Monday, November 14, 2011

Home built CNC Router (part 2)

One of the many great things about building your own CNC router, is that you can design it to suit your needs. A few of the things I had in mind when I started down this path were:
  1. It had to be small enough that I could fit it on a rolling cart that could fit through the shop doors here at the school.

  2. I'd like to be able to cut useful templates and jigs with it.

  3. I'd like to be able to make a Banjo head on it (8-11 inches in diameter).
With those few things in mind, I poured over various websites looking at possible designs for making a CNC that was about 3-4 feet long by 12-18 inches wide with a Z axis travel of at least 3 inches. I found the blueChick design on and it seemed to have everything I needed and not much beyond so I decided to go with it.

They have two purchase options:
  • $1739 for the complete kit which includes: Structure, hardware, mechanical components, and electronics, you supply computer, cable/wires, and router.

  • $1360 for the structure kit which includes: Structure, hardware, and mechanical components, you supply electronics, computer, cable/wires, and router .
I went for the structure only kit as I had some stepper motors and was going to try to use them when building my CNC.

The kit arrived within a week of ordering it and using the online videos it took about 8 hours to put the structure and mechanical bits of it together. The kit I received had several missing nuts and bolts and I spent another 2-3 hours chasing them down locally rather than have them shipped by the Mfg. There were also 3 missing V bearings and I did end up calling the Mfg to have those shipped out as it wasn't possible to get them locally and they were going to be expensive so it was worth it to get them sent from the kit maker. They were very responisve and sent them the next day.


After doing a bit of research, I did end up ordering the stepper controllers and parallel breakout board from and then went looking for the cheapest PC I could find with a parallel port. Turns out there aren't many options when it comes to buying a modern PC with a parallel port. In fact there are none that I coule find other than "roll your own" brands. I opted for a cheap HP desktop into which I planned to  install a PCIe parallel port card. And that's when I started running into all kinds of headaches.

The PC I bought came with Windows 7--The first parallel port I bought didn't have drivers for W7. I ordered a different port that claimed to have said drivers--it didn't. I order a third port and was able to install it, but never got the CNC driver software (Mach 3) working with that port.

After somewhere north of 10 hours of trying different things to get it to work and combing through the various online resources, I gave up and decided to look for a USB based solution. I found one at and ordered their 3 axis controller along with their CNC driving software. It arrived within days (no small feat as it shipped from Slovakia) and I began wiring it that evening. After several hours spent trying to get the PC to talk to a single motor, a search on the obscure planet-cnc user forum turned up the information that the silk screen on the screw terminals switch the step and direction pins for all the motors. Swapping those connections solved my problem and my first stepper motor was turning under the control of the PC.

<continued in part 3>

Friday, October 28, 2011

Home built CNC Router (part 1)

Monster Ghost and a CNC machine. Yeah, they are related!For as long as I can remember, I've been fascinated by the concept of remote control. Not the sit on the couch and flip through the channel kind, the make something move over there by controlling it from here kind.

Even the early disappointment of the "Scary, Life Size FLYING ghost" didn't dim my desire to operate things from afar. The ghost in question was purchased from the back of a comic book in the '70's for about a dollar and a half. Turns out a buck fifty didn't buy much in the way of 70's remote control technology--Basically a balloon that you draped a white plastic sheet over and tied a thread to so you could "remotely" control it. Yeah, ok, technically that is remote control...

I think of that ghost--which lasted all of about 8 minutes in the garage hanging from a rafter while being "remotely controlled" by yours truly--almost every time I encounter some other (and likely, vastly superior) remotely control device.

Recently, I embarked on the "Build your CNC router" train--you can get your ticket online by Goggling "Build your own CNC router". The list is long and the choices are vast, but after a few weeks of carefully examining the different approaches used by others I decided to buy a kit of pre-cut parts, an electronics package, a router, and a cheap PC to see if I could overcome the curse of the flying ghost. My next few posts will detail the process.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sr. Studio Fellow Brian Reid working at his bench

Senior Studio Fellow, Brian Reid, working at his bench in the Jackson building at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport Maine.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fall leaves and the end of the workshop season

This week is the final week of summer workshops at the school and the beginning of the end of the fall leaves. The past few days we've had great weather and I've explored future fly fishing sites along the St. George river. With all of the leaf color and light from the setting sun, it's been a spectacular way to spend a couple of afternoons.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Woodworking in America

John Economaki demonstrates the JMP2 at WIAI just got back from Cincinnatti where I attended the Woodworking in America conference. It was great to see old friends and to discover a few new ones too.

The conference was well run and the classes they had scheduled were interesting and varied. They ran all the way from "Your first Dovetails" to "Using the Stanley 45/55 Multiplane" to "Veneer in Contemporary Furniture". They had a little bit for everyone.

One area where they could improve would be in the tech/video of the classes. The screens were in brightly lit rooms and the projectors just didn't have enough lumens to overcome the ambient light. Also, the skill of those filming was pretty hit and miss with some doing a fantasitc job and others moving and shifting so much that you were better off just ignoring the screen.

While I was there, I also passed out a few post cards for the school to folks who asked me what I did. After telling them where I worked, most would want to know about the school so I had a stack of post cards from the school in my pack and I'd hand them out. I think we'll get a few students out of it!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Hand planes

Hand made wooden hand planesSpent a little time this past week making a new wooden hand plane. The one I just made is the closer of the two pictured here. It's a maple body with a Goncalo Alves sole. The blade is bedded at 55 degrees and should work well for difficult to plane woods. I was quite careful when I was tuning it and I'm really pleased with how small the mouth opening turned out--it's just enough to pass the thinnest of shavings and that too should really help reduce tear-out.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Carving seats

Instructor, Andy Jack, working on a seat

Windsor chairs and studio fellows

 Wow, it's been over a month since I posted an update! Sorry about the lag. I've been busy in the shop and took a week out of the fellowship to assist in the Windsor rocker class here at school. The class was amazing and most of the students left with fully assembled continuous arm Windsor rockers.

In the fellowship, I've completed the alternate box that I was working on in addition to the "membrane" box. I've put the membrane box aside and I'm working on a chair mock-up.

The Studio Fellows - Aug 2011

As a bit of mixed news, I'll be leaving the fellowship early (really early). They've offered me a job here at the school. In two weeks I'll start as the new assistant facilities manager. I'm really looking forward to it.

Thursday, June 30, 2011


David Upfill-Brown applying finsih to chair legs
For me, one of the best things about being here (the Studio Fellowship at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship) is taking inspiration from all of the incredible work produced by the faculty, staff, fellows and students. I was particularly inspired over the last month watching David Upfill-Brown produce 5 exquisite chairs.

Although I wasn't here when he went through the design process for this chair, just watching him take rough cherry boards and turn them into beautiful chairs has been a rare treat.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

More work on the membrane box

Box sides--veneer glued to an MDF coreI've had two weeks of various experiments trying to figure out the best way to configure the lid and membrane on my current project. At this point I'm getting tired of mucking around with it and I'm going to build the box and figure out the top later.

So next week I'll be focused on getting the box together. I've already glued up the veneer and core for the sides of the box and now need to figure out the bottom and the frame for the membrane on top.

One idea I've had is to just stretch the membrane in a frame and then build some sort of kinetic element that sits in a top tray. Maybe if could be triggered by sound or proximity to create movement under the membrane as someone approaches the box??? If anyone has any thoughts or ideas, please post a comment--I'd love to hear from you!

Grid used in a failed kinetic experiment for the boxThis grid was used in one of the mock-ups that I didn't like. I like the grid, but the movement element for the box just didn't work out.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Under the hood

Several dozen bamboo skewers installed in the lid matrixHere is peek under the membrane of my current box project. The idea is that items put in the tray of the box will telegraph through the membrane. As an experiment, I cut and mounted a hundred or so bamboo skewers between two pieces of MDF drilled to accept them. I found a nut that fit on them perfectly. It even cut threads as I screwed them on using a nut driver.

The mock-up of the top is working and I'm pleased with how the rubber dye worked on the latex top. It has a very organic look to it--kind of like frog's skin or some sort of granite.

I have a couple of other ideas and I'm hoping to get one of them sorted out tomorrow. I'll post that one when it's done.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

First fellowship project

Top membrane (dyed latex)It's day 11 of my fellowship and I've starting working on a small box. The lid of the box will have a flexible membrane that will distort to telegraph small items left in the top tray of the box. I've just applied dye to the latex membrane and I'm pleased with how it's come out.

I'm still working on the dimensions of the box and I'll need to cut down the lid as it's much too thick and this point. Another thing still to determine is the outside treatment of the box.

In addition to working on my first project, I've been making lots of small things for my bench--a shooting board, bench hook, and shelf for the back of the bench. In the evenings, I've been resurecting an old handsaw that I picked up at a garage sale for $3. It's a Disston D-23 from sometime after 1928 and before 1955.

Monday, April 4, 2011

CFC Fellowship

In addition to co-teaching a two week course this summer, I'm also going to start a 12 month fellowship in June.

From the CFC website:
The Studio Fellowship Program provides emerging and established furniture makers, carvers, and turners with a stimulating environment for the exploration of new work. The program offers free studio space and other benefits to individuals who are willing to commit anywhere from a month to a year to expanding their creative abilities.

So if you happen to be in Maine this summer or anytime during the next year, stop by and say hello.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Slideshow of my Summer Workshops Assistantship

I made a short slideshow with a few of the highlights from the summer workshop assistantship I did this past summer (2010) at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship. I spent 10 weeks having fun, learning a lot, and working long hours. If you haven't checked out the workshops available at the CFC, I highly recommend it.

Enjoy. -mj

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Heading back to CFC -- this time as an Instructor

I'm thrilled to have been asked to co-teach a summer workshop at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship. I'll be out in Maine at the end of August and the beginning of September for the two week introduction to woodworking course. I'm excited (and humbled) by the prospect and really look forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones while I'm out there.

The tiny shop make-over

I've been working to declutter the shop in preparation to start some new projects. Here's what the shop looks like right now (it's quite a mess). I've been selling things on ebay and craigslist to make room for a used shopsmith that I'm planning to pick up this weekend up in Eugene.