Klein Hidden Bolt and Tool

Tricky Screw Heads Have Disappearing Slots

Perhaps you’ve seen them, demonstrations of a machined piece of metal that upon further inspection is actually two pieces machined so perfectly that they appear as one. With extremely tight tolerances, it’s not possible to determine where one piece of metal ends and another begins — that is, until the secret is revealed. Inspired by such pieces of art, [Andrew Klein] sought to put this high level of machine work to practical use. And so it was that his as-yet-unnamed Screw With No Slot came to be.

Klein Hidden Bolt depressed by brass rod
A brass rod pushes down to reveal the keyed center section.

The screw’s disc-like appearance looks as if it’s a metal trim piece to cover a bolt hole. But in the video below [Andrew] shows us the trick, pushing a brass rod into the middle of the disc to reveal the hidden three-point slot. The center of the disk is actually a separate bit of finely machined metal that is spring loaded to stay flush. A specially designed wrench keys into the rounded concave triangle shape cut into the face.

The wrench is made with brass to avoid marring the precision surface. It uses three magnets to hold tight to the screw’s 410 magnetic stainless steel. [Andrew] didn’t spill the beans on how this was done, but we haven’t seen any process other than electrical discharge machining (EDM) that can achieve this level of mating precision. If that topic is new to you, we recommend checking out [Ben Krasnow’s] lab experiments on the topic.

We can’t help but be taken in by the beauty of the fastener, and it immediately sent our imaginations into a National Treasure induced dream-like state. [Andrew Klein] has yet to name this fastener, and he’s soliciting ideas for names in the video below the break. If you have such an idea, you can comment on his video. He’s also exploring the viability of the as-yet-named fastener as a commercial product for high end furniture builders.

This is not the first time we’ve featured [Andrew Klein]’s work. His previous featured projects include a custom sawblade for perfectly foldable joints and an unveiling of the magnetic magic behind switchable permanent magnets. Be sure to submit the neat hacks, builds, and inspiring projects that you come across to our Tip Line!

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caliper jaw tools

Printable Caliper Jaws Increase Precision, Deflect Derision

If you’ve watched as many machining videos as we have, no doubt you’ve seen someone commit the cardinal sin of metalworking: using caliper jaws to scratch a mark into metal. Even if it’s a cheap Harbor Freight caliper rather than an expensive Starrett or Mitutoyo tool being abused, derision and scorn predictably rain down upon the hapless sinner’s head.

The criticism is not without its merit, of course. Recognizing this, [Nelson Stoldt] came up with these clamp-on nosepieces designed to turn calipers into a better marking tool. Using stock calipers as marking gauges always introduces some error, since the jaws are equal lengths and thus have to be held at a slight angle to the workpiece in order to make a mark. The caliper jaws correct for this admittedly negligible error by extending one jaw, allowing it to ride on a reference face while the other jaw remains perpendicular to the workpiece. As a bonus, the short jaw has a slot to mount a steel marking knife, saving the caliper jaws from damage.

[Nelson] chose to 3D-print his caliper jaws, but they could just as easily be milled from solid stock to make them a little more durable. Then again, you could always 3D-print the calipers in the first place, and integrate these jaws right into them.

Beginning The Machine Shop Journey With A DIY CNC

Building a good quality machine shop may seem to present a chicken-and-egg problem, at least for anyone not willing to mortgage their home for the money needed to buy all of these tools new. Namely, that building good tools often requires good tools. To help solve this problem, [Ryan] designed and built this CNC machine which can be built with nothing other than common tools, hardware store supplies, and some readily available parts from the internet.

Since it’s being built from consumer-grade material, [Ryan] has the design philosophy of “buying precision” which means that most of the parts needed for this build are precise enough for their purpose without needing to be worked in any way before incorporation into the mill. For example, he uses a granite plate because it’s hard, flat, heavy, and sturdy enough at the time of purchase to be placed into the machine right away. Similarly, his linear guides do not need to be modified before being put to work with a high degree of precision and minimal calibration. From there, he applies the KISS principle and uses the simplest parts available. With this design process he is able to “bootstrap” a high quality mill for around $1500 USD without needing any extra tools than the ones you likely already have.

The RIG-CNC as it is known has also been made completely open source which further cements its bootstrapability, and there is a lot more detail on the project page and in the video linked below. This project is unique not simply for the mill build from common parts and tools, but because this design philosophy is so robust. Good design goes a lot farther in our builds than a lot of us might realize, and good design often results in more maintainable, hackable things that work for more uses than the original creators may have even thought about.

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The Devil Is In The Details

If you’ve taken a physics class, you’ve doubtless heard tales of mythical beasts like the massless string, the frictionless bearing, and the perfect sphere. And if you’re designing something new, it’s not always wrong to start by thinking in terms of these abstractions, just to get the basic framework laid and a first-order handle on the way things go. But once you start building, you’d better be ready to shed your illusions that a 6 mm peg will fit into a 6 mm hole.

Theory and practice are the same thing, in theory. But as soon as you step into practice, your “weekend build” can easily turn into a 500-hour project, full of hurdles, discoveries, experimentation, and eventual success. I’m not going to rehash [Scott Rumschlag]’s project here — you should really watch his detailed video — but suffice it to say that when building a sub-millimeter precision 3D measuring device, bearings do have friction and string does have non-zero mass, and it all matters.

When you start working on a project that “looked good on paper” or for whatever reason just doesn’t turn out as precisely as you’d wished, you could do worse than to follow [Scott’s] example: start off by quantifying your goals, and then identify where every error along the way accumulates to keep you from reaching them. Doing precise work isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible either if you know where all the errors are coming from. You at least have a chain of improvements that you can consider, and if you’ve set realistic goals, you also know when to stop, which is almost as important.

And if anyone out there has an infinite sheet of perfectly conductive material, I’m in the market.

Machinist’s Accuracy Vs. Woodworker’s Precision

There are at least two ways of making parts that fit together exactly. The first way is the Cartesian way, and the machinists way. Imagine that you could specify the size of both the hole and the peg that you’d like to put into it. Just make sure your tolerances are tight enough, and call out a slightly wider hole. Heck, you can look up the type of fit you’d like in a table, and just specify that. The rest is a simple matter of machining the parts accurately to the right tolerances, and you’re done.

The machinist’s approach lives and dies on that last step — making the parts accurately fit the measure. Contrast the traditional woodworker’s method, or at least as it was taught to me, of just making the parts fit each other in the first place. This is the empirical way, the Aristotelian way if you will. You don’t really have to care if the two parts are exactly 30.000 mm wide, as long as they’re precisely the same length. And woodworkers have all sorts of clever tricks to make things the same, or make them fit, without measuring at all. Their methods are heavy on the jigs and the clever set-ups, and extraordinarily light on the calipers. To me, coming from a “measure carefully, and cut everything to measure” background, these ways of working were a revelation.

This ends up expressing perfectly the distinction between accuracy and precision. Sometimes you need to hit the numbers right on, and other times, you just need to get the parts to fit. And it’s useful to know which of these situations you’re actually in.

Of course, none of this is exclusive to metal or wood, and I’m actually mentioning it because I find myself using ideas that I learned in one context and applying them in the other. For instance, if you need sets of holes that match each other perfectly, whether in metal or wood, you get that precision for free by drilling through two sheets at one time, or by making a template — no measuring needed. Instead of measuring an exact distance from a feature, if all you care about is two offsets being the same, you can find a block of scrap with just about the right width, and use that to mark both distances. Is it exactly 1.000″ wide? Nope. But can you use this to mark identical locations? Yup.

You can make surprisingly round objects in wood by starting with a square, and then precisely marking the centers of the straight faces, and then cutting off the corners to get an octagon. Repeat with the centers and cutting until you can’t see the facets any more. Then hit it with sandpaper and you’re set. While this won’t make as controlled a diameter as would come off a metal lathe, you’d be surprised how well this works for making round sheet-aluminum circles when you don’t care so much about the diameter. And the file is really nothing other than the machinist’s sandpaper (or chisel?).

I’m not advocating one way of working over the other, but recognizing that there are two mindsets, and taking advantage of both. There’s a certain freedom that comes from the machinist’s method: if both parts are exactly 25.4 mm long, they’re both an accurate inch, and they’ll match each other. But if all you care about is precise matching, put them in the vise and cut them at the same time. Why do you bother with the calipers at all? Cut out the middle-man!

Homebrew Metrology The CERN Way

We won’t pretend to fully grok everything going on with this open-source 8.5-digit voltmeter that [Marco Reps] built. After all, the design came from the wizards at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, home to the Large Hadron Collider and other implements of Big Science. But we will admit to finding the level of this build quality absolutely gobsmacking, and totally worth watching the video for.

As [Marco] relates, an upcoming experiment at CERN will demand a large number of precision voltmeters, the expense of which led to a homebrew design that was released on the Open Hardware Repository. “Homebrew” perhaps undersells the build a bit, though. The design calls for a consistent thermal environment for the ADC, so there’s a mezzanine level on the board with an intricately designed Peltier thermal control system, including a custom-machined heat spreader blocker. There’s also a fascinatingly complex PCB dedicated solely to provide a solid ground between the analog input connector — itself a work of electromechanical art — and the chassis ground.

The real gem of this whole build, though, is the vapor-phase reflow soldering technique [Marco] used. Rather than a more-typical infrared process, vapor-phase reflow uses a perfluropolyether (PFPE) solution with a well-defined boiling point. PCBs suspended above a bath of heated PFPE get bathed in inert vapors at a specific temperature. [Marco]’s somewhat janky setup worked almost perfectly — just a few tombstones and bridges to fix. It’s a great technique to keep in mind for that special build.

The last [Marco Reps] video we featured was a teardown of a powerful fiber laser. It’s good to see a metrology build like this one, though, and we have a feeling we’ll be going over the details for a long time.

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Enormous CNC Router Uses Clever Tricks To Improve Performance

CNC machines made from wood and 3D-printed parts may be popular, but they aren’t always practical from a precision and repeatability standpoint. This is especially true as the machines are scaled up in size, where the compliance of their components starts to really add up. But can those issues be resolved? [jamie clarke] thinks so, and he’s in the process of building a CNC router that can handle a full sheet of plywood. (Video, embedded below.)

This is very much a work in progress, and the videos below are only the very beginning of the process. But we found [jamie]’s build interesting even at this early point because he has included a few clever tricks to control the normal sources of slop that plague larger CNC machines. To provide stiffness on a budget, [jamie] went with a wooden torsion-box design for the bed of his machine. It’s the approach taken by the Root CNC project, which is the inspiration for this build. The bed is formed from shallow boxes that achieve their stiffness through stressed skins applied to rigid, lightweight frames.

Upon the torsion-box bed are guide rails made from commodity lengths of square steel tubing. Stiff these may be over short lengths, but over the three meters needed to access a full sheet of plywood, even steel will bend. [jamie]’s solution is a support that moves along with the carriage, which halves the unsupported length of the beam at all points of travel. He’s using a similar approach to fight whip in the ball screw, with a clever flip-down cradle at the midpoint of the screw.

So far, we’re impressed by the quality of this build. We’re looking forward to seeing where this goes and how well the machine performs, so we’re paying close attention to the playlist for updates. At an estimated build cost of £1,500, this might be just the CNC build you’ve been looking for.

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