printer into an Injection Molding Machine

Injection molding machines are able to form very detailed plastic parts, simply by squirting plastic into a mold. 3D printers squirt plastic. Why no one thought of using a 3D printer extruder to push plastic into a mold until now is something we’ll never know.

[bfk] has been working on a way to produce very small, very detailed parts for a while now, and realized the extruder of a 3D printer serves most of the functions of an injection molding machine. It takes plastic, melts it, and forces it through an orifice. Whether that plastic goes to a build platform or into a mold is beside the point; but with a simple silicone mold, anyone can replicate extremely small parts with a tool every hackerspace already has.

The tools required are RTV rubber, which is the most popular mold material around. Aside from that, it’s just silicone lubricant, dowels and LEGO to make sprues, and of course something to make a mold from. Once the mold is made, it’s a simple matter of holding the mold up to the nozzle of a printer and extruding a bit of plastic.

The resulting ‘print’ is as detailed as the best prints that will ever come off a resin printer. It’s great for making parts for very small models like [bfk]’s current project, but this technique could be expanded to anything that needs a lot of small plastic parts with tight tolerances.

Video of the process below.

Continue reading “Turning a 3D Printer into an Injection Molding Machine”

Upgrading the Battery In a Wrist PDA

No, your eyes do not deceive you. That’s a wrist-mounted PDA. Specifically, a Fossil Wrist PDA, also known as an Abacus, that was sold from 2003 to about 2005. Yep, it’s running PalmOS. [mclien] has had this watch/PDA for a while now, and found the original 180mAh battery wasn’t cutting it anymore. He made a little modification to the watch to get a 650mAh battery in this PDA by molding a new back for it.

The original PDA used a round Lithium cell, but being ten years old, the battery technology in this smart watch is showing its years. [mclien] found two batteries (380mAh and 270mAh) that fit almost perfectly inside the battery.

The new batteries were about 3mm too thick for the existing case back, so [mclien] began by taking the old case, adding a few bits of aluminum and resin, and making a positive for a mold. Two or three layers of glass twill cloth were used to form the mold, resined up, and vacuum bagged.

After many, many attempts, [mclien] just about has the case back for this old smartwatch complete. The project build logs are actually a great read, showing exactly what doesn’t work, and are a great example of using as a build log, instead of just project presentation.

Lost PLA Casting With a Little Help From Your Microwave


[Julia and Mason] have been perfecting their microwave-based lost PLA casting technique over at As the name implies, lost PLA is similar to lost wax casting techniques. We’ve covered lost PLA before, but it always involved forges. [Julia and Mason] have moved the entire process over to a pair of microwaves.

Building on the work of the FOSScar project, the pair needed a way to burn the PLA out of a mold with a microwave. The trick is to use a susceptor. Susceptors convert the microwave’s RF energy into thermal energy exactly where it is needed. If you’ve ever nuked a hot pocket, the crisping sleeve is lined with susceptor material. After trying several materials, [Julia and Mason] settled on a mixture of silicon carbide, sugar, water, and alcohol for their susceptor.

The actual technique is pretty simple. A part printed in PLA is coated with susceptor. The part is then placed in a mold made of plaster of paris and perlite. The entire mold is cooked in an unmodified household microwave to burn out the PLA.

A second microwave with a top emitter is used to melt down aluminum, which is then poured into the prepared mold. When the metal cools, the mold is broken away to reveal a part ready to be machined.

We think this is a heck of a lot of work for a single part. Sometimes you really need a metal piece, though. Until metal 3D printing becomes cheap enough for everyone to do at home, this will work pretty well.

Molding Flexible Links

Flexible Links

Need a custom link that’s strong and flexible? [RobotGrrl] came up with a method of molding flexible links using 3D printed parts and Sugru.

The link consists of two 3D printed hubs, connected by a flexible material cast in a 3D printed mold. [RobotGrrl] recommends using Sugru to create the link, but you can use homemade Oogoo as a low cost substitute. Dish soap is used as a release agent, and prevents the Sugru from sticking to the mold.

The tutorial includes a detailed guide to modeling the parts in Autodesk Inventor, which serves as a quick introduction to the CAD tool. If you just want to make some links, the STL files are available for immediate 3D printing.

Why would you want DIY flexible links? [RobotGrrl]’s Baitbot is a good example. This tentacle robot uses the links as its core. Check out a video of the Baitbot wiggling and jiggling after the break.

Continue reading “Molding Flexible Links”