Pandemic lockdowns have been brutal, but they’ve had the side-effect of spurring creativity and undertaking projects that are involved enough and complex enough to keep from going stir crazy. This CNC string art robot is a great example of what’s possible with a little imagination and a lot of time. (Video, embedded below.)
According to [knezuld11], the robot creates its art through mathematical algorithms via a Python program that translates them into nail positions and string paths. The modified CNC router frame, constructed of laser-cut plywood, has two interchangeable tool heads. The first places the nails, which are held in a small hopper. After being picked up by a servo-controlled magnetic arm and held vertically, a gear-driven ram pushes each nail into a board at just the right coordinates. After changing to a different tool, the robot is able to pick up one of nine different thread dispensers. A laser sensor verifies the thread nozzle position, and the thread starts its long journey around the nails. It’s a little mesmerizing to watch, and the art looks great, with a vibe that brings us right back to the 70s. Groovy, man.
This reminds us a little of a recent [Barton Dring] project that makes art from overlapping strings. That one was pretty cool for what it accomplished with just one thread color, while this one really brings color to the party. Take your pick, place your nails, and get stringing.
Even when we share the design files for open source hardware, the step between digital files and a real-world mechatronics widget is still a big one. That’s why I set off on a personal vendetta to find ways to make that transfer step easier for newcomers to an open source mechantronics project.
Today, I want to spill the beans on one of these finds: part numbers, and showcase how they can help you share your project in a way that helps other reproduce it. Think of part numbers as being like version numbers for software, but on real objects.
I’ll showcase an example of putting part numbers to work on one of my projects, and then I’ll finish off by showing just how part numbers offer some powerful community-building aspects to your project.
The build is documented over a series of nearly a dozen YouTube videos, the first of which was put out all the way back in January of 2020. Seeing [Bob] heading to the steel mill to get his frame components with nary a mask in sight is a reminder of just how long he’s been working on this project. He’s also put together a comprehensive Bill of Materials on his website should anyone want to follow in his footsteps. Coming in at only slightly less than $4,000 USD, it’s certainly not a budget build. But then when we’re talking about a machine of this scale, nothing comes cheap.
Even if you don’t build you own version of this router, it’s impossible to watch the build log and not get inspired about the possibilities of such a machine. In the last video we’re even treated to a bit of self-replicating action, as the jumbo CNC cuts out the pieces for its own electronics enclosure.
You can tell from the videos that [Bob] is (rightfully) proud of his creation, and isn’t shy about showing the viewer each and every triumph along the way. Even when things don’t go according to plan, there are lessons to be learned as he explains the problems and how they were ultimately resolved.
A pen plotter is often the first experience many ambitious makers have of the world of Computer Numerical Control, or CNC. While they typically operate on flat stock, with the right build, they can be designed to draw on curved surfaces, too – as [tuenhidiy] demonstrates with this rotary bottle plotter.
The plotter uses shafts salvaged from an old printer to act as the rollers for the bottle to be drawn upon, turned by a pair of stepper motors. X and Z axes are created out of two CD drive mechanisms – a popular way to build two linear axes on the cheap. The hardware is controlled by GRBL, running on an Arduino Uno kitted out with a CNC shield to handle the necessary I/O.
The build is somewhat limited to by the short range of its X axis, which prevents the plotter from easily drawing on a full-size bottle label or can. However, this could easily be fixed with some upgrades and extra steppers if so desired. As a home build, it’s a great way to learn about the CNC techniques required to work with curved surfaces effectively. Video after the break.
It seems like every year, it gets a bit easier to build your own CNC. From the Enhanced Machine Controller (EMC) project of the early 1990s to Arduinos running Grbl in the late 2000s, the open source community has moved ahead in leaps and bounds. Grbl is at its core firmware that interprets G-code and commands stepper motors, usually to move a tool head in such a way as to make something. Tons of systems have been built around it, including early Makerbot printers.
Its also spawned a plethora of other projects (the Grbl GitHib repo has 2,400 forks!), including a 32-bit flavor called grblHAL. This version is at the heart of a fantastic CNC controller board developed by [Phill Barrett]. Ditching the Arduino for a more powerful Teensy 4.1, [Phil]’s controller supports full five-axis control, variable frequency drive spindles, dust extractor control, and flood and mist coolant control. It can run at blazing stepping rates of up to 160 kHz (standard Grbl on an Arduino hits 30 kHz) and can be assembled with either a USB or Ethernet interface.
There’s no shortage of interesting Grbl-based machines out there — including a revamped Atari plotter and a three-axis rotary CNC (shameless plug for the author’s own project) but it’s always exciting to see new hardware developed that will undoubtedly find its way into the next generation of a family of projects. We can’t wait to see what comes next!
It’s a fact of life for CNC router owners — swarf. Whether it’s the fine dust from a sheet of MDF or nice fat chips from a piece of aluminum, the debris your tool creates gets everywhere. You can try to control it at its source, but swarf always finds a way to escape and cause problems.
Unwilling to deal with the accumulation of chips in the expensive ball screws of his homemade CNC router, [Nikodem Bartnik] took matters into his own hands and created these DIY telescopic ball screw covers. Yes, commercial ball screw covers are available, but they are targeted at professional machines, and so are not only too large for a homebrew machine like his but also priced for pro budgets. So [Nikodem] recreated their basic design: strips of thin material wound into a tight spring that forms a tube that can extend and retract. The first prototypes were from paper, which worked but proved to have too much friction. Version 2 was made from sheets of polyester film, slippery enough to get the job done and as a bonus, transparent. They look pretty sharp, and as you can see in the video below, seem to perform well.
It’s nice to see a build progress to the point where details like this can be addressed. We’ve been following [Nikodem]’s CNC build for years now, and it really has come a long way.
Artfully-crafted wooden joints that fit together like puzzle pieces and need neither glue nor nails is fascinating stuff, but to call the process of designing and manufacturing them by hand “time-consuming” would be an understatement. To change that, a research team from the University of Tokyo presented Tsugite, a software system for interactively designing and fabricating complex wooden joints. It’s named after the Japanese word for joinery, and aims to make the design and manufacture of glue and fastener-free joints much easier than it otherwise would be.
It looks like the software is so far only a research project and not something that can be downloadedThe software is available on GitHub and the approach it takes is interesting. This downloadable PDF explains how the software deals with the problem of how to make such a task interactive and practical.
The clever bit is that the software not only provides design assistance for the joints themselves in a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) interface, but also generates real-time feedback based on using a three-axis CNC tool as the manufacturing method. This means that the system understands the constraints that come from the fabrication method, and incorporates that into design feedback.
The two main limitations of using a three-axis CNC are that the cutting tool can only approach the material from above, and that standard milling bits cannot create sharp inner corners; they will have a rounded fillet the same radius as the cutting bit. Design can be done manually, or by selecting joints from a pre-defined gallery. Once the design is complete, the system generates the toolpaths for manufacture.
Currently, Tsugite is limited to single joints meant for frame structures, but there’s no reason it couldn’t expand beyond that scope. A video to accompany the paper is embedded below, it’s short and concise and shows the software in action, so be sure to give it a look.