Practical 3D Printing for Everyone

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3D printing can sometimes get a bad rap.  At first people are excited by the possibilities, then after printing a few trinkets the novelty can really start to wear off.  However, our 3D printers have become an absolutely critical part of our home repairs.

We have printed literally dozens and dozens of things in and around our home.  As of the time I’m editing this post, we’re up to 82 things so far!  The vast majority of these are completely bespoke custom creations, with a few things that are printed from Thingiverse or mashups with things from Thingiverse.

My proposed Maker Faire Bay Area 2018 Presentation submission is for a presentation that discusses:

  1. Practical things everyone can 3D print for their own home
    1. Repairs
    2. Improvements
    3. Other useful things
  2. 3D Printing with Family and Friends
    1. Specifying a purpose (“Honey, can you make me something that…”)
    2. Specifying dimensions and purpose (“I need something that will…”)
    3. Simple techniques for creating replacement parts (using good reference photos, GIMP, Inkscape, and OpenSCAD)
  3. 3D Design with Family and Friends
    1. Photographs
    2. Sketches
    3. TinkerCAD and Sketchup

Hacked Tap Light Enclosure

Just seeing a post and pile of code about a project isn’t always that interesting.  The nifty thing about this project is also one of the problems.  They’re cosmetically identical – so you can only tell which one you’ve got by activating it.  :)

I couldn’t be more pleased with the way this project came out.  I basically took my daughter’s setup based off an Adafruit Circuit Playground, built a more specialized (and louder!) version into a breadboard using an Adafruit Trinket, and then ported the entire design into an ATTiny85.  The only thing I would change about it would be to add a socket for the ATTiny to make it easier to modify down the line.

Cheapest Easiest Easy Button Hack EVER

But... could it be even EASIER?!

But… could it be even EASIER?!

I’ve always liked the idea of the Staples Easy Button.  Not so much a button that says “That was easy,” but the idea of having an enormous button on my desktop that would do… anything at all.  Official “Staples Easy Buttons” used to sell for about $20 and are now only about $7.  But, this is still a lot to pay for a big button that I’d want to gut anyhow.  Recently I figured out a way to build a big useful button, very inexpensively.

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The secret sauce is … a tap light!  You can buy a pack of 4 big (10cm diameter) tap lights for under $4 and they’ll ship free as a “Prime add-on.”  For less than $1 each, you get a three AA battery holder, toggle on/off switch, a bright LED, all neatly organized into a big plastic button.  This button also has another “feature” which is missing from many other pricier options.  The dome over the light is white – which means you can put any color LED or, as I did, an Adafruit Neopixel inside and the dome will change color accordingly!

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Here are some pictures of the disassembled tap light so you can see if it would work for you.  I had originally bought these so that I could put a light right next to my newest 3D printer.123

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There’s actually quite a bit of room inside the tap light for a small project.  I was able to pack a Neopixel, a small buzzer, an ATTiny85, and a rat’s nest of wires.  I expect this project to take a lot of abuse at Maker Faire, so I applied a liberal amount of hot glue inside to hold the wires down and out of the path of the springs, switch, case, and the likely path of the button dome.

Once reassembled, there really isn’t any way to tell the button was hacked.  It looks identical to three other tap lights.  I just love that I was able to make use of the battery holder and existing switch inside the project.  The 4.5V supplied by the batteries is perfect for powering my ATTiny85 and lone Neopixel.  If you’ve got a junk drawer, you could probably build something very similar for about $2-3.4 As it is, I “splurged” by using $1 worth of Neopixel because I was being lazy and didn’t want to either wire up three sets of LED’s or track down three resistors to go with an RGB LED.  Even so, this is an incredibly cost-effective project enclosure.

15 Second Timer-Buzzer

15 Second Timer-Buzzer

In case it’s of interest to you, this project is the newest iteration of our 15 Second Timer-Buzzer from my daughter’s 15 Second Drawings project for Maker Faire Bay Area 2017.  The prior version used an Adafruit Circuit Playground, a 100mm Red Button, and a LiPo battery and probably cost around $40 or so. 5

All of the code is on Github. Basically, the buzzer flashes amber three times with a very short tone in between flashes, then turns green for 14 seconds, amber for one more second, and then turns red and buzzes angrily to let you know time is up.  I had written most of the code to work on an ATTiny45… until the code ballooned to a whopping 4560 bytes and I had to switch to an ATTiny85.6 If I had to build this over again, I’d solder in an 8-pin DIP socket for the ATTiny rather than mutilating the chip and hot gluing it directly to the inside.  ;)

  1. I have a power strip next to it, but it’s fully utilized, I only need a little bit of light sometimes, and I was getting tired of holding a flashlight on it at night []
  2. In my tradition of naming my 3D printers after characters from Futurama, my Monoprice Mini Delta is named “Roberto.” []
  3. My prior 3D printers are Bender the MakerBot Cupcake CNC, Flexo the MakerBot Thing-O-Matic, and HedonismBot the Replicator 1 Dual []
  4. I figure about $1 for an ATTiny85 and $1 for the button.  Most people can find a way to scrounge an RGB LED or a few different LED’s, an old buzzer or piezoelectric disc, and some bits of wire []
  5. Not counting the gelato we ate, of course []
  6. What a waste!!! []

Maker Faire 2018: The Wandering Artists – 15 Second Drawings

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My daughter and I are super excited about our Maker Faire project this year.  Last year she brought her “15 Second Drawing Challenge” project to Benicia Mini Maker Faire and Maker Faire Bay Area.

Her project was so much fun that when she invited me to team up and take the show on the road, I jumped at the chance.  This year we’re bringing a new and improved timer/buzzer hacked together from a cheap tap-light and a pop-up table/booth.

We’re taking photos of the build process and will post them along with tutorials, parts lists, and source code for everything.  Here’s everything you need to know to build a cheap timer-buzzer out of a tap light.

Vacuum Forming an Arc Reactor

If you see me at Maker Faire this weekend, you will likely catch me wearing my vacuum formed goggles and arc reactor.  I was inspired by my vacuum former and this awesome Instructable by dgrover.

Once you have everything set up, this neat little “arc reactor” only uses about 50¢ of materials and doesn’t require any special soldering skillz.1 Here’s how you make your own:

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  1. Make the form
    1. I specifically bought a stack of silver plastic plates for this project.  50 plates for $10 was a pretty good deal. ((In case you care, I use affiliate links))
    2. You could use dgrover’s lasercut files or design your own model.  I designed my own, based on their designs and added 10 degrees of draft to the edges to help it release from the mold.
    3. You’ll also notice lots of little holes in the nooks and crannies of the model.  Those serve a dual purpose of allowing the vacuum to pull the plastic down into those parts and then letting air in when you’re ready to release the 3D printed part.

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  2. Add the LED and Battery
    1. Gather the tools and materials
      1. 5mm fast flashing RGB LED ($7 for 100 LED’s!)
      2. 3V Coin Cell battery, CR2032 ($25 for 100 batteries!)
      3. Push pin
      4. Optional: Hot glue gun and glue
    2. Poke two small holes in the center of the form for the LED leads.
    3. Push the LED through the holes.  I would recommend adding a drop of hot glue just under the LED moments before you pull it against the vacuum formed part.  This will help keep it in place.
    4. Bend the two leads as shown just using your fingers.  Notice the bottom lead is bent roughly 90 degrees and the top lead is curved.
    5. Add the battery.  The LED is polarized, so it will only light up when the battery is properly connected.  So, just put the battery in, then flip it over if it doesn’t light up.  :)
DIY Vacuum Formed Arc Reactors

DIY Vacuum Formed Arc Reactors

I really couldn’t be happier with the results.  It looks way more impressive than the 57¢ worth of materials would suggest.

  1. You could easily adapt these instructions to add some sweet LED color changing lighting to any other project []
May 20, 2017 | Comments Closed

Maker Faire 2017 How to Make a Vacuum Former Presentation Slides


In case you missed me at Maker Faire Bay Area 2017 this year, here are my slides!  Don’t forget to check out all the blog posts with even more detail and pictures.  You can find all the links, including to the 3D printable files, below.

Maker Faire Checklist

Maker Faire Checklist

Maker Faire Checklist

Between taking most of “Maker Faire” week off work and getting ready1 for MakerCon and Maker Faire, May was a hectic month. I remembered pretty much everything I needed for a successful2 – except “maker cards” and a metric ruler.  With a few additional tweaks, I’m sure it can be even better next year.

In case you’ve never set up a booth at Maker Faire, you get an area with several folding chairs, a few long folding tables, and a chain link fence on at least one side of you.34 To have an interesting booth, you’ll want something to put over your table and on the chain link fence.

Since my entire booth was basically a wooden box that unpacked into a robot that made decorations for my booth, set up was rather easy.

  • Attending the Fair
    • Cash5
    • A MakerBingo card
    • A list of things and people you want to see6
    • Backpack7
    • Food or snacks8
    • Phone charger9
    • Warm weather clothes – shorts, t-shirt
    • Warmer clothes, stowed in backpack, for when it gets dark and cooler10
    • Laptop, power cable11
  • Booth Setup
    • One large table covering per table12
    • One large display board to explain your project ((Like the kind for science fairs))
    • One booklet of information13
    • Caution tape14
    • Zip ties
    • Hot glue, glue sticks
    • Some kind of swag15
    • Some way to make your project interactive16
  • Booth Interior
    • Cooler, water, ice17
    • Paper bags or swag bags18
  • Feedback
    • Suggestion box, 3×5 index cards, pens19
    • Notepad for email list signup
    • LOTS of maker/business cards
    • Update the website before Maker Faire!20
  • Robot
    • Hardware21
    • 3mm hex wrench22
    • Metric ruler23
    • Paper ((One $5 roll is good enough to run a PlotterBot around the clock all entire weekend))
    • Pens and markers24
    • Blue painter’s tape and masking tape
    • Extra fishing line25
  1. Photo courtesy of Daniel Kulinski []
  2. Editor’s choice blue ribbon! []
  3. I heard an amusing anecdote from someone at Make who said they put a lot of time and energy into figuring out a good spot for all the makers.  Apparently they were a little concerned about having three drawing / art style robots next to one another!  I had a great time hanging out near PicassoBot and PancakeBot! []
  4. My daughter later pointed out there were three robots, in a row, all with a “P” in the start of their name []
  5. As a Maker, I could eat at the Maker Lounge, but the credit card machine was intermittent []
  6. This could be a whole topic in itself.  Two days is not enough to catch all the talks from just one stage.  With multiple stages, multiple demonstrations, mini-concerts all happening at the same time  []
  7. Or not.  There were several booths giving away these stringy sack kind of backpacks []
  8. Maker Faire is big and there’s a lot to see.  Although there are a lot of food options, you don’t necessarily want to drop what you’re doing just to go find food []
  9. Ideally, a portable one []
  10. Just a hoodie should be enough []
  11. These were necessary for my particular robot, but may not be for you and definitely not if you’re just attending []
  12. $15 each at KMart []
  13. Printed with clear plastic cover, spiral bound, about $7 []
  14. About $3 for a huge roll – perfect for keeping kids from rushing into your booth []
  15. Business cards, stickers, t-shirts, to any other kinds of trinkets out there []
  16. These are really the most fun kinds of exhibits/booths/projects at Maker Faire []
  17. It gets super hot and stuffy if you’re indoors, so water is key []
  18. To stow extra clothing and supplies []
  19. Pens can be donated from the hotel []
  20. Ideally, with a link to the mailing list and/or squeeze page []
  21. Bolts, washers, wingnuts []
  22. The entire robot can be assembled or disassembled with a single 3mm hex wrench []
  23. 1 meter stick or yard stick with metric markings []
  24. A whole new pack []
  25. This has never broken or tangled on me, but it’s not a bad idea to bring extra []
June 11, 2014 | Comments Closed

Catching up

Sit down!  Stay a while!  It's time we talked

Sit down! Stay a while! It’s time we talked

Hey!  It’s been a while since we’ve talked! ((Photo courtesy of Scott Beale))

Hopefully you’ll excuse the rambling nature of this post.  :)  A fair bit has changed recently.  I started a new day job1 in June, but not after taking off all of May and arranging for this last week off.

May was fun, especially Maker Faire and taking the time to go on little field trips.  I got my drawing robot in working order, put together a website dedicated to drawing robots, and drew some really cool things.  I’ve even got some stories from Maker Faire to share with you.

1. A Little Story

I had a number of drawings on display in my Maker Faire booth.  I had some Doctor Who related things, a Yoda, a Death Star, a Tesla, a House Stark dire wolf, and a number of other things.  In particular, one was a big blue TARDIS I had taped to the chain link “wall” and I was working on drawing a dalek.

Then this guy walks up with some friends, asked me a few questions, and then asked me how much for the TARDIS and dalek.  I told him that I wasn’t really selling them and that the dalek was only about 75% done – and it would need another hour or two to finish.

He turns to his friend and says, “Hey, how much do you have on you?  $110?”  Then, he says to me, “I’ll give you $110 for both right now.”  I told him he had a deal – but that the dalek was still an hour or two from being done.  He said he liked it just the way it was.  What the hell, who am I to stand between a man and his Doctor Who-themed robot drawings?  I stopped the robot, pulled down the drawings, rolled them up, and took the man’s money.

2. Another Little Story

At Maker Faire I drew two pictures for other Makers.  One was for the guys from Wikipedia who asked me if I could draw a big poster of the Wikipedia logo.  They e-mailed me an SVG of their logo and I was happy to draw it up.  Although I was still figuring out how best to draw non-TSP SVG files, it turned out really well.

The next drawing was for a fellow maker and good friend, Chris Connors, who needed a banner/poster for his booth for How2Today.  He sketched out a few tiny logos in Sharpie on a piece of paper, I took a picture with my cell phone, and I drew a big giant version of his logo.  I’m working on putting together a tutorial to help you do this too.  :)

3. Crane Project

I’m about 26% done folding 1,000 cranes.  I kinda stalled out on this project over the last few weeks.  However, now that I’m back from a vacation I’m hoping to revisit this project and get it back on track.

Okay, that’s it for a catch up post.  More soon!

  1. I say “day job” to differentiate what I do as my vocation versus what I do with the rest of my time []

Your vote could stop the Robopocalypse!

Okay, before you read any further, take a moment to click here and vote for my PlotterBot for the Road to Maker Faire Challenge.

Vote for our future.  Vote PlotterBot!

Vote for our future. Vote PlotterBot!

I’ve been blogging about every little aspect of my own drawing robot – with this post1 it’s more than 80 posts on the topic. ((Photo courtesy of Vox Efx)) Everything from a list of other robots, to where I sourced the parts, to my failed attempts at designing parts, and a lot more posts about what I’ve done that does work.  Using what I’ve learned from my own really colossal failures and the brilliant open source work of others like Sandy Noble and Dan Royer, I’ve designed all of my own printable plastic parts from scratch, explained my thoughts and considerations behind the designs in excruciating detail, and shared all the files and my source code for everyone to use.

The winner of Maker Faire’s contest “The Road to Maker Faire Challenge” gets $2,500.00.  Dear gentle reader, should I be fortunate enough to win – I hereby make you these two promises:

  1. I promise to spend every last dime on building more and better robots.
  2. I promise to continue blogging relentlessly about what I did, how I did it, what worked, what didn’t work, and how you do it all yourself too.

So, please vote for my PlotterBot for the Road to Maker Faire Challenge!

  1. Which really doesn’t count… []