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 I 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!

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

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Adventures in CNC - Part 3

The BIG Purchase!

Check out Part 1

This is the exciting part! After weeks of indecision and exhaustive research, I finally pulled the trigger on this major purchase.

After carefully examining all the CNC Routers that fit my needs and price range (see Part 2), I decided to go with the ViperXZ machine from XZero. My reasoning? After comparing the specs and prices of different CNC packages, the ViperXZ seemed to provide the most 'machine' for my CNC dollar. The parts are stronger, the linear bearings are of higher quality, and the whole machine just seems 'beefier'. Plus I could get a 30 x 48" table size which is larger than the other units in this price range.

The tradeoff is I will need to assemble the whole system from the ground up myself. This is not entirely a bad thing though as you really can't underestimate the knowledge gained from putting your hands on every nut and bolt of the machine. With this intimate understanding of how the pieces fit together, you will be much more confident when it comes time for repairs and upkeep.

When dealing with any small company, you need do your research to make sure they are actually legit and not some fly by night deal. Luckily, XZero is a regular poster on the CNC Zone forums so I was able to read many firsthand accounts from other owners. I emailed George (the owner) with a list of questions and he was nice enough to give me a call to discuss things. I also found out that George actually lives somewhat close to me which was a huge score! He was nice enough to deliver the parts to my house personally which saved me a ton of shipping expenses. He also made several additional trips to deliver some back ordered parts.

George made a good point in suggesting that I start out with a router and upgrade to a spindle later which makes sense. If I'm going to make any rookie mistakes, I would rather damage a $100 router than a $1500 Spindle. For this same reason he also suggested using a MDF tabletop for a while before installing the slotted aluminum one.

Costs so far

The package total came to $3600 and included the following:

- 30 x 48" CNC Router kit
- Router Mounting bracket
- Motors, Motor Drivers, and Power Supply
- 5 Proximity Sensors
- Aluminum T-Slot Tabletop

I purchased a Hitachi M12VC Router from Amazon for $130 delivered. I still need to buy software and a few more accessories to get things running.

All said and done, I am now the proud owner of a few thousand dollars worth of machined aluminum lying on my shop floor. A lot of work ahead! Stay tuned for Part 4

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Uzebox - DIY Video Game Console

Demo, Review, & Building Tips


Time for a little fun! I recently picked up an Uzebox. What is that you ask? The Uzebox (pronounced use-box not ooze-box) is a DIY, open source, Video Game console based on a ATmega644 microcontroller. It comes with an memory card loaded with versions of some retro classics to get you playing right away. But that's only half the story. Since this console is completely open source, you can dive in and program your own games.

It comes in kit form ready for you to build and boasts the following specs:

CPU: ATmega644 microcontroller
Total RAM: 4K
Program Memory: 64K
Speed: 28.61818Mhz (Overclocked)
Colors: 256 simultaneous colors arranged in a 3:3:2 color space (Red:3 bits, Green:3 bits, Blue: 2 bits)
Resolution: Up to 360x224 pixels (tiles-only and tiles-and-sprites modes)
Sprites: Up to 32 simultaneous sprites on screen at any time
Video output: NTSC Composite and S-Video (Works without changes on most PAL/SECAM TVs)
Sound: 4 channels wavetable, 8-bit mono, mixed at ~15Khz and output via PWM
Inputs: Two NES/SNES compatible joypad inputs
Options: MIDI-in interface and s-video output

I purchased the kit from Adafruit at a price of $75 U.S and have been enjoying the retro-gaming goodness that oozes (no pun intended) from this little console. Be sure to pick up a 9-volt adapter and extra controller while you are there (not included in kit).

Watch the following video for details of the kit, building tips, and demos of the games.