Wire ECM built from an Ender 3

Simple Mods Turn 3D Printer Into Electrochemical Metal Cutter

We’re not aware of any authoritative metrics on such things, but it’s safe to say that the Ender 3 is among the most hackable commercial 3D printers. There’s just something about the machine that lends itself to hacks, most of which are obviously aimed at making it better at 3D printing. Some, though, are aimed in a totally different direction.

As proof of that, check out this Ender 3 modified for electrochemical machining. ECM is a machining process that uses electrolysis to remove metal from a workpiece. It’s somewhat related to electric discharge machining, but isn’t anywhere near as energetic. [Cooper Zurad] has been exploring ECM with his Ender, which he lightly modified by replacing the extruder with a hypodermic needle electrode. The electrode is connected to a small pump that circulates electrolyte from a bath on the build platform, while a power supply connects to the needle and the workpiece. As the tool traces over the workpiece, material is electrolytically removed.

The video below is a refinement of the basic ECM process, which [Cooper] dubs “wire ECM.” The tool is modified so that electrolyte flows down the outside of the needle, which allows it to enter the workpiece from the edge. Initial results are encouraging; the machine was able to cut through 6 mm thick stainless steel neatly and quickly. There does appear to be a bit of “flare” to the cut near the bottom of thicker stock, which we’d imagine might be mitigated with a faster electrolyte flow rate.

If you want to build your own Ender ECM, [Cooper] has graciously made the plans available for download, which is great since we’d love to see wire ECM take off. We’ve covered ECM before, but more for simpler etching jobs. Being able to silently and cleanly cut steel on the desktop would be a game-changer.

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Klein Hidden Bolt and Tool

Tricky Screw Heads Have Disappearing Slots

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.

Klein Hidden Bolt depressed by brass rod
A brass rod pushes down to reveal the keyed center section.

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.

This is not the first time we’ve featured [Andrew Klein]’s work. His previous featured projects include a custom sawblade for perfectly foldable joints and an unveiling of the magnetic magic behind switchable permanent magnets. Be sure to submit the neat hacks, builds, and inspiring projects that you come across to our Tip Line!

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[Ben Krasnow] Drills Really Small Holes With Electricity

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.

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EDM For The Cheap And Adventurous

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.

Obviously, mixing water and electricity is a recipe for disaster is you’re not careful, but this low-end EDM technique is a good one to file away for a rainy day. And if you’re looking for a little more sophistication in your homebrew EDM rig, we’ve got you covered there too. Continue reading “EDM For The Cheap And Adventurous”