Hands-On Othermill Review Grinds Out Sparkling Results

We’ve been on the lookout for alternatives to chemically etching circuit boards for years. The problem has been that we don’t particularly want to devote months of or lives learning how to build precision CNC mills. Off in the distance there may be an answer for that quandary if you don’t mind parting with twenty-two Benjamins. Sure, it’s a heck of a lot more expensive than toner transfer and cupric chloride, but the Othermill can be purchased right now (in your hands a few months later) and after reading this in-depth review we are a bit less hesitant about opening our wallets for it.

othermill-review-thumbIt’s a tome of a review, but that means there’s something for everybody. We especially enjoyed seeing the 10 mil board shown here which took about 1-hour to mill. Considering it has also been through-hole drilled we’d put that on part with the time it takes to etch a board. There are obvious places where the traces are not perfectly smooth (not sure if that’s burring or over-milling) but they are not broken and the board’s ready to be populated.

Alignment is something of an issue, but the Othermill isn’t limited to PCBs so we’d recommend designing and milling your own alignment bracket system as an early project.

Who isn’t envious of custom-builds that can get down to 10-mils, like this beauty from 2013. Our hopes had been sparked when Carbide 3D came onto the scene. We’re still optimistic that they will make a big splash when they start shipping preorders in a few months.

As this review proves, Othermill is already out in the wild with a 6-8 week wait before shipping. We saw it in action milling multiple materials at the Hackaday Omnibus Lauch Party and were duly impressed. Price or waiting-period aside we’re going to hold off until the software options expand beyond Mac-only (UPDATE: Othermill software support for Windows was added in early 2016); either Othermill will add support or someone will come up with a hack to use traditional CNC software. But if you count yourself as a subscriber to the cult of Apple the software, called Otherplan, does get a favorable prognosis along with the hardware.

Already have an Othermill sitting on your bench? Let us know your what you think about it in the comments below.

Bonus content: [Mike Estee], CTO of Othermill just gave a talk last night about how he got into making mills and the challenges of building something with super-high-precision. Sound isn’t good but the talk is solid. Hackaday’s [Joshua Vasquez] also gives a talk on the video about building an SPI core for FPGA. These talks are one of the Hardware Developer’s Didactic Galactic series which you really should check out if you’re ever in the San Francisco area.

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Crazy Whirlwind Pre-Hackaday Prize Launch Tour

The Hackaday Prize was about to launch but the date wasn’t public yet. I decided to do a pre-launch tour to visit a few places and to drop in on some of the Hackaday Prize Judges. It started in Chicagoland, looped through San Francisco for a hardware meetup and Hardware Con, then finished with visits to [Ben Krasnow’s] workshop, [Elecia White’s] studio, and the Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories.

The Prize is now running and it’s time for you to enter. Look at some of the awesome hacking going on at the places I visited and then submit your own idea to get your entry started. Join me after the break for all the details of the adventure.

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Celebrating The Omnibus Launch

On Thursday night Hackaday hosted an event in San Francisco to commemorate the launch of the 2014 Hackaday Omnibus. Our first print edition, compiled to commemorate some of the finest original content which we published last year should begin shipping as early as today. To celebrate the occasion, we were graced by a full house of amazing guests. Is it lame to say some of the people I respect most in the world were there?

Lightning Talks

Whenever you get a lot of people together, a good rule of thumb is to seize the opportunity to have them speak about what they’re doing. It’s not a big “ask” either; 8-minutes on what you’re passionate about is pretty simple.

[Jonathan Foote] gave a talk on generating RGBY colors from Hue. The project is ongoing but explores the concept of mixing colors of light with one additional source added to traditional red, green, and blue. [Priya Kuber] recently moved to San Francisco. She recently concluded more than a year of standing up the Arduino office in India (relevant but unrelated video). Her talk covered the emerging maker/hacker hardware scene in India which is showing amazing growth. [Chris McCoy] demonstrated his Raver Rings which began a Kickstarter on the same day. [Elecia White] of embedded.fm spoke about the educational opportunities that podcasts and other delivery medium provide and the responsibility we all have to guide our continued learning. [Emile Petrone] talked about an upcoming feature for his site Tindie which will add manufacturer information and ratings to the mix. And rounding things out [Dave Grossman] gave a talk on his Virtual Carl project which used video footage of his grandfather, combined with a Raspberry Pi and peripherals to create a remembrance of the man in virtual form.

Demos

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[Ben Krasnow] shows off the chamber containing supercritical carbon dioxide.
During the rest of the evening there were a few spectacular demos going on. First, [Ben Krasnow] who is well known for his Applied Science series (among a million other accolades), brought at least two demos with him. The first was a pressure chamber made out of two massively thick discs of acrylic separated by a metal ring. Inside the void he had pumped and pressurized CO2. When the chamber is heated it, the contents become Supercritical Carbon Dioxide and the visual transition between liquid and gas disappears.

He also showed off a lens that can be focused electronically. This is not mechanical, there are zero moving parts. Instead a droplet of oil floating in water is the lens. A 75V, AC power supply pulls on the droplet, altering the meniscus to focus the lens. He didn’t fabricate the device from scratch, but the concept is completely new to us and quite interesting.

[Brian Benchoff] poses with Othermill hardware
[Brian Benchoff] poses with Othermill hardware
Othermill is located in the SF area. They produce a desktop milling machine which is spectacular at routing PCBs. The little wonder isn’t limited to that though. Above you can see [Brian] holding up a milled wooden plaque which has milled mother-of-pearl inlays. The table is also strewn with other examples in wax, metal, wood, and more.

Cocktail Hour

The rest of the evening was devoted to conversation on all topics. Get enough hardware geeks in one room and they’ll solve the world’s problems, right? That’s a conversation for another post.

Couldn’t make it to this one but still in the San Francisco area at least occasionally? We held this at the Supplyframe office. They host a ton of great events like the Hardware Developers Didactic Galactic.

[Thanks to Richard Hogben for the photos!]