Friday, 27 September 2019

My Newest Ongoing Project: Making Unique Parts

I have a side project that is a niche of a niche.  In fact, that sums up the larger idea.

I make unique items that simply can't be found anywhere else, and I'm giving people an opportunity to be part of the process. My latest project? I'm working to digitize an object that simply doesn't exist online as a 3D model. It's antique pistol grips, specifically later-model P.08 Luger grips -- so-called "Black Widow" models so that they can be 3D printed.

Give it a look! If you'd like to follow along with the process, become a Patron!

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Ironing 3D Prints Can Work, But Have Lots of Top Layers

This spot is the hottest on an iron of this make.
3D printed objects with large flat areas can have their looks improved by ironing the top surface, which is a feature in Cura.  This is done by running the hot end over the top of the print, to help smooth it into a smooth surface.

It is also possible to literally iron a print with a clothes iron, which I tried in a few different ways. It works, but there are some gotchas.  Here is a short list of my observations:
  1. A medium setting on the iron is better than the hottest setting.  My iron was at about 80-90 degrees Celsius.  Too hot, and the plastic softens too quickly and you lose control.
  2. The tip of the iron is where heat is concentrated. The middle and bottom are considerably cooler.
  3. Use a sheet of parchment paper between the iron and the print, otherwise you risk plastic softening and sticking to the iron.
  4. Move quickly, and inspect the results.  Treat it like spray painting, where many thin applications are better than one heavy one that may go overboard.
  5. There is no need to "press down" on the iron. Just let gravity do the work. Concentrate on being even.
  6. Make sure you have plenty of top layers in the print, and a good infill doesn't hurt either. 
The picture below was after ironing with three top layers. The thin top softened and thinned in the ironing process, and you can clearly see the infill pattern below it.  The surface is smoother (and shinier) but it also thinned and weakened, especially near the edges.
This is an example of a surface that was ironed smooth, but the top layers were too thin.  It's smooth all right, but it's also very thin and weak, and the infill pattern is showing through.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

How to Mark Delrin (Acetal), Even Though Nothing Wants to Stick to it

Nothing sticks to Delrin (acetal), so it's not easy to paint or label.  Or is it?

One easy and reliable way to mark is to use a simple technique common to laser cutting. Shallow cuts or engravings are covered with paint, then the excess wiped away.

What happens is that any paint that got into the shallow cuts stays there, resulting in a mark the same color as the paint.

Acrylic paints tend to work best.  They are water-soluble (as long as it hasn't dried) and is a usually a bit on the goopy side which tends to help the process.

But to be successful, one must be able to cleanly wipe away ALL the excess from the surface.  It's no good if the paint leaves a smudge or a stain.  It needs to come away completely while leaving the filled spots behind.

The good news is that even though acrylic paint won't stick to acetal (also called Delrin), this technique works great for two reasons:

  1. The paint in the marks is being physically held there, inside the shallow cuts.  It doesn't depend on the paint "sticking" to the surface.
  2. Wiping away excess paint completely (the key to success with this method) is super easy to do.  Because paint doesn't want to stick to Delrin, the excess wipes off no problem.

Monday, 10 June 2019

Get Low-Power Mode Payoffs, From a $6 Board

Sparkfun has a new part, one that I almost can't believe didn't get made by someone sooner.  The Nano Power Timer is just under $6 and makes it easy to take just about any microcontroller project (Arduino or anything else) and effortlessly give it a hardware low power mode, all without needing to mess with any low-level microcontroller programming.

Here is how it works: the switches on the board set a time delay. During this time, the Nano Power Timer sips barely 35 nanoamps but the catch is that power to your circuit is completely cut off.

Once the timer is up, power is applied to your circuit and it will turn on to do its job (read a sensor to decide whether or not to do something more, for example.)  Once it is finished doing whatever it needs to do, a GPIO pin signal to the Nano Power Timer's DONE pin is all it takes to go back to sleep and reset the timer to do it all over again. It works on any voltage between 1.8 and 5 volts.

Low power operation is the difference between viable and non-viable for some projects. Not everything can be plugged into the wall all the time and not everyone can easily make low-power modes work.  A board like this is a great companion to a solar charger solution, as well.

Monday, 6 May 2019

How to Visualize 4D Objects

A 4th spatial dimension (meaning not "Time" but instead a 4th axis (W) in addition to X, Y, and Z) is completely non-intuitive and difficult to comprehend, but there are some amazing resources to help you do exactly that.

First is a short video from the maker of an in-development game. It does an excellent job of describing how 4D navigation might appear to a 3D entity (like ourselves.)

Trippy, isn't it?

There is also a somewhat more in-depth and detailed (but still very accessible) two-part video series. Here is part one, which covers some fascinating essentials and is all about Perspective:

And the follow up about visualizing 4D geometry:
If you're thinking you can't really wrap your head around it, don't worry because no one else can either. But it's fascinating nonetheless.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Worldwide Hardware Design Contest for 2019 Opens

The Hackaday Prize has been running every year with a different spin, and this year it focuses on HARDWARE.

Anyone can make one of something, but making a hundred or a few thousands of a thing requires a different set of skills and represent the next step for "making something".  The good news is that those skills can be taught, learned, and there are resources available for making it happen.

The 2019 Hackaday Prize has almost $200,000 up for grabs, and all you need to get started is an idea, an image, and some documentation. So get started!

Thursday, 14 March 2019

How to Make a Lithophane (3D Printed Photo)

Lithophanes are solid plates of varying thickness, which show an image when lit from behind.  Think of them as a carving, where the thick parts are dark and the thin parts are light, so it can make a picture.

Today, it's possible to use 3D printing to crank them out fairly easily but there are a few easy tricks for getting the best results.