Quick Benchtop Tool Table Build

I have a small but growing collection of benchtop power tools in my garage shop. Since it is only a narrow one-car garage, benchtop tools allow me to make the most of the limited space. However, I have found that moving them off and on to my work bench during a project was getting to be a pain, and was not really an option for the new planer I recently purchased. So, I decided to build a smaller work table out of some 2x4s and a spare shelf I had in my garage.

I did not draw up any plans for this project before starting since it is such a simple build; instead I eyeballed the size I wanted, made some quick sketches and notes in the shop, and got to work.

I first planed some 2x4s square, more as a test of the new planer that I was anxious to try out than out of necessity, but it did make everything fit together nicely. Next, I cut it to the lengths I would need, 4 Legs, 4 wide cross supports, and 4 narrow cross supports.

For assembly, I used a new Kregg pockethole jig I picked up rencently and used long 2.5" weatherproof screws to hold it together. Like the planing, this step was not necessary, but I had just picked up the jig and wanted some practice with it before working on a more serious project. It could more easilly be assembled as easilly with 2" wood screws straight through the boards, and might have even been stronger that way, though the finished project turned out plenty sturdy with the addition of a little wood glue.

Finally, I again used the pocket hole jig to attach the top. For this application, the jig worked wonderfully and allowed me to have a firmly attached table top without drilling through the top. The tabletop is a spare plywood shelf I had sitting in the garage that I trimmed down on the table saw.

The finished table turned out great. It's stable, sturdy and just the right size and height for the tools I plan to use with it. It should get a lot of use, and it's small footprint fits well in my narrow workspace.

Homemade Copper Laptop Stand

I built this about a year ago, but thought it might be worth sharing. At work and home, I mostly use my laptop hooked up to an external monitor, speakers, mouse and keyboard. I enjoy the portability of the laptop, but where available I prefer the greater screen real-estate of a large monitor, the feel of a clicky mechanical keyboard, and the tracking of a wireless laser mouse. Before, I usually set the laptop flat on the desk beside the monitor, but wanting to free up desk space I decided to build a stand that held it vertically. Having sweated copper pipe before for plumbing projects, I was itching to build something using the technique. I sketched out a design, picked up some parts from the hardware store, and this was the result.

I made a thing to fight maker’s block

I have several hobbies, many of which are designed specifically to get me away from the computer. Discovering an idea to pursue with those hobbies can be hard. I occasionally suffer from Maker’s block, where I know I want to work on something, but have no idea what it is. I had that problem recently while trying to come up with a project to learn several new skills. I wanted a project where I could learn soldering, Arduino interfaces, and the use of my new CNC router. Being new to all of those skills, I did not know my limitations or the full extent of the possibilities. So, to fight my maker’s block, I made a thing.

arduino shift register led graph breadboard cnc case design

Disassembled CNC cut case for my Arduino counter thing

What I mean is, I made an object with very little practical use at all, that is aesthetically neutral, where the only real purpose was to gain a greater familiarity and basic skills in the areas I was interested in pursuing. When done, it would be a mostly useless ornament where the work that went into it was far more important than the outcome.

The result is a small block of wood with some wires running out of it for connection to an Arduino, and some holes drilled where you can view a series of 8 LEDs, continually counting from 1 to 8 and then starting over again in an endless loop. I wrote the simple code to control it in the Arduino environment, used some basic components including a shift register, jumpers, resistors and LEDs which I soldered to a printed breadboard, and cut a small case from some scrap wood using my CNC router.

CNC cut case design for arduino shift register counter ornament

The outside of the case for the counter thing

The project took just a few hours to complete, and served its purpose well. I learned what I wanted to learn, I moved past my rut of maker’s block and restored my enthusiasm, and now, I am anxious to find the next thing to work on.

I hung this thing I made next to my desk at home. Next time I am suffering from a creative block, I will see it and remember this experiment. Just build something. Anything. This useless thing is a reminder that the process is as important as the outcome, and starting something is not as hard as it seems.

Arduino next to the shift register counter thing I made

Arduino next to the counter thing

My new CNC router, from Probotix

I recently ordered and assembled a Fireball CNC Router from Probotix. With it, I can cut out designs in wood, plastic and aluminum, and achieve a greater precision in projects I build in the future. For cost reasons, I went with the smaller model, that can cut stock up to 12″ x 18″ x 3″. While this limits its use to smaller projects, larger projects require less precision and can be cut out by hand.

The kit came in a large, 75 lb box, and took about 2 hours to assemble. The instructions online were straightforward and easy to follow, and the machine worked great the first time I tried it. I bought a cheap re-furbished computer from Microcenter to drive it, and installed Ubuntu with the open source EMC2 as the controlling software.

Running the machine is easy, and produces good, clean, accurate results. The challenge is in the design software, which I am still figuring out. The majority of CAD software for CNC use is overpriced and over complicated, so I am trying a variety of open source alternatives and less expensive trial software. Once I find something that works, running the completed designs through the EMC2 control software and the Fireball should be effortless, and should enable me to make some very cool stuff in very little time.

Fireball v90 Probotix CNC Router Open Box

Fireball v90 Probotix CNC Router Open Box

CNC Router Parts Laid Out

CNC Router Parts Laid Out

Probotix Fireball CNC Router - Partial Asembly

CNC Router - Partial Asembly

CNC Router from Probotix - Full Setup

CNC Router - Full Setup with Computer

Today, I made a can of nuts and stuffed it with monkeys.

Yesterday, via their blog, Woot released a papercraft version of a classic prank: the can of nuts filled with springy snakes that leap out and surprise, anger and confuse an unsuspecting (supposedly) victim. Woot added a very Woot-like twist to the prank by substituting springy screaming monkeys that leap out in place of the classic snakes. Of course, being made of card-stock, the whole prank lacked a certain believability factor. Nevertheless, since I have enjoyed papercrafting in the past, I could not resist taking up the minor challenge of building the thing.

Woot's Fancy Mixed Nuts - A Papercraft April Fool's day prank

Woot's Fancy Mixed Nuts - A Papercraft April Fool's day prank

The whole process took about an hour — Woot’s design had some small details that took some patience with a hobby knife to prepare. The monkeys were especially delicate. Thirteen different minisucle parts for each monkey had to be individually trimmed from the printed sheet, some of them barely an eighth-inch across. After some careful cutting, not so careful folding, and patient glueing, I completed the kit. A test run was successful; the monkeys successfully sprung out of their container after opening with as much vigor and speed as one could hope for from paper springs. It was both cheesy and horrible, yet still it worked much better than expected. I packed the parts separately so as to avoid ruining the limited spring of the paper, and waited until this morning to deliver the result to an unsuspecting victim.

Building the Woot Papercraft Mixed Nuts April Fool's Day Prank

Papercraft takes a sharp hobby knife, tacky glue, and patience

After a quick re-assembly, I gave the thing to my brother today. His skepticism was apparent as he took the paper tube and opened it apprehensively. One solitary monkey half-heatedly oozed from the paper tube of mixed nuts, and the other two stuck behind requiring a show of force to wrest them from their hiding spot. Apparently, I packed them in a bit too tight, or overlaped, or maybe the paper springs only had enough juice in them for that first test run the previous night. Whatever the case, it was a disappointing result. Despite the poor showing, I was and am still impressed with the creativity of Woot’s April Fool’s day offering, and had fun assembling their kit. Maybe with some modifications, I could make a version that worked…

A completed flying woot monkey papercraft

A completed papercraft flying woot monkey

Woot's can of mixed nuts - a papercraft April Fool's day prank

A can of mixed nuts? Or a dangerous trap?

I built an arcade cabinet for my brother

I built this arcade cabinet as a christmas gift for my brother. After everything he has done to help me this past year, I knew I had to give him an epic gift, so this is what I came up with. The desktop based design turned out great, and makes it easy to sit in front of it for long gaming sessions. I spent most of my free time in early December working on it, and it came out great!

I built it in my garage from my own plans I designed in Google SketchUp. It uses an old Dell 1907FP lcd monitor as the screen and competition grade controls I bought from Ultimarc online. The top marquee has a fluorescent light behind it that lights up the acrylic and paper image in front of it. The rest is built mostly from MDF and finished with textured spray-paint and t-molding. It works as a peripheral right now, connecting through USB to an external computer, but we have a ATOM based small computer on order that I will mount inside so it will be self-contained and only require a power connection.

The project was fun and a great learning experience, and I felt it was a worthy gift for my brother.

I am posting a full guide on how I made it with more pics here.

Homemade Desktop Arcade Cabinet

I built this desktop arcade cabinet as a christmas gift for my brother. I built it in my garage from my own plans I designed in Google SketchUp. It uses an old Dell 1907FP LCD monitor as the screen and competition grade controls I bought from Ultimarc. The top marquee has a fluorescent light behind it that lights up the acrylic and paper image in front of it. The rest is built mostly from MDF and finished with textured spray-paint and t-molding. It works as a peripheral right now, connecting through USB to an external computer, but we have a ATOM based small computer on order that I will mount inside so it will be self-contained and only require a power connection.

I will post a full instruction guide eventually, but until then enjoy these build photos.

Super Mario World! (The best Mario)

I designed the original plans in Google SketchUp.

Cutting the side panels

A cut side panel

Gluing the supports to the base

Close up of the counter-sunk screws reinforcing the glued supports

Preparing the monitor mount

Paste on wood putty, sand, repeat about 4X

Spray painting, one of many coats.

Controls template file I made in photoshop

Placing the templates on the controller board.

Marked the holes to drill out from the templates.

Drilling for the controls, I used a 1 1/8″ spade bit.

The controls

My hopefully not too messy wiring

Wider view of the wiring