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2014/03/18 - NoVA Mini Maker Faire - wrap up

posted Jan 27, 2015, 10:49 AM by Jeff Balderson
What happens when you get together 80+ groups that want to show off their projects and combine it with 3000 curious attendees? The answer is a Mini Maker Faire. I had a lot of fun showing off my CNC projects, answering questions about my CNC Router and designs, and it led to a discovery of a future project I want to work on.

I had a great time doing the table at the Maker Faire.  Lots of people stopped by and asked a lot of good questions.  There were a few who seemed extremely interested in doing this type of work and a few showed a *lot* of interest in what I was doing.  Hopefully, they learned something and maybe want to start doing some CNC routing on their own. 

The demo

I was making keychains as a demo and give-away.  The X90 was running pretty much all day cutting them out.  While I came with about 75 done and in the bin when the event started, they disappeared faster than I could produce them.  It looks like I might have underestimated the demand slightly.

I did one run of engraving keychains on-site.  It was good to show, but it took entirely too long to finish this job.  The pre-engraved ones had pithy XKCD-style sayings on them and either the Maker Faire Robot logo or Tux.  Unfortunately, I don't have a shot of that available at the moment.Keychains being made at Maker Faire

With the exception of some of my earlier attempts that were router-engraved, all of the ones cut out on-site were were laser engraved ahead of time partially due to the router-engraving taking so long and secondarily because the laser-engraved ones didn't need any stain to pop. 

I had also intended to make some of my acrylic Maker Faire Robot coasters, but didn't even get through all of the pre-engraved keychains I had made.

Here was the view from behind the table.

View from behind the table.

Follow the links to see a couple other pictures that I didn't take.  It'll also lead you indirectly to the event page that's collecting all of the other photos people have taken.

A few of the popular questions I remember were:

Do I make decent money selling my items

I haven't been selling any of my work ... yet.  Maybe someday.  For now, I've been treating this as a hobby, learning how to do things, making projects for myself as well as a few Christmas gifts towards the end of 2013. 

Did I make the CNC Router

No.  I purchased it as a kit from Probotix.  I did have to assemble it, square it up, and calibrate it.  I opted for initially spending my time learning how to use the machine instead of building it.  More on that later, though.

Is the CNC Router expensive / How much did it cost

I purchased the Fireball X90 kit from Probotix.  I included every bell and whistle except for the aluminum table, and also included a copy of MeshCAM.  That wound up being around $1700 shipped to my door.  The router itself wasn't included and had to be purchased separately.

Is that just a standard router?

Yes.  The current spindle I'm using is a Dewalt DW611P which is a palm router you can find nearly everywhere.  I previously used a Bosch PR20, but I'm considerably happier with the Dewalt.  For one, it has the built-in LEDs to illuminate the cutting area.  It also seems to magically keep the bits cool.  I could be cutting a job that lasts an hour, pull the bit out and it'll feel cool to the touch.  When I pulled the bits out of the Bosch, they were very hot.  That makes a huge difference when cutting acrylic.

How do I make it work / Is writing the code difficult?

This was a very common question.  I guess people thought it was harder than it actually is.  Basically, the workflow includes three types of software, CAD CAM and Controller. I'll write this up in a separate post so I can cover it in a little more detail.

How long does it take run run a job?

It entirely depends on what you're doing.  That engraving job pictured above alone took at least 45 minutes to run, and then another 15 minutes to cut out.  I could have run everything faster, but I thought that slowing it down so people could see what it was doing might be better.  Some of the signs I displayed took 45-60 minutes or more.

How long do the router bits last?

Again, it entirely depends on what you're doing.  A bit can last for a really long time in soft stock.  If you run something incredibly hard like the Ipe I used for the iPhone speakers, it's going to really shorten the lifespan.  I usually listen to the router and you can generally hear when it's starting to struggle.

Can you only cut wood?

I have successfully:

  • cut HDPE/UMHW
  • cut and engraved acrylic
  • cut and engraved a project box that I was going to use as an external jog/e-stop.  I think it was made from ABS.  
  • cut aluminum, and while it was successful, I'd strongly discourage it because the machine isn't really made for it and is too flexible to do it properly.  It's hard to say how much life I took off the bit I used.

Where do I get my art?

Mostly from browsing websites like Pinterest, focusing mostly on Woodworking and CNC boards.  When I see something I like, I open up LibreCAD or Inkscape and start crafting my own version using the picture as inspiration.  Other art, including CAD files, have come from Thingiverse, GrabCad or GitHub.  One friend found a stool online that was offering free CAD files, so he signed up, downloaded the file for it and I cut one out for him. 


My only regret is that I was so busy talking to people and running the demo that I didn't get a chance to walk around myself.  A few of my fellow Nova Labs members managed to escape their tables for a little bit to walk around, and I wish I had a less hands-on table that would have allowed me to do the same.

The next steps

During one of the conversations I had with someone, they mentioned making a CNC with OpenBuilds, which is a modular system based on extruded aluminum for building CNC, 3D printer and other similar equipment..  After I got home, I decided to check out the site again, and I found a design called the OX which is exactly what I've been looking for.

I think I know what I'm going to be building in the near future.  It's a scalable design that can easily be resized for the dimensions I was looking for (24x36) and can use all of my existing electronics to power it.  Here's a picture of it.

OpenBuilds OX CNC Router

Part of me wonders if there would be enough interest to put together a CNC Router build group at Nova Labs.