Monday, May 16, 2011

Fundraising with my microCarve A4 CNC

This last weekend, my daughters went to a special SacAnime Con. It was a Japan Disaster Relief con, which raised $6556. My daughters had some space on a vendor table at the con, and last week they asked me of I could make something that they could sell to raise money for disaster relief.

I set aside my other projects, and turned out a number of little "remembrance tablets", as you see in the pictures here. The idea was that for each one we sell, we'd pass on the profits to Second Harvest Japan, Japan's first food bank. We think they do great work, whether there's been a disaster or not. So it seemed like a good cause to support.

The tablets are about 1.5 by 2.25 inches (~3.7 x 6 cm), hung on a cord so to be worn around the neck. Each design is bilingual, English and Japanese. I took a bit of a liberty with the "Prosper" tablets, the Japanese is more properly "Prosperity" but the English word was too long to fit on the tablet with the level of detail I'm able to carve at present.

Tohoku disaster remembrance: Recovery in Kanji and English.

Tohoku disaster remembrance token: Health in Kanji and English.

Tohoku disaster remembrance tablet: Prosper in Kanji and English.

Tohoku Rememberance Tablet: Tsunami of Love in Kanji/Hirigana and English.
This tablet is larger than the others, measuring 2 x 3.5 inches (5 by 9 cm). The detail is far more striking in person than in this photo where the light from overhead washes it out.

There were some other designs that I'll try to get decent photos of soon.

Unfortunately, we weren't able to sell all of these tablets, I still have many left. If you're interested, drop me an email. I have instances of all the above plus a couple of other designs available. And it'll still benefit Japan--that's what these were made for.

Making the Tohoku Remembrances

These were made using the image-to-gcode converter included with EMC2. It's got some serious quirks to its behavior I had to overcome. When I originally set out to make these, I had two ways I could do it. I considered writing my own gcode programs by hand, and using the image converter.

I decided to go with the image converter because I thought it would allow me to make more different designs faster than writing my own programs by hand. Unfortunately, I was wrong. The time I spent learning the quirks of the image converter, with what sort of feature depth I would get, how much of a border around the image, and so on was far, far more than I expected. It would have been far more productive to hand-code the simple designs I ended up with.

My original ideas were more involved, more like the "Tsunami of Love" design, above, which was carved last of all at about midnight before the con. On each iteration I ended up simplifying my designs while trying to get the sort of features I wanted in the carving. I wanted to have the Kanji characters carved into the wood, originally, but I couldn't control the way the software managed the depth and width of the lines when doing this. The Kanji would end up barely visible, and the English characters were unreadable.

A CNC Success, in a Way
I took advantage of this project as an initial test of my ability to do some small-scale production with my new CNC. As a fundraiser, I have to say it didn't work out so well, but as a first go at some small-scale, simple production it was a success--barely.

My decision to rely on someone else's software that I don't entirely understand was a real weak point, but I still managed to turn out a decent number of pieces of work before the con. The investment of time into each one was over double what I originally expected. Still, I got them done within the time margin I provided for this project. Barely.

I'm happy with the results, particularly the Tsunami of Love item, and think I could go on to make some better stuff. Though I clearly need to work on my toolchain. In the future I need to have a tool at hand that I'm familiar with that will produce better results than the free image-to-gcode converter. And I need to have something that's more powerful than hand-written gcode programs for all but the simplest designs.

I've learned a lot over the past week, both about myself and my CNC machine. Now I'm ready for the next step.

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