Milwaukee Makerspace has a weekly meeting every Tuesday at 7pm. We go over upcoming events, new stuff happening at the space, and we show off projects and welcome guests. And there’s one more thing we do… we recognize awesomeness.

In an effort to make members aware of the fact that nothing happens at the space without a member doing it, we typically have a segment of the meeting where any member (or guest) can stand up and publicly thank another member for doing something awesome, or being awesome. Sometimes this might happen if a member sees another member take out the trash, or empty a vacuum cleaner, or it might happen if someone takes the time to help someone with their project, or to train them on a piece of equipment.

Milwaukee Makerspace has no employees, and no staff, and everyone who is a member is expected to volunteer in some way. Seven of the members volunteer to be on the Board of Directors. and they pay the same dues everyone else does, and besides helping to run the space, they help when and where they can. Some members serve as Area Champions, and are in charge of a specific area of the space, and get to make the rules there, and also get a budget and yet others don’t want any official responsibility, but are more than willing to pitch in when cleaning is needed on Space Improvement Day.

It’s common to hear someone stand up at a meeting and say “I want to thank Harvey for emptying all the trash cans today.” or “Thanks to Tom for getting us [insert name of tool he got on auction for super-cheap]!” And after a few meetings you start to see who the people are that are regular contributors to the space, and you come to value those people.

Members are always free to call out others on the mailing list when they are excellent, but there is something special about being recognized at a meeting, in person. Typically there’s some applause for the person being recogznied, and hopefully it makes them feel good about their contributions.

In the end, it’s one more way we’ve tried to help build a community of makers, and not just be a building full of tools and weird stuff.



BuzzBuzz is a device that makes noise and light using electricity (somewhere around 40,000 volts, approximately.) There are five “high voltage generators” connected to buttons that when pressed cause them to create a spark with a loud “ZAP!” and then continue to make noise (and light) while the button is held down.


BuzzBuzz was heavily inspired by something Mario the Maker created. I had one of the high-voltage generators for a while and was planning to do something with it. I had an idea for a project and had started on it, but once I saw this thing I altered my plans.


The size of BuzzBuzz was somewhat dictated by the size of materials I had on hand, or could easily get at no cost. The top piece of clear acrylic is from a bulk buy at Midland Plastics where many of the members of Milwaukee Makerspace shop for scrap pieces. Since I had that piece of clear acrylic, it pretty much determined the size of the top of the enclosure.


For the walls of the enclosure I grabbed some 16mm thick plywood from the scrap bins at Milwaukee Makerspace. There’s a local tool & die company that donates these pieces to us. They are long and skinny and always have these weird laser cut marking on them, because they use them for calibrating their lasers. I wanted to see if I could cut through the 16mm plywood with the 130 watt laser cutter I have access to. Indeed, it could! At 4mm per second, which is probably the slowest we should cut at. The cuts were not the greatest, but it was more a matter of “Hmmm, will this even work!?” than anything else.


You’ll also notice the hexagonal holes on the sides. Those are “sound holes” since my first assembly demonstrated that the box fully closed up was too quiet, so I decided to add holes that the sound could spill out of. It also adds a nice look, and if you associate the “Buzz” in the name with bees, and notice the holes are hexagonal, well, it all fits.

I mounted the AA batteries on the outside so that you can easily see the power source (it’s interesting that 40,000 volts AC can be produced by just 4.5 volts DC) and so that I can easily change batteries without opening the thing. There are two battery packs because one tended to drain too quickly. I may add an AC adapter in the future so that I can convert AC to DC to AC.

(One more fun fact: The battery holders were one of the most problematic parts of this project. I wasted more time trying to get these cheap battery holders to work. The spacing and springs kept making it so the batteries did not make good contact. I started with a 5-pack of battery holders and trashed two of them just trying to modify them to work. Luckily I got two of them working well enough.)


I designed and 3D printed the parts that hold down the high-voltage generators and also allow for bolts to be inserted to carry the electricity. (The design of these parts was inspired by the structures that hold overhead power lines.) The bolts can be screwed in or out to adjust the gap, which gives different results for the zap. I started with the narrowest gap and then did the widest gap, and then calculated the three distances in-between. (For the widest gap, you don’t want to go too wide, because if it can’t properly spark, it’ll burn out the unit.)


As you may know, I design 3D objects with OpenSCAD. Once I had my object completed, I did a projection to get what it would look like from a top view. This is the 3D version of that.


I then render it into a 2D version I can export as an SVG file. This allowed me to easily do the layout needed for the laser cut parts.


Here’s a top view. The reddish parts will be cut from the top clear acrylic panel and hold the buttons as well as an old SparkFun key switch I had in my parts bin. The grey pieces are for the bottom part of the enclosure which hold the high-voltage generators and the mounts. I ended up printing a full-scale paper version and using it as a template to mark the holes that needed to be drilled. It did not have to be prefect, so close enough was fine.


For the construction, there are some screws on the bottom to hold the bottom pieces to the two side pieces, and then the front and rear panels can slide into place and get held in by just one screw on each side. This is not the most elegant, but I realized somewhere along the build process that I did not have a good way to complete assembly or take it apart. This is what I came up with, and it worked well.


I used two contrasting stains, for a light and dark look, which I think matched the burned laser cut edges, and allowed for making the inside of the enclosure dark so the zappers could light up the inside.


If you’re wondering why there are two rows of buttons, I really liked the symmetry, but I also wanted something I could use when displaying at a table, so that if you’re behind the table talking to someone, you can demo it and press the buttons on your side, and they can try it with the buttons on their side. (In the museum exhibits business we try to make things that are not single used components, so that more than one person can engage with a thing at a time.)


While this was a bit of a rush to get done by Bay View Gallery Night, and like most projects, there are things I maybe would have done differently (or at least in a different order) I’m really pleased with how it turned out. I also brought it to Milwaukee Makerspace to show off and got a lot of positive feedback.

Here’s a video showing operation of the BuzzBuzz. It was difficult to capture on file (well, solid state memory) exactly what it looks like, so this is an approximation. You’ll probably want to see it in person to appreciate the full power of this battlestation device.




We the Builders is a project that uses crowdsourced 3D printing to assemble large sculptures. For the most recent build, they decided to celebrate the contributions and diverse identities of women and non-binary makers by scaling up a sculpture of Rosie the Riveter to monument-size and printing her in a spectrum of skintones. The sculpture will be over six feet tall and made up of 2,625 parts.

I posted about this on the Milwaukee Makerspace Facebook page and asked for people interested in helping, and a woman named Gwen was interested. Seems her grandmother was an actual “Rosie” back in the day. We met up at Milwaukee Makerspace and tried to print a piece for her, and because 3D printing is full of failure, did not succeed.

So I printed it at home. And then I printed more for me, and more for her, and in total I think we did 10 parts. Sadly had to hit the road for BAMF so I didn’t get to print more, but it looks like (as of writing this) there are less than 250 pieces and we’ve still got five days.


When Gwen showed up to pick up the pieces (she offered to ship them) she was wearing an awesome Rosie shirt depicting the sculpture, so I asked her to get a photo of it with the pieces, and she did!

Sadly I will not be making it to NOMCON to assist with assembly, but I look forward to seeing the final piece, and hear about what happens next with the Nation of Makers. (I will be at BAMF though, so I hope to see other #WeTheBuilders people there!)


Makerspace Autodidact

Typically an autodidact is described as a self-learner, and sometimes seen as “education without the guidance of masters or institutions”. An autodidact is an individual who chooses the subject he or she will study, his or her studying material, and the studying rhythm and time. I think makers and those who follow the DIY ethic are often autodidacts. I don’t think autodidacts have to work in solitude though, and can learn from others, but in a self-paced and more unstructured setting than what is typically seen in a classroom.

I’m proposing that membership to a makerspace can be considered “Job Training for the Autodidact”. If you’ve got the desire to learn, and you are willing to put in the time, the environment of a makerspace might be exactly what you need to gain the skills needed for your next job.

Milwaukee Makerspace currently has over 300 members. Among those members are people who are experts in woodworking, metalworking, digital fabrication, electronics, sewing, textiles, costuming, photography, film making, leather working, ceramics, casting and forging, and CNC. Want to learn to use a lathe, mill, table saw, sewing machine, or even write code? There’s probably people there who can teach you, and equipment for you to use. I guarantee I’ll probably never have a Bridgeport mill or Southbend lathe at my house, but I can learn to use both of them at Milwaukee Makerspace.

Pumping Station: One has over 400 members, and if you’re interested in embedded system development you could join their NERP meetup and start learning. If instead you’re interested in some of the things I mentioned above when talking about Milwaukee Makerspace, don’t worry, PS:1 has almost all the same equipment, and most likely members with similar expertise. Also, it’s worth mentioning that at Milwaukee Makerspace we have some members who have worked in an industry for their whole lives and then retired, and joined the space. I’ve heard at least half a dozen new members say “I’m a retired machinist, and I live right down the street, and this place is awesome!”

Now, not every space will have all of the same tools or expertise, but they are typically filled with people that possess a great desire to learn new things, and as someone who has hired people, that’s one of the most valuable skills a potential employee can possess.

A friend of mine mentioned that his son was interested in carpentry, or some other job that involved “working with his hands” and I suggested that joining the makerspace might be a great way to learn about different jobs and trades and get hands-on with some different tools and equipment and making and see what really interests him.

(That said, I always warn people who are all fired up and ready to learn that it can take time… Training on equipment doesn’t always happen as quickly as people would like, and occasionally things are broken or not working at 100%, but some patience goes a long way.)

I’ve personally benefited from the knowledge and skills I’ve learned at Milwaukee Makerspace and hold my current position in part due to my $40 a month membership and doing all I could to learn new skills the first few years I was a member. (And yes, I continue to learn new things every day!)

I’m considering doing a survey, because I’d really like to see who has been hired due to new skills they’ve learned at Milwaukee Makerspace. Even if you’re not interested in a new job, or advancing in your career, I think a makerspace membership can help make you a more well rounded person, who perhaps knows more than just the skills needed to get by each day. And to be honest, you never know when a new skill might come in handy.


I just completed the “upgrade” of a Full Spectrum 4th Generation Series 40w Hobby Laser. I replaced the existing Full Spectrum controller with a Cohesion3D Mini controller. I’ll do my best to walk through the process with this post. Some of the photos are terrible (sorry about that!) but hopefully I can explain things in text. If I get time I’ll try to shoot a few new photos or do some illustrations.

Oh, I should probably explain why I wanted to replace the controller. Plenty of people run these laser cutters with the stock control board and use RetinaEngrave software running on Windows. I tried to do this, but it didn’t work. I mean, it would work sometimes, but there were too many failures. I should mention that the previous owner(s) didn’t seem to have any issues, but then, we all know how I get along with Windows. Seriously. I first had to get the Windows PC on a network, and that meant I had to add a USB WiFi dongle, and I’m really not a fan of having old Windows 7 PCs connected to the Internet, but RetinaEngrave requires it. I was also informed that Full Spectrum requires new owners to “re-license” the software at $300. Uh, nope.

So besides me not wanting to use software that was possibly going to cost me $300, and Windows freaking own and ruining etching jobs, I thought replacing the controller and using other software seemed like a good idea. It also meant that if I did it right I could ditch Windows and actually use a Mac (or Linux PC) to do my laser cutting.

The Cohesion3D Mini board can function as a drop-in replacement for those cheap Chinese K40 laser cutters. The FSL 4th Gen is not a K40, but it’s similar in some ways, and I’d found others that seemed to have done the upgrade in the Google+ Cohesion3D Group.


Above is the stock Full Spectrum control board. There are 4 connectors for limit switches at the top, 2 connectors for the stepper motors on the right, and the “Laser Connector” on the bottom. The metal plate is what the board was mounted to. I was able to reuse the plate by just drilling some new holes that matched the hole pattern of the Cohesion3D board.


The orange shapes in the photo above show the holes the FSL board was using. I’ve X’d them out with a black marker so I knew they were the “old” holes.


Here’s the Cohesion3D board, oriented so the USB port is on the left so it will stick out the slot in the side of the laser cutter body (just like the stock FSL board did.) I marked where the holes needed to be drilled and then…


I drilled two holes. Luckily I was able to use the two preexisting holes on the left, so I only had to drill the other two. The standoffs used on the original board worked find with the Cohesion3D board, and I was able to attach it easily.


Okay! the Cohesion3D board is now mounted in place, so the next task is to move over all the connections from the old board. Luckily I labeled them all before I removed them. I highly recommend you label them and take some photos to show how they were connected.


The limit switches connected to the FLS board with a 4 pin connector that was “GND X Y GND” and the Cohesion3D has two separate connectors for the X and Y limit switches. I used some M/F jumper wires stuck into the existing connector and then routed to the appropriate connectors on the Cohesion3D board.


I matched up the GND and SIG wires for the limit switches. Note that I just grabbed some random colors of whatever M/F jumpers I had on hand. With just 4 wires simply connected I’m not too concerned with color coding or labels.


The next step was to take the 6 pin connector that plugged into the FLS board and remove the 4 wires in it. I did this by pressing against the tab of the metal connector with a small screwdriver until I could slide them out by pulling gently on them.


Once I got the wires out I had to modify the connector, first cutting it down to be just 4 pins wide instead of 6 so it would fit in the Cohesion3D board.


I used a utility knife to press down on the connector and cut off an end with two connectors. This worked, but I think a saw would have been a better option. (Sorry for the poor photo!) One thing to notice in the photo is a triangular wedge part on the connector. We need to remove that because we’ll rotate the connector 180 degrees for the Cohesion3D board.


Another poor photo, but hopefully you can see the bottom part of the connector has the triangle wedge thing removed. I put it on the belt sander until it was gone.


I had to determine which wire was which so I could line them up properly, so I removed the other end of the connector, which was on the power supply. I couldn’t quite see through the plastic to figure out the order, so I used a multimeter to check each end to figure out the wiring.


On this machine:

  • 24V was red
  • GND was yellow
  • 5V was blue
  • Line/Laser was green


Here’s the order, but the blue wire (5V) is not needed, so I didn’t even connect it, I just taped it up. The other 3 wires I put into the connector.


With the wires inserted (except the 5V blue) and the triangle wedge part removed, we can now plug it into the Cohesion3D board. You should definitely consult the Cohesion3D Mini Pinout Diagram while doing all this.


Let’s not forget the stepper motors! These were the easiest, as the connectors matched up fine. The one thing I found out later is that the Y motor connector had to be flipped. So while in this photo the red wire is on the left, I later rotated the connector 180 degrees so it was on the right. This is the nice thing about stepper motors, if they go the wrong direction you can usually just flip the connector around.

At this point I put everything back together, closed it up, and was able to jog the motors to move the gantry around. As mentioned, the Y was originally reversed (like a standard Cartesian 3D printer) but I fixed that. The other issue was that the laser did not fire. I rechecked everything, messed with the config file, and still nothing…


Yeah, see that red button that says “Laser Switch”? It was off. Once I turned it on, I fired the laser! The limit switches worked, the motors worked, the laser worked. It all (mostly) worked! I say “mostly” because while I am able to run jobs and laser, there’s still a little bit of configuration to do, so we’re only about 95% done, but… we’ll save that for next time.

I’ll also talk about the software and firmware in the next post, but for now I just wanted to get the board installation covered.

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