T-slot extrusions used to be somewhat mysterious, but today they are quite common thanks to their use in many 3D printers. However, it is one thing to assemble a kit with some extrusions and another thing to design your own creations with the material. If you ever had a Play-Doh Fun Factory as a kid, then you know about extrusions. You push some material out through a die to make a shape. Of course, aluminum extrusions aren’t made from modeling clay, but usually 6105-T5 aluminum. Oddly, there doesn’t seem to be an official standard, but it is so common that there’s usually not much variation between different vendors.
We use extrusions to create frames for 3D printers, laser cutters, and CNC machines. But you can use it anywhere you need a sturdy and versatile frame. There seems to be a lot of people using them, for example, to build custom fixtures inside vans. If you need a custom workbench, a light fixture, or even a picture frame, you can build anything you like using extrusions. Continue reading “Getting Started With Aluminum Extrusions”→
Whether we’re talking about Gibson’s Sprawl or our increasingly dystopian reality, one of the defining characteristics of a cyberdeck is that it can be easily customized and upgraded over time. While a few of the builds we’ve covered over the last couple of years have focused more on style than substance, we really appreciate the designs that embrace the concept of modularity to make sure the system can evolve to meet the changing demands of hacking on the go.
To that end, the M3TAL from [BlastoSupreme] is a perfect example of what a cyberdeck should be. Naturally it’s got the cyberpunk aesthetics we’ve come to expect, but more importantly, it’s designed so modifications and repairs are as quick and painless as possible. The trick is the use of a 2020 aluminum extrusion frame, which allows external panels and components to be attached anywhere along the length of the deck using T-Nuts. Similarly, by mounting internal components to “sleds” that ride between the pieces of extrusion, the electronics can easily be removed or swapped out as complete modules.
Furthering the idea of expandability, [BlastoSupreme] included an authentic 3.5 floppy drive on the M3TAL that allows him to pack an incredible 1.44 MB onto each rugged and portable disk. OK, so maybe the floppy drive isn’t terribly impressive compared to 2021 tech, but it does seem oddly appropriate for a cyberdeck. On the opposite side of the deck there’s a RetroCART slot, which cloaks modern USB devices in clunky faux cartridges. This provides a unified physical format for everything from removable storage to microcontrollers and software defined radio receivers.
[NotLikeALeafOnTheWind] has created many LED-based display projects, and shares his method for making attractive LED panel frames and mounts. At first glance it may look as though slapping a rectangle of aluminum extrusion around a display is all it takes, there is also the mounting and management of wiring, power supply, and possibly a Raspberry Pi to deal with. The process of building an attractive frame also has a few hidden gotchas that can be avoided with a bit of careful planning.
Here is one tip that will resonate with some readers: don’t rely on specified dimensions of parts; measure the actual parts yourself. There can be small differences between what a data sheet says to expect, and the dimensions of the actual part in one’s hands. It may not be much, but it can be the difference between an ideal fit, and something that looks like a bit of a hack job.
[NotLikeALeafOnTheWind] provides some basic frame layouts, and suggests using two- or three-channel extrusions to provide a flat bezel around the display edge if desired. Mounting the LED panel itself is done with magnetic feet and providing a length of steel bar to which the display can attach. This can provide a flush mount while avoiding the whole issue of screw-mounting the display panels themselves, or sliding them into channels. For mounting all the other hardware, a piece of DIN rail and some 3D-printed parts takes care of that.
The result looks slick and sturdy, and some of the tips are sure to be useful even if the whole process isn’t applied. We like the way the basic design scales and is flexible about the thickness and size of the LED panels themselves, making it a promising way to accommodate perfectly functional oddball panels that end up in the trash.
[Tom Stanton] has been playing Microsoft Flight Simulator a lot recently, and decided his old desktop joystick needed an upgrade. Instead of just replacing it with a newer commercial model, he built a complete controller system with a long joystick that pivots at floor level, integrated rudder pedals and a throttle box. You can see it in action after the break.
The throw of the joystick is limited by [Tom]’s legs and chair, with only 12° of travel in either axis, which is too small to allow for high resolution with a potentiometer. Instead, he used hall effect sensors and a square magnet for each axis, which gives good resolution over a small throw angle. The pivot that couples the two rudder pedals also makes use of a hall effect sensor, but needs more travel. To increase the size of the magnetic field, [Tom] mounted two magnets on either side of the sensor with their poles aligned. To center the rudder pedals and joystick, a couple of long tension springs were added.
A normal potentiometer was used in the throttle lever, and [Tom] also added a number of additional toggle switches and buttons for custom functions. The frame of the system is built with T-slot extrusions, so components can quickly moved to fit a specific user, and adjust the preload on the centering springs. All the electronic components are wired to an Arduino Micro, and thanks to a joystick library, the code is very simple.
At a total build cost of £212/$275 it’s certainly not what anyone would call cheap, but it’s less than what you’d pay for a commercial offering. All the design files and build details are linked in the second video if you want to build your own.
If you’re building mechanical assemblies with 3D printed parts, you’ll quickly realize that driving machine screws into thermoplastic isn’t exactly an ideal solution. It can work in a pinch, but you can easily strip the threads if you crank down too hard. The plastic holes can also get worn down from repeated use, which is a problem if you’re working on something that needs to be taken apart and reassembled frequently. In those situations, using brass heat set inserts gives the fasteners something stronger to bite into.
You can install these inserts by hand, but if you plan on doing a lot of them, a dedicated press station like the one [Chris Chimienti] recently put together will save you a lot of aggravation in the long run. In the video after the break he walks viewers through the design and use of the device, which itself relies on a number of 3D printed parts using the very same inserts it’s designed to install.
To build this tool you’ll need a piece of aluminum extrusion, some smooth rod, a couple springs, and an assortment of fasteners. Nothing that wouldn’t likely be in the parts bin of anyone who’s been tinkering with 3D printers for awhile, though even if you had to buy everything, the Bill of Materials will hardly break the bank. For the base you can use a piece of scrap wood, though [Chris] has opted to make it a storage compartment where he can store the inserts themselves. We really like this approach, but obviously you’ll need to have access to woodworking tools in that case.
Clearly shopping on the top shelf, [Chris] purchased a kit that actually came with a Weller soldering iron and the appropriate tips for the various sized inserts. If you’re like us and just buy the inserts that come in a plastic baggie, you may need to adapt the arm to fit your iron of choice. That said, the idea of having a dedicated iron that you can leave mounted in the press makes a lot of sense to us if you can swing it.
When [Andrew Consroe] tried to build a CNC scroll saw, he quickly learned how tricky of a design problem it is. With a blade that only cuts in one direction, you can’t simply move the tool in the X and Y dimensions like you can with a laser or router; either the work piece or the blade itself needs to continuously rotate towards the direction of the cut.
He’s recently shown off the third version of the machine, and while it’s still not exactly a practical tool, there’s no question it’s a brilliantly designed one, or that it works, slowly. Earlier attempts used a rotating table to spin the work piece, but [Andrew] found this to be an imperfect solution. Building a mechanism heavy duty enough to spin the material being cut while remaining accurate enough not to break the blade was a tall order, though he did get pretty close.
This time around he’s decided to simply rotate the blade itself. This can be accomplished with a single stepper motor and some suitably sized pulleys, while maintaining an exceptionally high degree of accuracy. The whole blade assembly moves up and down on an aluminum extrusion rail with a motor and crank arrangement. By synchronizing the rotation of the blade with the vertical movement of the saw, the software can be sure that everything is where it needs to be before the cutting stroke actually happens.
Judging by the video after the break, the system works quite well. The complex rounded shapes he cuts out of the piece of plywood look essentially perfect, and it sounds like this new version of the machine isn’t breaking blades due to positional errors like the previous one did. Unfortunately, it’s also very slow. There’s so many moving parts and careful positioning required that even when the video is sped up 10x, the saw still appears to only be creeping its way through the material.
On the back half of the video, [Andrew] details another approach to rotating the blade that would reduce the amount of moving mass in the saw. This would give the machine a considerable speed boost, and we’d love to see him implement it. By the way, before anyone says it: using a spiral blade is cheating.
The modern laptop has its origins in the mid to late 1980s, when shrinking computer hardware and improvements to battery technology finally made mobile computing practical. But before the now iconic clamshell form factor became the standard, there was a market for so-called “portable” computers. These machines often resembled pieces of luggage with keyboards attached, and even at their peak, they were nowhere near as practical as today’s ultra-thin notebook computers. But for the more nostalgic among us, these vintage portables do have a special sort of charm about them.
Looking to recapture some of that magic with modern components, [davedarko] has started working on his own Raspberry Pi portable computer. Just like those machines of yore, his build is designed to be a self-contained computing experience that you can lug around, but not exactly something you’d be popping open on the train. Its extruded aluminum frame holds the display, power supply, and audio hardware, with plenty of room to spare for additional hardware should he decide to pack in a couple hard drives or something more exotic.
We particularly like the 3D printed hinge and lock mechanism he designed that holds the keyboard closed against the front of the frame. Sufficiently old experienced readers will recall this particular feature being a defining characteristic of portables such as the Osborne 1 and Compaq Portable, and it’s great to see it included here. All it needs now is a leather handle on the side to complete the look.
[davedarko] still has some work ahead of him, as ultimately he’d like to completely enclose his computer’s frame with laser cut panels. But the build is certainly progressing nicely, and frankly, it’s already at the point where we’d have no problem pulling it out at the next hackerspace meetup. Between builds like this and the growing collection of cyberdecks we’ve covered recently, it looks as though 1980s design aesthetic is alive and well within the hacker community.