Creating a Record, Edison-style

Gustaf 39-instant-smallGuest blogger Brett King is an award-winning steampunk artist, maker, and costumer, as well as a frequent attendee of the Alamance Makers Guild meetups. He loves to develop new skills and share his knowledge at maker faires and steampunk conventions across the country. You can follow his projects and appearances on his Facebook page.


As a steampunk artist and maker, I really love Victorian-era technology. Earlier this year I acquired a semi-functional Edison Fireside Phonograph from 1905, with the hopes of taking it to steampunk conventions and maker faires. These spring-wound phonographs played wax cylinder records through an amplifying horn. After learning about how phonographs worked and what additional parts I needed by leveraging sites like Interique, the Edison Shop, the Online Edison Phonograph Discussion Board, and eBay, I was able to restore the phonograph to at least a functional state.

After the restoration, I went looking for some records to play on my phonograph. I found the perfect song, perhaps the first "steampunk" song ever recorded - "Come Take a Trip in My Airship" (1904). It tells the story of a woman in love with an airship sailor who takes her to the moon and beyond. It had been released by Edison on wax cylinder, but I was having trouble finding a surviving copy. Many of the old wax cylinders develop a mold that ruins the recording, so finding a particular title can be challenging.

So, I decided to see if I could get a new version of the song made and put on to a wax cylinder. For the song, I reached out to one of my favorite steampunk musicians, the fantastic Unwoman, who does original music as well as covers. She graciously agreed to record the song if she could also release it through her Patreon and Bandcamp pages.

For the wax cylinder, I contacted the Victrola Guy, who has an incredible YouTube channel on old music players. He creates new wax cylinders by shaving the wax off of old moldy cylinders. He then plays MP3s through a speaker into an original Edison recording device which cuts the grooves in the record.

The result is one of the few new recordings done for a 2-minute Edison wax cylinder in the last hundred years. Unwoman is looking to create additional cylinders through a KickStarter campaign, so follow her Facebook page if you would like one of these records for your own.

The video above shows the record playing on my phonograph, with the setting being an interactive airship bridge I created for steampunk events.

One thing to note is that the record should sound louder and more clear than it does in my video. On these phonographs, most of the sound quality comes from the reproducer, which is a metal shell containing a copper diaphragm connected to a sapphire stylus (needle) by a wire. These mechanisms typically need to be rebuilt every 100 years or so, and mine was not at the time I created the video. I have since rebuilt the reproducer and the sound has improved. The pre-wax version of the song on Unwoman's Patreon page sounds much better, obviously.

Edison Phonograph Reproducer
Edison Phonograph Reproducer with 4-minute record stylus (left) and 2-minute stylus (right)

The film playing during the video is from Fleischer Studios, best known for creating Betty Boop. This particular film is from “Dancing on the Moon (1935)”. There is actually a video for Come Take a Trip in My Airship that was done in 1924 and 1930 that has some historical significance. It was the first fully synchronized music video, and the second video to feature the iconic “Follow the Bouncing Ball.” Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of the video that I can edit to get it to line up with the song, but I will keep searching!

September Updates from the Alamance Makers Guild (Newsletter Issue #0 9-15-2015)


We've launched a new monthly e-mail newsletter for the Alamance Makers Guild! Going forward we will publish major updates and news around the 15th of each month. We may also send out smaller updates (like event reminders) as the need arises. Anyone who is a dues-paying member of the Makers Guild and anyone who has signed up for our newsletter at one of our public events (Burlington Mini Maker Faire, Burlington's Maker Takeover, Open Meetings of the AMG, etc.) or via this link will receive a copy. We will also post content from each month's newsletter here on our blog.

This is the first "Beta" edition of our new newsletter (Issue #0 9-15-2015)

Summary of Topics:

1) Next Alamance Makers Guild Open Meeting (September 17th)
2) Alamance Makers Guild Membership Drive (Founding Membership Closes on September 17th)
3) Neil deGrasse Tyson Tickets (give-away for members only)
4) Charlotte Mini Maker Faire (October 10th)
5) First Ever Nation Wide Barnes & Noble Mini Maker Faire (November 6th through 8th)
6) Elon Maker Hub
7) Maker Space Talk at the Teaching and Learning Conference (Elon University)
8) Alamance Burlington School System and the AMG
9) Blessed Sacrament School and the AMG
10) Alamance Community College and the AMG
11) Burlington and the AMG (DSS Bench + Go Vote in October and November!)

Learn more about these topics:

1) Next Alamance Makers Guild Open Meeting:

The next open meeting of the Alamance Makers Guild is set for Thursday September 17th at 7:00pm at Sylvan Learning Center of Burlington. The special topic for September is Retro Computing and Gaming. Members of the Makers Guild will be bringing in examples of older computer and video game systems to talk about the technology and to share in the experience of what computing was like in the 1980's, 1990's, and early 2000's. Think Commodore 64, Apple II, Original IBM PC, Atari 2600, and other systems. We'll also show folks how they can install emulators and other software to have these kinds of experiences on their modern laptops and pc's.

Learn more and/or RSVP at:

September Open Meeting: Retro Computing and Gaming Night

Thursday, Sep 17, 2015, 7:00 PM

Sylvan Learning Center
2356 S Church St Burlington, No

8 Makers Attending

NOTE: This meeting will take place on the Third Thursday of September [masked]) instead of our normal Second Thursday.For the September Open Meeting of the Alamance Makers Guild we're back at Sylvan Learning Center to do something special!We're doing a Retro Computing and Gaming NightWe'll have examples of older computer systems, video game sy...

Check out this Meetup →


Facebook Events:

As always Alamance Makers Guild Open Meetings are free, family-friendly, and fun!

Please RSVP so we'll be able to properly plan for attendance.
Dinner is MiMi's Pizza Buffet Style ($6/person for those wishing to eat dinner)... otherwise the event is free.

Photos and possibly video will be posted to the Alamance Makers Guild Fan Page on Facebook at some point after the meeting.

2) Alamance Makers Guild Membership Drive:


The Alamance Makers Guild is continuing its membership drive with “Founding Member” status ending on September 17th 2015 (at the next open meeting of the Alamance Makers Guild). The Alamance Makers Guild is working towards its non-profit 501(c)(3) status and is currently piggy-backed on the Alamance Arts Council while we work on the application. We will always produce our monthly meetings, the Burlington Mini Maker Faire, and other events throughout the year as open and free to the public (to lower barriers to entry and as community outreach) but we do have many expenses related to the Guild and our events and community outreach. We are 100% volunteer based (no salaries or other payouts). We rely 100% on dues paying members, sponsorships, and donations for our operation.

Anyone wishing to join the Alamance Makers Guild as a member may do so in one of three ways:

* Join anytime online at our website at Payment via PayPal/Credit Card.
* Download a PDF Membership form from our website and mail back to the AMG via the address on the form (payment via check)
* Join at any Alamance Makers Guild Open Event. Payment via cash, check, credit card, or PayPal.

Individual Membership starts at $36/Year and decreases per person as you add family members ($120/year for a family of up to 5 people). We can also offer free-scholarship memberships (by board vote) to those interested in active participation but who might not be able to afford this fee.

Full membership information can be found on our website.

3) Neil deGrasse Tyson Tickets:

The AMG have two tickets to the sold-out Neil deGrasse Tyson talk at the DPAC  in Durham on October 8th and will be giving them away by random drawing to one dues-paying member of the Alamance Makers Guild at our September 17th meeting. To be eligible for the drawing you must be a dues paying member and have signed up between January 1st 2015 and September 17th 2015 at 8:30pm.

4) Charlotte Mini Maker Faire:

Discovery Place in Charlotte NC and the Charlotte Hackerspace (Maker Space) have partnered to produce the first Charlotte Mini Maker Faire on Saturday October 10th from 10:00am to 4:00pm at Discovery Place in downtown Charlotte. Since we have four years experience producing the Burlington Mini Maker Faire we have been helping Charlotte with their planning and preparation for this event. We are glad to again have a second Maker Faire in the state of North Carolina. (Maker Faire NC in Raleigh ceased production for 2015 and their future for 2016 is uncertain.)

The Alamance Makers Guild will have a large exhibit including 12 makers at the Charlotte Mini Maker Faire. We will be there to promote Burlington/Alamance County NC as a Maker City and Maker Community. We will also be inviting attendees to join us in Burlington for the 5th Annual Burlington Mini Maker Faire set for next April.

The Charlotte Mini Maker Faire is a for-pay event, attendance costing the same as attendance to the Discovery Place Museum.

Learn more:

5) First Ever Nation Wide Barnes & Noble Mini Maker Faire:

Make Magazine (creators of Maker Faire) have partnered with Barnes & Noble to produce a Nation-Wide event at Barnes & Noble Stores on November 6th, 7th, and 8th. 650 Barnes & Noble stores across the US will be taking part including our own B&N here in Burligton. The Alamance Makers Guild has been in touch with the management of our local store and we are excited to be partnered with them to help produce this event!

This in-store Mini Maker Faire will be a lot different from other Mini Maker Faires in terms of size and scope. The plan is to have a rotating series of speakers, demonstrations, and events throughout the day and evening for each of the three days of the event.

In addition to exhibiting and demonstrating Maker Projects and doing Maker Talks the Alamance Makers Guild will also be helping our local B&N by identifying and coordinating other Maker Exhibits and Activities.

Our goal is to produce the best in-store Mini Maker Faire events for B&N in the State of North Carolina, and one of the best (if not the best) event nation wide!

Learn More:

If you or your local organization is interested in participating in this Mini Maker Faire please contact me (Ben Harris) at We are working with our local store and will have more details relating to this event soon.

6) Elon Maker Hub:

Elon's Maker Hub (inside Harper Hall)
Elon's Maker Hub (inside Harper Hall)

Elon University has launched its first Maker Space on campus for students. It is called “Elon's Maker Hub” and is located on the first floor of Harper Hall in the Colonnades residential neighborhood on main campus. The facility is student managed and is open to any Elon University student for a set number of hours each week. The facility currently includes three 3D printers of varying types, a digital sewing and embroidery machine, an electronics lab and prototyping area (including Raspberry Pi, Arduino, and other micro controllers), high-end workstations for programming and mobile app development, and general purpose work space for a variety of hands-on projects.

Photos from my tour of the Maker Hub are here:

I'm pleased to be able to report that two of the student managers of the Maker Hub were able to attend last month's Open Meeting of the Alamance Makers Guild. We hope to continue to grow our connections, networking, and collaboration with Elon faculty and students and continue to offer our support and other outreach to them.

7) Maker Space Talk at the Teaching and Learning Conference (Elon University):

Elon University hosted a Teaching and Learning Conference for higher education professionals on August 13th 2015. As part of this event I (Ben Harris) was asked to participate as a speaker during a panel discussion about the role of Maker Spaces in Universities. Other speakers included Maker Space managers from NCSU, UNC, UNC-G, and Davidson College.

Elon has posted the video of this discussion on YouTube here:

8) Alamance Burlington School System and the AMG:

The Alamance Burlington School System is now working with the Alamance Makers Guild on ways that the Makers Guild can help support STEM education and Maker Spaces in our public schools. During a late-summer meeting we discussed ways that we can ramp up a partnership over the course of two to five years that will benefit Career and Technical Education, STEM Education, and other programs within our schools.

Currently the coordinators for Career and Technical Education and STEM Education are identifying teachers within ABSS that may act as champions to work with the AMG. Graham Middle School has recently opened the first School Maker Space in Alamance County and several teachers from Graham attended last month's Alamance Makers Guild Meeting.

We are currently planning on expanding the 2016 Burlington Mini Maker Faire to include a new ½ day long “Education Day” on the Friday before the main Maker Faire on Saturday. During Education Day K-12 students, teachers, and parents can participate in STEM and Maker Events, share projects, network with each other, and demonstrate the importance of STEM and Career and Technical Education to the public.

Other area schools including Blessed Sacrament School of Burlington will also play a big role in this new Education Day. Our goal is to bring in students and projects from three to eight ABSS Schools plus Blessed Sacrament and possibly others for our first year with the goal of ABSS-wide involvement in future years as ABSS and the AMG are better prepared to handle such a large event.

Dr. Harrison, superintendent of ABSS is planning to write a blog post for the ABSS website about his trip to the White House with the AMG earlier this year plus connections with the Maker Movement and STEM Education in the near future. (stay tuned for a link as soon as its live)

9) Blessed Sacrament School and the AMG:

By request of BSS we've made a new (condensed) video of the Blessed Sacrament School Near Space Mission from the 2015 Burlington Mini Maker Faire. This project won 3rd place in the Global Space Balloon Challenge (against 100's of other entries) for most educational project.

The new video can be found here:

The Alamance Makers Guild has helped to kick off Blessed Sacrament School's STREAM (STEM) curriculum for the 2015/2016 school year! Ben Harris (director of the Alamance Makers Guild) spoke as the first STREAM Friday Speaker to update middle school students on the summertime activities of the Makers Guild and to talk about new projects we've been working on in CNC Manufacturing and 3D printing.

Last week Alamance Makers Guild Board Member Lee Atkinson spoke at BSS for STREAM Friday and talked about the Raspberry Pi micro computer.

Photos of Lee's talk can be found here:
Video of Lee's talk can be found here:

Blessed Sacrament School teachers attended a summer workshop with NASA and now have a license to handle certain scientific materials from NASA. They have applied for the dates of the 2016 Burlington Mini Maker Faire and hope to have actual moon rocks collected during the Apollo Missions on display at their exhibit at the Maker Faire here in Burlington!

Following from our 2015 Space Launch theme for 2016 we are on a “Mission to Mars” for the Maker Faire with student projects related to wearable electronics, Mars Habitats and Colonies, and robotics projects related to Mars Exploration. (ABSS students/teachers are invited to participate in these projects as part of Education Day and the Main Maker Faire)

10) Alamance Community College and the AMG:

Pleased to be able to announce a partnership between the Alamance Makers Guild and Alamance Community College's Graphic Design and Advertising Program related to the 2016 Burlington Mini Maker Faire. As part of their class work ACC students in Graphic Design and Advertising will be working to create designs for printed and laser-cut pop-up programs for next year's BMMF. Students will compete for a winning design that meets branding guidelines and ACC will produce the winning design as an in-kind donation to the 2016 BMMF. More details as this project matures.

ACC's new Epilog Laser Cutter/Engraver
ACC's new Epilog Laser Cutter/Engraver

Ben Harris (Founder and Director of the AMG and BMMF) has been asked to speak at next week's President's Cabinet Meeting at Alamance Community College. The topic is ACC's new Center of Excellence and how the Alamance Makers Guild, Burlington Mini Maker Faire, and the future Maker Space Ben is working to develop can work together with ACC around Mechatronics and other areas covered by their new center of Excellence.

11) Burlington and the AMG:

The DSS Elder Abuse Awareness Bench now has a custom plaque including a QR Code and printed link to a story on the AMG Blog that details the project including design and construction (with links to photos and videos). Anyone enjoying the bench can use the QR code to learn more about this community project.

Learn more about the bench here:

The Alamance Makers Guild is not a political organization and we do not endorse any particular party, platform, or candidates. However, we do encourage everyone (AMG Members and Followers) to exercise their rights as a citizen to get out and vote in this year's municipal primary election on Tuesday October 6th and the main municipal election on November 3rd. Elections include races for the Mayor of Burlington and City Council Positions for Burlington. One question for these local elections related to our Maker Community should be “Are you aware of Burlington's involvement in the Mayor's Maker Challenge through the White House and what are your plans if elected to continue or expand this program and/or to continue or expand the city's relationship with the Alamance Makers Guild to promote new small businesses, new US/Burlington-based manufacturing, and support for STEM education related to the Maker Movement?”



Making the DSS Elder Abuse Awareness Bench

June 15th 2015 was World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, a day set aside to help raise awareness of elder abuse, elder care, and ways to identify, treat, and prevent abuse of elders in our communities. June 15th also fell during a week proclaimed by the President of the United States as a National Week of Making.

Dedication of the Elder Abuse Awareness Bench at the Kernodle Senior Center in Burlington
Dedication of the Elder Abuse Awareness Bench at the Kernodle Senior Center in Burlington

Victor Cardenas is a member of the Alamance Makers Guild who also works in Adult Protective Services at Alamance County Department of Social Services (DSS). He became aware of plans by DSS to purchase a park bench that they planned to paint purple (the color for World Elder Abuse Awareness) and donate to the Kernodle Senior Center here in Burlington to raise awareness and as the climax of a half-day long seminar on Elder Abuse. Victor suggested that the Alamance Makers Guild might be able to design and build a unique bench using CNC Router technology that would be a better value for the money than a mass produced bench purchased at a big-box store.

Victor came to us with the idea during one of our busiest times of year and we knew that most of the work to design, build, and paint the bench would fall during a week when we were also going to be traveling to Washington DC to attend the kickoff for the National Week of Making and also exhibiting for two days at the first ever National Maker Faire. During the week of Making we were also producing an event at Alamance Community College (a talk about the Maker Movement) and producing the first ever "Burlington's Maker Takeover" an event that was as large and complicated as our first Burlington Mini Maker Faire. In spite of all of these obstacles we felt this was a worthy project and that we were up to the challenge!

Learn more about the project, design, and solutions to problems we faced in this video:

Step 1: Designing the Bench

The criteria given to us by DSS for the bench were:

  • Buddy Bench that could comfortably and safely seat two adults (therefore 4 feet long)
  • The bench had to have a back (not just a flat bench)
  • Color had to be Purple (for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day)
  • The bench should survive outside in the elements and not require a lot of maintenance
  • DSS would pay for materials (budget of around $250 or less, the less money spent the better)
  • Alamance Makers Guild would design, build, and paint the bench
  • The bench had to be ready by early morning June 15th 2015 (for their Seminar)

Other limitations that we faced:

  • Time was our most limited resource due to all of the other projects and commitments we had going on around this date
    • Time for design and approval
    • Availability of AMG members to help out with the project especially with painting
    • All the people most involved in the project would be in Washington DC from Thursday June 11th till Saturday June 13th (driving home late that night)
    • The Weather... It was a fairly rainy and humid two weeks prior to the deadline of June 15th. All of our painting had to be done outside so we were at the mercy of the weather compounded with the rest of our schedule.
  • 24" x 18" working area for the ShopBot Desktop (the CNC Router we have access to)... no part that we made for the bench could be larger than this area (and benches with backs average 28 to 30 inches tall)
  • Use of PVC Lumber as the slats to make up the seat and back portion of the bench to avoid rotting and to reduce material costs. PVC Lumber would also reduce labor costs because it comes pre-finished with smooth edges and therefore no need to spend time to sand it. It also has a rough surface resembling wood grain pressed into its top surface that would give a nice slip-proof surface to the seating area. This lumber comes in 8-foot long pieces (simple to cut in half for two 4-foot pieces). The question, would it be strong enough?
Initial Cad Layout in Vcarve Pro
Initial 2D CAD Layout in Vcarve Pro (Back Support + Leg Segment)

The Design Process

  1. Research the dimensions and ergonomics of Bench design. We did this through a little online research and by taking measurements from existing benches.
    We found that a typical bench has the following dimensions:Height at front of seat: 16" on average
    Height at rear of seat: 14" to 16" on average (but typically slanting backwards)
    Width of seat: 12" on average
    Height of back (above back of seat): 12" on average
    Width of 2-person bench: 4' on average
    Base: Typically wider than seat with extra width at the rear of the bench (to prevent tipping over)
  2. Test the PVC Lumber for its ability to safely support the weight of two adults:We were planning a three leg design for the bench so that each slat making up the seat and back would only have two-feet between supports.We tested a 2-foot long scrap of PVC lumber that had the same width and depth as the pieces we intended to use for the design by placing it between two cinder blocks and standing on it with one foot (testing to approximately 190 pounds) and found that although the lumber had some minor deflection that it did not deform or crack.

    The requirement of a 12" wide seating area plus the fact that the PVC lumber comes in 3.5" and 1.5" widths meant we could use two 3.5" slats (in the center) and two 1.5" slats (one on the outer edge and one in the rear) to make up the seat. If one 3.5" piece could support 190 pounds then 2.5+ times this width should be able to offer support for up to 475 pounds (more than adequate for an average adult) We felt comfortable with the use of this extruded PVC Lumber as the material for seat and back slats.

  3. Translate our initial thumbnail sketch ideas for the bench + design criteria into actual geometry for an initial design + estimated material costs + physical model:I set up Vcarve pro CAD/CAM software for a blank material size of 24" x 18" x 3/4" and started to play around with our design criteria to see how to best utilize the material to cut out base/leg segments and how to support the back of the bench. The limit of 24" cutting width meant that the legs and back support could not be machined out of one solid piece. I decided to go with a split design where the seat slats would go through mortise joints on the base/legs and through L-shaped supports for the back support.Glued-up pine boards are available in lengths of 6-feet in widths of 18". This is important because we need to work with the strength of the grain of the wood in the design. We knew we could cut these pieces into three nearly 24" segments times two boards to make six panels. This meant to 3/4" wide leg supports for each end and the middle of the bench.In laying out the slats I kept a 1/4" gap between pieces (at their maximum gap) and made sure that the height of the edges at each gap was equal (so that there would be no raised edge to catch on clothing). I then varied the angle of each piece to make a sculpted curve that would hopefully be more comfortable to sit on and lean back against than a flat surface. I also tried to make sure that none of the pieces would be parallel to the ground (at zero degrees) so that water would be more likely to run off and not pool on slats when it rains.

    Once I'd worked out the basic geometry and layout of the pieces I printed out the 2D design onto paper, taped those sheets to a piece of cardboard, and cut out pieces with a hobby knife to make a scale cardboard model for the approval of DSS. This step would have been easier with access to a laser cutter by printing the file to a PDF and then cutting out of a material, saving me labor.

    Scale Cardboard Model of the Basic Bench Design
    Scale Cardboard Model of the Basic Bench Design

    Based upon our design we knew we would need the following bill of materials:

    2 - 18" x  6' x 3/4" Pine Boards (each cut in thirds making a total of six leg/base supports)
    3 - 3.5" x 8' x 3/4" PVC Lumber Boards (each cut in half to make five 4-foot long slats)
    2 - 1/5" x 8' x 3/4" PVC Lumber Boards (each cut in half to make 3 Slats and 1 Base Stretcher)
    75 - Brass #10 Wood Screws (ranging from 1.5" to 2.5")
    White outdoor primer paint
    Purple outdoor finish paint

    Total cost would be less than the $250 maximum budget. Our concept, model, and budget were approved by DSS.

  4. Refine the approved design into a final CAD design plus CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) to create toolpaths that the ShopBot Desktop could use to cut out the pieces.
    3D view of final CAD/CAM Design
    3D view of final CAD/CAM Design (note: the program depicts the direction of the grain incorrectly, in the actual project the grain of the wood is going from left to right to give maximum strength to the legs)

    I added a few details to the CAD design for the bench pieces including:

    An oval cutout in the center of each base/leg piece to help reduce the mass of the bench and make it a little more visually interesting

    Added tenons to the bottom of the legs so that PVC feet could be added via a mortise joint. These feet will support the bottom of each "sandwich" of two base/leg pieces and will provide a rot-resistant surface to place in contact with the wet ground. Adding these feet also allows for a few inches of increase to the width of the base of the bench to help prevent tip-over risk.

    Added 1" holes to the bottom of the outer pieces for each base/leg that can be used as a place to run a hold down chain to prevent unauthorized movement of the bench.

    Added a through-mortise slot in the base/legs for a 1.5" x 3/4" stretcher that will go across the bottom of the bench and help to hold the bench square.

    Added hold-down holes for machining purposes. These holes are placed at strategic points around the design so that they will be clear of any cutting action by the CNC machine. These screws will keep the board in place as the CNC machine removes material.

    Added a hold-up piece to some of the waste area of the boards that would later be used to hold pieces off the ground while painting the bench. This material would go to waste otherwise so why not make use of it for the painting and assembly of the bench?

    All of the pieces of the bench are identical except the two outermost base/leg pieces. These pieces have stop-mortises to fully enclose the seat slats instead of through-mortises like all of the other pieces. This required the creation of an additional cutting file for the left-end piece and the creation of a completely different file for the right-end piece. The right-end piece was mirrored left-to-right so that it could be cut out with the correctly facing mortise pockets. I set up the cutting paths as modular jobs so that I wouldn't have to make a cutting file for each of the six boards, but instead could use different operations in order to make the pieces I needed. I printed out a check sheet that listed the six boards and exactly which of these tool paths would need to be cut (in order) for each of them.

Step 2: Cutting out the Pieces with the ShopBot Desktop

Cutting out the Base/Legs and Upright Back Supports

  1. Install the Spoiler Board and Plane it Flat:Since we would be cutting through material it was important to place a spoiler board onto the ShopBot Desktop's bed in order to protect the ShopBot's bed and the cutting bit from damage. I used a 24" x 24" x 1/2" thick piece of MDF Particle Board as a spoiler. Even though the ShopBot Desktop has a maximum cutting width of 18" there is more than enough room to mount a wider board on the machine. I had used this particular spoiler board previously for another project so I used a 1/2" planing bit to plane the surface flat (taking off a few thousandths of an inch) prior to machining any real parts from the board. We weren't doing any engraving or height sensitive work in this project but its still a good idea to start off from a known flat surface compared to the travel of the cutter tip. This process takes a few minutes.To plane the spoiler board first zero the X and Y axis of the machine (using the built-in limit switches on the ShopBot and the built-in routine in the ShopBot control software). Next move the cutting head to the rough center of the spoiler board and use the Z-zero plate to establish the top surface of the board. There is a board planing routine in the ShopBot control software that will generate the G-code (Open ShopBot Code) file necessary for planning your spoiler board flat. This routine simply asks the width and length of the board, and the desired planing depth.
    Witness Marks from Cut-Through
    Witness Marks from Cut-Through: (after cutting out parts for this project) you can see why its important to first plane the spoiler board flat between projects)


  2. Mount the blank material to the spoiler board establishing safe hold-down:For this project we are cutting pieces out of a larger blank of material and there is a good 1/4" margin around the cutouts around pieces so down to 1/1000" tolerance on material placement isn't critical. I placed the blank board on the spoiler board at the origin position and roughly parallel to the X-axis of the machine.The next step is to place the cutting bit into the spindle of the ShopBot. For this project I used a 1/4" diameter 4-fluted flat end mill with a 1" cutting depth. A single fluted cutter would have produced larger chips and less sawdust but I didn't have one that was capable of cutting through 3/4" handy. Bit RPM and machine cutting rate (Speeds and Feeds) are important to figure out for a project, but I got good results with the standard settings associated with my cutting bit.There is no need to re-zero the X and Y axis since we've already established the 0,0 origin in the last step and haven't powered off the ShopBot desktop between steps.

    You do have to re-zero the Z-axis since we've removed material from the spoiler board in the last step AND since the machine/control-software have no way of knowing how thick your blank material is.

    Once the machine is re-zeroed for Z I ran the cutting file for the hold down screws. This cutting file peck-drills the surface of the board to 1/4" at the location of each hold down screw. A very fast operation. There is no need for serious hold down methods for this operation because there is no lateral force on the blank material AND the mass of the board itself is enough to hold it in place along the Z-axis for these simple peck-drilling operations.

    Once the ShopBot had finished its operation I used a hand-drill to drill pilot holes through the blank and into the spoiler board. I then attached the blank material to the board using 1.5" long drywall screws.

  3. Run the cutting files (in order) to cut out the pieces.Again there is no need to re-zero the X and Y axis because we've already done that in the previous step and all cutting paths will work relative to the origin we've established.There is also no need to re-zero the Z axis because we've already established the top surface of the blank material in the last step.We've added tabs to all profile cutting paths where parts will be cut totally free from the blank material. These tabs are not cut by the machine and instead stay in place to keep the part you are cutting out from being able to move once all of the rest of the material holding it to the blank is machined away. Without tabs the final cut-through on a part might catch the edge of the part (especially small and light ones) and cause the damage to the part or to your cutting bit.

    Once the machine finished cutting out each piece the hold-down screws are removed and the blank (with parts still in place thanks to tabs) is removed from the spoiler board so that the tabs can be cut out by hand liberating each part from the blank.

    The process of hold-down-screws and then running the cutting files was performed six times (once on each of the six blanks to make the six base/legs and the three upright back supports)

    Result of the CNC Cut Out, a Base/Leg Piece Liberated from its Blank
    Result of the CNC Cut Out, a Base/Leg Piece Liberated from its Blank (notice the leftover tab along the bottom of one of the legs)


Cutting out the "Special" Pieces

There were two sets of "Special" pieces for this project. Special because of how they had to be cut out. The first special cut was a pocket for one of the back slats that would later receive a plaque engraved with information about the bench and a link and QR-code back to this very article. The challenge... the back slat is 4-feet long and the ShopBot Desktop CNC Machine can only machine pieces that are a maximum of 24" long, the pocket has to be placed in a precise location along the width of the board leaving an equal margin on top and bottom. The solution... something similar to the idea of "plating"

  1. Create a pocket cut-out on the spoiler board that can be used to hold the back slat cantilevered out from the front edge of the machine. This tool path will cut a pocket from near the back of the cutting depth of the machine (18" away from 0 on the Y axis) and 2/3 of the depth of the spoiler board. Since the PVC lumber is very dimensionally  stable its possible to measure its width to an accuracy of thousandths of an inch and then cut the width of the hold down channel with a very small clearance so that the board can be held in place by friction.
  2. Create the geometry for the cut-out for the pocket on top of the same coordinates as the hold-down channel and create tool-paths in Vcarve pro.
  3. Zero the Z-axis to the top of the spoiler board and cut out the hold-down channel pocket.
  4. Place the 4-foot long back slat into the hold-down channel pocket (a tight friction fit) and make sure the length of the board sticking out of the front of the ShopBot is supported. This step might require some sanding along the outer wall (furthest from the Y axis) if you haven't left enough clearance or due to tolerances in the machine.
  5. Re-zero the Z-axis to the top of the back slat board.
  6. Cut out the pocket tool path for the plaque.
    Machining at a precise location on a board too big for the ShopBot Desktop
    Machining at a precise location on a board too big for the ShopBot Desktop. (Clockwise from left) 1) Cutting out the hold-down channel, 2) Placing the board into the hold-down channel cantilevered out of the front of the ShopBot Desktop, 3) Cutting out the Pocket at a precise location along the channel, 4) The final product with equal margins and precise location.


The second set of "special" pieces were the feet made out of PVC Lumber. The design of the bench left behind a 4-foot long section of 3.5" x 3/4" slat that I planned to use as material to make feet for the bench. The feet would each have a two mortise joints (cut out as pocket tool paths) to house the tenons on the bottom of each base/leg piece. Additionally the mortises had to be 3/4" apart and parallel to make up each "sandwich" panel for the legs (which are made up of two boards with the upright/back support sandwiched between them). I also wanted to cut a radius to relieve the corners on each foot piece and a curved back for the rear feet.

Cutting ON a part (at a precise location) is different than cutting OUT a part from a blank, i.e. the exact location of the blank matters when cutting ON and isn't as critical when cutting OUT.  To solve this problem for the feet I used a technique similar to the channel hold-down for the back slat.

  1. Create a pocket in the spoiler board for hold-down of the front and back feet blanks. (the front foot is narrower than the back foot). The pocket is set to 2/3 of the depth of the spoiler board and machined to the precise width of the PVC lumber blank. The length of each pocket is determined by the desired length of the part which is then cut manually on a chop-saw to this same length.
  2. Create the geometry and toolpaths for the rounded corners and the mortises in Vcarve pro at the precise locations of the pocket hold-down geometry.
  3. Add the blanks to the pockets (sanding or adjusting the pockets as necessary for a snug fit) and then reset the Z-zero for the ShopBot Desktop at the top surface of the blanks.
  4. Remove the blank from the spoiler board.
  5. Run the tool path for the profile cuts (cutting away the corners and adding the oval-cutout to the back feet) without the blanks on the board. This is necessary to remove additional material from the spoiler board that accounts for the kerf of the cutter while making these cuts. This avoids problems of encountering different densities while cutting out the PVC later and avoids pushing any MDF sawdust into the PVC material.
  6. Place the PVC Blanks into the spoiler board and run the cutting file (first the mortise joints and then cutting away the corners)
    Special Cuts #2: Machining the feet ON blank material
    Special Cuts #2: Machining the feet ON blank material. (Clockwise from Left) 1) Pockets machined into the spoiler board to hold the blanks, 2) Pockets after running the round-off profiles for the radius-ed corners and oval cutout of the feet, 3) Inserting the blank PVC lumber into the pockets for machining, 4) the final product with mortise pockets and rounded off corners.


Step 3: Finishing and Assembling the Bench

  1. Use a carving knife (or wood chisel) to cut off the tabs left behind from cutting out the bases/legs and back-supports.
  2. Sand the wooden pieces down (getting rid of the "fuzzies" left behind by the router bit we chose to use.)

    Sanding the pieces prior to painting and assembly
    Danny Sanding the Pieces Prior to Painting and Assembly
  3. Test fit the pieces by assembling the bench.
  4. Drill pilot holes for the brass screws that are used to hold the bench together. Each 3.5" slat (back or seat) gets two screws and each 1.5" slat (back or seat) gets one screw. Use a counter sink bit to make a counter sink for the screws head so that the screws will sit flush to the boards. Pilot holes are necessary to avoid splitting any of the lumber. Since this operation is done at right angles to the pieces they must be done by hand, as a result each screw hole is uniquely placed. Make sure to keep track of which seat/back slat goes in which location.
  5. Paint the pieces of the bench with a primer coat. We painted all the wooden pieces with a white base coat (on all surfaces including inside mortise joints) to seal the wood against moisture and the elements. We painted the PVC seat and back slats using the finish purple paint because we determined that the PVC's natural white finish and non porous surface wouldn't require the extra sealing white primer coat.

    Victor Painting a Purple Primer Coat on the Seat/Back Slats
    Victor Painting a Purple Primer Coat on the Seat/Back Slats
  6. Reassemble the bench. For this step we ran into a slight problem. I hadn't allowed enough clearance in the mortise joints to account for the addition of primer paint to both the joint and the seat/back slats. I wanted a tight joint but the end result was a little too tight. We were able to avoid sanding out the paint by using a rubber mallet to gently tap the seat and back slats into place. To avoid this in the future I'd add a larger tolerance to the mortise joints expanding them by several thousandths of an inch.

    Victor assembling the Base/Leg + Upright Back Support "Sandwiches"
    Victor assembling the primed Base/Leg + Upright Back Support "Sandwiches" We used the small amount of leftover PVC lumber as "guide pins" to help with the alignment and assembly of the three legs.
  7. Finish Paint the Bench with Purple Paint. We painted all surfaces except the bottom of the PVC feet (did not want to leave paint to scuff off on the pavement depending upon the final position of the bench). We made sure to get into all corners and areas to provide a seal against the elements. We ended up putting two coats of paint on the bench.
    Alamance Makers Guild Members Come Together in Shifts to Paint the Bench
    Alamance Makers Guild Members Come Together in Shifts to Paint the Bench


Learn More:

There are many more annotated photos describing each step of the process of designing and building the DSS Elder Abuse Awareness Bench at the Alamance Makers Guild Facebook Page in This Photo Album. (should be open and view-able to everyone, even folks without a Facebook account, just click-through any sign-up notices)

Bonus Video: Bench Dedication and Elder Abuse Awareness Day Seminar

In the video below Ben Harris (founder and director of the Alamance Makers Guild and primary designer of this Bench Project) talks briefly about the process of building this bench and the importance of Community Maker Projects during the Bench Dedication at the Kernodle Senior Center in Burlington on June 15th 2015 (Elder Abuse Awareness Day)

While at the Kernodle Senior Center on June 15th Ben was able to record some of the Elder Abuse Awareness Seminar presented by Alamance County Department of Social Services for local law enforcement officers, healthcare professionals, government officials, and other interested members of our community. The information in the video should be interesting to anyone who wants to learn more about Elder Abuse and ways to identify, treat, and prevent it.

Burlington’s Maker Takeover at the Historic Depot in Downtown Burlington, NC | Communities Connections

Burlington-Maker-Takeover-logo-300x1661Our friends at Communities Connections originally published this article about our upcoming event. Thanks!

Burlington’s Maker Takeover at the Historic Depot in Downtown Burlington, NC
The president of the US has declared  June 12th to June 18th as a “National Week of Making” to highlight the Maker Movement and its power to help start new small businesses, bring back Manufacturing to the US and create new opportunities for hands-on STEM education. During this week the Alamance Makers Guild will be holding special events throughout the week.

Historic Train Depot (photo courtesy of Elizabeth Shaughnessy)

AMGlogo2014For the June Open Meeting of the Alamance Makers Guild they are doing something really special.

The first ever “Burlington’s Maker Takeover”; an evening of Making, Fun, Food, and Music outdoors at the Historic Depot in Downtown Burlington to celebrate the Maker Movement here in Burlington/Alamance County.

Burlington, NC is proud to be one of the first four “Maker Cities” in the state of North Carolina and to honor Maker Week, the Alamance Makers Guild is partnering with the City of Burlington and the Burlington Downtown Corporation to bring you this special event.

Restored Caboose (photo courtesy of Elizabeth Shaughnessy)

They will have hands-on “Maker Stations” with activities and demonstrations, maker talks and live local music at the amphitheater. There will be food from downtown restaurants, tours of the restored  caboose and activities from the Recreation and Parks Department  There will be something for everyone.

Come and learn about 3D printing, make pieces for the Monument Quilt, learn about robotics, get your hands dirty making something, play life-sized foosball, enjoy some music, have some great local food!

If you would like to show YOUR project (Maker, Artistic, Musical, Maker-Talk) then contact Ben Harris at to learn more and to reserve your free exhibit space.

This event is free, family-friendly and open to the general public. It’s also a great chance to meet some of the local makers and find out how you can get involved with the Maker Movement here, through the Alamance Makers Guild.

Please share this event with your family and friends. Hope to see as many of you there as possible!


Where: The Historic Depot and Amphitheater in Downtown Burlington (100 West Front Street)
When: Thursday June 18th from 5:00pm to 8:00pm (rain or shine). Exhibitor/Vendor Setup from 3:00pm to 5:00pm.
Parking: Lots of free parking in adjacent parking lots near the Depot and around town.
Food: Great dinner options from many of our downtown restaurants including the Deli at the Company Shops Market, Mosca’s Restaurant, the world famous Zack’s.

Exhibits, Bands and Speakers: Details Coming Soon! updates will be posted to the Alamance Makers Guild fan page at:

Thank you to the City of Burlington, NC – Government, Recreation and Parks, the Burlington Downtown Corp. and everyone else helping to bring this celebration of the Maker Movement to Downtown Burlington!

Source: Burlington’s Maker Takeover at the Historic Depot in Downtown Burlington, NC | Communities Connections

Makers Make – 3D Printing of DanHoven

FSS6FZTI0C952EL.SQUARE3Guest blogger, Dan Porter is a 3D printing enthusiast and Burlington Mini Maker Faire Alum, who has been a strong supporter of Alamance Makers Guild until opportunity took him to San Francisco. His new office overlooks the San Francisco Bay, as he works as a 3D Printing Engineer at AutoDesk, the owner of DIY site Instructables. Dan's last adventure in 3D printing before heading west was DanHoven, a realistic 3D model of his head joined to Bethoven's bust.

makerbot-store3-8006330439_78090a4faa_bNew York City, Home to Makerbot

While in New York for World Maker Faire, I made it a point to visit Makerbot, one of the first companies to put its focus on 3D printers the average person could afford. When we arrived at the small storefront, I felt just like when I went to Toys 'R' Us as a kid to plot my monumental wish list for Santa.

I soared through the store soaking in all of the moving parts of printers, the eccentric colors of their filament, and the novel gizmos and bobbles they printed. And it was all for sale.

Danhoven_ScanThen I spotted the coup de grâce. It was their 3D scanner and for only $5 I could get 3 professionally scanned 3D models of my head! The scanner whizzed around me, and collected data as I sat still, looking forward. On each of the three passes, I contorted my face a different way — stoic, smiling, snickering. The scans were uploaded and waiting for retrieval on my Thingiverse account.

From 3D Scan to Bust

beethoven-bust-thenewhobbyistI knew I wanted to print a bust of myself, and wearing a t-shirt during the bust scan did not convey the grandeur I was looking for. Stuck with this puzzle for a month or so, I stumbled across the missing piece — a program called MeshMixer, a free software by Autodesk. It allows you to easily merge 3D files together and apply small corrections like sculptor would to clay. It's an extremely useful piece of software and exactly what I needed to move forward.


I searched Thingiverse for historic busts that had been 3D scanned by other folks, and was surprised to find very few examples. One however was a definite gem and inspired me to push on. It was a bust of Beethoven by TheNewHobbyist. The rest became rather simple. I loaded the 3D scan of my head into Mesh Mixer with the 3D file of Beethoven's bust, deleted Beethoven 's head, and then merged my head onto his shoulders thus giving myself some very dapper attire!

3D Print Round 1A 4" model of my bust would sit nicely on my desk, so I scaled it down and exported the STL file to a USB stick. I was now ready to 3D print my model. The printer I used was designed and produced by Fusion 3 Designs in Greensboro, NC. The only steps left now we're to put a little Elmer's glue in the print bed to hold it in place and press the big Go button.

You can see the results. DanHoven is currently sitting on my work desk where I hope to trick passers-by that I have an actual historic bust on my desk like a real sophisticated person.

20150227_103156Not Quite Done Yet.

There are two steps I'd like to take next to further the project. First, I'd like to edit the Beethoven base of the model to be a little smoother so that it will match my head in appearance better. And second, I'd like to try painting the bust to look like actual stone, therefore upping my pretend classiness.

AMG – On the Roll in the Community!


The Alamance Makers Guild has been featured in Communities Connections Magazine. The article is focused on the February Open Meeting of Alamance Makers Guild and some info about our upcoming Alamance County Makers Roundtable.

Alamance Makers Guild invites all interested individuals from youths to retirees to participate and become new members of the group. Ben realizes that everyone has talents and/or skills, although sometimes the talents and/or skills must be found, created or even fine-tuned, each and every one of us have something special to offer when it comes to educating and promoting our community. Everyone is creative!

Read the full article here.>

In addition to the article, was featured this short video about AMG and our upcoming Alamance County Maker Roundtable. Check us out!