2013 Annual Member Survey Results!

Feedback and constructive criticism can be great tools for planning and managing any sort of endeavor.  Gauging the interests, concerns, and opinions of our group can help us make better decision on how to spend time and money as well as working with each other and the community.  Last month we asked our members to take a survey and share their thoughts with us.  Why do people come to Milwaukee Makerspace?  What do they do here?  What would they like to see more of?  What can we do better?  44 members responded (or about 39% of the total group) and after spending some time slaving over spreadsheets, we published the results.

Two of the biggest questions we asked survey-takers were: 1) What do you come to Milwaukee Makerspace for? and 2) What is important to you?  The following results can be found in our 19 page report, available for download here:  http://wiki.milwaukeemakerspace.org/_media/2013_annual_mms_member_survey.pdf

2013survey-reasons

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Molding & Casting a Prop Bracer

The mold and final cast part.

The mold and final cast part.

As someone who has gone to GenCon quite a few years and knows several of the GMs of major events, I’ve started getting asked to make props…  This year I have decided to expand my experiences in molding and casting in order to make one of the props.  The prop requested was a “Bracer that looks like it is made of Amber – part of the shell of an insect”.  Thankfully I was afforded quite a bit of creative leeway beyond that.

 

In the past I have used Smooth-on products, but one of the members of the Makerspace mentioned they were a distributor for Alumilite, so I thought I would give them a try.  This was my first experience with most of the Alumilite products.

 

I ordered the following supplies:

UMR 12 oz.

Alumilite Dye 1 oz. Red

Alumilite Dye 1 oz. Yellow

Mold Putty – 15 2 lb. Lt. Blue

Amazing Clear Cast 2 gal. Kit Clear

Synthetic Clay

 

Other items I used:

PVC Pipe form

A form made out of a 3″ PVC pipe shaped to look like a human arm.

3” Diameter PVC Pipe – Approximately 18” long

3” Diameter Hose Clamp

Plaster Bandages

Vaseline

Disposable Mixing Containers

Stir Sticks

Steel Wire (to hold the mold together)

Syringe

Drinking Straw

 

I wanted to make a “generic” bracer that would fit either arm, not a right or left arm bracer, so I didn’t want to do a life cast of my arm first – it would be too specific.  Instead I picked up a piece of 3” pvc pipe, cut a section out of most of it (leaving a part connected) and then used a hose clamp to tighten the open end down.  It turned into a really good stand-in for a human arm.  The shape is close enough that it is recognizable, but is not left or right arm specific.  (Note that the screws in the picture were added at a later stage)

 

Once I had the basic form for the arm, I used the synthetic clay to create the shape of the bracer.  I was going for an organic look, so I wanted curves and no sharp edges.  The biggest challenge I had was trying to smooth out the sculpt.  I still need to figure out the right technique.  Sadly, I forgot to take pictures of the sculpted bracer.

 

The form and original covered with mold putty.

The form and original covered with mold putty.

Once I had the sculpture complete, I added some screws around the edges as alignment points.  I was careful to make sure the heads were close to the PVC so they would not get stuck in the molding material.  Then I got to try my first new material – the Mold Putty.  I really liked the idea of it – take two parts, hand-mix, then just push it onto the original.  It essentially worked exactly that way.  I thought the mixed consistency was almost perfect for my application.  Unfortunately, the biggest difficulty is being sure not to trap air in it – particularly when placing a second mixed batch next to an already placed batch.  I ended up with some imperfections in the final mold because of this.  Would I use it again?  Yes, but I think I may also try other approaches – either a box and pourable rubber, or brush-on rubber.

 

The mold with half of the mother mold present.

The mold with half of the mother mold present.

Given the way I wanted to cast the bracer – standing vertically – I wanted to make sure that I was able to hold the rubber mold to the arm form well.  So, using the plaster bandages, I made a two-part “mother mold” for the rubber mold.  First, I coated everything with Vaseline as a release agent, then I covered half of the arm piece with plaster bandaging, making sure the edges were particularly strong, and that the top edge, where I would be creating the second half of the mold, was also quite smooth.  After the first half of the mother mold cured, I then coated the edge of the plaster with Vaseline to make sure the other half would not stick to the first half.  Once I was done placing the Vaseline, I then coated the other half with plaster bandages.

 

Once all of the plaster dried, I used a sharpie and drew lines across the edges of the plaster.  These lines are so that I could realign them easily after I took the mold apart to remove the original sculpt.

 

After I removed the original sculpt, I realized I forgot something major…  A way to get the resin into the mold.  Oops!  After a bit of thought, I decided the easiest way to get the resin in would be to drill some holes through the PVC pipe and pour it in that way.  Ideally, I would have designed pour holes and vent holes into the original design of the sculpt.  Something to remember for the next one!  In order to try to control the fluid a bit better, I used straws to extend the holes out.  Bendy straws would have been good – I’m not sure how effective straight straws were.

 

Using the volume of clay from the original sculpt, I did a rough guess at how much resin would be needed to fill the mold (~12oz).  I measured out 6oz of each of the two parts, added one drop of red and six drops of yellow to one of them, then mixed it.  I used a syringe to suck up the mixed resin and transfer it into the mold.  It worked quite well, although it was a bit disconcerting because of the number of bubbles that were exposed during the suction process.  Thankfully, as soon as the resin reached normal pressure the bubbles disappeared.

 

The raw bracer prop as removed from the mold.

The raw bracer prop as removed from the mold.

The resin takes 24 hours to cure.  24 hours wondering if it turned out.

 

And after that full day of waiting, I de-molded it.  Quite the pleasant surprise!  I think it may have slightly too much red, so I’ll have to correct that for my next iteration.  I’m still debating about sanding and buffing it in order to get it to be more glass-like.

Hackerspace Challenge 2013

Team Milwaukee Makerspace

Last year it was East vs. West, and this year it’s Milwaukee Makerspace vs. some unsuspecting challenger! That’s right, we’ve been chosen to take part in this year’s Hackerspace Challenge put on by Popular Mechanics and RadioShack!

During the month of July our team will be busy building, uh, something, and we may be a bit hush-hush about it until it’s done, but don’t worry, once completed you’ll see and hear all about it! :)

Oh, and this year’s theme is “Turn something old into something new” which you can imagine we’re going to have quite a bit of fun with…

Staying Stocked Up

The idea was simple: make something to help keep track of our supplies so we know when we’re running low on the essentials.  After weeks of kicking the idea around and various rough doodles, this project finally took shape.  Two days after the first cut on the laser cutter, it was complete.


Made from multiple layers of acrylic, cardboard, and wood, the “Milwaukee Makerspace Consumables Super Analog Status Board” is a clipboard-sized device with nine sliders installed in enclosed slots.  Sliding the tabs right displays more green to indicate “full” or “lots” and sliding left reveals the red acrylic below to indicate “empty” or “low.”  The user can carry the board around the Space with them as they check on supplies and when done, a large hole centered at the top allows the board to be hung up and displayed on a wall.

The hardware holding the whole thing together can be loosened and the layers disassembled.  The cardboard insert that the text resides on can be swapped out should we decide to change the list of items we want to keep tabs on.  The supplies being tracked currently include:

  • Toilet Paper
  • Paper Towels
  • Hand Soap
  • Welding Gases
  • Welding Wire
  • Propane
  • Soda
  • Duct Tape
  • Painter’s Tape

A digital version may or may not be planned for future release.

MegaMax 3D printer lives!

After a year’s work designing, building, scrapping, redesigning, building, and working through software and firmware issues, the MegaMax 3D printer is now functional.   It has some common 3D printing issues like printed objects peeling up off the glass printbed.   Tweaked settings in Slic3r, ABS “juice”, and Aquanet hairspray have all been tested with moderate success in attempts to improve adhesion to the printbed.  Finally, have_blue gave me  a block of foam out of the Stratasys printer to try out and it seems to work better than the other methods and doesn’t require heating the bed!  Further experiments to be conducted post-haste.

More info on this project can be found here: http://wiki.milwaukeemakerspace.org/projects/megamax_3d_printer

MegaMax printing on foam from Stratasys printer.

MegaMax printing on foam from Stratasys printer.

Custom Snow Globe

 

Well, I’ve been slaving away on creating a unique X-mas gift for my wife and two-year old daughter, and I think I got it right. They loved it!

I’m talking about a Custom Snow Globe!

A while back, I was working in the driveway on a styrofoam project. Of course, that white stryrofoam dust gets static-charged and STICKS TO EVERYTHING. I also found that the best tool for cutting it was my wife’s kitchen electric carving knife. When I headed inside to take a break and warm up, I was COVERED with styrofoam. My two-year-old girl looked up at me and squeeled “Daddy a Snowman!”.

Indeed I was. I imagined myself inside a snow-globe with styrofoam swirling around me like a snowstorm. But could I actually BUILD a snowglobe that would match my imagination?

I started looking at every snow globe I could find and set to work building one. I looked around and found a glass dome, used for light fixtures. I got two of them, and gave one to my brother-in-law, who is a clay artist, among other things, and commissioned him to make a caricature of me. Since he had one globe, and I had the other, he could make a figure that would fit inside the globe, and I could do the woodworking on the base, and insure that the globe fit that.

I headed to the local cabinet shop and talked to old high-school class-mate Steve about what wood to use for a base. He gave me a maple block, and I grabbed some scrap maple from the bin to practice cuts and routering on. At my Dad’s back-of-the-garage shop, I experimented with routing, until I could get it right, and routed a circle for the base of the glass globe, cut the wood base to length and cut a 45-degree bevel on the top edge, and routed a pocket in the bottom for the electronics.

I wanted to make a “singing” snow-globe, so I bought a singing greeting card at the Hallmark store, and then dissected it for parts. The electronics were then mounted on the bottom of the  wood base, along with a custom switch.

I headed to the Milwaukee Makerspace to use the laser-cutter.

Using the vector graphics program on the laser’s computer, I laid out an inscription for both the top and bottom of the snow globe base. I practiced on a piece of paper, and then when I actually focused the laser properly and had everything else figured out, I wood-burned the maple block, front and back.

I also used a solder station to add the momentary on switch to the greeting card electronics, so that the song would play whenever the globe was picked up to shake up the snow.

Next, was clear-coating the figure and the wood base. I used “Parks Super-Glaze”, a two-part epoxy clear coat used for bars, to completely seal and waterproof both the figure and the base, as well as to permanently attach the figure to the base.

Then, it was a matter to holding the globe upside down, filling it with water, filling the routed circular grove of the base with silicon glue, and flipping the figure and base, upside-down, into the dome of water. Once it was cured, the snow-globe can be flipped right-side-up, gift-wrapped, and put under the tree!

I’m glad to say that the project turned out just great! It was a bit of a stretch to my skill-set, so THANK YOU to the people who gave me a hand with it. Nothing quite like a project that runs the gamut from sculpture to wood-working, electronics, glass, water, laser-engraving, and more! But that’s how we grow… by stretching a little bit more every time!

Merry X-mas

From Ben the Snowman.

Ho Ho Lights

My Husband and I wanted to put up some kind of Christmas decorations in our apartment windows over looking the city. After talking about it for a while, I decided to make lighted letters saying, “HO HO HO” …but since we only have two pairs of windows, it would have to just be, “HO HO”.

In the wee hours on Black Friday, we got the materials: 4 sheets of wood, 4 boxes of 100 count LED lights, and extension cords. After sketching out the design…

…and cutting out the letters…

…it was time to drill the 400 holes and hot glue all the lights in place.

It only took a weekend to make and hang these and I think the end result is well worth it.

MAHRER CHRERSTMAHS

LegoLamp follow-up

There are some issues . . .

It’s not going so well . . .

In a previous post, I outlined the plan for constructing the LegoLamp.  It was good theory, but not really workable.  This post will be a “what I learned,” rather than “look at what I built.”  The picture tells the story.

Legos are rectilinear, the cylinder is not.  Which means the contact between them is a line.  That’s not a lot of gluing surface.  Ideally, I would have cut the brick-end to match the curve of the cylinder.  But Lego are hollow.  Removing that much material would have removed the end of the brick.  I counted on the relatively thick hot-glue adhesive to smoosh, expanding the area of the joint.

The laser-cut template has very tight tolerances.  This was deliberate.  Making the template tight allowed it to serve, in theory, as a substrate for the next layer of bricks.  The tight fit to the current layer of bricks would hold the template perpendicular to the cylinder.

In the background, you can see the hot-glue gun has been retired.  There is a yellow, plastic-razor-holder next to it.  Hot glue was not the proper adhesive for this job.   I installed, removed, and scraped, 3 layers of bricks — twice — before abandoning the hot glue.  The template is so tight, it leaves no room for adhesive.  The glue gets scraped-off and smeared onto the cylinder as the brick is fit.  After the first layer, placing a brick is not merely a matter of fitting it into the template.  The template must be aligned with the lower layer of bricks so that the new brick will snap onto the one beneath it.  The glue is not-so-hot by the time the template is properly aligned and the brick is inserted.  The resulting joint is weak.

I switched to two-part epoxy, to gain a longer working time.  In short, it still wasn’t sufficient.  Five minutes was long enough to place the persnickety first brick of a row, plus 3 more.  Then the epoxy became unworkable, and I had to dispense more.  I wasted a lot of epoxy.  Adding insult to injury, the working time was 5 minutes but the minimum set time was 20.  That means 30 minutes per layer.  Sixteen layers is 8 hours of gluing.  That’s too long.  And, the epoxy had the same smearing and small-contact-surface issues as the hot glue.  Some of the epoxy joints are no stronger than the hot-glue joints (i.e., they fall apart if touched).

The template works as a substrate for the next layer of bricks.  But the etched outline is not sufficient to accurately place that next layer.  When the template is rotated & raised to lock onto the 2nd layer, it doesn’t fit.  The bricks are not placed within the tolerance of the template.  I can’t use the template to support the new layer as the glue sets.  Without that support, the bricks tend to fall out of parallel as the adhesive sets.  This makes the next layer even more difficult to place, stresses the lower layer’s joint in the process, and results in collapses like the one in the photo.  I created support structures from other pieces of Lego.  These work for the initial layers.  But they add to the difficulty of placing a brick.  They can’t be used after the first 5 layers, because there’s no space for them.

Clearly, it’s time to back away from the project and rethink it.

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.