Engineer & Entertain

Ideas I grapple with

Archive for the tag “Engineering”

Tooling Around

After running Shopbot’s hello world, my first project was Shopbot’s accessory holder. The project takes you through the basics of designing in VCarve Pro, creating tools paths, and running the file with a CNC.

Tooling around

So as to get more practice, I made some revisions to the tool holder to store the accessories I received with my Handibot. I removed the three large holes which hold spare collets, three of the 1/4″ bit holders, and reduced the rectangular recess. I added six 3/16″ holes at the top to hold allen keys and a second slot to hold a 7mm wrench.

Tooling around

The 3/16″ holes were milled first with a 1/8″ single fluted bit. I marked the location of the Handibot by tracing around it. I switched out the 1/8″ bit for a 1/4″ upcut spiral bit. The rest of the tool holder was milled and cut out.

The redesign worked well in that it gave me more practice, but admittedly it is not how I prefer to store tools and accessories. Even though I thought I was thorough in realigning the Handibot with the pencil tracings when switching out the bits, I was still off. Thankfully the design had loose enough tolerances to accommodate a less than perfect alignment.

I CNC what you did there

I make it a point to not purchase a new tool or material unless it is truly needed. The basis for this rule:

  • I do not want to buy a tool that I will not use frequently enough to justify its cost.
  • Often I can use a tool I already have or build a jig to allow the necessary process to occur.
  • Having a limited set of tools puts constraints on my work and constraint breeds creativity.

Recently though I made a purchase which violates this very rule.

I have no need for a robot which can perform routing, engraving, cutting, and milling operations. But I have wanted one since I used a computer numerical controlled mill in my high school engineering class. Creating with a CNC machine provides an abundance of possibilities. The Handibot has an astronomical amount of potential.

My main attraction to the Handibot was twofold. First, I did not have to assemble it. There are many plans and DIY kits to assemble your own CNC for far less than purchasing a ready-made machine. Knowing that accuracy would be paramount in a DIY kit I opted to not go that route. I know others have built their CNC machines accurately and easily, but I do not have the patience to do so.

My second draw to the Handibot was its size. CNC mills range in size from small enough to fit on your desk to large enough to handle a 4 feet by 8 feet sheet of plywood. You bring the machine to the workpiece with a Handibot. While its cutting area is 6 x 8 inches I can move the Handibot anywhere on the workpiece and run a process. I am not sure how often I will mill on a sheet of plywood, but it is nice having the ability without having to dedicate the space to a large machine.


The software installation was fairly straightforward; I followed the dialog boxes as directed. I did have a run time error when I tried to run ShopBot 3 because it tried to divide by zero. Turns out I was supposed to run ShopBot_PRSDesktop2418.

It comes with VCarve Pro which is the design and layout software. PartWorks 3D is CAM software. These two bits of software can either be downloaded and installed from a zip file or with the included flash drive. The flash drive also has ShopBot Design (communicates between the device and computer) and ShopBot Editor (reads and edits the ShopBot files).


After installing the software, I zeroed the XYZ axes as directed. I then ran Shopbot’s version of “Hello World”.

The Handibot carves Shopbot’s logo with a 90 degree V bit. It provides fairly clean edges, but the detail will be dependent on the sharpness of the bit and the material being cut.

All of the fuzzy wood chips could be brushed away with an old toothbrush.

Cutting the birch plywood produced very little dust. I ran the sample twice – once with a shop vac attached to the dust port and once without. In both cases there was no observable airborne wood chips or dust. Regardless, you should always wear respiratory protection, but I am not concerned about my computer being near a router.

With and without a shop vac for dust collection.

On Deck

The main limiting reagent is my lack of knowledge of VCarve Pro. The last time I used CAD, CAM, CNC, or any other engineering software my roommates were my parents. Thankfully Vectric provides resources on how to use the software and there are other tutorials on YouTube and Instructables. My attempts at making some other logos and text in plywood were met with failure. I am sure I will figure it out in due time. Or I will become so incredibly frustrated with it I will sell it on Craigslist. Either way.

I am not sure what projects I will attempt with my new tool. Suggestions are always welcome. I love the promise and bright future it offers.

Router Table Saw

On Router Forums (there is a forum for everything just as there is adult content for everything) a user posted an insert made for the extension on his Ridgid table saw. I have a different router and table saw, but the same desire for maximizing utility in a small garage workshop.

The router table rests on 1/8″ thick angle iron (made of aluminum). The router table has 1/8″ thick flat bar running across a 1/2″ thick plywood bottom. The top is 3/4″ melamine.

The 1/8″ + 1/8″ + 1/2″ + 3/4″ brings the melamine flush with the table saw top. The router top being flush with the saw top allows me to use the table saw fence and miter gauge.

The angle iron was cut to 21 15/16″ in length. The extension arm has a depth of 0.617″. 1/2″ wide piece was removed from both ends of the aluminum angle so it sits in the extension arm groove.

Holes were drilled in the 1/8″ thick flat bar with a step bit. The bars were screwed to the 1/2″ thick plywood. The plywood was mounted to the melamine with screws as well.

A fitted recess was cut in the bottom of the melamine using a straight bit.

Toggle clamps hold the trim router in place. A 1 3/8″ hole was drilled for the router bit.

The space savings and ability to use the tablesaw’s fence & gauge do not make up for the fact the router shifts in use. The torque of the router shifts the table top ever so slightly. Fine if the project has loose tolerances, but not so for something more exact. I may try to remedy this with a heavier router or locking the router top down to the table saw or the angled aluminum pieces.

Maker Camp

Using the magic of the Internet you can attend a geeky summer camp run by Make.  You’ll learn to make rockets, robots, and more.  It is free and starts today.

Got some space junk in your payload bay

The thousands of satellites and other low Earth orbiting objects are cause for concern i.e. they could interfere with other space flights.  To counteract this problem, the Global Aerospace Corporation struck GOLD, or the Gossamer Orbit Lowering Device.

GOLD is a balloon which is affixed to a satellite and then inflated.  It thereby causes the orbit to decay and the satellite to burn in the Earth’s atmosphere.  I am not sure how big of a problem space junk is, or if this is a viable solution, but on the plus side there is finally a use for the leftover Rovers now that Number 6 drove off the island.

Leatherman Micra Key Mod

Several years ago I had the notion to take an old bicycle multitool and replace some of the tools with my house keys.  Due to laziness and a lack of mechanical know-how, I never did it.  Recently I saw the work of someone who had a similar notion.  The journeyman replaced the blades of the Leatherman Micra with his house keys.  Having a spare Leatherman around I decided to replicate his work.

Using two sets of pliers, the screws which the tools pivot around were removed.  Each screw was gripped and twisted until they came loose.  It took a decent amount of torque as the screws are superglued together as well.

After removing the screws and carefully retaining the tool blades, washers, and backsprings which came out, a tool was used as a template to determine how much of the key handle would have to be removed.

Initially I used a Dremel rotary tool to remove the material, but a hacksaw proved to be much faster.  An 11/64 hole was also drilled into the key.

The hacksawed areas were filed and then the tool was reassembled with the keys in place of some of the tool blades.  Initially, I had a key on each side, but this only allowed for one tool on each side. The keys were just a little bit thicker than the tools; enough to prevent two tools and a key from residing on one handle.  Ultimately, there is a tool handle and a key handle.

There is no blade on the tool because I typically carry a separate pocket knife and because the retained tools are generally allowed in areas where knives may be prohibited e.g. government buildings, airports, etc.

The process was straight forward and now I have a small complement of tools with my keys.  If any one else attempts to replicate this let me know how it goes.  The best piece of advice I can offer is to retain the order of the tools and backsprings.  The constraints are rather narrow facilitating need to reorder things carefully.

There is possibility of bending the already hacksawed and damaged key, but if I ever broke it I would not be too concerned.  There are keys everywhere, they are just in the shape of rocks.

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