Wednesday, June 23, 2010

CNC Machine Build - Part I

I've started a 'little' project that promises to take up most of my free time (what little there seems to be of it at the moment) - I've decided to build a CNC machine.

To be honest, I've had gadget lust for a CNC machine for some time now... all the talk on the blogs about Cupcakes and Makerbots and RepRaps got me looking into CNC machines some time ago. I could never bring myself to spend the money on one though since they're a little pricey. The cheapest options that looked any good were the Zen Toolworks machines, which came with stepper motors but no power supply, controller boards or router/spindle. The cheapest of these can be got from Amazon for under 350 dollars. Still, it only works on a 7"x7"x2" area. The next machine up is around $600 and works on a larger area of 12"x12"x2". At this price I get a little scared and only being able to carve a foot is a little disapointing.

Anyway, I held off for ages but then came across these plans at which detailed the construction of a CNC machine that would cost a little bit more than the larger zen toolworks one (all inclusive), would use mostly materials from Lowes or Home Despot and also promised to be pretty easy to follow (a definite bonus for me, since I chose to do needlework and cookery rather than woodwork and metalwork when given the choice at age 13...). I've seen lots of online instructions for building various types of CNC machine (like this one, and this one, and this one... well, you get the idea), but they all left me a bit confused and unconfident about being able to build something worthwhile.

The promise of the solsylva plans were enough to make me order the 25"x25"x7" plans to see if they were idiot proof enough to give me the confidence to get started.

I received the plans a few weeks ago, read them over and then excitedly started to spend money on wood, bolts, washers, screws, pipes, all thread (threaded rod), forstner bits and skate bearings. So, yes, they appeared to be detailed and simple enough for me to follow from start to finish.

I like the fact that the solsylva plans allow for someone who doesn't have a truck. The wood measurements are for planks 8' and smaller, which fit fine in my little Nissan disappointment (with the back seats down). Recently I've been taking advantage of craigslist in order to pick up a few power tools on the cheap. I got hold of a drill-press ($50) and a miter saw ($60), which have been very useful so far. You'll laugh at me, but they were a bit intimidating to use at first - especially the miter saw. I kept having these images running through my mind of flying fingers and trips to the ER (in my defense, the miter saw is very loud). After a bit of practice I've become flamboyantly reckless much more confident. I'm definitely enjoying learning the new skills involved.

The pictures at the start of this post are the main base of the machine, put together over a few hours on the weekend. In the picture below I've added the X-rails and X-stepper motor support (this was done on the following weekend).

So far, it seems that things are going well. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Upcycling: wine rack to doll bed

We found this little wine rack in the local thrift store (savers). Lin thought it'd be cool to turn it into a bed for the kids baby dolls. We bought an American Girl doll crib ages ago at a garage sale that was made of plastic and it inevitably fell to pieces... So the idea of the girls playing with a more sturdy one that I'd made was appealing, especially since they had a lot of make believe fun with the old one.

The idea was very simple: Take the rack apart, stick it back together again with some wood-glue for added strength, cut out a base, screw this on and then paint.

I was going to make a crib by adding doweling bars between the cross beams, but the way the rack was put together made this a bit too fiddly so I decided to just replace the bottom beams and make a baby bed instead.

I sanded the pieces to get rid of some of the murky dirt. Then I painted on some wood-glue to the ends of the beams, reattached them and left it all to dry overnight (with a toolbox weighing it all down from above so that it'd set straight).

I used one of our "new" purchases (a very old scroll saw) to cut out a base. Very straightforward really, just measure the distances on the wine rack, mark those out on some wood and then cut.

Ooo look, a rectangular bit of wood ;)

I drilled out holes at the points where the new base board met the cross beams and then fixed the base to the frame using some wood screws.

Then I let the kids paint on a layer of primer. I think they quite enjoyed it.

After the primer had dried I painted on a coat of gloss. Hopefully that'll keep it in good condition for a while.

I wasn't sure if the kids were taken with it or not until the next morning when a couple of their friends came over for a play date. "Dylan! Dylan! Come and see! I've got something AMAZING to show you!" cried Carys. To be honest I wasn't sure what she was going to show off, but was very touched to find out that it was the baby bed we'd made. Poor Dylan was a little bemused as to why she was so excited ;)