The Robotic Workbench You Wish You Had

woodworking-benchIf you’ve been looking to add or upgrade your workbench, this fully automated model by “Dirk the Engineer” could give you some inspiration. Made out of Baltic birch, maple, and walnut, it appears quite well-made on first inspection. Look a little further, and you’ll find a general-purpose vise built in, as well as an end vise. The table is finished with linseed oil, which makes for easy cleaning and repair.

As nice as it is, if you watch the video below, you’ll find  even more excellent features. The most unusual of these is that the table can move up and down on its own by a system of motors and chains. Control is accomplished with a remote control that interfaces with the Arduino controlling the system. Dirk outfitted it with an Arduino Mega (with a “mega” number of IO points) so that the table could be upgraded later to include more features. A display that tells the user how far the workbench surface is from the ground is envisioned, but who knows what else will be implemented?

If you’re looking to move workspaces any time soon, at 800 pounds, it might not be the best choice. On the other hand, having a “robotic woodworking workbench” would give you some serious bragging rights!

Make Your Own Honeycomb Shelves


Have you ever seen a honeycomb shelving unit and though it looked nice? Perhaps you’ve even thought about building one. If so, this imgur tutorial, also seen on the “Honey Do This” site, shows  you how to put one together. If that wasn’t enough, there’s even a bit of colorful commentary, addressing some likely excuses that you might have.

What’s great about this project is that as cool as it looks, it’s quite simple. All you need is a length of wood, author “hnydt” used an 8 foot length of pine, glue, and a compound miter saw. Cut each of the honeycomb lengths at a 30 degree angle, and they’re ready to be combined into something interesting.

Of course you could make something symmetrical, and as an engineer, it’s hard not to, but the five ‘comb design looks quite nice when finished.

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Speaking of finishing, if you’re not going to put this in the garage or basement, you might want it to look a bit more polished. I would guess that most of the readers of this blog could come up with something, but for inspiration, check out part II of the tutorial. As seen in the first picture, this ‘comb structure looks much better after a little paint and stain is applied!

Make Every Snowflake Unique


We know that all of you people that have laser cutters, plotters, vinyl cutters, CNC mills, and 3D printers will be creating many many snowflakes this year. Why not make every one of them unique? Inventables has a web based tool for creating unique and interesting snowflakes hosted on their website that allows you to download the .svg file which you can then use however you want.

Originally created by Windell Oskay of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, this port for online use by Paul Kaplan is very easy to use. Just grab the handles and start moving them around! Be sure to share your creations with us when you’re done!

Cyclone Dust Separator Made From A Trash Can

The handles are a dead giveaway as to what this cyclone dust separator is made from.

The handles are a dead giveaway as to what this cyclone dust separator is made from.


Dust, like dog fur tends to accumulate everywhere and on everything. It seems no matter how much you dust, it returns only a few short days or even hours later. Working in a shop (wood, metal, etc.) only tends to increase the amount of dust accumulation to that of biblical proportions. Combating that dust can be costly, especially using industrial-sized air filters, however with a few odds and ends it can be done rather cheaply and effectively thanks to instructables user TabLeft.


Using an ordinary polymer trashcan, TabLeft constructed his own Cyclone Dust Separator with items found in most workshops, including a shop vac. The top hat-style separator features a base and top made of plywood with a clear polycarbonate panel to see the cyclone work its action.

A Thien baffle allows for the separation of dust and particles in the trashcan container using a shop vac for suction (little dust is accumulated into the vacuum itself). Another port allows for tool exhaust to be channeled directly into the separator, which is done by simply switching hoses. While the separator is very loud, it’s also very efficient and won’t break the bank.

10 Terrific Trebuchets


Hurling objects at long distances with a catapult or trebuchet isn’t anything new (they were being used in their modern form since the 4th century BC) but it sure is fun and certainly satisfying when they actually hit a target. Most of the catapults today were designed for educational (historical recreations) or recreation purposes using everything from pumpkins (the annual Pumpkin Chunking contest) to vehicles as projectiles.

Actually, believe it or not, they are still being used in modern warfare today with Syrian rebels using a makeshift catapult to launch explosives at government troops in the Battle of Aleppo (in 2013) and rioters in the Ukraine used them to launch Molotov cocktails during the Hrushevskoho street riots of this year.

No matter what they’re being utilized for one thing is certain- catapults and trebuchets are making a comeback, especially with the homemade DIY maker community. Collected here are a few of the more unique and interesting takes on the age-old hurling contraption designed by the maker community

If you want to build your own, there does just happen to be a Trebuchet kit available in the Maker Shed.

Talkin’ Tinkering with the Masters of Automata

Keith Newstead's pieces "In the Garden with Charlie" and "Sing Cats Heads"

Keith Newstead’s pieces “In the Garden with Charlie” and “Sing Cats Heads”

The Exploratorium Tinkering Studio invites all of you to join a Hangout this Friday, November 21st from 9am to 10:30am (Pacific time) to talk about one of their true specialties—Automata!—with some of their favorite masters of this art/technology.

Joining the Tinkering Studio team will be a star-studded group:

  • artist Keith Newstead (whose pieces are at the top of this post)
  • Gautham and Vanya from Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology
  • Monika and Allan from Lawrence Hall of Science
  • Brooke from Oakland’s International High School

While this will be tailored mostly for those who are teaching others to make automata, anyone and everyone is welcome. Karen from the Tinkering Studio writes:

We’re huge fans of automata here in the Tinkering Studio and think we could dedicate several hangouts to this topic alone, since it’s such rich territory for exploration. It’s one of those activities we think holds tremendous potential for making and tinkering, but isn’t the easiest one to facilitate in an open and “tinkerable” way — that’s why we think it’s worth thinking more about.

You’ll hear from an interesting mix of people, who will share their experiences working with automata in different contexts and thinking about the educational implications. We have a rough outline of what we’ll cover below, but it’s likely to change based on where collective interest takes us.

This hangout will be useful to both education and exhibit folks and those with an interest in arts education in general (think STEAM).

On the agenda:

  • Material possibilities / wire, cardboard, trash, flotsam, food
  • The importance of examples – figuring out what the right selection is
  • Automata Workbench: An interactive exhibit prototype
  • Trying to move it away from being step-by-step
  • Mini-revelations related to construction
  • Transition from intensive workshop to doing it on the floor
  • Automata artists
  • Training someone else to facilitate the activity
  • The tradeoffs in terms of creativity
  • Automata as part of arts education
  • Incorporating circuitry and linkages


This promises to be a visual delight. Join live or if you have to miss it, watch the recorded archive.

To be able to ask questions live, use the Google+ event page. You’ll need a Google+ account to participate.

Or view the hangout via YouTube, but viewers won’t be able to ask questions of the presenters.

How to Rebuild Society (with the Survivor Library)

Source: Wikipedia

Source: NASA via Wikipedia

Ever since reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything a decade ago, I’ve had some background worry about large-scale global catastrophes. A couple of chapters in the middle I couldn’t bear to finish reading. I’ll sheepishly admit here that even the remote possibility of a super-volcano or a comet collision making life very unpleasant for a long time, also perhaps thrusting us a millennium or two into the past technologically, scares me a little bit. (Not a lot, just a bit!) And then I wonder what we are doing to prepare for these society-disrupting terrors in all their horrifying non-zero possibilities. Earlier this year, I was glad to hear that Lewis Dartnell had written a book called The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch, but as the book weighs in at just over 300 pages, I wagered many details would necessarily be left out.

Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 3.40.36 PMI’m happy to report there is someone on the case. Rocky Rawlins comes to us with a hero’s name and an idea for rebuilding society: his Survivor Library intends to preserve for the remaining 0.000001% to 10% or so of humanity details on “how to survive when technology doesn’t.” You can hear an interview with Rocky on NPR’s On The Media or if you’re up for a dystopian read, the library’s about page lays out the grim future we could face, and how we can dig ourselves out of our knowledge-free hole:

As the library has grown over time we’ve tried to cover both the simplest, more basic self-sufficiency skills, such as growing food and raising livestock through the most advanced and sophisticated technology of the time such as aeroplanes and communications systems like telephone and telegraph.

Where there are books on industrial processes, methods, formulas, techniques, we included those as well. Even the more advanced technologies of the periods are within the reach of people starting from scratch. Steam engines may seem primitive to most modern people but they powered the industrial revolution in much of the world well into the 1900s.

Basic knowledge of chemical formulas and processes are recorded in books from these periods ranging from the most basic industrial chemical needs through household materials in common use.

The Library in its entirety is a compendium of the Technological and Industrial Knowledge of the 1800 through early 1900s.

It is the knowledge needed to rebuild a technological and industrial infrastructure from scratch when the modern infrastructure ceases to function.

I’m not sure we need to know how to play whist or grow tobacco after the end of society befalls us, but books on the topics of medicine, sanitation, shelter, and many of the other 100+ categories would serve our survivors well.

You may note that this is an online resource, which depends on the Internet and the power grid to be accessed. Rocky and company expect you to plan ahead. All the books they’ve scanned are available as PDFs which he asks you to at least download and store locally, and preferably to print out on paper.

Interjection: Somehow I’m reminded of the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last“. Be sure you’ll be able to access this knowledge!


Scene from the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last” (1959) in which an avid reader is left with all the books he’d like to read, but… well, I’m not going to wreck the ending for you.

Keep in mind this important caveat: the books were written “before we understood such things as disease vectors and the toxicity of substances such as mercury. …. they do contain formulas, recipes and knowledge that we now know to be dangerous and harmful. Before considering using any of these techniques or applying the skills and knowledge in them, apply common sense and modern knowledge.”

That said, I am looking forward to the library that tells us how to rebuild the world without recreating all of the technologies of the 19th and 20th centuries—some of which were environmentally disastrous. We could rebuild society with the wisdom of learning from our mistakes, right? I’d like to know who is working on that library.

Whether or not you share my Bryson-inspired Chicken-Little fear of the end of life-as-we-know-it, the books contain a lot of lost and common knowledge any Maker would appreciate.

What would your ideal Survivors’ Library contain? Tell us in the comments below, and add them to the Survivors’ Library’s suggestion page.

[Note: I sent this writeup to Alexander Rose of The Long Now Foundation, and he pointed me to his piece on The Manual for Civilization. That post includes a running catalog of similar projects. He also reminds me that Lewis Dartnell will give a talk at The Interval at Long Now this spring.]

Crazy Cat Home Improvements


What does one do who loves cats? You can always become a “crazy cat person” that has 20 or so felines running around the house. On the other hand, if you have a serious amount of skill and dedication to home-improvement projects, you can modify your house to accommodate their climbing needs with a series of platforms, miniature stairs, and holes to climb through.

Greg Krueger is decidedly in the second category. He seems to have a manageable number of cats, and given how well he was able to “catize” his house, the felines living there seem to live like royalty. Living in Minnesota, it must be especially nice for them not to have to go outdoors to find an interesting place to climb.


In the video below, Greg says “I almost don’t wanna finish what I’m doing,” a sentiment that many people who make things as a hobby can relate to. I suppose most of us would also realize that you never actually finish something like this; it just gets to a good “temporary” stopping point.

If you’re looking for something for your cats to play in without permanently modifying your house, why not build a minuature AT-ST walker for him? Sure, you won’t get credit for being quite as dedicated, but if you live with other humans, they may have a greater tolerance for the project.

Making Tiny Cannons That Actually Work

It may look like a toy but make no mistake, this cannon fires steel ball bearings using real gunpowder.

It may look like a toy but make no mistake, this cannon fires steel ball bearings using real gunpowder.


Back in the day (the Civil War) naval vessels were outfitted with state of the art Dahlgren guns (nicknamed Soda Bottles from their distinctive shape), which could lob a shell close to 2 miles in distance. The North used to heat those shells until they were red hot and fired them into the sides of Confederate ships, which would set them ablaze.

Scope it out- Sighting in the cannon is done using a custom-made scope that attaches to the barrel.

Scope it out- Sighting in the cannon is done using a custom-made scope that attaches to the barrel. Is the scope that useful?


As cool as cannons are, owning one is incredibly expensive and ammo is tough to find, however making one at 1/9th the scale is a lot cheaper provided you have the tools. Imgur user [Jefenry] designed his Dahlgren cannon using 4130 seamless alloy stainless steel with a 1-inch bore. The barrel fits snugly into his steel carriage with brass wheels, which was laser cut for an exact fit. Elevation is adjusted using a simple screw and sighting in is accomplished with a detachable scope.

The scaled down Dahlgren cannon complete with ball bearings and black powder.

The scaled down Dahlgren cannon complete with ball bearings and black powder.


Jefenry made his own shells using steel ball bearings, which are fired using 100-grains of black powder wrapped tightly in tin foil so there’s no accidental discharge when lighting the fuse. To test out his cannon, Jefenry took to the firing range where he systematically obliterated a watermelon. Yep, his cannon is no toy, can injure a person in the same fashion as a firearm and should be treated as such.

To see the complete build process head over to Jefenry’s imgur page.