Posts Tagged CNC

Homage Tek CC Cursor: Pivot Milling

A test to mill the pivot hole in 0.5 mm PETG sheet worked perfectly:

Tek CC - cursor pivot hole milling
Tek CC – cursor pivot hole milling

The cutter is a 3.175 mm = 1/8 inch router bit, one of a ten-pack that came with the CNC 3018 and to which I have no deep emotional attachment, held in a collet in the Sherline. The hole is 5.5 mm to fit an eyelet. The PETG is taped to a thin plywood scrap.

The hole happened by feeding G-Code manually into LinuxCNC, after touching off XYZ=0 at the center of the pivot and jogging up a bit:

g0 y-1.1625
g0 z0.5
g2 p5 z-1.5 i0 j1.1625

Yes, I engraved the hairline using a diamond drag tool on the CNC 3018, cut the cursor outline with a drag knife on the MPCNC, then milled the pivot hole on the Sherline. This seems way over the top, even to me, but that’s just how the tooling worked out right now.

In actual practice, I’d probably mill a stack of cursors and pivot holes on the Sherline in one setup, then engrave the hairlines in a suitable fixture. I think I know enough to fit a spring-loaded diamond drag bit into the Sherline’s 10 mm ID spindle or, worst case, conjure a block for the Z-axis carrier in place of the entire spindle mount.

At least now I can remember what I did to make the hole.


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Monthly Image: Digital Machinist 14.4 Cover

I ain’t getting richer, but I did get mah pitcher onna cover of th’ Digital Machinist:

Digital Machinist Cover DM14.4 - Winter 2019
Digital Machinist Cover DM14.4 – Winter 2019

I just caught George Bulliss in a weak moment. [grin]

It’s the diamond drag holder on the CNC 3018-Pro, before the XL axis extension hackage., with the probe camera stuck to the left side.

You can say you knew me before …



Drag Knife Cuttery: Entry & Exit Moves

The first pass at cutting laminated decks for the Homage Tektronix Circuit Computer left little uncut snippets at the starting point of the cut. The point of the drag knife blade trundles along behind the cutting edge and, when the ending point equals the starting point, leaves an un-cut sliver as it’s retracted vertically:

Drag Knife - LM12UU - knife blade detail
Drag Knife – LM12UU – knife blade detail

The knife blade isn’t aligned in any particular direction, so it can leave a nick on either side as it enters the deck vertically at the start of the cut.

Gradually entering the deck along the cut line gives the blade enough time to swivel around to the proper alignment before it gets down to serious cutting. Continuing the final cut past the starting point then allows the blade to recut anything remaining from the entry move.

The middle and top decks have windows exposing the scales:

Tek CC - radial text example
Tek CC – radial text example

The paths are basically two arcs connected by semicircular cuts, but with ramps on each end recutting the entry and exit paths:

Top Deck - Window Cut Path
Top Deck – Window Cut Path

The entry path in the upper left slants downward from the TravelZ level of 1.5 (-ish) mm to Z=0, with the nose of the blade holder flush against the surface and the blade sunk to its full length. The vertical path to Z=-2 (-ish) increases the cutting pressure from roughly the preload value to preload + 2*(spring rate), so the blade won’t ride up under the cutting forces.

The path then goes completely around the window at Z=-2, then ramps up to the TravelZ level again.

All of which produces a neat cutout that sticks to the Cricut mat when I peel the rest of the deck off:

Tek CC - MPCNC drag knife
Tek CC – MPCNC drag knife

That’s a middle deck before I started laminating them, but you get the general idea.

The GCMC code (extracted from the complete lump) looks like this:

  local WindowArc = 54deg;

  local ac = -17 * ScaleArc + ScaleRT/2;   // center of window arc
  local r0 = DeckRad - ScaleHeight;        // outer
  local r1 = DeckRad - 2 * ScaleHeight;    // inner

  local aw = WindowArc - to_deg(atan(ScaleHeight,(r0 + r1)/2));    // window arc minus endcaps

  p0 = r0 * [cos(ac + aw/2),sin(ac + aw/2),-];
  p1 = r0 * [cos(ac - aw/2),sin(ac - aw/2),-];
  local p2 = r1 * [cos(ac - aw/2),sin(ac - aw/2),-];
  local p3 = r1 * [cos(ac + aw/2),sin(ac + aw/2),-];

  arc_cw(p0 +| [-,-,0],ScaleHeight/2);    // blade enters surface
  move([-,-,KnifeZ]);                     // apply pressure

  arc_cw(p1,r0);                          // smallest arc
  arc_cw(p2,ScaleHeight/2);               // half a circle

  arc_cw(p1 +| [-,-,TravelZ],r0);         // exit from cut


Having measured the angular position of the window and its size on the original Tek CC, I compute the coordinates of the four points where the semicircular “end caps” meet the longer arcs, then connect the dots with arc_xx() functions to generate the G-Code commands. As always, using the proper radius signs requires trial & error.

While I was at it, I added entry & exit moves for the deck’s central pivot hole and outer perimeter.

I’m pretty sure the right CAM package would take care of that, but GCMC operates well below the CAM level.

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Homage Tektronix Circuit Computer: Pen Plotter Version

A reproduction circular slide rule from the mid-1960s may not be the cutting edge of consumer demand, but the pen version of a Tektronix Circuit Computer came out pretty well:

Homage Tektronix Circuit Computer - green on white laminated
Homage Tektronix Circuit Computer – green on white laminated

A Bash script compiles the GCMC code with eight different parameter combinations to produce pairs of G-Code files to draw (“engrave” being aspirational) and cut (“mill”, likewise) the three decks and the cursor.

The CNC 3018XL with a Pilot V5RT pen draws the deck scales on white paper:

Pilot V5RT holder - installed
Pilot V5RT holder – installed

Better paper definitely produces better results, so I must rummage through the Big Box o’ Paper to see what lies within. Laminating the decks improves their durability and matches the original Tek surface finish.

The MPCNC with a drag knife blade cuts through a laminated deck like butter:

Tek CC - MPCNC drag knife
Tek CC – MPCNC drag knife

Setting the XY origin to dead center on each deck requires carefully calibrating the USB video camera, with the end result accurate to maybe ±0.1 mm around the entire perimeter. Both machines move equal linear distances along both axes, which was definitely comforting.

Having made half a dozen cursors from various bits of acrylic, none of which look particularly good, demonstrates my engraving hand is too weak for a complete slide rule:

Tek Circuit Computer - cursor hairline
Tek Circuit Computer – cursor hairline

With logarithmic scales in hand, however, adapting the GCMC source code to produce general-purpose circular slide rules with only two decks and smaller diameters may be the way to improve my engraving-fu, as a full-scale Tektronix Circuit Computer would chew up three square-foot plastic sheets.

A general-purpose slide rule would need multi-color (well, at least bi-color) labels and digits for red “inverse” scales to remind you (well, me) they read backwards. Some slipsticks use left-slanting italics, left-pointing markers (“<2”), or other weirdness, but they’re all different.

An early small-scale version engraved on ABS came out OK, modulo poor ink fill:

Tek CC bottom - ABS 160g 2400mm-min
Tek CC bottom – ABS 160g 2400mm-min

Engraving the decks on hard drive platters doesn’t count:

Tek CC - bottom deck - scaled to HD platter
Tek CC – bottom deck – scaled to HD platter

All in all, it’s been an interesting exercise and, as you may have guessed, will become a Digital Machinist column.

The GCMC and Bash source code as a GitHub Gist:

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Tek Circuit Computer: Drag Knife Deck Cutting

Creating a paper version of the Tektronix Circuit Computer requires nothing more than a drag knife to cut the deck outlines:

Tek Circuit Computer - cursor hairline
Tek Circuit Computer – cursor hairline

The middle deck is a disk with a notch exposing the FL scale, a cutout window exposing the inductive time constant / risetime scale, and a wee circle for the Chicago screw in the middle:

Tek CC - middle deck outline
Tek CC – middle deck outline

Three angles define the notch:

  FLNotchArc = 85deg;                   // width exposing FL scale
  FLRampArc = 7deg;                     // … width of entry & exit ramps
  FLNotchOffset = 2deg;                 // … start angle from 0°

Given those, along with the deck radius and notch height (equals the underlying scale height), calculate four points defining the start and end of the ramps and connect the dots:

  local a0 = FLNotchOffset;
  local p0 = DeckRad * [cos(a0),sin(a0),-];

  local a1 = a0 + FLNotchArc;
  local p1 = DeckRad * [cos(a1),sin(a1),-];

  arc_cw(p1,-DeckRad);          // largest arc

  local r = DeckRad - ScaleHeight;
  local a3 = a1 - FLRampArc;
  local p3 = r * [cos(a3),sin(a3),-];

  local a4 = a0 + FLRampArc;
  local p4 = r * [cos(a4),sin(a4),-];

  arc_cw(p4,r);                 // smallest arc

  move(p0);                     // end of notch

  arc_cw([DeckRad,0,-],DeckRad);      // round off corner

The arc_cw() functions draw arcs, as you’d expect, with a positive radius tracing the shortest arc and a negative radius for the longest arc. Although I know how that works, I must still preview the result to verify the G-Code does what I want, not what I said.

The unhappy result of a wrong sign:

Tek CC - middle deck outline - wrong arc sign
Tek CC – middle deck outline – wrong arc sign

GCMC uses the (signed) radius to generate the XY coordinates and IJ offsets for G2 commands in the preferred center format:

G0 X88.846 Y3.103
G1 Z-2.000
G2 X4.653 Y88.778 I-88.846 J-3.103

Cutting the window starts from its angular width and offset, which are hardcoded magic numbers from the Tek artifact, and proceeds similarly:

  local WindowArc = 39deg;

  local ac = -6 * ScaleArc;                  // center of window arc
  local r0 = DeckRad - ScaleHeight;         // outer
  local r1 = DeckRad - 2 * ScaleHeight;     // inner

  local aw = WindowArc - to_deg(atan(ScaleHeight,(r0 + r1)/2));    // window arc minus endcaps

  local p0 = r0 * [cos(ac + aw/2),sin(ac + aw/2),-];
  local p1 = r0 * [cos(ac - aw/2),sin(ac - aw/2),-];
  local p2 = r1 * [cos(ac - aw/2),sin(ac - aw/2),-];
  local p3 = r1 * [cos(ac + aw/2),sin(ac + aw/2),-];


  arc_cw(p1,r0);                          // smallest arc
  arc_cw(p2,ScaleHeight/2);               // half a circle

Trust me on this: incorrect radius signs generate unrecognizable outlines. Which, of course, is why you preview the G-Code before actually cutting anything:

Tek CC - MPCNC drag knife
Tek CC – MPCNC drag knife

A similar hunk of code cuts the top deck; the bottom deck is a simple circle.

The workflow, such as it is:

  • Tape a sheet of paper (Index stock, Basis 110 = 10 mil = 0.25 mm) at the center of the 3018-ProXL platform
  • Plot (“engrave”) the scales with a pen
  • Affix paper to a Cricut sticky mat taped to the MPCNC platform
  • Touch off the origin at the middle
  • Drag-cut (“mill”) the outlines

Less complex than it may appear, but the GCMC file now spits out two G-Code files per deck: one to engrave / draw the scales on the 3018 and another to mill / cut the outlines on the MPCNC.

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Tek Circuit Computer: Acrylic Cursor Hairline

A slide rule needs a cursor with a hairline to align numbers on its scales:

Tek Circuit Computer - cursor hairline
Tek Circuit Computer – cursor hairline

The GCMC code generating the hairline is basically a move scratching one line into the surface with the diamond bit:



  repeat(2) {
    goto([DeckTopOD/2 - 3*ScaleHeight,0,-]);
    move([DeckBottomOD/2 + ScaleHeight,0,-]);

Two passes make the scratch deep enough to hold engraving crayon / lacquer / ink, without making it much wider. Laser engraving would surely work better.

In lieu of actually milling the cursor, this code scratches the perimeter:

  local dr = DeckBottomOD/2;
  local hr = CursorHubOD/2;
  local a = atan(hr - CursorTipWidth/2,dr);   // rough & ready approximation

  local p0 = hr * [sin(a),cos(a),-];          // upper tangent point on hub

  local c1 = [dr - CursorTipRadius,CursorTipWidth/2 - CursorTipRadius*cos(a),-];
  local p1 = c1 + [CursorTipRadius*sin(a),CursorTipRadius*cos(a),-];

  local p2 = c1 + [CursorTipRadius,0,-];      // around tip radius



  repeat(3) {


Three passes makes it deep enough to snap along the line:

Tektronix Circuit Computer - cursor outline
Tektronix Circuit Computer – cursor outline

If you look closely, though, you’ll find a little divot over on the left along the bottom edge, so I really must machine the thing.

Were I to go into production, I’d have to figure out a fixture, but I think I can just clamp a rough-cut acrylic rectangle to the Sherline’s table, mill half the perimeter, re-clamp without moving anything, then mill the other half.

Subtractive machining is such a bother!

The pivot holding the cursor and decks together is a “Chicago screw“, a.k.a. a “sex bolt“. I am not making this up.

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GCMC: Circular Slide Rule Scales

The Tektronix Circuit Computer, being a specialized circular slide rule, requires logarithmic scales bent around arcs:

Scale Tick Layout - Bottom Deck
Scale Tick Layout – Bottom Deck

Each decade spans 18°, except for the FL scale’s 36° span to extract the square root of the LC product:

FL = 1 / (2π · sqrt(LC))

The tick marks can point inward or outward from their baseline radius, with corresponding scale labels reading either inward or outward.

There being no (easy) way to algorithmically set the tick lengths, I used a (pair of) tables (a.k.a. vector lists):

TickScaleNarrow = {
… and so on …

The first number in each vector is the tick value in the decade, the log of which corresponds to its angular position. The second gives its length, with three constants matching up to the actual lengths on the Tek scales.

The Circuit Computer labels only three ticks within each decade in the familiar (to EE bears, anyhow) 1, 2, 5 sequence. Their logs are 0.0, 0.3, and 0.7, spacing them neatly at the 1/3 decade points.

Pop quiz: If you wanted to label two evenly spaced ticks per decade, you’d mark 1 and …

Generating the L (inductance) scale on the bottom deck goes like this:

  Radius = DeckRad - ScaleSpace;

  MinLog = -9;
  MaxLog = 6;
  Arc = -ScaleArc;

  dec = 1;
  offset = 0deg;
  for (logval = MinLog; logval < MaxLog; logval++) {
    a = offset + logval * Arc;
    dec = (dec == 100) ? 1 : 10 * dec;

  a = offset + MaxLog * Arc;

The L scale covers 1 nH to 1 MH (!), as set by the MinLog and MaxLog values. Arc sets the angular size of each decade from ScaleArc, with the negative sign indicating the values increase in the clockwise direction.

The first decade starts with a tick labeled 1, so dec = 1. The next decade has dec = 10 and the third has dec = 100. Maybe I should have used the log values 0, 1, and 2, but that seemed too intricate.

The angular offset is zero because this is the outermost scale, so 1.0 H will be at 0° (the picture is rotated about half a turns, so you’ll find it off to the left). All other scales on the deck have a nonzero offset to put their unit tick at the proper angle with respect to this one.

The scales have legends for each group of three decades, positioned in the middle of the group:

  logval = MinLog + 1.5;
  a = offset + logval * Arc;
  ArcLegend("nH - nanohenry  x10^-9",r,a,INWARD);

  logval += 3;
  a = offset + logval * Arc;
  ArcLegend("μH - microhenry  x10^-6",r,a,INWARD);

I wish there were a clean way to draw exponents, as the GCMC Hershey font does not include superscripts, but the characters already live at the small end of what’s do-able with a ballpoint pen cartridge. Engraving will surely work better, but stylin’ exponents are definitely in the nature of fine tuning.

With all that in hand, the scales look just like they should:

Tektronix Circuit Computer - Bottom Deck - scale detail
Tektronix Circuit Computer – Bottom Deck – scale detail

The GCMC source code as a GitHub Gist:

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