CNC, Skateboards, and Sunshine: ShopBot at Maker Faire Bay Area

This last May, ShopBot headed to San Mateo, CA for Maker Faire Bay Area, the West Coast’s premier gathering of makers, tinkerers, creators, and thinkers. While the event’s intensity and creativity was familiar to past Maker Faire events, there was also a distinctly Californian vibe to all of the proceedings, from the consistently beautiful weather to the intense arts and entertainment-driven crowd.

bubbles at san mateo maker faire 2017

Sunshine was in no short supply at this year’s event, making for some wonderful outdoor displays.

The ShopBot booth was the first to greet Makers as they entered the gargantuan Warehouse 2, which housed all of the event’s fabricators, craftspeople, maker spaces, and science displays. At the booth were two Handibots cutting badges with the FabMo Badger app, and a DesktopMAX cutting skateboards, which were a huge hit at New York Maker Faire back in October of last year. In addition, the ShopBot team was joined by Russ Wade, who drove all the way from Chiloquin, OR to help out and show off some of his fantastic O-scale model train buildings and boxcars cut on a ShopBot.

Interactive Nametag Cutting with Badger

One of the most rewarding and engaging activities at the ShopBot booth was showing off the Handibot’s capabilities to Makers of all ages with personalized name tags cut on the FabMo Badger app. Similar to SmoothSketch, which turns an image drawn on a tablet or device into a cut file, Badger scales the image down to fit on precut colored badges made exclusively for the event. Each one has a small magnet stuck onto the back which not only prevents people having to deal with pinning them to fabric, but also holds it in place in the jig while the tool cuts.

The magnetic backing holds the badge in place while the Handibot cuts.

Visitors to the ShopBot booth were able to choose from one of three colors and two shapes, then were able to draw or write with their finger on the provided tablets. Upon submitting the file, the FabMo control software did the rest of the work and sent the job to the tool wirelessly. Makers of all ages were entertained watching their quick designs turn into permanent carvings, with some even returning later to show their friends.

Onlookers watch as a young Maker designs her masterpiece. This group returned several times to spread the word to friends.

CNC Skateboards on the Desktop MAX

In addition to the two Handibots, the ShopBot team brought along a Desktop MAX, which cut several Skateboards over the course of the three-day event. Building off of a method conceived by Bill Young, the MAX was set up with a jig designed to hold the material. The boards themselves started off as three layers of 1/8″ baltic birch glued together, then placed in a specially designed clamp to provide the curves as it dries. For MFBA 17, the ShopBot team brought along six pre-glued, ready-to-cut boards.

cnc skateboards at maker faire bay area 17

Screwing the ready-to-cut board down to the jig on the Desktop MAX.




#ShopBot at #MFBA17 cutting #skateboard decks on #DesktopMAX!

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Other Happenings Around MFBA ’17

maker faire cupcake car

One of many “cupcake cars” weaves its way through the crowd.


The spirit of creativity and collaboration was in full force all around the event. From small tinkerer’s shops all to the way to tech giants like Google and Microsoft, everyone came together in the spirit of making cool stuff. It was great to take part in an event with such a passionate, inquisitive, and unique crowd. We can’t wait for the next one!



Digital Fabrication for Educators: Your Place or Ours

Whether it takes place at ShopBot, or on site, a 2 – 3 Day Professional Development workshop gives teachers a chance to hone their skills with digital fabrication machines. Educators starting at all levels, from newby to someone with a year or more experience running their ShopBot CNC router, end up with new techniques that they can introduce into their lesson plans and curriculum.

After leading Digital Fabrication for Educators (DFFE) workshops at ShopBot in May and June of 2017, I flew to Spokane, WA to work with teachers from two high schools in Mead, WA. Both are Project Lead the Way schools, so two of the teachers were well-versed in Inventor 3D Rendering CAD software. They also have laser cutters and 3D printers at their disposal. The other teachers were not so computer-savvy, but were experienced woodworkers and builders. All of the teachers, Spokane natives, were passionate about exposing the kids to the possibilities available in CTE and STEM programs.

The wood shop at Mt. Spokane High is beautifully organized where everything has its place. Bill Patrick, the lead teacher at Mt. Spokane, also teaches an after-school welding class to expose the kids to another skill. Girls and boys participate, although it’s still about 75% boys.

Bill Patrick welded this Cowboy from old tools salvaged from a shop being shut down

There is a list of topics to be covered during each Workshop, but the order of presentation flows according to the skills and interests of the participants. A “newby” with virtually no experience in CAD/CAM and running a tool can work alongside someone who has had a CNC router for 12 years, but now wants to move into designing and machining in 3D. At Mt. Spokane, the session started with a tune up of their newly assembled PRS standard with a 2.2 HP spindle. With the ShopBot Troubleshooting guide in hand, a few wires were switched around, a few set screws tightened, and a few bearings and proximity switch targets were adjusted until the ShopBot was running smoothly. The first group VCarve Pro CAD/CAM project was a file to surface the sacrificial board with the 1.25” surfacing bit.

The first step for surfacing the ShopBot table is to run a “cross check” across the sacrificial board to determine what depth to machine the entire table.

Then, a pocketing routine (raster) levels the sacrificial board.

The first set of personal projects were signs VCarved in a piece of Melamine found in the scrap bin. Each person designed their own, then we machined them with the 60 degree V bit found in the ShopBot starter bit kit. Because each font was different, the look of each sign varied even though the 60V bit and the Engraving toolpath was the same.

A variety of signs created as a first project at Mt. Spokane High School. Five of the signs were all carved with a 60 V bit (displayed on the sign for Dad’s Shop.) The different in cutting depth and look is related to the different fonts used in the design of the sign.

Mt. Spokane also ordered the signmaker’s bit kit (second 60V bit swapped out for a 120V), so we had the opportunity to see how the same font would look machined with a different V bit (60V, 90V and 120V.) Since VCarve Pro uses the geometry of the bit to determine how deep to plunge the bit to fill the space of the design, letters carved with a 90V bit are shallower than those carved with a 60V bit. When using a 120V bit, the carving is shallower still.

The same font will be carved at a different depth with a different V bit. While a 60 V is a better choice for small, detailed engraving, a 120 V is the better choice when letters are large. The light from the letters will reflect out to the viewer rather than into the recesses of the carving. A 90 V bit can be used for engraving, and also for mitering the edge of the material to make a mitered box.

By midmorning on Day 2, each teacher was deep into following their own path. While we would gather for a brief lesson on a particular topic, my role became that of a guide helping each teacher pursue their particular goal.

Too busy working to break for lunch.

On Day 3, I left the teachers deep in conversation in how they would organize their classes for the next year. How about: give each student a sheet of plywood, and score them on the designs they create as well as how efficiently they use their material?

Teachers discussing how to integrate the Step Stool Project downloaded from the ShopBot website into their classes for next school year.

Peruse the photos below to see some of the projects created during the DFFE workshops, both in Washington and at ShopBot. The July Workshop is filled, but check the Events page on the ShopBot website for more dates to be added in the Fall.

This topographic map of the Mt. Ranier region in Washington State was generated as an .stl file, then imported into VCarve Pro and machined with a .125” ball nose bit. Because the material was insulation foam, there was no need to run a roughing pass.

Sign incorporating V Carving and 3D medallions from ClipArt in VCarve Pro

One of the topics is to show how the same design (2D or 3D) can be machined or printed on multiple digital fabrication tools.

ShopBot 2017: Same .stl file printed on a 3D printer and machined in wood on a ShopBot CNC router. It took longer to 3D print than to machine on the ShopBot.

Same 2D design file Engraved on a ShopBot and cut on laser cutter. Keeping a record of the results is a valuable lesson.

Teachers from Oregon used their Perkins grant for Professional Development to return to ShopBot after having used it in the classroom for a year. They reversed-engineered a spring-joint-box designed by Randy Johnson

Spring box completed and VCarved on the Handibot. No need to shop for a birthday present.

New users from Fanshawe School of Art and Design (Canada) got experience on the laser cutter and ShopBot.

Trying out the Handibot

It’s a Fidget!

In an attempt to keep the kids involved through the end of the school year, I asked my students what they wanted to make with the ShopBot. You can probably guess what they said if you’ve seen what the latest craze is: fidget spinners. My response was fidja-what? They proceeded to introduce me to the new fad in toys. The next shiny thing will replace fidget spinners soon, but in order to establish relationships with the students, we began our fidget journey.


We ordered the skate bearings used for the fidget spinner mechanism in bulk, and set to work figuring out how to recreate this toy in our shop. We decided to use nuts as weights. Using an 1/8” straight bit, we used the ShopBot to cut a perfect hexagon. Even using a digital caliper on one of the commercially made spinners, it took a few tries (probably 15) to get spacing and openings perfect. Also, the weights have to be evenly spaced or the fidget will spin with a wobble. The first material we used was some reclaimed oak we took off an old shed next to the school. This made it feel like a woodworking project. We planed it down to the thickness of the bearing and cut it to fit the jig we made on our spoil board. This was our first lesson on the importance of using tabs, being that fidget spinners are pretty small. Tabs keep the material attached when making a profile cut and keep the batman shaped spinners from becoming flying batman throwing stars! We used a bandsaw to finish cutting the tabs and then sanded the edges smooth. We chose to use a Danish oil to bring out the oak grain.The downside to using wood is you have to maintain a certain thickness of material to keep the wood from splitting. Also, it is a harder balance of getting the bearing and nuts to be tight but not so tight that the wood splits.

The next material we used was some scrap sign board. This material was able to be cut without much material being left. The downside to using this was it would bend easily, the edges would cut you if you didn’t sand them smooth, and it lacked overall weight. The last material we used was plywood. Again this lacked weight and was harder than the oak to sand smoothly. However, it kept its structural integrity better than the oak on thinner material margins.

It only took one class period to teach the kids how to set up their project file and locate a few of the design icons. Most of the them chose to find an image from the internet and bitmap it into their own spinner design. We have 5 desktop computers set up in the back of my classroom. With 20 students we rotate through in groups to give each student a chance to design. I had about 2 students in each class that could brace the material, tool path the designs, and run the files on the ShopBot. That just left me having to zero out the Z-axis and do the initial bit change since we used the same bit for the pocket cuts and profile cuts.

Overall, this proved to be a good project for students. We got to work on design and problem solving. Our semester ran out before we were able to cut out most of the designs, but it served as a good reminder that what we produce in shop isn’t as important as the process and people involved.

(Re)Visiting Digital Fabrication Labs in Middle and Upper Schools

Alberta shopbot charlotte

Alberta shows off the sign she made on a ShopBot.

May and early June was the time to visit a number of digital fabrication labs in middle schools, high schools, and community colleges around the US. Some labs are fine tuning their plans after being in existence for a year or more, while some are just starting their journey.


Southwestern Pennsylvania is coal country, with all of the economic consequences of a shifting way of life. It’s also beautiful there: small towns nestled into valleys connected by scenic mountain roads. The Chevron Lab at Intermediate Unit 1 (IU1) near California, Pennsylvania, has a thriving program. Follow them via Twitter (@IU1FabLab) to see how they are using the ShopBot CNC routers, laser cutters, 3D printers, and electronics to bring art projects and technology to students from kindergarten through high school. In one of his recent tweets, Brandon Prentice, guru of their mobile lab, showed a living wall created by art students with the ShopBot Buddy® that is a part of the mobile lab. The stationary lab at Colonial Middle School also has evening classes and workshops for teachers, students, and community members to learn about digital fabrication and making.

Assembling a living wall.

Parts machined on a ShopBot Buddy.

IU1 recently added three Handibot® Smart Power Tools (with rotary indexers) to their suite of digital fabrication tools. One will reside in the stationary lab, one will ride in the mobile lab, and one will be available at a tool lending library. The Handibot in the stationary lab will be drawn into service for creating circuit boards, as well as being available for machining in 3D for molding and casting projects. Brandon really likes the Handibot app, Smooth Sketch, for working with the very young students (K-2).


Charlotte Mecklenburg School System added digital fabrication to their curriculum in the 2016 – 2017 school year. Two high schools have ShopBots: Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology, has a 3D lab (CNC routers, laser cutter, 3D printer, etc.) as well as a home construction program and an automotive program. Teachers and administrators from the 3D lab and the home construction program received a 1-day refresher course on the ShopBot in May.

Watching the ShopBot in action.

Olympic High School in Charlotte also has a full sized ShopBot for use in their School of Technology Entrepreneurship & Advanced Manufacturing and with Project Lead The Way. Matt Wykoff, the PLTW teacher at Olympic, says his CIM (Computer-Integrated Manufacturing) students have embraced the ShopBot. Matt is putting the ShopBot to good use for himself as well, he is making a new home entertainment system.

A few of the student projects from Olympic High School in Charlotte, NC.



The installation of the digital fabrication lab at Brady Middle School in Pikesville, OH (near Cleveland) was completed at the end of May. After the ShopBot PRSalpha 4 x 8 for big projects, and a ShopBot Desktop for circuit boards and smaller projects were installed, Christie Kohn and Jake Miller, interim managers of the lab, invited 6th, 7th, and 8th grade teachers for a tour and “make and take.” The digital fabrication lab is not just for STEM education: Language arts teachers began to think of how they can use the ShopBot for “printing” their students’ favorite quotes, and social studies teachers thought of making as a way of bringing cultural diversity and customs into the classroom. TIES will return to Brady for professional development when the new school year starts. News update: Brady has now ordered a Handibot to join their suite of digital fabrication tools.

Chris Carter of TIES demos the ShopBot Desktop to one group of teachers, while another group works with the 3D printer and laser cutter in the digital fabrication lab.


Principal of Brady Middle School watching ShopBot cut out his name plate. Note the material is pre-painted and pre-cut to size for each name plate.


Christie tightening bolts on X motor after reseating the pinion gear in the rack. Part of the training during installation includes how to tune up the ShopBot.



The Chevron Fab Lab NOLA at Delgado Community College in New Orleans is reaching out to the community to share its resources. Fab Lab manager Sam Provenza and Sallye Coyle hosted a diverse group of teachers and community leaders from Delgado Community College, local public and private schools, and extracurricular programs that are a part of Bricolage Academy and the Youth Empowerment Project. The two day FFI include time on the ShopBot, laser cutter, and vinyl cutter, as well as how to integrate digital fabrication into curricula, from primary school to high school programs such as PLTW.

Sam introduces the FabLab concept to the attendees.


Same design file, three different digital fabrication tools: ShopBot CNC router, laser cutter, and vinyl cutter.

The Embracing of Digital Fabrication Technology in Polk County, Florida

Four Saxes: An original drawing (right) scanned and re-conceived with 3 different digital fabrication tools: Engraved in wood (ShopBot CNC router), 3D printed with ABS plastic (Ultimaker 3D printer), and laser cut out of thin acrylic (Epilog laser).

Early in May, I visited Polk County, Florida as a part of a TIES team. Polk County now has digital fabrication labs (FabLabs) in 6 magnet middle schools, and more labs are spreading down into the elementary school level.  The county’s investment in training their teachers is impressive. Teachers and resource staff from four middle schools spent four days at Lake Alfred PolyTech Academy honing their CAD design and machine skills. Their fields included theater, social studies, language arts, business, art and photography, home building/construction, and math. Some of the resource and support staff who had been part of the install teams and/or participated in the training for middle schools then served as instructors for the 27 elementary school teachers who attended three days of training later in the week.

Sallye with Rick Runion, art teacher and FabLab manager at Rochelle School of the Arts in Lakeland, FL. Rick designed his step stool in VCarve Pro, then scaled it down to create a prototype in cardboard on the Epilog laser cutter before cutting the real one out of plywood on the ShopBot PRSalpha.

Continuing their mission of making digital fabrication available to all in Polk County, Carla McMullen, Senior Coordinator of Operations & Evaluation (MSAP) in the Office of Acceleration & Innovation for Polk County Schools, invited teachers and administrators of schools that do not currently have digital fabrication labs to visit the new mini lab at the district headquarters. Some equipment, like the Handibot® Smart Power Tool, can be checked out of the office for use in the schools. Teachers can also make an appointment to bring small groups of students to use the Full Spectrum laser, Roland vinyl cutter, and Ultimaker 3D printer in the office.

Mixing LEDS’s and CNC machining. A teacher from Jewett Academy used the Handibot to carve the school logo in acrylic, then lit up the sign with a strip of LED’s.

Handibot’s Brian Owen joined a couple of the trainings to observe how teachers are using Handibots in school settings.  Polk County chose Handibot as the CNC for their elementary schools because it is capable of doing great (and intricate) things while being easy to use and having a friendly demeanor. This makes them a good case study in education for Brian and the other people at Handibot.

Brian (left) deep in conversation with the teachers who will be using the Handibot in early school and middle school education. Note the files that the Handibot has carved in the plywood sheets laid out on the floor of the lab.

It is a lot to introduce a whole new set of equipment, software  and techniques into the school day and expect teachers to immediately embrace it. The Administration at Polk County is committed to making it work. By giving the teachers sufficient time and training, they can become confident enough to share the possibilities with their students. The Administration also supports the development of new curricula that go beyond just using the tools.  Finally, schools are encouraged to connect with their communities and develop business relationships that will both sustain the labs, and introduce the students to real world problems and solutions.

Ms. Vega showing of her students some of the possibilities.

Mijana and Candy sanding Linkerlogs. Mijana is developing a curricula where the middle school students will fabricate the Linkerlogs on the ShopBot, and elementary students will use them in their math and other classes.

Don Gilmore Explores New Avenues on His ShopBot

don gilmore's iron dinosaur car

Don Gilmore certainly has no problem keeping busy. He’s an engineer by day, but builds race cars, creates glass art sculptures, and even enjoys amateur paleontology in his spare time. While these disciplines couldn’t appear more different, Don has found a way to merge them all together. His team, Iron Dinosaur Racing, got its name from the appearance of their car’s welded frame in its early stages, resembling the ribcage of a fossilized skeleton. The team has also been able to adapt to changes that have come their way, using the ShopBot to cut just about every type of material imaginable on the way to creating a car that holds all of the East Coast speed records for its class. The team is next headed to the Bonneville Salt Flats in August 2017 to make an attempt on the existing record there of 349.873 MPH.

The Iron Dinosaur push starting at the Ohio Mile.

“More Than Just for Wood”

According to the Iron Dinosaur team, the ShopBot was such a vital tool in the creation of the racer, that it was only after Gilmore started listing the work items that he utilized the tool for that he realized it had become almost a member of the team itself. In addition to a number of prototype runs, the team made extensive use of their ability to cut and machine aluminum; they milled the engine’s 3.5′ x 4′ ft. firewall and aluminum dash (including instrument openings), and surfaced both to give it a nice appearance. They also cut torsion bar stabilizer links from ¾” x 2” 6061 aluminum, an important part of the car’s suspension system.

iron dinosaur engine turned firewall

The Iron Dinosaur’s engine turned firewall surface cut on the team’s ShopBot.

The Iron Dinosaur on Display

Stickers on the cockpit highlight all the partners that helped build the car.

The team displayed their car at the Piston Power Show in Cleveland on March 17, 18 & 19. It was wildly popular, pulling in first place in its class. One of the more interesting factors of Don’s experience was that many people he talked to at the event were either ShopBot owners or had used Aspire at some point. A number of the ShopBot owners had used them in other capacities, and were very interested in how the team used a CNC tool in the manufacture of a car.

The Iron Dinosaur in Western NC

If you’re in the Western NC/Eastern TN area, or are looking to make the trip to see the land speed racer, you can catch the car on display and meet the team at the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, NC from July 7-9, 9am-5pm.

Don’s Glass Art

don gilmore's glass art

 In addition to working on the Iron Dinosaur car, Don has developed an interest in creating art out of glass. In trying to build the perfect windshield for his racer, Don has experience working with all shapes and types of glass materials, gaining an understanding of its properties along the way. He’s currently working on a piece based on a ¼” float wave cut mounted on a sheet of dichroic. He plans on fusing the float together and slightly softening the edges to complement the refraction of light, allowing for an even more striking prismatic result.


PRSalpha Keeps Manufacturing Lean for SaunaSpace

SaunaSpace Pocket Sauna cut on ShopBot PRSalpha

The Pocket Sauna® is just one of many products that SaunaSpace is bringing into the average American home.

Brian Richards is the founder and CEO of SaunaSpace, a company that manufactures health-oriented sauna solutions designed to fit into any lifestyle and budget. Their saunas provide what Brian refers to as “an ancestral healing method for the modern home without costly installation or planning,” which allows any consumer to enjoy reduced stress hormones, decreased blood pressure, and improved cardiovascular health. Having a ShopBot PRSalpha helped Brian bring the healing nature of saunas into the typical home with a range of convenient and manageable sauna installations, making real products out of lofty ideas.


A CNC tool helps SaunaSpace add repeatable precision to production.

When Richards was first getting started, he applied for a substantial business loan so he could get his idea off the ground. But when he came across a ShopBot in another local Columbia, MO business, he was able to increase the loan amount under the pretense that an automated CNC tool would minimize future debt potential. With the purchase of a 96-60 PRSalpha, SaunaSpace immediately gained the ability to design & prototype everything in-house, boosting production capability and flexibility. Since then, the production has become incredibly lean and efficient, with the ShopBot running essentially all day long: it spends 4-5 hours a day cutting parts for production, a few hours for prototyping, and any remaining time is dedicated to experimentation or cutting parts needed for business. In Brian’s words, the PRSalpha is “a production infrastructure in itself” for SaunaSpace, a concept that fits in with ShopBot’s stance on the future of manufacturing.

Prototyping Makes Perfect on the PRSalpha

All of SaunaSpace’s prototypes are made in pine, which is a more affordable and flexible alternative compared to the final products’ basswood, which is optimal for saunas due to its low toxicity and pliability. Working with pine makes experimentation possible without wasting materials, and is much softer and more available than basswood. By cutting prototypes in a softer wood, it guarantees that the method will work in a harder material. This prototyping workflow is one of just many developed by the SaunaSpace crew on their ShopBot, which shows just how important experimentation can be to delivering a reliable and affordable product.

saunaspace standup

Brian Richards holds a stand-up with his team, which has helped keep business lean and profitable.

Another feature of the PRSalpha that has helped in prototyping is its precision, especially among repeated tasks. The wiring tray and light panels of all SaunaSpace products require precise cuts with different bits, and constantly making adjustments with the tool would take time and resources away form other important aspects of production. The team utilizes the tool changer and two-sided machining techniques to minimize time and effort that goes into an intricate and integral part of every sauna.


The Future of SaunaSpace Production

Having a ShopBot doesn’t replace anybody. At SaunaSpace, everyone is a master at their craft.

At SaunaSpace, change and adjustment is always encouraged; in fact, it’s at the very core of what has allowed the company to grow. The team is always looking to build upon its experiences to date, and doesn’t shy away from any innovation that can help improve production.

“[Customers] bring things up and we’re always keeping our ears to the ground,” notes Brian. “Having the PRSalpha in our space makes trying new things possible.”

But listening to customer feedback isn’t the only method for driving change. In fact, most of the new product ideas come from simply trying out new things. The company has been looking at the plotter pen as a way to sketch out ideas before prototyping, and are even getting ready to purchase their second PRSalpha, which will not only double production output, but allow the team to experiment while simultaneously still making a great product.

NYSTEEA and Chocolate Mold-Making for STEAM

chocolate mold in HDPE

The tastiness of making mistakes.


In the 52 years that the New York State Technology and Engineering Educators Association (NYSTEEA) has been meeting, there have been a lot of changes in the design software and equipment available to teachers and students. Schools have been adding digital fabrication equipment, including CNC, into their classroom and pursuing a hands-on teaching model.

ShopBot Tools attended this year’s 2-day BSTEM event in Malta, NY, which included sessions on everything from elementary robotics to model railroading as a STEAM activity. During the mornings and breaks throughout the day, educators had a chance to see a Handibot in action, as well as understand the workflow that aligns closely with what they are teaching day-to-day in the classroom.

ShopBot Tools sponsored the Awards Dinner, held at the Automobile Museum in Saratoga Springs. In a brainstorming session a few weeks before the event, Sallye Coyle and I decided to create a gift for each attendee. Sallye has been playing with using ShopBots to create molds and models for casting materials such as aluminum and glass. Why not demonstrate ShopBot’s capability to machine in 3D by creating small molds to cast chocolate for an end-of-meal treat? We had no idea what we were getting into.


chocolate and cooking sprays

The ingredients for our experiment required different types of chocolate and mold release sprays.


The first step was to prototype the mold (negative space) that we would pour the melted chocolate into. Since we intended for people to eat the chocolate, we started with food-grade HDPE, the solid material that plastic cutting boards are made out of. It machined beautifully, and the melted chocolate flowed into the mold without any problems. However, after it solidified again, both kinds of chocolate we tried were too brittle to release easily from the rigid mold, even with a mold release agent. Hardship prevailed: we had to eat all the chocolate that broke as it was removed from the prototype molds.

The next step was to create a model (positive space) that resembled the actual shape the chocolate would take. Then, a two-part food-grade silicon material was poured around the model so it would become the mold. The silicon remains flexible after it sets, so a brittle material can be popped out. In the first tries, we tested two types of mold release: PAM and coconut oil. The finished product came right out of the mold with both, but the top of the chocolate was discolored with unappealing white streaks. When no mold release was applied, the chocolate still came out of the mold easily and retained its rich, dark color.


silicon chocolate mold

Silicon molds were successful in producing chocolate shapes, but the mold release left discoloration.


We now had a functional mold, but our prototyping showed us another problem with going into small scale production: the two-part silicon mold material was just too expensive and the process itself too time-consuming for us to make 150 molds. While a flexible material such as gelatin came out of the rigid molds, it just was not as appealing as chocolate. So, we came up with other options for the giveaway that included ShopBot-cut rack and pinion gears, which also explained how the tools are made.



The project didn’t turn out the way we had initially hoped. However, the prototyping process was a great example of many things that engineering teachers are trying to convey to their students: design thinking, learning from failure, iteration, record keeping, and decision making. Cost effectiveness is another important consideration that needs to be put into the equation.

Sallye used Aspire, a 3D design and machining software, to design her molds and models. Aspire is the “big sister” to VCarve Pro, the 2D CAD and 2D/3D CAM software that comes bundled with every ShopBot and Handibot.  She machined the prototypes and did small scale production of the molds, models, and gifts on a ShopBot Desktop.


chocolate molds for nysteea 2017


The day after the dinner, several teachers came up to thank ShopBot and reveal how the evening’s talk had inspired them. One teacher said that, in 27 years of coming to the NYSTEEA conference, no one had ever talked about food. He had a grant to create a garden to engage kids who would not otherwise be drawn into science and engineering. Others learned that 3D models can be realized in more ways than with 3D printers, and that it is important to have a suite of digital fabrication tools available, including a ShopBot or Handibot CNC. Having the right tools in the classroom/lab allows students to follow through on their ideas from CAD design to mock-up to tangible item, and to learn from their mistakes and revise. In fact, it is the mistakes that can lead to some of the greatest successes.


Wayne Locke’s User Group


One of the fortunate coincidences for my trip to Austin was that Wayne Locke’s CNC User Group was the weekend before SxSWEdu and SxSWCreate. Wayne’s gatherings are, by far, the longest running gatherings of ShopBotters and others that are interested in all things CNC-related. This year, as always, it was held in his shop behind his house outside of Austin.


Our host


Wayne is a woodworker and furniture builder that specializes in church furnishings. Like many woodworkers he works by himself, which means he falls into one of two categories…very organized or total chaos. Fortunately Wayne falls into the first one!


You can never have too many clamps!


Keeping track of scraps


Since he does such a wide variety of work, Wayne’s PRT ShopBot has been modified with a couple of custom additions. He’s added an indexer to the side of his ShopBot, modifying the table so that he can do an 8′ turning. He’s also added a very versatile vacuum hold-down system  with a highly customizable plenum for holding parts of all sizes. His table is a funny color, but we try not to hold that against him.


Indexer in a lowered section of the table


Discussing hold down options


Wayne’s table allows for both vacuum and mechanical clamping using t-slots


One of the first presenters was long-time ShopBotter Santiago Laverde. Santiago does custom cutting and specializes in jigging and setting up for production runs. He started with an overview of some of the work he had done, followed with one in jigging for production that used a bottle opener as the example product



Some of Santiago’s work


Holding jig for machining bottle openers


A prototype cut for a bottle opener


One of the main topics of discussion this year was chairs, which began with a presentation by Gary Weeks that described how they currently make their rockers. Their handmade rockers are beautiful, but very labor intensive to make, so they came to the User Group to explore the idea of adding a ShopBot to their shop. Lots of creative and clever thoughts from the crowd, including a discussion of what “handmade” really means and where tools of all kinds fit in. It’ll be interesting to see what they decide!


A Weeks rocker


The Weeks crew talking about their beautiful chairs


Wayne examining a rocking chair arm


Longtime ShopBotter and frequent forum participant Steve Glassell followed with a great presentation on how he uses his ShopBot to build his line of rustic chairs. Steve has developed a very clever joinery system that makes assembling his chairs quick and strong, held only with glue and a single screw. Steve has created this design–and the files–so that everything is cut from one side only, without any material flips. He and Wayne followed up with a two-way discussion of the ways they shape their chair seats.


The same chair built from two types of wood


Clever joinery. This pocket is cut in the back leg…


…and the seat support fits snuggly into it, leaving room for a tenon on the seat cross piece


The crosspiece and tenon fit in the recess…


…and are held with a screw and wood glue. The screw can be removed after the glue sets


Texas Boatbuilder David Lemke talked about how he used his ShopBot to build both boats and “plugs” that production boatbuilders use to make molds to manufacture boats. As a plus, he brought signs for a of couple of attendees to take home. 

David Lemke


A stack of frame pieces for a boat hull


Truer words were never spoken!

Brett Dickinson, long-time ShopBotter and Texas educator, talked about some of his projects and the schools he’s worked with including the Dripping Springs, Texas Fab Lab and their F1 in Schools team.

Brett Dickinson


The Desktop MAX rolling cart that Brett designed and built


Members of the F1 in Schools team from Dripping Springs, Texas


Machinist Matt Schreiner, also of Dripping Springs, spoke about his spreadsheet system for fine-tuning feeds and speeds for machining materials like aluminum. He also showed some of the techniques for aluminum machining techniques that he uses on his XCarve using Fusion 360.


Matt showing a machining simulation from Fusion 360


Will Leonard of the Alley Theater in Houston wrapped up the event with a presentation on how he uses their ShopBot to make sets for the productions that the theater does. Will uses their ShopBot to cut out the pieces and also to engrave lines for color changes, to make it easier for the painters to get a clean edge. Although much of the design and fabrication is digital, they still need paper plans to keep track of it all!


Paper plans help keep track of everything


A section of a floor from a recent play


The most important part of any ShopBot event is the show-and-tell items and conversations that are constantly going in. And of course lots of food! 


Show and Tell items


More Show and Tell


The bases of large candles that Wayne machined on his indexer


More show and tell


Santiago describing a project he is working on




My next stop is a visit with Ken Picou, an amazingly creative woodworker and ShopBotter that has been to Wayne’s gatherings for years. Stay tuned!





Digital Fabrication Education at USFLN in Edwardsville, IL

usfln hat

From March 13-15, 2017, ShopBot Tools attended the 2017 USFLN Symposium at Lewis and Clark Community College’s St. Louis Confluence Fab Lab in Edwardsville, IL. This year’s theme, “Stairway to Making”, featured a number of workshops and sessions highlighting the various steps that Fab Labs and Makerspaces can take to start, grow, and succeed in bringing digital fabrication education to the communities they serve.

For the symposium, ShopBot’s Sallye Coyle brought a Handibot, which she used to showcase the workflow of a project from design to finished product to educators, makers, and those looking to start up digital fabrication spaces. She was also joined by ShopBot’s Digital Marketing Specialist Tim Babiasz, who was fresh off representing ShopBot at USITT just down the river in St. Louis.

st. louis confluence fablab

The event featured multiple hands-on demonstrations in Lewis & Clark CC’s state-of-the-art Fab Lab.

Tools of the Trade

From large-format printers to laser cutters, just about every type of digital fabrication tool imaginable was on display at this year’s symposium. Seeing a range of different tools in one location really helped attendees get a feel for the versatility that’s so important in a successful Fab Lab or Makerspace.

At the ShopBot booth, Sallye and Tim showcased a typical project workflow on the Handibot from initial conception to finished product, and showed off a few samples of finished works in a range of materials, from foam to aluminum.

handibot at usfln

Sallye Coyle shows a USFLN attendee the range of projects that can be cut on the Handibot.

Maker Education

ukulele making at usfln

An hour-long session held in the USFLN lab showcased the workflow involved in ukulele making.

Throughout the symposium, the maker’s mindset was applied to every aspect of digital fabrication, including how to create and curate a space. Included in the schedule were sessions dedicated to education, staffing, training, program implementation, and operations, which provided a launchpad for those looking for ways to spread the culture of Fab Labs and Makerspaces in their area.

Electric guitars at St. Louis Confluence FabLab in Edwardsville, IL.

Guitars on display at the Confluence Fab Lab were made by students using a combination of CNC, electronics, and handcrafting.

Sallye led two different ShopBot sessions. The first was dedicated to workflow, and followed the path of a project from conception through design and toolpathing, all the way to cutting. The students were lively and engaged, with many even staying after just to watch the Handibot cut the finished product, a wooden skull. To explain the different levels of detail and cutting speeds, the left half was done with a 1/4″ ball nose bit. The right side was cut with a 1/8″ ball nose. A portion of the roughing pass was left on both sides for reference.

wooden skull

Wooden skull cut on the Handibot, with roughing pass on the outer edges.

Sallye’s second ShopBot session provided a deeper dive into CAD/CAM software education, project innovation, and workflow, allowing for more questions and discussion from attendees.

A Cross-Section of Digital Fabrication

USFLN education presentation

Eugene & Tiffany of NWA Fab Lab talk about Fayetteville, AR’s growing maker culture

All in all, the 2017 USFLN symposium provided a great opportunity to learn, grow, and network with people from all over the country. The final day included presentations from the attendees themselves, which showed how digital fabrication and maker culture is taking hold in every area of the United States and in various forms, from membership-based Fab Labs to free library and children’s programs. It will be exciting to see how things have developed at next year’s event!