Adventures in Vacuum Forming

I’ve been wanting to create some project enclosures that are not black boxes from Radio Shack (not that there’s anything wrong with Radio Shack), so I built a vacuum forming rig following an instructable:,-cheap,-upgradeable-sheet-plastic-vacu/

Here it is setup in the kitchen of 7hills Makerspace:


I found some channeled flashing at the hardware store that I made into the frame. I use 2×4 cutoffs to elevate the plastic in the oven, so it had a little more room to sag. A little over a minute at 400 degrees did the trick. Press the frame against the weather stripping, flip the switch, one giant sucking sound later you have a part:

I started out making a simple part. The mold was sawn, sanded, turned on the lathe, and then sanded some more. I was surprised to see the wood’s grain still showing through. I cut off the excess and added some self-adhesive vinyl. Here’s how it turned out:

It’s not perfect, but it was a pleasing first attempt. I’m planning to make a bottom enclosure from bent acrylic. That’s one more thing I’m learning about as I go.

The next thing I wanted to try during my inaugural molding session was an experiment to see if you can create molds on the makerbot. Would the two plastics stick to each other making mold release difficult? The answer is … no. The makerbot-made molds did not stick to the sheet plastic. However, the surface imperfections typical with makerbots was visible through the sheet plastic. The results show that with numerous small parts, I should have paid more attention to airflow and bridging/webbing.


So there you have it. I felt pretty successful for a first try, but I have lots more to learn about vacuum forming.

“Hello World of Making” Project

When learning a new programming language, you start by getting the computer to display “hello world” on the screen.  It is a preliminary confirmation that you can do the basics of the programming language.  With a new makerspace like ours, lots of visitors and future members will want to learn what can be done in the space and how to do the basics on our machinery.

In order to help them, I have tried to design a single project that costs just a few dollars, and that uses a diverse set of machines available at 7Hills Makerspace.  The project is not a fancy high-tech, Arduino based device; it’s a flashlight (and not even a good one at that). It uses 3D printing, circuit board etching, soldering, and laser cutting. It is essentially a “hello world” project for new or future makers.

Hello world flashlight picture

The Hello World of Making" Flashlight

The body is 3D printed (here in red ABS); as is the “on” button.  The top and bottom are laser cut 1/16 inch acrylic.  The top is etched to read “Hello World of Making,” the bottom has the 7Hills Makerspace written out in text and the logo is displayed. The electronic components include a CR2320 battery, battery holder, a resistor, an LED and a push button.

Exploded CAD drawing of flashlight

Exploded view

Flashlight off




The project is still a work in progress.  As you can see, some of the holes don’t line up right yet and expediency lead me to use a yellow LED.  future versions will have bright white LEDs (because I will have gone to the store by then).  I also plan to think throught the processes that are use and schedule them so that waiting time for one project is utilized to get another process started.  For example, while the circuit board is being etched for 20 minutes, Laser cutting and etching could be introduced and started.  While the 3D printer is finishing, Drilling the PCB and soldering could begin.   The goal is to have the build to be of managable duration, not to rushed, but not boring or tedious either.

This is a first attempt.  I plan to change it and improve it.  I would love to hear your ideas about how to make it better.

Hello World of Making!




Pano Virtual Tours

Over the past few months, I’ve been playing around with using panographic and spherical photography to create interactive, virtual tours. I thought I’d post an overview of the experience here, and provide some details of the tools and process I used.

First, I’ll provide links to three of the test shots I did so you can see what this looks like when it’s put together.

Rome Area

Bird Trail

Industrial Building

Creating these tours is a three step process:

First, you need to create a series of photographic images using a wide-angle lens. For this part, I followed this great tutorial. You don’t need a fancy camera for this. In fact you can use a simple point-and-click, although a nice digital SLR and a really wide angle lens will really make things pop.  And if you don’t use a wide angle lens, you’ll just have to create more images and stitch them together to get a full 360.  For the above, I used a Canon 5D Mark II camera and a Rokinon FE8M-C 8mm F3.5 Fisheye Lens.

Next, you have to do some post-processing of the images captured in step 1.  Basically, you need to “stitch” the images together to create a single panographic image, or depending on your needs, multiple, tiled images that fit together to create a spherical panorama. For this, I used software from PTGui. You can find some great resources and tutorials on that site. There’s also an open source alternative for this called Hugin, but I haven’t worked with it.

Finally, you have to prepare and publish your creation on the web. There are many ways to do this, but I chose to embed them in a Flash Player using krpano Viewer. the same company also provides krpano Tools, which is basically a framework for creating all the controls, screen elements and effects you see in the examples above.

That’s the nickel tour. I hope you’re all motivated to go create your own tours! I’ll be doing some new shoots for one of our customers over the next few weeks and will post follow-up notes.  I’m also hoping to do a spherical video soon.

Parking Nag – Project Overview

OK, I’ve decided to put together a new project. I’m calling it Parking Nag. A wireless monitoring and notification thingy for parking around our makerspace.

Here’s the deal. Our makerspace is located in the downtown area of a small town. While there are a few small parking decks around, they charge for use. The City doesn’t charge to park on the street, but during normal business hours, there’s a two-hour limit. Typical scenario.

Since most of our members park on the street, we could benefit from having some kind of notification that we need to go move our car. We get all involved in whatever we’re doing at the space, and have a tough time remembering to shuffle the vehicle to another spot.

Here’s what I’m thinking. Parking Nag will consist of two parts. A monitor/display that resides inside our makerspace. We have a big table in the center of our space, and it’ll look nice right in the middle. The display will show the names of any member currently “registered” as being parked around the space and the amount of time they have left, or something like that.

The other part will be a small wireless transmitter that our members toss on their dash. When they arrive, they’ll “do something” to start their timer before they get out of their car and head upstairs. That’ll transmit some sort of “start timer” message to the console. In the space, the console will have an LED readout with their name and the amount of time each registered vehicle has left. I’m thinking it will also have an audible or other type of alert to let people know when time is running out. If they don’t respond, a robotic arm will then come out, spray the member with water, and taze them..  no, no, wait…

I’ve got the acrylic box thing figured out already. A cool Box Maker App I found will produce any size box design I want, with notched edges. It spits out a PDF that I can vector-cut on our laser cutter. Works great, and produces awesome enclosures.

I’ve worked out much of the wireless part from a music project I was working on. Thinking of using Xbee, but will have to do some testing to see if the range of my 2.4 GHz radios will be adequate.

Have to think through the monitor/display part a bit. One of our other members is working on a heads-up display for his motorcycle, and I’ll probably bug him for input on the best approach.

Buzz Kill: Well, why not just have someone punch a button when they get into the space? Why the need for anything wireless? Why not just use a mobile phone app? Other than “that wouldn’t be as much fun to build, or to use” I don’t really have answers for those questions.

I’ll post more as the project comes together. Gotta go move my car!