Home Eng Project #3

A pineapple. Because why not?

My younger daughter and I have continued our periodic shop time I have entitled Home Eng. See here for a bit more information about the concept. We don’t manage to get into the shop every weekend, but we have kept at it. We also watch maker videos online sometimes, from channels like Peter Brown, Drew Fischer, and Pask, and I think that counts, too.

3D prints ready for mold making

Anyway, we just finished our third project, which was a pewter casting of a pineapple. Why a pineapple? You’d have to ask her, because I have no idea. I just proposed that we go online to find a model of something, 3D print it on my SLA printer, make a silicone mold of it, and then cast it in pewter. She picked a pineapple. You can see the results in the pictures in this post. I’m quite pleased with them.

Half a pineapple is better than none

The pewter we used has a relatively low melting temperature of around 550ºF, and so is pretty easy to work with. I bought a cheap “electric ladle” style melting pot which made it fairly easy for her to melt the pewter and pour it into the mold. We did have one failure where the metal leaked out, but the result was a pretty good mold of just the top half of the pineapple, so we kept it. And we made two molds, so we had a backup we could try on right away while the other one cooled.

School ended for my daughter this past week, so I asked her if she wants to keep going with our shop sessions. She said yes, which tickled me. Our next project is going to be doing some simple pottery, as I recently bought a tabletop furnace that can be used to fire clay. I also plan to use it to do more casting, using a lost wax or lost plastic method, in aluminum or brass.

One of my two (not so) little engineers

Podcast Episode 005 – Michael Fogus

The inimitable Fogus was on my list of desired guests from the moment I started thinking about having a podcast. He is a rare combination of humble, smart, and nice, and I have always greatly enjoyed talking to him. And he’s always working on something interesting, whether that’s making a game, writing some bit of software, or reading books on a million topics.

I thought that maybe we would shake things up a bit and this time start with the question, “What are you learning?” I am so, so glad I did, because what he’s learning kind of blew my mind. I could describe it as, “Philosophy, through the lens of heavy metal,” but that only captures some of what we talked about, which included ancient Egypt, Douglas Hofstadter, and his wondrous goal of making “an influential nothing.”

It was truly my enormous pleasure to talk to Fogus, and I’m sure you’ll find it as interesting and fascinating as I did.

Listen to the podcast on this page or download it here. Subscribe on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or via RSS.

Links and Notes

This episode is also available on YouTube. View it there for a transcript and subtitles.

Video: Hybrid CNC Routing

Lately I’ve taken to using my CNC router in sort of a weird way. I use the stepper motors to lock down the router in two dimensions (typically X and Z), but I leave Y floating. This allows me to move the router in a straight line by hand, which both frees me from having to program the CNC when all I want to do is route a groove and lets me use audible and visual feedback to speed up or slow down the cut based on how the router is behaving. I call it “Hybrid CNC Routing”, as it’s a mix of CNC and manual.

Is it kind of weird? Yes. Yes it is. Does it work? Yes. Mostly. Usually. I had a bit of trouble on this particular run, as you can see if you care to watch the video. But hey, if you want videos of people that get everything right and never make mistakes, you’re going to want to find a different content producer.


Podcast Episode 004 – Mike Fikes

What do you do when you’re a programmer that loves ClojureScript but you decide you might like to learn electronics? Well, if you’re my friend Mike Fikes, you jump in with both feet and find a way to marry the two up. On this episode, we talk about Mike’s journey towards electronics enlightenment by way of creating Esprit, his project to get Clojure code to run on a microcontroller. Which is just as crazy and awesome as it sounds. I enjoyed my conversation with him very much, and I think you will too.

As always, feel free to leave a comment letting me know what you thought. And if you feel like sharing the show with someone you think might like it, I’d appreciate it.

Listen to the podcast on this page or download it here. Subscribe on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or via RSS.

Links and Notes

This episode is also available on YouTube. View it there for a transcript and subtitles.

Crossing the Streams?

Amazon.com: Ghostbusters Logo Vinyl 5" Sticker: Kitchen & Dining

Lately I’ve been wondering if I should cross-post the podcast episodes on the YouTube channel. On the one hand, I think it would allow more people to come across the episodes. And I could put pictures of the things we talk about in at the appropriate moment. Or even move to recording video when I talk to the guests. So I think it would be a reasonable watching experience. I know that plenty of people use YouTube to host their podcasts (witness Hey and Stuff). The transcriptions and subtitles alone are a pretty compelling reason to do it.

On the other hand, I wonder whether it would dilute the channel or annoy people. People can always skip over things they don’t want to watch of course, and I’d make a playlist containing just the podcast episodes, but I still can’t shake the feeling that it might be off-putting somehow.

If you have any thoughts on the subject, drop me a comment here, on Twitter or at candera@getsmarterandmakestuff.com. I could use some help figuring this out. Thanks!

Video: Use the Vertical

If you watched my shop tour video, you know that my shop is absolutely crammed full. Perhaps that’s not surprising given that I’m interested in so many, many different things – woodworking and turning, 3D printing, machining, resin art, electronics, and metal casting are just a few of my current pursuits. But it is, of course, a challenge to fit all those interests into a small shop. I think that’s a pain that a lot of us feel.

That said, I’m pretty happy with how much I’ve been able to fit into my shop. And I owe it all to my wife, who is the undisputed champion of Possessions Tetris. She taught me that one of the keys to making things work is to use the vertical – look up and look down, and you’ll find space you might not know you had.

I think the video explains it better than I could do in words, so I’ll just recommend you have a look. I’ll have more to say about shop organization in future videos, but if you have ideas about how better to use space, I’d love to hear them! Leave me a comment here or on the video.

Hope you find this useful, or at least entertaining. Thanks!

Home Eng

Mechanical pencil. Mahogany.

My younger daughter is in middle school. Before things got totally locked down, she had chosen to take “engineering” as one of her second-semester electives. (We would have called this “shop class” back when I was her age.) She’s a sharp kid, though, and once it was obvious she was going to be remote, she realized that the experience would be, shall we say, suboptimal. No discredit to the teachers, who I’m sure would have come up with some sort of creative solution to make the best of the situation. But as my daughter observed, we have a pretty well-equipped shop here (check out my shop tour if you want to see it).

Tea tray. Cherry with waxed string wrapped handles.

And so when second semester arrived, she requested that we spend time each week in the shop. I was, of course, pleased and more than a little flattered. My shop pursuits are generally fairly solitary, as is the nature of these things, but I have always enjoyed it whenever any of the family takes an interest, and especially so if they feel like participating.

I’ve dubbed the time we spend in the shop Home Eng, short for “Home Engineering” and to echo “Home Ec,” itself short for “Home Economics”, which is the term here in the US for the class that teaches topics like cooking and sewing. So far we’ve finished two projects. The first was a tea tray (suggested by my friend Tim) and the second a mechanical pencil, turned on the lathe. They’re both pictured inline, and I’ve included larger images below. I’d call them both definite successes, in that the produced objects are both functional and in my opinion beautiful.

Like anything one does for the first time, there have been a few lessons learned. The first is that projects that take more than a session or two in the shop are a bit more difficult to motivate her on. Hardly surprising – patience is not a virtue the young are known to possess in quantity, although I think my daughter does fairly well on that count. And I myself have definitely had times where I’ve been ready to be done with a project and have hard a hard time pushing through the last little bit. The tea tray project probably took us about six sessions, and the middle part of it was probably the hardest part – once we were on to sanding and putting a finish on it (just some Danish Oil, which is super easy) she could see the finish line and was more motivated. So I intentionally chose the pencil as the second, as lathe projects tend to be quick. And it was – from walking in to the shop not even having picked out a piece of wood until we had the completely finished project was about an hour and a half.

The second thing that surprised me was just how difficult a time she had pushing a hand plane. I make extensive use of hand planes in my way of woodworking, not least because I don’t own a table saw. She had no trouble using the band saw, but the resulting surface needs to be refined, and she had a very difficult time getting the plane to move at all. I’m not sure how much of that is due to the difference in body mass and strength and how much is due to technique. I couldn’t see anything obviously wrong with how she was using it, but as I have never attempted to teach plane usage it’s possible I was missing something. I wound up doing most of the planing for her, which was fine.

Sawing she did great with. I found she had better luck with my eastern-style pull saw than with my other saws, at least in part because with the workpiece clamped in the vise, she could use both hands. She was able to cut right to a line, and her joints fitted very well indeed for a first attempt. I continue to think that pull saws are a great option for the beginner, and a good tool to include in every woodworking shop.

So far it has been a lot of fun. I think she enjoys it as well, at least once I pry her away from reading Aru Shah and we get into the shop. I’m going to continue to look for a mix of longer and shorter projects. I also want to branch out beyond woodworking, into things like machining, 3D printing, and even CAD or CAM work. I think our next one will involve finding or creating a 3D model, printing it on my SLA 3D printer, and then casting it in pewter. I’ll be sure to let you know here how it went.

Podcast Episode 003 – Russ Olsen

On the long, long list of interesting people I want to talk to about getting smarter and making things, my friend and former coworker (and boss) Russ Olsen is definitely up near the top list. We have many times driven down to Durham, North Carolina together, as we both work there and live relatively close to each other in the Washington, D.C. area. The drive takes five or six hours each way, but the time always flies by for me since Russ is such a fascinating and intelligent guy. I feel like this episode absolutely captures the flavor of those conversations. I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed recording it!

As always, feel free to leave a comment letting me know what you thought. And if you feel like sharing the show with someone you think might like it, I’d appreciate it.

Listen to the podcast on this page or download it here. Subscribe on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or via RSS.

Links and Notes

This episode is also available on YouTube. View it there for a transcript and subtitles.

Pictures of Russ’s cigar box guitars

Video: Electronic Leadscrew Progress, Part 2

Whew! Making videos is hard work. Especially when you forget to turn the mic back on after lunch or lose a bunch of video files. Not that I know anyone that would do that.


Oh well, I’m still learning. Which, after all, is kind of the point. So here’s a video describing my progress on the electronic leadscrew.

See this post if you need a backgrounder on what an electronic leadscrew is and why I might want to add one to my metal lathe.

This video features a special appearance by an unexpected guest, here if you want to skip straight to it.

Hope you find it useful, or at least entertaining. If you do, I’d love it if you’d drop a like or a comment on the video. Here’s hoping the next update has me making chips!

Podcast Episode 002 Audio PEBKAC

Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair. That’s me. Image from Know Your Meme.

In software, we use the acronym PEBKAC. It stands for “Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair”, and it’s just a funny way of saying “user error”. I am a living example: I managed to publish episode 002 with the audio from episode 001. Apparently WordPress picks up on the first audio link in the post, rather than the audio content, and I had mistakenly pasted the wrong thing.

Anyway, looks like the RSS is showing the correct URL now, so it hopefully should sort itself out as things propagate. In the meantime, the audio for episode 002 can be downloaded directly from here.

Apologies! Hopefully this is just one of those unavoidable missteps that happens at the start of any projects and things will be smooth from here on out.