The White Rabbit Nixie Clock

Instructables user [hellboy] — a recent convert to the ways of the laser cutter — is a longtime admirer of Nixie tubes. In melding these two joys, he has been able to design and build this gorgeous work of art: The White Rabbit Nixie Clock.

Going into this build, [hellboy] was concerned over the lifespan of the tubes, and so needed to be able to turn them off when not needed. Discarding their original idea of having the clock open with servos, [hellboy]’s clock opens by pressing down on a bar and is closed by snapping the lid shut — albeit slightly more complicated than your average timepiece. Given the intricacy of the mechanism, he had to run through numerous prototypes — testing, tweaking and scrapping parts along the way.

With the power of steam-bending, [hellboy] lovingly moulded walnut planks and a sundry list of other types of wood to define the ‘rabbit’ appearance of the mechanism, and the other parts of the clock’s case. Once again, designing the clock around a row of six pivoting Nixie tubes was no mean feat — especially, as [hellboy] points out, when twenty or so wires need to rotate with them! After a few attempts, the Nixie tubes, their 3mm blue LEDs and associated wires were properly seated.

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Coasty The Coaster Toaster

Whether or not you feel the need to laser cut custom drink coasters, you have to be impressed by the amount of thought that went into Coasty.

They say that justice is blind, and while we can’t promise you anything at your next court date, we can at least say with confidence that we’re not the kind of people who will turn down a good hack just because it’s held together with rubber bands and positive vibes. If it works it works, and it doesn’t matter what it looks like. Having said that, we’re blown away by how incredibly finished this particular project is.

Coasty, designed and built by [Bart Dring] is one of those projects that elevate a hack into something that looks like it could be a commercial product. It takes in a common pulpboard coaster and laser cuts any design you want. It’s just the right size, with just the right components because this is Coasty’s purpose. It has a slot to feed in the coaster, and uses this as one of the axes during the laser cutting process, with the laser’s left to right movement as the other. This method makes for a smaller overall footprint and means you never need to open the protective enclosure for normal operation.

One of the most striking elements of Coasty is how much of the hardware is 3D printed. If it isn’t a motor, smooth rod, or other mechanical component, it’s printed. We’re used to seeing 3D printed parts as brackets or mounts, but rarely do you see an entire chassis printed like this. Not only does it take a serious amount of forethought and design, but the print time itself can be quite prohibitive.

But by designing and printing the majority of Coasty, it really gives it a professional look that would have been harder to achieve if it was a bundle of aluminum extrusions.

The back of Coasty features an exposed PCB “motherboard” with a dizzying array of plug-in boards. Hardware like the stepper drivers, Bluetooth radio, and laser power supply are separate modules for ease of maintenance and development. There’s a few neat hardware features integrated into the motherboard as well, like the IR sensor for detecting the edge of the coaster.

The printed filter is an especially nice touch. Containing a scrap of commercially available carbon cloth intended for home air filters, Coasty is able to cut down on the smoke that is invariably produced when blasting cardboard with a 3W 450nm laser.

It turns out that custom drink coasters are serious business for some hackers out there. This isn’t the first time somebody has gone all out to make their mark while simultaneously preventing marks.

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DIY Cable Chain Looks Great, Stays Cheap

If you’ve built a 3D printer, CNC, laser cutter, or basically any piece of electrical equipment that moves around, then you’ve run into the problem of securing the bundle of wires that such machines always require. The easy way out is to zip tie them all up into a tight harness or put them in commercially available wraps or sleeves, but these don’t really impart any mechanical strength on the wires. With repetitive motion it’s not unheard of to break a conductor or two, causing intermittent failures and generally leading to a painful diagnostic session trying to isolate the broken wire.

An alternative are what are generally referred to as “cable chains”. These are rigid enclosures for your wiring that not only keep things tidy, but give the wires the mechanical support necessary to prevent fatigue. Unfortunately, they are often many times more expensive than a simple wire wrap or pack of zip ties. But [Brad Parcels] has written into our tip line to share with us a sort of hybrid approach to wire management that has many of the same advantages as a traditional cable chain, but at a greatly reduced cost.

The key to the design is using the metallic tape from a cheap tape measure to give the bundle of wires some mechanical strength. As anyone who’s ever played around with a tape measure knows, if you bend the tape over into a U shape it will hold the bend even if you extend and retract it. Thanks to this principle, [Brad] realized that all he need to do was add some wire sleeves and he would have a cheap and effective way to keep his wiring neat and sag-free.

[Brad] punches holes in the tape to secure it to his 3D printed mounting arms, but really any method of securing the tape to the frame of your machine will work just as well. He then slides a cable sleeve over the tape itself to protect from any possibility of the edge of the tape nicking a wire, and then finally a larger wire sleeve over the entire assembly.

After running the wires between the two sleeves, heatshrink can be used on the ends to neatly close everything up. Just make sure you remember all your wires before you seal it, [Brad] learned that one the hard way. But overall, he reports this DIY cable chain arrangement has been working wonderfully in his machine, providing smooth and silent movement for only a few bucks.

Cable management for projects that move is one of those things that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. Not only can it keep your project looking professional, but it just might save you some time down the road by preventing failures.

Laser Cutter Alignment Mod Skips Beam Combiner

A lot of the DIY laser engravers and cutters we cover here on Hackaday are made with laser diodes salvaged from Blu-ray drives and projectors, which are visible lasers in the 400 – 450nm range (appearing as violet or blue). Unfortunately there is an upper limit in terms of power on visible diode lasers, most builds max out at 5W or so. If you need more power than that, you’ll likely find yourself looking at gas laser cutters like the K40. While the K40 is a great starting point if you’re looking to get into “real” lasers, it’s a very different beast from the homebrew builds using visible lasers.

With a gas laser the beam itself is invisible, making it much more difficult to align or do test runs. One solution is to add a visible laser to the K40 which can be used to verify alignment, but making sure it’s traveling down the same path as the primary laser usually requires an expensive beam combiner. Looking to avoid this cost, [gafu] wanted to see if it was possible to simply move the visible laser into the path of the primary beam mechanically.

An adjustable microswitch detects when the lid has been opened.

In the setup that [gafu] has come up with, a cheap laser module (the type from a handheld laser pointer) is moved into the path of the primary laser on an arm that’s actuated by a simple hobby servo. To prevent the primary and visible lasers from firing at the same time, an Arduino is used to control the servo given the current state of the K40’s lid. If the lid of the K40 is open, the primary laser is shutoff and the visible laser is rotated into position so the operator can see where the primary laser’s beam would be hitting. Once the lid is closed, the visible laser rotates out of the way and the primary is powered back up.

Running the cutting or engraving job with the lid of the K40 machine open now let’s [gafu] watch a “dry run” of the entire operation with the visible laser before finally committing to blasting the target with the full power beam.

We’ve covered many hacks and modifications for everyone’s favorite entry-level CO2 laser cutter. From replacing the controller to making it bigger, K40 owners certainly seem like a creative bunch.

Hacking A K40 Laser Cutter

The distinctive blue-and-white enclosure of the Chinese-made K40 laser cutter has become a common sight in workshops and hackerspaces, as they represent the cheapest route to a working cutter that can be found. It’s fair to say though that they are not a particularly good or safe machine when shipped, and [Archie Roques] has put together a blog post detailing the modifications to make something better of a stock K40 performed at Norwich Hackspace.

After checking that their K40 worked, and hooking up suitable cooling and ventilation for it, the first task facing the Norwich crew was to install a set of interlocks. (A stock K40 doesn’t shut off the laser when you open the lid!) A switch under the lid saw to that, along with an Arduino Nano clone to aggregate this, a key switch, and an emergency stop button. A new front panel was created to hold this, complete a temperature display and retro ammeter to replace the modern original.

Norwich’s laser cutter has further to go. For example, while we secretly approve of their adjustable bed formed from a pile of beer mats, we concede that their plans to make something more practical have merit. The K40 may not be the best in the world, indeed it’s probable we should be calling it an engraver rather than a cutter, but if that means that a small hackerspace can have a cutter and then make it useful without breaking the bank, it’s good to see how it’s done.

This isn’t the first K40 enhancement we’ve featured. Norwich might like to look at this improved controller, or even extend their cutter’s bed. Meanwhile if [Archie]’s name rings a bell, it might be because of his Raspberry Pi laptop.

Friction Differential Drive is a Laser-Cut Triumph

Here on Hackaday, too often do we turn our heads and gaze at the novelty of 3D printing functional devices. It’s easy to forget that other techniques for assembling functional prototypes exist. Here, [Reuben] nails the aspect of functional prototyping with the laser cutter with a real-world application: a roll-pitch friction differential drive built from just off-the shelf and laser-cut parts!

The centerpiece is held together with friction, where both the order of assembly and the slight wedged edge made from the laser cutter kerf keeps the components from falling apart. Pulleys transfer motion from the would-be motor mounts, where the belts are actually tensioned with a roller bearing mechanism that’s pushed into position. Finally, the friction drive itself is made from roller-blade wheels, where the torque transferred to the plate is driven by just how tightly the top screw is tightened onto the wheels. We’d say that [Reuben] is pushing boundaries with this build–but that’s not true. Rather, he’s using a series of repeatable motifs together to assemble a both beautiful and complex working mechanism.

This design is an old-school wonder from 2012 uncovered from a former Stanford course. The legendary CS235 aimed to teach “unmechanically-minded” roboticists how to build a host of mechanisms in the same spirit as MIT’s How-to-make-almost-Anything class. While CS235 doesn’t exist anymore, don’t fret. [Reuben] kindly posted his best lectures online for the world to enjoy.

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Reuleaux Coaster

What’s better than a cool build? A cool build with valuable advice! Add a few flashy pictures and you have [Martin Raynsford]’s Reuleaux triangle coasters blog post. [Martin Raynsford] wanted to share his advice about the importance of using jigs and we’re sold. He was able to make 100 coasters in a single day and if he’s like us, after number ten, the work gets a little hurried and that is when mistakes are made.

Jig is a broad term when it comes to tooling but essentially, it holds your part in place while you work on it. In this case, a jig was made to hold the coaster pieces while they were glued together. [Martin Raynsford] didn’t need any registration marks on the wood so even the back is clean. If you look closely, the coaster is two parts, the frame and the triangle. Each part is three layers and they cannot separated once the glue dries. If any part doesn’t line up properly, the whole coaster is scrap wood.

This robot arm engraved 400 coasters in a day but maybe you would prefer if you simply had your beer delivered to your new coasters.

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