Stepper motor & Acrylic gear play

Here at SpikenzieLabs, we’re always on the lookout for interesting and fun components.  We got these in a few weeks ago.  It is a small stepper motor and driver board.  They sell together for $7.95.

One of the cool things about this stepper is that it runs at 5v, and the current to drive it is low enough that you can take the 5v right out of the Arduino.  After playing around with one of these little steppers with the usual piece of tape on the spindle, I thought it would be cool to laser cut some gears.  Here is a look at my project. The first step was to draw out a hole in the center of a gear that would accept the spindle.  Careful measuring done with a digital calliper, then designing the hole in my illustration software.  The lines are extra bold just so that they show up more clearly.

The red line is the actual cut line, large black circle is the center of the gear spindle drawn by the gear drawing software.  The smaller circle is there to help make sure everything is ‘center-center’ while moving elements around. A long time ago, I discovered this site: There is an interesting gear drawing capability right on the site.  For a mere 26$ dollars, you can buy & download his GearGenerator3 software.

Really awesome, simple and fun to play around with. Using this software, I set some gears up on a particular grid pattern so that the center hubs of the gears fall right on the grid lines, giving me gears that will always find a perfect mesh on a ‘real life’ grid.

Note the green grid lines going through the center of each gear hub. Doesn’t matter if you’re working in metric or imperial, so long as the scale is good, you can create a bunch of different sized gears that will be interchangeable and find a perfect center hub hole.

The idea here is to make a board that I can interchange gears on a whim, and see the different speeds that gears turn in ‘real life’. For inspiration, I flipped through one of my most all time favourite books, 507 mechanical movements. Now available for free online, Love it!

With the gears created, I exported them as PDF, and then into Adobe Illustrator.  There is a command in illustrator to ‘Simplify’.  This makes laser cutting much simpler.  Strongly recommend using that command on CAD / other output files before cutting.  Here is an example of one of the gears in illustrator.:

Note the fewer line segments that appear on a gear after using the simplify command. (Blue dots).

Above is the main drive gear, with the spindle cut out.  My measuring was very exact.  Took about 5 pounds of force to get the acrylic gear squished onto the spindle.  I think some of the residue from the tape testing is lending a hand keeping it solid.  The blue colored board is actually clear acrylic with blue protective film still in place.

I based the spacing on a .5″ spacing, so any of the gears that I’ve generated can mesh perfectly with any other.  The holes are laser cut at .08″.  This is the perfect size to send a 4-40 tap through.

Note how you can see right through the center hub of the two gears above.  This was the pint that I started to feel really great.

Tapping acrylic is something we first tried years ago on our Povard POV electronics kit.  Since then, we’ve been tapping acrylic at a feverish pace, and have burnt through a few drills.

Here is how we tap.  The tap going through a 1/4″ ring gear.  I have centered some holes at 15 degree increments.  Zipping the drill in, and reversing it out leaves a very solid threading in the acrylic.  Doing it at high speed versus low speed makes no difference.

Creating a stepper motor mount was pretty simple. I need the center of the stepper spindle to be coming through one of the holes in my board.  I lined up the mount holes on the stepper, and cut them through the .5″ spacing hole board.

Notice how you don’t see the mounting brackets of the stepper?  Measured out perfectly they are directly below the holes cut in the acrylic.

Fitting it all together, I slid the main drive gear back in place, and then loaded in the rest of the gears.  Tapping only the holes that I need to use.

Last minute change for the mount..  I realized that I didn’t have the clearance under above the motor mounts to send a nut & bolt through, so I made a pressure fit pinch plate. This way I don’t need to counter-sink the mount holes.  Peeling away the blue protective sheet underneath.

A few other gears created, a push-bar, and here is what I ended up with.

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The DIY acrylic iPhone 5 tripod mount housing

The iPhone 5 takes such awesome HD video, we decided that it’s time to craft our very own tripod mount.  A while back, we found a very technical PDF technical drawing of the iPhone 5.  Stripping the drawing down to a single bare outline in a vector drawing software took a few minutes.

Below is what we ended up with.  The spacing around the buttons has been exaggerated.  This to facilitate loading the iPhone into the acrylic holder.

Using this as the ‘void’ (What we are cutting out of a few layers of acrylic) the housing is built around it.

McMaster-Carr has these awesome  ‘Weld Nuts’.  We had a few laying around the shop from a prototype we designed for a client.   These weld nuts have the same threading as most standard tripod mount plates.  Ideal for DIY folks that want to extend the usage of a simple tripod.

The tripod mount we made is comprised of three layers of acrylic.  Seen below, from right to left. The backing has a cut out for the lens, and keeps the iPhone from falling out.  The main layer which has the iPhone footprint is from 1/4″ acrylic. Top layer is from 1/8″ and we made some 1/4″ acrylic fingers that keep the phone from popping out the top.

Side View

For usability, we added two sound holes, seen in the photo below.:

Sound holes

There are a few ‘gramophone’ looking iPhone holders that use a similar concept for directing sound out of the iPhone.  In this case, we are directing sound in towards the onboard mic.  Works surprisingly well.

iPhone 5 Custom Acrylic Holder - Empty

Secured to the tripod, before the iPhone is installed.

The ‘fingers’ swivel on a binding post. Once again, McMaster-Carr has these listed in varying thicknesses and widths.  They swivel nicely, and if the self-loosen, well there’s some thread lock just waiting to be cracked open here.

What about the nifty right-angle bend?  Acrylic has some great properties to it. I had the tripod mount part hanging over a shop table, and with some gentle coaxing with a heat gun, about 2 minutes worth, the bend in the acrylic can be made with the pressure from one finger.  After it cools, the new shape is permanent.  There is even some ‘work time’ much like epoxy before it sets hard.

The 1/16″ washers take up just the remaining amount of height in the binding posts.  It’s great to have a variety of acrylic thicknesses around.  It is surprising how frequently you need a washer.

Here is a PDF file so that you can make your own, or add to this one as you like.  One of the next features we want to add is a set of high output diffused LED lights. Perhaps even a lightning connector accessible version.

Enjoy, and tag us on twitter @spikenzielabs with pics and how yours came out.

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Tripod bolt and mounting plate

Via Flickr:
Ordered these up from McMaster-Carr, PN: 98007a029
Going to be used in a custom box for a client who needs to have his project tripod mounted.
Robust, and well made.
McMaster, that’s why you guys rock!

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How we make it: Floating Captive Buttons

The SpikenzieLabs Calculator Kit, has been one of our most popular DIY kits since it’s debut at MakerFaire Bay Area 2012.  As you can see in photo below, it is fully ‘wrapped’ in a carefully thought-out acrylic housing.  At the outset, we wanted this kit to be fun to solder, and easy to use, and have nice ‘pleasing to press’ floating captive buttons.

SpikenzieLabs Calculator Kit

After a great deal of experimenting, we came up with a new way to ‘press’ a standard PCB mount momentary button, and we would like to share how it’s done.

The first step in our production is to produce the actual buttons.  In our design software, we centred a white character over a black rounded square, and then rasterized the whole square at high resolution. When the laser cutter runs an ‘Etch’ job, it fires the laser where it sees black, and turns off the laser when going over a white area.

In the photo below, you can see a 3/16″ sheet of black acrylic loaded into our Epilog laser cutter.  The top of the sheet is covered in wide masking tape.  The underside of the acrylic sheet is covered in extremely high-tack double-sided acrylic tape.

The masking tape on top serves to keep the character of the button clean from ‘vaporized’ plastic debris. Anytime you’re going to do a heavy etch on acrylic, preparing the surface with masking tape is a necessity.  The raw sheets of acrylic that we source have a thin plastic protective sheet.  If we would just etch directly on that, the results would not be as clean, and the protective sheet does not burn clean away.

Here is a close-up of a set of buttons post cut.

Calculator Buttons Close Up

For those of you that have used a laser cutter before, you’ve got to be thinking…  How do they get those buttons out of the cutter without picking them them out one at a time?

We have what we call a ‘non-airtime’ pancake flip method which involves putting a fresh sheet of acrylic over top, then lifting the vector grid and plastic out, laying it upside down very carefully on a work table.  A second flip with another sheet of acrylic brings the buttons right side up, and ready for ‘kitting’ (Kitting is a word we use at SpikenzieLabs for assembling our DIY kits).

Now that you’ve seen the process for how the buttons are made, we will show you what makes these button-tops ‘floating captive’.

Included in the kit are 17 (1/16″) clear rounded square pieces of acrylic that we call the button ‘bases’.  The double sided tape on the bottom side from the buttons above, stick directly onto these, perfectly centred.  In the instruction guide, we have a method of using some of the housing layers of acrylic as a jig for perfect placement.

Here is a closeup illustration of how the pieces fit together.

SpikenzieLabs Floating Captive Button Assembly

Peeling away the tape cover, the button sits perfectly and permanently on the button-base.

The mechanics of how all of this works is quite interesting, and with careful measurements, we achieved a perfect amount of ‘play’ (looseness to keep the buttons from sticking to the layered captive mechanism) and at the same time,  great daily-use button punch taking strength.

Below is an illustration of the top layer of the calculator, as well as the layer that we call the ‘Button guide’.  The top layer (illustrated in blue) made from (1/16″) acrylic has holes are large enough to allow the black etched button top to move freely, stopping the larger button base from coming out.

Calculator Kit Top Layer

The grey layer, made from (1/8″) clear acrylic is what the button base slides up and down in.  For the purposes of clarity, we have exaggerated the size of this layer so that you can see how everything fits together.

Once assembled, the button base and button top are resting on top of the momentary button that is soldered to The Calculator Kit PCB.  In the design, we measured out the thickness and height of every layer, taking into account how high the button sits on the PCB, and ordered buttons with the appropriate button shaft length.

Too short, and the buttons would sit too low in the housing, and have a likelihood for the buttons to bind. Too high, and the buttons would press themselves from compression once the housing is assembled.

Having the opportunity to solder a DIY kit, and assemble the buttons adds to the kit building experience, and the feedback we’ve received has been great.

The Calculator Kit is available in our shop, as well as through our distributors worldwide.

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Button fall apart

Button fall apart..  Whipped up a quick little batch of 2 part epoxy to set this switch on a piece of acrylic.  Checking to see if it was set, it basically totally fell apart.  I was planning on taking a peek inside the housing anyway, so it wasn’t a total waste of time.

Next time, glue gun!

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Learn To Solder For A Dollar : Montreal Mini Maker Faire

Learn To Solder For A Dollar

For Montreal’s first Mini Maker Faire, we hosted the ever popular ‘Learn To Solder For 1$’ tent.

Nothing like what we expected.  We have seen photos from other ‘First’ Mini Maker Faires.  Based on that, we were expecting to maybe teach a few dozen people how to solder, and enjoy a relaxing day.

The turnout was awesome, nothing like what we envisioned.  We had a continuous line-up, with no empty seat at the worktable the entire day.

Here are a few more photos:

Learn To Solder For A Dollar

and, the most concentrated youngster…

Learn To Solder For A Dollar
Montrealers really know how to get their ‘tech-on’.

Posted in Education, Electronics, Interesting, PCB, SpikenzieLabs, kit | 1 Comment

Montreal Mini Maker Faire: Learn To Solder Kit

Montreal Mini Maker Faire is fast approaching.  (Aug 25th & 26th 2012)

Every Maker Faire we have been to has had a ‘Learn to Solder For A Dollar’ tent.  This, Montreal’s first Mini Maker Faire, we teaching people how to solder for a dollar.

Here is a sneak preview of the ‘learn to solder’ kit we have put together. It is a badge that you can clip to your clothing or backpack.

Montreal Mini Maker Faire Learn To Solder For A Dollar SpikenzieLabs

Two 10mm red LEDs flash in an alternating pattern, using a simple resistor – capacitor circuit with 2 transistors.

The PCB attaches to a piece of laser cut & etched acrylic.  The red light from the LEDs shines up and makes the acrylic glow. Making the badge pretty cool to look at, and a lot of fun to build.

If you are interested in learning a new skill, for not much money, come see us.  If you already know how to solder, well you are welcome to come and check it out too.  The most fun that can be had for $1.

Interested in having a custom pack of 25+ made for your Hackerspace, educational institution, or group?  We will laser cut & etch your name & logo, and send them along with the electronics in kit form.

Hackerspace custom laser cut badge

Store Link : 25 Pack Custom Acrylic Badge Kits

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Speech For Arduino

RobotGrrl made this really sweet Mac App.  Listens to serial at 115200 baud, sends that string to the Mac voice synth, and plays out your Mac speaker.

Great for monitoring sensors, projects for the visually impaired, etc.

Way to go RobotGrrl :)

Check out more here: Apps For Arduino.

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Laser Cut Stenciling for SMT PCB DIY Solder Pasting

Through-Hole soldering is fast, fun and easy.  The parts you populate your PCB’s with are the very same ones you can pull from your breadboard once your project is finished, and you are ready to make a permanent version.

What if the components end up taking up too much space for the size of your product? What if the components you need to use are only available as SMD parts, and you were using break-out-boards for them while prototyping?

In this quick tutorial, I will show you how easy it is to make a ‘Mylar’ stencil, that you can use for short runs.  It will cleanly and easily apply solder paste to a PCB with surface mount parts (SMT). Mylar isn’t the best material for making a solder paste stencil, but it is really cheap and you can find it almost everywhere, and heck, it does an OK job.

Here is a quick demo video that shows what it looks like when you are reflowing solder paste.  As soon as we received our first few boards for our Solder : Time II watch, we wanted to figure out a quick way to paste up a PCB.  Our steel stencil took a few days to arrive, we wanted to try out these new PCBs right away.

We used a ‘Mylar’ stencil to put solder paste on this board.  Notice how the components ‘self-center’ themselves.  The surface tension of the liquified solder paste automatically centers each component, provided they are more or less properly aligned.

We will be using EagleCAD and Illustrator with a 45 Watt Epilog Laser Cutter. The techniques should be the similar if you are using other software. If you have access to a different laser cutter at your local hacker space, tech-shop etc, you may have to fiddle with the power setting we suggest to get them right for your machine.

Continue reading

Posted in Arduino, Component, Education, Electronics, Hack, Interesting, PCB, SpikenzieLabs, Uncategorized, kit, laser | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Solder : Time II Watch

Solder : Time II

After the incredible success of the Solder : Time, we compiled the majority of what was on people’s wish lists for the next version of our Solder : Time Watch.

After a great deal of brainstorming, component sourcing, code-wrangling, and laser cut prototyping, we unveiled the Solder : Time II at MakerFaire Bay Area 2012.

Feature List:

• Solder : Time II’s microcontroller is the ATmega328. Use the Arduino IDE to hack / reprogram
•Display is 4 x (5 by 7) matrix LED modules
•Two button interface
•Displays text / time / numbers / graphics etc…
•Create graphics animations & Scrolling text
•Standard .1″ spaced FTDI header for easy reprogramming
•ATmega serial port open & available – attach accessories
•Low power sleep mode
•Self contained.

We had a lot of fun building this new watch, and made it as hack-able as possible. Available as a KIT, solder the through hole parts and assemble the watch body on your own. (SMD parts come pre-mounted / tested and programed). Don’t feel like soldering? The Solder : Time II is also available fully assembled — ready to wear & hack –

[SpikenzieLabs Online Store]

Posted in Electronics, SpikenzieLabs, kit | 2 Comments