A Saturday afternoon. The work week was done, the household chores were wrapped up, and with almost a week left until Christmas, there was just enough wiggle room to deny that there was still a ton of work left to prepare for that event. It seemed like the perfect time to escape into the shop and knock out a quick project, one that has been on the back burner since at least March. I’m nothing if not skilled in the ways of procrastination.
This was to be a simple project — adding an aluminum plate to a plastic enclosure that would serve as an antenna entry point into my shack. Easy as pie — cut out an rectangle of aluminum, cut and drill a few holes, call it a day. Almost all of my projects start out that way, and almost every time I forget that pretty much every one of those builds goes off the rails at exactly the same point: when I realize that I don’t have the fasteners needed. That’s what happened with this build, which had been going swimmingly up to that point — no major screw-ups, no blood drawn. And so it was off to the hardware store I trundled, looking for the right fasteners to finish the job.
Finding hardware has long been where my productivity goes to die. Even though I live a stone’s throw from at least half a dozen stores, each with a vast selection of hardware and most open weekends and nights, the loss of momentum that results from changing from build-mode to procure-mode has historically been deadly to my projects. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has run into this issue, so the question is: what can a hacker do to prevent having to run out for just the right fasteners?
We’ll admit most of us are more comfortable with solder and software than mechanical things. However, between robots, 3D printers, and various other mechanical devices, we sometimes have to dig into springs, belleville washers, and linear actuators. Unless you are a mechanical engineer, you might not realize there’s a lot of nuances to something even as simple as a nut and bolt. How many threads do you need to engage? Do lock washers work? [Engineer Dog] has a post that answers these and many other questions.
The top ten list starts off with something controversial: split ring lock washers don’t work. The original post cites a paper that claims they don’t except in very special circumstances. However, he updated the post later to say that some people disagree with his cited study. In the end, you’ll have to decide, but given there are other options, maybe we’ll start using those more often.
Liquid two-part resins that cure into a solid are normally used for casting, and [Cuddleburrito] also found them useful to add strength and rigidity to 3D printed pillar supports. In this case, the supports are a frame for some arcade-style buttons, which must stand up to a lot of forceful mashing. Casting the part entirely out of a tough resin would require a mold, and it turns out that filling a 3D print with resin gets comparable benefits while making it easy to embed fastener hardware, if done right.
Filling the inside of an object with some kind of epoxy or resin to reinforce it isn’t a new idea, but [Cuddleburrito] learned how a few small design considerations can lead to less messy and more successful results. The first is that resin can be poured with screws in place without any worry of trapping the screws in the resin, if done correctly. As long as only the threads of the screw are in the resin, they can be backed out after the resin has cured. Embedding nuts into the resin to act as fasteners becomes a much easier task when one can simply pour resin with both nut and screw in place, and remove the screw afterwards. A thin layer of a lubricant on the threads to act as a release may help, but [Cuddleburrito] didn’t seem to need any.
The second thing learned was that, for a pillar that needs a cap and embedded nut on both ends, it can be tricky to fill the object’s void with the perfect amount of required resin before capping it off. On [Cuddleburrito]’s first attempt, he underfilled and there wasn’t enough resin to capture the nut on the top lid of the pillar he was making. The way around this was to offset the nut on a riser, and design in either a witness hole or an overflow relief. A small drain hole or a safe area for runoff allows for filling things right up without an uncontrolled mess in the case of overfilling.
Something worth keeping in mind when experimenting in this area is that in general the faster a resin cures, the more it heats up in the process. It may be tempting to use something like 5 minute epoxy in a pinch, but the heat released from any nontrivial amount of it risks deforming a thin-walled 3D print in the process. For cases where resin would be overkill and the fasteners are small, don’t forget we covered the best ways to add fasteners directly to 3D printed parts.
As a species, we’ve done a pretty good job at inventing some useful devices. But as clever as we think we are, given sufficient time, natural selection will beat us at our game at almost every turn. So it makes sense that many of our best inventions are inspired by nature and the myriad ways life finds to get DNA from one generation to the next.
Hook and loop fasteners are one such design cribbed from nature, and the story behind this useful mechanism is a perfect example that a prepared mind, good observation skills, and a heck of a lot of perseverance are what it takes to bring one of Mother Nature’s designs to market.
Editor’s Note: As some predicted in the comments section, we were contacted by representatives of Velcro Companies and asked to change all mentions in this article to either VELCRO® Brand Fastener or to use the generic “Hook and Loop” term. If it seems weird that we’re calling this hook and loop, now you know why.
They hold together everything from the most delicate watch to the largest bridge. The world is literally kept from coming apart by screws and bolts, and yet we don’t often give a thought to these mechanisms. Part of that is probably because we’ve gotten so good at making them that they’re seen as cheap commodities, but the physics and engineering behind the screw thread is interesting stuff.
We all likely remember an early science lesson wherein the basic building blocks of all mechanisms laid out. The simple machines are mechanisms that use an applied force to do work, such as the inclined plane, the lever, and the pulley. For instance, an inclined plane, in the form of a splitting wedge, directs the force of blows against its flat face into a chunk of wood, forcing the wood apart.
Screw threads are another simple machine, and can be thought of as a long, gently sloped inclined plane wrapped around a cylinder. Cut a long right triangle out of paper, wrap it around a pencil starting at the big end, and the hypotenuse forms a helical ramp that looks just like a thread. Of course, for a screw thread to do any work, it has to project out more than the thickness of a piece of paper, and the shape of the projection determines the mechanical properties of the screw.