Toolpath Improvements for Better, Faster Carves

Recently, our hard-working Developers implemented some big changes to the way Easel generates toolpaths for your projects. These improvements are the result of working with some early testers and forum users, and we are very appreciative of their help!

Most of these changes took place behind the scenes, so you probably haven’t noticed anything different while using Easel. Still, these toolpath modifications make carving faster and more efficient, and we want you to know about them.

There are two big enhancements to toolpaths:

Better Safety Height Movement
Safety height is the height your spindle must raise so that it does not damage your material when moving between sections of your project. Previously, the default safety height was above your z-axis home location (aka, the top of your material). If you were carving through a thick piece of material, the spindle would raise itself completely above the surface of your material when cutting out tabs or moving to a different part of the job.

Now, your spindle will only raise the bit as much as necessary to clear parts of the project that are already carved. Easel accounts for what has been carved already, so it does not always need to raise to the full height of your material when moving from point A to B.

What does this mean for you? The most common scenario where you’ll see an improvement is carving tabs on your project. Rather than raise the bit all the way to the top of your material and back down again to carve out tabs, the z-axis only raises high enough to clear the tab before lowering back down to carve. This can reduce your overall carving time by as much as 30%!

Continuous Detail Pass for Two-Stage Carving
Two-stage carves allow you to use two different sized bits for your project. This is incredibly helpful if you want to remove a large amount of material with a larger bit (called the roughing pass) and then use a smaller bit for fine, intricate parts of the design (called the detail pass).

Psst: If you’ve struggled with selecting the right bit for a project, you might want to enable two-stage carves in Easel.

When we first released the two-stage cut feature in Easel, we had a lot of problems with “hunt and peck” toolpaths. In an effort to have as much of the project carved with the roughing pass as possible, many parts of the detail toolpath were broken into smaller segments. This resulted in a lot of raising and lowering of the z-axis in an attempt to hit all these small sections, instead of a continuous pass with the detail bit.

We’ve modified the way toolpaths are generated for two-stage cuts so the detail cut can make a continuous carve around the perimeter of all parts of your project. As mentioned above, minimizing the number of times the bit raises and lowers during the course of a carve will save you a significant amount of time. Perhaps more importantly, the edges of your projects will be cleaner and smoother, which means less finishing time after carving.

Here’s a good example showing how toolpaths have changed:

Notice how there are fewer neon green lines in the image on the right. This means the detail bit will not raise and lower as many times as it did in the image on the left. Reducing the number of times the bits raises and lowers is one of the best ways to save on overall carving time.  

We’re always looking for feedback and improvement requests for Easel, and love hearing what customers think about using the app. Do you have something you’d like to see added to Easel? Please let our Developers know by sharing it on the forum! They check the forum often to learn more about what customers want to do with their machine and how we can help on your carving journey.

Happy carving!

5 Questions with Blaine Bryson on Creating a Makerspace in Your Class

"The concept of a Makerspace is amazing and wonderful, but planning and implementing can be daunting. There are implications that can make the entire process overwhelming and exhausting, but as an educator it is important to remember what your desired outcome is. For me the desired outcome was to give students a unique and worthwhile learning experience."
--Blaine Bryson is a maker teacher at Avon Middle School in Avon Ohio

Q: What's your own process like for planning your Makerspace/Lab for the upcoming school year?

The idea of a Makerspace for our school is new and has developed out of a district wide goal to expand electives for our students. When I first began to plan the class, I pitched it to my administration as a technology course that involved creating a variety of optional learning experiences. From the initial idea of a technology course based on student choice, the course began to take shape based on a few questions that needed answered.

The first question that came up was “what do my students actually want to learn?” Student choice is a major aspect of my educational philosophy and giving students a choice is empowering and engaging for students of all ages. To judge or gauge what students really want to learn, I ask them what career they are interested in pursuing and in general … what sounds cool!

Once the decision of what learning experiences would occur in the Makerspace Lab, the next question that came up was “what materials and devices will be needed for the class?” This is the question that I feel many educators get too hung up on too early when it comes to planning and implementing a Makerspace. I can’t stress enough, think about the learning goals of your students as a whole and go from there.

Finally, and possibly most important for most educators working on developing a Makerspace of any type is “How do we fund this project?” When it comes to funding a new project, and one that is a fairly “new” concept to education, it becomes difficult selling the project to administration and getting funds allocated from the school district. My suggestion to any educator that wants to implement a Makerspace is to reach out to your local donors which could include endowment funds, charity groups and businesses to solicit for donations and sponsorships to get the project started but also funded for the future.

Q: What are some of the key things you're looking to build upon from last year?

The course that I will be teaching this year will look and function much different than the course I taught last year. Due to some variables that were not in my control (student population and space), I have a great idea of what works and does not work with projects and learning experiences related to a Makerspace. An aspect of my class from last year that I felt worked out really well was giving students choice in learning experiences and projects.

With success, there were some aspects of my class from last year that needed to be changed for this year. First off was changing the location of my class from a shared computer lab to a science lab. The evolution of the space from last year to this has been difficult, but I know it will be rewarding as having a singular space with a variety of learning areas will prove valuable. This year’s space includes an area for small group and independent projects, small group instruction, video production, brainstorming, robotics, and 3D Carving all in a room that is about 35 by 25 feet. The space this year was big for me and I made a major push to get the location I needed so that the learning can be redefined and the experience students deserve.

Q: Which projects are you most excited about for the upcoming year?

The course I teach is mostly project based. I think the most exciting projects for me in regards to my students will involve our use of photography and video production with Carvey. My students like photography and video production and I know that they will be enthralled with what we can do with the Carvey. They will love the mix of the two, but the specific project that I’m really excited to get started with is a play off of the Mosaic Tile Project created by Jeff Solin that incorporates Cleveland’s local history, photography/video production, and the Carvey. The short explanation of the project is that students are going to document through photo and video their research of something related to Cleveland’s history and their experiences using Carvey to create their own Mosaic Tile.

As someone in the final stages of planning and the beginning of implementing a full fledge Makerspace Lab, a few things I would stress to any educator considering taking the plunge would be to keep in mind what you want your students to learn and the direction their learning will take. The other advice I want to extend is to think about the space as a whole and what you want it to look like in relation to your students, not necessarily what devices and materials are in the space.

5 Questions on Back-To-School with Jeremy Parker

Jeremy Parker is an Agricultural & Vocational teacher at Oak Hill High School in Alexandria, LA. He focuses on making sure kids have skills they can use for a lifetime of starting businesses and hobbying after they finish high school. As he's putting his lab together for another busy year of teaching and hosting the Oak Hill High FFA club, we asked him what his priorities are when organizing his space, and what programs he's most excited about for the coming year.

Q: What's your process like for planning your makerspace/lab for the upcoming school year?

I teach vocational and technical classes and I had the lab running all summer, so I don’t have to set up the classroom as much as cleanup and prepare for the fall. For us, the biggest considerations as we add more machines is dust collection, noise abatement, and increasing our internet access ports. Right now, we only have one hardwired access point in our lab, so we’ll need to install wifi or tether the computers together to get our shop entirely online.

Q: What are some of the key things you’re looking to build upon from last year?

I’m excited to build out our class on manufacturing processes which will incorporate all aspects of design. We’ll dive into the manufacturing community from research and development to marketing, production and delivery. I am excited to see how this class is affected by our machine additions, particularly the Carvey and X-Carve.

Q: Which projects are you most excited about for the upcoming year?

Our local Oak Hill FFA is very active in fundraising for our shop and particularly our CNC program. We’re going to start a sign shop in the school to try to offset some of the costs of shop upkeep and help the FFA in their efforts to support other programs. I’m most excited to see the ideas and designs that my students and customers come up with. The students will push the envelope in paper and software design, and they’ll learn from tutorials and trial and error… just like we all did when we were little. I’m really excited to see what comes out of those efforts. And I’m sure they’ll all be teaching me soon!

Q: What are your biggest considerations getting ready for the school year?

The biggest considerations I have for the upcoming year as far as the X-Carve and Carvey programs go is to make sure I have a steady supply of locally-sourced materials, and to make sure the program is growing. I want to make sure that we’re always doing our best, that the students are steadily improving, and that all the kids are getting enough time on the machines to be able to struggle while they learn without being pressured. Right now, I’m focusing on how I can get all students involved in the CNC world and what more I can do with the machines in the classroom.  These are questions that come up every August; we teachers fight the same beasts every year.

Educator Spotlight: Jennifer Esty

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After being named a winning school of Inventables’ 50 States 3D Carver Contest, Massachusetts teacher Jennifer Esty was thrilled to welcome Carvey as the newest member of her Sparhawk classroom. But the excitement spread far beyond Jennifer, with one student exclaiming, “You are joking me! We WON THIS? It is amazing!”.

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Their coolest project?  So far it’s been the above pictured printing stamps. “This project had them draw, then carve, then print. It required so much pre-thinking, conceptualizing how the final product would look. Amazing!”

Beyond working through the design process and celebrating the finished project, Jennifer and her students were quick to discover just how captivating the Carvey is while in action, making her classroom the place to be. “Students just come in to watch it carve, even if it’s not their project. They are designing things on their own to carve just because!”

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Having introduced Carvey to her 8th through 12th graders, Jennifer and her students are working on plans to extend it to younger students once the new school year starts. Together they’re thinking up a project that can be done by the entire Sparhawk School, including the Pre-K classes.

Stay tuned for more projects from Jennifer’s creative students at Sparhawk School!

Our School Crowdfunding Campaign Launch

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We’re excited to announce that late last week we launched the first of our school crowdfunding campaigns. Building upon last year’s donation of a 3D carving machine to a school in each state, this year’s program gives schools and their supporters the tools to customize and promote their Inventables wish list. It’s focused on increasing the role of Carvey within STEM/STEAM curricula, rallying schools to start or grow their maker space to include 3D carving. Campaigns will last for 30 days, with each school receiving their own dedicated page on the Inventables website.

Kicking things off is St. Mark’s School in El Paso, Texas.  They’ve raised almost $700 in only four days, having graciously partnered with us to pilot the program and work out any remaining kinks ahead of its expansion later this year. Please check out their page and consider supporting the cause!

And if you’re interested in starting a campaign for your favorite school, just fill out this form, and we’ll be in touch as the expansion continues.

New Easel Feature: Carving Time Estimation

Our amazing development team has created a new time estimation feature in Easel. Because in this busy world, we know your time is precious. And faster carves means more carves!

While designing in Easel, you can now get an estimate of your total carving time. The “Show Toolpaths” button previously found in the top right corner of the 3D design pane has been replaced by a “Simulate” button. When “Simulate” is clicked, Easel calculates and displays the estimated time and toolpath visualization.

Taking the time to adjust small settings can add up to a big impact. In the below project example, simply switching your bit from 1/8" to 1/4" saves over 30 minutes of carve time. Adjusting other settings like material thickness and cut depth also make a difference.

CAM programs, due to all of the different possible machine setups, aren’t known for giving the most accurate machining time estimates. With this new feature, we’ve worked hard behind the scenes to have Easel deliver an estimate that’s now reliable enough for us to share.

The above graph shows the results of experimenting with a couple different methods for estimating time, and comparing those with the actual carve time. We almost always underestimated the total, but for 95% of makers the estimate was within a few minutes.

Give it a try for yourself today and let us know your feedback. If you have any questions while designing, check out this helpful article from our awesome support team!

Carvey got TESTED

Norm Chan reviewed Carvey on TESTED. Check out the video below!


Educator Spotlight: Greg Kent on Design Thinking

I’m Greg Kent, Technology Coordinator and an Enrichment Teachers at Kailua Elementary School, on the Island of Oahu.

Teaching a tool or teaching a design process?

I follow and teach the Design Thinking process. Design Thinking is so vital because it fosters communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking, the vital skills you need to be successful in life. There was a great presentation done this year at Punahou school by their high school students for our First Lego League team. The students walked the whole team through Design Thinking by using the process to solve a problem with us. That was a moment of clarity for me. It is like the scientific method for makers! I felt like it gave me a simple, powerful, repeatable process that Kailua Elementary students and teachers could follow and be successful.

Design Thinking means getting to know someone (Empathize), and figuring out what their “pain point” or challenge is (Define). After determining these, we brainstorm like crazy to come up with as many solutions we can (Ideate).  Then we draw our designs on paper, make models out of cardboard and other materials, and finally create a working prototype (Prototype). Next we test out the model, get and give feedback, and share our experiences (Test). This cycle can continue over and over again until the team is satisfied with the results.  Recently, I found  AJ Juliani’s “Launch” framework and want to explore that more this summer during our robotics camp.

Do you teach how to operate the tool?

This year we focused on students using Easel, Inventables' simple and powerful 3D carving program. I think it's incredibly important for students to digitally ideate and prototype in addition to making low-fi models. When students have choice and control they want to master the tools available. The first question I would hear in the morning is, “Did you look at the design I posted yet?” We need to understand that being creative and solving problems takes time and effort. The agency for the students is in their ability to create the content they want anywhere and anytime, and take it as far as they want.

I walk students through the steps of what is happening when I'm setting up the X-Carve. Honestly, I feel like they can learn to tighten a router collet later. Personally, I want to have a workflow that is efficient and safe. I have been learning and adjusting the hardware setup to make sure we are safe, and that their experience is consistent. I want students to have as much control as possible, but it has to be gradual and sustainable. I want them to be resilient when things don’t go as expected, but I do want them to have a positive outlook and expect things to go right.

Do you start with something like the tiles Jeff Solin did with his class?

Yes! At first we explored Easel and the project section of the Inventables website. I didn’t really tell students what I wanted because I didn’t know. We talked about making signs and the students found the tile project. We substituted ¼" plywood for the project. I told them they could make anything they wanted. Some students chose icons inside of Easel but others went online to find certain characters they wanted to incorporate into the design. One of my students imported a dragon she had created and brought it home to paint.

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Do you allow the kids to design something that can be sold?

We have not stepped into that arena yet. I think if we do, it would be for a class fundraiser or for our 3rd grade mini-society unit.

Do you give them a budget?

No, but I am pretty verbal about costs and about students being stewards of whatever resources we receive. For this year’s main project, students made most of their projects from ½" plywood. Kailua Elementary is not a rich school but our administration is very understanding and supportive of STEM and our growing maker space. We have been using a lot of recycled materials for other projects but I need to do a better job of connecting with our community to see if anyone has materials/resources to share!

Not sure what your maker lab should look like? Check out Greg's classroom lab!