2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 360,000 times in 2015. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 15 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Oh Xmas Light

Been out with the family looking at the Christmas lights.  Our house may be draped in them, but it is a modest affair compared to some places!
I was at one location recently, very intensive setup, with LED panels bought from China, powered by Arduino, a large light tree etc.  What I was interested in were the assembled reindeer and sleigh he had in the yard.  All made from ply, and not dissimilar to the designs I have been cutting on the CNC, so I got chatting with the owner.

He has been purchasing the plans from a different company than the one I use – MakeCNC (I missed the name of his source), who only supply paper templates rather than digital files, because of the amount of piracy that goes on.  Given some of the designs are 8-10′ high, that is some massive paper plans!

The guy doesn’t have a CNC, so resorts to making the cutouts by hand.

He had tried a bandsaw, but as it was one of those small crap things 8″ diameter, he could not get it to run true.  So all his plans are cut out old school, with a scrollsaw, and a jigsaw.

Given that he only started woodworking about a year ago (and prior to that was the obligatory pencil case in secondary school), it was a pretty impressive effort.

He had one recent problem – a supply of marine grade ply from Bunnings, that was a different supplier to normal.  Despite querying it, and being reassured it was right, making the sleigh, treating it, painting it and doing all the right things, it has already started delaminating.  Bunnings are apparently going to replace the ply for him, but that doesn’t come close to replacing all the work that went into building and finishing the sleigh.  Must be frustrating.

While looking to see if I can find the company he has been using, I came across Teds (16000 copyright violated) woodworking plans for sale.  There are a lot more very detailed descriptions of just what is wrong their whole approach to plans, but it primarily boils down to the issue that they are gathering up all the plans offered for free, then repackaging them and reselling them.  Just because they are freely available on the internet, doesn’t mean they are copyright-free.  They apparently have an active affiliate program- don’t get sucked in.

The lead up to Christmas has been busy – and the day itself is always a mixture of a massive amount of Torn xmas paper, a very excited daughter (and family), food, drink, and nary a thought of woodworking.  Hopefully Santa was good to everyone – after all, he knows the value of a well equipped shed better than anyone!

Merry Christmas to everyone, from Stu’s Shed!

Christmas Greetings from Toolstoday

That Snowman looks VERY familiar 😉

Love my Tools Today!

Xmas is coming

For me, the run-down to Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year.  Unlike other busy periods, the Xmas period is predictable, unavoidable chaos. And the shed is one of the first areas to suffer any competing demands on time.

However, it is not all bad – one of the things I use the shed for is downtime, and what is probably called “mindfulness” in the modern terminology.  So long as I am not stressed by a lack of shed time, it can be kept for more relaxing periods.

Having the CNC machine out there is also a real boon.  While I can be running around like a headless chook, it can still be turning out products.  I still don’t care one iota that some people do not regard the CNC as “real woodworking”.  I agree on one level – the whole hands-on experience of woodworking was watered down dramatically with the shift in the workshop technology to powered machines, and it is as much a quantum leap again with the move to computer controlled machinery.  But that is a choice you make for yourself, it is not one thrust upon you.

Is a dovetailed box made by CNC any less a box than one made using a dovetail jig, and is that any less than one cut using power tools (such as a bandsaw), and is that any less a box than one with hand-cut dovetails?

From a skill perspective, sure – each level of technology requires less skill than the previous.  But isn’t that true for every other aspect of our lives?  One impact of technology is that more can be done with less.  More productivity, higher quality with the same level of skill.  That isn’t to say the end product is equal – a handcut dovetail can be so much more than one made with a jig, but when it comes down to producing something when skill, and/or time is more limited than would otherwise be needed, it allows a result when otherwise there would be none forthcoming.

So to what purpose all this production, when I am not getting the tangible benefit of the downtime pottering around in the workshop?

Xmas decorations, and toys!  Not only for the workplace (and an informal competition between a few areas for the most Xmas-decorated area), but also for individual colleagues who wanted models for themselves, or as stocking stuffers.  And the extra items made, the surplus production time for the CNC?  Some local markets and school fêtes on the leadup to Christmas.  A bit of fun, and not a bad way to value-add an MDF sheet.

If you were really keen and dedicated, there are so many markets on around the place.  It wouldn’t take too long for the full price of the CNC machine to be recovered. Of course, factoring in your time, setup costs and tax would mean that you wouldn’t be expecting to start turning a true profit for some time, but we are potentially talking months, not years.  Even if it did take a year, and you had to do a market each weekend, would you really be too upset if it meant that you had a fully paid-off CNC machine by the end of the year?  It could be a rather tempting argument for the purchase of a decent-sized laser!  

So that is what has been happening recently.  Hopefully after the madness of Christmas is over, some normality can return to workshop activities!

The un-Festool systainer 

Came across this in Masters today

Made from the crappiest plastic, and with difficult-to-operate clips, I sure doubt it is made under license from Tanos (which is the systainer division of Festool).

There is no doubt in my mind that its design is firmly based on copying the Festool systainer, as cheaply as possible.

How the brand fades

Once upon a time, the Triton brand was all about innovation, and the items put out there were uncompromised.

The saw was awesome, huge power, heavily made, lots of adjustments.  Same with the router (at that stage only the 2400W was available).

When the drill came out with the specially designed plunge mechanism, the comments were wide-ranging, from how awesome it was, through to how much it was.  When it hit the market, it was around $322 or thereabouts.  I still remember the howls.

These days, Triton seemingly has followed GMC’s lead- find a tool available for rebadging, one that looks as chunky-futuristic as possible and wrap it in orange

Perhaps they are still impressive tools, a marvel of engineering design and build. But at these prices, and needing to be twin packaged with a glorified torch to sell it, I suspect not.

Acrylic Snowman

While the MDF snowman worked out nicely, and it looked ok painted up, I wanted to get back to trying my hand at making some models from acrylic.

Given that Christmas is rapidly approaching, I thought I’d tackle the snowman again, and see just how well the CNC, along with a new set of router bits specifically for plastic from toolstoday.com would work out.

Just an aside for a second.  I have just gotten an iPad Pro, and while writing the article, have used one of the pro’s features of being able to run a second program simultaneously, and on screen at the same time.  Awesome feature! 

I also found a better supplier of plastic sheet goods, so that will be great (and dangerous to the wallet).  They also sell acrylic ‘glue’, and it is a vast improvement over using Superglue.

I still have some processes to work out to make things run smoother on the CNC process of working with acrylic, but for the most part it went very well.  Acrylic is pretty flexible when it gets thin, even worse than MDF it seems, if that is even possible.  So I found myself supervising the whole job while it was machining.  I was using an upcut bit, and perhaps that also has a lot to do with it.  While chip clearance is important (especially with a material that can melt), lifting the piece is not the best way of ensuring it is stable.  I still don’t have revolution speed control, so am still running the bits slower than I would like, and again that is probably a real factor.

Still, the result is a great snowman. Looks awesome (especially with Kara Rasmanis wielding her camera)  

 Next one to tackle – an acrylic AT-AT (Imperial Walker) in greys and black plastics. And there will be video, just once I have a better idea of just how to manage this material!

An unusual motion

Driving down the road recently, and the steering wheel was really acting a bit strangely, and I was feeling a slight bit of a vibration that was out of the norm.  Checking the wheel, and although it looked fine from the outside, the inside edge revealed a different problem, with the steel radial portion of the tyre making its presence known on the outside, rather than the inside of the tyre.  That is an interesting fail.

So when I was in the shed this afternoon, sanding away, I was equally surprised to discover that vibration had followed me into the shed.  And it got worse, real quick.

Turns out the sanding pad on my Festool ETS150/5 had also experienced a catastrophic failure, and it was in the process of tearing itself to shreads.  About time I replaced it anyway- at some point I managed to overheat the pad, and the velcro was damaged so it did not hang onto sandpaper at all well.

Picked up a new one, so will fit that next time I’m in the shed.  There are three main grades that I could see (looking quickly).  The one I got was the middle for stiffness.  The softer one (grey) looks to be the one that comes with the ETS150/3, and there was one even harder, that means it will sand things flatter, rather than following any natural contours.  It depends on your intended application.  Worth knowing though, in particular situations, you may want to use one over another.  I also have a supplementary pad that is very soft, that fits between the base and the sandpaper, so that gives me a lot of flexibility (pun intended) where it comes to how I use the particular sander.

Six Step Guide to Printing in 3D

1. The Printer

While 3D printing has been around for many years, the machines have typically been worth many 10s, even 100s of thousands of dollars.

This is now rapidly changing, with the maker movement starting and encouraging a trend towards sub $1000 3D printers, putting it well within the reaches of the average person, where the same machine just five years ago would have cost in excess of $20,000.

Once a concept reserved for the pages of science fiction, can now be found sitting in the living room. I estimate that within 10 years, a high proportion of homes will have some form of 3D printing device, and it will be in common use in stores like Harvey Norman and Ikea (in the way that the photo print booths are now). When you require a spare part, it is just as likely to be printed on demand as held in stock, or available as a file to download and print at home.

By and large, the sub $1000 printers that are now available are still relatively utilitarian, a mass of cables and components, retained within a basic shell, and often not even that. That matters little to those using these devices – window dressing is not a high priority when compared to functionality.

There are moves by some of the big companies, such as HP, and some speculation they will be joined by Apple and Google in releasing consumer-level printers, although it will be a while before they become particularly affordable.

There are three main forms of 3D printer.

Orthogonal 3D Printer.

The most traditional form, with linear (Cartesian) movements in the X, Y and Z directions. It may be that the print head makes these movements, or it can be stationery in one or more of those degrees of movement, and instead the object itself (or rather the supporting bed) makes the corresponding movement.


The printer I have for example, has the print head moving in the X and Z directions, and the printer bed moves in the Y direction.

Radial 3D Printer

A very uncommon form (in fact, I have only seen a single example of such a printer), with the print heads (and base) using polar coordinates to reference printing points.

Delta 3D Printer

This is becoming a popular orientation, with three print arms each rising and falling on the Z axis, causing the head to be pulled one way or another, covering the base area.

The orthogonal / delta discussion is very likely to retain supporters on both sides. It won’t ever reach the levels of PC vs Mac, but there will be evangelists for each concept.

There are a number of common components to 3D printers, starting with the printer head.


While the consumables will be covered in greater detail in step two, the solid plastic tube (called the filament) feeds into the print head. On a direct printer setup, the motor and associated gearing that grips the filament is situated on the print head, and it pulls the filament from the storage reel and pushes it into the hot end. The combination of stepper motor and gear used to push (and pull) the filament is called the extruder.

There is another setup where the extruder is located away from the print head in a stationery location. It pulls the filament from the reel, and feeds it through a PTFE tube (Teflon) to the print head. This is called a Bowden feed, and has the advantage that the printer is not having to deal with the added weight of the extruder on the moving print head.


The hot end is where the magic happens. Such a simple concept, you really have to wonder why it took so long for it to come to fruition.

The filament feeds from the extruder down a short length of PTFE tube which is in a cold section – this is either air or water cooled so the filament inside does not begin to heat too early and cause a blockage. It then passes into a hot block where the temperature quickly transitions up to and beyond the melting point of the filament. Cold filament pushing from above forces the molten filament to continue down and out of the nozzle. Starting and stopping printing is achieved rapidly by the extruder motor being run forward and reverse as required. Being a stepper motor, its rotational position is accurately controlled.

The nozzle has a diameter typically between 0.2mm and 0.8mm, with 0.4mm being a very common size. A larger nozzle can extrude filament faster, but with a rougher (textured) finish. A fine nozzle produces a smoother, more accurately dimensioned object, but with dramatically increased printing times. 0.4mm appears to be a reasonable compromise between these extremes.

The hot block has a heating element (controlled by the printer), and a thermistor to provide the printer feedback on the temperature of the hot end. Temperatures up to 300C can be achieved on some printers.

The other stepper motors that make up the printer control the position of the print head relative to the part being made. For the X and Y directions, the stepper motors turn a pulley attached to notched drive belts. The Z direction is a threaded rod, and the whole gantry slowly moves up as each layer is printed.


The item being made is deposited on the printer bed. Ideally, this can be heated, especially if printing ABS and other plastics that tend to warp if cooled unevenly. The heated bed should be able to achieve around 100-110C.

Every component on the printer plugs into a controller, which is commonly arduino-based. It in turn is fed the “G Code” either directly from the computer via USB, or from an SD card. The G Code is created by the slicing program, discussed further at step 4.

2. Printer ‘Ink

The ‘ink’ used in these printers is just a little different from your standard computer printer. Instead of being a liquid dye, or an ultra-fine powder, a 3D printer has a roll of solid plastic. This is melted and deposited in layers on the printer bed, slowly building up the object layer by layer, 1/10th of a mm at a time.

A basic printer can normally handle PLA and ABS thermoplastics (the latter being what Lego is made from), with the right printer components, more demanding plastics can also be used, such as nylon and polycarbonate.

3D printing isn’t just reserved for plastics either. There is a type of wood filament, somewhat akin to printing with MDF that a reasonably basic level machine can print. There are already food printers, able to make creations in extruded sugar or chocolate, and top end (industrial) machines are around that can even print titanium components.

Plastic filament comes in a wide variety of colours, and if you want to get more exotic, there are phosphorescent filaments and heat sensitive filaments available that change colour when held or with environmental temperature changes.

You are not restricted to printing a component in a single colour either. In addition to some filaments that change colour along their length, a dual head printer can switch back and forth between a couple of colours. If your controller can handle it, there are four head units available, and even one that allows two different coloured filaments to be mixed in the printer head as the filament is extruded.

More advanced models can be made, not only by printing support structures, but by printing these support structures with a dissolvable material (polystyrene).

While early generation printers used to exclusively use 3mm diameter filament, 1.75mm diameter printers have become the norm.

Each material has its advantages and disadvantages, so you choose the material that is most suited to the job at hand.

PLA is easy to print with, and is a sugar (rather than an oil) derivative. It melts at a relatively low temperature, with a printing temperature around 195C, and does not need the printer to have a heated bed. In saying that, I do find that heating the bed to 40C helps with bed adhesion. It is stiffer than ABS, and not as strong. A parts fan is ideal while printing, and the filament will absorb moisture and become difficult to print. It can be used as a dissolvable filler when the body of the print is ABS.

ABS is also easy to print, although a heated bed is mandatory. Needing a slightly higher print temperature of around 230C, and a heated bed temp of 90C, it doesn’t melt so much as soften and flow sufficiently to be printed. It is more prone to warping during printing, but the stronger, flexible result is often worth the slight increase in hassle.

3. Objects in Space

There are a number of ways to get an object ready to be printed. The easiest (and by far the most common) is to have someone else do the work! What is nice about the 3D printing community, is its willingness to care and share with each other. Not only are there plenty of people on forums ready and willing to help troubleshoot any issue you may have, there is a massive library of three dimensional objects that people have created and are then shared for free.

A very popular source of these files is a website called Thingiverse (www.thingiverse.com). Here you can find thousands of objects, ready to download and send straight to your printer.

The file type normally used for 3D printing is .STL, otherwise known as STereoLithography.

For the more creative, there are a number of 3D programs available to create objects from scratch. These include Photoshop (the latest edition supports 3D printing), AutoCad, 3D Studio Max and a host of others. Even Google Sketchup can be used, if an STL plugin is installed.

The last method is to mimic reality. With the right tools, an existing object can be scanned into the computer in 3D, manipulated, then printed.

4. Slicing

Once you have a computer-based 3D object, the next step is to prepare it for printing. This is done using a slicing program, which works just as it sounds. It takes the object you have provided, and slices it into individual layers, including working out all the tool paths required to achieve it.


Given each layer can be around 0.1mm high, it is rather handy that the computer can automatically handle this step! The slicing program takes the parameters you have provided (thickness of outer wall, percentage of infill, printer head and hot bed temps, operating speed etc etc), and produces the G Code that gets sent to the printer controller.


Percentage of infill

There are a number of free slicing programs available, and some costing between about $50 and $150. Programs include Cura, Sli3er, KISSlicer, Simplify3D and Repetier-Host among others. They have different advantages, and some support multiple head printing, and multi-material printing.

 5. Printing

Finally, it is time to turn the computerised object into something tangible. The required filament is fed into the print head, and the print bed prepared to ensure print adhesion. Having a print separate from the print bed is one of the most common failures. Kapton tape, blue painters tape and hairspray are all techniques that are utilised. I find using a glass bed and a gluestick quite effective, but am still experimenting to find my preferred option.


It is important that the printer bed is level relative to the print head, particularly so the first layer is laid down properly. Too much gap, and that portion of the print will not adhere to the bed, too little, and the print head can be blocked and under-extrude (or worse, back up in the print head).

If a particular design has a low surface area on the bed, the slicing program can have other options enabled, including printing a ‘raft’ that the print is then attached to which is easy to remove at the end.

As the print is molten plastic, it needs to be supported until it hardens. While that happens very quickly, only so much overhang or unsupported area is possible. A print fan that rapidly cools the resulting print helps, but the main way to span large areas is to print supports. These are cut away once the print is finished. Some designs come with supports built in, otherwise supports can be turned on in the slicing program, which will calculate the supports required for a successful print.


Printing on these small-scale printers is not exactly the fastest process. The “Planet Express Ship” used 22 metres (65 grams) of filament, and took 3 ½ hours. A Terminator model head, 130mm X 110mm X 175mm takes 95 metres (284g) of filament, and takes 18 hours to print.

An object the size of a GoPro case (specifically “The Frame”), uses 13 grams of filament, and takes 45 minutes to print. The Frame retails for $65, and takes 23 cents of filament to print.

An iPhone case retails for about $35. A printed case takes about 45 minutes, and 18 cents of filament. Gives you pause doesn’t it!

 6. Finishing

It is pretty common to take the finish of the part straight from the printer, so much work goes into refining the setup and settings to maximise this quality.

There are as many variables that can be tweaked as components in the printer, and settings in the firmware. While printers will come reasonably well setup, I have also seen when someone with a gift sets up the same machine, and gets their prints to sing with the quality of the result.

There are other finishing steps that are possible, from using a high speed grinder to clean up prints, sandpaper, through to acrylic paint, and, for parts printed with ABS, acetone smoothing is available to achieve a high gloss, smooth result.

Parts assembly (or repair) where required can be achieved by a number of methods as well, from using glue, to friction welding, again using the high speed rotary tool to hold and spin a short length of filament (5-10mm). When touched against the object, the friction causes the printed plastic, and the spun filament to melt together as a plastic welding technique.



3D printing has been a long time coming, from the first 3D print in 1982, and the first 3D printer in 1984. Like a classic example of exponential growth initially slow over an extended period, when it gets sufficient momentum the explosive growth is near impossible to comprehend. That is where 3D printing and the whole additive manufacturing process is rapidly heading.


We are seeing the start of the final growth phase now. 3D printing of houses, body parts, Formula 1 car parts, the first parts printed in space, and soon military supply lines and disaster relief operations are likely to be supplemented with the same. At home, it is still very new, but it will not take long at all to become part of the landscape. It is making its way into schools and universities, and while it may be too late to wrest large scale production back to this country, boutique manufacturing and prototyping, and manufacturing on demand is a fascinating opportunity.   It is a great time to get involved, and start to become familiar with the technology…..and its idiosyncrasies.


In a decade, the machines we are printing with now will look like the Wright Brothers plane compared to the latest A380, and although it will be very interesting to see how the printers change over the next decade, it is even more interesting to be involved in some small way in the development process.


Merry Christmas

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