I wanted to document how I did the artwork and toolpaths for the MAKE thing I make on the Shapeoko CNC router at BAMspace recently…


I started with my old MAKE design in Inkscape and set it to the size I wanted. I also placed it on the canvas as if it were on the piece of stock, knowing that the lower left corner would be the home position on the CNC router.


After I saved out my SVG file, I loaded it into MakerCam. Now, you can go to and use that, or you can load up the SWF, and save it locally to run on your own machine. (Flash is required either way. I guess the source code is also available, but you probably need Adobe’s Flash development tools to do anything with it.)

If you’re using Inkscape, you need to set the prefs to 90ppi instead of 72ppi before you open your SVG file. Oh, make sure you check out the MakerCam tutorial, help, and about pages.


In MakerCam I created two profiles, one to cut the inside pieces, and one to cut the outside of the entire piece.


These setting worked fairly well. I wouldn’t up the feedrate or the step down on our machine if using 1/2″ HDPE. This job definitely took a while to run…


Once I had the toolpaths all set in MakerCam I exported the G-Code into a single file, and then loaded that file into OpenSCAM to run a simulation. (Looks like OpenSCAM recently rebranded as CAMotics… guess I should grab the latest version!) Running the simulation allows you to see the toolpaths and check how many passes it will take to cut through the material. I guess you could also use math, but sometimes I prefer visualizations…

That’s pretty much my workflow for 2.5D toolpaths; create art in Inkscape, load it into MakerCam and generate G-Code, load G-Code into OpenSCAM (CAMotics) and see how it looks.

Nuclear Fuel Cell

While Kathy was working on some top-secret project involving a giant robot I decided to tear apart an old laser printer that was in the junk pile at the shop. Inside I found a wonderfully green drum, which I thought would make a nice “Nuclear Fuel Cell” prop. Of course it needed some vinyl added to it…


I used Inkscape to design my labels. I prefer to use Inkscape to design things, then export a DXF and import that into the Silhouette software. If you design things in the Silhouette software (at least the free version) you can’t export it for use elsewhere.


Oddly enough, the circle part of the radiation symbol got lost. (It’s on the back, so you can’t see it in the photo above.) By the time I noticed it was too late to redo it because I wanted to crank this out in fast.

Anyway, if you stop by Maker Faire Milwaukee on September 26th & 27th, 2015 at State Fair Park, you might just see this Nuclear Fuel Cell in action…


After all of my experiments with recycling various HDPE scraps, I finally got around to milling a piece on the Shapeoko at BAMspace.

Milling on the Shapeoko

The piece I used was close to 0.5″ thick. I added a thin piece of MDF beneath the piece so I wouldn’t chew up our nice looking hold-down surface…


The milling took quite a while. The first attempt with a different piece did not work out well, partly due to too high of feed rate, and partly due to a piece getting stuck after being cut out. (I can see the appeal of a vacuum table!)

GRBL Controller

We use GRBL Controller on one of my old Linux laptops to control the Shapeoko.


Did I mention the milling took a long time? It was about 14 passes at 0.04″ per pass to cut through. I used a 1/8″ bit.


The end results were nice. A little rough, but some sanding and a few hits with a blow touch should clean things up just fine.

Phoenix Connector Mount

Years ago my grandfather had shop in the basement, and he made things. He made doll furniture, and (wooden) snow shoes, and household items, and of course, lots of sawdust. My dad also had a work shop, and made many of the same things, and also made full-size furniture for our house. They both invested in tools over the years to make things.

I don’t think anyone ever said to them “You’ve got all these tools, and this great work shop, and you make doll furniture!?”

If you’re a Maker (and they both were) sometimes the joy is in the making… in the process… but it can also be the joy that comes from giving a gift to someone that you made yourself.

Phoenix Connector Mount

I like making things as well. Sometimes I just use my hands and some tools and whatever raw materials are on hand, but I also really like designing things using software that can then be fabricated by machines. I don’t consider this any less “making”, by the way.

I think I enjoy designing useful things in the same way I used to enjoy writing code. There was a problem to be solved, and if I could do it, or help do it, I would… and if solving a problem once for yourself can solve it for others in the future, even better. Most people agree that it doesn’t make sense to solve a problem that’s already been solved.

Phoenix Connector Mount

During a recent project someone needed to mount this Phoenix Connector to something, and a piece of Aluminum was found, and a square(ish) hole was made, and some holes were drilled, and there was probably some filing involved, but in the end, it worked, and that’s fine.

In my mind though, this was a problem that could be solved by designing and fabricating a part. Now, if this was a one-off, it might not matter as much, but if we build another one of these things, or use these connectors again, why spend time cutting and drilling and filing a piece of metal when we’ve got a 3D Printer in the shop?

Phoenix Connector Mount

To me, the promise of digital fabrication isn’t always about doing it the fastest, or the cheapest, but it’s about precision and repeatability. If Bob down in the shop can crank out a mount in 10 minutes, and it’s good enough, that’s great. But if Ted, and Laura, and Tim can take a file that I designed, and spit one out with a 3D Printer on a whim, and it’s the same every single time, that’s valuable. The knowledge and skill needed to create something is shared and distributed. Long after Bob and Ted and Laura and Tim leave the shop, someone could still make the thing, multiple time, precisely, because the problem was solved long ago.

I’m not dismissing hands-on making skills, or in any way suggesting digital fabrication is always a better choice, but in some cases, I think that if applied properly it can make things… better.

You can find Phoenix Connector Mount on Thingiverse and Youmagine.


I started this blog in 1997, and somehow I never managed to quit. There are some archives and some old archives.

18 years of this is pretty crazy. Some people start blogging and quit after a few months. Some people only write one post. Some people said blogging would never last. I’m not sure what to say to those people… so I’ll just keep posting.

Thanks for reading!

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