Monday, November 28, 2016

Switching to Vectric Aspire

Ever since I built this machine (Momus X2S) I've been looking for a commercial CAD/CAM software that is in my reach of investment. I've had my eyes on many different products, including HSM, Alpha, Autodesk, etc., but the focus was always on the 4th axis without blowing the budget.
Once you get into that 4th axis world, things tend to get really expensive, really quick.

I've helped myself around that with coding my own tools, mainly by parsing G-code and transposing one axis to another, which isn't that difficult to do once you get it. Yet, that isn't where I want to be in the long run. I've done some other crazy stuff so far with open source CAD/CAM software such as the cat shelf line, that was a lot of extra work which could have probably avoided by using more professional tools.

The other main thing I wanted was to be able to do was to extend the capabilities of the chosen software to do what I want to do, as in add-ons.

Vectric Aspire 8.5 does all that, so I placed my order.
Stay tuned, I'll let you know how it works out - first up is to adapt the Vectric stock PostProcessor to the Momus and implement that 4th Axis at the same time.

Exploring Jewelry Making

Recently, I've decided to explore making CNC assisted Jewelry.

As with the cat shelves, the original idea came from my long time partner in life, Heather. She wanted a commitment ring, made from wood, and made by me. Size 7

Quite a challenge for somebody that is not really a wood turner, but can run perfect circles on a CNC in three dimensions.

So here we are, supported by a 4 axis machine that is surprisingly precise in all directions (+-0.0015), even on the 4th axis. The experience gained by processing that much wood on the cat shelf line and the resulting fine finishes, purely because of repetition and continuous improvement in the process is and was invaluable to arrive at this stage.

Thinking about the idea, I figured that is something worth exploring - even at a commercial level and while doing that make it so that in can be repeated, which wasn't the case with the cat shelves.
Decomplication is the idea (that is a standing problem on cat shelves, the "make" process is too complicated to be handled by potential employees), which can be done with our upcoming Jewelry line, that should be easy.

On the business end, that move is only logical, because the cost would be much less to produce - no hardware purchases involved, lower cost of goods sold in general, the shipping cost would be minimal, compared to shipping a 30lb box for a customer from VA to CA (we've done that many times before). Going with a lighter product makes much more sense now.

Anyways, to get started, I've shot for the stars and decided to go all out into rings at first.

Preliminary research indicates that one shouldn't make a ring entirely cut from a solid piece of wood. The reasoning behind that is quite simple: It's not a matter of if it will crack on the wearer across the grain somewhere in the middle, but when...

This is a huge problem and I currently don't quite understand how a lot of vendors that sell these rings are getting away with it.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Cat Shelves III: We're on national TV!

It's been a while, but here's a quick update: So far, we've sold and produced a total of 221 cat shelves on this idea, shipping to states all over the US - even to Europe and a few to Asia and Australia also, making a lot of cats and their owners really happy. :-)

To date, we've had not a single complaint about the quality of our work or the mounting system that we came up with and got a lot of positive and sometimes even raving reviews online. We gained the full 5 star rating on Etsy through all of this, which is a rare accomplishment in itself, yay! :-) To see the individual comments, please click here:

Our customers so far have requested some interesting combinations, all of which we have been able to produce. We can now combine any of the 18 different stains we have available with any of the carpet offers, as well as custom combinations. One of the most memorable combinations was a really shaggy carpet on a walnut stain. Another one was an antique look with sisal carpet, we've got this one in a million picture for feedback on one of our cradles, sooooo cute :-)

Needless to say, we are pretty proud of what we've accomplished so far, thanks to the Momus CNC Design. The only sad news is that we've had to raise the prices for them repeatedly over the past 6 months, because our order intake was overwhelming our little shop a couple of times and it seems to be getting worse (or better, from our side of the fence). We just can't keep up, but that's just economics 101. The cost to make these is relatively high (to get the bare wood, buy all the hardware, sanding and finishing supplies, stock all the shipping supplies on top of the overhead to sell, etc.), which we really underestimated in the beginning, and still are...

However, the good news is: The producers of the show "My Cat From Hell" on Animal Planet have contacted us a couple of months ago for a possible feature of our product and we committed, not knowing what is going to happen from there. The show has consistently delivered more than 1 million world wide viewers per episode last year - which was kind of scary for us, but in a good way!

This last weekend, we got some exciting news:
Our shelves will be featured in Season 8, Episode 9 of Jackson Galaxy's show My Cat from Hell on the Animal Planet Channel and it's going to air for the first time on Saturday, 28th of May (2016) - at 8pm EST / 7pm central. Wow!

Please be sure to watch this one...
We will watch it too and think about all the cats, that our little idea made a whole lot happier over the course of this project. :-)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Cat Shelf Product Video (Draft/Early Release)

Since the beginning of this project, we've seen some amazing interest in this product and I still really enjoy making these on the side. To date, we've sold 76 of these so far!!

I still can't make them fast enough, but that's a really good problem to have... :-)

So far, I've gone through countless changes and improvements to make the whole process more efficient, most of it within the CNC programs to improve tool life and surface quality of the parts that come out of the machine. Better quality means less sanding later on. That's looking pretty good right now...

We've also added a new, really helpful item to the mix, which I've been pondering for quite some time. It's basically a drum sander, with nothing but a drum, to accept the wavy shapes and some serious dust collection. I mean serious. Since there is nothing on the market like this, I built my own - out of a HF mini lathe, some 4" pvc pipe to make up the drum and some smaller pvc piping parts for dust collection.

Anyways, long story short - during all this, I've decided to make a video of the whole process. There has been plenty of opportunity in the late night breaks when the machine was running to work on this. Now about 8 weeks in the making, there is still a lot missing that I wanted to have in there, but at some point you have to let it go. So here it is, this is how we make them (preliminary release):

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Cat Shelves II: Shipping Now!

Well, I never thought that this would take off in the way it did, period!
We've got A LOT of orders coming mostly from California, not sure why that is.
We also got inquiries from the UK and as far away as Australia, which we can't really accommodate that yet because the shipping cost would be totally out the window.

So far, we sold 30 of these shelves in 4 weeks since the startup. The CNC is getting a little hot, running the same tool paths over and over again - but she's holding up good so far.
That's a good thing, because that totally propels us out of the guessing game where what cutting medium works best for what. Also for the tools, still my personal favorite is:
Their cutting bits and support is awesome, in every way!

NEWS: Today, we shipped our first order!! This very first one went to Redway, California.
For us, that was a pretty exiting moment - to go from a manufacturing dream to shipment reality: It felt good: First you get to put all the bubble wrap around the product you're making, to make sure it doesn't get damaged in the process of delivery (and yes, we will accept liability for failure on that part)... Next you have to find a box to put it into and print a neat shipping label, wrap it up real good in that bubble wrap. All that takes a lot of planning :-)

Anyways, Heather and I had a blast tonight, cutting and matching up the selected carpet for our first commercial sales item. We ended up making hardboard templates for the carpet envelopes, for repeatable cuts - that's another story. It worked out great, here's the first shelf in Golden Pine (stain), with the cool Moroccan Festival carpet on it. Shown on the left..

Using the same pattern, we completed the whole set and boxed it up for shipping to CA, consisting of one small wavy, a large wavy and a large cradle. They came out beautiful in the golden pine stain (I've never used this stain before, the result was astonishing, Heather keeps saying this is her new favorite stain too)!

Of course our resident quality inspector (Violet) had to have a good look at everything too, before this box ships.

Violet is wondering: Are all the included items in the box? Did they make super-duper sure that all the instructions and the paperwork are in there, the T30-screwdriver, the drill bits, the blue plastic anchors and the special surprise for our customers!??

We think it's all in there. Each shipment comes with printed instructions and at this point we are confident that they are easy to follow and will lead to a successful installation of our shelves, wherever they might go.

We also made sure the items that one might not have on hand, are included: The drill bits, the anchors and the special screwdriver, enclosed in a little baggy to hold it all together.

Now, the QA Inspector, Violet just needs to make sure that the shipping label is affixed correctly.

Looks good... Go ahead and send this out!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Parametric Lamp

I've always loved CNC 3D puzzles, cut from 3mm plywood, they are easy to make and fun to put together. Over the past few weeks, I've made a lion, a bubble fish and a few others. They turned out really good. See for yourself :-)

The cut files for these models came from and I was astounded by the accuracy and detail of the plans in general - they even give you assembly instructions for each project.

Super awesome, very high quality plans and easy to work with. I can only +++ these because they will give you both imperial and metric plans you can choose from in three different sizes EACH, depending on the thickness of your material and the size of the cutting bits you have available to you.
The bit I used for this was a Freud 1/16th double flute straight (04-096). Assembly was always fun, no problems at all, no errors in the files. I can only highly recommend for that.
But why stop there?? How about making something more interesting for a broader audience, using the same material, principles and technique?

About two years ago, I came across a video on YouTube of somebody in Italy that uses a desktop CNC machine to make high-end-designer lamps. Which happen to be: And you guessed it already! :-) Made from the same 3mm plywood, just like our 3D puzzles are made from above.  I have to say, that video was one of several key drivers for me to perfect the processes and the machine to the day it currently stands, because I kept thinking: One of these days, I want to be able to make a lamp like that, using the Momus CNC.

With everything that has been going on during the build, I forgot about that over time but then recently my girlfriend pointed out an article in a recent edition of HGTV magazine. Guess, what, there it was again! THAT same LAMP! Well almost, same approach but different dimensions. In the article it only said that it came from, a flash shopping site. It's no longer listed, so where they got it from is currently a mystery...

Anyways, so how do we start? The first thing we need is a 3D model of the lamp, which I built up in Sketchup and Excel. You might be wondering about that a little bit, the problem with this design is that depending on how long and wide the lamp ends up being, the distribution of the wings and the angles of the wings change. The shape of the wings change also, as for the inner width, outer width and length. Once I had that worked out in Excel, 12 divisions, 6 round on each level and the angles distributed from the top down, I modeled the lamp in Sketchup and did a few renderings using LightUp, starting with a lamp kit I got from Amazon and a light bulb model I got from

The geometries and cuts in this thing are mind boggling to say the least, but I kept on modeling to complete the task at hand, sometimes a hair close to call it quits because of the complexity. Once I had the model complete, I wanted to see how it would look like with the bulb on and did a pretty complicated rendering of the whole scene in Lightup - with the light-bulb included, as a point light source. This should pretty much be what it looks like for real when finally done.

Having that look pretty good, I set out to make the CAM/gcode files for the Momus. Turns out that there were a total of 72 wing parts, 12 ribs and 4 more for the upper and lower support rings to cut, making this a total number of parts to this lamp: 88 different parts

Using 12x30 sheets of 3mm Birch plywood, it took a total of 8 sheets to make all the parts.
The tool was all the same during this project, the good old trusty Freud 1/16th double flute straight (04-096) at 20,000 RPM on the spindle. That bit just doesn't want to give up or get dull, I think I'm still using the first one I ever bought (2 in reserve), no problems with it, just awesome.

I gave the sheets a good top and bottom sanding as they came out of the machine, they were pretty clean to start with, but needed a little more detail cleanup. Here are all the parts to complete the lamp (88 parts in total):

The assembly went smoothly, I used a toothpick and white wood glue to lock all the piece in place, which took a while (there are so many ;-), starting off with a few ribs and the rings.

What is kind of interesting too (not meaning to brag) is an idea to hold the lamp up and at the same time be able to change the bulb out at any time. There is no way to reach into the lamp from the outside, so the way to solve this was to give the user a way to rotate the light bulb socket out-and-into the lamp base plate. It locks itself in.

The solution was a pattern that lends itself for that, with only using one additional part on the underside of the lamps base ring. Very simple, but effective..

On the assembly side of things, I had many problems at first, also had to redo a few parts. Which was somewhat expected. One major thing I learned from this endeavor was this.
It's hard to see on the pic on the side, but all the slotting cuts had these fillets in them in every corner, they are tiny but I doubt the whole thing would have come/fitted together without them. The model suggested it wouldn't, go figure.

I couldn't wait, plugging it in, in the shop - just to see what it would look like - please see for yourself:

Right now, it's still hanging in my shop, looking for a buyer - do you want one ;-) ?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Challenge Coin Holders Research II

I worked some more on the issue with the coin slots this evening and it turns out that that most coin holders out there have somewhat of a problem to them. The flutes in the holders don't really "hold" coins. The coins wiggle and don't sit at the desired angle (8 degrees), depending on the thickness of each coin. That thickness varies a lot I learned by now, being the root of the problem.

Where this is coming from is that most coins are different thicknesses and there is no easy way to tell why or how to make it better. I found some ideas to use a dove-tail bit on the Vectric forum, but nobody seemed to have this done successfully yet (ok, a challenge), there are no pictures or examples.

I felt challenged, so i took the whole problem into Sketchup to see what's going on there, looking at it sideways. To me it seems that with a 8 degree dovetail bit, at a certain height, the coins should hold at the same angle. Running a dovetail bit through a piece of wood at full depth is certainly suicide, but perhaps we can clear some of that with a 1/8th End-Mill first.

The circle in the lower right of the drawing is the diameter of a toothpick by the way.
I figured, if someone wanted to fix the coin in the slot, they could break off a piece of a toothpick and put it down there to make the coin sit steady forever.
I ran out of time this evening - to try this out on the machine, I will let you know how it turned out tomorrow, but we may be onto something that's different from the off-the-shelf coin holders.