I’ve updated Robert Indiana’s iconic sculpture “LOVE” for our times!  While “Love” may have been an appropriate sentiment from 1964 to 1970 when the 2D and 3D versions were made, I think that the revised text is more appropriate for the 2000’s and 2010’s. Fear is 8” tall and 4” deep, and while not a monumental outdoor sculpture, FEAR appears fairly sizable on a table top.

Fear, which is solid aluminum and weighs over 7 lbs, was cast last Thursday with quite a few other pieces.  The great thing about having an aluminum foundry at the Makerspace is that the whole thing cost about $7!  – $4 for propane, $1 for Styrofoam, and $3 for some Rotozip bits.  If FEAR were cast in bronze, it would weigh over 20 lbs, which would cost $200 for the metal alone.  As it is, we melted down old heat sinks, stock cutoffs and hard drive frames, so the metal is essentially free.

In the spirit of Indiana who made his own font, I drew FEAR up in Inkscape using Georgia Bold, but I increased the height of the Serifs a bit.  Shane helped me with the file manipulation and G-code generation (Thanks!), so I could use the CNC router to cut FEAR out of styrofoam.  I exported FEAR’s hairline thickness outline as .dxf so it I could bring it into CamBam to generate the G-code. The outer contour of FEAR was selected, and the following settings were chosen:

  • General -> Enabled -> True
  • General -> Name -> Outside
  • Cutting Depth -> Clearance Plane -> 0.125 (inches)
  • Cutting Depth -> Depth Increment -> 1.05 (inches)
  • Cutting Depth -> Target Depth -> -1.05 (inches)
  • Feedrates -> Cut Feedrate -> 300 (inches per second)
  • Options -> Roughing/Finishing -> Finishing
  • Tool -> Tool Diameter -> 0.125 (inches)
  • Tool -> Tool Profile -> End Mill

Identical settings were chosen for the inner contours of FEAR, with the exception of General -> Name -> Inside.   Then, I just selected “Generate G-code.”  Check out the real-time video of Makerspace CNC router running the G-code and cutting out the 1” thick Styrofoam (Owens Corning Foamular 150).

After cutting four 1” thick pieces, they were stacked and glued together.  I buried the foam FEAR in petrobond, and then attached Styrofoam sprues and vents.  For a more complete explanation of the quick lost-styrofoam casting process, check out this post.   Stay tuned for details of our next Aluminum pour, which will be in January in the New Milwaukee Makerspace!


M1 and M2



If you saw Shane’s post Submission for the 100 Square Feet of Art Charity Event you probably wondered if anyone else managed to create a piece of art for the event, and if they too used the laser cutter. The answer to both questions is “Yes!” and here are the two pieces I created, M1 and M2.

There’s an in-depth (and potentially boring) post about these pieces over on my blog titled Two Square Feet of Art. Enjoy!

SAGA: Semi-Automatic Gmail Assistant

My friend Rob is a smart engineer, and throughout the course of a work week he receives dozens of requests for his assistance on various projects.  He’s such a positive and helpful person that he finds it difficult to say “No.” to any of these requests.  I’ve helped him out by making a USB device that can provide a clear and simple email response to some of these requests.  SAGA, or Semi-Automatic Gmail Assistant, is approximately the size of a mouse, and plugs into a computer just like any mouse or keyboard would.  Here is the first prototype:

SAGA comes complete with a key lockout feature that prevents accidental activation. Once a worthy email request has been received, Rob can calmly make the call whether or not to arm SAGA by inserting the key, and rotating it clockwise 90 degrees.  After rotating the key, an octagon of LEDs lights up around the chrome button, enticing Rob to press it.  The extra illumination from the LEDs also further highlights the artfully coiled wiring that fills the prototype SAGA.  When the button is pressed, SAGA sends the keyboard shortcut to respond to the email and types out “Go F*** Yourself.” at a respectable and slightly humorous 200 wpm.  After waiting a half second for dramatic effect, SAGA automatically sends the email.  Note that there is a 1% chance that SAGA will instead respond “That’s a Great idea, I’ll get right on it!”

SAGAis powered by a Teensy 2.0 and $15 of electronics parts.  SAGA appears to the computer as a standard keyboard, and some helpful startup hints I followed appear on RasterWeb! and here.  One enabling trick was using a 2n2222 NPN transistor to drive 140 mA into the eight LEDs (connected in parallel), as this value exceeds the current available from any one of the Teensy’s outputs.  Note that keyboard shortcuts must be enabled in Gmail settings, and that Yahoo! Mail is also SAGA compatible. Upon moving an internal jumper, SAGA is probably compatible with some versions of Outlook (although installation of service pack 3.0 may be required).

Due to popular request by the few folks who have seen SAGA in action, I’ve built up a few, and they are for sale now on Etsy.  Check out the aesthetically pleasing, high gloss powder coated aluminum enclosure! Here is SAGA in high-speed yellow:

Alternate colors are available too – Just follow this link to Etsy!  

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?



  • 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″.


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.