Introduction: How to Make Anything (Using Acrylic and Machine Screws)

Picture of How to Make Anything (Using Acrylic and Machine Screws)

Well maybe not anything, but what follows is an Instructable about how we at build everything we produce.

It is a technique we call Interlocking T-Bolt Construction. It consists of a T-cutout in one piece of acrylic (or any 3 mm stock) and a receptacle in another piece. These pieces can then be bolted together making a very secure 90 degree joint. A deceptively simple technique that has unlimited possibilities.

All that is required is an idea, some drawing software, and access to a laser cutter.

Lets get started.

(shameless plug)
to check out our delightfully fun open source products try visiting

a note on metric units
it should be noted that throughout we refer to 3mm thick acrylic. This is often sold as 1/8" acrylic and is not a big issue as the difference is less than 0.007".

Step 1: Software

Picture of Software
Before we start a simple drawing programme is required. Something like Corel Draw, or Adobe Illustrator will work. But we recommend an open source equivalent, Inkscape.

To Get Inkscape:
  • Goto and download the appropriate version for your operating system.
  • Install it.
  • If you are new to Inkscape perhaps going through a tutorial or two before hand may also be helpful, but not required.

Step 2: The T-Bolt (design Considerations)

Picture of The T-Bolt (design Considerations)
When designing anything its important to take into account the properties of your chosen production method. Here are a few things to keep in mind when designing with Interlocking T-Bolt.

  • We think a good size window to consider using this method for ranges from about computer mouse on the small end to a loaf of bread on the larger. Of course other sizes are possible, but much larger you get into prohibitively expensive laser cutting costs, and much smaller you start having issues with bolt clearances.

  • This method thrives on 90 degree angles. If you would like lovely flowing curves or a bevy of acute or obtuse angles another method is advisable.

  • Acrylic is quite a hard plastic and as such sharp corners can lead to an object that feels quite rough and angular. To combat this we like to round all corners.

  • Here are a few rules of thumb we use when designing our products to keep them from being brittle. They have been arrived at through trial and error and are just guidelines.
  • Minimum distance for a hole from the edge (5mm)
  • Minimum holding run (ie. amount of acrylic to leave either side of a cutout (5mm)
  • Bolt repeat distance. (ie. if you have a run longer than this an additional bolt should be added) (100mm)

Step 3: The Component Pieces & Nuts & Bolts

Picture of The Component Pieces & Nuts & Bolts
There are only 2 shapes required.

The T-Cutout
  • This is the piece the machine screw extends into, a nut catching in the large cutout portion.

The RCR Slot (Rectangle-Circle-Rectangle)
  • The cutout the T-Cutout slots into.

To use, simply download the template attached to this step (03-TBOL-T-Slot Template.cdr for Corel Draw or 03-TBOL-T-Slot Template.svg for InkScape)

The Nuts & Bolts
Putting everything together is as simple as a single machine screw and matching nut. McMaster Carr is a great source for these.

Step 4: Making Your Design

Picture of Making Your Design
Finally the layout.

To illustrate the process I'm going to use a simple little box I made to hold a little Nixie tube kit i have (pictured below).

  • Moving from a 2 dimensional drawing to a 3d object is something that can take a while to get your head around. To experiment I recommend printing out the example below on paper and cutting it out with an exacto to get a feeling for how it all fits together.

The Process:

1. Import Template
  • Import the template from the previous step which has the T-Cutout and RCR-Slot in it.

2. Draw the Base
  • Draw the bottom of your object before positioning RCR-Slots. In appropriate places. Something that makes things much easier down the line is if you keep your object as symetrical as possible.

3. Draw the Sides
  • Using loads of guidelines pulled down from the rulers position the T-Cutouts so they pair up with the RCR Slots.

4. Add Corner Cutouts
  • You can see in the design below that half the height is removed from the end of each side. These are to allow the sides to nicely interlock.

5. Make the Cap
  • Draw the cap. If your piece is symmetrical at this point the cap will have the same hole pattern as the base. Just add an appropriate cutout to it.

6. Laser Cutting
  • This is something that only a couple of years ago would have been very difficult. However a bevy of cut on demand services are now available.

A Few Cutting Services:
Spikenzie Labs Mini Cuts - - Montreal based and his prices include shipping (to USA or Canada) which is always a nice touch.
Ponoko - - A great group.
Big Blue Saw - - Offers laser cutting as well as waterjetting more rugged materials. Which means any design can be rendered in 1/8" stainless steel if you so desire.

  • Well a bit of an over simplified process, but it is something that is best experimented with. If you have any pressing questions drop a comment below or send us an e-mail at

Step 5: Adding More Pieces

Picture of Adding More Pieces
Sadly you can only build so much using just T-Cutouts and RCR-Slots. However one of the best things about laser cutting is if you have anything with mounting holes, and a pair of calipers, you can quickly draw up a mounting hole for it.

I've Compiled a file with the main cutouts we use in our products.

The Cutouts:
  • RC Servo
  • Mini RC Servo
  • LED
  • NEMA 23 Motor
  • Skate Bearing
  • MicroSwitch
  • Arduino Diecimiela
  • Pololu Servo Controller

(cutout templates available below)

Step 6: The Possibilities

Picture of The Possibilities

... Endless.

I won't leave it at that. Attached are a few examples of things we have made at .

We'd love to see anything you make. If you make something leave us a comment below or send us an e-mail at We'd love to share what you've done here.

Stuff Made By Others

Doug Eastman made a lovely little box for his still in development Arduino project. I think it looks great (photo below)


Arduino4Me (author)2015-05-01

Can I do this with out a laser cutter?

Hand saw?

Testicus (author)Arduino4Me2015-08-16

i doubt you would even want to try. acrylic is brittle and the cuts are small. it's "possible" to do it by hand, but the amount of time you'd have to pour into it would be a waste. i'm sure if you were to go to this guy (it's me actually) on craigslist, he'd be happy to set something up...


Testicus (author)2015-08-16

I made a couple of these example enclosures and of course along the way nothing is ever perfect. So I have attached my "modified" file and a few pics. At home depot or lowes, I forget which, they have sheets of acrylic, but it's .08 inches. I modified the file to this new dimension. Also, I discovered if you make the vector lines slightly bigger in the rectangle of the RCR portion so the tabs simply slide right in. What I did still makes it a pretty tight fit. These are surprisingly sturdy little boxes! The raw material may be flimsy and flexible and you think to yourself, is this gonna work? But it's awesome! Thanks for posting this, It's a fun little project :-)

Testicus (author)2015-08-16

Arduino4Me (author)2015-05-01

Sorry, by hand saw, I meant knife or something like that...

GeorgeB18 (author)Arduino4Me2015-07-05

I'd say no. You do not need to own a laser-cutter. I just upload the plans and order from a laser-cutting service (I use Ponoko).

GeorgeB18 (author)2015-06-11

For my box, it is important that the entire inside space be available. As I understand it, with 3 mm acrylic the nuts will stick into the inside by a few mm. In order to fix this using this hardware, I calculate that I would need to use acrylic at least 6.4 mm thick. Do you agree?

brianpcox (author)2014-09-20

Thanks for this great information. I know this is from a few years ago, but are the templates still available somewhere? When I try to download the .sgv file, it just takes me to a .tmp page.

gendor (author)brianpcox2014-09-30

If you right-click and "Save Link As..", just make sure you save it as .svg instead of .tmp. I just tried it and it opens in Inkscape without problems.

___ (author)2009-02-24

how about gimp, sketchup or blender?

stasterisk (author)___2009-02-25

inkscape works

jotism (author)stasterisk2009-02-26

How about Ubuntu??? There you get Gimp AND inkscape (gimp rules!!!) AND it's FREEer than windows, cos windows sucks ubuntu's emm, orangness!

hellstudios (author)jotism2009-03-06

Yes. i am running ubuntu. DEATH TO WINDOWS. although i cant get the sound in audacity to work.... D:

GASSYPOOTS (author)hellstudios2012-03-20


jamwaffles (author)hellstudios2009-03-07

Oh well. still worth using linux. and its Windoze btw :P

fwjs28 (author)jamwaffles2009-03-07

you mean winblows?

jamwaffles (author)fwjs282009-03-08

windoze winblows CrapOS what other ones are there?

fwjs28 (author)jamwaffles2009-03-08


jamwaffles (author)fwjs282009-03-09

nice one. anything else? actually, can anyone think of any good linux sayings?

pfred2 (author)jamwaffles2011-12-08

Linus has great ones, "Software is like sex, it is better when it's free."

Followed closely by his other famous quote, "Only wimps use tape backup: real men just upload their important stuff on ftp, and let the rest of the world mirror it ."

I rather like this one myself, "Really, I'm not out to destroy Microsoft. That will just be a completely unintentional side effect. "

This one is good too, "A computer is like air conditioning: it becomes useless when you open Windows."

dark_sun45 (author)jamwaffles2009-07-10

windows is not the answer, its the question, the answer is usually NO or Linux.

fwjs28 (author)dark_sun452009-07-10

i like that...i really do...

dark_sun45 (author)fwjs282009-07-12

so do I, its one that stuck in my mind from:
there are a number of good ones in there.

fwjs28 (author)jamwaffles2009-03-09

theres the picture w/ tux holding a fly swatter and the msn symbol :P

jamwaffles (author)fwjs282009-03-09

good idea tux :) shame we all use msn though isnt it. :P

jotism (author)jamwaffles2009-03-12

yep, but I use pidgen, which is better than the normal Microsucks msn client. One advantage is the annoying pop up about my emails that I never read does not pop up on pidgen, Linux RULES!!!

jamwaffles (author)jotism2009-03-12

same here. and the multiple desktop thing is awesome too. on another note, i was trying to help a mate at school today with his veeeesta craptop and the slowness and shoddyness actually made me really angry lol. also, if you like text based msn, try centerim (sudo apt-get install centerim) do you use yakuake?

jotism (author)jamwaffles2009-03-16 the badboy bit, my older brother made it, when i was like 9!!! my EX gf has a nice Acer, except for the OS, so I put Ubunut 8.04 on as a dual boot, about 1 week later "apparently" it does not ask which OS to boot up as, personally I think she has ****ed it. that or Vistasucks did it for her!!!

fwjs28 (author)jamwaffles2009-03-09

i dont :? i use aim

jamwaffles (author)fwjs282009-03-10

oook then. well, good i've been proved wrong :)

fwjs28 (author)jamwaffles2009-03-10


fwjs28 (author)jamwaffles2009-03-09

Some people have told me they don't think a fat penguin really embodies the grace of Linux, which just tells me they have never seen a angry penguin charging at them in excess of 100mph. They'd be a lot more careful about what they say if they had. -- Linus Torvalds

jamwaffles (author)fwjs282009-03-09

yeah lol. i read the ones from that link before and they are really quite funny!

fwjs28 (author)jamwaffles2009-03-09

def...they aren't all linux tho...

jamwaffles (author)fwjs282009-03-10

yeah, but there is definitely an anti-windoze vibe to it

jamwaffles (author)fwjs282009-03-09

cheers man. if anyone wants my msn, its

hellstudios (author)fwjs282009-03-08


jotism (author)hellstudios2009-03-09

LOL to all of those, I personally (because I thought of it myself) prefer Microsucks.

fwjs28 (author)jotism2009-03-09

thats a good one Lol...

fwjs28 (author)fwjs282009-03-09


jamwaffles (author)fwjs282009-03-09

graarrr. big and scary... gra_____ BSOD BSOD BSOD. boom. rocket artillery successful commander...

fwjs28 (author)jamwaffles2009-03-09

Ctrl+alt+del hog-os

jamwaffles (author)fwjs282009-03-09

lol nice

fwjs28 (author)jamwaffles2009-03-09

ctrl+alt+backspace is way better, everyone know that :P

jotism (author)fwjs282009-03-12

You could have told me that it logges me off BEFORE I tried it !!!!!!!!!!

Kaiouss (author)jotism2009-07-13

next try this terminal command: "sudo umount /dev/sda1" I can guarantee it will improve your standing in the world of schadenfreude (note: since there's a be nice comment policy, I should tell you not to type that, so take that how you may)

Kaiouss (author)Kaiouss2009-07-13

hah, sorry, I actually gave you the wrong command (type that one all you want), the correct command is "sudo umount -l /dev/sda1" Type the first command for revelation, the second for schadenfreude. I recommend typing them in reverse order just to see which one improves your life more.

jamwaffles (author)jotism2009-03-12

he he lol. ctrl alt bkspace ROOOLS if you have a laggy fullscreen game going in class and the teacher starts looking your way. you simply say 'it crashed miss' and cos they think its windoze, they beleive you

fwjs28 (author)jamwaffles2009-03-12

that is fun....especially when they are like...did you break it again...evenif its not broken :P

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