XYZen Garden Kit




About: I'm an inventor / maker / designer based in the Bay Area. My background is in residential architecture, film set design, animatronics, media arts, exhibit design, and electronics. I use digital design and fa...

With the XYZen Garden Kit, you can build your own mechanical zen garden with laser cut plywood parts, nuts and bolts, and some tubing. Enjoy a focused, meditative state as you turn the cranks to create your own designs in the sand.

When I made the XYZen Garden earlier this year, it involved some fairly complex woodworking, so I decided to remake this project to be more accessible to more people. You can download the files in the "Design" step, have them laser cut by Ponoko or another laser cutting service, and put the piece together with nothing but a screwdriver.

Step 1: Design & Parts

I designed this piece by using the original XYZen Garden as a template, and reducing all the parts to interlocking plywood pieces. I planned everything out so that it could be assembled with a handful of parts you can get at McMaster Carr. See below-

  1. Thumb Screw (1 pack)
  2. Tapping Insert (4)
  3. Binding Head Slotted Machine Screw (7/16" long) (1 pack)
  4. Binding Head Slotted Machine Screw (1/2" long) (1 pack)
  5. Square Nut (2 packs)
  6. .125" Carbon Fiber Tube (29" total)
  7. .25" Carbon Fiber Tube (3" total)
  8. .375" Carbon Fiber Tube (22" total)
  9. .5" Carbon Fiber Tube (6" total)
  10. 1/4" Plywood- plywood varies in thickness widely. This piece is designed for 1/4" ply that's measured at .23".
  11. 1/8" plywood (one small piece for the stylus point).
  12. Braided heavy duty fishing line

The DWG file in this step has all the pieces for laser cutting. If you don't have access to one, I suggest going with Ponoko or another similar service. They have reasonable prices.

Fusion 360 is free for students and hobbyists, and there's a ton of educational support on it. If you want to learn to 3D model the kind of work I do, I think this is the best choice on the market. Click the links below to sign up:



Step 2: Assemble the Base

The assembly diagrams should have all the description you need to get the piece together. A helpful tip on this step is to start with one flexible edge piece, get it attached to both the top and bottom of the base, then add the adjacent pieces going around the edge.

Step 3: Add the Stiffeners

The whole thing goes together using T-slots (built into the geometry of the laser cut pieces), square nuts, and screws. I chose screws and nuts that would fit within the thickness of the plywood, which makes for a clean aesthetic.

Step 4: Place the Pulleys

It's important to get the pulley layout exactly right. You'll see a lot of circular pieces in the laser cut layout, but here's the gist:

  1. The circles with the serrated edges are the centers of the pulleys.
  2. The circles (both serrated and smooth) that have smaller holes are meant to move freely on their axles.
  3. The circles with the larger holes are for the driver pulleys.

To assemble the pulleys, take two ends and one center and glue them together making sure the holes line up. The holes of all three circles should be the same diameter on each pulley.

Step 5: Add the Pulley Axles

The tubes that serve as axles for the pulleys fit in place using set screws through T-slots on the stiffeners and cranks, as shown in the diagrams.

Step 6: Assemble the Gantry Ends

The pieces are all reversible and symmetrical, and it's only possible to assemble them in one configuration. I've done my best to catch mistakes before they happen!

Step 7: Assemble the Gantries

The stylus uses a triangular pointer to draw in the sand. Like the gantries, it only fits together in the right configuration.

Figures 17 and 18 show how the cables are routed through the pulleys and tubes.

Step 8: Route the Cables Through the Pulleys and Gantries

Routing the cables is the hardest part, but follow this diagram and don't give up- you'll get there eventually! When the cables are routed correctly, the gantries will need to be tightened from time to time, kind of like a stringed instrument.

Step 9: Add Sand and Start Drawing

As Figure 20 says, about 1/4" of sand to draw in is ideal. To start a new design, just shake the base gently until the sand evens out.

Want to buy one? Check out my online store, Roundhead Design.



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    30 Discussions

    Adam Gabbert

    2 years ago

    This is so awesome.

    Projects like this make me feel like I'm still living in the woodworking stone age.


    3 years ago on Introduction

    Notwithstanding my first comment, it is possible to alter the plans to suit using a router.

    Basically, you'll need to make sure all the parts are separated, (i.e. no lines in common) then arrange the outlines to be cut outside of the lines, and any internal holes to be cut inside the lines.

    I haven't looked at the plan, so it's possible that some parts are butted together with a single laser cut between them. These would need to be separated, and the 'missing' line repeated on the part that didn't get it.

    Then, if necessary, put the parts back in place on the design, making sure you allow space (of at least one router bit's diameter)
    around each part.


    3 years ago on Introduction

    very cool and geeky as welll.

    I have a cutting question (will show my inexperience..)
    can any laser cut piece also be cut by a cnc router? using the same .dwg file?

    If not is there an easy conversion tool?
    I-m asking because shortly I will have access to an x-carve.


    6 replies

    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    A laser cutter cuts 'on the line' with a kerf of (in my case) 0.2mm.

    A router bit would be many times larger (if you could find a bit that was only 0.2mm dia, it would be very weak!) and so the drawings are probably not compatible without doing some work - unless x-carve can be configured to cut 'outside the line' ?


    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    That was exactly my intuitive conern. i know it can be setup to cut inside, outside or on the line.

    But that also means the parts can't be layed out too close together.

    thanks a lot for your reply.



    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    I've never used XCarve, curious to know how it goes! According to their site, the bed size is 12"X12". This design is 18.5" wide by 17" long, so you might need to get creative with the pieces. For the ones that are too big for the bed, I suggest cutting them symmetrically in CAD (or whatever drawing program you're using), then gluing the pieces together so they match the layout in the drawings.

    In the Vcarve software (used most commonly on a Shopbot), you set the offset according to the tool diameter, as you've been discussing here. If your bit is about 1/8" Ø, you should be able to recreate this design pretty closely, but there are some very tight tolerances in the T-Slots that you won't be able to do with a tool any bigger than about 1/16" Ø. If you find the XCarve can't handle anything smaller, you can skip the T-Slots and just glue everything together using the same instructions. I'm really curious about how this will come out, please post an IMadeIt!


    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    thanks for the tips. the Xcarve it going to be for next year. And they have an extended version 1mx1m... yeah baby.... I-m banking a lot on this to compensate for my poor jigsaw skills.... and my proficiency in 3d concepts is helping me. Plus the semi-mass reproductibility (is that a word) is such an asset too.

    speaking of 3d modeling, so yo kknow of any 3d modeling language where one could write up the instuction to model, instead of using a 3d projection on the monitor and mouse etc.?

    i mean something like:

    object bottom_disk = disk(centerx,centery,centerz,0,0,1,15cm); // draws a disk in the xy plane of 15cm radius

    object pancake = extrude(bottom_disk,0,0,2cm); // creates a volume form the disk of 2cm

    etc etc, i-m making it up as I go.

    the reason I',m looking for soemthing like that is because I would be so much faster doing it this way instead of mouse etc. mainly because the 3d modeling softwares have unobvious ways to select surfaces or edges and I often screw it up because of that and waste time.

    anyways, thanks


    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    1M X 1M! You can do a lot with that man, have fun!

    All 3D modeling software essentially works with the kind of programming your hinting at here. Like most of the professional ones, Fusion 360 (the one I use) has a scripting interface that will let you program your own geometry. You can see in the attached image that you can use C++, Python, or Java to write and run your own scripts. Also, Fusion is free (unless you're making more than $100K a year using it), so if you're not already familiar with another program I don't see any reason not to use it.

    Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 2.17.38 PM.png

    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    woaoo, I-m flabergasted... thanks a lot. That was so worth it interacting with you.



    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! The trick to this kind of craft is iterations- you've got to try the connections on a small scale first. If you take your time and make sure the nuts and bolts fit comfortably and your tolerances are right, it saves you tons of time down the road. If you get it right in the computer, assembly takes no time and is super easy.

    Done! Check step 1. How are you planning on cutting out the pieces? If you don't use the T-Slot joints I designed, you could cut it out with a band saw, scroll saw, and drill, then glue the pieces together. This is going to be a tough one to do by hand- fair warning!


    3 years ago on Introduction

    Ponoko doesn't like the DWG file, any ideas on how to fix this? Since this will be my first try at using Ponoko, or any laser cutting service, I'm sure it's just me not doing something right.



    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    Maybe try the DXF file I uploaded. You may need to get creative with the layout of the pieces. I've never used them before so I'm not very familiar with their process.