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.

CNC Your Own PCBs With A 3D Printed Mill

Yes, you can whip up a design for a printed circuit board, send it out to one of the many fab houses, and receive a finished, completed board in a week or two. There are quick-turn assembly houses that will manufacture a circuit board and populate it for you. But sometimes you need a board now, and that’s when we get into home PCB fabrication. You can do this with either etching or milling, but [Renzo] has a great solution. He built a 3D printed milling machine that will make a printed circuit board.

The design of this tiny micro mill is based on a handheld rotary tool, also called a Dremel, but that’s like Kleenex, so just buy a Proxxon. This mill is designed with 3D printed T-track and constructed with linear bearings on smooth rods with standard NEMA 17 stepper motors and herringbone gears for little to no backlash. There is quite a bit going on here, but lucky for us [Renzo] has a video tutorial of the entire build process available for viewing below.

We’ve previously seen some of [Renzo]’s previous efforts in homemade PCB fabrication, up to and including applying green soldermask with the help of Fritzing. This is good, very good, and the only thing that really separates this from manufactured PCBs is the lack of plated through holes. That’s just a bit of graphite and electroplating away, and we’re looking forward to [Renzo]’s further adventures in making PCBs at home.

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Building An Artisanal Tape Measure

Some tools are so common, so basic, that we take them for granted. A perfect example is the lowly tape measure. We’ve probably all got a few of these kicking around the lab, and they aren’t exactly the kind of thing you give a lot of thought to when you’re using them. But while most of us might not give our tape measure a second thought, [Ariel Yahni] decided to create an absolutely gorgeous new enclosure for his. Because if you’re going to measure something, why not look good doing it?

A CNC router is used to carve the body of the new tape measure out of a solid block of wood and cut a top plate out of clear acrylic. [Ariel] then used an angle grinder to cut off a small section of steel rod which he secured into a carved pocket in the base using epoxy. Finally, the internals of a commercial tape measure were inserted into this new enclosure, and the acrylic top was screwed down into place.

[Ariel] has made the DXF files for this project public for anyone else who wants to carve out their own heirloom tape measure, though it seems likely the designs will need some tweaking depending on the make and model of donor tape measure. While this might not be the most technically impressive project to run on Hackaday, it’s still a fantastic example of the sort of bespoke designs that are made possible with modern manufacturing methods.

This design reminds us of a similar project to turn a basic Honda key fob into a true conversation piece with the addition of some CNC’d hardwood and aluminum.

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How To Build A Mill With Epoxy

The typical machine tool you’ll find in a workshop has a base and frame made of cast iron or steel. These materials are chosen for their strength, robustness and their weight, which helps damp vibrations. However, it’s not the only way to make a machine tool. [John McNamara] has been working on a CNC mill with an epoxy base, with impressive results.

The molds were designed in CAD prior to casting, ensuring there was room for all required components.

The build is one that could be readily achieved in any decently equipped makerspace. [John] used lasercut steel parts to construct the molds for the epoxy base, with some custom turned parts as well. The precision cut parts fit together with great accuracy, and with proper control of the casting process there is minimal post-processing of the final cast piece required. The mold is built with zero draft angle, and is designed to be taken apart to remove the finished pieces. By using steel, the same mold can be used many times, though [John] notes that MDF could be used for a one-off build.

The base is cast in epoxy, mixed with granite aggregate and sand to create a strong, heavy, and vibration damping material. There are also steel reinforcements cast in place consisting of threaded rods, and conduits for various electrical connections. After casting, [John] has spent much time measuring and truing up the mill to ensure the best possible results from the outset.

It’s an impressive build, that shows that building your own accurate machine tools is quite achievable with the right tools and knowledge. We’ve seen similar work before, too – epoxy really does make a great material for casting at home.