The folks from Paton Group came out yesterday to train us on the Roland Modela MDX-50 we’ve got in the makerspace.

First impressions…

The machine is well-built, and the rotary attachment is especially nice, with precisely machined aluminum parts and the most amazingly smooth bearings. It’s quiet, at least when milling chemical wood.  It creates a LOT of dust, and took a while to vacuum after the part was finished.  The lighting cues are nice, and it’s easy to monitor the machine from anywhere in the lab.  The software – SRP Player CAM – is dead simple to use. I don’t have much experience machining, but I was able to pretty easily set up and run a job after being shown the process just once. It takes standard .STL files, so it should be pretty accessible to those with some 3D printing experience.

MDX-50 First Carve

The model I picked – Totoro by joo on Thingiverse – was maybe not the best choice, in terms of size (I didn’t make the best use of the material) and because of where the supports needed to be (between the ears, though I learned that custom supports can be built into the .STL file to solve such challenges), but I am happy with the result overall.  The chemical wood is a new material to me, and is easily worked with an X-ACTO knife, sandpaper, and files.

My Neighbor

Fidget spinners are suddenly all the rage in the Innovation Center.

Fidget Spinners are all the Rage in the Innovation Center

So far folks have 3D printed them on the Ultimakers, laser cut them out of acrylic on the new laser, and just today cut some out of HDPE plastic on the Carvey.

Nathan's Spinner

Easel (the software the runs the Carvey) even has a spinner add-on that enables easy design and tweaking.

Easel Fidget Spinner Maker

I see a big old bag of bearings in our future!

I’ve been working a lot lately with members of Folsom Lake College’s Peer Mentors, a group helmed by the the great Juan Flores (fellow faculty member and father of my lab helper from the other day).  The Peer Mentors are working on developing tiles for the mosaic tile project, with the goal that they will in turn help their assigned mentees to develop tiles.  It’s our hope that involving new college students in a technical and very accessible project will give them a connection to the makerspace early in their college career, and that having a physical artifact on the wall will help them feel connected to the college. Jess (student, Peer Mentor, and astrobiology enthusiast) was the first student from the group to have her design ready.

Jess Changing Bits

The new rough/fine pass feature of Easel is a good one, and should help to preserve the tremendously delicate 1/32″ bits.  We actually ended up doing three passes with successively smaller bits,  and Jess quickly mastered the process, producing this really nice design.

KC Boylan (Communication and Media Studies) stopped by later in the day to cut her tile…

KC Changing Bits

and Kathleen Kirklin (Interim President) did hers a couple of weeks ago…

Kathleen Securing her Tile

The project is turning out to be a great way to foster community as we continue to develop the space, and it’s a maker skills confidence builder besides.  With nearly a dozen tiles finished, I need to work with Ian Wallace (Theater Arts) to get some time on the big ShopBot to route out the waffle frame so we can get these up on the wall!

With the fall show winding down, Cameron and the Theater Arts crew are trying to get the aquaponics system wrapped up, and brought the near-finished display up to the library for a dry-fitting.


I’m told they’ll have it buttoned up within a week, after which all the other work – getting the tank established, setting up and calibrating all the sensors, connecting all that to the network, figuring out the display and the giant “get tank vitals” arcade button – can continue in earnest.

We’re also close to getting the nine tiles for the first pane of the Carvey project finished, inspired by Jeff Solin’s Mosaic Tile project. Nathaniel and Rebekah of FLC’s Data Science Club carved up a version of their club logo to add to the other faculty and student tiles we’ve got so far.

Removing the carved tile.

The plan then is to mill (on the big ShopBot down in Theater Arts) a 3×3 tile “waffle” frame, with recessed wells for each of nine tiles. That will comprise the first of hopefully many such 9-tile collections, as additional faculty, staff and students create their own tiles, and all that work will be on display, either outside or inside of the Innovation Center.

Carvey Totoro


Carving Done


With the floors finished, things are finally getting a little bit closer to normal in the makerspace.  Moved the X-Carve from the clean lab to the dirty lab, and tested out cutting some HDPE in preparation for a mosaic tile project.

X-Carve Carving HDPE (Finally)

Lessons learned:

  • Slowest router speed is best – less fuzz.
  • Even at the slowest speed, there was plenty of fuzz that needed to be cleaned up with an X-Acto knife.
  • Pause at your own risk. I paused the cut out of courtesy to the Data Science club, and the job never recovered. When I tried to restart, the X-Carve ignored my pleas. After a while I gave up, and tried to re-run the job using the previously established zero.  Things went bad quickly. Easel didn’t seem to care about my prior zero setting, and charged forward, about 6 inches off the mark. I ruined the in-progress HDPE blank, and shaved a little bit off of the waste board besides.

Even with those minor hiccups, I’m loving the final result!

X-Carve Carving

Max and I spent some time in the shop this afternoon, brainstorming Chemistry activities that will make use of the new X-Carve and vinyl cutter, and working on the new Ultimaker 2 Extended+ that arrived the other day.  After some tweaking, we got the printer running, and decided to print this Dewalt DWP611 Thread-On Dust Shoe from Thingiverse (CC BY Noah Mackes).  Up until now, we’ve been using the X-Carve as a plotter, but Marisa Sayago (Professor, Art) and I have been talking about some printmaking ideas that involved cutting and engraving, hence the need for the dust shoe.

The printer reported that the job was going to take 17 hours, so Max and I decided to set up a webcam and do some R&D on Open Broadcaster Studio, which I have been considering using for the live fishcam that will be part of the aquaponics project.  We installed the software, plugged in the camera, put in the YouTube live streaming information, and it all worked perfectly right out of the gate.

Streaming Video of Ultimaker 2 Extended+ Printing Parts for an Inventables X-Carve

By the time I got home, the camera had slipped or been knocked sideways, but the print is still visible!

Open Broadcaster Streaming Ultimaker 2 Extended+ Printing a Dust Shoe for an X-Carve to YouTube Live

I’ve been working with technology for many years, but the idea that I can relatively easily monitor from home a 3D print job of a part I need and was able to download for a CNC machine that can be used to support (among other things) hands-on student activities in Chemistry and Art, while simultaneously testing a software program and a streaming service for another project that combines Library, Chemistry, Biology, Theater Arts, fish, and plants is, frankly, pretty neat.

I almost forgot – I made a Voronoi Totoro on the X-Carve (in plotter mode):

Voronoi Totoro

We don’t have dust collection set up just yet, so running the router on the new X-Carve is a messy prospect.  Max Mahoney (Chemistry) has ideas about using the machine for some copper etching labs, so we set about adapting it for a pen.  We fairly quickly found a model of a 3D printable pen holder for the X-Carve (CC BY Duane Northcutt), and printed it out, tapping the holes for M4 screws. PLA surprisingly seems to hold a thread fairly well.

X-Carve Pen Holder

After several experiments with various pens, we were able to successfully draw a pleasing circular Voronoi tessellation using an orange Vis-a-Vis overhead transparency marker on 12″ x 12″ piece of foam core board.

X-Carve - Pen on Foam Core

The whole thing took about 36 minutes to complete.  Here’s a short, mesmerizing (to me anyway) video of the CNC hard at work.

The build crew met again this morning for the third and final X-Carve build day.


Finished up the work area, z-axis, drag chains and final wiring…


After a few perplexing challenges, especially regarding the mounting of the y-axis drag chain, we were able to finish the build, fire the machine up, and make our first test cuts!

Very First Cut!

All in all, a very satisfying build, and we learned a lot. For anyone looking to build an X-Carve, I would advise double-checking the forums at Inventables if you run into inconsistencies in the instructions – there aren’t many, but there are one or two differences between the current shipping kit and the videos and build instructions online.  I would also advise using the GrabCAD models. We ignored these until the very end, but they proved very useful when figuring out the drag chain mounting, and I wish we had checked them sooner – we pretty much ignored them until the very end of the build.

Potato quality video – I was holding the vacuum in one hand and trying to shoot video with the other, and apparently the iPhone didn’t know upon what to focus):

In the next couple of days, I hope to get the dust extraction situation worked out, and to extend the XYZ wiring so that the power supply can live a little farther from the machine.

X-Carve Build Day, Part 1

X-Carve Build Day, Part 2

Build photos

X-Carve Build Day 2 - All Hands on Deck

Back to the build…  After a successful build day last week, we started Build Day 2 with some goodies, including Diane’s home-roasted coffee, egg and cheese sandwiches, homemade scones, muffins and pastries:

X-Carve Build Day 2 - A Light Brunch to Start the Day Right

Today didn’t go quite as smoothly as I’d hoped, mostly because I mistakenly believed that one of the rails had not been tapped, which triggered a mad dash to the local hardware store for a tap and die set that turned out to be unnecessary. My mistake transformed into a learning experience and some skill building, so it wasn’t all bad:

X-Carve Build Day 2 - Jennifer Drilling

We were able to get the Z-axis assembled:

X-Carve Build Day 2 - Jennifer Adjusts the Z-Axis Drive Screw

And all of the motors wired:

X-Carve Build Day 2 - Diane and Jennifer Wiring the Z-Axis

We’re planning on finishing up the project after the weekend, and then we’ll get to carving!

X-Carve Build Day 2 - Max Wiring

Additional photos…

X-Carve Build Day - Chopsticks and Scissors

Spent much of today with a few of my primary collaborators: Diane Carlson (bottom left – she of Making Social Change fame), Max Mahoney (top left – he of molecule making and molecular visualizer fame), Jennifer Kraemer (top right, she of various making in ECE projects like the building system interoperability activity) and me (bottom right) putting together the new X-Carve.

Jennifer fine-tuning a pulley for the Y axis:

X-Carve Build Day - Fine Tuning

Diane and Max strategizing:

X-Carve Build Day - Diane and Max, Getting it Done

We ended the day with most of the structure built, and will meet again next week to tackle the belts and electronics.

X-Carve Build Day - A Day's Work

More photos from the X-Carve build day…