Inspiring Hacks, Unfinished Hacks

We got a tip this week, and the tipster’s comments were along the lines of “this doesn’t look like it’s a finished work yet, but I think it’s pretty cool anyway”. And that was exactly right. The work in question is basically attaching a simple webcam to a CNC router and then having at it with OpenCV, and [vector76]’s application was cutting out freeform hand-drawn curves from wood. To amuse his daughter.

But there’s no apology necessary for presenting a work in progress. Unfinished hacks are awesome! They leave room for further improvement and interpretation. They are like an unfinished story, inviting the hacker to dream up their own end. At least that’s how this one worked on me.

My mind went racing — adding smart and extensible computer vision to a CNC router enables not only line tracing, but maybe smarter edge finding, broken tool detection, and who knows what else. With the software end so flexible these days, and the additional hardware demands so minimal, it’s an invitation. It’s like Pavlov ringing that bell, and I’m the dog-hacker. Or something.

So remember this when you get half done with a project, get to a workable first-stage demo, but you haven’t chased down each and every possibility. Leaving something up to other hackers’ imagination can be just as powerful. Your proof of concept doesn’t have to be the mother of all demos — sometimes just a working mouse will suffice.

Layer Line Removal Putty Reviewed

[Teaching Tech] is not alone in hating layer lines in 3D prints and also hates sanding. He recently tried Incredafill putty, a UV-curable putty that you can use to cover up lines in prints. Once covered and cured, you sand the putty smooth. You can see what he thought of the product in the video below.

As many people suggested in the video comments, you can pull the same trick with UV resin thickened with some other substance. We’ve even covered using diluted resin to get a similar effect. The putty has more of the appearance of hair cream or some kind of ointment, so it was easy to spread around with a gloved finger. A brush also worked. UV curing was done by a small flashlight or the handy sun. However, you’ll see later that he used a UV curing station and that works well if you have one.

Of course, even after applying the putty, you still have to sand. We are assuming the sanding is easier than trying to sand the actual layer lines smooth. On the other hand, the resin dust is probably pretty toxic, so there is a trade-off involved.

The results did look good. Of course, since there was still sanding involved, how good it looks will depend on your sanding tools, your technique, and — perhaps most importantly — your patience. Sanding can do a lot for 3D prints. We might not trust it completely with resin dust, but you could get rid of at least some of the dust with a downdraft table.

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Smoothing Out Foam Parts With Lots Of Gesso

Whether you’re building a product mock-up or a lightweight enclosure, carving your parts out of hard foam is a fast way to get the job done. Unfortunately, the end result can have a bit of a rough finish; a problem if you’re looking to attract investors or get some nice shots so you can send your handiwork into Hackaday.

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to make a carved piece of foam look like it isn’t a carved piece of foam, this tip from prolific maker [Eric Strebel] could really come in handy. Rather than using some spray-on primer or epoxy coating, things that can be difficult to work with when you’re confined to a small home workspace, he recommends sealing it up with several coats of gesso.

The gesso fills in the tiny voids in the foam’s surface.

For the less artistically inclined in the audience, gesso is essentially a paint that’s been combined with chalk or gypsum to make it thicker. Gesso is generally used to prepare an absorbent surface (such as wood or canvas) before applying paint. In this case, [Eric] is using it to build up the surface of the foam and seal up all the open pores.

The downside is that the gesso requires several coats to really build up. [Eric] puts six coats on in this demonstration before he starts to thin it out a bit with water. At that point, each successive coat is sanded with increasingly higher grits. After nine coats, he does his finish sanding with 600 grit paper, and the results look fantastic.

To add some color [Eric] dyed the piece and then used a toothbrush to flick on some black and white paint, creating a very convincing granite-like finish. Unfortunately, his attempt to brush on a water-based sealer caused this finish to run, and he had to take it all off. In the end, he had to resort to using spray paint to finish the piece, but at least it was a simple rattle can.

This isn’t the first time [Eric] has experimented with alternative priming techniques. He’s a big fan of two-component primer in a can, which lets you lay down a professional finish without the expense and complication of using a spray gun.

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Two-Part Primer In A Can Is A DIY Dream Come True

When putting together a home workshop, available floor space is often the deciding factor when it comes time to pick tools and equipment. This ultimately leads to some very difficult decisions, and we’d wager there isn’t a hacker or maker reading this that hasn’t had to pass on a new piece of gear because they didn’t have anywhere to put it.

For example, the average home gamer isn’t going to have a paint booth and spraying equipment, so they have to settle for a rattle can in the backyard. Traditionally this has limited the kinds of products you can realistically apply, but as [Eric Strebel] shows off in his latest video, it seems like spray can technology is starting to catch up.

3D printed part with two coats of spray primer applied
The finish after two coats of primer.

Specifically, he’s been working with a canned two-part primer that doesn’t require any complicated mixing or special equipment to apply. After hitting a plunger on the bottom, a small compartment containing the activator is ruptured and the reaction begins. From that point, you’ve only got 24 hours to use the contents of the can before it cures. But since you only need to wait about 10 minutes between coats, that should give you plenty of time to complete the project.

In the video, [Eric] demonstrates how quickly this high-build primer can smooth out the layer lines on a 3D print. While you’ll still need to sand and potentially break out the spot filler to achieve that perfect finish, it’s clear that the primer works much better than anything we’re used to seeing come out of a can. Even after just two coats, the results are truly remarkable.

If there’s a downside, it’s that a can of this primer will run you about $25 USD. That’s about five times the cost of the Rust-Oleum Filler Primer that usually gets recommended in DIY circles, but the results really do seem to speak for themselves. We wouldn’t necessarily use this on every project, but if you’ve got something that needs an especially fine finish, you’ve at least got an option that doesn’t involve borrowing somebody’s compressor and spray gun.

If you need help shaking your paint before spraying – definitely give this 3D printed paint shaker a look!

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Goals And Goalposts

In the winter, I hatched a vague plan to learn some of the modern unmanned aerial vehicle tech. Everybody needs an autonomous vehicle, and we’ve got some good flying fields within walking distance, so it seemed like it could work. Being me, that meant buying the cheapest gear that could possibly work, building up the plane by myself, and generally figuring out as much as possible along the way. I learn more by making my own mistakes anyway. Sounds like a good summer project.

Fast-forward to August, and the plane is built, controller installed, and I’ve spent most of the last month trying to make them work well together. (The firmware expects a plane with ailerons, and mine doesn’t have them, but apparently I’d rather tweak PID values than simply add a couple wing servos.) But it’s working well enough that it’s launching, flying autonomous waypoint missions, and coming home without any intervention. So, mission accomplished, right?

Destination: that furthest red roof

Nope. When I’m enjoying a project, I have a way of moving the goalposts on myself. I mean, I don’t really want to be done anyway. When a friend asked me a couple weeks ago what I was planning to do with the plane, I said “take nice aerial videos of that farm over there.” Now I see flight opportunities everywhere, and need to work on my skills. The plane needed an OLED display. It probably still needs Bluetooth for local configuration as well. Maybe a better long-range data link…

This is creeping featurism and moving-the-goalposts in the best of ways. And if this were a project with a deadline, or one that I weren’t simply enjoying, it would be a problem. Instead, having relatively low-key goals, meeting them, and letting them inspire me to set the next ones has been a blast. It makes me think of Donald Papp’s great article on creating hacking “win” projects. There he suggests creating simple goals to keep yourself inspired. I don’t think I could have planned out an “optimal” set of goals to begin with — I’ve learned too much along the way that the next goal isn’t obvious until I know what new capabilities I have. Creeping is the only way.

What about you? Do you plan your hobby projects completely in advance? Not at all? Or do you have some kind of hybrid, moving-the-goalposts sort of strategy?

Simple Tip Helps With Powder Coating Perfection On Difficult Parts

To say that that the commercially available garden path lights commonly available at dollar stores are cheap is a vast overstatement of their true worthlessness. These solar-powered lights are so cheaply built that there’s almost no point in buying them, a fact that led [Mark Presling] down a fabrication rabbit hole that ends with some great tips on powder coating parts with difficult geometries.

Powder coating might seem a bit overkill for something as mundane as garden lights, but [Mark] has a point — if you buy something and it fails after a few weeks in the sun, you might as well build it right yourself. And a proper finish is a big part of not only getting the right look, but to making these totally un-Tardis-like light fixtures last in the weather. The video series below covers the entire design and build process, which ended up having an aluminum grille with some deep grooves. Such features prove hard to reach with powder coating, where the tiny particles of the coating are attracted to the workpiece thanks to a high potential difference between them. After coating, the part is heated to melt the particles and form a tough, beautiful finish.

But for grooves and other high-aspect-ratio features, the particles tend to avoid collecting in the nooks and crannies, leading to an uneven finish. [Mark]’s solution was to turn to “hot flocking”, where the part is heated before applying uncharged coating to the deep features. This gets the corners and grooves well coated before the rest of the coating is applied in the standard way, leading to a much better finish.

We love [Presser]’s attention to detail on this build, as well as the excellent fabrication tips and tricks sprinkled throughout the series. You might want to check out some of his other builds, like this professional-looking spot welder.

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Finishing Your Projects Hack Chat With Zack Freedman

Join us on Wednesday, February 10 at noon Pacific for the Finishing Your Projects Hack Chat with Zack Freedman!

Try as we might, some of us are much better at starting projects than finishing them. Our benches — or all too often, our notebooks — are graveyards of good attempts, littered with the scraps of ideas that really sounded good at the time and clouded by a miasma of good intentions and protestations that “This time, it’ll be different.” Spoiler alert: no, it won’t.

Trying to pin the cause of this painfully common problem on something specific is probably a fool’s errand, especially when given the fact that some people mysteriously don’t suffer from it, it would appear brain chemistry plays a role. Maybe some people just really like the dopamine hit of starting something new, which gives them the rush of excitement while the idea is still fresh, only to have it wane rapidly as the project enters the churn.

Whatever it is, if you suffer from it, chances are good you’ve looked for a way out at least once. If so, you’ll want to hop into this Hack Chat, where “very serious hacker” Zack Freedman, proprietor of the Voidstar Labs channel on YouTube, will share his thoughts on project follow-through. We’ve enjoyed Zack’s projects for a while now, and covered a few, from his in-your-face (on-your-wrist?) smartwatch to his video editing keypad. He gets stuff done, perhaps in part due to his workshop organization, but however he does it, we’re eager to hear about it. Join us as we discuss the art of follow-through and getting stuff done.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, February 10 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

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