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STL to SVG

Sometimes I need a 2D vector version of something that is a 3D model. Here’s how I do it. First, if there is an STL file, I load that into OpenSCAD.

For this model I wanted a top view so I could use the hole pattern to laser cut a mounting plate.

I select Show Axes because I’m gonna need that later…

The axes will show the center of the canvas, and luckily our model is centered…

Change the view from Perspective to Orthogonal

If you don’t know the difference between perspective view and orthogonal view, do some research I guess. (I probably learned about them in 7th grade drafting class.) Otherwise, switch between the views and it should make sense…

Okay, next I view the object from the front. Looks good!

I then add the translate command so that I can move the object in 3D space, and I lower it down, in this case 10mm, because the center line is where it will be cut.

The line projection(cut=true) then cuts a slice at the zero point in the Z axis… But we’re not done yet.

(Oh, if you choose cut=false you’ll just get the whole object, not a slice at a specific cross section of it.)

Here we can see what it looks like at an angle, which might make a bit more sense…

Let’s switch from orthogonal back to perspective view… Not required, but I’ll do it anyway.

Back to the top view… and now with the projection you can see the slice we took from the 3D model.

The next step is important… we need to Render the file! You can’t export the SVG file until you render your model.

The model will change… in this case you can see the shapes are now green with red outlines.

And now we can Export as SVG. (You could also use DXF if you need to, though that’s a garbage format I tend to avoid.)

Here’s the SVG open in Inkscape. Brilliant! I can now add to it, and my hole pattern is spaced properly for the mount I want to make. Excellent.

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Ball Feeder Mechanism

Here’s this week’s progress on the wax ball feeder mechanism. These are actually 2D files that were laser cut, but I sort of like the look of making them 2.5D so you can see the dimensionality.

Oh, to make the 3D render I exported a DXF file from Inkscape, load it into OpenSCAD and then use the linear_extrude function.

And yeah, these files are already outdated as there was one mistake (which I fixed with the bandsaw) and I’ve assembled it and found room for improvement.

You can see some earlier iterations here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Which is to say, if you want to see minor updates with very little context, follow @raster on The Instagram.

You’ll notice an issue with the balls getting stuck in the chute, so there’s a bit of work to do there. I’ve got a few ideas, just need time to test them.

And don’t worry, at some point this might all make sense, once you see the rest of the thing. Or maybe it won’t… who knows!?

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Quick 3D Sketches

stand-01

I’ve found that I prefer firing up OpenSCAD and writing some lines of code to actually trying to sketch simple 3D objects on paper. I grabbed a notepad and thought I could knock out a sketch, but then decided I preferred a model I could spin around and easily edit, and in no time I had what I needed.

stand-02

I’ve found that mocking up cabinets in OpenSCAD works for me. These are not final plans to fabricate something, just quick sketches to communicate ideas with others.

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Casting Wax Balls

mold-05

I made wax balls, and it worked, and I did it using 3D printed molds. I won’t get into why I want/need wax balls in this post, but I swear it has nothing to do with candle making or bath bombs. (These balls are about 12mm in diameter.)

model-02

I originally modeled one ball with one sprue, and then used the loop function of OpenSCAD to make a series of them in a row, slightly overlapping the sprues.

model-01

My original plan was to make silicone molds (like I did with this wax stick) and went as far as creating a positive and a mold box, but along the way I thought about just using a 3D printed mold…

mold-01

Here’s the 3D printed mold created using PLA filament. The holes are for bolting the two pieces together using 3mm hardware. (I used tape in the earlier versions, but it did not work well.)

mold-02

I didn’t need to fill all the bolt holes, but wanted a few options so I could get tight clamping. Wax doesn’t have the same low viscosity of something like water, but when melted is a bit runny, so I just want to make sure I can keep it from leaking out too much.

mold-03

Once the mold is assembled it’s just a matter of melting some wax and pouring it into the mold. I’ve had a few balls with air pockets when demolding, so I’ve taken to sticking a thin piece of wire in to stir around the wax in an attempt to remove the air. (I do have a vacuum pump which I’ve considered trying to use, but the chamber is currently too small to fit much in it.)

mold-04

Hey, wax balls! Originally I tried spraying the mold with mold release, but I don’t think it helped much. What does help is putting the cooled molds into the freezer for a bit (this is a known trick for getting wax candles out of glass jars.) It helps solidify the wax enough to make it come out fairly easily. I do break a few every now and then but a lot less than before I used the freezer method.

The other great thing about using 3D printed molds is that I can very easily (and cheaply) make a whole bunch of molds, which is good, because I may need a few thousand wax balls…

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3D Printing a Sifter

sifter-3d-printed

I needed a sifter to remove some small pebbles from concrete mix, so I designed and 3D printed one. Now, like many things that get 3D printed, you don’t always get it right the first time. After testing the sifter I decided it needed larger holes, so. I started on version 2.

inkscape-drawing

For version 1 I used Inkscape to quickly create a grid of circles (using the clone feature) and then differenced them from a circle. Once I had this done I exported as a DXF file and used that within OpenSCAD to create the bottom of the sifter. I added a ring and Bob’s your uncle. I use this Inkscape/DXF/OpenSCAD/extrude method sometimes, because it seems like the right way to do things, or because it’s pretty fast. But it’s not always the best.

The problem with the Inkscape/DXF/OpenSCAD/extrude method is that you have to go back to Inkscape and redo your DXF file if you want to make changes or tweak the design. This may not be an issue for many designs, but for some, I want the flexibility to easily change things.

openscad-holes

So for the next version I redid the holes portion of the design in OpenSCAD. The great advantage here is that you can very easily tweak things like the size of the holes, and the hole spacing, and automagically see how it looks. (Note: in the image above you’re seeing the positive “solids” of the holes. In the final file I differenced them from another solid object to make them “holes” in the design.)

While the method of doing it all within OpenSCAD has advantages, the one way it suffers is when it comes to render time. I should note that in OpenSCAD you can choose how “smooth” circles are by applying a number between 1 and 200. It basically sets how many “sides” a circle has. You can typically use 100 and circles will look pretty circular, but you can also drop the number down to 6 for hexagons, 8 for octagons, etc. That said, at a setting of 100 rendering the sifter took nearly 15 minutes on my 6 year old MacBook Pro. Changing the circles to hexagons with just 6 sides took about one minute to render.

This is where The Cloud™ should save us, right? But while there are various versions of OpenSCAD running on public servers, no one is running a version that worked properly. And since OpenSCAD is a niche piece of open source software, I don’t know if this will change. But since there is a command line interface to OpenSCAD, maybe I can do complex renders on one of my more powerful computers. (Anyway, I’m getting off-topic, so let’s continue.)

openscad-sifter

Hey, it’s a sifter! Yes, I designed and 3D printed a sifter. I often design things and then print them overnight so I have them the next day. 3D printing is awesome, but it’s often not fast. I did consider trying to make a sifter plate with a drill press, and then I remembered I had a laser cutter, and considered using that, but ultimately I was not in a hurry and 3D printing one seemed like a good idea.

tinkercad

Speaking of good ideas, I’ve been looking at Tinkercad recently, and while I wanted to be convinced it wouldn’t be easy to do what I wanted, it actually was pretty easy to do what I wanted, so I redesigned my sifter using Tinkercad. The smart duplication feature made it fairly simple.

While I’m a bit more impressed with Tinkercad than I thought I would be, I still have the problem I had with Inkscape, that if I want to tweak some values, I need to redo work. In fact, I have to pretty much create a whole new model. For simple designs, this isn’t a huge deal, but it is a bit of a pain.

What’s a bigger pain is the fact that while I will always have copies of Inkscape and OpenSCAD to use, Tinkercad (and the files I create with it) may disappear. Tinkercad is own/run by Autodesk, and while it’s a great tool for beginners to get started with 3D modeling (without having to install any software) ultimately I’m concerned for its long-term existence (like any hosted/cloud service.)

I can easily edit the OpenSCAD files I created seven years ago, which is something that is important to me. That said, I do want to explore other software, because reasons, you know?