Inventables Holiday Gift Guide

or our holiday gift guide this year, the Inventables team decided to take a look at inspirational and fun designs from elsewhere, in addition to favorites from our own shelves. We hope you find something perfect for that maker in your life!

From our catalog:

A good hobby knife set is used nearly every day by some makers, and this kit is intended for just that. You get two grips, one larger and one for precision work. And a wide assortment of blades for pretty much every type of job- cutting paper, whittling wood, cutting traces on a circuit board, fabric and leather work...

These conductive paint pens allow you to draw circuits on paper, fabric or skin, cold-solder components, and repair PCBS. Yes, for real! They're great for teaching and playing with electrical principles or quick prototyping of simple circuits.

Plus, it's skin-safe and water soluble. Works with electrical components, e-textiles and conductive thread, microcontrollers like the Arduino or LilyPad, paper, plastic, and fabrics.

The CAMEO looks like a desktop printer, but it does something very different- cutting flat materials very precisely, from a digital design. Make pop-up holiday cards, cut your own customs stamps, create all kinds of engineered papercraft, cut adhesive stickers and magnets and chalkboard decals. You can seriously do a lot with these and the software is very easy to use.

This comprehensive screwdriver set comes with two different size handles and a wide assortment of interchangeable bits including Flathead, Phillips, Hex (Allen), Square, Torx, and Socket. The handles are ratcheting for easy tightening/loosening in tight spaces.

From Other Sources:

This walking robot tiger is easy to assemble, but lets you see and understand exactly how all the mechanical linkages work together to produce a loping gait. The Japanese company that makes these, Tamiya, has a ton of different robot designs that mimic the movement of the animal in a fairly realistic way.

You solder together and assemble this toy ray gun, which makes all those awesome/cheesy ray gun noises that dominated the toy industry in the 80's and 90's. So much laser. How future.

This kit by designers Mick Kelly and Sue Williams uses very simple materials to achieve rather complex results. Once assembled, the contraption can be "driven" by differentially controlling the power to each propeller. Pretty cool.

This kit is a great way to get started with both programming and electronics hardware. You get one Arduino, plus a bunch of sensors, motors, buttons, knobs, and a display. Pretty much everything you need to prototype an idea.

This convenient lens turns your smartphone into a much more capable photography tool. Get wider shots in interior spaces, take ultra close-ups of your projects, take in larger vistas during your travels. The lenses are very high quality and hold very firmly to the phone, and it's easy to flip the lens for different shots.

The colors and textures on this Etsy seller's stuff is amazing. These are made from recycled skateboards laminated together and then milled and finished. Good design doesn't have to be high-tech.

Best wishes from the team at Inventables and a happy holiday season to you all!

New Cool Tools Catalog Out!

If you're not familiar with the Cool Tools blog, I recommend you check it out. It was started ~10 years ago by Kevin Kelly, who was the founding executive editor of Wired magazine and a former editor/publisher of the Whole Earth catalog.

They just published a printed catalog and it's a great compendium of the last 10 years of the blog. The tools are all recommended and reviewed by people who use them, and there's inspiring projects and useful tips and tricks on every page.

Covering topics from hand tools to adhesives, organizational oddments, bicycles that double as chainsaws, beer brewing, mushroom growing, milling and fabricating, and so much more, it's enough to make your brain hurt with all the ideas for projects.

Inventables has a very nice shout-out on page 18, much thanks to our customers who wrote the reviews!

You can get the printed catalog here (highly recommended!) and submit your own reviews and recommendations for tools on the Cool Tools blog.

Shapeoko 2 Shipping Dates

Shapeoko 2 Shipping Update:

Our kitmaker is reporting that everything is on schedule and looking great for our projected December 21st shipping date on the first 495 pre-orders!

For pre-orders 496 and above, we've got a projected date of January 19th. The reason for the slight delay on the second batch is that we didn't foresee how excited everyone would be over this little kit, and that  we honestly thought it would take longer to sell out of our first batch. We're happy to be proven incorrect on that and have launched into action to make sure there's as little delay as possible.

As soon as we realized Shapeoko 2 was going to way more popular than anything we've ever done before, we placed an order immediately for another, larger batch of Shapeoko 2 kits. And since we've got the whole process figured out from the first batch, we're keeping our fingers crossed that there are zero shipping or out-of-stock part hiccups on the second.

Regardless, we'll continue to keep everyone informed as to the ship dates and availability as things come into focus. Inventables would like to thank everyone for their huge support and for making Shapeoko 2 an enormous success!

New Kits And Tools For Clean, Easy Wiring

I am a huge fan of good wiring and doing it right.  We thought it would great to get some affordable starter kits that contain all the basic stuff you need to do great wiring job. We have selected the some of the most popular items and put them in well organized kits.  We also sell refill packs if you run out of one of the types.

Header Connectors

Header connectors are all over the place.  Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Beagle Bone and just about every CNC controller has them.

Often projects come with connectors and contacts, but how does the average person use these?  A lot of people try crimping with needle nose pliers.  With practice you can get a reasonable crimp that way, but often the shape is distorted and the pin does not fit or latch in the connector well.  To do it right you need a real crimper

Header connectors come in pin (male) and socket (female) varieties.  Most controllers primarily have female connectors.  These work well with shields and jumper wires.  They also don't have exposed pins that can easily get shorted.  Many shields have male contacts.  With this kit you can make mating connectors for both types.

The header connector kit contains the following items in a well organized container.
  • (100) female/socket contacts
  • (100) male/pin contacts 
  • (25) 1 x 1 Position Connector (Great for making single wire jumpers)
  • (25) 1 × 2 Position
  • (25) 1 × 3 Position
  • (25) 1 × 4 Position
  • (25) 1 × 5 Position
  • (25) 1 × 6 Position
  • (25) 2 × 2 Position
  • (25) 2 × 3 Position
  • (25) 2 × 4 Position
  • (25) 2 × 5 Position
  • (25) 2 × 6 Position

How to Crimp Header Connetors

Crimping is a skill learned through practice.  It takes a few tries to master it, so don't be discouraged if your first few attempts don't work so well.  After a half dozen crimps you should be quite good and productive at it.  Here is the basic process.

Step 1 : Trim the wire to the right length.  This is, by far, the most important step.  A crimp gets nearly all of its hold on force by clamping to the insulation.  If you strip to much, you will crimping on more wire than insulation and your contact will pull off the wire.  You can use a pin to gauge how much to strip.

This is what you want it to look like when you are done.

Step 2:  Insert the contact into the crimper and ratchet it down until it is held in the crimper.

Step 3: Push the wire into the contact

Step 4: Crimp the contact.

Step 5: Test the contact grip by giving it a gentile tug.  It should not pull off the wire.

Step 6: Insert into the connector housing.  The crimped side on the contact faces the side of the connector with the opening and plastic tang.

How to remove a contact.

The pin can be removed from the housing by lifting the plastic tang slightly and pulling out the contact..  If you lift it too much it might permanently bend and not be reusable.

Wire Ferrules

Ferrules should be used when stranded wires are used in terminal blocks.  Ferrules keep the wires together and provide a little extra strain relief.

A common failure occurs when one stray strand on a wire comes loose from the terminal block and touches another terminal or circuit.  Another failure can come from the small amount of exposed wire just outside terminal block.  If the wire is tugged it can contact another circuit.

Using a Ferrule Crimper

The ferrule crimper is generally easier to master than the header crimper.  The only trick is to choose the right ferrule.  It must be snug to start with.  The crimper cannot squeeze a big ferrule onto a small wire. 

Step 1: Select an appropriate size ferrule.  The ferrule should slide snugly on the stripped wire.

Step 2: Strip wire  Use the un-insulated portion of the ferrule as a gauge for the strip length.

Step 3: Twist strands

Step 4: Insert the stripped portion of the wire into the ferrule

Step 5: Insert the Ferrule into the crimper

Step 6: Close the crimper as far as you can

Step 7: Test the how well the wire holds.  If it is loose, try a smaller ferule.

Milling aluminum with the Shapeoko 2

We get a lot of questions asking whether one can mill aluminum with the Shapeoko 2. I'd like to definitively answer that with a resounding "Yes!"

If you'd like to make it yourself, the files and instructions are here. In this blog post I'll be discussing more of the technical details and issues I encountered. Here's a brief video documenting the process:

 The inspiration: I saw some designs online for a bottle opener with nice wood cutouts on the handle and thought I'd make my own using the Shapeoko.

I drew the outlines using Adobe Illustrator and used Makercam.com to generate the toolpaths. Here are the settings I used:

We had some of this 1/8" aluminum plate in stock that works well for milling. I also selected some 1/8" walnut for the handle.

For the milling bit, I used the single-flute spiral upcut bit that comes in our end mill bits starter pack. That's what everyone who pre-ordered a Shapeoko will be using so I thought I'd put it through its paces to see how well it works.

One thing I highly recommend right away is: use a bit of plumber's silicon thread tape on the collet of your rotary tool, especially if you're using the one that comes with the Shapeoko. I had a number of failed jobs that I finally tracked down to the bit coming loose in the collet from the vibration. When I applied ~3 turns of thread tape, the bit stayed put and I got all the aluminum milled in a single pass. This probably wouldn't be a problem if you're using an official Dremel or a more advanced spindle.

As long as we're talking spindle speeds, I also recommend just cranking the speed all the way up if you're using the default spindle. It isn't really designed to operate at low speeds and will lose power (and torque) as you turn it down. I didn't have any issues with the aluminum gumming up the threads of the bit so you'll probably be ok.

Other protips for cutting aluminum:

  • Put a piece of thin scrap stock underneath your workpiece so you don't tear up the wasteboard when you cut through. I know that's what the wasteboard is for, but it's way easier to use up scrap and keep your wasteboard looking nice, especially if you sink in the threaded inserts to use screw-down clamp.
  • Clamp down your material really well. I know everyone says this, but it's worth reiterating.
  • Use a very small stepdown. Bart Dring recommend no more than 15 mils, I work in metric a lot and I found that 0.1mm was plenty.
  • Go slow. I ran at a feedrate of 500mm/min or ~20 inch/min. The plunge depth I used was 300mm/min or ~12 inch/min.
  • Use cutting fluid. We had some nice cutting fluid in the shop, but if you don't have any of that, mineral oil or even water (since we're cutting aluminum) will work. Be careful about getting it on surfaces that you want to keep nice (like your nice walnut), it'll stain and won't come out.
  • Make sure your bit is sharp. Use a fresh one.
  • Keep a steady hand on the e-stop.
  • Wear eye protection. Aluminum shards in your eye are no joke! (No Inventables employees were harmed in the milling of this aluminum).

Once your piece is cut out, I recommend going over the edges with a burnisher or de-burring tool. The edges can be very sharp, so be careful.

The piece turned out really nice!

I think I pretty much covered the bases here, but if you have any other questions or want to share your own aluminum projects, hit us up in the comments below!

-Michael Una