Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Fun with Arduino - Arduino on a Proto-Board

Make it Permanent

Congratulations! Your new Arduino project is fully programmed and functional. In fact, it is so good you want to use it for years to come. It's time to take the circuit off the breadboard and make a permanent version.

In the previous installments of this series, we learned how to built a Stand-Alone Arduino on a breadbord. We then learned how to program this circuit using an Arduino board as a In System Programmer.

Now comes the final step. Making a soldered, permanent version that will stand the test of time. There are numerous ways to accomplish this, but the easiest by far is to use a Proto-Board PCB that matches the layout of your breadboard.

There are many Proto-Boards on the market that will fit the bill, but Adafruit have recently released the 'Cadillac of boards' with their Perma-Proto Breadboard PCB.

Check out the video for all the details.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Adventures in CNC - Part 7

CNC Electronics - Gathering The Components

New here? Check out PART 1

Now that the body of the machine is coming together nicely, it's time to focus on the 'Brains'.

In order for a CNC router to do anything useful, it will need....

Controller board/Breakout Board

The Breakout Board has two important jobs. It translates the commands from your computer into signals that your CNC motors can understand. The second job is to electrically isolate all your crazy CNC stuff from your delicate PC. If something goes horribly awry, you may blow your board but the PC should be fine. These boards tend to come in Parallel Port versions and newer USB versions. The unit that came with my machine is a generic Chinese parallel port version. The instructions are a little thin but it seems to work well.

Stepper Motor Drivers

The Stepper Motor Drivers receive step and direction signals from the Controller Board and send out pulses of the correct voltage and current to run the motor. The drivers have a set of DIP switches that set options such as the maximum amperage out and 'Microstepping'. Microstepping allows you to turn the motor less than the normal 1.8-degrees it would normal turn in one step. This allows greater accuracy and smoother motion.

Breakout Board (top) and Motor Drivers (bottom)

Power supplies

There are three different voltages that were needed for my system. 48 Volts for the motors, 5 Volts for the Breakout Board, and 12 Volts for the Proximity Sensors. My machine came included with a 48V power supply that is fed to the motors through the motor drivers. I added 5 volt and 12 volt 'wall wart' type supplies for the additional voltages.

Stepper Motors

Three Wantai Nema23 3.0A 270oz-in 1.8-degree/step Stepper Motors came included with the kit. The term Nema23 tells you the spacing of the holes on the motor mounting plate. The 1.8 degrees/step tells you how many degrees the motor with turn with each step. If you divide 360 degrees by 1.8, you can calculate that the motor will take 200 steps to complete one revolution.

Stepper Motors - The tape flags are for testing

Machine Control Software

For Machine Control Software, I purchased a copy of Mach3 from Newfangled Solutions. This seems to be the most popular CNC control software out there. The cost was $175 US.

Proximity Sensors/Limit Switches

Limit Switches are set up to be triggered when an axis of the CNC reaches the end of its travel. This is important to protect the machine from damage. These can be simple mechanical switches or Inductive Proximity Sensors that detect the magnetic field of the metal machine parts without actually touching them. The kit I purchased included five Inductive Sensors.

In the next installment, we'll put these parts together. Stay tuned!

Monday, 31 March 2014

Adventures in CNC - Part 6

Problems & Creative Solutions

Check out PART 1

After enduring a relentless, ice-age style winter, I am back to work on the CNC project with renewed determination.

Things were progressing smoothly until it came time to mount the proximity sensor on the Z-Axis. I had originally run the Y-Axis cable chain across the top of the Y-Axis. Unfortunately, this left no room for any of the sensors which protrude a good inch from the rear of the Z-Axis.

As mentioned in earlier articles, when you choose to assemble a CNC machine yourself, you may need to overcome these types of problems. Be prepared for some creative thinking and on the spot engineering.

After some thought, I finally came up with a solution. By adding a piece of 90 degree aluminum to the back of the Y-axis, I could move the cable chain back to give clearance to the sensors.

The original position of the Cable Chain interfered with the Z-Axis Sensor

Now I needed to connect the top of the Cable Chain to the Z-Axis. I cut a piece of weld steel plate that reached from the motor mount to the new position of the chain. 

Using the motor bracket as a template, I drilled and filed the piece to fit between the motor and motor mount.

Top Bracket - taking shape

Finally, I drilled four holes near the end of new piece so I could attach the Cable Chain with Zip Ties.

Don't forget to file down the sharp edges

Now, everything has room to move. On to the next challenge!
Next part - CNC Electronics

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

TEKBRANE - Album Available NOW!

** This album is offered as Pay What You Want **
That means you can have it for FREE or whatever price you wish to contribute. Enjoy!
Get it at

TEKBRANE is an experimental electronic music project that allows me to take the projects I make on Notes and Volts out for a test drive. The inspiration for the music comes from my fondness for the old school sounds that emanate from classic synths and computers.

You can check out full songs and videos at the Official TEKBRANE website or by using the player above. Watch the video below for a quick sample of the album.

If you find this blog remotely helpful or interesting and would like to help out, simply go to the TEKBRANE Bandcamp page and pick up a copy of the album. For a few dollars (you can contribute more if you're particularly awesome) you can help grease the wheels of this geek train. Everybody wins! You get some music, and I get some help purchasing parts for future projects that I can share.

Thanks for your support!


Saturday, 7 December 2013


I'm very excited to share a project I have been working on for the last couple of months. I started out trying to make a demo song for the NaV-1 synth but, I have a tendency to get carried away with things once I get into them. Soon I was adding more instruments here and there and before I knew it, my simple technical demo somehow turned into a full fledged album!

This new project is called TEKBRANE for lack of a better name and I'm finishing up the final tweaks on the debut album. This will be an experimental electronic music project that will allow me to take my synths and various electric doodads out for a spin and generally 'geek out' once in a while.

I made a suitably geeky trailer that you can check out below. More to come soon!

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Adventures in CNC - Part 5

Building the Beast

Check out Part 1

Now we are getting somewhere! The time has finally come to turn the random pile of aluminum parts littering my shop floor into something that resembles a CNC router.

Y-Axis coming together

I started by paying a visit to the Forums at the XZero website. There I found a thread with photos and text detailing the assembly of the ViperXZ machine. I read through the procedure a couple of times so I could visualize the steps from start to finish. I find this helps to reduce the stupid mistakes that occur at the beginning of assembly, but are usually not discovered until you try to attach the final part.

Easier than it looks!

The remarkable thing about the assembly process was how NOT remarkable it turned out to be. The ViperXZ requires surprisingly few tools for assembly and all the parts are machined to make alignment almost foolproof. Overall, the basic assembly has been the easiest part of this project.

The only problem I discovered was a slight misalignment of the linear bearings on the Y-Axis. There are two sets of bearings that attach to the back plate of the Z-Axis. I found that when I tightened one set or the other, the y-axis operated smoothly. But when I tightened both sets of bearings, the assembly would bind slightly. The solution was to place a piece of blue tape on one of the bearings. This shimmed the assembly by a fraction of an inch an allowed the Y-Axis to run smoothly when tightened.

Tape! - Is there nothing it can't fix?

Overall, the assembly of the ViperXZ is a painless experience even if you are not the most mechanically inclined. A few Hex Wrenches and some patience are all that are required. Also, assembling the machine myself has really increased my knowledge of the workings of the system which will come in handy when it comes time for maintenance.

Check out Part 6 - Problems & Creative Solutions

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Adventures in CNC - Part 4

A Leg To Stand On

Check out PART 1

So you have finally purchased your CNC machine and are anxious to slap it together, power it up, and start cutting. But before you touch the first bolt you have a very important decision to make...where are you going to put it, and what are you going to put it on?

This may seem like a trivial question considering the number of expensive decisions you have been forced to make to get to this point, but it is crucial to the overall stability and function of the machine.

CNC machines are heavy beasts with a lot of kinetic energy and love nothing more than trying to throw themselves around your shop. You need to provide a rock solid base not only for safety, but also accuracy. A wobbly base can actually effect the precision of your cuts.

Location also matters. It's a good idea to think about things like access to power outlets, dust collection, noise reduction, and accessibility for maintenance.

I considered many options when planning for my new CNC. I looked at plans for everything from wooden workbenches to welded steel tables. All I knew was that I wanted to do it right the first time.

While researching the XZero CNC machine I ultimately ended up buying, I noticed that they also sold some pre-fab corner brackets specifically designed to help make your own CNC stand. You just supply the steel in the size you require. The price of the brackets came to $120.

XZero Brackets

I bought some 2" x .100" HSS Square Tube Steel from a metal supplier and had them cut it to length. I needed the following pieces:
4 x 52" pieces for the length of the table
4 x 34" for the width
4 x 28" for the legs

The total came to just over $100 for the steel.

I clamped the brackets to each steel leg and drilled through it with my drill press and a 3/8" Milwaukee Cobalt Drill Bit (do not try to drill steel with a regular wood bit). This way I was able to correctly align the holes. I took it slow and used plenty of lubrication to keep the bit from dulling and in the end, I managed to complete the job with one bit.

Cobalt Drill Bit - Strong enough for steel

Use cutting oil

After the drilling, I primed the steel with Tremclad Grey Primer then gave it a coat of Tremclad Safety Blue - Professional Rust Paint. My neighbours must have thought I was getting into modern art.

The next step was to bolt the table together using 3/8" x 16 bolts, washers, and lock nuts.

Finally, I cut two pieces of 3/4" thick plywood for the tops and secured them with 3/8" carriage bolts.

This table is rock solid and does not move an inch when pushed so I am confident it will stand up to anything the CNC can throw at it.

Total cost for this little adventure:

XZero brackets - $120
Steel tube - $100
Bolts and hardware - $100
Plywood - $50
Cobalt Drill Bit - $12
Paint - $15

Check out Part 5 - Building the Beast