Saturday, May 12, 2018

Everything looked OK, and then it came to an end.

   Just a quick update and some pics.

  Things in the shop are progressing well.

  The core of the car mold is done.

  And in to the tank to mate the surfaces up.

  Those hoses provide a flow of solution that displaces the metal that is getting pulverized with electricity. It also adds to the " Mad Scientist" feel of the shop to have a tank of liquid bubbling with arcs of electricity in it.

  Here are the assembled parts. There is still a great deal of shimming and adjusting to do before it gets tested.

   On the left is the top of the car, and on the right is the core and sides of the car. The steel wedges crush the sides in and hopefully create something resembling my old Mercury.

   The ACT machine is still down for parts so no progress on any minis. I ordered a breakout board from Amazon and had to wait 3 weeks for it to arrive from China. It promptly fried all of the driver boards and so I ordered replacements from E-bay and had to wait 3 weeks for them to arrive from China. They did not work at all so i ordered an integrated board and had to wait for that to arrive from China...................

  Another update as soon as the car mold gets tested. Good or bad it will get done. And even if it needs a bit of finishing the design and milling skills acquired by tackling it have been invaluable.

  I can not stress this enough to people- just do it and see what happens. For some reason people fear failure, but in reality there is no failure. You make it or you learn. Both of these are wins.

  Online sales are in a bit of a slump, perhaps due to increased shipping costs. The issue is complex and I wrote a very long explanation and then simply deleted it.  No one wants to hear someone whining about unfair shipping practices. It is what it is and we must prevail in spite of the challenge.  If you like you can read this-article about shipping problems


 But this is not going to keep working forever.  Being able to change and adapt is the only way to keep going. 

  Currently I am exploring a couple of options. Included is shifting in to a supplier position for small companies or looking in to entering the retail chain. I will keep you posted in a future update.

  Have a great spring everyone and enjoy the weather. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Fake news..........creates fake conclusions.....................

  Well here is the latest news.

   Been working on standardizing things across the entire work flow. I am just too darn slow and have to take shortcuts wherever possible.  This means getting things that work and then sticking with what works. I have decided to make both CNC machines more compatible. They both run MACH 3 software but the drivers and settings are all different.
  Here is the newly organized workstation, with new Craigslist desk and wall mounted monitors. Note the sound bar beneath the shelf and sub at my feet. There are a LOT of speakers around the shop to blast music out. I recently discovered Scandinavian metal and so have the neighbors!  Novakon on the left, design station and PC gaming platform in the center, and ACT machine on the right.

  Those plastic tubs contain plastic mixed with incompatible colorant. I have to pick all those specks of orange out.....................................ughhh............

  Products are better organized thanks to some filing cabinets modified.

  The top contains various colorants. Previously things were stored in cardboard boxes originally used for Harley shifters. One perk of working there is I got hundreds of these really great boxes.
    The large Novakon- (curse this P.O.S.!!)  is actually doing OK.  The issue is it requires a 32 bit operating system and an older style printer cable.  I went as far as to caulk up the leaks, install a working E-stop button and limit switches, and a nifty light. It is going to get an automatic tool zero in the very near future.  how to   I purchased a government surplus Windows 7 PC with 32 bit operating system and install the MACH 3 software on it. So I have a complete back up system for both CNC machines in the even either computer fails. Both currently run Windows XP. I plan to keep going as long as possible on this antiquated system. As long as everything can keep working reasonably well it saves a lot of money.

  So in order to make things bulletproof, I want to make the ACT machine more reliable and standardized.  The standardized figure holding fixture has been made again. This time it looks very likely to work.

 The graphite block is held in the open rectangle and there are linear bearings with 8mm rods to allow the EDM machine to burn the image in to metal with out the binding up and face breaking that happened before. The action is smooth and effortless.

  So I need now to be able to make the electrodes without any more delays or crap breaking. This requires the ACT machine to run without a hitch. In order to iron out the wrinkles. Before starting I had to take an honest look at the machine. It was a hopeless nightmare of patches. The limit switched and E-stop did not work. (Safety? we can bypass that!) The spindle was controlled via the circuit breaker box on the other side of the shop, and so was the dust collector.

This is much nicer.

And here is more new wiring. Sometimes it is worth it to take some time and do things right. This is the VFD for the ACT machine. I was manually setting speeds but when the new system is in place the PC will control this.

 Which brings us to this little contraption.

  At first glance, this looks a bit confusing. But the bottom is the breakout board that interprets signals from the printer cable and turns them in to action. Go left, right, up down, etc. It also send input signals back to the computer.  E- stop, limit switch is reached, etc. This is what I needed to replace. It is going to be the same one used on the Novakon, since I have a notebook full of data on how and why things are wired.
  Using my tester, it seems that the 4 small boards taken out did not really do anything. I removed them, and bypassed the wiring. If they did not do anything, who needs them? So this is the new set up.
  Unfortunately, it burned out as soon as I applied power. Why? Well, it seems I should have tested the tester. I frequently buy things from Harbor Freight, and you get these neat free gifts. One of them is an electrical tester. Mine had a short in the one probe. Depending on how the wire was bent coming out it made contact or not. So, it was giving me fake news. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it did not. This thing only runs on 12V DC power, so it is not life threatening. I have better testers for 110 and 220 voltage thankfully. But it is extremely important to have reliable information when configuring complex wiring systems.
  Basing my decisions on this "fake news" meant the remaining components were not powered properly and died a tragic death at the hands of too much voltage. 24V instead of 12V.
  So, another $70 worth of boards are on the way and a new tester is in the shop.
   Some new stuff did got run. The Makerspace concept actually came to fruition. Dr. Oogan   link    made a mold and stopped by the shop to run some parts. We had some issues with color.
At one point we thought the Arburg had sprung a leak and was mixing water with the plastic. I took the entire thing apart and tested it with crack detecting penetrant. It turns out we just got a bad batch of colorant off E-bay.
  In the end his traffic cones were created with the proper color.
  The flying base adapter is done.
  It gave some practice with clear styrene. This is a little tricky and not really sure if this one will stay as a permanent product. The plastic is brittle and cracks under stress.

 The scrap rate is unacceptable so once these are sold out it may not be re-produced.

 I also finally finished the 100mm round base.

  This is the first mold specifically created to run on the new mega-die assembly. The one that allows me to vary the size of the metal blocks and offset them to allow the plastic to be injected from any point.  It was very tricky to set up for the first time. It is so large I did not plan on trying to fit chubby hands in to the tiny space required to attach it. It is just too far to reach to the middle.  In the end I welded extensions to the end of a couple of wrenches and it worked great.

  This success had been really a crucial stepping stone. At this point it really feels like this shop is capable of making anything. And that is just amazing.

  Usually when you get the feeling that things are going well reality has a way of letting you know how wrong you are.

  Sales are strange.  Currently it is not time to panic, but last week was the slowest week in over 3 years.

   I have been on some forums with other online sellers and many are facing some challenges. Both E-bay and Amazon have been trying to get me to pay more fees in exchange for better placement on search results. Many sellers are very suspicious of wild swings in sales numbers and blame it on deliberate hiding of listings or suppression due to this new "pay MORE" scheme. Others are equally upset about the free shipping from China that has simply killed their business. We all got things we would like to see changed, but have to just deal with things as best we can.

  I have listed some items on a sales platform called Bonanza based on suggestions from other sellers. I never heard of it but it seems some people are looking for a better alternative.

  The one blessing of slow sales is more time to work on other things. The whole lemons and lemon aide situation.

  So there is the status. I hope everyone keeps working on what ever motivates you and never give up. Be willing to help others without being used, and be grateful when someone can lend you hand.

  Have a great week. 


Monday, February 19, 2018

Quick update-

  Hi again, still sticking to some resolutions to keep posting. For better or for worse.  2 times a month.
   I am looking in to switching over to video updates. I made one youtube video and it was seen by over 100,000 people. This blog is read by about 20....................
  So here goes- finally got rid of that annoying blue screen saver. 
  It was not going to be stopping things for long. I was prepared to purchase an entire new machine, and I did buy a complete replacement computer and was in the process of installing the mother board when I noticed the cooling fan had come loose, breaking the seal with the CPU and causing over heating. How it is managed to overheat in my frigid workshop is a pretty amazing feat. But that is out of the way, a back up PC is standing by, things are running again and looking good.


  Here is a picture of just how fragile graphite is. My holding fixture flexed and this poor lass had her entire face broken off. Oh well, back to the drawing board.  Adjusting feeds and speeds is making an amazing difference in the speed at which these can be made. I have reduced the time it takes to just a few hours. And my process eliminates the need for artists and sculptors, which his a plus since none of them answer my e-mails anyhow.

   This car mold requires a LOT of metal to be removed.

But I am saving it and able to re-melt it in the amazing 1100 degree centigrade  crockpot.
   This thing really gets hot. Of all the various wounds and injuries I have had over the years I find pinches and burns to be the worst types. So being extra careful here.

  Here I a nifty little trick I learned online. By grinding all the teeth off of a saw blade it becomes a giant circular razor blade. And it cuts blue foam board with out making any dust. The black item is a 3D printed holding fixture to allow the cutting of perfect 4" hexagons. Make a 4" rip, nip the end off at 60 degrees, and then cut at your 4" stop. This create diamonds that fit in this tool. Slide the tool across the blade, flip the diamond and repeat. Perfect hexes.  I don't know why but the razor saw is somehow scarier than the one with teeth. Both will mangle you without mercy but something about the sharp edge freaks me out.

  Ok, have a good rest of the winter. Spring is on the way and life keeps renewing itself.


Monday, January 29, 2018

Book of Grudges

     Hi again.  I am in a bit of a melancholy and yet fiercely defiant mood this morning so please do not get offended. There is some good and bad news on all fronts.  The plan is to post every 2 weeks regardless if the only thing to say is " All is lost! Game over, game over!" or, " I am addicted to playing Tigers on the Hunt, no progress this month."

  There is a scene in the Firefly pilot episode where Zoe and Captain Reynolds are trying to conduct a business transaction in a canyon and the tactical situation is not at all good. Zoe says to Reynolds, "They will have the advantage over us."  And Captain Reynolds replies with a sense of resignation,  "They always do".

  And so it is.

     Ok, you may have noticed in a recent post the declaration that prices are not budging as long as I can possibly make that happen. Well, the post office just increased first class shipping to $3.50 minimum. I get a slight discount by printing online and if I keep my seller rating up on E-bay.

    But margins are thin enough on dirt cheap products and an extra $.50 added is pushing things even further.  There were a couple of options, from increasing prices per pack to adjusting shipping. The best solution for the customers was to increase shipping on the first pack only. It was the single pack buyers that are impacted me the most by this change.  I truly wish there was an option, but this is the absolute best that can be done.

  Now, of course the post office is happy to deliver products from China for free. No increase there.

  As Teddy Roosevelt said, "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."

  Now that Grudge is out of the way, let's look at number 2.

  Working Class York Maker Space is not going to happen. Not soon, and maybe not ever. Government regulations have groin stomped the life out of another dream.  Hey, its for your own good.

  How to resolve this problem?  There is another Makerspace I just found located in Dillsburg which is not that far away. Great place, more tech oriented and less dirt and flames. Still it was a fantastic find.
  So both problem number one and number 2 are sorted. Never give up.

  And finally Grudge 3.

  Novakon is dead again. I hate this machine with the white hot intensity of 10,000 suns. Gremlins are back again with a vengeance.

  Here it is stopped in the middle of a program. A lot of wasted hours. It has started to just randomly, after several hours, re-boot itself.
  So I changed the settings so it will not reboot and now it gives the blue screen of death. I have recorded the error codes and will be conducting my usual repair protocol. Keep buying new parts until the bad behavior stops. Awaiting some new RAM chips from E-bay and hope that will solve things. (why I have time to write today)
  And now for some good news. That is the way life is, conflict and then least on TV.
  There is a Chromecast on the TV in front of my painting desk and it allows viewing of You Tube while painting.  Watching Tabletop Minions has really inspired me and made me want to try out some new painting.
  I actually painted a few of the Reaper Bones models lying about.
  And still working on making some custom slot cars.
 Someday it would be great to own a real one, but this is at least a nice car to race around with at 1/24 scale. If I live long enough the price on used ones will drop until I can afford it.
And work is not all bad. Most mornings I wake up as happy as the drummer from Powerwolf as I look forward to what ever the day holds.
  By the time the day ends I am  feeling more like Lizzy Borden. Die gremlins, die!
 The drivers side car mold has a buddy now. It takes 9 pieces of metal to be cut to make the car body mold. 7 are done. More are required to make the hood, grill and bumpers but this part is the hardest and it will get done if I have to tear the entire PC out of the Novakon and replace it.

  The CAD designs are getting easier, and if this CNC machine would work more than 10% of the time Proxie Models would be as big as Google by now.
  Here are a couple of things designed and awaiting their turn on the mill.

 The second picture is of car #2 I would like to make. I had a real one a long time ago but a huge tree got in my way one night and it died a terrible death. I walked away somehow.........
 And, some more altered state of mind and changing of direction.
 The huge volume and quality pouring out of China via Kick Starter has caused me to turn away from trying to make models for the gaming industry. I stated this before and publicly.  Frankly, it seemed utterly pointless. The big companies can leverage their buying power to exploit the free shipping and cheap manufacturing from China.  Plus, it is time consuming and a lot of things can go wrong. It is easier to pick the low hanging fruit.  
  There are a couple of things I still plan to make for my own personal use, and also offer to others. It has occurred to me that there still might be a market for low priced items, as in $5-10 range. Because if you happen to have $10 and want to buy something in the table top hobby you are pretty much S.O.L.   Keep your eyes open and see if something new pops out soon.
  This week the archers actually got a little progress. This is pose 2 being shaped on the ACT machine.
On the ASL in minis front there is an interesting choice to be made.
These are locking hex holders to allow the construction of hex boards with easy to change configuration. GHQ makes some Styrofoam in 4" hexes and these locking devices will hold them in place.
  In the near future- (once the Novakon is working..............) these will be made in 3" and 4" sizes. This will allow for people to make some very nice 3D terrain boards without the hexes sliding about.
  You can use marble bathroom tiles, cardboard, or cut your own tiles out of wood. However, the ideal material I think would be 3/4" insulation board from Lowe's or similar. (blueboard) It is denser than Styrofoam and a little tougher. It can be cut easily with a hot knife to shape hills and whatever. 3/4" will allow for some epic 3D scenery.
  After the hex holders are done the idea is to run a kickstarter to purchase a laser cutter. I know where a used one is at and around $10,000 will secure it and pay for costs to pick it up and install it in the shop. It has dual lasers and will accept a 4 X 8 sheet of material. It is so large I will have to tear the wall out of my shop to get it installed.
  The kick starter will be for plastic holders, blueboard hexes, and cutting tools to shape your hills.
  If it funds it will save people a lot of work in making tables. If it does not fund, the plastic holders will still be available and I will just  cut my own and not purchase it or offer the hexes for sale.  The problem is that hexes are a pain to cut out by hand and some people do not have a truck to haul around large sheets of blue board.  This would be a big help to a lot of people.
   The pricing on this is going to be tricky, as it has to be cheap enough for someone to create a table for a reasonable cost. But not so cheap it loses money.
  This plan is not 100% decided.  I am not willing to put that kind of money out of pocket, which is why the thought of using kick starter came to mind. Essentially if I could get enough orders for plastic holders and blue board hexes for the machine to pay for itself I will do it.
 More details will emerge as my brain sorts it. Right now I seem to be having the biological equivalent of the blue screen of death in my head.
  Ok, there it is. 2018 and I am keeping my goals to write more stuff. And paint some stuff. And work on some stuff.
  So far so good.
Have a great day everyone.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Mid January, resolve is cracking........................

  Just a quick update on some little things.

  The car is coming along. Broke the last ball mill and am awaiting another. Trying to squeeze in work between bitterly cold bouts. So far it is working. We went from 0 on Monday to 60 on Friday and back to 11 on Sunday. What a week. The 0 and 11 are weather, but the 60 is global warming and will require a new tax..................................

  On my last blog I declared I would be starting nothing new. That resolution has been sorely pressed, starting on January 2nd.

    I was informed I have a large credit at my local store................ Can you get me Advanced Squad Leader stuff?

  No. But look at this new Necromunda ................

  Can you get me Plastic Soldier Company stuff for my Squad Leader miniatures project?

 No, but have you seen the new 40K?................

  Perhaps some units for my old Warhammer armies, which would not be a violation of my oath. A new unit of 20 witch elves and 20 Sisters of Avelorn.  A small addition to the good and bad armies would be great................ Wow, even with free money it hurts to pay those prices.......................

  Oh well. Here are some pics of the Squad Leader to minis project and some pics of other people's take on it. It seems there are 2 schools of thought. First you can print out large map boards and play like that.  Hex Draw allows me to add custom textures so the maps can look more realistic.

 I spent (wasted) some time getting aerial tree photos and damaged road textures and neat wall graphics. And printed out with 4" hexes it looks pretty cool and the 15mm minis fit well in it. But it is still a printed map board.

 Second option is to make your own hex terrain.

  GHQ makes 4"Styrofoam hexes, which I owned a few of 20 years ago. I found them fragile and it was too easy to knock them about during play. Just google GHQ terrain maker and look at the images. Very neat stuff.

And this guy has developed a tool to cut the Styrofoam to matching angles.  hex cutter tool kit

There is an ASL in Miniatures Facebook group and the guys share ideas. one of the guys cuts his own hexes out of wood, which is the direction I am leaning. The printed maps look great, but it is just not the same.

 This is a recreation of board 78 by the founder of the group. He developed a really neat locking mechanism to hold the tiles in place. At this point that looks like the best option.

 So that is hobby stuff.

  The car parts are coming slowly in the mail. I have 100 axles, 100 gears and 100 motors already.  Pretty easy to see the problem, as cars have 2 axles each........Awaiting spacers to get dimensions to spec out the chassis.

The crock pot is here, and it melts metal so that is nice. Graphite is stockpiled and ready for use.

 I really need to clone myself...............................

 And final note- still no word from the York Makerspace.  If this falls through plans will be set back again. Not sure what is happening, some sort of red tape must be causing them to delay opening.  I can only hope things fall in to place and we have that place to meet and collaborate.

 Ok, that is my promised more frequent update with out a lot to really report on. More in 2 weeks.

 Stay warm folks!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Back to the Future

  Well, Happy New Year to one and all.

  Today is the last day of 2017, and I always make a point to plan out the things I will fail to do in the coming year. Sort of a tradition. It is better to have planned shortcomings than just a random selection of shortcomings.

  First, a review of 2017.

   2017 was pretty good in a lot of ways. The groundwork for a many things continues to fall in place.  At this point the gremlins wars are calming down, and although they fought a valiant fight things are working in spite of their efforts.  And working pretty well. I broke 2 hardened steel taps off in metal and simply burned them out with the EDM sinker. Nice. Broken taps can be a huge problem if you do not have the means to melts the hardest material with the softest.

CNC is cutting with  a vengeance-
And we got a new shop heater.
  Does it work?  Better than expected.

Ok, that last picture is really misleading, but it helps a little.

  So the shop is running very well. Still anxiously awaiting the new Makerspace opening next month, and hoping to find someone passionate about creating something.

  As a last minute tax write off, the shop will be adding a crucible and furnace to melt metal and stocking up on fine grain graphite for electrodes. Both are in the mail as we speak. The crucible should allow for melting and casting brass electrodes. Not sure if it is going to work, but figured it might be worth a try.

  In addition the old computer is having a good cleaning and looking over some files.
  Take this picture for example. This is a LOT of work just going to waste. I made all these guys, they are 3D printable and a single watertight single mesh each. When I printed them they are the correct height but look puny next to "heroic" scale minis. They are anatomically correct and therefore out of place in the grim dark future. So they were just forgotten about.

  But it only took a little time for me to mess around and now they are much more compatible. They are still not He-Man carrying an engine block, but they are fine. So got to pencil them in for the near future.

  Overall, that is my main goal this year. To FINISH projects before I get side tracked.

  Hobbywise, for the most part the year had an overall theme was overcoming ADD. That is the persistent practice of jumping from one thing to the nest. (Oh look! New and Shiny!)

 The first step is admitting I have a problem.  The realization came when I spent $100+ on the year end FFG sale of 2016 and purchased a huge amount of stuff for Warhammer Roleplay. As a general rule I have not liked  many of the games I pick up from FFG and this was no exception. A quick read of the rules and I knew it was going to do nothing but set on the shelf, like everything else. What a waste, but I learned a valuable lesson. DO not buy something you do not want just because it is cheap. Maybe someday it will get used but most likely it will hit E-bay. Shipping is going to be a killer.

  So why keep up a frantic pace of consumption of new things? This idea has been cooking in my head for some time and it has finally evolved in to grim resolution. In the past  a couple of friends decided to get in to 15mm WW2 using the Flames of War rules. $200+ and a completely painted army netted me a single game before they had discarded the rules and raced on to something else.

  There is another problem with all the new and shiny. There is so much to do that time restraints are simply too difficult to overcome. And finding a group or persons who are of the same mindset can be challenging. I have really taken some time off from minis gaming in general because of this. Age of Sigmar really killed things for me in a lot of respects. It was  real heart breaker. Here are my Warhammer armies, or at least some of them.

  All retired now I guess. Oh, and let's not forget the lead pile-

 If I could have zoomed out it would have looked like this.

  There is a possibility of using them for Kings of War and I have purchased those rules, they just do not really inspire me a lot. It seems really suited for tournament play and I like a rules set that creates a narrative more than straight up competition.  So fantasy miniatures wise I think things are going to be on the back burner again this year.

  I did discover on Youtube that people are playing games solitaire.Guards Counterattack playthrough  I will be trying this out many times to re-learn the system. Here is an excellent and amusing battle write up by a first time player and it shows the craziness that makes ASL such a blast to play.Guryev's HQ battle report

  I used to be a huge ASL (Advanced Squad Leader) fan years ago and realized that I have been missing it. I always wanted to play ASL with miniatures and that project is now making a comeback. I purchased a program called Hexdraw that allows me to make maps and print them out as large as needed. Here is board 1 enlarged using Hexdraw-

  The old board is laying on top in the top left and the one I printed out is below it. I am still tinkering with the size and scale I plan to use. I could continue to enlarge up to the size that 1/72 scale models can be used.  It has always been a crazy idea of mine to play 40K setting and forces using ASL rules. I have some 1/72 scale WW2 stuff and have a 3D printed 40K tank. The boards would be pretty good sized when finished. Thankfully I have this eco-tank printer so printing things out is really cheap.

  I purchased that board back in about 1977 or 78. I used to make a few bucks picking strawberries for a local farmer and that board has travelled with me most of my life. More men have died trying to cross those streets than I care to think about. I am glad those cardboard counters do not bleed when hit because the board would be illegible by now.

  Going to sort these counters out soon. A lot of things are really getting organized and going through all the stuff I have hoarded over the years has been pretty therapeutic.  In addition to the Warhammer display cabinet there are now several other miniatures and slot car cabinets scattered throughout the basement
  I would suggest to anyone that getting your collection organized is just as important as collecting in the first place. It is very nice to have everything sorted and uncluttered. My basement has never been better, and I am really glad used bath water no longer pours from the ceiling and swarms of bees do not sting me without mercy. (see older posts for details)
  So what is the plan for 2018?  NOTHING NEW. NOT A SINGLE NEW THING. In fact this is my new theme song- Not safe for work or kids!
  The real new and shiny for me right now is a rule set called Across a Deadly Field by John Hill, designer of the first Squad Leader. Purchased the books and read through them.  Now I have a huge urge to print out massive armies from this book and play a few games. Paper armies   But NO!  I can not allow myself to crawl down another rabbit hole or my ASL minis project and model car bodies will never get finished.
  No new projects or anything, just learning to enjoy the wonderful things already piled around me. And finish some of the numerous started business projects.
  But boy are those Civil War rules are appealing.......................and printing out some armies will not take that long.................................
  See how hard it is?  ( the new year has not started, so technically I could still start the Civil War project today and not be in violation of my rigid resolution)
  I also want to try to post more often. Just something to keep me accountable. It might motivate me to have to report things.
  In any event, hope everyone has a Happy New Year and let's make 2018 a time of peace and prosperity.