Foam Box Derby

Foam Block and c o 2 cartridges.
Foam before shaping with CO2 propulsion cartridges

This Friday night, at Greencastle’s First Friday, we’ll be trying something new, letting folks carve a foam block into a car, then propel them down a wire on Franklin Street.

Carved and painted foam block that we'll be racing down Franklin street.
Finished foam block mounted on the base.

For the first attempts we’re keeping it simple, although admittedly we’ve got bigger plans. For Friday night we’ve built a platform to put the foam block on, participants can carve the block into a car body, then will launch it down a cable using a CO2 cartridge.

Foam box car launcher
Foam box car launcher testing

In the future we’re going to try 3D printed and laser-cut wheels & want to also try using model rocket engines for propulsion. We’ve even thought about dual tracks for racing and putting an on-board micro:bit to measure speed and acceleration. Come join us on Friday night from 6-8 pm on Franklin Street in downtown Greencastle and to try out our first prototypes!

Radio Beacons

Circuit board & Raspberry Pi used for WSPR transmission.
Raspberry Pi Zero & circuit board Ian built for WSPR

There’s a lot of similarity between amateur radio (or ham radio) and ‘makers’ – in fact many people are involved in both. With the electronics workbench area that we added to the makerspace, there has been even more interest in amateur radio. Several months ago, we put a 2m/70cm member-donated antenna on the roof, then started looking for a transmitter/ receiver & more projects next.

WSPR signal reception graphic.
WSPR Signal reception reports from multiple continents using only 100 mW of power!
Antartica reception report.
Antartica reporting of an Indiana transmission!

A recent article(p30) on building a low power Weak Signal Propagation Reporter (WSPR) radio beacon using an Arduino had us wanting to make one. We have experience with single board computers & most of the parts at the makerspace already – so why not make one! But before I could get mine finished another member, who recently got his amateur radio license, redesigned the project using Raspberry Pi Zero and got his running in Crawfordsville!

Transmitting on less power than many wifi routers (100mW in this case), he’s had confirmation of his signal on the 20m frequency band in Australia, Denmark, off the coast of Africa, and even an Antartica research station! Stop by the makerspace – we’re glad to show off what we’re doing.

2022 Indiana Robotics Championship

2022 VEX Robotics Indiana Championship from the stands.

This last weekend I had the pleasure of volunteering for the Indiana VEX Robotics Championship in Indianapolis. While I’ve been to both FRC and VEX competitions, this annual event at Lucas Oil Stadium still stands out as my favorite. Sponsored by Techpoint Foundation for Youth, this year there were 274 enthusiastic teams competing and 1500 students there at the Saturday event.

Indiana VEX Robotics Championship Judging
Taking a break during judging at the competition.

I ended up being one of the judges for the middle school VEX IQ Challenge section, which included around 80 teams. For this event we broke into pairs to interview the teams in the morning, then met later in the afternoon to combine scores from their engineering notebook judgements, in-person interview rubrics, and match scores to develop the awards and winners. As you can imagine for an event this size, it takes a LOT of organization, hard work & hustle by the organizer to make this all happen that day!

Indiana State Championship VEX Competition area which includes both IQ and VRC robotics.
Main competition area for the middle school VEX challenges.

But when you listen to the excitement, the passion and what the teams are learning, you realize what a makes it such a great event. It not only teaches youth STEM skills but they learn about teamwork, project management, and much more. This event has turned into the biggest robotics competition in the US, and Techpoint Foundation for Youth works hard to make it happen. You can read more about this year’s event in their blog post and some highlights of this year’s event in this video.

Hardware / Software Fusion

Besides having a lot of physical tools & hardware at Castlemakers, we also spend a lot of time with software. For many of us making physical things is a lot of the enjoyment, but in today’s world many of the newer tools use software to control the machinery and the product design is often created in software also.

Nomad 883 Pro machining aluminum
Our CNC using software to machine aluminum.

This ‘fusion’ of software and hardware is what gives many of the newer tools we have their power; whether it’s 3D printers, our laser cutter/engraver, desktop CNC’s, or even some of our electronic test equipment. Knowing how to use that software to its full advantage can make things simpler to create or even create a more innovative design possible. Skilled makers will combine that knowledge with the older hands-on skills; for example, knowing how a kerf will impact the final piece when you a laser cut wood.

CoderDojo coding club
Castlemakers CoderDojo youth coding club.

Many of our classes, like our upcoming Fusion 360 class, help others to learn the software that can be used to design and create digitally and then later into actual objects. And our monthly Castlemakers CoderDojo helps youth learn about coding to create computer programs, online environments, and even coding with physical computing. Stop by to see some of the creations or attend one of our events or classes!

New Year Classes

We’ve started the new year by offering a CNC class and planning an exciting year of learning opportunities to help people with making & DIY skills. Next week on Jan 26th we’ll be doing a workshop on doing a Solar Assessment using PVWatts, part of the grant we received last year to create a solar awning and become an area resource for solar/photovoltaic energy. And watch for a more advanced CNC class that will focus on techniques that can be used to create signs and other objects out of wood, acrylic, and maybe with some patience even metal.

But we’re especially interested in what you’d like to learn about. Our classes are for and taught by people in the community. We’ll have a Fusion 360 (a design program) class in February and are planning to offer the Jelly Art class again this summer. But tell us what you’re interested in by email (classes-at-castlemakers.org) or stop by the makerspace sometime and let us know. If you have an interest in teaching something to others in the community, also let us know – we’d be glad to see if we can help offer it through Castlemakers!

Upgrading 3D Printers

One of the makerspace areas upgraded during the pandemic was 3D printing. There’s been several printer upgrades and we even added a new liquid resin printer to the makerspace.

Rewiring a Rostock Max 3D printer
Ian works on the Rostock Max 3D printer wiring.

The most significant change has been to our delta 3D printer, upgrading our Rostock Max from v3 to v3.2. That included 3 major upgrades; a new printer controller board, upgrading the stepper motors, and a new hot end.

The controller board change went from an Arduino-based RAMBo v1.3, an 8 bit control board, to a newer 32 bit Duet WiFi board for the printer ‘brain’. The RAMBo board is certainly a good one, we’ll probably use it to build another 3D printer, but the Duet has major improvements in both usability and speed. The Duet is also WiFi remote controlled and since the control board is located internally, the former LCD panel and SD card was removal. We recently bought a PanelDue, so there will be a new touch screen control available soon when we make that upgrade next.

New Duet 3D printer controller board installed.

We also changed the 1.5 degree to .9 degree stepper motors. Combined with the Duet control board this reduces the printer noise level dramatically and improves printer quality/speed with the micro-stepping addition. A new hot end assembly also improves the bed leveling sensitivity and heating capability. Bed leveling and the ability to print higher temp materials are a nice improvement for this machine!

There’s been other improvements in makerspace 3D printers, including the Printrbot Metal Simple & an older now modified XYZ printer. We’re in process of setting up a workspace for a MoonRay S100 SLA/DLP 3D printer & will write up more about that in a future post. Come to one of our 3DPO (3D Printer Owner’s) meetups, the next one is 12/30 at 6:30 pm. Or stop by Castlemakers to learn more!

Making Holiday Cards

It was great to be able to offer a Cricut/ electronic cutter class again before the upcoming holidays. We offered the class several years ago, actually before we had the current Cricut Maker at the makerspace. 

Cricut class at Castlemakers.
Laurie showing some of the things that can be made with an electronic cutter.

The class covered the basics by making several gift bags and a holiday greeting card, although the makerspace machine can be used for lighter and heavier materials including fabric and even balsa wood. Laurie Hardwick, who has a history of creating all kinds of things with a Cricut, taught the class and did a phenomenal job – the things she brought in to show everyone were amazing. 

If there’s interest, we can do another Cricut class after the first of the year. If you’d like to make more holiday items, be sure to check out our classes webpage for an upcoming lasercutter class where you can learn to make a holiday ornament.

5th Annual Putt Putnam County

Castlemakers 2021 Putt Putnam County viewed down Franklin Street.
Mini-golf holes were down both sides of Franklin Street during our annual Putt Putnam County event.

The Covid pandemic seemed to unleash a little extra creativity in our community and it showed in our annual Putt Putnam County tournament. We certainly had the largest turnout yet with 14 locally built mini-golf holes at the event held again during Main Street Greencastle’s October First Friday downtown.

Clinton Falls Run mini-golf hole - Putt Putnam County
The skeleton talked & lit up at night.

There were so many interesting holes this year it’s too hard to pick out my favorites. Ranging from the fairly simple “Back and Forth” (why didn’t I think of that?) to our first Halloween themed and a pachinko inspired hole called Plunko. And really, making a piano sounding board with strings into a hole so the golf ball made sounds?

Sounding Board mini-golf hole made from an old piano.
Sounding Board was made from an old piano.

There were even a few re-worked older favorites, including the Kirsch Dental ‘hit the ball through the chomping teeth’ and PCPL‘s Alice in Wonderland (don’t go down the rabbit hole though!). There were really too many holes to detail and I can’t do them all justice. If you didn’t see this year’s mini-golf holes, be sure to come next year to play through the course. Or better yet, start planning to build a hole and bring it to the 2022 event – Friday night October 7th in front of Castlemakers on Franklin Street!

Edible Art In Gelatin

Learning to create petals and leaves in gelatin.

This last week we offered something completely different – a class on making edible flowers in gelatin. “Jelly Art” is a popular technique in Asia using a syringe to inject natural ingredient colors into a clear gelatin base. With the proper needles and some patience, participants made some pretty amazing decorative gelatin art that they could take home to eat if they wanted.

Flower petals & leaves are made with natural ingredients that are injected into the special gelatin.

For all of us that had never done this before, it was surprisingly easy, although having someone demonstrate how to do it (and help if a mistake was made) was perhaps the most valuable part of the class. If you’re interested in the materials used, we’ve got a webpage for the class that explains the materials used in making the gorgeous flowers.

Special thanks to Weiwei for teaching the class & bringing all the materials to get it done in a 3 hour class. Should we offer another class like this in the future? Let us know!

Everyone showing their completed edible flowers that they made in the class.

Putting Around in Putnam County

Candyland golf hole built by Alice, Bella, & Rebecca.
Putt Putnam County mini-golf holes
Picture of Franklin St as the golfing began to die down…

It’s the time of year to start building a mini-golf hole for Putt Putnam County! This year the mini-golf holes will be on display and playable during the October First Friday from 6-8 pm.

For the annual event youth, families, groups, and businesses create a mini-golf hole to bring that evening as part of the mini-golf course on Franklin Street. There are more details on the event, including building guidelines, on our website project page. We’re also certainly glad to help you build one. We’ve made some of the simpler holes in less than 2 hours, so don’t ‘putt’ off building one!

Greencastle Indiana's Makerspace!