Yesterday and today, the TechShop in Menlo Park held an open house. I had heard of this place before, but it is in Menlo Park, which is a bit more than an hour from me, so I never really seriously considered joining. I must admit, having driven down and visited the place today, I’m definitely considering doing so. It basically rocks.
They have lots of different machine tools and shop equipment available for members, but the bit of kit that I was most interested in was the laser cutter. This is a rather nifty gadget that can cut and engrave many plastics, paper, cloth, and wood (no metals really). I turns out that I have been contemplating a project where such a capability would be useful (mainly, the manufacture of a high precision Nipkow disk for a mechanical television set. As I watched one of the workshop members demonstrate the capabilities of this cutter, I felt it might be nice to try to do a test. So, I broke for lunch, drover over to a nearby Togos, had a sandwich, and in a fit of serendipity, stopped at the nearby office supply store to pick up some poster board. I then drove back. Sitting at one of their public access Ubuntu machines, I wrote a simple Postscript program that plotted the outlines of a nipkow disk, and sized it to 10 inches (the paper stock I had was 11×14″). Here’s the same Postscript file converted to a PDF. I saved it to my USB stick, then brought it into the laser cutting room. Martin (I think that was his name) then imported the file into Corel, setup the print options, loaded one of my pieces of poster board, and printed. I hit the “go button”.
And it cut a perfect version of this piece. The holes are remarkably smooth and beautiful. It’s cut with a degree of precision that I simply can’t imagine. It’s well beyond the level of any jig that I could have made. He printed another one for me, just for fun. Both of them took less than two minutes. Damn. (I tried to figure out some way to photograph the piece in a way that would show just how cool they were, but so far, no dice. Take it from me though, very cool.)
If I was going to do this for real, I’d probably cut a round backing piece out of a thicker wood stock, and then glue a perforated piece of matte board to the front to make the thing for real. But the principle is definitely there.
They have other good stuff too. Multiple lathes, including a smallish South Bend similar to the one I learned what little skill I have with a lathe that I have. Mills. Metal cutting bandsaws. TIG and MIG welders. A 3D printer. It’s just freaking amazing.
If I can get my crap together, I suspect I’ll be paying the $100 monthly fee for a couple of months. It just rocks.
Thanks to all the nice helpful people there.
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