Reviving a Casio Scientific Calculator, with a CNC Router

Before Wolfram Alpha, before the Internet, before even PCs, calculations more complex than what could be accomplished with a “four banger” required some kind of programmable calculator. There were many to choose from, if you had the means, and as time passed they became more and more sophisticated. Some even added offline storage so your painstakingly written and tediously entered programs didn’t evaporate when the calculator was turned off.

One such programmable calculator, a Casio PRO fx-1 with magnetic card storage, came across [amen]’s bench recently. Sadly, it didn’t come with any cards, so [amen] reverse engineered the card reader and brought the machine back to its 1970s glory. The oddball mag cards for it are no longer available, so [amen] had to make do with. He found some blank cards of approximately the right size for cheap, but somehow had to replicate the band of vertical stripes adjacent to the magnetic strip on the card. Reasoning that they provide an optical synchronization signal, he decided to use a CNC router to cut a series of fine-pitched slots in the plastic card. It took a little effort to get working, including tapping the optical sensor and reading the signal on an oscilloscope, but as the video below shows, the hacked cards work fine with the vintage calculator.

Kudos to [amen] for reviving this retro-cool calculator. Now that it’s back in action, it might be fun to visualize domains on the magnetic strip. A flatbed scanner can be used for that job.

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Cast Aluminium Becomes A Machine Tool

Shaper tools were, at one time, a necessary tool for any machine shop. With a shaper and a lathe, you can rebuild or manufacture almost anything. At the very least, you can make the tool to manufacture anything. For the last few months, [Makercise] has been working on building his own homemade shaper, and now it’s making chips. (YouTube, also embedded below.)

First off, what exactly is a metal shaper? It’s not commonly seen in machine shops these days, but at the turn of the last century, these were popular and practical machines to cut keyways into a piece of stock. Effectively, it’s kind of like a jigsaw, in that it cuts with a reciprocating action and is able to plane the entire surface of a metal plate. Today, if you want to surface a piece of stock, you would just throw it onto the Bridgeport, but there are still some use cases for a metal shaper.

The design of this shaper comes directly from the Gingery series of books, the famous series of books that are step-by-step instructions on how to build a machine shop starting from the technology of rubbing two sticks together. [Makercise] has built one of these machines before, the metal lathe, and the second in the Gingery series of books after a foundry, and the next book is instructions on how to build a mill.

Sure, [Makercise] is using modern tools and modern techniques to build this shaper. There’s a CNC machine involved, and nobody is going to Greenland to make aluminum anymore. Still, this is a flat piece of metal made from scratch, an a great example of how far you can take home machining in a post-apocalyptic scenario.

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What Can You Learn From an Eggbot?

An eggbot is probably the easiest introduction to CNC machines that you could possibly hope for, at least in terms of the physical build. But at the same time, an eggbot can let you get your hands dirty with all of the concepts, firmware, and the toolchain that you’d need to take your CNC game to the next level, whatever that’s going to be. So if you’ve been wanting to make any kind of machine where stepper motors move, cut, trace, display, or simply whirl around, you can get a gentle introduction on the cheap with an eggbot.

Did we mention Easter? It’s apparently this weekend. Seasonal projects are the worst for the procrastinator. If you wait until the 31st to start working on your mega-awesome New Year’s Dropping Laser Ball-o-tron 3000, it’s not going to get done by midnight. Or so I’ve heard. And we’re certainly not helping by posting this tutorial so late in the season. Sorry about that. On the other hand, if you start now, you’ll have the world’s most fine-tuned eggbot for 2020. Procrastinate tomorrow!

I had two main goals with this project: getting it done quickly and getting it done easily. That was my best shot at getting it done at all. Secondary goals included making awesome designs, learning some new software toolchains, and doing the whole thing on the cheap. I succeeded on all counts, and that’s why I’m here encouraging you to build one for yourself.

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Casting CNC Parts In Aluminium

When it comes to machining, particularly in metal, rigidity is everything. [Tailortech] had a homebuilt CNC machine with a spindle held in place by a plastic bracket. This just wasn’t up to the job, so the decision was made to cast a replacement.

[Tailortech] decided to use the lost PLA process – a popular choice amongst the maker crowd. The spindle holder was first sketched out, then modeled in Fusion 3D 360. This was then printed in PLA slightly oversized to account for shrinkage in the casting process.

The PLA part was then used to make a plaster mold. [Tailortech] explains the process, and how to avoid common pitfalls that can lead to problems. It’s important to properly heat the mold once the plaster has set to remove moisture, but care must be taken to avoid cracking or wall calcination. It’s then necessary to slowly heat the mold to even higher temperatures to melt out the PLA prior to casting. With the mold completed, it can be filled with molten aluminium to produce the final part. When it’s cooled off, it’s then machined to final tolerances and installed on the machine.

Lost PLA casting is a versatile process, and goes to show that not everything has to be CNC machined out of billet to do the job. It’s also readily accessible to any maker with a furnace and a 3D printer. If you’ve got a casting project of your own, be sure to let us know. Video after the break.

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Home-Brew CNC Router Mills A Wooden Mouse

First off, we’ll admit that there no real practical reason for wanting a wooden mouse – unless of course the cellulose rodent in question is the one that kicked it all off in “The Mother of All Demos” fifty years ago. Simply putting a shell around the guts of a standard wireless optical mouse is just flexing, but we’re OK with that.

That said, [Jim Krum]’s design shows some impressive skills, both in the design of the mouse and the build quality of his machine. Starting with what looks like a block of white oak, [Jim] hogs out the rough shape of the upper shell and then refines it with a small ball-end mill before flipping it over to carve the other side. His registration seems spot on, because everything matches up well and the shell comes out to be only a few millimeters thick. The bottom plate gets the same treatment to create the complex shape needed to support the mouse guts and a battery holder. He even milled a little battery compartment cover. He used a contrasting dark wood for the scroll wheel and a decorative band to hold the top and bottom together and finished it with a light coat of sealer.

It’s a great look, and functional too as the video below reveals. We’ve seen a few other fancy mice before, like this wood and aluminum model or even one that would look at home on [Charles Babbage]’s desk.

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A Laser Cutting 101

If you’ve worked with a laser cutter before, you might not find much new in [Maker Design Lab’s] recent post about getting started. But if you haven’t, you’ll find a lot of practical advice and clean clear figures. The write up focuses on a tube-style laser cutter that uses a gas-filled tube and mirrors. Some cheap cutters use a diode, and many of the same tips will apply to those cutters.

You can probably guess that a laser cutter can cut like a CNC and also engrave where the cut doesn’t go all the way through. But it can also mark metals and other surfaces by using a marking solution. If you’ve done CNC or 3D printing, the process is similar, but there are a few unique things to know, like the use of the marking solution.

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Autodesk Fusion 360 Hack Chat

Join us Wednesday at noon Pacific time for the Autodesk Fusion 360 Hack Chat!

Most of us have a collection of tools that we use for the various mechanical, electronic, and manufacturing tasks we face daily. But if you were asked to name one tool that stretches across all these spaces, Autodesk Fusion 360 would certainly spring to mind. Everyone from casual designers of 3D-printed widgets to commercial CNC machine shops use it as an end to end design solution, and anyone who has used it over the last year or so knows that the feature set in Fusion is expanding rapidly.

Matt, who goes by technolomaniac on Hackaday.io, is Director of Product Development for EAGLE, Tinkercad, and Fusion 360 at Autodesk. He’ll drop by the Hack Chat this week to discuss your questions about:

  • All the Autodesk design software components, from EAGLE to Fusion and beyond
  • Future plans for an EAGLE-Fusion integration
  • Support for manufacturing, including additive, CNC, and even mold making
  • Will there ever be “one design tool to rule them all?”

You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the Autodesk Fusion 360 Hack Chat page and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat discussion.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, April 10, at noon, Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.