The Perfect Paper

I’ve been building a leadscrew cover for the Sherline’s I’m going to sell. I think this is a must on any cnc machine.

I like the classical accordion-like cover, originally designed by So far, the main obstacle has been to find an appropriate paper. But I guess here is: Fabriano Tiziano Paper. This is a acid-free, 40% cotton, 160 gsm drawing paper. Very high quality and strong paper.


Folding has a trick; you should use a ballpoint pen to trace each line, pushing hard (kind of emboss). Even if you do this, folding is difficult, though not impossible.

And the best thing… you have a lot of color options!. I like the black-red combination.

Steps of DIY PCB Making

As I said in the previous post I needed to remake my CNC controller boards. Here’s the work done.

Board cutting.




Edge lapping. Wet sandpaper gives great finish to the edges, and makes deburring easier.


Cleaning. I used to use abrasive sponge here, but a good polishing a cleaning works well.


Preparing transfer. In the past I’ve used plain laser printing method, but press’n peel paper makes it easier. I suspect scale of the Y axis of my printings it’s a very little shrink, so I will do some tests next time.


Iron. Not too little, not too much pressure. You can guess what I did with the cloth.


Retouch. There’s always some details to retouch; I never get a perfect transfer (please note thin lines are 0.016 width, tough). I had to repeat one defective transfer.


Etching. Ready within minutes if you swing the plate.


Toner cleaning. Some acetone damp papers will do the work.


Tin coating. So great product!. Next time I will use a plastic food box so I can store it for next use.


Checking and correcting. Sometimes there are very thiner bridges between paths. They can mess all the work.


Drilling. I have a mini drill press, but hand drilling works far best for me. I broke several of these carbide drills at the beginning some years ago, but not this time (very frustrating, as I remember). As widely known by EAGLE users, one of the keys is to use the “limit drill diameter” ULP.


Flux coating. Mine dry very fast, so I should apply within 5 seconds or so to get a clean coating.


Look finished pcbs. Good enough for me.


Soldering. I like to use 0.5mm solder wire, but this time I did all with 1mm solder wire. It’s easy to put too much solder with this.


Mounting. Here’s the finished core of the controller.


That’s all. BTW, at least two of these boards works well (haven’t tested the others).


I have a high respect and admiration for woodworking, and tough I have the tools (chisels, saws, planners, etc), rarely find myself working with wood. More commonly I build particle board furniture, and tough it’s not easy, I wouln’t call it woodworking.

This is a toys shelves project for my son. I could made the sides of particle board, but I wanted something special and liked the idea of a painted wood frame.

Tough this is a simple half-lap joint structure, It required a lot of work and tools (as always, much more than I expected… this isn’t a weekend project). One thing that makes it harder it’s the fact wood bars aren’t exactly the same width. Also I almost never can cut perfectly square; always had to use the chisel and/or file to correct the cut.

I did all with manual tools except rounding the edges; for that I did use a router. Also I did the all holes with my small microlux drill press.


Not bad. It’s nice to see how practical considerations and a little of devotion cand lead to a beautiful design, without pretending doing something beautiful in the first place (I sometimes envy designers capabilities to create cool designs). May be it’s has to do with the way nature works.

Homemade Anodizing

I ‘m been busy doing some aluminum parts, and after you work hard in a part you want it look beautiful and last long. So here is when anodizing comes. Most of the experience here is based on Ron Newman’s Anodizing Aluminum, the best anodizing guide on the net.

A Brief Overview of Anodizing

I don’t now much about chemical reactions, so this overview will be very basic and not fully precise.

Anodizing is a process to colorize and protect aluminum. Through an electrolytic process a fine coating layer of aluminum oxide is grown. This layer has open pores on it, ones that can be filled with color dye and sealed. Aluminum oxide is a very hard material, so though only a few microns depth, this layer protect the part from small scratches and gives it a beautiful and professional finish.

There are at least two anodizing types, depending on the coating thick: Type II (1.8 μm to 25 μm thick), and Type III (thicker than 25 μm) or “hard anodizing”. Hard anodizing obviously is more durable, but also more difficult to do at home, so the anodizing done here will be Type II.

The main steps involving in anodizing aluminum are:

  • Clean: remove any grease or dust.
  • Desmut: remove smut generated from previous step.
  • Coating: create oxide layer
  • Dye colorize: fill oxide pores with special dye.
  • Sealing: seal pores so the dye stay in the surface.

Every step requires a specific chemical, and time and/or temperature control.

What do you Need

The things do you need to anodize are:

  • Some plastic pots.
  • A metal pot.
  • Distilled water (at least 5 lt).
  • A battery charger or power supply of several amps. Note that some chargers have a “auto-shutdown” and can’t be used.
  • Current meter (10 Amp at least).
  • Caustic soda (lye) solution, the one used to clean pipes.
  • Nitric acid solution (10%). I think that this is not really required for 606X aluminum types.
  • Sulfuric acid solution (15%).
  • Aluminum wire. Mine is 1.5 mm diameter.
  • Graduated glass beaker.
  • Anodizing sealer. I got “ALSE22 ” from Caswell.
  • Anodizing color dyes. I got red, block and brown from Caswell.
  • A small balance or method to weight sealer powder.
  • Anode. Aluminum foil will suffice.
  • Some support to hang the parts over the pot. I build a nice stand for this.
  • Electric cable.
  • Rubber globes, security glasses, old waring, etc.

Below is some of this stuff (the funnel was never used).


Here is my stand and anode setup. The holes and screws allow easy mount of the aluminum wire. As can be noted, this pot fits only small pieces (the only ones I can machine).


Mounting a mini-anodizing line

Please note that the chemicals used here are potentially dangerous and that some nasty gases are produced.

First time anodizing will be hard, but once you have a mounted anodizing line and doing some runs, anodizing will be rutine and take only a couple hours. Here is how I build mine:

  • Water (small pot). This will be used to clean when passing the pieces between pots.
  • Nitric acid solution (small pot): 500 ml watter + 100 ml nitric acid (68%).
  • Sulfuric solution (large pot): 1000 ml water + 150 ml sulfuric acid (98%) (NEVER add water to acid, ALWAYS add acid to water).
  • Dye solution (large pot): 1000 ml water + 15.6 ml dye.
  • Sealer solution (metal pot): 600 ml water + 5 grams sealer.

I store the pots for later reuse, but discard sealer (I’m not sure if can be reused; anyway 1 lb package from Caswell will last).

Area and Time Calculation

In the electrolysis process the oxide coating layer grows up to a maximum thickness; after that, the coating remains the same thickness but the part begins to shrink. Hence electrolysis time is a important parameter. It depends on current and total cathode area. Less time will result in a thinner oxide layer; too much time will result in a smaller part. I use the “720 amp-min per square foot” rule to deduce this simple formula:

Full Thickness Time = (A / 929) *720/ I

Where A is the full cathode area in cm3 and I is the nominal current and the result units are minutes.

There are some area calculator for simple shapes on the net; they can help you to do a rough estimate.

For my first try, the total area was roughly 100 cm2, and with a nominal current of 2.4 Amp this gives 31 minutes.

First Attempt

Of course I will not try to anodize my beloved parts in this attempt. Instead, I machined some scraps of 6061 and 2024. The last is know to not be easily anodizable.

So the procedure is:

  • Calculate total area for the cathode.
  • Clean the parts to remove dust. Rinse and/or use acetone.
  • Cut aluminum wire and make hangs for every part. A good electrical contact is a must for a good anodizing. Also please note that the contact points will not be anodize, hence these should be in a less visible area.
  • Put 2 min in lye solution. After this step parts should not be touched and should not stay out the water.
  • Put 10 min in nitric acid.
  • Put in the electrolysis bath and measure how much current is being draw. Estimate time based on this current.
  • After half the required time has been elapsed, measure current again and recalculate time with this current. The current will go up in the process, so this will be a rough average or nominal current. Temperature should be in the 20-23 ºC range. The solution will heat up after a while, but I that shouldn’t be a problem when you don’t do continued runs.
  • Heat dye solution to 60º and put parts for 15 to 20 min.
  • Boil the sealer solution and put the pieces for 15 to 20 min.

Prior cleaning

I clean the parts with acetone before the lye solution. This is the last time you can touch the parts.


After lye solution

After the lye 6061 parts looks the same. However, 2024 get covered with a blackish smut. As far as I know this is due to the copper content in this alloy type.


The lye solution pot

This is the pot size I use for lye, nitric acid and water.


After the nitric acid

Again, 6061 parts look the same, but in the 2024 ones the smut has vanished. I’m not sure if this step is required for 6061 parts; anyway nitric acid doesn’t eat aluminum, so this will not hurt.


In the electrolysis bath

At the start, the meter measures 2.2 Amp, increasing up to 2.6 after 30 min. So I use a nominal current of 2.4 Amp for the time calculation.


After the electrolisys process

After this process, 2024 get darked as the parts in Ron Newman’s info; but 6061 remains almost the same. This lead me to make a mistake. I once read that 2024 anodizes faster than 6061, so I thought most action was by 2024 and 6061 parts get almost nothing coating. Also, I measure the diameters of the 6061 round parts an were the same before the process. So I repeat the process for 6061 parts alone (recalculating time of course). After the elapsed time, the parts looks the same, so something was wrong I think… I measure again, and they were 0.05 mm less in diameter! Then I realize that the 6061 were already coated, and the the second run only eats the surface.


In the dye solution

For sure the most easy way to heat the dye solution will be use a cup heater, but I don’t have a small enough one to fit my pot. So put my pot in a large metal pot and surround with boiled water. After a while the dye reach 55º, and I put the parts inside. This is bit less that the specified, but enough I think.


After the dye

When the parts left the dye solution, It was clear that something was wrong with the 2024, and that the 6061 don’t get a uniform color. Anyway I decided continue and finish the process.


In the sealing pot

And the final step: boil the seal solution and put the parts 15 to 20 minutes.


The final result

Well , that’s my first anodizing, far from perfect.


Second Attempt

This is the second try. Here is my improvements and corrections:

  • Surface spots were caused, I think, because of time out of the water (or solution). This time I will take the part straight from a pot to another.
  • The first time I don’t use pure caustic soda, but a special cleaner… bad idea. May be this cause the small pits.
  • I clean the parts in normal water, this time I will always use distilled water.
  • 2024 parts were anodized only at the bottom; a bad contact was probably the fail.
  • This time I will heat the die to the specified temperature: 60º.

Here an extra step is required: remove the previous anodizing in a lye solution. Please note that the lye solution will get dirty, so don’t use the same you use to clean parts.

After putting the parts in the electrolytic solution, I notice that the current was a bit less that the first time, so adjust time accordingly.

So here is the result. Much better.


After sealing a slight white smut was covering the parts; I successfully remove it from 6061 parts, but remains in the 2024 ones. I think that this was partly due to the fact that after removing previous anodizing 2024 surfaces got a bit porous.


After some anodizing rounds I’ve found that:

  • Bad contact is the most common cause of failure. To minimize this, contact points must have some spring capacity. Play with some wire patterns to get something that work. A god wire contact must be able to support the part as this moves.
  • A large part loosen at the half of anodizing will be a headache as this will change the required anodizing time.
  • No anodizing parts get a dark smut, so after a while they’re easy to identify.
  • If dimensional fit is critical for a part, be sure to don’t have to repeat your anodizing.
  • Some numbers: 167 cm^2 -> 2.7 Amp; 180 cm^2 -> 3.5 Amp. So I think a 6 Amp supply will suffice for the capacity of the pots I use. These are 15x15x8 cm, and I guess the will support no more than 300 cm^2 of parts.
  • I try to use a standard PC supply, but the one I used was cheap, so 12 volts were 10 at 2 amps or so. I think I will buy a standard 13.8 volt – 6 Amp supply.
  • To much parts can be trouble to handle, so splitting in groups will be a more secure way.
  • The metal pot should have the at least the same deep as the plastic pots; mine is lower an that is a problem. Parts should not touch the bottom of the pot and shouldn’t be near the surface (as the water level lowers).
  • Without care, this anodizing will not stay too long without small pits. Though more hard than aluminum, due to its small width, anodizing layer will peel after some rub or shock.

That’s all. If you want to learn how to anodize I encourage you to visit Ron Newman’s Anodizing Aluminum among other resources.

Playing with my AVR Development Board

Some time ago I design and build a development board to play with. It uses an AVR ATMega 8535 microcontroller, that has plenty of cool features.

AVR Developing Board

AVR Developing Board Schematic

(schematic here)

This board has a buzzer, 4×4 keypad, lcd, two leds, a pressure sensor and a expansion connector. It runs a program that:

  • Take samples from the eight ADC channels (625 samples/sec for every channel).
  • Send sample data through the serial port.
  • Reads key inputs (and do a “beep”).
  • Display the analog level from an ADC channel in the LCD. Keys 1 to 8 select the channel.
  • Display air pressure and estimated altitude, when press button 16.

It also has a bootloader that allow easy updates (a program that allows send the code trough the serial port without special hardware).

Also time ago, I begin to develop a java program to show the input data in the PC. I left unfinished, and now that I want to test some sensors, I decided to make it usable. Tough not completely finished, now it will be useful.

To test the ADC, the board has a pot that allows swing between 0 and 5 volts, but I wanted to look something more interesting, so build a simple sine function generator around the XR2206 chip.

Signal Generator


This chip powers from 10 to 26 to volts (is use 12V), and the output is centered around half that. You can control the signal amplitude and try to lower the signal center (changing resistors values), but that saturates the signal at the lower level. So I took the basic application’s circuit, added some jumpers and a shift stage. Then build and after adjusting the amplitude and shift I get a nice signal between 0.2 and 4.8 volts, ready to feed my AVR board (please note that you shouldn’t use TL072, but a rail to rail opamp rather). That’s how it look:

ADCViewer Application

Due to the fact the serial of most computers is limited to 115200 bps, and that every sample takes two bytes, the max samples I can send per second is 5000, hence 625 per channel. Even low, it’s nevertheless useful for a lot of things.
Future enhancements will include showing two or more channels in the same window and the option of selecting the channels to acquire and so increasing the sampling speed per channel.