Here’s a neat resource from [MSRaynsford] that is worth bookmarking for anyone who gets creative with laser engravers, CNC routers, or drawing robots: SVGFonts are single-line symbol fonts that [MSRaynsford] created for his laser-cut and engraved cryptex puzzle boxes. They provide an easy way to engrave text as symbols.
CNC engraving of letters and symbols is one of those things that seems simple, but is actually more complex than it may appear. It is often desirable to use a tool to engrave symbols with a single line, in much the same way a person would write them if using a pen. But fonts and art for letters and numbers aren’t normally a single line. Thankfully there is a solution in the form of Hershey text, an extension for which is included in Inkscape. It turns out that Hershey Fonts have their origin back in the 1960s, when the changing landscape of electronics and industry opened new opportunities and demanded new solutions.
That’s why, when [MSRaynsford] needed fonts in different styles and symbols for creating his puzzle boxes, he had to design them himself and they had to be single-line vector art, just like Hershey Text. The small collection includes English letters designed to resemble a runic alphabet, a Greek-inspired series, and two coded alphabets based on flag semaphore.
When it comes to trolling eBay for cool stuff, some people have all the luck. Whereas all we ever seem to come across is counterfeit chips and obviously broken gear listed as, “good condition, powers on”, [Les Wright] actually managed to get more than he bargained for with one of his recent eBay purchases.
In his video teardown and tour of an industrial marking laser, [Les] suggests that he was really just in it for the optics — which is not a surprise, given his interest in optics in general and lasers in particular. The 20-W CO2 laser once etched barcodes and the like into products on assembly lines, but with a 2009 date code of its own, it was a safe bet that it was pitched due to a burned-out laser tube. But there were still high-quality IR optics and a precision X-Y galvanometer assembly to be harvested, so [Les] pressed on.
The laser itself ended up being built around a Synrad RF-stimulated CO2 tube. By a happy accident, [Les] found that the laser actually still works, at least most of the time. There appears to be an intermittent problem with the RF driver, but the laser works long enough to release the magic smoke from anything combustible that gets in its way. The galvos work too — [Les] was able to drive them with a Teensy and a couple of open-source libraries.
We’ve noticed a couple of things about the “Widget from a Single Bolt” genre of metalworking videos. The first thing is that almost all of them need to use a freakishly large bolt, and many of them also rely on other materials to complete the build. And secondly, these builds all pretty much depend on a lathe to transform the bolt into the intended widget.
While this single-bolt pneumatic graving tool build is guilty on that first count, it somehow manages to avoid needing a lathe. Not that [AMbros Custom] wouldn’t have greatly benefited from a lathe to make this somewhat specialized and unusual tool a reality. A graving tool or graver is used during metal engraving, the art of making controlled cuts into flat metal surfaces to render complicated designs. A powered graver like this can make engraving faster and more precise than a traditional manual graver, which is typically powered by light taps with a special hammer.
The lathe-less build [AMbros] undertook was quite ambitious given the number of moving parts and the tight tolerances needed for a pneumatic tool. The real hero here is the hand drill pressed into service as an impromptu lathe; teamed with various tools from files to emery cloth to even a Dremel and an angle grinder, it did a respectable job turning down the various parts. The entire build is shown in the video below, and it’s worth a watch just to see what ingenuity can accomplish when coupled with sheer persistence.
Hats off to [AMbros] for sticking with what was admittedly a problematic build, and here’s hoping a lathe is in his future. With that, he may be able to pull off other impressive “single-bolt” builds, like this combination padlock. Or throw another bolt or two in and pull off this cryptex-like safe.
Like many budget machinists, the delightfully optimistically named [We Can Do That Better] had trouble with some of the finer controls on his import mini-lathe. But rather than suffer through it, he chose to rectify the machine’s shortcomings and in the process, teach everyone a bunch of great tips.
[We Can Do That Better]’s lathe retrofit focused on the carriage handwheel, which appears to lack proper bearings and wobbles around in a most imprecise manner. On top of that, the gearing of the drive made for an unsatisfying 19 mm of carriage travel per revolution of the handwheel. A single gear change made that an even 20 mm per rev, which when coupled with a calibrated and indexed handwheel ring greatly simplifies carriage travel measurements.
While the end result of the build is pretty great in its own right, for our money the best part of the video is its rich collection of machinist’s tips. The use of a wooden dowel and a printed paper template to stand in for a proper dividing head was brilliant, as was using the tailstock of the lathe to drive an engraving tool to cut the index lines. We’ve seen the use of a Dremel tool mounted to the toolpost to stand in for a milling machine before, but it’s always nice to see that trick used. And the mechanism for locking the dial to the handwheel was really clever, too.
Tuning a desktop router and your board designs for isolation routing can be a bit tricky, with thin traces usually being the first victim. For simple prototype boards you usually don’t need tightly packed traces, you just want to isolate the nets. To do this with a minimum amount of routing, [Michael Schembri] created kicad-laser-min, a command-line utility that takes a Kicad PCB design and expands all the tracks and pads to their maximum possible width.
The software takes one layer of the PCB layout, converts it to black and white, and then runs a C++ Voronoi algorithm on it to dilate each track and pad until it meets another expanding region. Each region is colourised, and OpenCV edge detection is used to produce the contours that need to be milled or etched. A contour following algorithm is then used to create the G-code. The header image shows the output of each step.
Full source code is available on GitHub. [Michael] has had good results with his own boards, which are scribed using a laser cutter before etching, but welcomes testing and feedback from other users. He has found that OpenCV doesn’t always completely close all the contours, but the gaps are usually smaller than the engraving width of his laser, so no shorts are created.
Building a PCB at home can be fraught. If you’re etching, there are chemicals and the nuances of toner transfer. If you’re milling, getting the surface height just right, and not breaking those pointy little v-cutters is always a challenge. [Robin] has tips for both of these cases, and solves a lot of the common hassles by using a milling machine.
Whether he’s scraping away etch resist or entire copper isolation lines, [Robin] uses a non-spinning scratching tool instead of a v-bit: they’re more robust and cut every bit as well. He’s got tips for using FlatCam and KiCAD to make scratched-out traces. His registration system allows him to get double-sided boards with a minimum of hassle. And as a bonus, he’s doing some experimentation with embedding SMT parts inside the boards as well. Be sure that you check out his whole guide, or just watch the video embedded below.
We’re pretty sure you’ll pick up a trick or two, and maybe you’ll be convinced to bite the bullet and invest in a nice mill. If you’d like a more traditional take on PCB milling, try out our own [Adil Malik]’s guide.
Let’s be clear right up front: there are probably more obvious solutions to the problem of using a Russian calculator when you don’t speak Russian than printing new keys and engraving translated markings on them. But easy solutions are boring and generally considered beyond the scope of Hackaday articles, so let’s dive in.
They say that mathematics is the universal language, but that’s only true to an extent. Still, even with our limited non-existent Cyrillic skills, the Russian keyboard on this RPN calculator isn’t that hard to figure out. But as [Amen] points out, in the midst of fevered calculations, one prefers not to mentally translate Χ→П to STO or remember that В↑ is the Enter key. So he printed a set of replacements for the confusing keys from PLA. While pondering how to safely fixture such small parts for the later engraving step, [Amen] hit on a genius solution: move the print bed to the CNC router and fixture everything in one go. The resulting characters are large enough to be legible and deep enough to be filled with air-drying polymer clay for contrast. After sanding and polishing, the calculator looks like it came from the Министерство электронной промышленности that way.