Tag: make

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New project up now! Read about it on Behance

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Working with Foam: Tools

So you want to work with XPS foam (Typically known as blue foam, pink foam)? First of all you’ll need your tools. This is by no means a definitive list. This is based on what I use and the most common suggestions I’ve seen. If there is something you think is missing, comment!

First up, and most importantly of all, safety!

  • Face mask
    When working with XPS, a lot of dust is generated. Some processes create more than other, for example sanding. This foam, is NOT good for you. Always use a face mask, FFP2 or above should do. Failing that, a respirator.
  • Safety Glasses
    As already established, dust is bad for your lungs, so naturally, it isn’t too good for your eyes too! Any reasonable safety glasses should do, just make sure they are a good fit!
  • Gloves (Optional)
    Our favourite dust can be a bit irritating. If you get sick of brushing it off your hands, or simply don’t like getting your hands covered in PVA, paint, adhesive, get some gloves.
  • Cover alls (Optional)
    As with making anything, it can get messy. I would suggest using some cover alls, or at least some old clothing. No need to spoil your good stuff when you can cover something else in muck! Personally, I prefer cover alls, fewer gaps when the dust starts flying!

Now you have your safety gear ready, its time to start getting your tools.

  • Marker
    Pretty self explanatory. I’ve found a simple black marker is the best thing to mark up your foam. Reasonable felt tip will mark your foam without damaging it (Beyond marking it anyway)

  • Snap-off Blade Utility Knife (Multiple)
    The blade needs to be long enough to go through a single sheet of foam. This is by no means the best method for cutting large pieces from the original sheet, but it works.
  • Bread knife
    Optional, but for larger bit, a thin bladed bread knife can be a great replacement for trying to cut through sheets with a utility knife.
  • Hot Wire Cutter
    Personally, I don’t use one. If you have one, use it, you will get much cleaner cuts that you will from a blade.
  • Brush
    When it comes to it, blowing the scraps out the way is a good plan, however if you have a mask on, its not that easy (Unless you have a compressor handy of course). The solution to this is to have a brush handy. Not only can you move the foam out the way, but when you generate dust from fillers, it can be a great help!  Can’t forget of course, when you go to seal or paint your creation, a brush is always helpful.
  • Sand Paper
    A fine sand paper will do for foam. Too rough and it will just tear the foam. Foam is best sanded when it has been sealed.
  • PVA Glue
    When watered down a little bit, this can be used to seal the foam before sanding and painting.
  • Solvent Free Grab Adhesive
    Unless you are amazing, you will have create things in different parts. A solvent free grab adhesive works wonders for glueing the parts together, laminating sheets and making repairs where you have shaved off a little bit more.
  • Filler
    A general purpose filler is highly useful for filling in gaps and smoothing surfaces where sanding is just not the best option. A scrap bit of foam or some proper filling tools are needed if/when it comes to this.
  • Masking Tape
    Multitude of uses from holding a template down to holding pieces together while the grab adhesive sets.
  • CAD Software
    One thing to sketch up your item on paper, but once in a while you may want accuracy, share your designs or simply print out copies as a template you can destroy. Some basic CAD software can be a great help with that. Should you have access to the equipment, you can also run your foam through a CNC machine.

Something missing? Leave a comment! Stay tuned, there might be some more of these later.


Important news first, Newcastle Science Fest and Maker Faire UK have been announced! Find out more about the Maker Faire at the site http://makerfaireuk.com/

In music news, System of a Down have announced they are getting back together. I’m very excited about this. Not often a great band gets back together. Cannot wait to hear what their time working on solo projects does to the overall sound.

In other music news, the head liners for 2011’s Evolution festival have been announced and include Iggy and The Stooges. Yes, you heard right, Iggy and the Stooges. I for one didn’t see this coming and are in two minds about it. On one hand it could be a brilliant show and as loud as the Stooges should be, but on the other it could just be dull as they all start to feel their age and don’t have the energy to do anything like you would expect. Guess we’ll have to wait and see. Then again, at £35 per ticket, maybe not.

In tech news, I must admit something. I got a tiny bit bored and may have started creating another CMS. Not sure why, it just felt necessary at the time…
This particular one is being based on the MVC concept and will also include a brand new authentication system to go with it. Parts may be made open source, but to be honest, getting it working is the priority right now.

Short update over, all is well, how about you?

Geekness & Howduino

So today (Tuesday 13th) is Embrace Your Geekness Day. A day to be proud (As usual I hope) of your geekness, and maybe even a day to be proud of fellow geeks. Personally, I’m proud to be a geek and I’m happy to say I’m proud of my fellow geeks, such as the wonderful Kitty, the corntastic Josie and of course the guys like Collin Mel and everyone else (Lets not go into the list of those we are not proud of, we all know who they are).

So my question is, what did you do to embrace your geekness and that of others?

In other news, HowduinoNCL is coming up, anyone going? Have anything special planned? My plan is still somewhat…vague, but I’m open to other ideas if someone wants help!

(continue reading…)

Physical Science and Mechanics?

In case you wern’t aware, over at Make, it is Physical Sciences and Mechanics Month. To quote Gareth Branwyn;

“Physical science is a broadly used term that can be applied to the study of any non-living systems and how they interact, from the foundational physical laws of energy, matter, and force to the basic principles of simple machines (lever, pulley, inclined plane, wedge, screw, gear). The term is also applied to chemistry and Earth sciences, and from there, it becomes leaky with the living, the biological. For our coverage, we’ll stick to it as it applies to simple machines, basic laws of physics, and how they become the complex mechanical systems that surrounds us.”

Gareth goes onto say that such skills may seem a little rudimentary for Make: Online readers, but the skills seems to have been lost (Whether it be because they have been forgotten or what have you), and I have to agree. I do not believe that the entire problem is one of the skills simply being pushed out of your mind by other things, but that some of the skills never made it there in the first place. Lets face it, back in school everyone was distracted by something, whether it was sleep to recover from the night before (and the late night game sessions on your playstation etc before you say it…) or that girl/boy a few desks away or whatever. Come on, even you hard core students were distracted by something at some point and you know it! Thanks to this distraction not everything the teacher said was heard, in some cases not such a great loss. Er…I mean such a great loss! A tragedy even!

As I said, I find it hard to believe that being distracted is the only reason, looking back on my experiences of physics lessons and a “Systems and Control” (S&C) class, some concepts seem to have been lacking or not there at all. In S&C efforts were made by the teacher to explain the principals of cams, gears, screws etc and their uses, essentially the concepts that were required for our final project. Little effort was made however to look at other concepts such as pulleys. To show just how limited this was, I refer to the following list of occasions when pulleys were mentioned:

  1. Mock Exam Paper – Several weeks before the actual exam (Only got that A because of a random find months earlier while looking for something else unrelated)

Yes, that list does indeed go to 1. This isn’t the only thing missing however, there are plenty of examples of things that were missing from these classes yet were apparently on the syllabus. Now don’t get me wrong, the teachers were good at what they did, but I still feel something was lacking. Another example of this was the not in the slightest known “rocket car” project. In the final year of school, three of us convinced a teacher to help us build a rocket motor powered vehicle with the aim of entering a competition ran by the BBC. While it was fair enough that the teachers would have a good chance of being a little out of their depth with such a project, the support we were provided with was, in retrospect, worrying. While you would not necessarily expect much expertise in the area of aerodynamics, some advice on the areas most likely to be under strain in a vehicle would be something, but none such advice appeared. By the end of the project (never did get to the competition after it was cancelled), we had learned more from the workshop technician than from the teachers paid to explain such things.

I’m sure if we all think about it we will be able to think of experiences were potentially important things have not been explained properly. Now I don’t want to necessarily get into the discussion of who could be to blame for such short comings in education, instead I’ll just stick with the “everyone and their goat” response (should cover it I think). What I would want to see more discussion of is what can be done to improve the situation and to some extent why we are here. Naturally the reasons are going to vary from place to place but there are going to be common factors like funding, health and safety, but what are we doing to still educate the young and old without hitting these barriers? While the main focus, in keeping with the mechanical theme, is physical sciences etc, what about electronics? General Science? What kind of ideas do you have to get more people interested?

Yes, I admit that the chances of this article making any difference to the educational systems, but theres nothing wrong with encouraging safe exploration at home right?

As a result of these educational woes, there is now a lack of knowledge for some people. I for one would love to fill in this gap, as such I urge you, if you know of any good resources, happen to be an expert or otherwise have something to contribute, please get in touch with Gareth (Link in his article), if you’re not sure about that, mention it here, I don’t bite, not so sure about anyone else though…

On a completely unrelated note, how did I miss Dropkick Murphys? Really. How?!


Over the past year I have been working on a project using purely Arduinos. Now that this project is nearly over, I have decided to take the optional step of taking it further.

The plan so far is to still use the Arduino environment, but load the code onto a custom PCB. This should allow the software to remain the same while allowing a massively reduced version of the hardware (The current modules can be compared to bricks). To do this there are two options, an FTDI cable/chip or to program the uC directly. While FTDI chips are cool and everything, I decided against it with the option to include on at a later stage in the process. This left the option of programming the uC directly.

To do this rather than go for a nice AVR programmer such as those produced by Atmel, I went for the altogether more fun option and went with Adafruit Industries’ USBtinyISP. As usual, Oomlout showed off and got it packed and shipped allowing it to arrive 2 days later, and in their usual way, Adafruit did the same with an excellent kit.

To the kit! So what do you need to make it so simple? Aside from the usual tools (This was one of the few times I wish I had an actual PCB vice and not just some helping hands and a spare finger), I’d highly recommend having some good music on and some milkshake. Why? Why not? Everyone should have a decent beverage while working. Based on the weather and the general mood of the day, milkshake seemed appropriate. Assuming you follow the instructions and read them (Yeah, I didn’t do that the first time on one or two sections…), the kit is easy to build with everything explained where required. If there was one thing I’d recommend, it would be to have some bluetak (Or equivalent) handy for when you solder the headers.

What happens when its done? COmpleted USBtinyISPWell you get something that looks like this. Your next step as you may have guessed is to test it and use it. If you plan on using it with your Arduino to add a bootloader, you may become slightly confused by how to connect it. The best guide to tell you which way to plug it in can be found on the Adafruit forum here. It provides pictures and descriptions just to make the whole process easier.

If you are starting out with this side of working with microprocessors, or even if you are experienced, you will no doubt find this fun and educational. Congratulations to Adafruit for producing such a useful tool and well done to Oomlout for working so well to distribute it over here!


Use Arduino or another platform and want to make your own PCBs? Even if you don’t and want to use create your own for another purpose?

The first step is to design the board. One popular way for hobbyists is to use a program known as EAGLE. The free version provides the ability to design simple boards to a specification suitable for professional production. At a glance the program can be a bit confusing for new users, however help is at hand.

element14 and TinkerLondon have got together to help out. On Saturday 15th May 2010, the two companies are working together to put on a workshop in London. For £10, you get a full day introduction to the tool.

More information can be found at http://tinkerlondon.com/what-we-do/workshops/introduction-to-eagle-for-advanced-arduino-users

Blogs! Science! Science Blogs!

So after this weekends MakerFaireUK and the associated Virtual Treasure Hunt, a few blogs and sites have shown up that are worthy checking out:

Any other sites you think should be on there? Comment and they may be added!

Highlights of the MakerFaire include: all of it.

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