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Fun maker projects on my long-term backlog

Pete Brown - 18 August 2011

In addition to all the programming projects I have in my backlog, plus things like migrating my website to a new provider (and finishing migrating the old irritatedvowel hobby pages), I have a number of fun maker-type projects I want to work on in the near (and distant) future. In most cases, the projects would require learning something very new - that's the appeal. If I can't learn something new and interesting, I quickly lose interest in the project.

Here are some things I'd really like to do, in no specific order.

CNC Mill with Larger Work Envelope

I currently have a Sherline mill that has been modified with a larger table, a rotary table, and a servo-based 4-axis CNC setup. I really like it, but the work envelope is still small for what I'd like to work on. It also isn't enclosed so it throws chips everywhere. Enclosing would be a waste because the 14" of X travel requires a box way too big.  I'd like to build an enclosed system with a combination of the flexibility of a router, but the stability and strength of a mill. It'd also need a work envelope large enough to mill the front panel of a 19" rack unit (in support of several other projects), but without taking up a boatload of space. I already have some ideas for how to accomplish this, including using eMachineShop to CNC mill a few of the steel pieces I likely won't be able to do on my own. I've already started purchasing some of the THK linear motion components as I find them for reasonable prices on ebay. I already use Rhino 3d and RhinoCAM Pro for modeling and CAM.

Inspiration includes the Roland MDX 540a and the enclosed MDX 40a, plus tons of other ones. Here's a shot of my "inspiration" folder for the project. Early in the process of planning a project, I often start collecting images and links that are similar to what I'm thinking of doing. I collect those and store them in an folder named Inspiration off the project root.


3D Printer

I've seen a number of 3d printer projects, and have to admit that the resolution is getting much better. Many folks like to build self-replicating machines, which is awesome. However, I'd want to CNC mill the parts to make it as accurate as possible to start with. Many of the home made machines suffer from backlash in the screws, rigidity problems and other issues which cause them to produce parts that have too low a usable resolution. I'm no expert, but I can think of some ideas from the CNC world that can help there. Of course, it's unlikely that a hobby machine could get anywhere near the resolution of a commercial device, which uses something almost like an inkjet sprayer (or small laser) to either spray or harden plastic.

Custom Gear Mill

Cutting gears can be done a number of ways on a mill. However, a full 4 axis mill tends to be a bit of overkill for that. I'd rather build a small but extremely rigid dedicated gear cutting machine. If rigid enough, it could cut gears even in steel, something a more general-purpose home-built mill is not really great for.

CO2 Laser Cutter

Not high on my list, but interesting anyway. There are sites now dedicated to DIY CO2 laser cutters that can cut wood, plastic, and even aluminum. Yeah, I'm interested.

New Home Office

My current home office is in a corner of the basement with no circulation. I want to move to the opposite side of this wall, and move our upstairs tropical aquarium into this room, and upgrade it to be larger. That side of the house has a window, more room, and most importantly, doesn't share air with the heat-generating washing machine and dryer. I have plans for this, it just requires me to finish some home projects here to move the lumber and trim out of that room.


The wall with the aquarium on it doesn't currently exist. Also, this is the utility room, so there's some ductwork above that I have to work around (and sound proof). The room would be a combined projects workshop and office. The open space on the back wall is required by code for access to the breaker box.

Quadcopter / Quadrotor

Yeah, flying robots are very cool. I'd like to build one (likely on the larger CNC machine) with a camera, onboard navigation, camera, and other goodies. Maybe guns and bombs too ;)

Here's the latest progress from someone else doing essentially the same thing, even powering it with the .NET Micro Framework. You have to love the look on his daughter's face when she realized it wouldn't yet fly :)

Steampunk .NET Micro Framework-Powered Robot

I have some great ideas for a .NETMF-powered steampunk styled robot. I'd ideally like to have the larger CNC mill to complete this. I'm thinking of one that looks is action figure-scale and incorporates wheeled locomotion ideas from trains, but has a proliferation of large custom-milled gears. Of course, I have an inspiration folder for this too:


(Yes, say hello to the Doctor)


I have a huge pile of really inexpensive small motor and wheel sets. I'd like to either CNC mill or 3d print bodies for these things and make an army of kid-friendly mini robots.

Surface-Like Touch Interface


There are lots of examples on the web of folks who have built their own plexiglass and IR LED-based "big ass tables". Also, commercial versions of the same DJ tables. Of course, this has been outpaced by Surface 2, but that technology is not currently DIY accessible. I don't plan on doing something for DJ'ing, but just general experimentation.

Aquarium LED Lighting

LED lighting has come a long way. It's generally more efficient than even fluorescent lighting like the T5 HO units I use on my current aquarium. LED lighting also provides a more pleasing shimmer effect in the water. Here's a nice write-up of DIY LED lighting on the Reef Central forums.

Aquarium CO2 and Lighting Automation

Speaking of aquarium projects, I'd like to create a .NETMF automation solution for the new tank in my home office (when built). It would be awesome if it could take readings from the water at regular intervals, and adjust CO2, lighting, or other additions as necessary.

Home-Made Analog Synthesizer

I have a number of interests here. I'd like to create a real analog synthesizer, using .NETMF to handle patch management and editing and the overall synth operating system. I have one simple DIY synth board that will help me get started initially, letting me work on an operating system and user interface rather than get hung up in the sound-producing logic. Eventually, I think I'd either expand on that, or replace it with custom hardware.


That's the current list. I'm sure I'll remember a bunch of other projects once I actually post this. :)

posted by Pete Brown on Thursday, August 18, 2011
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