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Converting a Makibox into a PCB Mill – Reprogramming the control board

The version of the Makibox that I purchased came with a printrboard, however I fried that years ago. Makibox shipped me a replacement Print5D D8 controller.

I knew very little about this board, and I wondered how I was going to adapt it for CNC use.

I had some questions:

  1. How do I send it G-Code? Do I need to use the software that came with the Makibox?
  2. Controlling the three axes and endstops was easy, but how would I run the spindle?
  3. After more research about milling PCBs, I found out that using a bed levelling algorithm would give the best results – could the board do that?

After some googling, I found that a kind user had archived all of the original Makibox forums. A post about the D8 firmware lead me to the Makible bitbucket account, which not only housed the original firmware source, it also had the schematics!

Some more random googling yielded another interesting tidbit of information: Marlin has hardware definitions for the D8 board.

The original firmware (from 2014) was based on Sprinter which was forked and became Marlin.

Fun fact: Marlin is also what my Lulzbot Mini uses.

Sending G-Code

I know had an answer to question 1: Marlin appears as a serial device that you can simply send G-Code to. If you have screen installed on your *nix like computer you can just connect (by passing the path to your TTY device) and directly enter G-Codes – although using a G-Code sender is easier.

After wiring up the endstops and motors (only the X and Z because I’m still waiting on the slides for the Y) I entered G28 which runs the homing routine. It worked!

The next problem to solve was driving the spindle. The Makibox schematic revealed the drive circuit for both the hotbed and hotend use a MOSFET to switch a 24V line (using PWM). The MOSFET is rated to 40A, which is plenty to run the 5A spindle I have.

Welcome to 2018

This current firmware is ancient, is tuned to the Makibox build area and doesn’t support autolevelling or controlling a spindle, so I needed to upgrade to the latest Marlin. This was far easier than anticipated.

The board is based on the printrboard which is based on the teensy 2.0++, so the first step is to load the teensy board definitions into the Arduino IDE. Unfortunately, this isn’t via the usual method of adding a URL to the board manager – there is a installable which manually handles installation, and adds a bunch of wizards that, if you have done any Arduino development, kind of get in the way.

Regardless, it allowed me to choose the teensy 2.0+ as a build target.

Next, I modified the configuration.h and configuration_adv.h file with the new build area parameters, and set the various options. A number of these settings hadn’t changed since Sprinter, and I was able to just copy the values. I did have to modify a non-configuration file to allow pin 15 to be defined as a PWM pin.

After compiling, I put the board in bootloader mode by placing a jumper over the boot pins and clicking reset.

Once in bootloader mode I erased the EEPROM and uploaded the binary hex file via dfl-programmer.

sudo dfu-programmer at90usb1286 erase
sudo dfu-programmer at90usb1286 flash Marlin.hex

The spindle parameters took a little bit of trial and error to get right:

To calculate the SPEED_POWER_SLOPE use the formula:

(SPEED_POWER_MAX - SPEED_POWER_MIN) / 255

I decided to use 0%-100% as my MIN and MAX, so the value I needed was (100 – 0) / 255 = .392156863.

Using that range allows me to use different gear ratios and to drive a laser cutter without modifying the firmware.

I have purchased a copy of GWizard which calculates spindle speeds and feed rates, and it will output a power percentage based on the profile of the spindle, which makes the calculation easy.

Screenshot from GWizard

I’m not entirely sure what SPEED_POWER_INTERCEPT is, but I’d guess that it is a way of offsetting the speed. I’m not sure why you would need to do that.

The new firmware has given me the ability to set the spindle speed via M3, M4 and M5 (M3 and M4 do the same thing because the hardware can’t reverse the direction of the spindle), and in theory perform an auto-level – I say in theory, because I don’t have a levelling probe, nor do I have the Y-axis linear slides. I have now followed up with the AliExpress seller to see where they are.

So once again, I’m blocked – but progress has been made!

Converting a Makibox into a PCB Mill – Rebuilding the X-axis

In my previous post, I realised that the 4mm steel rods weren’t going to cut it when milling – they had way too much play, so I promptly ordered two 200mm linear rails (for the X-axis), two 400mm linear rails (for the Y-axis) and two 150mm 12mm linear rods and bearings (Z-axis).

The 200mm slides and the 150mm rods arrived promptly, but there was a delay on the 400mm slides. That, plus me needing a fair chunk of time to measure, drill and tap a bunch of holes meant I parked the project for a couple of weeks.

I finally managed to get a couple of days off while I changed jobs, so I arranged a hot date with my drill press.

The redesigned X axis, and Z-axis

The Tappening

The x-axis slide has four mounting screws which required tapped holes to be drilled into the two horizontal 4040 aluminium extrusions. Now, I’ve not done much in the way of metalwork since year 11 (some 18 years ago) and it took me ages to mark, drill and tap the holes. This was a good warm up for Z-axis face plate.

The face place required a total of 20 holes: four 2.5mm tapped to an M3 and sixteen 5.5mm counterbored to 10mm. It’s not the neatest job in the world, but it is functional. And I only misaligned one hole, which am actually amazed by.

I have stuck with 3D printed anti-backlash nut holders, with the intention of milling them out of aluminium once the mill is completed. This is why they are the shape they are – so they will be easy to mill.

The Z-axis

The same applies to the Z-axis end caps – I added grub screws to hold the linear rail which adds some rigidity – and they will be especially helpful on the milled version.

After doing a fit test it became clear that the motor couplers were too springy (the ones I bought are designed to deal with things being out of alignment) so I’ve now ordered some rigid ones that will eliminate any slop.

I 3D printed a Z-axis carriage to test fit, but it became clear it was too big (90mm tall) which meant my Z-axis would be less than my 70mm design goal. I’ve simplified it to be more box like (easier to mill down the track), and reduced the height to 60mm, by cutting down the flange on the anti-backlash nut, and by making it a two piece part. At this point, I calculate a 78mm of travel in the Z direction.

I now need to fabricate the aluminium face part part, which the carriage and the spindle screw in to.

Curing Meats – Making Salami

Salami's hanging

One of my other hobbies is food. I do a lot of cooking, with a particular interest in slow cooking: I regularly fire up my smoker and cook a pork shoulder or brisket, and I’ve started learning the finer points of sous vide cooking. One thing I have been interested in is curing meat.

My mates Matt and Lachlan also expressed an interest, so we booked to a course at The Artisan’s Bottega. During the course the instructor explained to us that there was only a couple of weeks of meat curing weather left – they need to be done before it got too hot. None of us wanted to wait a whole year, so we – with help from some other friends: Remo and Dan – decided to do our first ever batch the weekend after.

Ordering the meat

To keep things manageable, we ordered 12kg of pork shoulder from Paddock to Table in Laverton (we also ordered 3kg of pork belly to make bacon). Luckily the butcher was himself an experienced salami maker, and knew exactly what we needed. Since I have a Kitchenaid with a mincing and sausage attachment, we opted for it to be boned, but not minced.

Matt and Dan cutting up the meat ready for mincing

Having it boned cost a couple of bucks a kilo more, but meant we didn’t have to do it – saving us a bunch of time. It’s better to mince it fresh though, as minced meat has a much bigger surface area than unminced meat, which bacteria loves. Something that bacteria doesn’t love is curing salt, so we quickly minced the meat, got it salted and flavoured.

Flavours

We did two batches: a very traditional one, and a second moroccan inspired one (global head of flavour, Lachlan was freestyling).

Salami 1

  • 5kg pork + fat
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 5 tbs smokey paprika
  • 5 tbs chilli flakes
  • 1.5 tbs ground fennel seeds
  • 0.5 tbs garlic powder
  • 1tbs ground cumin
  • 150g passata
  • 110g flaked salt
  • 2 cups Sangiovese

Salami 2

  • 5kg pork + fat
  • 2 tbs ground cumin
  • 2 tbs ground coriander seed
  • 2 tbs Hungarian paprika
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 150g passata
  • 110g table salt
  • 1 cup Sangiovese

We were advised to cook up a little bit to test for flavours (which is what you do when you make fresh sausages), but to bear in mind that the sample will taste saltier than the final product (more on this later).

Lunch

Lunch!

The salami kits we got given during the course had enough stuff to make 10kg, so we turned the remaining 2kg of meat into fresh sausages. This turned out to be an excellent idea: not only did it use up the remaining sausage cases I had, it provided us all with a delicious lunch.

Prepping the casings

The kits we had gave us synthetic casings, which we needed to be soaked in water before use – we threw them in a bowl
of water for 30 minutes while we prepped the mince.

Equipment

We used the following:

1. Kitchenaid with the meat grinder and sausage attachment. Use the coarse plate (the one with the bigger holes)
2. Two plastic tubs for mixing the meat
3. An old tennis ball tube and beer bottle to help get the netting on.
4. A metal bowl for soaking the casings
5. Food safe Latex gloves

Cleaning

Bacteria loves raw meat, so we cleaned all of our equipment using a 1:1 mixture of white vinegar and water.

You can apparently also get food safe cleaning alcohol, but we used what we had.

Prepping the mince

Using the coarse grinding attachment on the Kitchenaid we ground the meat into plastic trays – 5kg in to each.

Matt Mincing the Meat

Next, we sprinkled the regular salt and curing salt, poured over the sauce and combined. You really need to combine the meat well – the mixture should be quite dense. Use a grabbing action, and don’t forget to scoop up the meat from the bottom of the tray to make sure it all gets a good massage.

Our instructor gave us a handy hint: if you grab a handful of meat and hold it upside down, it should stick to your hand.

Stuffing the casings

Lachlan and Remo stuffing the casings

Using the sausage attachment on the Kitchenaid, we filled each casing. This is a pretty crucial step to get right, as there can be no air with in the sausage – air breeds bacteria. While the sausage attachment did an ok job, there are dedicated sausage stuffers that looks like a massive syringe that will do a much better job.

Tying off

The final step is to tie off each sausage. As we were using synthetic casings, one end was already closed, so we only needed to do one knot. We first pinched the end to get out as much air as possible, then twisted to give us a spot to tie the butcher’s string.

The knot will be used to hang the salami, so make sure they are tight – we used an under and over technique, so there was around three single knots, finishing with a final double knot. Leave enough string to create a loop.

Give the end of the casing a little rinse in water to get rid of any meat that may have lodged there.

To get out any extra air, we also tied a string around the middle of the salami and pulled it tight (the synthetic casings are pretty strong – I imagine the natural casings wouldn’t take as much pressure). Tie the string off.

Netting

The final step before hanging is to put the salami in netting. This helps keep the pressure on the salami as they dry and shrink. The netting is quite difficult to stretch, so putting it on without the assistance of a tool is really difficult. There are plastic tools you can buy to help, but we didn’t have one, so we improvised with a tennis ball can and a long neck beer bottle.

Our tennis ball contraption

We took the end caps off the tube, placed the base of the beer bottle at one end and slowly pushed up the neck of the bottle, past the body and on to the tube – leave a bit of netting hanging off the end.

Drop each salami through the tube – it should catch the netting that is hanging, allowing you to pull it through, encasing the salami in the netting.

Cut the netting at the end – be careful not to cut the string!

Repeat for all the other salamis

Hanging

Matt hanging the first salami

I have an enclosed garage, which I don’t park a car in, so we hung them up there on a piece of wire.

We were told that it should take about six-weeks.

Things to look for

Of course, like most cooking, time is just a easy proxy for doneness – having actual indicators is a much better system,

Weight: During the two weeks the salami lose a lot of moisture and should drop around 30% of their weight and visibly shrink. If that doesn’t happen you may have air in the centre which has rotted the meat.

Hardness: the loss of moisture also causes the salami to get hard.

Junior Salami maker, Hugo, testing the salamis for hardness

At the end of the six weeks they had both shrunk and got really hard, so I pulled them down and cut them open.

The opening

I sliced each open either side of the middle tie, and cut the ends off. I was looking for a nice dark red colour – brown or grey is bad.

I had a suspicion that the casings has dried out – a problem caused by low humidity, and cutting them open confirmed that. Some of the casings had lifted from the meat at the end, and the meat had gone off at these points. So I discarded those sections. All in all we lost about two salami worth – not a bad yield for first timers.

Taste test

The traditional recipe was good, but nothing spectacular – it probably had a little too much fennel. The Moroccan inspired recipe was delicious with a nice heat to it. Both were possibly a little too salty.

The finished product

Things to fix

Avoid spoilage – We need a proper sausage stuffer. The sausage attachment on the Kitchenaid is not ideal, and curing meats is way more prone to bacteria infection than fresh sausages that are cooked with in a couple of days.

Dry casings – there is possibly two issues here:

1. More humidity. Looking at my graphs my garage humidity was too low: around 50-60%. I’m looking into building a curing chamber so I can control that (and the temperature) with science.
2. Using synthetic casings – they are more plasticity than natural ones.
I suspect the humidity is the main culprit here, so I’ll stick with the casings for the next batch, so as to not change too many dependent variables.

Improve efficiency – I would also like to get a clamping gun to ensure all the ends are properly sealed, which should further reduce spoilage. I would also look into getting a netting tool, because trying to get the nets on is a pain without one.

Converting a Makibox into a PCB Mill – Building the X-axis

Re-designing the X-axis of my Makibox to PCB mill conversion has been a challenge in constraints. Due to an ordering mishap, and lack of engineering designs for the spindle I have been racking my brain to re-use the parts I have to create a workable X-axis.

The three constraints I have to work with:

  • The spindle can’t be too low – I want at least 70mm of vertical travel
  • The spindle can’t be too high – The further the cutting tool is from the centre of the holder, the more torque it needs to deal with
  • The spindle can’t be too far forward – I’d like the cutting tool to sit as close to the centre of the frame, so it can reach the full range of motion. The shaft of the spindle sits around 40mm from it’s mounting plate, which puts it out nearly 80mm when you include the Z-axis linear driver.

I looked at mounting the stepper motor on top of the vertical extrusion, but it failed constraint 3. It also gave me no where to mount the top steel rod. I toyed around with moving the steel rods but centred either side of the lead screw seems the best place for them.

I settled on a design where the motor hangs off the side of the vertical extrusion, with the steel rods mounted either side.

Render of the original PCB Mill X-Axis design

The test build

After printing motor and bearing holders, and the carriage I put everything together. I held the spindle against the carriage to get an idea of placement, and it became clear that the 4mm steel rods were going to flex too much under load.

Photograph of the PCB Mill X-Axis

They would be fine for a 3D printer or as a laser cutter, but even the small forces from a PCB mill bit would cause issues. It was time to replace the rods with something more robust.

I jumped on Aliexpress and found these 200mm linear guides that have a 12mm steel rod, and support for the full length, so bending should not be an issue.

I also decided to replace the Y-axis rods with the 400mm version of the linear guide. This will remove the flex in the bed and will make alignment easier (the three points of contact design I used was difficult to square).

While I was at it I ordered some plain 12mm rod, and linear bearings for the Z-axis for good measure.

A substantial redesign.

I have one 205mm cross bar, which a perfect support for one of the linear rails – I’ll need another one. I’ll also need another two, taller vertical extrusions to hold the cross bars. The two shorter vertical extrusions will hold the motor.

Here is a rough render without any joining hardware so you get the idea.

Render of the redesigned PCB Mill frame

I’ve had to move the vertical extrusions to the rear of the frame (which is fine, there are still two connection points there), giving the spindle plenty of room.

I’m going to design and print some new motor and bearing mounts for the X and Y axis. They will be much simpler as they no longer need to support the steel rods.

The rear support for the Z-axis will be 10mm aluminium, as I can get the supplier to cut it to the required 138mm length. The end caps – which act as a motor holder and rod support – will be plastic to start (I don’t have facilities to mill aluminium… yet). My intention is to mill replacements once the machine is complete.

Converting a Makibox – Building the Y-axis

I’ve now built the aluminium frame and completed the Y-axis. Of course, this was not without it’s problems.

Firstly, I misordered – I was one set of uprights short. This may not be a massive problem though, as I hadn’t taken into account the size of the spindle when designing the X-axis, and it wouldn’t have fitted in the configuration I had designed for – That’s what you get for forging ahead with out good engineering drawings.

Other minor issues were easily fixed by reprinting some parts – I added limit switches into the motor and bearing holders (though I haven’t worked out how to make the switch on the bearing holder work yet), I made the driver carriage wider so the whole anti-backlash nut fitted completely and I changed the shape of the passenger carriage so it could slide over the entire stroke.

A render of the new Y-Axis

Everything went together quite well – I did my best to square everything up, using a shim I printed – the holders may not be exactly in the middle, but they are all consistently out, which is the main thing.

I was a little concerned that both carriages were rotating around the z-axis, but realised that was because they weren’t joined yet, so there was only two points of contact, rather than four.

To fix that, I cut out a 205mm x 205mm MDF spoil board, and attached it using a 0.33mm feeler gauge squared it against one of the uprights.

I’m not sure I can do more alignment without having a X-axis, which requires a redesign.
See the video below for the test! (Excuse the upright video – I need to get an iPhone holder)

IKEA hacks: A microwave interface for the Duktig kids kitchen

The finished product

Hugo just turned one, and to celebrate we bought him a Duktig kitchen from IKEA. Like everyone else we painted and added fake subway tiles, but I wanted to take it a bit further and add a working microwave panel.

Hugo is obsessed with pressing buttons and turning knobs – We were staying at an AirBNB recently that had a microwave that you controlled using one big knob and he loved it – so I thought I would model that.

I ordered a 4-digit 7 segment display, a rotary encoder and an aluminium knob, which I planned to run off an Arduino Nano.

Rotary Encoders

A rotary encoder looks a lot like a potentiometer, however they work quite differently. For starters, there is no limiter so they rotate through a full 360 degrees.

But the main difference is how you interface with them: they output a digital code called a Gray code. Named after Frank Gray, it ensures that one-bit only ever changes at one time so we can be sure of the direction the shaft turns.

Of course, the library we are using hides this from us, so all we care about is the value that comes back.

The encoder I’m using also has a push button, which I’ll use to start and stop the timer. The library also abstracts this.

The display

The four-digit seven-segment display has a built in driver chip that means we only need two pins to drive it: a clock and data. Again, there is a convenient library that deals with pushing data to the board.

Buld progress

The LEDs

I had six yellow LEDs that I pulled out of the night light I gutted to make an interim night light, so I repurposed them for this project. As the draw a total of about 120mA when on, they can’t be driven by the Arduino directly – I’m using a BC547 transistor to drive them.

The speaker

I added a cheap, 8 ohm streaker than I’m driving directly off one of the Arduino digital outputs. There is a tone library that turns a GPIO on and off quickly enough to create a tone. I maybe regretting this already though – it can get quite annoying.

Sleeping

This microwave controller needs to be battery operated. To do that without costing me a small fortune in batteries, the controller needs to turn itself off. Luckily, the Arduino Nano supports a deep sleep which reduces it’s current draw. The Nano can then be woken up by a pulse on either pin 2 or pin 3.

By feeding the signal from the rotary encoder and the switch into those pins, any rotation of button pressing will wake up the processor.

There is a slight problem though: there are two pins on the rotary encoder, and one on the switch: we need another input.

Or do we?

Rotary encoders have a physical “click” (called a segment). On the particular encoder I have, each click goes through a complete Gray code cycle, meaning there is a guaranteed two logic level transitions on each pin per segment. And, if you have ever watched a small child spin a knob, you would have noticed that their developing fine motor skills result in big rotations. In this case I can happily take the output of one of the encoder pins, and be confident that it will always wake.

So, the switch is wired to GPIO 2, encoder pin A is wired to GPIO 3 and pin B is wired to GPIO 4.

The Controller Schematic

The code

There are four main parts of the code: reading the encoder, the display code, the code that puts the MCU to sleep, and the interupt handler that wakes it back up again.

Most of the heavy lifting for interfacing with the encoder and display is done by two libraries.

The encoder library uses polling rather than hardware interrupts (which is good because I would have run out of interruptible pins). Every millisecond it checks the state of the encoder, and can work out if it has been spun or not. This library exposes the delta, we we use to increment or decrement the display.

The library also provides a callback that is fired on button clicks. Each clock toggles the running variable and the returns control back to the loop.

The display library at it’s lower levels takes four bytes – one for each number. Each bit of each byte represents a segment of the display. Thankfully there are some helper methods to display common things like numbers.

You can download the code on Github.

The loop

Because all of the inputs are handled via interupts, the loop just needs to deal with updating the display.

The left variable represents the number of seconds remaining. The first thing to do is adjust it if the encoder changed. We simply add the delta to it. Note that his happens regardless of whether the timer is running or not – this means you can add or remove time even when the microwave is running.

If the timer is running and the LED is off, I turn it on (and vis-e-versa).

If the timer is running the variable automatically gets decremented every 1000 milliseconds.

If the variable is 0, the timer stops and I display the word end and sound the beeper. (The LEDs will also go off)

The display routine gets called every 500ms. Why every half second? So we can flash the dot to show that the timer is running!

The build

I was hoping this would be a quick weekend project, so I threw the circuit together using perf board. Of course everything always takes longer than you expect, but it kind of worked out well, because the perf board made the feature creep easier to deal with.

I 3D printed a “case” though my printer’s build area was too small to cover the whole area, so I made an MDF backing plate. Pro tip: don’t use pin to mark construction lines: paint won’t stick to it. Also: prime MDF – it absorbs paint like no body’s business. What should have been two coats required four.

Power

During testing I realised that there were LEDs on both the Arduino and the display that stayed on regardless of whether the Arduino was asleep or not. I measure the power draw whilst sleeping at it was sitting at about 15mA. A AA battery has a capacity of around 2400mAH, so a set would last around 160 hours or 6 days.

Clearly that is too high.

I removed the LEDs and that brought the draw down to 2mA, which buys me 1200 hours or 50 days. Better, but not amazing. Unfortunately, the Nano isn’t great as a lower power device. If I could be bothered removing the chip from the perf board, I could remove the FTDI drive and power regulator and probably claw back a bit of quiescent current.

I have ordered a boost converter so I can run the board off two batteries at 95% efficiency rather than the four at the moment so I might just use a couple of C cells which have 8,000 mAH capacity (nearly half a year).

See the microwave in action!

Converting a Makibox – Aluminium frame is done

I’m pretty happy with how the aluminium frame has come together. I’ve kept the X-axis pretty simple, though I tried a few iterations before coming to this shape.

Originally I had the vertical X-axis supports butted on the top of the horizontal Y axis base, but I was concerned with keeping the vertical… vertical. I could have used right angle brackets, but decided that by putting them in the inside of the base, I can add additional points of contact that would better support them. This configuration also gives a slightly larger base, so should make it slightly more stable. They are now attached in two dimensions which effectively works like a right-angle bracket.

The motor mount and bearing mounts are pretty simple, bridging the two verticals on each side. I toyed with running the bolts in a horizontal extrusion that would stop them from slipping down, but that would stop me from adjusting the heights when tramming.

On the topic of adjustments, I’m starting to regret the dual-carriage design, as there is an extra dimension that needs to be aligned – not only do I need to align the X, Y and Z axes, I need to make sure both slides are exactly parallel. I’ve bought a digital dial indicator which should help in squaring everything up – we’ll see how that goes.

I now have a complete bill of materials for the frame:

Qty Description Length
3 40×40 Aluminium Extrusion 285mm
4 40×40 Aluminium Extrusion 260mm
2 40×40 Aluminium Extrusion 401mm
1 40×40 Aluminium Extrusion 205mm
16 8mm Square Washer
32 16x16x6/M8 Square nut
32 M8x16 Button Head Socket Screw
8 End cap 40×40 Black

The order cost me just shy of $200, which already takes me over my $250 budget, but I’ve been reconsidering how much I’m spending, as I assumed I could use my Dremel 4300. After a bunch of reading, I think I’ll need to by a different spindle that has less runout.

Hugo’s Nightlight: Modelling and Printing the Mold Master

Initially I thought about mounting the electronics in the back of the H, trying to fit everything in the footprint of the mold. But if I could get lights on the back, there would be some cool effects I could achieve. To get a consistent glow, the LEDs would need to be wedged in the middle of the H.

This did make mounting the PCB difficult though. I decided that I would mount the H on a small plyth that would house the electronics.

Autodesk Fusion 360 can extrude type, so all I needed to do was pick my type face. I wanted something childlike (not Comic Sans) so I went with Titan One.

Next, shelled, then mirrored to form the two halves. I added some alignment holes, to make gluing easier and finally created some nubs that will act as anchors for the plyth. The nubs were printed as separate parts so I didn’t need to print supports.

Printing

Each of the two halves took around 2 hours to print. Of course, because of how FDM printing works, the result was pretty streaky. The silicon I had literally talks about how fine detail it is, so I would need to do something about the streaks.

My dad used to make scale model aeroplanes, and I always remember him filling the joints with wood putty and then sanding to get a smooth finish, so I thought I would try that.

It turns out the gaps were just too big, and using a water based putty while wet and dry sanding meant the putty would come off.

Next I tried an auto sealer that was supposedly sandable. This didn’t work either because it was too rubbery.

At this point I spent AGES wet and dry sanding, starting at 80-grit and worked my way up to 240 before I found out about auto primer/filler.

This stuff is designed to cover up small scratches in car body work, and is sandable, allowing you to get a really smooth finish.

I did two coats, and sanded with wet and dry, 400 grit, and then a final coat before finishing with an 800 grit. It worked really well. It also saved a lot of time – sanding to a smooth finish is hard.

Turning a Makibox into a PCB Mill

You might remember the Makibox A6 – it was a sub-$400 3D printer that, like a lot of cheap printers at the time, was crowd-funded. It took forever to deliver, and there were a lot of problems with it.

The MakiBox A6LT

Personally, I managed to print a single cube on my first print. On my second print something went wrong and I blew up the control board. I suspect because of the stalled extruder motor. The extruder needed replacing, as did one of the plastic lead screws (that was my fault – I over tightened it).

In the process of trying to get the parts replaced, the delivery got lost – they claimed it had been delivered, but I hadn’t received yet. While trying to work this out, I had to quickly move interstate for work. To make matters worse, the company that made the Makibox disappeared around the same time, so I resolved myself to writing off the printer.

I decided to move to Melbourne permanently, so I flew back to Perth to collect my belongings – included what was left of the Makibox – and jammed it into my car for long drive over the Nullarbor.

And there is sat almost four years – dejected, in a cardboard box in my workshop.

On a recent trip back to Perth, my mother handed me a package which a person I worked with have given her. Apparently. it was delivered to the office years ago – so I had no idea what it was.

Low and behold, It was the replacement parts from my Makibox! Well, this was a sign. I put the parts next to the printer, as I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it. I had an M3D printer which was pretty terrible – maybe I could frankenstein the two designs and get one printer out of them?

Fast forward a couple of months – I come in to a bit of spare cash after selling off my time tracking application, and I decide to bite the bullet and buy a real 3D printer – a Lulzbot Mini. After setting it up and kicking out a number of awesome prints, I placed the M3D next to the Makibox. I now had a collection of old, cheap and not very good printers. I had to do something about that.

Upcycling a Makibox

The Makibox has some decent steppers and screws in it (the M3D really doesn’t – half the problem really) so I started looking at the parts and wondering if I could convert it to a PCB mill. Ideally I’ll eventually want a proper mill that can do aluminium and stuff, but I reckon I can cobbled together something good enough to grind a few hundred micros of copper off some fibre glass. Bonus points if it’ll drill through holes.

What’s the worst that can happen? I have a broken Makibox?

Research

I’ve been doing some research into PCB mill designs over the past couple of weeks, and I’ve decided to go with a fixed gantry design (based heavily off the cheap Chinese machines). This means I only need three motors, and three lead screws.

I’m giving myself a $250 budget for the conversion.

Due to the existing hardware that I want to reuse, the actual build area for this machine will be relatively small, so I’m hoping that will help with the rigidity of the system (smaller builds should be stronger than larger ones). Given that this PCB mill gets decent results with a wood base, I’m feeling pretty confident we can get some good results with this.

Stocktake

  • 4 x NEMA 17 sized motors (Longs: 17HS 42BYGH 1.8°)
  • 1 x 218mm T8.8 (8mm diameter, 8mm travel per revolution) trapezoidal lead-screw
  • 1 x 165mm T8.8 trapezoidal lead-screw
  • 1 x 147mm T8.8 trapezoidal lead-screw
  • 2 x 226mm x 4mm steel rod
  • 1 x 170mm x 4mm steel rod
  • 1 x 164mm x 4mm steel rod
  • A bunch of cap hex screws
  • Plastic couplers
  • Plastic anti-backlash nuts

The plastic anti-backlash nuts are surprisingly good – I can’t detect any backlash (with the naked eye). The injected plastic piece has some thread that acts as a preloader – quite clever really. Regardless, I decided to order some metal anti-backlash nuts – I’m not sure how the plastic will hold up to the additional force of milling.

I also ordered some aluminium couplers (to replace the plastic ones), LM4UU linear bearings (to slide on the steel rods), and round bearings to hold the lead screws. Total cost so far: $79.68.

Everything else looks useable (at this stage) – I’m a bit concerned that the steel rods aren’t straight enough, but I’ll run with them for the moment.

I’m going with 4040 aluminium t-slot for the frame. I’ve found a Melbourne based supplier so I should be able to get high-quality stock quickly (and cut to size!). But before I order them, I’m going to design the mill in Fusion 360 so I can test for fit and size.

You can see the render of the Y-axis here:

Render of the Y-Axis

The X-axis will be a (wider) copy, rotated 90 degrees. The Z-axis will still need some thinking.

I will print the motor bracket, bed and bearing holder on my Lulzbot Mini. This is is the cause of the weird design – it needs to fit in the 150mm x 150mm build envelope of the 3D printer.

Based on the dimensions from Fusion 360 the design should allow a Y-axis travel of around 168mm 156mm (Update: I didn’t take in to account the linear bearing width). I still have to work out the X-axis travel.

Hugo’s Nightlight: Part I

Long before Hugo was born, I had hatched a plan to build him a nightlight. Originally inspired by this, I decided to go for something less fragile – a simple H with some RGB LEDs.

Just before Hugo was born, I added a LIFX bulb to our bed side table, and added some Flic buttons that gave us better control on the lights. Using a Node Red flow, I setup the light to go to 5% brightness on a single click, 20% on a double click and a 2 second hold set the light to 100%. This worked really well: if we wanted to check on the baby, we could just single click, and get enough light to see him without waking him.

The downside was if the Flics stopped working we needed to use our phones, so the second requirement was a hardware switch to turn the light on and off. It should have configurable single, double and hold actions.

After Hugo moved to his own room, I wired up the same LIFX and Flic setup, adding a slow fade to the lights, so as to not startle the little fella when the lights switched on or off. I wanted the night light to do the same, so it would need some sort of tweening library.

Finally, a mate of mine was telling me about his kids grow light that turns on in the morning to let the child know that it’s time to wake up. I thought it would be kind of fun to have a cute sun rising animation. I thought about adding an alarm feature in to the light, but decided that I can do that using home assistant and node red, which saved me adding a Real-time clock and having to deal with times and other such nonsense.

Giving these requirements I went and ordered a tape of WS2812B LEDS from AliExpress ($12 for 100!) and got to work.

Making a plastic H

I needed a translucent H. My first thought was to try the usual places to see if there was something I could buy off the shelf. There was a few places that sold acrylic signs that would have been suitable, but they weren’t quite what I was looking for. I really wanted a completely milky white H with the LEDs embedded in the middle.

Well, I have a 3D printed, could I do something with that? I went in a hunt for translucent white filament. It turns out (for reasons I will discover later) that isn’t a thing. Odd.

I picked up some light blue translucent filament and did a small test print, but the print came out really streaky. Not what I wanted.

Then I remembered reading about resin casting. What if I could print a master, cast a mold in silicon, then cast the whole thing in resin? A quick Google for some tutorials and it sees plausible – in fact a bunch of people embed LEDs for cos play jewellery.

The problem is, all the examples I see are clear. You can get pigments to embed in the resin, but a white translucent one alludes me. Hmmm.

At this point I decided to go in to the local Barnes (a store that specialised in casting and other craft stuff) and had a chat with the staff. Apparently white translucent is really hard. The lady I spoke to thought that I might be able to get the effect I want by using a really small amount of pigment. Like, really small (she says that fully opaque happens at about 2%).

I buy a starter pack which has the 500mL of pink silicon, 500mL of resin and a bunch of measuring cups, containers and stirrers. I also bought some modelling clay and some spray on wax as I needed to make a two part mold. Unfortunately, this stuff ain’t cheap – all up it cost me $150.

Next step: Make the master.

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