3D printing has made it incredibly easy to produce small runs of plastic parts, but getting rid of the 3D printed look can be tricky and time-consuming. When you need a smooth and polished finish, or you want to make exact copies of an existing injection molded part, casting resin parts in silicone molds is an excellent option. [Eric Strebel] has plenty of experience with the process, and demonstrates it in detail while creating copies of violin chin rests that are no longer in production. It’s an interesting application, where 3D-printed layer lines are not just an aesthetic issue, but something that would irritate the user’s skin if present.
Creating silicone molds requires a bit of forethought about the mold design. You want to select the split line to make it as easy as possible to remove the finished parts, while also placing the resin pouring sprue and vents to prevent air bubbles from getting trapped in the mold. In [Erics] case, it’s impossible to use a simple planar split line, so he mounts the master part on a block of wood and uses cardboard and modeling clay to create a volume where the second side of the mold will protrude in the first side. It’s important to note that sulfur-free clay must be used, otherwise the silicone might not cure.
One side of the silicon mold is cast first, and after curing it is placed back in the mold box with the master part to allow casting the other side of the mold. At this point [Eric] super glues the sprue-former and vent rods to the master parts before molding the second side. A release agent consisting of petroleum jelly and naphtha is added wherever the two sides of the mold will touch, to prevent them from sticking together.
Bubbles are your enemy while resin casting, so ideally you need a vacuum chamber to degas the silicone and resin before casting, and a pressure chamber to allow the resin part to cure. While pouring the silicone for the molds, the mold box is placed on a vibration table to allow any bubbles to rise to the surface. While the entire mold-making and molding process is time-consuming, the copied parts are almost indistinguishable from the original.
In a perfect world, we’d all have laser cutters and could pop intricate designs out of acrylic sheets with just a few clicks of the mouse. But in reality, most of us have to make do with the pedestrian tools we have at hand. For many, that might even mean everything has to be done by hand. Luckily, [Eric Strebel] has been working on a series of videos that cover how you can make professional looking parts out of acrylic using a wide array of common tools.
The first video demonstrates how a simple cube can be constructed by a band saw, a table saw, and if need be, with hand tools. You might think the two power saws would have similar results, but as [Eric] explains, the table saw ends up being far more accurate and requires less post-processing to get a smooth edge. Ideally you’d run the cut pieces through a router to bevel them, but that’s a tall order for many home gamers.
As for the hand tool approach, scoring and snapping the sheets ends up making a surprisingly clean break that can actually be cleaner than the edge you’d get with a power tool. No matter how you cut them, [Eric] shows the proper way to apply the water-like solvent to your acrylic pieces to create a strong and visually attractive bond.
The next video in the series covers more advanced techniques that can still be pulled off without a top-of-the-line workshop. Sure the water-cooled acrylic bender he has is pretty slick, but if you can’t afford the $100 USD gadget, he shows you how to get similar results with an old toaster oven that you can pick up from the thrift store or even the side of the road. With some hand-made jigs and molds, you can warp and flex the heated plastic into whatever shape your project needs. Combining the tips from both videos, you might be surprised at what can be created with little more than a ruler, some hot air, and the appropriate techniques.
At $129 USD, Apple certainly do sell a very expensive “pencil”. Despite the high cost of entry, [Eric] identified several shortcomings and set about solving them himself with a few choice mods.
The first concern is the excessively slippery surface finish, that could lead to the expensive device being dropped and damaged. [Eric] starts by creating a special tool to help handle the pencil during the refinishing process. He highlights how key this is to getting a good final result, without fingerprints or other flaws ruining the finish. With the manipulator ready, the pencil is then given a wipe down with wax and grease remover prior to a dusting of a translucent spray paint. The finish is poor, however, and [Eric] instead elects to try again with a plastic primer first. A series of tinted clear coats are chased with a urethane clear topcoat for a hardy, grippier surface texture.
The final mod concerns the tip. It’s lathed down in a power drill to give a shape more akin to the ballpoint pens [Eric] is used to sketching with. Additionally, the tip is dyed black with a Sharpie marker and a heat gun, to help it contrast better when sketching on a white screen.
These mods may seem trivial to a casual user, but for a designer who draws for a living, usability is key. The striking orange finish is just a bonus. We don’t see too many stylus mods, but with the increased popularity of tablets, we’re sure to see more down the road. If you’ve got one, be sure to drop us a line! Video after the break.
Good design starts with a good idea, and being able to flesh that idea out with a model. In the electronics world, we would build a model on a breadboard before soldering everything together. In much the same way that the industrial designer [Eric Strebel] makes models of his creations before creating the final version. In his latest video, he demonstrates the use of a CO2 laser for model making.
While this video could be considered a primer for using a laser cutter, watching some of the fine detail work that [Eric] employs is interesting in the way that watching any master craftsman is. He builds several cubes out of various materials, demonstrating the operation of the laser cutter and showing how best to assemble the “models”. [Eric] starts with acrylic before moving to wood, cardboard, and finally his preferred material: foam core. The final model has beveled edges and an interior cylinder, demonstrating many “tricks of the trade” of model building.
Of course, you may wish to build models of more complex objects than cubes. If you have never had the opportunity to use a laser cutter, you will quickly realize how much simpler the design process is with high-quality tools like this one. It doesn’t hurt to have [Eric]’s experience and mastery of industrial design to help out, either.