The Complete Beginner’s Guide To Building A CNC Machine

Despite appearances, [This Old Tony]’s latest series has little to do with CNC-ifying an Etch A Sketch. Although he certainly achieves that, more or less, automating the classic toy is just the hook for a thorough lesson in CNC machine building starting with the basics.

Fair warning: we said basics, and we mean it. [Old Tony]’s intended audience is those who haven’t made the leap into a CNC build yet and need the big picture. Part one concentrates on the hardware involved – the steppers, drivers, and controller. He starts with one of those all-in-one eBay packages, although he did upgrade the motion controller to a Mach4 compatible board; still, the lessons should apply to most hardware.

By the end of part one, the Etch A Sketch is connected to two of the steppers and everything is wired up and ready to go for part two, the first part of which is all about inputs and outputs. Again, this is basic stuff, like how relays work and why you might need to use them. But that’s the kind of stuff that can baffle beginners and turn them off to the hobby, so kudos to [Old Tony] for the overview. The bulk of the second part is about configuring Mach4 Hobby, with a ton of detail and some great tips and tricks for getting a machine ready to break some end mills.

For someone looking to get into a CNC build, [Old Tony]’s hard-won CNC experience really fills in the gaps left by other tutorials. And it looks like a third part, dealing with making all this into something more than an automated Etch A Sketch, is in the works. We’re looking forward to that.

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Amplifier Controlled Motorized Display

It’s easy to get jaded by gadgets like the Chromecast or Sonos, which let the user control AV equipment remotely from a mobile device or computer. You can pick something to play from your phone and send it off to your speakers via the magic of Wi-Fi. But it’s still nice to have a display to look at for music visualizations and that sort of thing, at least occasionally.

To address this only occasional desire to have a display on your media setup, you could follow in the footsteps of [Steven Elliott] and create a DIY motorized display which only pops up when needed. Inspired by seeing videos of TVs rising out of cabinets and other such trickery, he decided to create his own version using an old computer monitor he had lying around.

The monitor is lifted with a beefy linear actuator, which has been placed inside of a square metal fence post to keep from rotating. It already had a power supply and control board with relays for extending and retracting, so [Steven] just needed to find a convenient way of firing them off.

The answer came from a somewhat unconventional source: his amplifier. [Steven] explains that many amplifiers feature a “Trigger Output”, which uses a standard stereo 3.5mm connector and sends a 12V pulse to connected device. This is generally used to turn on downstream devices when the amplifier switches to the respective input. It’s too short and not nearly powerful enough to close the actuators relays, but it’s easy enough to detect.

[Steven] uses a LeoStick microcontroller to wait for the pulse from the amplifier, and then use that to raise or lower the display depending on the selected input. There’s also a SPST momentary switch which can be used to trigger the actuator manually. Beyond the fact the linear actuator is a bit loud, he says the setup works very well and prevents him from having to start up his projector if he just wants to take a quick glance at what’s playing or program his DVR.

We don’t see many motorized display lifts like this anymore, not since wall mounted LCDs became popular anyway. But it’s still a cool effect, and today made quite a bit easier thanks to the fact that TVs and monitors no longer weigh as much as a small car.

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip.]

Adding 3D Printer Power and Light Control to OctoPrint

OctoPrint is a great way to monitor your printer, especially with the addition of a webcam. Using a tablet or mobile phone, you can keep an eye on what the printer is doing from anywhere in the house (or world, if you take the proper precautions), saving you from having to sit with the printer as if it’s an infant. But simply watching your printer do its thing is only a small slice of the functionality offered by OctoPrint’s vast plugin community.

As [Jeremy S Cook] demonstrates, it’s fairly easy to add power control for the printer and auxiliary lighting to your OctoPrint setup. Being able to flick the lights on over the print bed is obviously a big help when monitoring it via webcam, and the ability to turn the printer off can provide some peace of mind after the print has completed. If you’re particularly brave it also means you could power on the printer and start a print completely remotely, but good luck if that first layer doesn’t go down perfectly.

In terms of hardware, you only need some 3.3V relays for the Raspberry Pi running OctoPrint to trigger, and an enclosure to put the wiring in. [Jeremy] uses only one relay in this setup to power the printer and lights at once, but with some adjustment to the software, you could get independent control if that’s something you’re after.

On the software side [Jeremy] is using an OctoPrint plugin called “PSU Control”, which is actually intended for controlling an ATX PSU from the Pi’s GPIO pins, but the principle is close enough to throw a relay. Other plugins exist which allow for controlling a wider away of devices and GPIO pins if you want to make a fully remote controlled enclosure. Plus you can always whip up your own OctoPrint plugin if you don’t find anything that quite meets your switching needs.

[Jeremy] previously documented his unique mount to keep his Raspberry Pi and camera pointed at his printer, which is naturally important if you want to create some cool videos with Octolapse.

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Electromagnetic Field: TIM, A Relay Computer

We are probably all familiar with computing history to the extent that we know the earliest computers were surprisingly simple devices. While early electronic machines such as Colossus or ENIAC were hugely complex racks of tubes, once expressed as a schematic or as a network of logic gates they would be relatively straightforward for today’s electronic engineer to understand their operation. Those who have made an in-depth study of computing history may have heard of the work of Konrad Zuse in the mid-20th century, his relay-based machines predate their fully electronic cousins by several years.

A relay-based computer can be simple enough to be built by a home constructor, and at the recent Electromagnetic |Field hacker camp [Rory Mangles] outlined his TIM relay computer built while he was at school. It’s an engaging story starting from first principles and describing a series of TIM devices from a simple binary adder to the final fully Turing-complete computer. He describes the design process for his ALU, eventually going with a 1-bit serial design to economise on relays.

The machine has a Harvard architecture, with the program pathway consisting of a paper tape from which the code is run directly. The instruction set is called BLT, which of course means Basic Language of Tim, and there is a T++ assembly language. Loops and if statements are handled in a nod to the classical Turing machine by looping the paper tape. The original TIM is a few years old, but he reveals that he’s recently brought it out of storage and added a parallel port. Thus the finale of the talk is a demonstration, printing a “Hello World”.

We’ve placed the full video below the break, meanwhile we were lucky enough that [Rory] brought TIM along to the EMF Hackaday Readers village for our bring-a-hack, so the header image is from when we had a chance to examine it. If you’re curious to know more, he has a web site with some more TIM details.

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Voltage Monitor Relay is More than Meets the Eye

Automotive components that have a hidden secondary function are usually limited to cartoons and Michael Bay movies, but this project that [Jesus Echavarria] created for a client is a perhaps as close as we’re likely to get in the near future. The final product certainly looks like a standard automotive relay, but a peek inside the 3D printed case reveals a surprisingly complex little device. It’s still technically a relay, but it uses a PIC microcontroller to decide when it should activate.

[Jesus] was given the task of creating a device that would fit into the relay box of a vehicle, and serve as a battery monitor to fire off at different voltage set points. The client also wanted the ability to configure such things as how long the device would wait before enabling and disabling the alarms once the voltage threshold has been passed. After showing the client an oversize prototype using a PIC16F88 and switching regulator, he got the OK to move on to a smaller and more cost-effective version.

The final hardware makes use of a 78M05 500 mA linear regulator, a PIC16F1824 microcontroller, and a pair of AQY211EH solid state relays. The standard five pin layout used for automotive relays allows the monitor to get power from the vehicle’s battery while providing two output channels that can be switched on and off from the microcontroller. [Jesus] says an agreement with the client prevents him from sharing some elements of the project (like the firmware source code), but he gives enough information that it shouldn’t be too hard to spin up your own version.

With the addition of something like an ESP8266, this could be an easy way to retrofit an older vehicle with “smart” features. As an example, it could potentially allow for controlling the car’s headlights and horn over Wi-Fi. Or you could hack together a theft deterrent system that refuses to power on the starter or fuel pump unless your smartphone enables the relay first.

Mario Candy Machine Gamifies Halloween

Picture it: Halloween, 2018. You want to go to a party or take the kids out trick-or-treating, but remember what happened last year when you weren’t there to answer the door? A pack of wild children blew their allowances on 48 rolls of the cheapest toilet paper ever printed, and it took you four full hours to get all the sodden, dew-laden wads out of your rose bushes.

Halloween is a time to fear things like hobgoblins and the possibility of The Purge becoming a thing, not sugar-fueled children who are upset that you left out a bowl of Sixlets, wax lips, and alt-flavored Tootsie Rolls. So how do you take back the night? Do what [Randall Hendrix] did: build a Super Mario-themed candy-dispensing machine.

No customer, not one tiny [Thanos] or [Tony Stark] will be able to resist the giant, blinking, green start button. Pushing it cues the music and the spinning drum, which tumbles the candy around like a clothes dryer. Gravity and chance will drop one or three pieces onto a conveyor belt that runs under Mario’s feet, but it’s up to you to press the jump button at the right time.  Otherwise, he knocks your prize back into the barrel.

There’s no micro here, just woodworking, relays, motors, a sound FX board, and the amp from an old pair of PC speakers. Mario’s candy-securing jump was originally pneumatic, but now it’s powered by a 240:1 gear motor that lifts him up with a cam. Grab a fun size Snickers and slap that break button to see this marvelous machine in action.

Concerned that they’ll play until the candy is gone? Add a sinister element like the Candy-or-Death machine we saw a few years ago.

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Old Time Traffic Signal Revived with a Raspberry Pi Controller

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the classic animated shorts of the 1940s will recognize the traffic signal in the image above. Yes, such things actually existed in the real world, not just in the Looney world of [Bugs Bunny] et al. As sturdy as such devices were, they don’t last forever, though, which is why a restoration of this classic Acme traffic signal was necessary for a California museum. Yes, that Acme.

When you see a traffic signal from the early days of the automotive age like this one, it becomes quickly apparent how good the modern equivalent has become. Back in the day, with a mix of lights distributed all over the body of the signal, arms that extend out, and bells that ring when the state changes, it’s easy to see how things could get out of hand at an intersection. That complexity made the restoration project by [am1034481] and colleagues at the Southern California Traffic Museum all the more difficult. Each signal has three lights, a motor for the flag, and an annunciator bell, each requiring a relay. What’s more, the motor needs to run in both directions, so a reversing relay is needed, and the arm has a mechanism to keep it in position when motor power is removed, which needs yet another relay. With two signals, everything was doubled, so the new controller used a 16-channel relay board and a Raspberry Pi to run through various demos. To keep induced currents from wreaking havoc, zero-crossing solid state relays were used on the big AC motors and coils in the signal. It looks like a lot of work, but the end results are worth it.

Looking for more information on traffic signal controls? We talked about that a while back.