OK, I have had the machine (X-Carve 1000mm, 24v spindle) for just two days, and want to take on a pretty ambitious project. I am sorting out the work flow and tool chain and there is a lot I will have to learn, so I want to run my outline past you guys to see what you think. I am making a bunch of assumptions about things that I have NEVER done before.
Not only do I have no experience with CNC, I have none with graphic design. But I was a science and math teacher for the last ten years. In April I agreed to become a STEM/shop teacher and to re-commission a middle school shop program that has been basically dark for much of the last decade.
I agreed to take the job because they agreed to buy the X-Carve machine for the shop, and I am committed to teaching the kids to use it too. Formerly I was a carpenter and I can also read, interpret and follow most technical writing after having practiced law for a while, and I have done lots of model airplane and model railroading. I am NOT an engineer, but I think I have the chops to figure this out. If you all are willing to help.
I thought it would be cool to create a periodic table of the elements from floor tiles and install them on the floor of a school chemistry lab. My rough plan is to use the X-Carve to create a floor tile for each element from asphalt tile by covering each tile with some sort of masking film, carving the tile and filling the engraving with epoxy or some other material dyed dark with aniline dye or some other pigment, then sanding the epoxy flush before removing the masking film.
Design and currently my biggest worry: I plan to design and draft the tiles in Inkscape. I just started learning Inkscape today. I have NO experience with graphic design software, but Inkscape seems like the only program within my budget that can create a base template that I can then quickly edit with different information for each element/tile. I know Inkscape can generate .svg files that I can import into EASEL, or can use in some other program. I also think Inkscape would be a useful program to teach to my students because it seems to have many elements found in CAD programs such as DraftSight and AutoCad, and that are useful in things like game and web design, plus the same files could be used with a laser cutter and I am imagining that down the line there might be projects that could use both fabrication techniques on the same work piece…things cut with the X-Carve and engraved with a laser.
If anyone thinks I am making a horrendous mistake with Inkscape for this purpose, please speak up. It is proving to be a lot of work to learn, and if I am wasting my time, I’d appreciate knowing that before I get too much further in, but I can’t justify the cost of Corel Draw unless there is fatal reason to avoid Inkscape.
Design Elements: The tiles will contain atomic number and mass as well as symbol and name. I am thinking about whether they should contain other information…a Bohr model might be useful for the first three periods. Lewis dot diagrams for the rest, or maybe just electron configurations in the usual form (Ar+4s2,3d10,4p1 etc.) or? Should they be in various colors to identify them by group (metals, semi-metals, noble gases, etc?) Descriptive text might be good, but hard to read if the tiles are on the floor and too much detail might make the tiles fragile in a school setting. I’m not asking the community for answers here, just sharing my thoughts, but certainly I’d listen to opinions.
Anyway, my first step is to learn Inkscape, but that’s going to take a few days. Meanwhile I am still commissioning the machine and learning my way around Easel and I will need to decide if I should use, and therefore teach 11-14 year olds to use some other program to send G-code (something else I barely comprehend) to the machine.
Still ahead: how can I engrave asphalt tiles? Tool type, speed, depth, rate etc. Building some sort of a gauge template to assure that the tiles all match and the machine always homes to the same spot on each new tile. Dust extraction…I bet ground up asphalt tile makes nasty dust. What sort of masking film? Will Epoxy be good for filling the engraving or should I use something else? What should I dye the fill with? Will the maintenance team be cooperative in helping me install it? Will my science colleagues get cold feet about having a periodic table on the floor of their classroom? Will the new principal whom I have not met yet be supportive of the project. Can I figure this out and get it done before school starts in just 26 days!..so much to learn about the machine, software, people, and chemical elements too!
The ultimate goal, of course, is not to create a periodic table from floor tiles. It is to teach kids the complete product development tool chain, from the conception stage through sketching the idea on a napkin, making drawings, determining appropriate prototyping and production techniques, manufacturing and marketing a product. The X-Carve is just one tool in the chain, but I think this is a project that will illustrate all of the tools and help me learn the ones I don’t already know.
Anyway, if anyone has thoughts, I’d sure admire to hear them.