CNC, JavaScript, Programming, X-Carve

Turn Your X-Carve into a Plug Cutter

One of my favorite aspects of Inventables’s X-Carve CNC router is Easel, their free online carving software. My favorite part of Easel is that it is programmable — you can write apps for it. Apps automate tasks like turning an image into a puzzle, carving gears, or making inlays. Inventables has written nine apps and published another 14 from independent developers, and today, they’ve published my first app, Plug Cutter.

Plug Cutter turns your X-Carve into (wait for it) a plug cutter. What’s a plug cutter? It’s a woodworking tool that creates short dowels that you can use to cover screw holes. Here’s one that Rockler sells for cutting 1/4″ plugs ($16.99):

The Plug Cutter app turns your X-Carve into a plug cutter that can cut plugs in any size. The only constraint is your imagination (and the size of your X-Carve) (and the known diameter of the universe)!

Choose your plug quantity, diameter, and depth, and the app will organize them on your workpiece to minimize waste.

This is what the plug layout shown above looks like after it has been carved:

And this is what the plugs look like once they’ve been put into use:

The app itself is written in about 170 lines of JavaScript. It supports working in inches and millimeters, and it shows the exact cut that the X-Carve will make, depending on your current bit diameter.

You can see the Plug Cutter app’s sourcecode on GitHub, and if you have an Inventables account, you can try the app in Easel by clicking the Apps button and scrolling down until you see Plug Cutter:

If you try it out, post a shot of your plugs in the comments!

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CNC, Home Improvement, Woodworking, X-Carve

Today’s CNC Carving: A towel rack that says Towels

What do you hang your towels on? A plain old towel bar? Ha. A hook on the back of the door? Sad. You drape them over the shoulders of a mannequin like a cape? Ok that’s pretty cool.

But what would be even cooler would be to hang your towels on a towel rack that says “Towels.”

There’s no mistaking what goes on these hooks. Thinking of hanging up a bathrobe? Get out of here, buster. This rack is for towels.

“But there are so many hooks and I only have two towels!” Not my problem. Buy more towels.

If you want to make this towel rack that says “Towels,” head on over to the towel rack project page at Inventables.

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CNC, Woodworking, X-Carve

Garbage Can Cabinet Medallions

Ever since I built our garbage and recycling cabinet last year, visitors to my home have been mystified as to where to throw away their trash, so I made some identifying medallions for the front of the cabinet with my X-Carve.

They’re carved out of red oak (the same wood used for the top of the cabinet) that was planed down to about 3/8″ thick. I stained them with Varethane’s Kona stain (before carving) and finished them with some clear spray enamel (after carving).

The Inventables project is here for anyone interested in making something similar.

 

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3D Printing, CNC, Maker

Functional Print and CNC Carving Mashup: Mini Air-Hockey Pucks

In today’s Don Rickles news, I 3D-printed and CNC carved some mini air-hockey pucks.

We were given a mini air-hockey table this week, but it didn’t have any pucks, and after buying some at Walmart, we learned that the table didn’t use full-size pucks. After five minutes in OpenSCAD and half an hour of machining, I had two replacement pucks ready to go.

The question I know you’re dying to ask: which one is better? According to the kids, the plastic puck has a more satisfying sound, but the wooden puck glides better.

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CNC, Maker, Woodworking

I Made the Bower Power Industrial Tripod Fan

My wife came across this DIY tutorial from Bower Power on how to make your own industrial-style tripod fan, and she loved it. Of course, what my baby wants, my baby gets:

I cut the tripod center on my CNC router because I still need to justify its purchase.  Leave a note in the comments if you want the Inventables Easel design for this.

I should have made the spokes wider because the one that has the grain running across it perpendicularly broke off less than five minutes after assembling the fan for the first time. If it breaks again, I have some ideas about an alternate method for attaching the legs that will be much less fragile.

The tripod assembly before staining.

The tripod assembly after staining. I used 2×6 hangars because the hardware store didn’t stock the long 2×10 hangars. This fan was originally white, but I disassembled it and spray-painted it with oil-rubbed bronze spray paint, although the color looks more like wrought iron.

The finished product. It really blows!

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CNC, Maker, Woodworking

Artisanal CNC-Carved Growth Chart

My kids have been requesting a growth chart, so I made one with my X-Carve. I used red oak left over from when I built our dining room table.

It took three separate carves to get all six feet of numbers and inch delimiters carved since the X-Carve’s workable area is only about 30 inches long. The trickiest part was ensuring that the board was positioned exactly right for each new carve so that all of the measurement marks would remain accurate.

I spray-painted and then sanded the front of the board, leaving the recessed numbers and inch markers a glossy black.

For a finish, I abstained from stain but applied a couple coats of polyurethane so that any pencil or Sharpie markings we make will still be easily readable.

I put an eye hook in each end of the board and then drilled a screw through them to attach the chart to the wall. This seemed like the simplest way to secure the board to the wall but also have very precise control over its position. This ensured that the height markings are accurate, since the chart doesn’t start at 0’0″ because the baseboard moulding would interfere.

I’m happy to report that I am still the same height as I was in high school.

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CNC, Maker, Woodworking, X-Carve

CNC-ing a Stepstool out of a 1×12

My wife requested that I make matching stepstools for our hall bathroom so that the smaller children could reach the faucets. I used the opportunity to design a stepstool that could be carved out of a 1×12 and assembled in minutes.

I used Inventables’s Easel software to design a stool that would be 12″ tall and 14 1/2″ deep.  Everything except the step treads can be cut out of a 30″ long 1×12, which is the longest board that can be carved on the 1000mm X-Carve. (You can make a copy of my plans at the Inventables project page I made for this stool.)

Here’s the X-Carve in action, cutting out the third stretcher. Clamp placement was tricky, but in the end, there were no issues.

Here’s the finished carve of the bottom of the first stool.  Each piece is only held in place by small tabs that snap off and then disappear during finish sanding.

The three stretchers fit into the mortices on each side of the stool, so in just a few minutes, the base of the stool can be assembled:

You could carve the treads out of another 30″ length of 1×12, but it’s easier to just cut them at the tablesaw.  Each tread is 14.25″ long; the top tread is 6.5″ deep, and the bottom tread is 7.5″ deep.

While I was assembling the stool, I clamped too hard and cracked it along a pre-existing check in the board. Just as the Chinese use the same word for “crisis” as they do for “opportunity,” I used this crisitunity to make my first butterfly key inlay.  It’s a method of inlaying a piece of wood with the grain going in the opposite direction to strengthen the cracked wood.

After a couple of coats of paint, you can’t see the butterfly anyway, but I know it’s there.

Here are the finished stools, just waiting for some little kids to stomp all over them.

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3D Printing, CNC, Maker, Woodworking

I Built a Set of Cabinets with CNC-Carved Doors

The area above our washer and dryer (not pictured) was mostly wasted space, so my wife asked me to build some custom cabinets. (Actually, she said, “Can you just buy some cabinets for above the washer and dryer? You really don’t have to build custom ones. I just want something better than this shelf. Anything. “) I designed some cabinets that would use up all of the available space, resulting in a rectangular box about 57″ long, 37″ tall, and 18” deep.

I originally built a single MDF box, but when I realized how heavy it would be, I split it into two boxes so that we could lift it into place without a crane.  Pro-tip: Don’t build something that will weigh a hundred pounds if you’ll have to hold it above your head while you’re screwing it to the wall.

I added boards to the top and bottom of the back of each box to increase stability as well as provide a place to screw the cabinet to the wall.

I saw a tip online about covering the edges of MDF with drywall joint compound to achieve a smoother edge after painting, so I tried that. It seemed to work ok, but it was kind of a hassle.

After painting, I drilled a series of quarter-inch holes two inches apart to allow for adjustable shelves. I originally meant to cut all of these with my CNC router to ensure that they were precisely spaced, but I forgot until after I had assembled the boxes.

We hung the cabinets without any trouble. There would have been trouble if we had had to lift the entire thing up there all at once.

I built the face frame out of thin MDF strips and pocket screws and attached them to the cabinet boxes with wood glue and a brad nailer.

In order to make the doors, I wrote a program that reads a cross-section profile of a cabinet rail and panel, like this:

and tells my CNC router to carve that style of cabinet door in 3D (more on that in a future post). Unfortunately, my wife only wants Shaker-style cabinet doors.  I still carved them on the X-Carve as a proof of concept for more complicated future doors.

The doors are 35″ tall, which meant that I couldn’t cut the recessed panel in a single session, so I had to carve out the bottom half, carefully move the door without losing the x-axis alignment, and then carve the rest.  It worked out pretty well:

FYI, if you’re going to be pulverizing five liters of MDF, empty your ShopVac regularly.

I chose hidden European-style hinges with a half-inch offset. These require drilling 35mm holes in very specific locations, so I 3D-printed a jig to guide my drill press…

…and then promptly drilled all the way through one of the doors. Thank you Bondo for sponsoring this portion of my build:

After I finished repainting, you couldn’t tell at all, and as long as I don’t tell anyone else, no one will ever know. It will be our little secret!

Now that the cabinets and doors are in place, the useable space above our washer and dryer has increased by 480%. Buying finished cabinets with this much storage space from Home Depot would cost about $430; I spent $100 in materials and 11.5 hours of my time (mostly painting, since my paint sprayer was acting up).

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