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CNC Steampunk Harp – Getting Your Guts in a Knot – Part 3


Elizabeth and Ryan with a fully strung harp

Elizabeth and Ryan with a fully strung harp

[See Part 2]

At long last, the CNC Steampunk Harp that Elizabeth and I have been building is, at least functionally, finished! In previous posts, I documented the process of routing pockets in the side of the harp using PS:One’s CNC router, and our road trip to Sector67 in Madison, WI to use their seriously awesome laser cutter. This completed the work on all wooden parts of the harp, and so I could finally assemble it.

First, I had to glue the stiffener boards to the back of the sound board and used the drill press to make holes for the 33 strings. Gluing the sound board to the harp body required a lot of fast work: driving nails to hold the sound board in place, flipping it over and trying to wipe out the dripping glue while only having access to the inside via small holes, flipping it over to drive more nails, rinse, lather, repeat… all the while, the glue is starting to set. Then I glued the trim strips in place that covered all the nails. After that glue dried, I used a 1/4″ roundover bit on a router to clean up the sides of the sound box, and… oops! To my horror, I realized I forgot a step in the directions that said I was supposed to use extra nails to reinforce the area where the sound board joins the base near the pillar. Seeing as the harp has over 1000 lbs tension on the sound board and I really don’t want it pulling itself apart, I used the pneumatic nailer to shoot brads through the lower front trim strip. Then I needed to use wood putty to cover the brads. Oh, and did I mention that the angle of the nail gun wasn’t quite right and the brads poked through the bottom? So I had to bend them over with a nail set and cover those holes as well with wood putty. You live, you learn….

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03 2014

CNC Steampunk Harp – The Sector67 Field Trip – Part 2


Finished Sound Board

Finished Sound Board

[See Part 1]

The sound board of the harp had always been the wild card. Elizabeth and I began the project last year knowing that we’d want to use a laser cutter to etch it with some kind of Victorianesque steampunk design involving gears. And we knew that PS:One’s Epilog, with its 24″ x 12″ bed and no feedthrough capability, simply couldn’t fit a 49″ sound board. While design focused on the brass panels, as we did have access to a CNC router, the sound board was left for later, especially because we didn’t know if we could find a smaller laser cutter with feedthrough, meaning we needed a design that could be etched in pieces, or a large laser cutter that could engrave the entire sound board at once.

Elizabeth and I were planning a trip to Madison, WI, and we heard rumors that Sector67 had a colossal Chinese import laser cutter. I reached out to them asking if they would be willing to help with this project, and Chris Meyer, director of Sector 67, responded, inviting us to their space. Knowing what we had to work with, Elizabeth was able to create the design in Adobe Illustrator. Read the rest of this entry →


02 2014

CNC Steampunk Harp – Part 1


Side view of harp with pockets routed

Side view of harp with pockets routed

For the past year, Elizabeth and I have been collaborating on a project using the amazingly cool CNC tools at Pumping Station: One. The goal: to build a harp. Not just any harp, mind you. A steampunk harp! The idea was to start with a kit (the Voyageur harp from Music Makers, 33 strings, cherry) but heavily customize it as follows:

  • ┬áCNC cut brass panel inserts, inlaid in pockets routed in the sides of the harp
  • The brass panels would be etched using a galvanic etching process, similar to the one used by the Steampunk Workshop to create their clockwork guitar. Elizabeth would design the shape and custom artwork (gears, of course!) for this.
  • The sound board would be laser engraved with some type of steampunk design. The design is in progress, and we are searching for a laser engraver large enough to handle the sound board.
  • Although not strictly steampunk, I’d considered adding RGB addressable LED lighting under the neck of the harp, which could illuminate the strings, as well as respond to the pitch of the strings being played.
CNC routing brass

CNC routing brass

First, we had to start by routing the brass, using PS:One’s CNC 3020 router. Elizabeth drew the design, including the brass outline and the pattern we will use when we etch the brass. We did this last spring at PS:One, and we ran into massive problems with the brass vibrating and breaking end mills. The project remained dormant for many months until a breakthrough: What if we glued the brass to a scrap board? That would at least keep it immobile so it couldn’t chatter and bind on the end mill. The good news: This worked! Success! The bad news…. The Go To Home button on Mach3 does not, by default, raise the spindle before moving it. And a clamp was in the way. The result: A badly bent spindle. Well, all was not lost….
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01 2014

Lock Picking and SEM

spoolpinBack in October, Pumping Station: One hosted an event called Locktoberfest, an annual event run by the Chicago chapter of TOOOL (The Open Organisation Of Lockpickers.) It features, well, lockpicking, beer, and brats. (The beer is necessary to relax one’s hands. Really. I mean it.) A number of nationally known people came out to Chicago for this, including Deviant Ollam and Babak Javadi.

Lock picking involves manipulating small components. Small metal components, which are conductive, and would image well in a scanning electron microscope. And it just so happens that we’re probably the only hackerspace with a working SEM.

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12 2013

Raising the BAR

New Bar Front ViewIt all began with a dream: a cerebral lubrication station worthy of our fine hackerspace, serving as focal point to transform the lounge from a seldom used area into PS:One’s central communal nexus. From there, a collaborative project was born. PS:One member Greg Daneau built the first incarnation of our bar. He built the bar top from an unfinished door, an open frame supported it, and it had a foot rail made of pipe. The result was impressive, even if it was but a small shadow of the glory that the bar ultimately became. Thus began an asynchronous collaborative project, with hacker inspiring hacker to hack the bar to higher pinnacles of zymurgical greatness. And it arguably served as an “altar” for the budding Beer Church.

Kegerator InteriorSeeing the bar in all its inebriating glory inspired member Ryan Pierce to build a draft system and kegerator from a donated refrigerator. It can hold up to six 5-gallon Cornelius kegs (used frequently by homebrewers) or a single 15.5-gallon beer keg. A fan forces cold air through an insulated hose carrying the beverage lines to the draft tower. The draft tower itself was built from PVC pipe, fittings, and drain flanges. An insulated return hose carries the air back to the refrigerator. This air loop keeps the beverage lines and taps cold, which reduces the tendency of beer to foam in the line. Jeremy used our TIG welder to weld a drain pipe to a stainless steel drip tray, directing any spills into a bucket.

The existence of the bar and draft system steered the focus of Beer Church towards kegging. Cornelius kegs can hold finished beer and can be used for natural carbonation (caused by additional secondary fermentation from priming sugar) or forced carbonation supplied directly from a CO2 tank.

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09 2013

SEM, EDX and fun with liquid nitrogen

Our scanning electron microscope came with an Oxford Isis EDX detector that we were told was non-functional. After a little poking around, I discovered that the replacement power supply which supposedly didn’t work was shipped from London, where the default power is 240V. After changing the voltage, the computer suddenly recognized the electronics, and it passed all the self tests. That looked like a good sign, so the next step was to acquire liquid nitrogen, which is needed to cool the detector.

Fortunately, one of our members owns NFC, a company that, among other things, sells liquid nitrogen. He loaned us a dewar of LN2 so we could test it out. After transporting it back to the space, I asked Everett to watch from a safe distance and let me know if anything was spilling while I filled the dewar attached to the SEM. He took some video of the process. The plastic funnel I used was cracking as I was pouring, which in hindsight wasn’t that great of an idea, so maybe we need to find another solution here….

YouTube Preview Image

The detector took over an hour to cool down, but ultimately it worked beautifully! I kicked up the energy of the electron beam to 20 keV which excited the atoms in the sample to give off characteristic X-rays. The EDX unit measured the energy spectrum of the X-rays given off, and was able to suggest possible elements that have those peaks, which I could then label. The next day Susan Young, the microscopist who used this SEM when it was at its former home, came to the space to give me some advice on the EDX and the sputter coater.

At center is an aluminum sample stub, with a square of copper tape and a strip of carbon tape. The SEM is imaging an area showing all three surfaces.

At center is an aluminum sample stub, with a square of copper tape and a strip of carbon tape. The SEM is imaging an area showing all three surfaces.

After calibrating the detector on a copper target, I then tried imaging a sample that consists of an aluminum sample stub, copper foil, and carbon tape, that has some of each of these exposed. I’ve labeled three peaks for copper, one for aluminum, one for carbon, and one for oxygen. The peak at 0 is just an artifact of the detector. Here is a movie of the X-ray peaks building as the detector collects data:

YouTube Preview Image

Here is the complete spectrum:


The EDX detector has the ability to determine not just what is in a sample, but where it occurs in the sample. I did this by defining energy windows, above. One for carbon, one for one of the copper peaks, and one for aluminum. Each time the EDX detects an X-ray whose energy falls within one of the bands, the EDX sends a pulse on one of several channels to the SEM. The SEM operates in X-ray mapping mode and, because it knows the beam’s position when the pulse is received, it makes a dot on a color coded map showing where that element occurs. This map is an overlay on the secondary electron image of the sample.


The aluminum peak is colored cyan, which dominates the upper left part of the sample. Magenta corresponds to the copper peak, which appears primarily on the lower left. Orange represents carbon. The detector didn’t detect that much of the carbon peak (seeing as it’s the smallest of the three), but orange dots are clearly visible on the right hand side. The surface in the middle is the edge of the copper tape, but it is almost vertical relative to the electron beam, so it doesn’t seem to be giving off many X-rays.

All in all, this is seriously cool technology.

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07 2013

Pictures from the Scanning Electron Microscope

A few nights back, Brian and I took some images from the SEM. We exported them into TIF format, and then copied them via Sneakernet, a.k.a. using 3.5″ floppy disks and a portable USB floppy reader. I converted them into .png files. Click them for full 1024×768 resolution, the limit of the Leica image capture board. I’m very happy with how they turned out.

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04 2013

Scanning Electron Microscope Update

SEM and RyanBack in January, we got word that Philip Strong, a past member of PS:One, worked for a company that needed to get rid of a working scanning electron microscope and was considering donating it to PS:One. While we have an existing SEM in the space (a Leica S440, owned by JP, a member), this one supposedly was fully functional, had documentation, and we could get some help from the microscopist, Susan Young, who used it. Of course we were interested!

On Monday the 18th, I learn that yes, the donation was approved, but with a catch: It had to be moved on Saturday the 23rd! Read the rest of this entry →

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03 2013

Beer Church – Monday 9/3/12 Noon

In honor of Labor Day, Beer Church is making a temporary excursion to a new day, Monday! Won’t brewing be far better than going to the office? Yeah, it will.

We’re going to brew our second batch of beer. This will be Brewing Station: One’s first attempt at an all-grain recipe. We will brew an Irish draft stout, featuring British 2-row pale malt accented with flaked oats and roasted barley. All-grain beer takes a lot longer to make compared to extract or kit beer. We anticipate being ready to start the mash about noon, although we’ll be setting up and heating water beforehand.

We will certainly have tastings (Bring your favorites! Homebrews are highly esteemed). We will also have discussions of brewing, and possible future projects for Brewing Station: One. We might also try hacking an air conditioner onto Brewing Station: One’s temperature monitoring system, which will allow us considerably more control over over fermentation temperature.

You are of course welcome to come even if you do not consume beer or other alcoholic beverages! You must be 21 to drink at beer church. Come on down to 3519 N Elston at 12:00 PM on 9/3!


09 2012