Transform Kicad Design To Patchwork For Isolation Routing

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.

Laser scribed PCB with maximum track widths

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.

This is basically “Scribble style” prototyping with CAD and CNC tools. If you prefer scribe and etch, you might consider building a simple PCB shaker for faster etching. If you have a router but want to avoid the dust, you can use a carbide scribe to scratch out the tracks without needing to etch.

Making PCBs The Easy Way

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.

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3D-Printer And CNC Make This Russian Calculator Bilingual

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.

Honestly, we’d love to get a look inside this calculator. The insides of Russian electronics can be fascinating, and we’ve even seen entire forums dedicated to decapping Russian parts. But we understand the desire to keep it intact.

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The Clickspring Playing Card Press Is A Work Of Art

We have no idea what a playing card press is, nor do we care. All we know is that after watching [Chris] from Clickspring make his playing card press, we want it.

Digging a little deeper, [Chris] offered to make this card press for [Chris Ramsay], a magician who specializes in cardistry, or the art of illusions with cards. The feel of playing cards is crucial to performing with them, and a card press keeps a deck of cards in shape. Not a commonly available device, [Clickspring Chris] designed one in an elaborate style that brought in elements from [Chris Ramsay]’s logo.

Like all Clickspring videos, this one is a joy to watch, but in a departure, there’s no narration — just 30 minutes of precision machining and metal finishing. [Chris] has gotten into metal engraving in a big way, and used his skills to add details to everything from the stylized acorn at the top to the intricate press plate, all of which was done freehand. And those snakes! Made from brass rod and bent into shape by hand, they wrap around the side supports to form [Chris Ramsay]’s logo. All the brass ended up gold plated, while all the screws ended up with a heat-blued finish. Settle in and enjoy the video below.

It’s been a while since the Clickspring skeleton clock was finished, in which time [Chris] has been working on a reproduction of the Antikythera mechanism. His video output slowed considerably, though, when he made a new finding about the mechanism, an observation worthy of writing up as a scholarly paper. We can’t begrudge him the time needed to pursue that, and we’re glad he found time for this project too.

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Watch This LEGO Pantograph Carve Chocolate Messages

[Matthias Wandel] is best known for his deeply interesting woodworking projects, so you might be forgiven for not expecting this lovely chocolate-engraving pantograph made from LEGO. With it, he carves a delightful valentine’s message into a square of chocolate, but doesn’t stop there. He goes the extra mile to cut the chocolate carefully into a heart, and a quick hit with a heat gun takes the rough edges off for a crisp and polished end result.

The cutting end is a small blade stuck inside a LEGO piece, but that’s the only non-LEGO part in the whole assembly. A key to getting a good carve was to cool the chocolate before engraving, and you can see the whole process in the video embedded below.

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Making A Hammer With Beautiful Engravings

Tools are a key part of any maker’s pursuit of their work. For most of us, our tools come from the local hardware store or are purchased online. Some prefer to craft their own, however, and [Uri Tuchman] is just one such person.

[Uri] starts at the absolute beginning, with a piece of unfinished rectangular stock. The workpiece is marked up, and the shape of the hammer head meticulously filed out by hand. The wooden handle is similarly prepared from raw stock with a combination of planes, chisels and files.

It may not be the fastest way to work, but careful hand craftsmanship is always impressive to watch. The build also showcases [Uri]’s talent at engraving, with the complex designs all carved out of the surface a millimeter at a time. [Uri] recommends enamel paint to highlight such works, for its rich color and the ease of removing excess paint.

Where [Uri] has built a beautiful piece of art that moonlights as a hammer, it’s possible to go in completely the opposite direction with a build. Video after the break.

[Thanks to BrightBlueJim for the tip!] Continue reading “Making A Hammer With Beautiful Engravings”

Simple Hand Tools Turn Brass And Steel Into An Amazing Astrolabe

There’s something enchanting about ancient tools and instruments. The idea that our forebears were able to fashion precision mechanisms with nothing but the simplest hand tools is fascinating. And watching someone recreate the feat, such as by building an astrolabe by hand, can be very appealing too.

The astrolabe is an ancient astronomical tool of incredible versatility, allowing the user to do everything from calculating when the sun will rise to predicting the positions of dozens of stars in the night sky. That it accomplishes all this with only a few moving parts makes it all the more fascinating. [Uri Tuchman] began the astrolabe build shown in the video below with only a few hand tools. He quickly had his fill of the manual fretsaw work, though, and whipped up a simple scroll saw powered by an old sewing machine foot treadle to speed up his work. The real treat though is the hand engraving, a skill that [Uri] has clearly mastered. We couldn’t help musing that a CNC router could do the same thing so much more quickly, but watching [Uri] do it was so much more satisfying. Everything about the build really makes a statement, from the contrasting brass and steel parts to the choice of complex Arabic script for the markings. [Uri] has another video that goes over astrolabe basics and his design process that’s well worth watching too.

While it’s nowhere near as complicated an instrument, this astrolabe puts us in the mood to watch the entire Clickspring clock build again. And [Chris] is working on his own ancient instrument build at the moment, recreating the Antikythera mechanism. We can’t wait to binge-watch that one too.

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