Makerspace Aluminum Casting Foundry

I arrived at the Makerspace on Thursday without an idea of what I would cast in metal, and in less than two hours I was removing my piece from the steaming petrobond! Check out the fruit of two hours of labor cast in metal!

That’s right! The Milwaukee Makerspace had its first (and second) aluminum pour on Thursday! Thanks to the hard work of several members, the Makerspace now has a fully functional aluminum casting foundry.  The custom built propane and diesel powered furnace melted an entire #16 crucible of aluminum in less than 20 minutes.  Check out Brant’s video to see our fearless foundry foreman leading the two pours!

To get the foundry running quickly, we’ve started out by using a lost-styrofoam casting method.  That is, styrofoam is carved into the desired shape and then a sprue and vents are attached with hot glue(!).  This assembly is placed in a wooden form, and is surrounded by tightly packed petrobond, an oil bonded, reusable sand.   Then, the molten aluminum is poured directly onto the styrofoam sprue.  The styrofoam is instantly vaporized by the 1250 degree Fahrenheit aluminum, which fills the void in the petrobond formerly occupied by the styrofoam. The air and perhaps even some of the styrofoam residue escapes from the mold through the vents.  We’ll be phasing in bonded sand and lost wax casting soon, so stay tuned for those details.

Eventually we’ll be having aluminum casting classes; however, we’re definitely going to be having aluminum pours on alternate Thursday evenings for the next few months.  Join our mailing list / google group to get more details.  Metal pours are spectacular to watch, so feel free to stop by to see the action around 7 or 8 pm, or join the Makerspace and participate!

Laser Badges!

Laser-cut Name Badges

We saw these nice laser-cut name badges on the Pumping Station: One wiki, and thought that Milwaukee Makerspace should have some as well, and Saturday night’s alright for laser cutting so now there’s about a dozen blank badges for people to make their own badges. (And the one test badge I already make for jason.)

Have I mentioned I love our laser cutter?

LEGOlamp

Materials:

  • Clear acrylic tube, 3″ O.D.
  • 4×2 LEGO bricks, 6 per layer
  • Ceiling-mount shade holder (like this one)
  • Hot glue or specialty adhesive (e.g., Weld-On #1802)
  • Template material (flat, at least 6″ square, 5/16″ thick)

Initial considerations:

3″ O.D./2.75″ I.D. tube is appropriate for a ceiling-mount shade holder.  That greatly simplifies the wiring and allows a standard bulb to be used.  Incandescent bulbs get much hotter than CFL bulbs.  Airflow around the bulb is likely to be restricted.  Cooler bulb is better.  Distorted or discolored acrylic is not pretty.

Acrylic tube is not the only option.  Transparent PVC and polycarbonate are also viable.

Spacing between “vanes” is important.  Because the light-source is inside the bricks, they will cast dramatic shadows and restrict the amount of light projecting into the room.  The 3 screws attaching the tube to the shade holder require equidistant holes.  Space must be left for them.

A child may not understand the difference between decor and toy.  A ceiling mount places it out of reach.  The 3-screw attachment should be easily adaptable to other mounts, should they be desired later.

Template illustration

Each brick hinges on the corner nub of the brick below & behind it.  Thus each one is half a brick ahead of the one below & behind it.  Brick edges are straight, so the ends will only touch the tube at their centers.  A triangle, formed by the center of the tube and the centers of connected bricks, has a vertex of 12° (see illustration).

Use a template to ensure the bricks are glued in the correct orientation and spacing around the tube.  The template has brick-shaped holes for already-attached bricks, and indicator-lines showing where the next brick should be placed.

Correct thickness of template

 

 

 

The thickness & rigidity of the template material are important.  In this illustration, the template rests on the red layer of bricks, is held in the correct orientation by the yellow bricks, and supports the new, green, bricks while the glue sets.  If the template is too thin, the leading edge of the new bricks will drop.  Instead of stair-stepping up the side of the tube, the “vanes” will droop and level-off.  If the template isn’t rigid (say, cardboard), it will flex under the new bricks with the same result.  (I used sheet acrylic.)

The correct thickness of the template is equal to the distance from the bottom of the new layer of bricks to the top of the nubs on which it rests.  Note that this is not the same as the thickness of a brick!  It’s the thickness of a brick, minus the height of its nubs, then minus the height of the nubs on which the template rests.  7/16″-1/16″-1/16″=5/16″.

Construction:

The Tube:  How long should it be?  As long as you want.  In my case, I noticed that 6 inches is an even multiple of the brick-height (3/8″ per brick * 16 bricks = 6″).  So my tube is 6 1/2″ long.  The extra half-inch is to accommodate the nubs on the topmost layer of bricks and provide clearance for the shade-holder.  I cut the tubing on a table saw.  The technique recommended by the manufacturer is to raise the saw blade to just above the thickness of the tubing, then rotate the tubing, in place, on the blade.  In my case, I used a cross-cut sled to ensure the cut was perpendicular all the way around the tubing.

The LEGOs:  16 bricks per “vane” * 6 vanes = 96 bricks.  I decided to use equal numbers of each color, so I needed 24 bricks each of red, yellow, green, and blue.  I purchased used bricks and a large LEGO plate in an on-line marketplace.

Don’t cut the red ones!

Because each brick must rotate 12° relative to the brick on which it sits, 3 of the 4 nubs must be removed from one side of each brick.  Important: Decide which way your bricks will rotate before you remove the nubs, and remove the same 3 nubs from each brick!  In the illustration, the red nubs are closest to the tube.  Do not cut those!  Those are the pivots for the bricks that will attach to them.  If you want the bricks to spiral clockwise up the tube, remove the blue nubs.  If you want counter-clockwise, remove the green nubs.  Note: you don’t need to remove the nubs from the top-most 6 bricks.  In fact, it will probably look better (from the ceiling, anyway :~) if you don’t.

My set-up for removing the nubs

 

 

 

 

 

 

I used a rotary tool, fixed in a stand, to remove the nubs.  I used a standard cut-off disc.  I adjusted the height of the tool so that the bottom of the disc was at the bottom of the nubs.  I used a big, green LEGO plate to hold the bricks in place, while I cut them.  The plate allowed me to keep my fingers well-away from the spinning blade, but still manipulate the brick being cut.  I left a gap between the pivot end of one brick and the next brick.  This made it easier to avoid accidentally removing the pivot nubs.  (Note: molten plastic is hot.)  After cutting, the bricks required some touch-up work with a knife, to remove the plastic still attached to the edges.  Also, the nubs are discs that sit atop holes in the brick.  Removing the nub reveals the hole.

Laser-Cut template

The Template:I found some scrap acrylic of the correct thickness. Shane was kind enough to redraw my template sketch as a vector, and show me how to use the Makerspace’s laser-cutter (Thanks, Shane!).  We cut the template in multiple passes.  The first pass included the outline for the “next-up” brick.  Subsequent passes did not.  That produced the desired through-cut with adjacent guidelines.

Template test-fit

 

 

 

 

 

This image shows the template, a short length of tube, and a pair of test bricks (3 nubs have been removed from the red brick).  Notice how the template aligns the red brick, and how the guidelines show correct placement of the blue brick.  Note: The template is resting on the table, not on a lower layer of bricks.  That’s why the blue brick doesn’t rest on the template.)

That’s as far as I’ve gotten.  I’ll post again when the project is completed.

Bay View Gallery Night September 28th, 2012

Several Makers packed up some tools, samples and some very raw materials and set up shop in the Alterra parking lot for the September 28th Bay View Gallery Night.

We rolled in with Matt N’s CNC router and a bunch of his foam architectural pieces, the Makerbot and a few dozen 3d printed samples and after a while had the Replicator fired up cranking out Tardis models (Tardii???). Those were accompanied by a robot from Matt W, some proximity switch-controlled LED strands from Brant, Pete’s Egg Bot and Laser Kaleidoscope and a bunch of Shane’s intricate boxes and laser cut images. Whew! We came with a full crew and more stuff than would fit on our tables. :) We also may have blown the power briefly, but it was an accident, we swear. Even if we did, the sun was still shining for quite a while after that incident.

The surprise hit of our table was the Fruit Synthesizer i put together at, umm, literally the last minute. I was still tweaking it 15 minutes into the event! I used a Makey Makey connected to 2 halves of a watermelon, 2 pickles, a horned melon, a pair of bananas, Max MSP and GarageBand to make a really goofy synthesizer. The Makey Makey is a great little board that operates as a USB keyboard and mouse and lets you alligator clip to any conductive material to make a weird ad-hoc controller. I had intended to have it trigger guitar sounds, but it was way more satisfying as a drum kit, so we kept it set up as a drumkit for most of the night. I loved seeing people jump when they touched the banana and loud bass drum boomed out at them. We had some people coming back several times and bringing more people over to play with the kit. We did a lot of demos where I would high-five someone already connected to the Makey Makey to trigger the drums and one of my favorite uses was the couple that kissed to trigger the instrument. This simple project really engaged people in a fun and quirky way. Not bad for a project i threw out on a lark! We all had so much fun with the Fruit Synth that i am positive it will be making a comeback at future events.

Fruit Synth with Tiny Banana Drumsticks

Aside from goofy fun, we had a couple hundred people rolled through over the course of the night and heard from a lot of people who were interested in the space and have heard about us. We’ve been really focused on getting the word out Makerspace and finding out that a lot of folks are hearing about and interested in Maker/Hackerspaces was really gratifying. We hope to see a lot of new faces at the space in the next couple of weeks!

We learned a few things, too. The first is that the interactive displays were a big hit. The second is that we should bring some stuff to sell next time! There were several families that wrote down “sparkfun” and “makey makey” and many kids who wanted to use a Makey Makey for a science fair project at school. We could have sold a half dozen of them if we had more than the one used for the Fruit Synth. The 3d prints were a hit, too, and we should probably have a bunch of Milwaukee-themed prints on hand to sell to folks for our next event.

Big thanks to Pete for organizing our presence at BVGN, the other artists that showed at the event and the folks at the new Bay View Alterra for hosting us all!

For a few more photos, check out the set Brant posted on Flickr.

Bay View Gallery Night at Alterra

Bay Viw Galery Night 2012

Milwaukee Makerspace is proud to be a part of the Bay View community, and we’re also proud to be a part of the arts community, and when we can combined those things together, it’s even better!

So join us on Friday, September 28th, 2012 at Alterra Coffee, 2301 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. in Bay View for BGVN.

Besides our craziness, there will be over 25 different artists and crafters and makers at Alterra, showing everything from printmaking to painting to jewelry to clothing. There will also be live music and it’s a family friendly event. There’s a heap more info (including who is going) over on Facebook.

And what exactly will Milwaukee Makerspace be doing there? Well, we don’t want to ruin the surprises, but there may be art, or robots, or lasers, or fruit, or plastic filament… or all of those things and more!

So join us on Friday, September 28th, 2012, any time between 5pm and 10pm and see what sort of creative projects we have to show off this time. :)

Arduino-Powered Surround Sound Synthesizer

The Makerspace Eight Speaker Super Surround Sound System(MESSSSS) has been supplying music to the Makerspace for quite a while now, but I identified a problem even before the system was fully installed.  Stereo recordings played back on two speakers are great if you’re in the “sweet spot.” If not, traditional approaches to 5.1 audio improve things, but all rely on there being a single “front of the room.” Unfortunately, it’s not clear which side of the 3000 square foot Makerspace shop is the front, and with four pairs of speakers in the room, even stereo imaging is difficult.

Fortunately, I’ve just completed the Makerspace Eight Speaker Super Surround Sound System’s Enveloping Surround Sound Synthesizer (MESSSSSESSS).  The MESSSSSESSS takes stereo recordings and distributes sound to the eight speakers in an entirely fair and user configurable way, thereby eliminating the need for a “front of the room.” Now listeners can be arbitrary distributed throughout a room, and can even be oriented in random directions, while still receiving an enveloping surround sound experience!

The MESSSSSESSS user interface is somewhat simpler than most surround sound processers, as it consists of only four switches and one knob.  Somewhat inspired by StrobeTV, the simplest mode references questionable quadraphonic recordings, in that the music travels sequentially from speaker to speaker, chasing around the room either clockwise or counterclockwise at a rate selected by the knob. With the flip of a switch, sound emanates from the eight speakers in a random order. Things get considerably less deterministic after flipping the Chaos Switch, adjusting the Chaos Knob, and entering Turbo Mode:  Its best to visit Milwaukee Makerspace to experience the madness for yourself.  I’m legally obligated to recommend first time listeners be seated for the experience.

The MESSSSSESSS is powered entirely by an Arduino Uno’s ATmega328 that was programmed with an Arduino and then plugged into a socket in a small, custom board that I designed and etched at the Makerspace.  The ATmega328 outputs can energize relays that either do or don’t pass the audio signal to the four stereo output jacks.  Care was taken to use diodes to clamp any voltage spikes that may be created as the relays switch, thus preventing damage to the ATmega328 outputs.

As shown by the minimal part count above, using the ATmega328 “off the Arduino” is quite easy:  Just connect pins 1 (The square one), 7 and 20 to 5 volts, and connect pins 8 and 22 to ground.  Then, add a 22uF cap and small bypass cap between power and ground, and a ceramic resonator to pins 19 and 20.  You can even use an old cellphone charger as the power supply.  Boom.  That’s it.  The real benefits of making your own boards are having a well integrated system, and cost, as the Atmel chip is $4.50 while a whole Arduino is $30.  Also visible in the photo are a programming header and the two ribbon cables that route all the signals to and from the board.

Plate & Print

Plate & Print

Remember my post about making printing plates? I finally got a chance to try it out.

I took a sheet of 3mm Baltic Birch plywood and etched it with the 25 watt laser cutter. My design was about 5 inches wide by 6 1/2 inches tall and took about 90 minutes to complete. I etched it at 100% speed / 60% power. (Shane’s etching chart was quite helpful.)

Once the plate was done I had to head out, so I didn’t get to use the press we have, so I ended up just doing a quick test at home and hand burnishing the print, so it doesn’t exactly look great… but this was just a test. Rolling the ink onto the plate worked well, the etching was deep enough to keep the ink out.

I look forward to the next step in this process, trying this print in the real press and seeing how it turns out. I’m also still learning about the sort of paper I should use. The stuff I have now is “fine” and a bit thin. I did get some advice from jason g. who said “Two words: Rives BFK” and that’s all he had to say about that. :)

Oh, and I almost forgot to reverse my artwork before I etched it! Not good… As for the robot, it’s one I drew last year.

Printmaking Plates

Making Plates

One of the things I’d like to try at the Makerspace is printmaking, and since Brent brought in a press, and I’ve got some ink and nice paper, the next thing I need is a plate.

You can use a variety of materials to make the plates, but I’m interested in using wood, and as you can see from the photo above, one option is to use a CNC Router to do the plate. (The one in the photo is at UWM and features one of Frankie’s pizza cutters.) I’m going to first try the laser cutter for making a plate. I’ve got some half-toned artwork which I’ll do a raster etch with, and see how that goes.

If this works (and I’m sure it will, right?) we should be able to make plates that are 12″x24″ on the laser cutter, or 24″x32.5″ on the CNC Router. For anything larger than the press we’ve got we’ll need to make the print by hand, which I’ve seen done, but haven’t tried yet myself.

If anyone has experience with any of this, or wants to work on it together, let me know!

Wraparound Milwaukee – The Block

The Block

In March 2012 Jason H. introduced the group to Jessica Zoch from Wraparound Milwaukee. Wraparound Milwaukee is a unique type of managed care program operated by the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division that is designed to provide comprehensive, individualized and cost effective care to children with complex mental health and emotional needs.

Jason

Members of the Milwaukee Makerspace (led by Jason H. and Rich N.) helped create “The Block”, a work of public art that was hand-constructed by over 50 local youth. We basically did the construction of the piece, which was designed by local architect Alison Carlucci, and the kids all painted individual blocks. (There’s 170 of them!)

Rich N.

The Block is an interactive piece, as each block rotates to show four different sides. Want to see what it looks like? It’s on permanent display outside of the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division.

The Block

I think Jason H. and Rich N. (and all the members that helped with this project) deserve a big round of applause. It’s one thing for our members to show up at the space and work on their own projects, but helping out in the community, especially helping those who are helping others in need, is a good thing, and I think it shows another aspect of what a makerspace (and its members!) can accomplish.

(Also, thanks to David from Korporate-Media for documenting this with photos and video!)