CNC, Maker, Woodworking, X-Carve

8-Bit Emergency Kit

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you wished you could escape from your problems? Well if you had this 8-bit emergency kit, you could grab the hammer, smash your way to a P-Wing, and fly away.

For the uninitiated, the hammer and P-Wing are items from Super Mario Bros. 3., one of the greatest games made for the original Nintendo Entertainment System. The hammer lets Mario break rocks in the map, and the P-Wing allows him to fly for an entire level (but only a single level).  It’s a very useful item, but it’s also very rare, so it must be saved for just the right occasion. Let me walk you through how I built this.

Like all good things, this project started with a board of quarter-sawn red oak.

I chopped and sliced the board until I had these six pieces.

I glued two of the longer pieces together to make the back of the box, and I mitered the ends of the rest of the boards for the box sides.  I cut a groove (not pictured) in each of the sides to accept the back of the box.

The photo above is a dry fit. Because the box holds the glass (“glass”) front captive, I couldn’t glue it up until the very last step.

I originally made a mushroom out of Perler beads to use as the power-up, but it didn’t seem worthy of emergency use. Nobody was ever psyched about getting a mushroom from a Toad House.

I decided to make a P-Wing out of wood instead.  I cut a pixel grid on some oak with my X-Carve and then cut out the P-Wing shape on the bandsaw.

A splash of paint and the P-Wing is done. The P-Wing looks superimposed on this photo because it’s sitting on the top of a bottle, not floating in the air.

I made the hammer head the same way, by carving a grid on the X-Carve and then cutting out the real shape on the bandsaw.

I don’t have any bits that could cut two inches deep, and cutting the edges on the bandsaw resulted in sharper corners.

In order to attach a handle, I cut a 15/16″ hole through the hammer head.  Reenactment pictured below.

I filed the top of the hole to flare it out so that the handle would fit better as I pounded the wedges into it. (I also took some liberties and cut a space between the hammer claws, even though it’s not clear from the game that the hammer has separate claws.)

I apparently forgot to take any pictures of the handle-making process, so you’ll have to take my word for it that I used part of a broken broomstick, rounded the ends, cut an X in one end, and then pounded walnut wedges into it to secure the handle in place.

(This video explains the process of using wedges to attach a hammer handle.)

This was my first time successfully making my own wedges for a hammer and my most successful X-shaped wedging.

The last step for the hammer was to coat it with clear enamel.  This really made the contrast between the walnut head and the birch (?) handle pop.

I decided to use this project to make a spline-cutting jig and cut splines for the first time. It went better than expected!

The splines are walnut so as to match the hammer.

I originally wanted a vinyl sticker for the “In case of emergency label,” but I don’t have the means to make one, and ordering a single custom sticker from a sign-maker would have been cost-prohibitive.  So instead, I cut a little placard on the X-Carve.

To mount the sign and P-Wing inside the box, I used epoxy to affix two more pieces of the aforementioned broomstick. I used epoxy instead of wood glue because this joint involves end-grain, which doesn’t always adhere well with just glue, and I don’t want these joints to fail since there is no way to fix them without breaking in to the box.

You can see in the above picture that at some point, I cut a groove around the top edge of the box to accept the glass front, which is really plexiglass because I was going to be sending this box through the mail and I didn’t trust it to arrive unbroken. So if there is an emergency that merits breaking the glass, you’ll have to hit it really hard.

I mounted the sign and P-Wing to the ends of the broomstick dowels with epoxy as well.

At this point, the bottom two corners of the box are glued together, and the plexiglass front can go in. But first, I needed to figure out how to attach the hammer to the box.

After poking around in my spare parts bin for a minute, I made a simple hook out of two pieces of a wire clothes hanger.

I drilled holes into the bottom of the box and epoxied the hooks in place. I also added a picture-hanging hook, although I’ve been exclusively using 3M Velcro strips to hang things for about three years.

You can see in the above picture that I glued the top on, effectively securing the contents of the box forever. That’s not true, I lied. Instead of using wood glue on the top corners, I used hide glue. Hide glue has the useful property that it can be loosened with heat, so if the box ever does need to be opened for repairs or some nefarious purpose, the owner could heat the top corners with a heat gun or hot water, and the top of the box should come loose.

Here’s a shot of the finished splines and hammer hook.

And a shot of the hammer in place.

And the final product.  I sent it to a friend who needed something to jazz up a newly renovated space, and I can only assume that upon hanging it up, he installed a spotlight to showcase it and a velvet rope to protect it.

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CNC, Maker, Woodworking

I Built an Infinity Wishing Well

A few weeks ago, my wife mentioned that she’d like me to find something to cover the septic tank vent in the front yard. I had strategically placed a bird bath next to it two years ago, but I guess people were still able to see the vent.

Where I’m from, when we have a problem we can’t get rid of, we cover it with a wishing well. So I volunteered to build a wishing well… but not just any old wishing well. Keep reading to learn the secret of the well.

I started off with some rough-cut 8/4 cedar.

I cut one of these 2x12s into three boards, each about 3.5″ tall and 1.75″ thick, to use for the base of the well.

From the boards, I cut eight matching pieces (each with a 22.5º miter on each end) using a miter sled I made for the occasion.

I used biscuits and glue and clamped the octagonal base together with a tie-down strap.

At the lumberyard, I also bought a handful of 6′ 1×6 fence boards. I cut each of these into six two-foot 1x3s. Some of the boards were drier than others.

I screwed the cut-down fence boards into the inside of the base, four on each side. I elevated them about half an inch so they wouldn’t have end grain in direct contact with the ground.

I repeated the process I followed for the base to make a collar around the top of the fence boards, and then I added two roof supports. Each support has two 45º miters at the top.

The lip of the well will be octagonal as well, but with the wide sides of the boards facing up. Two of the sides must be notched to fit around the roof supports, so I made a template out of cardboard.

Seven of the lip pieces are biscuited and glued together. The seven-piece part and the remaining piece are each screwed to the roof supports. More on why it’s assembled this way later.

I chose to alternate the wood colors around the lip, partly because I liked how it looked and other-partly because that was the most efficient way to use the boards.

The roof frame comprises two triangles, one attached to each vertical support.

I attached the triangles and added rafters made from leftover fence boards.

Every wishing well needs a place to hang a bucket, so I made handle and spindle out of a scrap of cedar and an old clothes-hanging rod from a closet we remodeled.

I shingled the roof with cedar shingles I picked up with the lumber, and the well is good to go!

Or is it?? (Oh, I also finished all of the weather-facing wood with some spar urethane before continuing.)

This well’s secret is that when you peek inside, you won’t see the aforementioned septic vent. You’ll gaze into an endless simulated abyss, your brain fooled by just a pair of mirrors and a string of lights. Ha ha! Stupid brain!

This illusion is known as an infinity mirror. There are many tutorials online for building these mirrors, but I do believe I am the first person to combine one with a wishing well.  I’ll wait while you rush to create a Wikipedia entry for me, now that I am most definitely notable.

I added supports for the mirror about three inches below the bottom of the lip.  The lip had to be removable so that I could insert the mirror, and, if necessary, remove it later.

The mirror base (and all of the rest of the parts) were cut on my X-Carve CNC router.

The second layer of the infinity mirror is a standard round mirror, twenty inches in diameter. I got this mirror (and the glass for a later step) custom-made by my local glass shop.

The interior of the infinity mirror is two layers of 3/4″ plywood with an octagonal opening (to mimic the inside shape of the well) plus a piece of quarter-inch plywood on each side with a circular opening that fits around the glass.  I glued all of these layers together and then painted all of the interior edges black.

I drilled a hole in one corner where the LED light strip will enter the mirror.

After fitting this section over the bottom mirror, I threaded the LEDs into the frame and used the adhesive backing to attach them around the edge.

Once the LEDs were in place, I added the top mirror, which is actually a two-way mirror. I bought a round piece of glass and applied silver privacy film to one side, creating a mirror that you can look through from one side. On top of this mirror, I added another 3/4″ plywood octagon, a sheet of plexiglass to protect the glass from errant footballs, and a final quarter-inch octagon to hold the plexiglass down.  With the lights on, this is what the mirror looks like at this point:

But what is controlling the LEDs, Chris? Surely this wishing well is not plugged into the wall! That would ruin the illusion!

You are correct. I did not plug the well in to the wall. The LEDs are powered by a battery pack that I inset into the bottom of the standalone lip side. Here’s a shot of it before I attached it to the well:

The battery pack is also a motion sensor, so the lights inside the well automatically turn on whenever someone walks up to it (and turn off 30 seconds later). See for yourself:

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CNC, Maker, Woodworking, X-Carve

Introducing the Fintendo: My Bartop Arcade Build

I have fulfilled the greatest dreams of my childhood and built an arcade machine that plays my favorite games from the Nintendo, Super Nintendo, and more.

There are many very good tutorials on the Web on how to build your own bartop arcade, so I won’t be going into a ton of detail. I mainly followed this tutorial from I Like to Make Stuff and this one from The Geek Pub.  The basic steps are to get a Raspberry Pi computer, load RetroPie onto it, buy some arcade buttons, and make it all fit into a box.

I already had a Raspberry Pi that I won at That Conference a couple of years ago, but I got my buttons from Amazon. The set came with enough buttons and joysticks for two players to each have eight buttons plus a coin and player button.

The LEDs inside are powered by the USB connection to the Raspberry Pi.

For all of the non-rectangular pieces, I cut them out using my X-Carve. This was especially helpful for all of the button holes, since they were not the same size as any of my drill bits.

After getting the holes cut in the control panel, I wired up the entire system and made sure that it worked. A couple quick rounds of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out confirmed that everything was copacetic.

For the monitor frame, I cut a window the exact size of the screen, then an inlay that would cover the bezel, and a deeper inlay for the area where the screen’s buttons are so that they wouldn’t get pressed by the frame.

Doing the frame this way hides the fact that the screen is a monitor, something that lots of other builds don’t do. I don’t want to be taken out of the moment by a distracting monitor logo and LED light. Ugh! An LED, can you imagine??  I did drill tiny holes in front of each button so they can still be pushed using a paperclip, but the holes became almost invisible after I painted the frame.

The monitor is attached to the frame by a board screwed into its mounting holes. I didn’t do this exactly right, so check one of the linked tutorials for a better example.

I followed The Geek Pub’s example, and attached guide strips where all of the sides needed to be attached. Then I glued and nailed the sides to the guides.

Lots of bartop arcade builders order custom vinyl graphics for their cabinets. I decided to go low-tech and painted a simple retro design on the cabinet and control panel in the same colors as the buttons.

Instead of going the usual route of a translucent graphic on plexiglass for the marquee, I carved a custom Nintendo logo bitmap into some quarter-inch plywood. I did this with a halftone-generator app I wrote for Easel, but it hasn’t been published for general use yet, so I can’t link to it here.

I covered the back of the marquee with red paper so that the logo will appear red when an LED light is mounted behind it.

I lined the marquee box with reflective tape to increase reflectivity. This was probably unnecessary.

The front panel holds the Coin and Player buttons for each player. Coin doubles as Select, and Player is the same as Start.

I also mounted a pair of USB ports on the front panel to allow for easy connection of a keyboard, thumb drive, or USB controllers.

All of the electronics plug into a power strip that feeds out the back of the cabinet.  I was originally going to use the speakers built into the monitor, but they didn’t have nearly enough power, so I stuck some external speakers in the cabinet too.

To allow for heat to vent out, I carved a number of holes into the back in no particular shape.

I also ran some t-molding around all of the exposed plywood edges. This really gave it an authentic arcade feel.

You can find instructions online for loading games onto the Pi, but it goes without saying that you should only use games that you already own a physical copy of.

The final step: invite the kids to play so you can inevitably step in and show them up. Done and done!

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Automattic, Christmas, CNC, Maker, Woodworking, X-Carve

An Automattic Bowl

For part of the gift I sent through the Secret Santa exchange at work this year, I decided to make a bowl with the Automattic company logo inlaid in the bottom.  I’ve never made a bowl or done an inlay before, so this was definitely a wise decision that would not backfire.

I started by using my X-Carve to carve out a deep recess in some walnut to receive the inlay.  The plan at this point was to have the inlay visible on both the outside and inside bottoms of the bowl, so I carved it about an inch and a half deep to give me plenty of room for error. (<– Foreshadowing.)

I cut the inlaid pieces out of some maple, since it would have a natural contrast with the dark walnut.

I glued the maple in, flattened the surface, and cut the walnut to a roughly circular blank on the bandsaw.

I mounted the blank on the lathe and carved the outside profile of the bowl. Because I made the blank by gluing two pieces of walnut together (top to bottom), I added three decorative grooves: one on the seam to hide it, and one on either side for good measure. The grain lined up well enough that it’s hard to tell that it’s not one solid piece.

The lathe chuck I was originally going to use would have tightened around the tenon.(In the photo above, the tenon is the protruding portion on the right side that contains the inlay.)  Unfortunately, it broke, and the chuck I ended up using (shown below) needed a recess to expand into, so I cut all of the tenon off (and then some). Because of this change, there wasn’t enough of the inlay left to have it visible on both the inside and outside of the bowl.

I hollowed out the inside of the bowl, being careful not to go too deep.

After finishing the bowl with Watco Danish oil, I let it cure, and then I mailed it off to my unsuspecting coworker along with some treats to fill it.  If he doesn’t like corporate wooden dishware, I hope he at least likes American candy.

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Christmas, CNC, Woodworking, X-Carve

I Made Some Animal Stools

I made four little animal chairs for young family members this Christmas:

The process for each chair was basically the same: cut out sides on the X-Carve, cut the seat and seatback on the table saw, and screw them together. I hand-painted the elephant and unicorn, and I finished the whale and otter with Danish oil and spray enamel.

If you have an X-Carve and would like to make these, I’ve published projects at Inventables for the otter, elephant, and whale. (The image that the unicorn chair is based on is not freely licensed, so I am not publishing my project for that chair.)

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Christmas, CNC, Maker, Woodworking, X-Carve

Making Name Puzzles with the X-Carve

For a couple of the younger kids on my Christmas gift list this year, I made name puzzles with my X-Carve.

The puzzles are made out of Baltic birch plywood; the letters are 1/4″ thick and the base is 1/2″ thick.

I cut out the letters of the name (and some additional puzzle pieces) with a very small bit (1/32″), so when the letters are placed in the puzzle, they have a total of 1/16″ of play.  This is probably the maximum allowable play before the pieces start to feel loose.

These letters were from a proof-of-concept puzzle that I didn’t end up finishing, but you get the idea.

I carved the puzzle piece insets 1/8″ deep and rounded the corners of the base.

On one of the puzzles, I also included the logos of the Minnesota Wild and the Minnesota Twins. I gave the Wild logo some depth by carving out one of the areas that was a single color. This made it easier to paint too.

After painting the pieces, I gave them and the bases a couple of coats of clear enamel.

Which piece goes where???

I hope that the kids like these for now, and when they get older, they can glue the pieces in place and use these as wall or door hangings.

If you have an X-Carve and want to make these puzzles (or variations thereof, if you don’t know a Minnesotan child named Justin), the Easel projects are here (Justin) and here (Alyssa).

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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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