This summer we decided to make some changes to the layout at Castlemakers. Perhaps the most visible was moving our Shapeoko XXL from downstairs into the middle room on the main level. With all the parts & equipment donations that we also received this summer, it’s felt like a big project – which it has been. But we’re beginning to reap some of the rewards of the move with better equipment utilization, even if we’re still not done yet.
This summer also brought in a large amount of unusual equipment, from electronics, laptops, & printers to a rather large Nd:YAG laser! We’ve got plenty of tear-down material for inquisitive minds right now.
But the most incredible gift was from Travis & Weiwei Chao, who formerly had an eBay store that sold 3D printer, CNC, & electronic parts. When they decided to sell their house & then close their eBay store, they gave what was left to Castlemakers! We now have lot of extra components at the makerspace & plan to use the parts in future classes at Castlemakers. Stop during our Open Shop times if you’d like to see the new things we got or just have an urge to take something apart to see what’s inside…
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.
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?
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!
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!
We’re certainly excited about the new electronic equipment capability at Castlemakers, but the makerspace is not just electronics. One of our members, Dan, asked about making a bracket for his 2009 Triumph motorcycle to install an upgraded combination gauge for the stock speedometer & tachometer. We’ve only done a little aluminum machining, and it can be a very slow process, but if you don’t try you’ll never learn what you can do!
The original gauge included some warning lights, which he wanted, but weren’t part of the upgraded combo gauge so they were purchased separately. So Dan needed to create a new bracket design to hold the new gauge and lights.
I’ll let Dan take it from here: “I used Adobe illustrator to make a vector file of the shape I wanted, along with holes for mounting the bracket and indicator lights. I made a prototype on the laser cutter, and after a few small adjustments, we made the final version out of 3mm thick aluminum with the Nomad desktop CNC. There are still a few little tweaks I might make to get the spacing perfect (I ended up having to hand-drill one more hole for a button I had forgotten about), but I’m happy with the result. Couldn’t have done it without Castlemakers!”
It’s exciting to be able to offer classes again, even though with a reduced size and constraints due to Covid. Introduction to 3D Printing will be offered on January 23rd at 1 pm and our popular Introduction to Laser Cutting/Engraving on February 20th. We’re hoping there’s also interest in some micro:bit classes, refer to our classes page for more information.
We’ve continued to experiment, a lot, with the micro:bit since giving them away to youth in the fall of 2019. The micro:bit capability is still impressive for a device that size. In the window of our Franklin Street location you can see several micro:bit projects, including some that have been written about before.
One of the more mysterious window projects uses the micro:bit’s internal bluetooth radio. There’s been a micro:bit for some time that sends scrolling text and can control a string of lights and a rather loud alarm bell if the right text is sent wirelessly from another micro:bit to the window unit.
Hint: the words to send are obvious, it’s easy to program in MakeCode, and use Radio Set Group 1. It even works from outside! I’ll link later to some more detailed additional help.
This year we decided to pitch in and help Main Street Greencastle’s Santa in the Park project by making holiday ornaments to give away in Santa’s gift bags. We’ve held classes in making holiday ornaments before, so it seemed like a natural fit with one big difference. Instead of making 5-10 ornaments designed by class attendees, we needed to make 500 ornaments for the gift bags in 2 weeks or less!
3D printing the ornaments, which we’ve done in our classes, was out due to the time constraint. Recently I helped a local entrepreneur make his parts for a new product idea on our laser, creating a little over 150 pieces in 15 minutes. They needed to be extremely precise and were slightly smaller than ornaments, but that had me thinking this was the way to go. What we needed was a simple to engrave & cut design that could be done in a reasonable length of time.
A local high school student, Hyrum Hale, came up with design that with a few modifications we could use. Our first prototype in green acrylic looked nice but wasn’t really visible on a tree, plus enough acrylic was hard to find due to Covid. Getting it to engrave/cut quickly required additional work; size of the ornament, material choice & availability, laser settings, and laser bed calibration/set up all were factors that determined time per ornament, quality, and repeatability. Making 500 items of anything means you learn a lot!
Although the cutting/engraving time was still substantial, we made the deadline and are really excited for our first time doing this. There’s a few extras at the Makerspace if you’d like one. We’re also already thinking about a new design for next year…
One of our more prolific makers, Ian Girvan, recently created a 3D printer using mostly scrap parts found at home and at Castlemakers. It’s impressive, using old computer CD-ROM and DVD drives for their stepper motors and mechanisms along with a second hand computer power supply.
What a great way to learn about 3D printers, brings to mind how the first consumer level 3D printers were created in the early days of the RepRap movement. I’ve been watching in awe the last few months as he figured out how to make the old parts work, only buying a very few new items like the hot end. He’s detailed some of his work for us on this webpage, it’s definitely worth a look!
With the Covid-19 virus slowing down our activities, we’ve used the time to make some additions and upgrades at Castlemakers. Plus catch up with some of the work it takes to keep an all volunteer, non-profit makerspace running.
One of the more exciting additions has been a larger Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine, a Shapeoko XXL. CNC’s have been used in manufacturing for years to make things in factories. More recently, like 3D Printing, the design, control, and cost of CNC machines has gotten to the point where desktop units are feasible. Although our latest addition is awfully big for a desktop with a 3.5×4’ (1×1.2 m) footprint!
Prepping the room downstairs has taken some time, including improving electrical, airflow/dust control, and creating a big sturdy table to hold the unit when cutting/machining things. After cutting our first piece on it, the potential is very exciting. Most folks will use it for wood and plastic materials, but the rigidity, precision, and end mill rotating speeds makes metal possible. There’s already at least one member who’s planning to make guitar bodies our new one. And of course we’ll be offering community classes once we can start those again.
We’re given a lot of different things at Castlemakers, from old scrap electronics to tools, often so they don’t go to waste or for kids to tear down and learn… and maybe a few adults. Sometimes we can even retrofit the parts into something more current.
In March, Sam Williams of Cloverdale, who had brought his son to our CoderDojo, dropped off a box of parts that included a no-name, imported desktop CNC that hadn’t been run in several years. Where he works, a Terre Haute CNC shop, several folks had bought a few to learn CNCing. He no longer used his so gave it to us for parts or to use. It was an older model that used a parallel printer port and special control box on a Windows XP machine he also gave us.
One of our members, Ian, decided to get it running. By using an Arduino and a $15 controller shield, he’s been able to get it machining using a laptop and free open source software via a USB port – a big improvement! He even designed and 3D printed a case which has a print-in-place button to press the onboard reset button.
You can see it if you look at the table through our front window; adding limit switches is the next addition. After that we’ll put it in the front window on Franklin St. for a while before using it in classes, it’s a pretty good machine to learn about CNC’s.
We often get questions about when to visit Castlemakers; the best place to start is our events webpage. You can drop in during Open Shop or also attend one of the events listed.
For people not familiar with makerspaces, they may not realize everything going on. For example, limited ‘retail’ hours (what we and other makerspaces often call Open Shop time) reflect the volunteer nature of them. There are lots of passionate people and activities going on outside those times, often working individually and with other organizations.
For example, in the last 2 months Castlemakers worked on a number of youth-oriented events not listed on the webpage or on social media. Just a few weeks ago we were out at Heritage Lake working with over 50 kids at Putnam County Kids Count helping younger kids build and test catapults, then the older ones build and fly tetrahedral kites!
Another outreach event involved 2 other organizations in early May: Castle Arts and Putnam County 4H. Thirty North Putnam School Corporation 4th graders came to downtown Greencastle to learn about computer coding. While one group learned and used a robot at the 4H office to sort and count chips, the other group was at the Makerspace.
Christian Destremps did a fabulous job teaching them algorithms/coding around the corner at the 4H office using Lego EV3 kits built into a color chip sorting robot. Castlemakers helped with assembling his robot design and 3D printing bins to catch the different colored chips.
At the Makerspace we showed them how coding is used in 3D printing, laser cutter/engraving, and CNC machines. One section saw the coding (G-code) in action with our makerspace fabrication tools. At the same time the other section programmed a micro:bit, a small micro-computer board, using a block-based coding editor.
It really demonstrates what can happen in our community when different organizations pool their resources together. You’ll be hearing a lot more about the micro:bit board in the next few months here in Putnam County.