Machining is one of those fascinating fields that bridges the pre-scientific and scientific eras. As such, it has gone from a discipline full of home-spun acquired wisdom and crusty old superstitions to one of rigorously analyzed physics and crusty old superstitions.
The earliest machinists figured out most of what you need to know just by jamming a tool bit into spinning stock and seeing what happens. Change a few things, and see what happens next. There is a kind of informal experimentation taking place here. People are gradually controlling for variables and getting better at the craft as they learn what seems to affect what. However, the difference between fumbling around and actually knowing something is controlling for one’s own biases in a reproducible and falsifiable way. It’s the only way to know for sure what is true, and we call this “science”. It also means being willing to let go of ideas you had because the double-blinded evidence clearly says they are wrong.
That last part is where human nature lets us down the most. We really want to believe things that confirm our preconceived notions about the world, justify our emotions, or make us feel better. The funny thing about science, though, is that it doesn’t care whether you believe in it or not. So go get your kids vaccinated, and up your machining game with scientific precision. Let’s take a look.
Drilling holes is easy; humans have been doing it in one form or another for almost 40,000 years. Drilling really tiny holes in hard materials is more challenging, but still doable. Drilling deep, straight holes in hard materials is another thing altogether.
Luckily, these days we have electric discharge machining (EDM), a technique that opens up all kinds of possibilities. And just as luckily, [Ben Krasnow] got his hands on some EDM gear to try out, with fascinating results. As [Ben] explains, at its heart EDM is just the use of a small arc to ablate metal from a surface. The arc is precisely controlled, both its frequency via an arc controller, and its location using CNC motion control. The arc controller has always been the sticking point for home EDM, but the one [Ben] tried out, a BaxEDM BX17, is squarely aimed at the small shop market. The whole test platform that [Ben] built has a decidedly home-brew look to it, with a CNC gantry rigged up to a water tank, an EDM drill head spinning the drill rods slowly, and an airless paint gun providing high-pressure process fluid. The video below shows that it works remarkably well nonetheless.
While we’re certainly keen to see [Ben]’s promised videos on EDM milling and cutting, we doubt we’ll line up to shell out €2,950 for the arc controller he used. If you have more courage than money, this mains-powered EDM might be a better fit.
The process of making a lens with a CNC machine begins by surfacing a waste board and taping an 8mm sheet of cast acrylic down with double-stick tape. The lens is then cut out with an 8mm endmill, removed from the stock material, and wet sanded to remove the tool marks. Wet sanding begins at 400 grit and progresses to 2000 grit, after which the lens is polished with a polishing compound meant for high-gloss car finishes. This was done by hand, but in this instance there’s no shame in using a real buffing wheel.
Several other lenses are demonstrated, including a cylindrical convex lens, but these are only planoconvex lenses, or lenses that are flat on one side. Biconvex lenses can be constructed by gluing two planoconvex lenses back to back, which is done with an acrylic glue, in this case Acrifix adhesive. The result is remarkable: with a lot — and we mean a lot — of sanding and polishing, you can make an acrylic lens on a cheap hobby CNC machine. The trick is just a very small stepover on your CNC path.
There are a few more videos planned in this series, including one on using Fusion 360 on defining the shape of the lens to have the right focal length. We can’t wait to see that.
When designing parts on a screen, it’s very easy to type in a bunch of nice round numbers and watch everything slot together in perfect harmony. Unfortunately, the real world is not so kind. A 10mm shaft will not readily fit in a 10mm hole, and producing parts to perfect dimensions simply isn’t possible. This is where fits and tolerances come in, and [tarkka] have created a practical demonstration of this on Youtube.
Hole and shaft tolerances are important to ensure parts mate correctly and as intended. If a shaft is to fit into a hole easily and the dimensions aren’t critical, a clearance fit is called for. If assembly should be easy but the part is required to locate accurately, a running fit is called for. Alternatively, if the parts are intended to be pressed together permanently, an interference or force fit should be used.
The video covers the basics of fits and tolerances in an easy to understand way, with visual examples. The fits discussed are based in Imperial measurements, but the metric standard of hole and shaft tolerances (ISO 286-2) is also noted.
Over my many years of many side-projects, getting mechanical parts has always been a creative misadventure. Sure, I’d shop for them. But I’d also turn them up from dumpsters, turn them down from aluminum, cut them with lasers, or ooze them out of plastic. My adventures making parts first took root when I jumped into college. Back-in-the-day, I wanted to learn how to build robots. I quickly learned that “robot building” meant learning how to make their constituent parts.
Today I want to take you on a personal journey in my own mechanical “partmaking.” It’s a story told in schools, machine shops, and garages of a young adulthood spent making parts. It’s a story of learning how to run by crawling through e-waste dumps. Throughout my journey, my venues would change, and so would the tools at-hand. But that hunger to make projects and, by extension, parts, was always there.
Amongst the more difficult machining tasks in the world are those involved in the production of internal combustion engines. Thanks to the Internet, it’s now possible to watch detailed videos of master craftsmen assembling tiny desktop V8 and V12 engines in home workshops with barely a CNC in sight. However, up until now, most of these builds have been left on the test stand to bark and wail away. No longer – [Keith] has decided that needs to change.
We’ve seen [Keith]’s work before – particularly, his 125cc V10 build, featuring fuel injection, dual overhead cams, and even a supercharger. With several micro engines under his belt now, it was time to put them to work – the V10 is getting a new home in a 1/3rd scale RC buggy.
We’re not sure [Keith] has heard the phrase “off the shelf” – even the suspension dampers on this build are custom machined. Currently up to part 5, the chassis is coming together and there are plans for a hybrid powertrain, too. Carbon fiber and anodized parts are in abundance – this build is truly a work of art.
We can’t wait to see this V10 monster tearing up the dirt – It’s an ambitious build, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s [Keith]. Video after the break.
“Everything is a spring”. You’ve probably heard that expression before. How deep do you think your appreciation of that particular turn of phrase really is? You know who truly, viscerally groks this? Machinists.
As I’ve blathered on about at length previously, machine tools are all about precision. That’s easy to say, but where does precision really come from? In a word, rigidity. Machine tools do a seemingly magical thing. They remove quantities of steel (or other materials medieval humans would have killed for) with a slightly tougher piece of steel. The way they manage to do this is by applying the cutting tool to the material within a setup that is so rigid that the material has no choice but to yield. Furthermore, this cutting action is extremely precise because the tool moves as little as possible while doing so. It all comes down to rigidity. Let’s look at a basic turning setup.