Fixin’ It

Fixed Outlet

When the wife left the house yesterday she asked me to fix the outlet cover in the bedroom as it was loose and plugging things in was proving difficult. She said that she would have done it but was afraid of getting electrocuted.

I was about to tighten up the plate, but I noticed that the entire outlet was loose. No problem! I just removed the cover and tightened up the screws… Problem! The outlet box was too far into the wall, and my first attempt at pulling it out resulted in a nice jolt and the box not moving. (She didn’t warn me not to electrocute myself, but maybe she should have.) My guess is that whoever put the outlet in didn’t do it right, and just figured that putting things in loose and calling it a day was easier that fixing it and doing it right the first time.

Plastic Spacers

I thought about using some washers, but I would have actually had to find some washers, and they would have needed to be the right size, and I would have needed to have enough of them… and if you’ve seen my workshop, you’d know this is not an easy task.

I could have 3D printed some spacers! But like my last repair involving plastic, it would have been overkill for this task and would have taken way to much time.

So my solution involved taking some plastic anchors and snipping them to the right length. I have enough anchors that I could repair a dozen outlets in the house and still have a bunch left over. (Let’s hope I don’t have to do that, by the way.)


Lasers and Boxes

Since we’ve got a laser cutter at Milwaukee Makerspace, I wanted to test out the BoxMaker and cut a box out of wood.


BoxMaker is a sweet little web app that lets you put in the dimensions and spits out a PDF file with what you need. I wanted a box 3″ x 5″ by 2″ and for the material thickness, I got out the digital calipers and took a measurement. (Take note of this! The material thickness is important later on…)


So here’s the PDF file I got. Depending on the size of your material (or how much you want to waste) it may make sense to move the pieces around. Since I imported the PDF file into CorewDraw (which is what the laser uses to cut things) it was fairly easy to rearrange the pieces. I also deleted the text that describes the box. I could have just made it a color the laser cutter ignores, but I figured I had the info in the original PDF file.


Now, our laser cutter is 25 watts, but since it’s old and may need some cleaning, it might not be outputting 25 watts, so when I put my thin piece of wood into the laser cutter, MattN mentioned that it wouldn’t cut it. I figured I’d give it a try, and yeah, even though I did multiple passes and tried to refocus the laser, it just couldn’t do it. I kept checking the depth of the cut, but it just wasn’t “cutting” it. (Pun intended!)

At this point I was fine with the failure to cut wood, and I knew the laser cutter could handle acrylic, so I grabbed a piece of that…

Cut Acrylic

The laser got through the acrylic just fine, as it’s done before… but wait, what did I say about the material thickness before? I said you needed to measure it! Since the acrylic was thinner than the wood, I should have generated a new file, but I didn’t. So this is what I got…

Finished Box

Here’s my box, with the tabs way too big, which gives it an interesting look I suppose. Not exactly what I was after, but at least I know that it works… mostly.

I also want to try a box with the T-joints like the MakerBot uses. Box-o-tron looks like it will work, if I can get it running. (Any other suggestions?)

Also, I had a fun time trying to photograph clear acrylic, so it wasn’t a total loss. :)


Fire the Laser!

I finally got some quality time with the Laser Cutter at Milwaukee Makerspace, and I have to say, I’m fairly pleased with the results!

Milwaukee Makerspace Logo

I started with the Milwaukee Makerspace logo (in SVG format) in Inkscape, and exported it as a DXF file. (I also kept the stroke of the width just 1 pixel for all the lines.)

Once I had a DXF file, I was able to import that into CorelDRAW, which is what the PC that controls the Laser Cutter uses to do the work. There’s a bit of trickery in CorelDRAW between raster and vector artwork, but doing it this way with a DXF file at just one pixel wide seemed to force it to work in vector mode, which is what I wanted.

Laser Etched Wood

Knowing the power and speed settings for the Laser Cutter are tricky, and require a bit of experimentation based on if you are etching or cutting, and how deep you wish to etch or cut. The nice thing is, as long as you don’t move whatever your material is, you can run the Laser Cutter multiple times to go deeper, or complete a cut. In many cases this may be the way to go… (More on that later!)

It’s worth noting that some materials should NEVER be cut. Since our pals at PumpingStation: One already have a list, I’ll point you to the NEVER CUT THESE MATERIALS list on their their wiki. The also have this cool list of laser settings. (Yeah, we’re working on that as well. We have a different laser, so we need to start from scratch.)

Laser Etched Wood

Here’s a close-up of the etching into wood. I ran it a few times. If you’re doing a vector cut, it just traces around the outline, and goes super-fast. If you are using raster artwork, it’ll behave like an old dot-matrix printer and go line-by-line and take forever. Shane did this Periodic Table and it took almost two hours. (It does look pretty amazing though!) I’m still not 100% sure what CorelDRAW does with each format. I tried to import an SVG file but it seems to convert it to raster format. The DXF kept its vector format, so I’ll stick with that for now.

Laser Etched Plastic

After I was satisfied with wood, I moved on to plastic. When I say plastic, I mean “plastic” and I don’t know if it’s acrylic, or plastic, or what kind of plastic, or anything else, so I’ll just leave it at that for now. (And yes, we’ve got a nice scrap pile of plastic at the Makerspace to experiment with.)

Laser Etched Plastic

This is just an outline of the logo, but we should be able to use a filled-in logo (in raster format) and create the effect of frosted glass, and then we can do this Floating Glow Display project from Make with our laser-etched plastic. Hmmm, it looks like I just gave myself another project to tackle!


Upcycle Plastic Repair

A year ago I saw a post on the Sector67 site that talked about upcycling the plastic from laundry jugs. After seeing the post I thought about how many of these jugs we end up tossing in the recycling bin, and if there were any ways I could make good use of them.

Laundry Jug
Empty Laundry Jug

Here’s a typical laundry jug, and as you can see I cut out a nice (mostly) flat piece from the side.

Cutting the plastic with an X-ACTO blade

I wanted to cut a small piece into a rectangle to match a missing piece from a window blind, and using an X-ACTO knife and steel ruler are the perfect choice for such things.

(Somehow we’ve lost/misplaced these window blind parts, or they weren’t here when we moved in. I thought briefly about 3D printing a replacement, but cutting a piece from plastic I’ve already got seemed like a better option.)

New vs. Original

My replacement is not an exact match, but I’ve cut it a bit taller to provide some friction so it will stay in place. For the simple purpose it will serve, it should do just fine.

Holder in Place
Original and New

Here’s the original piece, and my replacement piece. Both are holding the blinds into the bracket reasonably well.

I’ll often just cut out the flat sides of laundry jugs and keep them in a stack and then recycle the rest of the jug. They’re handy to have around when you need one.

We’ve talked about building an injection molding machine at Milwaukee Makerspace (Mold-o-rama anyone?) so if that happens, I may have a few more uses for these plastic jugs.


MakerBot Hands-on

Wisconsin in Sketchup
Wisconsin in Sketchup

After seeing the blog post about the United States Electoral Vote Map, I decided I needed to print out a 3D version of Wisconsin. So I grabbed one of the Sketchup files from Thingiverse and deleted every state except the one I live in. (Which, you know, happens to be Wisconsin.)

Wisconsin in ReplicatorG
Wisconsin in ReplicatorG

Once I had our dear state all on its own, I used this “Sketchup to DXF or STL” plugin (download skp_to_dxf.rb) to export it as an STL file so that I could load it into ReplicatorG.

Yeah, I know it’s tiny. But since everything up until now was the easy part, and the actual controlling of the MakerBot and the print process was the (supposedly) difficult part, I decided to start small. Here’s where it gets hard.

See, last week when I had my first MakerBot Adventure, Drew (the owner/operator and fellow Milwaukee Makerspace member) did all the hard work, while I just handed him a file. This time, he wasn’t around, nor was the laptop that normally connects to the MakerBot, so I was on my own.

I wish I could say skimming this wiki page titled How To Print revealed the secrets to the MakerBot universe, but it took a whole bunch of wiki pages, and some Google Groups messages, and some random searching based on error codes, and at some point, I got it mostly figured out. Mostly. (I also had to remember that I was using a Cupcake and not a Thing-O-Matic, as they have a few differences.)

ReplicatorG Control Panel
ReplicatorG Control Panel

Ah, the Control Panel… where the magic happens! Or should happen. Or something. All that digging around on wiki pages provided me with just enough info to be dangerous here, and put in some values I thought would work. The one thing Drew said was “As long as you don’t drive the extruder head into the platform, you should be good.” That was enough to scare me into being overly cautious, and my first attempts obviously had the head too high. The other issue was, the feed rate of the filament was zero. I tried really hard not to force things, but eventually applying more pressure got the filament moving. (Thanks Royce!)

One thing I noticed about the Control Panel is that the settings did not seem to stick, and I had to enter them over and over again. (Which is why I’m posting it here.) Besides that, ReplicatorG was fairly easy to use. I’m still not sure how to determine the size of the thing being printed, but I’ll work on that.

So at this point, I had the extruder head down low enough, plastic was flowing, and the platform was moving. That’s right folks… I was 3D printing!!!

And how did it turn out, you may be asking? Well, here’s some amazing images of my first “all on my own” 3D print.

Wisconsin [3D]
Wisconsin (with quarter, for scale)

Yeah, like I said… it’s tiny. No matter. I’ve made it this far… Now on to bigger and better things.

View the super large photo, or the alternate, at Flickr.)