Make a super quick, custom dimension T-slot cleaner from acrylic plastic. If you have one of the miniature machine tools with slides and tables made from anodized aluminum this acrylic T-slot cleaner will get the chips out without dinging or marring the machine!
I've got a small Sherline lathe and mill in my personal model shop and the thought of dragging a steel T-Slot cleaner through comparatively delicate anodized aluminium T-slots on the table of the mill and cross slide of the lathe makes me shudder.
If you're not familiar, a T-slot cleaner is a small tool used to remove the chips of metal the accumulate all over the place while machining. Lots of chips end up in the bottom of the T-slots on the machine and it can be difficult to remove them due to the nature of the T-slot's shape. It has a smaller opening that overhangs a wider slot at the bottom of the channel. This is necessary to allow a T-nut to have something to be trapped under so it can be used with a nut and bolt to clamp parts to be machined (or tools in the case of lathe work) securely to the table. The picture below shows my custom T-slot cleaner fitted into its intended T-slot on my small mill.
I had some scrap acrylic plastic laying around and with the help of a laser cutter at TechShop Detroit it was a super easy process to produce a custom fit T-slot cleaner that wouldn't damage the machine parts.
Step 1: Take Measurements of Your Machine's T-Slots
First thing to do is to grab a pair of calipers (available at the Front Desk for free if you don't have your own) with a depth gauge to check the dimensions of the slots on your machine. I actually found significant differences in the dimensions of the slots between my mill and lathe, though they are both made by the same company. Good thing it's super easy to customize any shape I like with the laser!
I measured both the mill and the lathe and took notes in my project notebook.
Step 2: Draw Your Custom Shape and Set Up to Cut
A T-slot cleaner is a relatively simple shape. Essentially an upside down "T" shape with a paddle connected to the base of the "T" to act as a handle. I drew one up in CorelDraw using the dimensions I had measured and recorded from my machines. The paddle bit is just sized to suit your grip. If you don't have CorelDraw or even Adobe Illustrator to do this simple design work, TechShop has them for you.
In the photo I have placed my piece of scrap acrylic in the laser, focused on the top surface and verified that I have enough unused area on the scrap piece to cut out my T-slot cleaner.
Step 3: Engrave Identification on the Handle
Here I've begun to engrave the word "Mill" on what will become the handle part of the T-slot cleaner. Since I plan to make another one for the lathe and the critical "T" dimensions of each machine are different I thought it would be smart to engrave "Mill" on one and "Lathe" on the other.
The laser can both cut and engrave into all sorts of material, so this is a super simple thing to toss into the project and generally class things up.
Look close at the photo and you can see the white hot tiny flame as the protective paper and first layer of plastic are burned away to form the engraved text.
Step 4: Cut Out the Outline
In this photo you'll see the laser has finished engraving the text and has now switched to cut mode. It will trace the outline of my T-slot cleaner with the beam, cutting through the plastic as it goes. AWESOME!!!!
Step 5: All Done!
So simple! Here's the finished T-slot cleaner removed from the scrap sheet of plastic. I added a hole at the last minute so I could hang it on a hook someday. Now it's really easy to see that "T" shape on the end of the T-slot cleaner. This is the bit that will slide through the slot to clean the metal chips out.
Just remove the protective paper backing and you've got yourself a lovely, laser customized, non-marring T-slot cleaner!