Manufacture Custom Gears With a Craft Cutter and Shrink Plastic





Introduction: Manufacture Custom Gears With a Craft Cutter and Shrink Plastic

Update:  wow, bummer.  I just found out that ProvoCraft (the makers of the Cricut)  sued "Make the Cut" and "Sure Cuts A Lot" so that they can no longer sell their products to work with the Cricut.

Here are some competing products which can be used with Make the Cut software though I have not tried these products specifically, they look like they do about the same thing

Klic-N-Kut computerized craft cutter
Pazzles Inspirationamazon
BossKut Gazelleamazon
USCutter MH/Lazerpoint

Step 1: Materials

for this you need:

a craft cutter which works with Make the Cut and can accept accept arbitrary vector art.  I'm using a Cricut with updated firmware (before the lawsuit happened).  See this instructable for how that worked.

some sheets of type 6 plastic, aka shrink plastic or "Shrinky Dinks"

"make the cut" software, or similar

a crisp image of the gear you would like to replicate

an oven.  (I use a toaster oven dedicated to baking plastics like shrinky dinks and sculpey). 

Step 2: Locate Gear Images

I found a bunch of ideas in this book:  "Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements".  You can buy it on Amazon or find it for free on Google books.

Try to find the cleanest image of the gear you want that you can.  I had to touch mine up in Photoshop to get them cleaner.  The more crisp the image, the easier it will be for the cricut.  Also, it's better if you find gears that are already in pairs, that way you know the teeth will line up.

I'm sure a lot of these gears have proper names, though I'm not sure what they are.  If you know of any other cool gear designs, please let me know.

Note, some gears just wouldn't bake straight, like the pinion example below (with the red x).  It seems to be better if the design isn't too thin

Step 3: Use Pixel Trace to Import the Image Into MTC

Load the gear image into MTC with pixel trace.

Step 4: Cut Out the Gear

Load the plastic into the cutter.

Then choose either Slow or Optimal cutting speed and set it to cut multiple times.  I've  had pretty good luck setting multiple cuts to 3 and using depth 5 of the cutting blade.

Don't try to cut too many at once.  Mine tends to freeze up when I do that.  I probably don't have enough memory in my computer to cut more than a few at a time.

Step 5: **carefully** Remove the Cutout

Very carefully remove the cutout from the cutting mat.  Don't rush it.  The plastic tears easily, just go very slowly.

Step 6: Bake It!

Set the oven temperature for 325 and bake the plastic on a smooth flat metal surface for about 3 minutes.

The baking time will vary according to how thick your pan is, how far away from the heating element it is, the model of your oven and whether or not you preheated.

Step 7: Baking Goofs

Some designs just wouldn't bake well because they were too thin.

Don't overbake or you wind up with a biscuit!

Step 8: Yay Gears!

You can now make gears! 

I haven't figured out quite what to do with them yet, but I think they're pretty cool



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13 Discussions

A warning if you use a Laser cutter to make cuts, any sort of vinyl contains chlorides, and when burned produces chlorine gas, which can kill you. If you don't die, it will also destroy the laser cutter. Even with extreme ventilation, it's too dangerous to burn any sort of PVC or vinyl. The author mentioned "USCutter MH/Lazerpoint". No laser cutting of any plastics. Toxic and/or lethal fumes can result.

You still can use Sure Cuts A Lot and Make The Cut with the Cricut machine. You cannot send a pattern or drawing to the machine directly. Cricut says the software were sending codes to the machines that damaged them, and the software authors were not able to support the Cricut under warranty.

So, the work around is to use the software, but do not attempt to send to the Cricut. EXPORT the images to a .SVG (Scaleable Vector Graphics) file, and then upload them to the Cricut workspace. I have done so quite successfully to my Cricut and made some rather nice glass etching patterns with my Cricut. All is not lost, it's just a little step, but it works quite well.

My experience with shrink plastic was that it always curled up. Did you have any special trick to keep it flat? I'd basically given up on ever using it again, but after seeing this I might give it another try.

By the way, although I do still have the Cricut and working MTC software, I've upgraded to a KNK MAXX cutter which is a much more industrial quality machine.

Hmm. I had no idea what "type 6" plastic is. For anyone who is similarly perplexed, it appears to be a plastic called polystyrene.

Out of curiosity, do you know what the (pre-shrunk) thickness of the plastic you used is? What about the post-shrink thickness?

2 replies

Pre-shrunk the thickness is about the same as a sheet of typical bond paper, maybe a little tiny bit thicker. After shrinking it is quite a good deal thicker, at least 4 or 5 times thicker.

With my imprecise plastic calipers it looks like It goes from about a tenth of a millimeter to about 2 millimeters thick.

your "biscuit" looks like a cheez-it! :D

great instructable, but it sucks to hear that make the cut wont work anymore, but how does the cricut deny the use of the program? sure the company does, but how does the machine know whether or not to allow the information to cut stuff be sent to it?

1 reply

The software I bought before the lawsuit happened still works, but they're not allowed to sell it for the Cricut anymore.

It apparently works with other brands of cutters though. I don't know how or if they were able to specifically turn off support for the Cricut within the software.

Not only a nice idea for small custom gears, but this would also be helpful to the Steampunk people who need gears and what ever for their work too.

1 reply

This is a great idea. I have heard though that 'Make the Cut' no longer works with cricut machines. Any suggestions to alternatives?

1 reply

Oh man, thanks for letting me know. I just now read about the lawsuit. So... I guess people won't be able to do this instructable.

Probably a smart competitor will arise before too long.

Too bad.