Fun while it lasted

Had to take back the CNC Shark to Carbatec today – thanks for the loan!  It was interesting to experience CNC machining, and I can see how having a CNC router would be very useful in a cottage industry setting.

It is quite a different animal to a laser, but both operate on a similar, adjacent playing field.  One of each would make an ideal setup – some jobs are perfectly suited to one, some to the other.  Both work from a subtractive perspective, so a 3D printer would provide the additive component.  That shouldn’t be too far away now.

Think next time, one of the requirements for a CNC router, is to have one that doesn’t have a router that screams so loudly when it operates.  Many of my machines are moving towards a quieter form of woodworking (not as far as getting away from murdering electrons mind), but at least either quiet brushed motors, the even quieter brushless, or induction motors on the larger machines.  Having a small thing that screams for the 2-3 hours of a larger CNC job is just not pleasant!  The CNC Shark doesn’t have to use the Bosch router, so I’d be looking for a different router if I did get one of these.

So back to more traditional forms of woodworking, at least for the time being.  I expect at some stage that each of these options will be available in the shed, just not sure about the timeline.

In the neighbourhood

Happened to be passing by Caboolture, and couldn’t let the opportunity pass to drop in on Larry (as in Lazy Larry), have a beer with a mate, and check out his new laser engraver!

And it is a monster! But more of that in a sec.

I haven’t seen Larry’s place since my introduction to the Torque Workcentre a few years ago, and it was very familiar- a shed away from home. Still crazy with all the projects he has on the go (and even more so now that Larry is full time operating out of the shed these days- selling through numerous markets, and online).

Interestingly, despite Larry being the very first purchaser of a Torque Workcentre, and then the first dealer, there was not one to be seen (and only a base being used as a bench).

Workcentre as a bench

Workcentre as a bench

Lots of very familiar tools around the place, similar to what is in my shop but with a lot more available space (and a much more impressive wood store!)

Workshop

Workshop

Now to the new star in Larry’s eye- his laser engraver, and it is awesome! The size, capacity, wattage, possibilities.

Just to give you a sense of scale, here is Larry prepping a job on the computer alongside the laser

Laser

Laser

The laser tube itself has to be seen to be believed. What was once such a rarity, seen only in elite industry, and university research, you can now pick them up for a few hundred dollars ($400 or so)

Laser tube

Laser tube

The beam is reflected around and down to the lens to focus it onto the work.

Aligning

Aligning

Then to the actual burn

Doing the burn

Doing the burn

Fast, deep (and it can be used to cut thinner stock, not just engrave), sharp, and accurate. And it may not seem cheap at around $7k, a lot cheaper than the $20k+ they can still be.

The result will be proudly mounted in the shed.

Result

Result

Thanks Larry, and sorry for dropping by unannounced!

Playing with Fire

Was round at the Roving Reporter’s workshop today, having a play with a few bits’n’pieces. He has a couple of new texturing tools for the lathe which were interesting, especially seeing as I hadn’t tried these out in person before.

What was really interesting was playing around with his laser engraver. (Basically a printer/plotter for wood, that uses a laser instead of ink.)

Didn’t take any photos, although you can see it in action in Episode 72 of Stu’s Shed tv.

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Not everyone’s cup of tea, but I could see such a use for one of these machines, whether it is project adornment, or part fabrication.

Plug in a laptop and you are away 🙂

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There are all sorts of images of results of laser printers on the web. Some amazing stuff!

Some images of a burn, as taken by the Roving Reporter: (I was too busy at the time playing with the laser to remember to take any photos!)

Setting up the burn, using a pretty basic program that effectively “prints” the info via the laser onto the workpiece.

The laser with the top open (this is a ‘real’ laser printer!)  The laser is not in the head (which is in about the middle of the screen) – that is a moveable mirror that reflects the laser down to the work.

Partway through a burn.  You can see the spot of light – this isn’t the laser, but the resulting mini flame at the point the laser is hitting the wood.  Depending on how intense the laser is set, the flame and smoke can be very fine/indistinguishable, or rather dramatic.

First line complete.

Burn complete.  This unit can do small objects: business cards, makers marks, engraving into pens etc.  About 8″x8″ in size.  The price has dropped dramatically in the past few years, and you can potentially now get one of these laser units for under $1000.

I’m currently researching just where you can pick up a reasonable unit, for a reasonable price.  If anyone knows suppliers in Australia that may be interested in having their unit included in future articles on laser engraving, you can suggest they contact me!

Episode 85 Kallenshaan Laser Pen Turning

Episode 85 Kallenshaan Laser Pen Turning

Kallenshaan Pen Kits

It was only the evening of the 20th that I ordered a couple of pen kits from the USA and they arrived 5 days later, from Kallenshaan Woods, who supply specialist laser cut pen kits (such as the Fire Pen kit I made about a year ago…

and the Betsy Ross I got as a bit of a memento from my trip to the US last year (sadly, I still have to actually make it!))

After seeing examples of Kallenshaan’s recent designs, I definitely wanted to get these:

A woodworker’s laser cut pen

And one for Wood Turners

It always surprises me how such fragile-looking components make it safely through the post, but they do.  Both kits will be interesting to make (and use), and I might finally get on with the Betsy Ross one as well. (I was waiting to source a supplier of Sierra Vista pen kits, but it is proving too hard to bother with, so I’ll stick to a normal Sierra kit)

Think I’m getting the pen-making bug back again!

Episode 72 Feel the Burn

Episode 72 Feel the Burn

Laser Based Woodworking

As woodworkers, we primarily still rely on very traditional methods for shaping wood, and for the modern woodworker not much has changed other than the death of a few more electrons.

Sure, the market has moved significantly, and a lot of technology has been bought in that turns an historic chisel or saw into a whirling dervish of razor sharp teeth mounted to a Flai Ultimate blade, but it still reduces down to a whole bunch of mini chisels paring wood away.

Where technology is making some indentations is the use of new methods for cutting.  Now lasers have been around for ages (observation about laser vs lazer removed: laser being an acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation), but it is interesting just how available they are becoming for the backyard woodworker.  And even if you are not running out to buy one tomorrow, you can now buy kitsets for various items that utilise the accuracy/precision of the laser for your own woodworking.

I recently made up one of the laser-cut pen kits from Rockler, and it was remarkable just how each piece came together so precisely.  I have another to make of theirs – the Betsy Rose as a momento of my recent US trip.

Flame Kit from Rockler

The Roving Reporter also found another kit over the weekend that has particular appeal, also from the US, but in this case it has a definite down-under theme

Down Under Laser-cut pen

You know, I’m really starting to wonder if I shouldn’t get into retail – there are so many cool products out there!!

Calibration

For some operations on the Torque Workcentre, such as surfacing, you want the shaft of the router (and therefore the bit) to be perfectly perpendicular to the working surface of the workbench.

You can certainly achieve this by trial and error, but I prefer a less empirical approach, and thought that the way that you can accurately set a drill press table would also work well here.  Using the Carbatec Deluxe Alignment System, mounting it in the collet of the router and (non powered!!!!) rotating it around you can easily measure where it is high, and low.

Dial Gauge Calibration

Ignoring whether it is forward or back, adjust the Y axis rotation until the high and low points are exactly parallel to the Y axis.  Then work with tilting the tool until there is almost (to no) movement of the dial gauge throughout.

Calibration

Somehow I managed to get the rotation to happen at just the right place, that the point of the dial gauge missed every single hole.  Didn’t imagine that’d be possible!

I was originally wondering if there was a way of using a laser mounted in the router, but the dial gauge is going to give a pretty good result!

The sort of laser I was thinking is actually a kerf-laser from a saw – it is normally mounted on the arbor next to the blade, and the spinning saw turns on the laser.  If this was instead mounted on a shaft like is done with some slot-cutting router bits, I thought this might be a way of projecting a horizontal line, perpendicular to the router shaft.

Kerf-laser

Tacking on a Laser

In recent times, it has become quite a fad to take a tool and whack a laser into it as if that will make it a better tool.  For some tools, this is just plain silly – a jigsaw with a laser for example makes a mockery of a potentially quality tool.  Some tools (like jigsaws, bandsaws etc) track (cut at an angle) – that is their nature, and there are a variety of reasons why that is so.  What it means though is they will never follow a laserline, so it is pointless having one.

However, and this is a big HOWEVER!, there are tools that can really benefit from the use of a laser to not so much improve their accuracy (although this can be the case) but to significantly improve their ease of use.  The drill press is definitely a tool that falls into this category.  Of course, you don’t need a laser to make accurate use of the tool – I’m certainly not claiming that, but I had a job just recently where I wished I had a laser positioner on the drill press.  I was using a forstner bit, and I wanted it to be precisely centred on a mark, and in the end I had to guess that I was close enough.  I’d rather not have to guess!

Now you don’t have to go out and buy a new drill press (and really, there are not many that come with a built-in laser).  Instead, there is a very easy retro-fit that takes a whole 15 minutes to accurately fit and align. The unit comes from Professional Woodworkers Supplies and costs $140.  It is powered by a single 9v battery.

Now I know that all sound like a typical sales review, but I do know there is a lot of resistance out there in certain corners to lasers in woodworking, and the inappropriate implementation in some instances has tainted the technology in other areas, so I wanted to justify the viewpoint.

Laser Kit Components

Laser Kit Components

The kit comes with the laser module, a couple of different size hose clamps (for different size drill press posts), a hex key, an alignment bar, and some easy-to-follow instructions.

Fitting the Hose Clamp

Fitting the Hose Clamp

The hose clamp feeds through a couple of slots in the back of the unit, the V shape of the unit means it centres on the drill press post when the clamp is tightened.

The two lasers are adjustable to ensure they are vertical, and also so they meet at a specific point.

Laser Mounted to Drill Press Post

Laser Mounted to Drill Press Post

Laser mounted.  It is completely out of the way, so will not interfere with drill press operation when the laser is not required, and the retro-fit is completely reversable.

Laser in Operation

Laser in Operation

It’s a bit hard to see in the photo (the camera doesn’t see the laser as easily as the eye), but the laser is now centred directly below the centrepoint of the drill chuck.  In this photo, you can also see the alignment bar mounted in the chuck.  It has a vertical slot cut for the first part of the laser alignment, and then the end point of the bar is used to mark a point that the lasers are aligned so they cross precisely at that point.

Total operation, including laser alignment was only 15 minutes (and that included following the laser alignment instructions and taking the photos!)

It is not something I will use for every hole, but it is going to be indespensible when I do need it and who know, I may find that I start using it every time I use the drill press!

Laser Guided Hand Tools

I might have to truck down to Bunnings for one of these, just so I can photograph it…

Reported on the Australian Woodwork Forums, Bunnings are actually selling a handsaw with attached laser.  Not one to knock something before I’ve even seen it….b   u    t…….if things are getting that bad that you need a laser on a handsaw, it might be worth considering a trip to Ikea for your furniture – doesn’t sound like a shed is the safest place for you…..

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