Perhaps you’ve seen them, demonstrations of a machined piece of metal that upon further inspection is actually two pieces machined so perfectly that they appear as one. With extremely tight tolerances, it’s not possible to determine where one piece of metal ends and another begins — that is, until the secret is revealed. Inspired by such pieces of art, [Andrew Klein] sought to put this high level of machine work to practical use. And so it was that his as-yet-unnamed Screw With No Slot came to be.
The screw’s disc-like appearance looks as if it’s a metal trim piece to cover a bolt hole. But in the video below [Andrew] shows us the trick, pushing a brass rod into the middle of the disc to reveal the hidden three-point slot. The center of the disk is actually a separate bit of finely machined metal that is spring loaded to stay flush. A specially designed wrench keys into the rounded concave triangle shape cut into the face.
The wrench is made with brass to avoid marring the precision surface. It uses three magnets to hold tight to the screw’s 410 magnetic stainless steel. [Andrew] didn’t spill the beans on how this was done, but we haven’t seen any process other than electrical discharge machining (EDM) that can achieve this level of mating precision. If that topic is new to you, we recommend checking out [Ben Krasnow’s] lab experiments on the topic.
We can’t help but be taken in by the beauty of the fastener, and it immediately sent our imaginations into a National Treasure induced dream-like state. [Andrew Klein] has yet to name this fastener, and he’s soliciting ideas for names in the video below the break. If you have such an idea, you can comment on his video. He’s also exploring the viability of the as-yet-named fastener as a commercial product for high end furniture builders.
When it comes to turning a raw block of metal into a useful part, most processes are pretty dramatic. Sharp and tough tools are slammed into raw stock to remove tiny bits at a time, releasing the part trapped within. It doesn’t always have to be quite so violent though, as these experiments in electrochemical machining suggest.
Electrochemical machining, or ECM, is not to be confused with electrical discharge machining, or EDM. While similar, ECM is a much tamer process. Where EDM relies on a powerful electric arc between the tool and the work to erode material in a dielectric fluid, ECM is much more like electrolysis in reverse. In ECM, a workpiece and custom tool are placed in an electrolyte bath and wired to a power source; the workpiece is the anode while the tool is the cathode, and the flow of charged electrolyte through the tool ionizes the workpiece, slowly eroding it.
The trick — and expense — of ECM is generally in making the tooling, which can be extremely complicated. For his experiments, [Amos] took the shortcut of 3D-printing his tool — he chose [Suzanne] the Blender monkey — and then copper plating it, to make it conductive. Attached to the remains of a RepRap for Z-axis control and kitted out with tanks and pumps to keep the electrolyte flowing, the rig worked surprisingly well, leaving a recognizably simian faceprint on a block of steel.
[Amos] admits the setup is far from optimized; the loop controlling the distance between workpiece and tool isn’t closed yet, for instance. Still, for initial experiments, the results are very encouraging, and we like the idea of 3D-printing tools for this process. Given his previous success straightening his own teeth or 3D-printing glass, we expect he’ll get this fully sorted soon enough.
Of all the methods of making big pieces of metal into smaller pieces of metal, perhaps none is more interesting than electrical discharge machining. EDM is also notoriously fussy, what with having to control an arc discharge while precisely positioning the tool relative to the workpiece. Still, some home gamers give it a whirl, and we love to share their successes, like this work-in-progress EDM machine. (Video, embedded below.)
We’ve linked [Andy]’s first videos below the break, and we’d expect there will be a few more before all is said and done. But really, for being fairly early in the project, [Andy] has made a lot of progress. EDM is basically using an electric arc to remove material from a workpiece, but as anyone who has unintentionally performed EDM on, say, a screwdriver by shorting it across the terminals in a live outlet box, the process needs to be controlled to be useful.
Part 1 shows the start of the build using an old tap burning machine, a 60-volt power supply, and a simple pulse generator. This was enough to experiment with the basics of both the mechanical control of electrode positioning, and the electrical aspects of getting a sustained, useful discharge. Part 2 continues with refinements that led very quickly to the first useful parts, machined quickly and cleanly from thin stock using a custom tool. We’ll admit to being impressed — many EDM builds either never get to the point of making simple holes, or stop when progressing beyond that initial success proves daunting. Of course, when [Andy] drops the fact that he made the buttons for the control panel on his homemade injection molding machine, one gets the feeling that anything is possible.
We’re looking forward to more on this build. We’ve seen a few EDM builds before, but none with this much potential.
If you’ve ever played air hockey, you know how the tiny jets of air shooting up from the pinholes in the playing surface reduce friction with the puck. But what if you turned that upside down? What if the puck had holes that shot the air downward? We’re not sure how the gameplay would be on such an inverse air hockey table, but [Dave Preiss] has made DIY air bearings from such a setup, and they’re pretty impressive.
Air bearings are often found in ultra-precision machine tools where nanometer-scale positioning is needed. Such gear is often breathtakingly expensive, but [Dave]’s version of the bearings used in these machines are surprisingly cheap. The working surfaces are made from slugs of porous graphite, originally used as electrodes for electrical discharge machining (EDM). The material is easily flattened with abrasives against a reference granite plate, after which it’s pressed into a 3D-printed plastic plenum. The plenum accepts a fitting for compressed air, which wends its way out the micron-sized pores in the graphite and supports the load on a thin cushion of air. In addition to puck-style planar bearings, [Dave] tried his hand at a rotary bearing, arguably more useful to precision machine tool builds. That proved to be a bit more challenging, but the video below shows that he was able to get it working pretty well.
We really enjoyed learning about air bearings from [Dave]’s experiments, and we look forward to seeing them put to use. Perhaps it will be in something like the micron-precision lathe we featured recently.
Here at Hackaday, we thought we’d seen every method of making PCBs: CNC machining, masking and etching with a variety of chemicals, laser engraving, or even the crude but effective method of scratching away the copper with a utility knife. Whatever works is fine with us, really, but there still does seem to be room for improvement in the DIY PCB field. To whit, we present rapid PCB prototyping with electrical discharge machining.
Using an electric arc to selectively ablate the copper cladding on a PCB seems like a great idea. At least that’s how it seemed to [Jake Wachlin] when he realized that the old trick of cutting a sheet of aluminum foil using a nine-volt battery and a pencil lead is really just a form of EDM, and that the layer of copper on a PCB is not a million miles different from foil. A few experiments with a bench power supply and a mechanical pencil lead showed that it’s relatively easy to blast the copper from a blank board, so [Jake] took the next logical step and rigged up an old 3D-printer to move the tool. The video below shows the setup and some early tests; it’s not perfect by a long shot, but it has a lot of promise. If he can control the arc better, this homebrew EDM looks like it could very rapidly produce prototype boards.
[Jake] posted this project in its current state in the hopes of stimulating a discussion and further experimentation. That’s commendable, and we’d really love to see this one move along rapidly. You might start your brainstorming by looking at this somewhat sketchy mains-powered EDM, or look into the whole field in a little more detail.
Drilling holes is easy; humans have been doing it in one form or another for almost 40,000 years. Drilling really tiny holes in hard materials is more challenging, but still doable. Drilling deep, straight holes in hard materials is another thing altogether.
Luckily, these days we have electric discharge machining (EDM), a technique that opens up all kinds of possibilities. And just as luckily, [Ben Krasnow] got his hands on some EDM gear to try out, with fascinating results. As [Ben] explains, at its heart EDM is just the use of a small arc to ablate metal from a surface. The arc is precisely controlled, both its frequency via an arc controller, and its location using CNC motion control. The arc controller has always been the sticking point for home EDM, but the one [Ben] tried out, a BaxEDM BX17, is squarely aimed at the small shop market. The whole test platform that [Ben] built has a decidedly home-brew look to it, with a CNC gantry rigged up to a water tank, an EDM drill head spinning the drill rods slowly, and an airless paint gun providing high-pressure process fluid. The video below shows that it works remarkably well nonetheless.
While we’re certainly keen to see [Ben]’s promised videos on EDM milling and cutting, we doubt we’ll line up to shell out €2,950 for the arc controller he used. If you have more courage than money, this mains-powered EDM might be a better fit.
Laser cutters, waterjets, plasma cutters, CNC routers – most hackerspaces and even many dedicated home-gamers seem to have some kind of fancy tool for cutting sheet goods into intricate shapes. But with no access to a CNC machine and a need to cut a complex shape from sheet metal, [AlchemistDagger] cooked up this bare-bones and somewhat dangerous EDM rig to get the job done.
Electric discharge machining has been around for decades and is used a lot for harder metals like titanium and tool steel. The process makes sense to anyone who has seen contacts pitted and corroded by repeated arcing – an electric arc is used to remove metal from the workpiece, with a dielectric fluid used to cool the workpiece and flush away debris. For [AlchemistDagger]’s purposes, a lot of the complicated refinements, like high-frequency power supplies and precise tool positioning, were ignored. He built a simple linear slide to manually control the tool position, and the power supply was just a bridge rectifier connected to the 120-volt mains with some filter capacitors and a big light bulb as a ballast resistor. While the video below shows electrical conduit being notched, [AlchemistDagger] also made a brass cookie-cutter style tool to cut the Instructables logo from steel.