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Buildlog Title: Ryan's 1.0 Build

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Builder: r691175002
Member Since: 2010-12-13
reader comment Comment from: terabrain on Tuesday, May 29th 2018 - 3:15 PM
I know this is a extremely old build, but I remember it having great photos I was going to use to take some inspiration from. Most images are broken, do you keep a record of these somewhere else?

Saturday, April 30th 2011 - 12:23 AM

I used charcoal foam which is available at most foam places ( ). Apparently its Urethane-Ether foam. I got mine from a local foam converter.

The laser cuts through it like butter, its mostly air so it doesn't even smell that bad. Surprisingly the cut is completely perpendicular so you don't have the "cone" effect you get with acrylic. I used the normal lens which has a focal length of 1.5" or 2.5" (I really don't remember).

The engraving was done with retinaengrave.

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reader comment Comment from: Knack on Friday, April 29th 2011 - 4:11 PM
[quote="hoda0013"]That foam cutting looks really nice! Do you know what type of foam you used? What focal length lens did you use to cut it?

Great work. Looks like you've put the laser to good use already.[/quote]

Yea I think we need more info on the foam cutting. The applications for that alone are huge!
reader comment Comment from: hoda0013 on Friday, April 29th 2011 - 3:52 PM
That foam cutting looks really nice! Do you know what type of foam you used? What focal length lens did you use to cut it?

Great work. Looks like you've put the laser to good use already.
reader comment Comment from: trwalters001 on Friday, April 29th 2011 - 2:06 PM
What are you using to engrave? Mach plugin?

reader comment Comment from: Knack on Friday, April 29th 2011 - 1:48 PM
I'd love to see a video of your laser cutter cutting the foam.

Friday, April 29th 2011 - 12:40 AM

Here is just runthrough of a few of the things I have made with my laser.

First up is an acrylic enclosure for a charger circuit. I glued it pretty sloppily but it still looks fine. Acrylic cuts well but gluing it can be a problem because the cuts can taper (so the edges aren't 90 degrees) and the heat can introduce thermal stress which will craze when exposed to a solvent. Apparently these problems are pretty widespread with extruded acrylic (what I have) but cast acrylic works better.

I'm heading back to university and wanted to bring some of my RC helicopters with me so I picked up some foam and did a test cut:
Half inch foam cuts insanely fast and easily and is very straight. The laser could probably do one inch foam quite well. The patterns were traced from the side-views of the helicopters.

I tried to fit everything in a case:
I hid repair parts and batteries behind the divider. I'm very happy with how the case turned out.

I figured if I have a laser I might as well make some laser cut business cards. I'm not really a graphics guy but I like them:

Lastly, I wasn't even aware lasers could engrave before starting this project and I have no plans for engraving but I figured I might as well use the test sample image. I stopped it short because it wasn't going to finish on my 1x2 anyways.
I went full speed on really crappy wood (literally the only piece of wood I have) but quality is still incredible.

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Tuesday, April 12th 2011 - 3:43 PM

Thanks everyone,
This laser did not use any polulu drivers mostly because I bought a set of Kelings before I knew about the alternatives. I have a few of the polulu a4988 boards that I will be using for another project that work well.

For wiring up the laser tube, I needed to extend both wires. I picked up some high voltage silicone wire from a local electronics place for a few bucks. It was rated to only 10,000V so I covered it with some plastic tubing and haven't had a problem. For the ground wire I just used normal 24 gauge. To connect the wires to the tube I stripped an inch or so and wrapped it around the metal pins. I then wrapped a bunch of electrical tape around it.

In terms of cost I didn't completely know what I was doing so I was left with some stuff I didn't end up using and the 2.0 build is cheaper than the 1.0 build. I was off with my 1000$ estimate but assuming a bare minimum build I think 1300$ is plausible.

I think it is fair to estimate 330$ for the laser, 26$ for drivers, 120$ for optics, 400 for kits (skiping the electronics and skins) and 300$ for extrusions = 1200$. If you have the electronics experience to wire it all up to mach3 thats pretty much all you need.

For doing a cheap build it really just comes down to skippping everything that isnt completely essential and adding it later if you really need it. If you can salvage the power supplies and other miscelaneous stuff even better.

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reader comment Comment from: ctoutmoi on Tuesday, April 12th 2011 - 3:10 PM
Bravo! I found particularly successful design and implementation of components. I was looking for a supplier for the honeycomb table but the website is very wrong.
reader comment Comment from: cpdude on Tuesday, April 12th 2011 - 3:05 PM
Hey Ryan,

She's looking very good. I've got the same tube and power supply. Do you have any pictures or details as to how you did the high voltage wiring between the power supply and the laser tube?

reader comment Comment from: artwood_decor on Tuesday, April 12th 2011 - 1:59 PM
Great build. and I appreciate a lot the high quality detailed pictures.
Could you suggest more tips for saving as you mentioned you would be able to build the machine for $1000 vs. $2500 you actually spent.
reader comment Comment from: naPS on Tuesday, April 12th 2011 - 1:40 AM
Which version of the polulu drivers did you end up using?

Monday, April 11th 2011 - 10:24 PM

I've been neglecting updates for a while but there isn't really much aside from routine assembly.

I had some trouble with the electronics. The stock Retina Engrave board from FSE outputs some pulses at 1us and some at 5us which wasn't fully compatible with my Keling 4020 drivers.

They were quite helpful and wrote a special firmware version that fixes the problem. Although it took a bit of time to fix, my machine now works very well in both engrave and vector mode.

It seems fitting that my machine makes its own last pieces so here it is cutting out the brackets to mount the gas springs:
Cut quality is great, 6% speed 100% power (15mA).


There has been a lot of small things added to the machine and a few more I need to add as well. I've got a reed switch activated by the lid so that the laser goes off and a light goes on when the lid is opened. I have a seperate pic 12f683 running the Z-axis off one of the switches so it is easy to adjust. There is red dot aiming and a 3W led on the carriage so it is easy to line up.

The blue LCD on the lid shows the current running through the tube. By some freak accident of Chinese manufacturing, the display was improperly calibrated and shows 15mA as 10mA. I've set my maximum to 15 (as per FSE recommendation) so if I put tape over the dot it reads 0-100% power which is pretty snazzy.

Currently air assist and the water pump are wired seperately (plugged into the wall). I've got the switches mounted so I just need to wire them up.

The main addition i am waiting on is ventilation. I am going to have to move the machine to its final location (to be decided, but probably downstairs which is going to be awful to move) and I'll wire everything up once I'm there.

All said and done I am quite satisfied with my build. A few pointers to those who are thinking of doing their own:
Use polulu drivers, at 13$ a pop you save a lot of cash over kelings.
Make sure the L-brackets for the extrusions are on really tight. If they are only somewhat tight they can twist/slide.
I am pleased with my decision to use a honeycomb table, when cutting acrylic you can see the smoke shoot through the cut.
If you have a computer with a parallel port, give mach3 or emc2 a shot. It is quite easy to use and can save you a lot of money compared retina engrave or the dsp controller.
Use locktight on all the pulleys. Make sure that setscrew is really really tight.

With what I know now I could probably do a 2.0 build for around 1000$ (this one ended in the 2500$ range).

Although it was more expensive, I am happy with my purchase of Retina Engrave. Once I got the quirks worked out it is very easy - Open literally any program, do some doodles or type some text and press print. The software can arrange the cuts in any combination of power and speed as well as engraving very well.

I saw some hexagons on the internet and figured I could make my own. A few minutes in inkscape and I have a pile to play with:
Its a great tool to have. Things that would take me hours to do by hand are a few minutes away and are perfectly accurate.

Thats pretty much it.

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Thursday, March 10th 2011 - 2:38 AM

There hasn't been any problems with the belt skipping so I haven't bothered to include the extra bearings.

I've gotten most of the electrical side of the build coming together:
Soldering the motor wires.

I want the wiring to be somewhat clean so I'm heatshrinking and sleeving everything.

And testing the motor via mach 3. I didn't have a parallel port on my computer so I ordered a pci card off the internet which worked fine.

I decided to mount the electronics to an acrylic panel because acrylic was the only material I had on-hand.

I managed to fit everything in although it was a little tight.

Starting to look closer to completion.

I also recieved the laser tube. I ordered from love-happy-shopping on ebay and was very pleased. The tube came wrapped in bubble wrap, stuffed into an 8" pvc tube which was then rolled in several meters of foam and bubble wrap. I could imagine the package surviving being thrown out of a plane. To my delight everything worked on the first try which almost never happens.

Up next, beam alignment, red dot and air assist. I actually had one of our cats rip most of the wiring to shreds which set the project back a fair deal. I kinda expected them to play around but I wasn't expecting actual damage.

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reader comment Comment from: bdring on Thursday, February 24th 2011 - 3:56 AM
It looks like you are missing a fold back bearing near the motor. The engagement of the pulley might be too light.

It is supposed to look like this...


Thursday, February 24th 2011 - 3:36 AM

The table is going to be one of the main modifications I make to the original plan and a fairly major money-sink compared to the bare minimum.

The easiest table would be to slap on some cheap plywood and glue aluminium foil to it to prevent burning. This would be cheap and easy but have the disadvantage of reflecting the beam against the back of the material. In general, this will produce less attractive cuts and may cause problems with certain materials.

The second option is to use perforated sheet metal. Since only about half of the surface is metal you get less reflections and the air assist can blow straight through the material clearing the smoke faster (for cleaner cuts).

The best option is aluminium honeycomb. It has virtually zero solid area. The main problem is that while it isn't particularly expensive, you basically have to buy an entire sheet.
McMaster will sell quarter sheets already expanded for about 100$. The disadvantage here is you are paying enormous amounts to ship it and they have only very coarse grids.

For about the same price I bought an 8' by 4' sheet of 1/2" cell honeycomb from . They will cut to the exact thickness you require and give you the option of shipping unexpanded (cheap) or expanded (good luck shipping a 4x8" sheet). Their webpage looks a little sketchy but they were extremely helpful and did a great job. I got them to cut me a slice that is 20mm thick, the exact thickness of the aluminium extrusion so it will lie flush in the table.

I am debating whether or not to build an enclosure under the table to apply suction from below. I suspect that it will not provide a huge advantage since air assist is already blowing downwards. As well, since most of the table is open the chances are that any vacuum created would be extremely minor and might not warrant the extra work.

Here is what the unexpanded sheet looks like:
It came shipped in a tube and is around 5' long 1" wide.

Now let me tell you that this stuff is hard to expand by hand. I cut the 5' bar in half because expanding the entire sheet at once would be hell and because I don't need very much. Start by getting a feel for the material and stretching it slightly by hand. It is very springy and slightly sharp. Once you have it open slightly you can put a bunch of nails into two boards of wood and slide the honeycomb over the nails.

Then just grab a buddy and pull. It is pretty hilarious to see 1" stretch into eight feet.

Here you can see the table I plan on filling as well as the unexpanded half-sheet that remains. You are going to waste a good part of the sheet doing it by hand, but I still have enough for at least 6 tables.

The aluminium is very thin and you can cut it with scissors one segment at a time. It is hard to get the exact size right so I just said screw it and shoved the corner in. The cell deformations don't look that bad and won't affect anything so I don't consider it an issue.

The honeycomb isn't super rigid so I will be supporting it from the back with some aluminium angle.

I tried to save time by using glue. I started with weld-bond which didn't work. I then redid it with goo which fell apart after a few days. I finally did it properly by bolting it together.

Probably took about 7 hours because of the number of times I messed up.

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Thursday, February 24th 2011 - 3:12 AM

Most of the assembly has been already finished. The individual acrylic components are all ready to go and the frame has been assembled so now I've just got to stick em together. Follow the diagrams, it isn't actually that difficult.

I did not have the foresight to include all the necessary nuts on the extrusions. Some disassembly/reassembly was needed to get all the nuts in place. You can also use post-assembly nuts which snap into place. They are more expensive but oh so worth it. I got ten but would do twenty or more if I could go back in time. Of course, if I could go back in time I could also just include the correct number of nuts in the first place.

A small hole is tapped for a set screw to link both sides of the y-axis. For some reason this is at an angle when tightened which causes the threaded rod to whip at high speeds.
I consider the threaded rod and this linkage the weakest part of the build and suspect that it twists at high speed and does not accurately link both sides of the y-axis. I plan on replacing it with some 1/2" aluminium rod at some unknown point in the future but it works well enough for now.

This pretty much covers the mechanical side of the build. It is hard to estimate the time spent to this point but I'll try. At least 10-15 hours were spent researching the build and ordering parts online. Around 30 hours were spent assembling to this point.

Note that there is still a lot of finishing touches to add. The enclosure, switches, air assist, venting, vacuum table... While the gantry is certainly functional as-is, expect a lot more work to make it professional.

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reader comment Comment from: macona on Sunday, February 20th 2011 - 9:43 AM
Sound like a software issue.

Saturday, February 19th 2011 - 8:01 PM

Going to skip ahead here, what would cause retina engrave to work perfectly in raster/jog mode but not do anything in vector mode?

I've only got a multimeter but the dir/pulse pins are working as expected in vector mode, I have a suspicion that the timings are a lot faster in vector mode and the keling drivers aren't picking them up.

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reader comment Comment from: bdring on Wednesday, February 16th 2011 - 4:30 AM
The cover does tend to be a little wiggly. It gets better with the covering. Yours may be extra wiggly with just plastic. If you lift it evenly, it does not matter that much.

You need to be careful when installing the gas springs. They can put a lot of stress on the frame. The gas springs should only be strong enough to hold open the cover. You can adjust by playing with the locations of the ends. Get it all adjusted before you put the tube in. I had a loose bracket and the gas spring started to pop the back off the frame. I had the tube installed and got a little scary.

Wednesday, February 16th 2011 - 4:07 AM

Thanks for the tip on the split lock washer, I've added it to my build.

Here is just a set of assembly photos for the frame. There isn't much to it, just make it look like the diagram and keep everything square:

I ordered 4 detachable hinges from misumi because they were the cheapest on the site. I only used two since the lid is coming off after the photo.

I deviated from the plans when it came to the lid, I wanted the entire lid to be transparent so I slid a sheet of acrylic into the slot. Because the inner surface was entirely acrylic I had to get creative with the joints and make sure it was strong enough to survive the two gas springs that would eventually support it.

This is a test fit of the sheet. I had the store cut it for me and they did a very accurate job of it. I siliconed the sheet in place to keep things simple. I did buy the rubber strip that misumi sells to hold sheets of acrylic in the slots but decided it would be easier without it.

Here is the hinge-side joint (on the bottom of the lid). Misumi sells screws that self-tap into the ends of the extrusions. I figured that one screw wouldn't be enough so I also used L-plates. The screw interferes with the acrylic sheet so I had to nip a corner off.

Here is the front joint. There are two screws going into the ends of the extrusions as well as an l-bracket.

The finished panel isn't as heavy as it looks and is fairly solid. There is a bit of flex in the extrusions but once its on hinges it shouldn't be a problem.

I was worried about the acrylic sagging so I let it dry upside-down. So far there hasn't been any sign of trouble.

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reader comment Comment from: araknid01 on Tuesday, February 15th 2011 - 2:39 AM
There's supposed to be a 5/16 split lock washer BETWEEN the two stacked bearings on the z-lift motor plate.

Build looks good though

Monday, February 14th 2011 - 8:31 PM

If I end up using the cross generator it would be mostly for appearance so accuracy wouldn't be a huge deal.

I decided that assembling the rest of the acrylic parts would be a reasonable next step so here goes:

A few of the pieces need holes drilled in the edges. I did it the easy way with my mill/drill but if you are careful even a hand drill would be fine. I personally hate working acrylic since it always seems to make that nails on chalkboard sound and loves melting. You can use water/soap as cutting fluid but I didn't bother for drilling.

For the holes you need to tap just go slowly. If you've used a tap before there shouldn't be any problems, if in doubt go two turns in half a turn out and back the tap out if it starts to get filled with chips. As far as materials go acrylic is fairly easy to tap even if it makes horrible noises while you do it.

Here is the x-axis carriage. It uses a square nut instead of a tapped hole to save a little work. I didn't bother gluing the nut since it is held in place by the tightened screw.

Here are the y carriages. I'm almost 100% sure I have one of them backwards in this picture, just make sure you get the orientations right from the cad drawings.

The bearing pockets for the z-axis. Fairly straightforward although you need to tap a bunch of holes which sucks.

The bearings for the x and y axes. I consider this one of the weaker links in the build because the bearings are not 100% tight and hold the pulleys at an angle. I'll probably put some kind of spacer in there to take up the extra room. A properly sized washer should work.

And the motor mounts. Again, nothing all that special here. The gold bearings on the z-axis are mine. The kit doesn't come with enough bearings for both the tensioner and the 2 sets for the z-axis motor as they are not strictly necessary. I added mine in just because I had them around.

And that covers the acrylic parts. Nothing too challenging if you've tapped holes before. For most of these parts I just guessed which screws to use. In most cases only one will fit properly. The hardware kit comes with a few spares and since I glued the rails instead of bolting them there is a pile of extra screws. I haven't run into any problems.

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reader comment Comment from: macona on Saturday, February 12th 2011 - 8:01 AM
I have used those laser cross generator at work. The problem with them is the way they generate the veticle and horizontal lines is not central to the axis of the laser. If you want x mars the spot its best to use two line generators coming from two directions.

Saturday, February 12th 2011 - 4:17 AM

bdring wrote:What are the details on the laser pointer? How is the quality of the spot? Where did you get it and what was the cost?

It is an aixiz module ( ) which is basically the same super cheap focusing assembly and 5mW diode that all the Chinese retailers sell. I picked up a truckload of them back in my diode laser days. You can swap out the diode so I have a bunch in varying power levels and colors but this one is hasn't been modified.

The spot is very good especially since its focusable. I'd recommend buying one from deal extreme for 4$ if you only need one: ... m-5mw-5914

They also sell a cross module: ... m-5mw-5942
I've got the cross as well and was thinking of throwing it on the x carriage but having two lasers for targeting might look silly.

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reader comment Comment from: bdring on Saturday, February 12th 2011 - 3:40 AM
What are the details on the laser pointer? How is the quality of the spot? Where did you get it and what was the cost?

Friday, February 11th 2011 - 9:31 PM

I pushed the bearings onto the screws for no particular reason, I just felt like sticking them in the vice. For any future builders sanding the screws sounds like an easier alternative.

The covering is expanded pvc. I tried to get dibond (one of the aluminium laminates) but a sheet was 100-200$ depending on the finish and they would have to special order it. I was personally hoping for black, but they had a sheet of red pvc (and only red) for 40$ on hand. They even cut it for free and the color has grown on me. I've got about half of the 8x4 sheet left, and unfortunately you aren't supposed to laser cut the stuff but for the price I'm not going to complain. I also slipped some 4.5mm acrylic into the lid in case you didn't notice the reflections. They cut the sheet for me and managed some pretty tight tolerances across all the parts so I was very impressed.

Here's some of the electronics I'll be using. Some of it has changed but it is still fairly accurate:
Motors are from Bart and I'll be using keling drivers. The kelings have adjustable microsteps which means that I can get the 1000 steps/inch for the retina controller. They are also a bit cheaper than the Gecko 4 axis controller.

Power will be provided by two cheap Chinese supplies off ebay. I had a 24V 3A supply already on hand, which I planned to convert to 5V. I don't know anything about electronics but I noticed that when I turned the potentiometer up I could go as low as 20V. My non-electrical background was telling me that if increased resistance lowers voltage, nothing has greater resistance than ripping the potentiometer off the board. The output dropped to 9V which was disappointing. I'll have to stick a regulator on the output.

The larger supply is 36V 7A. Bart suggested 24V but I want some extra kick if I ever move the stuff into a different machine. I also really need a 36V supply for another project so I may borrow it later on.

And finally some random parts. I feel like for a laser cutter to look truly complete there has to be some kind of fancy control panel. I'm not completely sure what I will display and what capabilities it will have but I promise that there will be a backlit display somewhere in this project. The laser pointer will be knife-edged with the CO2 beam.

After finishing the z-axis carriages it made sense to start with the v-rail. If I mess up the v-rail the entire project will come to a halt so I might as well get it over with fast. I started by marking lengths and cutting with a dremel.

There were two options here - bolt or glue. Bolting has the advantage of being tested and hard to permanently mess up. If I drill in the wrong spot I just don't use the hole. Gluing has the advantage of being fast and perhaps easy. You will quickly discover that when I work I tend to just go for it and clean up later. Drilling, tapping and aligning dozens of holes for the v-rail sounds like a drag so I just went with glue.

I am going to be completely honest, I did a flat out sloppy job of this. To begin with, I don't even know what kind of glue I used. I found a tube labeled only "goo" that said it was good for metal to metal in a drawer. Sloped some on the rail and slid the parts together.

No clamping at all, nothing to keep the pieces square. The shorter Z and Y rails turned out fine but the X rail was about half a millimeter wider at the edges. After the glue had half dried I discovered my mistake and jammed the thing in a vice to force the rails flush against the extrusion. Everything worked out and the rails slide flawlessly. I'd recommend using clamps but this is seriously hard to mess up.

I don't have the other carriages assembled at this point, but the Z slides wonderfully.

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reader comment Comment from: hoda0013 on Friday, February 11th 2011 - 6:12 PM
Looks great!
reader comment Comment from: bdring on Friday, February 11th 2011 - 12:33 PM
That looks great. What is the skin material?

With regards to the screws fitting in the bearings. The screws are number #10-32 which are nominally 0.189" dia. the holes in the bearings are 0.187 dia. The suggested fix is to lightly sand the screws in drill or drill press. This is mentioned on the build instructions and on some of the drawings. I actually use a flat file and it takes about 5 seconds per screw. You method might put a little stress on the bearings. If you make sure the inner race is supported, which it looks like you did, they should be fine...but a lot more work :lol:

The new Delrin bearings are 5mm I.D. so a 5mm screw slides right in. Unfortunately they cannot be used on this design due to different v diameters.

Friday, February 11th 2011 - 5:44 AM

Hey everyone!

I've been hoping to get a laser cutter for a while but the cost was prohibitive. I had always been considering building one myself; however, I didn't have the knowledge or confidence to start a build alone. After discovering, I decided to finally give it a go.

Planning was the first major step and took a few weeks. I read everything I could about the electronics and build. From there I cross referenced the bill of materials with the drawings and put together my own list. I printed out some of the more important drawings and made sure I understood every aspect of the machine. I live in Canada so messing up an order would cost time and money in shipping.

I ended up with a fairly precise list of stuff to buy (See an old version here: ). It is always a battle, but in the end I managed to fit some bells and whistles into 2600$ including shipping and a margin of safety (the first thing you learn about diy is it always costs more than you expect). I didn't expect to stick to the list 100% (and I didn't) but it is fairly close for the major components. If you are in the USA and have some self control you could fit this into 2000$.

I am doing the original open source laser but I will be making a few modifications which will be fairly obvious and are mostly cosmetic in nature.

I started by ordering only the mechanical parts, then the electrical (stepper drivers) parts and finally the laser. I didn't want to buy everything at once only to fail at the first step.
It was like christmas for a few days as everything arrived. By coincidence my, mcmaster and misumi orders all arrived on the same day in some 7 giant boxes. You can only imagine how happy I was for that perfect moment.

Anyways... Onto the build, I'm planning on doing a fairly comprehensive log so that it can also double as assembly instructions and hopefully encourage more people to attempt building a laser cutter.

The first order of business was cutting down on the parts scattered all over the floor. With thousands of screws, bearings, extrusions, acrylic pieces, etc laying around I really needed to start partitioning the parts off to keep things under control. The Z axis carriages seemed like a reasonable place to start since they could be set aside after assembly and are fairly simple.

Here is the Z-axis kit, plus my own allen keys. I was expecting to have to tap the pieces, but Bart had already done it :)

To get the bearings onto the screws I needed to apply some force. I slipped the rubber grips onto my vice and used a block of aluminium with hole drilled in it to force the bearings onto the screws.

Here is what the screws should look like, but check the drawings to be sure. It goes split-lock, washer, bearing, nut, washer, acrylic, washer, nut. You want 6 of these.

Three bearings a carriage, with a 4-40 screw in the side for adjustment. The hole has already been tapped so it just screws right in.
And done, nice and easy. Believe it or not almost the entire build is at this level of difficulty. Bart has already done all the hard parts by designing and cutting the parts for us!

Now I'm going to have to give up my secret. It pains me to give it up so soon but I really want an up-to-date image on the main page. I actually started this build a while ago. Nothing irks me more than following a build log that takes months to complete so this way I can keep things going at a nice pace. The following picture is about a week old but it is quite pretty so I'll use it as the official image.

Just remember, I may be about to do some really stupid things and mangle my build on camera. No matter how badly you want to warn me the mistakes have already been made. :lol:
Official Image

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