First lesson of ANY type of shop is: clean your tools!!!

As a side project, I’ve been working to miniaturize and create in acrylic a cam and gear box I ran across in a book on automata and mechanical movements.
Cam box in wood

Tabs in the original plans accounted for the actual thickness of the acrylic (.220″); tab-depth was adjusted accordingly to ensure none of the tabs extended past the edge of the joining sides. The first prototype was cut from paper-backed display board. Not an ideal material for prototyping: the laser cut cleanly through the top layer of paper but not the bottom. Additional attempts were made using slower speed, higher power, and/or multiple passes — however, the foam core tended to melt anywhere from 1/16″ to 1/8″ into the pieces, raising concerns that they would not give me a true sense of fit, due to compromised structural integrity.

Foam board prototype

for the press-fit exercise, I modified plans for the bottom support beams to make them fully inter-lockable.
Mod sketch

Comparison of original and press-fit SVGs
Three attempts were made to cut the press-fit box: two in plywood, and one in masonite. Plywood attempts failed to cut completely through the wood. Pretty, but useless.
plywood try

The Masonite trial was my first experience with Flaming Things In The Laser Cutter.
Ooo, crap!

Root cause — a previous student had used a plywood with high sap or glue content. Thorough cleaning of lens and mirror eliminated the charring, but no luck with full-depth cutting (1/8″ masonite, so well within tolerances of the Epilog). Inspection of the machine suggests that a full maintenance cleaning and calibration is due.

While I do not have a box to show, I did learn this week that the word “kerf” comes from the Old English cyrf, a cutting, and has been used to designate the amount of material lost during cutting since pre-industrial times. Early sawmills used large cutting blades with kerfs exceeding 6 inches. Spontaneous explosions due to a saturation of airborne sawdust was common.

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Ready to begin.

Notebook created in preparation of the Fab Academy classes.

The image is a vinyl rendering, used with permission, of a piece created by William Schaff.

This piece, like so much of his work, speaks the gentle susurration of Hope and Courage. It is a theme you will see repeated throughout his years as artist. His work says again and again: Your struggles are understood. Your sorrows are shared. And the flaws you may wish to shamefully hide are, in their own right, beautiful. These are not words of Forgiveness, but something even more powerful: Acceptance.

In his larger works, Mr. Schaff stands face-to-face with the incomprehensible and manages to render tiny moments/movements of it in line and shadow. His images are handles that allow people to grasp hold of and begin to move such tornadic immensities.

Men and women around the world, who have never met him, tattoo his works on their skin for this one inexpressible reason: his works comfort like arms around the inconsolable. They are balm for wounds too deep to speak. They have been for me. It is a fitting tribute to a man who has the sorrows of a generation tattoo’ed on his own skin, to have his prayers for its’ healing tattooed on theirs.

Of course, words fail to capture the resonance of his voice. I encourage you to take a look at his work.

For those of you near Rhode Island, Mr. Schaff, along with friend and contemporary CW Roelle, will be speaking at the opening of an exhibition of new work, “Comfort and Loss,” on February 9th in Warwick, RI. Additional information is here.

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Nuisance and the mother of invention…

This one was born out of the perennial nuisance I’ve had in web-chatting. I have a laptop camera but often chat from my desk computer… or from somewhere entirely in the room, and I’d have to find curtain or lampshade or set up a tripod to get it all working. The C-clamp tripod I had on hand; the remainder was random hardware I scrounged up from around the house. Biggest challenge was finding screws short enough and nuts to fit THOSE. The squares on the far right are felt furniture pads, and yeah, the thing on the far left is a heavy-duty picture / mirror hanger:
The stuff

The creation:
The creation

The Beast, compiled:
The beast

The C-clamp camera mount allows for a wide range of angle and placement and the camera itself rotates 360° horizontally and about 15° vertically, so I can fine-tune the actual angle. As a very important added bonus — I get my nose so deep in any given project that I frequently forget to snap pictures of each step. Frustrating when putting things together, but truly problematic when I’m taking things apart. Now I can record exactly how many times I forget to stop and document my process.. :)

In action 1

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New on the bookshelf.

All links lead to Amazon out of convenience. Please consider using used or independent sellers —

– – – – –

Making Things Move, by Dustyn Roberts

507 Mechanical Movements: Mechanisms and Devices, by Henry T. Brown

Automata and Mechanical Toys, by Rodney Peppé

Cabaret Mechanical Movement, by Aidan Lawrence Onn & Gary Alexander

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I’ve been working to finish up a couple of promised collaborative elements before the all-hands mayhem of the Fab Academy begins. Have been recording the toy pianos in various places. Of particular interest was a hallway in my building. The structure is 3-storys — the top 2 floors was a single house, built in the 1870s, which – in an act of architectural peculiarity – was lifted in 1930, and a 3rd floor constructed *beneath* the existing house. The net result for this adventure is a semi-open, 3-story staircase constructed of aged hardwoods and plaster. The echo is fantastic. Setting up and tearing down during the brief moments the building is empty — not so much.

Solution — tiny computers and long cables:

Equipment —

  • Lenovo Nettop 40814AU
  • Griffin iMic external soundcard
  • Sony ECM-DS70P microphone
  • One trusty – if slightly misused – mini-camera tripod.

  • Where I record determines the computer I can use. Using the iMic lets me get a consistent sound regardless of machine. Certainly makes audio clean-up a lot easier.

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    More process – Brian Dettmer’s studio

    I’ve been a rapt fan of Brian Dettmer’s work for some time, so I was excited to run across a short piece on his studio and process. Enjoy.


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    Pleased and excited to announce: acceptance into MIT’s 2012 Fab Academy

    I am quite pleased to announce that I will a member of MIT’s 2012 Fab Academy. From the website:

    The Fab Academy is a Digital Fabrication Program directed by Neil Gershenfeld of MIT’s Center For Bits and Atoms and based on MIT’s rapid prototyping course, MAS 863: How to Make (Almost) Anything. The Fab Academy began as an outreach project from the CBA, and has since spread to Fab Labs around the world. The program provides advanced digital fabrication instruction for students through an unique, hands-on curriculum and access to technological tools and resources.

    Learn to Turn Codes into Things
    Just as communications and computation went from analog to digital, resulting in PCs and the Internet, the digitization of fabrication is leading to personal fabricators that will allow anyone to make almost anything, anywhere. The development of digital fabrication is based on creating codes that don’t just describe things, they are things, much as proteins are coded in molecular biology.

    Curricula includes —

  • how to use Fab Lab’s digital fabrication tools for rapid prototyping:
      Epilog Mini Lasercutter
      Roland MDX-20 Milling Machine
      3D printer
      Roland CAMM-1 Servo GX-24 Desktop Vinyl Cutter
  • electronics design and production by producing circuit boards using a variety of sensors and output devices
  • how to program AVR microcontrollers on the boards they have produced
  • molding and casting
  • 3D scanning and printing.

  • Shehecheyanu.

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