48″ x 48″ CNC router and VCarve stools

48″ x 48″ CNC router and VCarve stools

Nova Labs recently bought a ShopSabre RC-4 CNC router for the wood shop. A few copies of VCarve are on computers at the makerspace, allowing members to setup their tool path.

Some of the regulars on Wednesday night decided to do a “one-night-build,” or a project we could start and finish in an evening. I started thinking of ideas that we could do on the new tool (mostly so I could learn to use it).

We landed on building some stools downloaded from the open source furniture website OpenDesk. Most designs on the site are setup for 4×8′ sheets of material but we found the Johann Stool from Johann Aussage would fit easily on our half sheets of plywood.

Adobe Illustrator was used to modify the designs for the actual thickness of the plywood we bought, and to eliminate some decoration.

After those design considerations were fixed, we used VCarve to setup the tool path. They have a a makerspace license allowing for people to use the software at home in basically a trial mode, but save the G-code from the properly licensed software at the makerspace.

A .25″ end mill was used for everything, including the holes for pins during assembly.

Final cleanup was done with a 1/8″ roundover router bit on the regular router table. The laser cutter was used to engrave the NovaLabs logo on the top of the seat, and a credit to the designer was etched (vector cutting at fast speed/low power) onto the bottom.



Engraved cube Kickstarter backer gifts

Engraved cube Kickstarter backer gifts

Backer Gifts

The Nova Labs Kickstarter campaign ended successfully back in early 2015. One of the higher backer levels was for the backers’ name on a wall in the space, but we also planned on sending them a plaque.

I didn’t expect that someone would put 4 mounting standoffs on their wall, so I thought that something more like a paperweight for the backer’s desk or bookcase would be better.

The Cube

At the fall 2015 Adobe MAX conference, a booth for Universal Laser allowed attendees to make wooden stamp blocks using Adobe’s Creative Cloud Shared Libraries to get files from workstations to the folks running the laser. As the exhibition floor was shutting down they were handing out the remaining cubes, so I grabbed a few of the blanks to play with at home. I thought the 2″ cubes could be a good format for the backer reward.

Not wanting to settle on the first material idea I had, I also ordered a clear acrylic cube to test on.

In the end the acrylic seemed way too ‘corporate gift’ looking, with the birch wood being way warmer, especially after giving the final pieces a coat of tung oil.

Setup and production

The key to engraving these easily was setting up a row of seven 2″ squares that were lightly cut into a sacrificial material. The blocks were then put on these lines ensuring accurate placement of each faces’ design.

Fortunately the position of “home” doesn’t change as you adjust the Z-height (you need to do the light guide cut with the laser focused on the paper or foamcore, and then drop the bed down to accommodate the height of the block.)

Masking tape was used to reduce the discoloration of the wood due to smoke from the engrave, but I’m not sure if it was worth the time needed to remove all of the tiny counters of the text, vs sanding with a belt or disk sander.

As it was, the wood cubes were still sanded down after removing the tape. They were eventually finished with tung oil after doing a few tests with other finishes such as varnish and shellac.

Wood milling demo (video)

Wood milling demo (video)

A big log needs a big saw

On January 16, 2016, Nova Labs members were treated to a wood milling demonstration at Belle Grey Farm in Upperville, VA. The 51HP diesel powered, hydraulically controlled portable saw mill ran through the wood with ease.

Members were shown how entire trees were rough cut down to boards. The boards were then put into a solar kiln to dry for at least several months and sometimes as much as several years. Once dried the boards make it to the shop where they are used to make equestrian jumps.

Photos and source video clips courtesy of Fred Briggs. Video by me for the Nova Labs Facebook page.


Voyager gold record inspired playground accessory

Voyager gold record inspired playground accessory

Voyager Gold Records on a playgroundWe recently built a playground in the backyard (expect a separate post with some time-lapse photography we took during the process), but we had to make one modification to the plans; One of two slides was omitted since it would have required us to extend the new retaining wall further than we really wanted to deal with, and it was already plenty of work…

Fast forward to the ‘finished’ playground, and we had a big hole where the slide should have attached. Not good considering the platform height was 5′ and the kids are still little.

We discussed several options for covering the opening, but most were just too boring sounding. I had my mind set on laser engraving a clear acrylic ‘window’ and mounting it in some sort of frame. Eventually my wife said something about space (I’m not even sure what exactly anymore), but I was soon looking at Wikipedia for information on the Voyager spacecrafts, launched in 1977, and their Gold Records.

I’m glad I found the tongue and groove cedar planks at Loews as it made it really easy to mount the acrylic panel. Hopefully the rest of the photos and captions speak for themselves.

Overall, an interesting and nerdy addition to the playground, and hopefully one that the kids will appreciate someday (my initial explanation of ‘there is a copy of this on the FURTHEST HUMAN THING FROM EARTH’ was met with puzzled looks).

Lastly, here’s a quick video showing the start of the engraving process on Nova Labs’ laser cutter: