Are you tired of boring name tags? Do you want to make something awesome and fun with the Othermill? Look no further! In this tutorial, we show you how to use the Othermill to make a circuit board and an aluminum faceplate with your name cut out of the center. An auto-color-changing RGB LED on the circuit board will illuminate the letters of your name from within, and everyone will come talk to you.
First we'll design the name on the faceplate in EAGLE, then we'll mill the circuit board that goes inside. Next, we'll mill the faceplate and attach it to the circuit board.
If you've never used an Othermill before or you're not sure how to go through the steps of homing, inserting a tool, setting up your material, or importing files, check out our Getting Started guide and/or our Hello World tutorial first before starting this project. This project also requires soldering, so if you're not comfortable with that, check out Adafruit's great tutorial.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
- Computer running Otherplan
- Flat end mill, 1/32"
- FR-1 PCB blanks, 5"x4"
- Pliers, needlenose
- Soldering iron and solder
- Sheet metal shears or wire cutters
- EAGLE or your favorite CAD/CAM software
Step 2: Download and Run EAGLE
Since CAD/CAM software can be expensive and pretty much exclusive to Windows, we're going to use the free version of EAGLE to make our name design. EAGLE is also the program we use for making circuit boards with the Othermill, so learning it now will help you if you'd like to do that at some point.
Download it here and install it. Also download the zip file at the bottom of this step, which contains an example, a guide, and the faceplate outline. These files will help you determine how big to make your name, as well as give you an example of what it could look like.
If you've never used EAGLE before, it's easy to get overwhelmed. Don't worry, we'll only be using a small part of its overall capabilities to accomplish our goal here. EAGLE is normally used to design circuit boards that will be made in a factory, but we're going to use it for a different purpose: to guide the Othermill to cut your name out of aluminum. We've already used it to design the circuit board we'll be using for this project, so no need to worry about that.
First, open the EAGLE application, then open EagleNameExample.brd. You'll see that the name is outlined in dark grey. This dark grey is normally used to mark the outline of a circuit board, and it's what the Othermill looks for when it goes to cut out a circuit board from a larger piece of material. We're tricking the Otherplan software into cutting out your name instead.
Step 3: Design Your Name
Now open EagleGuide.brd. Make sure your window is big enough that you can see all the buttons on the left side and along the top. You'll be doing basically everything with the Wire tool. The image here shows you where the Wire tool is, as well as a few other tools you'll need to use. You'll also be working in the Dimension layer, which is what Otherplan looks for when you tell it to cut outlines.
Let's get started drawing lines.
- Click the Wire tool.
- In the top toolbar, set the layer to "20 Dimension."
- Click the third button from the left along the top, which makes straight lines. The other buttons draw curves and angles.
- Click inside the diamond to start drawing lines, then press the escape key on your keyboard to stop drawing.
To move a line:
- Click the Move tool.
- Click either one end or the middle of a line to pick it up and start moving it.
- Click again to place it and stop moving it.
To delete a line:
- Click the Delete tool.
- Click the line you want to delete.
To move or delete more than one line at once:
- Click the Group tool.
- Select what you want to move/delete.
- Click the move or delete tool.
- Right-click what you selected and choose "Move: Group" or "Delete: Group."
Once you've made your design on the Dimension layer (Layer 20), you need to add a tiny bit of traces (Layer 1), otherwise Otherplan won't import your file.
- Click the Wire tool.
- Change the layer to "1 Top."
- Draw a tiny dot somewhere.
Once you're finished:
- Select your whole name.
- Click the Rotate tool.
- Right-click your name, and choose Rotate: Groupto rotate it 90°.
Save your file. You'll import it into Otherplan later.
If you'd like to learn more about using EAGLE, including how to make circuit boards, check out our EAGLE tutorial.
Step 4: If You Have CAD/CAM Experience
This step is for people who already have CAD/CAM software and know how to use it. If that's not you, skip to the next step.
Your name needs to fit within a 3.5"x2" diamond.
We'll be milling 0.012"-thick aluminum roof flashing, which is reasonably soft but still requires slow cutting speeds. Here are the speeds and feeds that we recommend for relatively clean edges:
- Tool: 1/32" flat endmill
- Cut depth: 0.014"
- Passes: 2
- Feed rate: 1mm/sec (60mm/min)
- Plunge rate: 1mm/sec
- Spindle speed: 12,000 RPM
- Stepover: 40%
When you're done, rotate your name 90° so it'll fit inside the available space along with the circuit board. Export a toolpath file.
Step 5: Set Materials and Import Your Circuit Board File
Open Otherplan, connect the Othermill, turn it on, and home it. Next, get everything ready to cut the circuit board.
- Set your Material to the standard "Single Sided FR1 L2" 5"x4" circuit board blanks.
- Set your Material Origin to zero for x, y, and z.
- Import NameTagCircuit.brd.
- In the new settings that appear for that file, click Edit Origin and set the following values:
- x to 3.0in
- y to 0.2in
- z to 0.0
- Under Cut Selection, make sure Traces, Holes, and Outline are all selected.
- Under Tool Selection, select a "1/32" flat end mill"from the drop-down menu. Don't click Add Tool.
- Click the arrow next to Advanced Settings to access more settings.
- Set Trace Clearance to zero. This will reduce your cutting time by reducing how much space is cut away between the traces.
Step 6: Cut!
Grab a glass of juice, as the cutting process will take about 20 minutes. Never leave your Othermill unattended, lest something go wrong and damage occur.
- Make sure Traces, Holes, and Outlines are turned on.
- Click the "Cut"button.
- Click "Cut"again in the dialog box that pops up.
You can always hit the Escape key on your keyboard to cancel the job if you notice something is wrong.
In an emergency (your material becomes unstuck to the bed, the mill makes horrible noises, etc.) you can hit the red Emergency Stop button on the right side of the Othermill.
Sit back and relax while it cuts!
Step 7: Cut the Aluminum Front
Grab that roll of aluminum. We only need a 3"x4" piece, but unfortunately this specific thickness of aluminum isn't sold in single pieces. If it were any thinner, it wouldn't be sturdy; if it were any thicker, it'd be too hard to bend cleanly. Don't worry — you'll use all the rest of that aluminum when your friends see your awesome name tag and ask you to make more.
Cut the aluminum:
- Use your tinsnips to cut out a piece that's a little larger than 3"x4". We want the part we'll be cutting to be as clean and flat as possible, and the cut edges are usually not so clean.
- Bring the machine bed to the front by clicking the "Move to Loading" button, or press Command + Shift + L.
- Vacuum the shavings and wipe the circuit board so it's clean and has no dust on it.
- Put at least 3 or 4 pieces of double-sided tape on one side of the aluminum.
- Place the aluminum over the uncut area of the circuit board and press down firmly to attach it. Make sure that it's as flat as possible.
Step 8: Load the Name and Outline Files
Now we're going to import the files for both the name design and the outline around it and position them together in Otherplan.
- Change to Top View — it'll help in this step. Click the View menu and choose Top View, or use the icons at the top of the Otherplan window.
- Click "Setup Material" and change from "Standard" to "Custom Size."
- Set your material thickness (z) to "0.013in" and click "Continue," then click "Done" on the next screen.
- Click "Import Files," select EagleOutline.brd, and click "Import."
- Click "Edit Origin" for that file, change z to "0.063in," and click the green checkmark.
- Make sure the selected tool is a 1/32" flat endmill.
- Click "Import Files" and select the file that contains your name.
- Click "Edit Origin" for that file, and change the xandyvalues until your name is positioned in the center of the outline. Also change the z value to "0.063in."
- Make sure the selected tool is a 1/32" flat endmill.
Step 9: Cut the Name and Outline
Now we're ready to starting cutting the aluminum. This can be a slightly tricky process, and you may need to stop and restart a few times. What you want is for the tool to cut halfway through the aluminum on the first pass and the rest of the way on the second pass (it does 2 passes automatically). This will reduce rough edges and reduce the stress on your tool. We had good luck with setting the design's z origin to .063" (which you did in the previous step), but your mileage may vary.
Here are some tips, which you should read before starting to cut:
- When you start cutting, keep your finger near the Escape key on your keyboard. Hitting Escape will stop the cutting process so you can change your settings.
- Watch the tip of the tool intently. If the tip penetrates all the way through the aluminum (you'll see brown dust from the circuit board come up around the tool), hit Escape to stop cutting. Edit the origin for your name and outline, and make the z origin .01" higher.
- If the tool doesn't penetrate the surface of the aluminum at all, stop and make the z origin .005" lower and try cutting again.
- If the tool cuts into the aluminum but you can still see aluminum under where it cut, that's great, so let it keep going. If there are parts where it doesn't quite cut all the way through on the second pass, that's OK. You can use your utility knife to easily cut that last little bit.
Got all that? Turn off Traces and Holes, and leave Outlines turned on. Click "Cut."
Once the name finishes,turn off Traces and Holes for the outline file, check to make sure itsz origin matches that of your name file, and start cutting.
Step 10: Remove Cut Materials From the Bed
First remove the aluminum:
- Take a thin, stiff object, like a butter knife or putty knife, and slide it very carefully under the aluminum.
- Be careful not to bend the faceplate as you remove it. Ideally the outline will be completely separate from the waste material around it, but sometimes it's still loosely attached.
- Cut or gently bend any metal that's still attached.
Clean the edges:
- Use a utility knife to remove any bits of aluminum from the edges, especially around the name.
- Remove any tape still stuck to the aluminum.
Now for the circuit board:
- Remove the circuit board using the butter/putty knife.
- Remove any tape.
- Clean the edges with the utility knife, if necessary.
Step 11: Bend the Edges of the Faceplate
This part is a little tricky and requires strong hands. We need to bend the faceplate against the edges of the circuit board to form the walls of the name tag.
- Put some double-sided tape on the back of the circuit board and stick it to the center of the backside of the faceplate. Be very precise about this.
- While firmly squeezing the circuit board and the faceplate together, bend the edges of the faceplate up to 90°.
- Do this for all 4 edges.
- If the edges are close to 90° but not quite there, use your pliers to make them nice and straight.
- Remove the circuit board and tape.
- Bend the short metal tabs inwards to 90° using your thumbs. Do not bend the long metal tabs!
Step 12: Solder the Circuit Board
It's time to solder the components to the circuit board! Plug in your soldering iron.
- Hold the RGB LED facing you so the long pin is on the right, then bend the pins toward you at their base, right where they come out of the LED. Bend them to 90°.
- Insert the LED pins through the holes in the circuit board, making sure the long pin goes in the hole that has atrace connecting to it (check image #4 if you're not sure), and bend the pins against the back of the board.
- Bend the resistor leads at 90°, about 1/2" on each side.
- Insert the resistor leads through the vertical set of holes and bend them against the back.
- Orient the battery clip so the open side faces the edge of the board, and stick the pins through the remaining holes in the board. Then set the board on the table, face up.
- Solder the battery clip pins. Use enough solder so the holes are completely covered with a smooth, round blob of solder. You'll need to use quite a lot of solder. This will ensure that the clip stays secure when you insert the battery.
- Solder the resistor pins and the LED pins.
- Insert the battery to test the circuit. If it lights up, continue on. If it doesn't, make sure your LED pins are going through the right holes and that your battery isn't dead.
Step 13: Mount the Faceplate Onto the Circuit Board
This is the final step! We're going to put the circuit board and faceplate together. Reference the images to make sure you've got the pieces oriented correctly.
- Orient the circuit board so the battery is on top.
- Insert it between the long metal tabs on the faceplate. Make sure that your name is right side up.
- Fold down the metal tabs to secure the circuit board. Note that you can pretty much only do this once. If you unfold them and fold them again, they may snap off due to metal fatigue.
You're done! Insert the battery, and attach the name tag to your shirt with the magnet, which will stick to the battery. Enjoy your name in lights!
If you have any questions, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you make one, be sure to share a picture in the comments or drop us a line. We'd love to see it!