Review: LinkSprite Mini CNC

It’s a great time to be a hobbyist. No matter how you feel about the Arduino/Raspberry Pi effect, the influx of general enthusiasm and demand it has created translates to better availability of components, a broader community, and loads of freely available knowledge. When people have access to knowledge and ideas, great things can happen. Tools that were once restricted to industrial use become open source, and the price of entry-level versions goes into a nosedive.

As we’ve seen over the last several years, the price of cheap 3D printers keeps falling while the bar of quality keeps rising. It’s happening with laser cutters and carving tools, too. Strolling through Microcenter a few weeks ago, I spotted a new toy on the back wall next to the 3D printers. It was LinkSprite’s desktop mini CNC. They didn’t have one out on display, but there were two of them in boxes on the shelf. And boy, those boxes were small. Laughably small. I wondered, could this adorable machine really be any good? To some, the $200 price tag suggests otherwise. To me, the price tag made it justifiable, especially considering that the next price point for a hobby CNC mill is at least twice as much. I took my phone out and stood there frantically looking for reviews, documentation, anything that was available. It seemed that the general, if sparse consensus is that this thing isn’t a total waste of money. Oh, and there’s a wiki.

According to LinkSprite’s wiki, this little machine will engrave wood, plastic, acrylic, PVC, and PCBs. It will specifically not engrave metal (PCB copper notwithstanding). I’m a bit leery of the chemicals used in the PCB etching process, so the idea of engraving them instead was especially tempting. I pulled the trigger.

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The PlyPad: CNC Machine Yourself A Tiny House

The Maslow CNC project is a CNC mill for sheet woodwork that is designed to be as inexpensive as possible and to be assembled by the end user. They’ve dropped us a line to tell us about a recent project they’ve undertaken as part of a collaboration to produce the PlyPad, a tiny house for Kenton Women’s Village, a project to tackle homelessness among women in part of the City of Portland.

Their write-up is a fascinating look at the issues surrounding the design and construction of a small dwelling using CNC rather than traditional methods. As an example their original design featured an attractive sawtooth roofline with multiple clerestory windows, but sadly a satisfactory solution could not be found to the problem of keeping it waterproof and they were forced to adopt a more conventional look.

The walls of the building are a ply-foam bonded sandwich, and the house is constructed in 4 foot sections to match the width of a sheet of ply. There are several section designs with built-in furniture, for example containing a bed, or storage space.

This house was designed to be part of a community with central washing and sanitary facilities, so it does not incorporate the bathroom you might expect. However it is not impossible to imagine how sections could be designed containing these, and could be added to a full suite of construction choices. We are reminded of its similarity to the WikiHouse project.

We covered the Maslow project back in 2016, it is especially pleasing to see that it has been something of a success.

CNC’d MacBook Breathes Easy

Sick of his 2011 Macbook kicking its fans into overdrive every time the temperatures started to climb, [Arthur] decided to go with the nuclear option and cut some ventilation holes into the bottom of the machine’s aluminum case. But it just so happens that he had the patience and proper tools for the job, and the final result looks good enough that you might wonder why Apple didn’t do this to begin with.

After disassembling the machine, [Arthur] used double-sided tape and a block of scrap wood to secure the Macbook’s case to the CNC, and cut out some very slick looking vents over where the internal CPU cooler sits. With the addition of some fine mesh he found on McMaster-Carr, foreign objects (and fingers) are prevented from getting into the Mac and messing up all that Cupertino engineering.

[Arthur] tells us that the internal temperature of his Macbook would hit as high as 102 °C (~215 °F) under load before his modification, which certainly doesn’t sound like something we’d want sitting in our laps. With the addition of his vents however, he’s now seeing an idle temperature of 45 °C to 60 °C, and a max of 82 °C.

In the end, [Arthur] is happy with the results of his modification, but he’d change a few things if he was to do it again. He’s somewhat concerned about the fact that the mesh he used for the grill isn’t non-conductive (he’s using shims of card stock internally to make sure it doesn’t touch anything inside), and he’d prefer the peace of mind of having used epoxy to secure it all together rather than super-glue. That said, it works and hasn’t fallen apart yet; basically the hallmarks of a successful hack.

It’s worth noting that [Arthur] is not the first person to struggle with the Macbook’s propensity for cooking itself alive. A few years back we covered another user who added vents to their Macbook, but not before they were forced to reflow the whole board because some of the solder joints gave up in the heat.

CNC Calculator Does What You Can’t

The Hackaday community — and the greater hacker community — can do absolutely anything. Readers of Hackaday regularly pilot spaceships. The transmutation of the elements is a simple science project here, one easily attainable by a high school student. Hackaday readers have solved international crises, climbed Everest, and one day we’re going to have readers accessing Hackaday from an IP address on Mars. There is almost no limit to what our community can do.

This project does the one thing Hackaday readers are utterly incapable of doing. As a cool little bonus, the enclosure for this device is a beautiful work of milled aluminum, anodized in a deep, beautiful black and engraved with exacting precision.

The guts of this build are in essence an Arduino loaded up with some special code that does what no human is capable of doing. Added onto that is a small lithium battery, charging circuit, character display, and a small keypad. There’s really nothing here that can’t be sourced from your favorite AliDXExtremeDeal shop.

The real show here is the beautiful milled aluminum enclosure. This was designed in Fusion360 and milled away on a Tormach CNC loaded up with a slightly worn endmill. The engraving was done with a Lakeshore carbide engraver. The first prototype was finished with a powder coat because that’s the easiest way for someone in a home shop to put a great finish on a milled enclosure. The production versions of this amazing device (available here, although it’s sold out at the time of this writing) are anodized and look fantastic.

If this is the sort of project that appeals to your desire for logic with just a touch of anti-Americanism, be sure to check out the number one most commented post on Hackaday ever. There are a lot of great opinions in the comments section there, even if the topic being discussed is obtuse and weird to the entire Hackaday community.

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CNC Milling is More Manual Than You Think

I was in Pasadena CA for the Hackaday Superconference, and got to spend some quality time at the Supplyframe Design Lab. Resident Engineer Dan Hienzsch said I could have a few hours, and asked me what I wanted to make. The constraints were that it had to be small enough to fit into checked luggage, but had to be cool enough to warrant taking up Dan’s time, with bonus points for me learning some new skills. I have a decent wood shop at home, and while my 3D printer farm isn’t as pro as the Design Lab’s, I know the ropes. This left one obvious choice: something Jolly Wrencher on the industrial Tormach three-axis CNC metal mill.

A CNC mill is an awesome tool, but it’s not an omniscient metal-eating robot that you can just hand a design file to. If you thought that having a CNC mill would turn you into a no-experience-needed metal-cutting monster, you’d be sorely mistaken.

Of course the machine is able to cut arbitrary shapes with a precision that would be extremely demanding if done by hand, but the craft of the operator is no less a factor than with a manual mill in making sure that things don’t go sideways. Dan’s good judgment, experience, and input was needed every step of the way. Honestly, I was surprised by how similar the whole procedure was to manual milling. So if you want to know what it’s like to sit on the shoulder of a serious CNC mill operator, read on!

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Hackaday Prize Entry: CNC Mill Lets Kids Engrave on the Fly

The manufacturing revolution has already begun, and there are 3D printers, CNC machines, and laser cutters popping up in garages and workspaces all around the world. The trouble with these machines is that they’re fiddly to use, and you don’t want a kid playing around with them.

[moritz.messerschmidt]’s Hackaday Prize entry is a desktop Badgemaker that engraves acrylic name badges for kids. Under the hood, an Arduino with a custom-built shield with 3 SilentStepStick stepper drivers on it operates the three NEMA-11 motors. Meanwhile, the kids interact with a 7” touchscreen powered by a Raspberry Pi.

Once the kid selects what to engrave, motors move the piece of acrylic against a rotary tool’s milling bit, carving the acrylic as instructed. These cards are then equipped with watch batteries and LEDs to light up.

The touch screen is key. Bummed out by basic CNC machines that were difficult to use — like hobbyist 3D printers with a newbie-befuddling interface — [moritz.messerschmidt] went out of his way to make the interface kid-friendly, with just a simple set of choices necessary for creating one’s own name badge.

Is this a feature-packed CNC machine with all the bells and whistles? No, but that’s not the point. The purpose of the Badgemaker is to introduce a new generation to personal fabrication technology. It’s a toy, but that’s the point: a CNC machine that’s so easy to use, even a child can do it.

CNC Robot Makes a Move

Another day, another Kickstarter. While we aren’t often keen on touting products, we are keen on seeing robotics and unusual mechanisms put to use. The Goliath CNC has long since surpassed its $90,000 goal in an effort to put routing robots in workshops everywhere.

Due to their cost and complexity, you often only find omni-wheels on robots scurrying around universities or the benches of robotics hobbyists, but the Goliath makes use of nine wheels configured as three sets in a triangular pattern. This is important as any CNC needs to make compound paths, and for wheeled robots an omni-wheel base is often the best bet for compound 2D translation.

coordinate drawingWhat really caught our eye is the Goliath’s unique positioning system. While most CNC machines have the luxury of end-stops or servomotors capable of precise positional control, the Goliath has two “base sensors” that are tethered to the top of the machine and mounted to the edge of the workpiece. Each sensor connects to the host computer via USB and uses vaguely termed “Radio Frequency technology” that provides a 100Hz update for the machine’s coordinate system. This setup is sure to beat out dead-reckoning for positional awareness, but details are scant on how it precisely operates. We’d love to know more if you’ve used a similar setup for local positioning as this is still a daunting task for indoor robots.

A re-skinned DeWalt 611 router makes for the core of the robot, which is a common option for many a desktop milling machine and other bizarre, mobile CNCs like the Shaper Origin. While we’re certain that traditional computer controlled routers and proper machining centers are here to stay, we certainly wouldn’t mind if the future of digital manufacturing had a few more compact options like these.