Most of us have probably seen a video of a sand drawing table at work, in which a steel ball — magnetically-coupled to a gantry under a layer of sand — lazily draws geometric patterns with utter precision and zen-like calmness. That’s all well and good, but [Mark Rehorst] thinks it can also be interesting to crank up the speed and watch the ball plow through sand just as physics intended. There’s a deeper reason [Mark] is working at this, however. Faster drawing leads to less crisp results, but by how much, exactly? To answer this, [Mark] simply ran his table (which is named The Spice Must Flow) at both fast and slow speeds and documented the results.
These two images show the difference between running the table at 100 mm/s versus 500 mm/s. The slower speed is noticeably crisper, but on the other hand the faster speed completed the pattern in about a fifth of the time. [Mark] says that as the ball aggressively accelerates to reach target speeds, more sand is thrown around over existing lines, which leads to a loss of detail.
Crisper detail, or a faster draw? Which is “better” depends on many things, but it’s pretty clear that [Mark]’s cat finds the fast version more exciting. You can see [Mark]’s table at high speed and the cat’s reaction in the video, embedded below.
The purpose of a Zen garden, those stylized landscapes created by painstakingly placing rocks and raking gravel into perfect patterns, is the doing of the thing. Making sure every line is perfectly formed is no mean feat, and the concentration required to master it is the point of the whole thing. But who has time for that? Why not just build a robot to create the perfect Zen garden in miniature?
That was what [Tim Callinan] and his classmates did for a semester project, and the “ZenXY” sand plotter was the result. There isn’t a build log for the device per se, although the video below makes it plain how they went about this. The sand table itself is a plywood box whose bottom is layered with fine white sand and contains a single steel ball. Below the table is an X-Y gantry carrying a powerful magnet. A gShield riding on top of an Uno turns G code into slow, stately movement of the ball through the sand. The patterns are remarkably intricate, and while it might not be the same as mastering the body control needed to rake gravel with precision, watching the ball push the sand around is pretty Zen all by itself
A zen garden should be a source of relaxation and escape from the everyday. The whole point should be to escape from–among other things–your electronics. Unless you are [MakrToolbox]. Then you’ll make a beautiful zen garden end table that allows you to make patterns in the sand using a ball bearing and an Arduino. You can see a video below.
Technically, the device is almost an upside down 3D printer with no Z axis. The mechanism moves a magnet which controls the steel ball and draws patterns in the sand. However, the really impressive parts of this project are the woodworking for the end table and the impressive documentation, should you want to reproduce this project yourself.