Friday, 8 February 2019

DRO Mix n Match for SX2P mill

Its 2019 now and several cheaper options exist for DROs. You just need to shop around. Ebay, AliExpress, etc.

Magnetic DRO packages are a lot cheaper now than they used to be a few years ago. (I am not talking about digital linear scales here but the actual magnetic scales here).

I always wanted a DRO set for my SX2P and SC2 but the size of the cheap digital scales or glass scales always put me off. But magnetic scales have a much smaller sized head and are easier to mount in tight spaces and offer almost negligible loss of travel or interference with machining activity. 

LittleMachineShop has guided instructions somewhere on their website describing the optimal way of mounting it a Sieg Magnetic DRO scale to a mini lathe or a mini mill. 

One of my local Sieg re-sellers had the Sieg magnetic reader heads on sale for a attractive price and I quickly bought 2 along with magnetic scales. They are out of stock now else I would have bought a few more for the SX2P Z axis and the SC2.

The magnetic reader heads had information for the various coloured wires as follows:

Yellow=A, Brown=B, Grey=Z, Red= 5VDC and White=0V

After some searching on the web I realized most of these scales have the same generic dimensions, 5 micron resolution and supported 5V TTL/RS422 signal connections. 

You can find the same generic magnetic read heads sold under various brand names all over Ebay/Aliexpress.

Once I had the magnetic reader heads and scales, I started shopping around for the DRO display unit or the bluetooth tablet based DRO display option. 

I found a Ditron D50_3V dro unit for a reasonable price on Aliexpress. It supported reading the same 5V TTL/RS422 signal but required DB9 pin serial connectors.

I then bought a pair of no weld DB9 connectors to wire the magnetic read heads with the DRO display unit.

The wiring sequence I used is: Yellow=A= Pin 6, Brown=B= Pin 8, Grey=Z= Pin 9, Red=5VDC= Pin 7 and White=0V= Pin 2.

After some quick setup of the DRO display following the instruction manual, the setup worked.

Overall the above mix and match setup was a bit of a risk but only costed me around A$ 350.

I have not mounted the DROs on my SX2P yet but I am happy with the quick tests.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Sourcing bits and pieces for my CNC router build

Several months ago I decided to step into the world of CNC machining.

I had a 3d printer for some time now and it was put together via a DIY kit and it has thought me alot in terms of how CNC machines operate and communicate with software that prints your CAD design. Although 3d printing is additive manufacturing vs milling that is substractive manufacturing, but the basic concepts of the machine design are very similar.

I started thinking if I should CNC my existing SX2P mill and SC2 lathe. Although the platform is rigid enough, I just did not want to make swiss cheese out of my machines by drilling holes and tapping them. I decided that it was best i left these machines for manual operations as it is not always practical to go onto CAD and CAM simply to drill a few holes or a pocket.

I saw several people posting on the internet about building CNC routers using MDF board and a dremel like tool. They seem to show good success but mostly in softer materials.

I wanted something a bit more rigid and yet not to go bankrupt over it.

Shopping online on Aliexpress, I noticed several CNC engravers on sale in the US$ 1k-2k range. Although the frames were rigid enough, these machines lacked powerful spindles or steppers and were using very old and cheap grade electronics.

So I thought if I do buy a ready machine, I am going to spend alot of money modifying the machine for my liking.

The good news is that that manufacturers of these machines are also selling the frame kits without any motors or electronics. This gave me a starting point. 

I didnt want a router that was too huge and thus I settled on the 3020 size of cnc.

Since then I have been purchasing lots of bits and pieces for my CNC router and I am now complete in terms of putting my CNC machine together. The waiting and collecting parts period is well over a few months as this included reasearching, budgeting funds, ordering and waiting for parts to be shipped.

The following is a big list of all the small parts I have had to collect to put together the CNC machine (prices do not include shipping):

3020Z DIY Frame Kit (ball screw design) US$ 350

4 axis 100khz Mach3 compatible USB Breakout Board - US$ 40

3 sets Nema23 dual shaft Bipolar Stepper Motors (57BYGH603B) with matching Stepper drivers (DQ542MA) - US$ 150

1.5kw Air Cooled Spindle - US$ 90

1.5kw VFD - US$ 88

400w 36v 11a switching power supply - US$ 32

60w 12v 5a switching power supply- US$ 7
Laser cut acrylic electronics enclosure - US$ 25

Shielded electrical cabling - US$ 65

Limit switches (10pcs) - US$ 3

E-Stop switch - US$ 2

23 Nema Aluminum stepper motor mounts  - US$ 19

6.35mm to 8mm motor shaft couplings - US$ 4

6.35mm ID aluminum knurled handwheels (3pcs) - US$ 10

Power switches (3pcs) - US$ 2

Panel mount power outlets (2pcs) - US$ 3

Panel mount usb type B 50cm extension - US$ 2

AC EMI power filter- US$ 11

GX16 4 pin connectors (5 pcs) - US$ 5

GX16 2 pin connectors (4 pcs) - US$ 4

AC cooling fan 90mm - US$ 9

DC cooling fan 40mm (2 pcs) - US$ 3

18x25mm cable drag chain (1m) - US$ 7

18x25mm cable drag chain ends - US$ 2

Z Axis touch plate tool - US$ 5

10 position common grounding terminal - US$ 1
Miscellaneous bits & pieces (wiring terminals & connectors, heat shrink tube, fan grills, screws and nuts, adhesive cable holders, etc) - US$ 20

The rough total cost is under US$ 1000 for sourcing the various components. Please note the pricing is excluding shipping costs as this will depend on your location and your final source for the various parts.

The next challenge will be putting these parts together as all my tools are still packed up in storage. The wiring is my biggest concern as without my soldering station and magnification clamps using a cheap soldering iron is not going to be very clean. Then after a new dilema to tune the machine for use with Mach3.

Will it all work in the end, I cant be too certain till i have it all hooked up and tuned in but I am sure I will be able to retrofit everything. 

For me the catch is a much powerful air cooled spindle(i wanted to avoid the hassle of a water cooled spindle), bigger stepper motors with independent drivers, accurate ball screws, thick and rigid frame, USB connectivity as most cheap CNC machines rely on obselete parallel port computers, higher quality insulated electrical cabling and other bits to control electrical noise.

I hope this info to someone who is thinking of buying an off the shelf CNC machine bs building one yourself.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

My journey in desiging a Laser cut Electronics enclosure

Over the last few weeks, I had been busy in my spare time trying to look for a pre-fabricated electronics enclosure for my CNC machine. After extensively looking around my inner DIY gut feelings pushed me towards the custom route again. After looking around the internet, I was impressed by the various CNC electronics enclosures that other folks around the world were making to house the electronics.

I was at a stage where all the required electronics components I required were in my possession and I decided to take on a new adventure of designing a laser cut acrylic enclosure.

I am quite comfortable using FreeCAD for my 3d printing design work but the software lacked the ability to make tabbed boxes. I did find a few options via FreeCAD and Inkscape but it was going to be very very hectic making things work especially with all the different formats such as .SVG, DXF, etc.

I stumbled across a website called . It has a nice and simple online interface where you can with a few basic inputs quickly design a tabbed box and export an .SVG file with the design. If you want a quick tutorial on you should have a quick look at this youtube tutorial:

Below is a snap shop of the website:

After designing the basic tabbed enclosure, I exported the .SVG file and started working in FreeCAD.

Below is an example of the MakerCase exported .SVG file imported in FreeCAD:

At this stage I started carefully editing the design in FreeCAD to add the necessary holes to house the various electronic components.

Below is the final design in FreeCAD:

The design work in FreeCAD was well over a couple of hours but its a tough argument over using expensive CAD applications as both MakerCase and FreeCAD are free.

Then came the next phase i.e. to search of a company than can laser cut the acrylic pieces for me, I had quotes that were all over the place and finally found a reasonable company called Lasertec Sdn. Bhd. They offered laser cutting in acrylic, wood and aluminium and they cater for small or large quantities. As such there is no limit on size and quantity while dealing with Lasertec but the terms are basically Cash/Bank Transfer and self collection. You can even provide your own material and they will just charge you the laser cutting cost but I would advise you do some research before you decide to get your own material as not all acrylic or wood will give good results during laser cutting.

Lasertech has a website where you can see a quick description of their products and services: . After a few emails and sending them the CAD design in .DXF format, they gave me a quote of RM 106 (inclusive of GST) for cutting the design in 3mm Acrylic. After making payment to them via Online bank transfer my laser cut pieces were ready for pickup next day.

Below is a quick picture using my phone showing the final laser cut acrylic pieces:

The complete details for Lasertec are below:
Address: No. 2E, Jalan Wangsa Utama, Taman Wangsa Permai 52100 Kepong, Kuala Lumpur
Telephone: +603 2632 2045

In the end I am very satisfied with the result. The laser cut pieces are perfect in terms of dimensions apart from a few burns which is a signature of laser cutting acrylic or wood. It saves you a lot of time hacking plastic of metal electronics project boxes to house the various components.

I hope anyone with a desire or need to design an electronics project enclosure will find this post useful.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Electronic Supply Source Rewiew

Today I went back to Jalan Pasar to look for some electronic components for my cnc electronics enclosure and I happened to go back to a very old electronics and pcb component supplier: Maplin Electronics. 

The shop details are:

Shop: Maplin Electronics SDN BHD
Address: No. 4, Jalan Landak, Off Jalan Pasar, Pudu, 55100 Kuala Lumpur.
Telephone: 03-92224496

This is a very humble shop that sells several electronic IC's, resistors, capacitors, raw pcb boards, electronic enclosures (plastic/metal), power switches, AC fans (along with fan grills), all kinds of connectors including aircraft type round connectors, DC stepping power supplies, soldering equipment, etc.

Although shopping online for electronic components might be a but cheaper but if you wish to look for a physical location where you can see/touch the components then Maplin is a good place to start and belive me you will not regret visiting this shop.

One other thing I must advise is that the displayed price or quoted price is not the  final price. You can ask for a decent 10-20% discount and they will be willing to entertain you and negotiate a little if you look like a serious buyer.

The staff is very helpful and the environment is quite pleasant and peaceful compared to the noisy shops on main Jalan Pasar who only seem to focus on lighting and musical components.

Note: The area is normally congested with traffic and parking your vehicle may become an adventure you may not be prepared to encounter.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Hobby stores are starting to emerge in Malaysia

I was casually browsing the internet looking for some diy material to build a cnc enclosure for a cnc machine that I have left half baked on the back burner and stumbled upon an interesting post on posted on 1st June 2016:

I have no affiliation with the person but it seems he has setup a new online shop by the name

They even have a store registered at if you feel safer.

You can refer to the information in the lowyat link posted above for some prices he has to offer for a quick comparison.

I am more excited about the fact that they are offering a reasonable price for aluminium extruded profiles, linear hardened shafts etc, and even various 3d printing consumables such as filaments, nozzles e.t.c on their website.

They offer cutting extrusions at custom length and also shipping within Malaysia and COD at specific locations in Klang Valley.

I assume that finally people are starting to realize that there is a small hobbyist group in Malaysia that is interested in building their own 3d printers and cnc machines.

Hopefully in the near future we will have more of such shops where hobbyists can source their project raw materials.

I hope this info will be beneficial to someone who is looking for raw material to build or maintain their own custom 3d printers or cnc machines.

Friday, 3 June 2016


METALTECH 2016 took place at Putra World Trade Center (PWTC) from 25-28th May.

Although the fair is more geared towards commercial visitors, I decided to pay a visit.

I visited their website at and noticed that they offered a simple online registration. Upon visiting the registration counter I presented them my online registration email and they requested my business card. In a couple of minutes i had my visitor badge and was on my way to explore the 6 fully packed halls.

There were all sorts of vendors selling CAD/CAM softwares, 3d printers, CNC machining centers, lots of tools, bits, inserts, welding equipment e.t.c. Most of the pricing was commercially focused and beyond the reach of us hobby machinists and DIY folks.

I did pass by a few vendors selling small bench size lathes and mills (mainly from China & Taiwan), vises, sine plates, angle plates, rotary tables, vee blocks, indexing tools, lots of popular brand measurment tools such as calipers, height guages, indicator gauges e.t.c. 

There were also several vendors selling  power tools, metal bending machines, bandsaws, arbor presses, hydraulic presses, e.t.c.

There were also several companies selling CNC parts such as stepper motors, spindles, vfds, stepper drivers, ballscrews, bearings e.t.c. I was not very impressed with the prices as I can find attractive prices online via AliExpress.

So, you must be wondering if I bought anything? Well, the only thing i found worth buying was a 1 pint (0.473 litre) bottle of Tap Magic ProTap cutting fluid. The picture below is just for a reference but I got a similar bottle for RM 25 which to me is very reasonable compared to online prices and the hassle of importing fluids from USA. I actually regret misplacing the vendors business card in the pile of brochures I had collected during the fair. But hopefully a can of this stuff will last me a very long time.

All in all it was a good experience knowing the technology that exists in the commercial manufacturing world.

Allthough MetalTech was not an open public fair and you needed to be part of a commercial venture just to get in but enterance is free and remember "where there is a will, there is a way".

I would recommend DIY hobbyists to visit the next MetalTech which takes place every year (once a year). You may definitely find it useful if you are more focused towards sourcing your hobby ewuipment locally to benefit from customer service and support.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

My Endless search for tools & machines

Ever since I started getting involved into DIY hobbies, I faced several challenges sourcing machines and various tools. You may have visited my other posts and have noticed by now the small collection of tools & machines I have acquired and used of the last many years. I have various hand tools, hand or benchtop power tools, automotive tools, measuring tools, and basic hobby machines such as a 3d printer, a bandsaw, a lathe and a milling machine.

It has taken me alot of time and search sourcing these items and although I am dream to own beefy well made American or European machines/tools, the harsh reality is that Malaysia is not a hobby engineers or DIY heaven and most of my tools have a Asian (Taiwan/China) origin.

If you search the internet (ebay, amazon, etc) you can see lots of machines available to the western markets but sadly not many sellers will ship to Malaysia and several sellers prefer self collect/cash on delivery in the US or UK etc. For us n Malaysia we are limited to either walking from shop to shop searching for hobby grade tooling or ordering from Chinese sellers on ebay who are willing to sell and ship to anywhere n the world at a cost.

I have actually seen forums on the internet where people discriminate these China/Taiwan manufactured machines and call them as garbage, but frankly speaking its always easy to brag when you have an advantage of being in the right location. To me these cheap/hobby grade Chinese/Taiwanese machines are like gold gems.

I am not Malaysian but I do belong to a poor part of the world that spend over 30 years in war and I know that us in the eastern part of the world till a few decades ago were more worried about food, clothing and shelter. It was extremely rare for anyone in the 50'ies or 60'ies to be able to afford expensive hobbies. Today people in the eastern world can spend several thousands on photography, cycling, travelling etc.

This is probably where people in the western world are able to source some valuable gems from back in the day. They have auctions, yard sales, antique machinery shops and they are also very visible on the internet. I extremely envy all those lucky people.

Sometimes the stuff I look for is no longer in production and have been made obsolete simply because of new and expensive technology available to replace them. And quite frankly I have been very very un-successful in finding any of the items on my treasure hunt list. Even people in the trade in this part of the world have never seen such machines nor have they ever used them. I guess in the eastern world people just make do of what they have available or outsource it commercially.

Let me share with you today just 3 items from my treasure hunt list. Several normal people have never even seen these items in real life nor would they be able to guess what they even do or are used for. Here we go:

1. Finger Plate: It is primarily used to hold small delicate objects that need to be drilled or machined. That simple right but imagine drilling a hole or milling through a piece of metal that barely measures a few centimeters. Most hobby machinists make there own now as its not in production anymore.

2. Die Filer or Parallel Filing Machine: A die filer is one of those tools that you see pop up from time to time in magazines or construction manuals. The owners of these machines always speak very highly of them, yet commercial manufacture of these tools ceased a long time ago. You can not even find the parallel files that are used on these machines any more. I had been looking for one on Ebay for years but have not been lucky. They help file edges, make square holes, etc. Imagine all the time you can save with this machine vs filing by hand. There are several casting kits available online that can be shop finished to make one for yourself but the cost of even shipping the castings kit to Malaysia will cost you a ton.

A photo of the kind of parallel machine files used with a die filer. They are no longer commercially available.

3. Metal Shaper: A metal shaper generally uses single point tools, like those use in a lathe to cut metal in a series of straight lines. A shaper cuts much flatter surfaces than a mill with a face mill cutter. No matter how square the facemill is, it will deflect a bit under load and cut a very shallow scallop. First time you hand scrape a shaped surface versus a milled surface, you will understand how "unflat" the milled surface really is. Unfortunately for several people in the trade they general statement is: "you can make anything but money with a shaper". A shaper is also VERY slow, when compared to a mill of similar power and capacity. A shaper spends about 45% of the time doing nothing as the ram retracts for another cutting stroke. But to me, the flatness you can achieve with a metal shaper is exceptionally perfect. I have seen a few very large industrial grade metal shaper's in machine shops in person but they are too large for hobby purposes where we usually would prefer a 5" or a 7" benchtop model.

Although time has moved on and these machines have been forgotten, for the hobby machinists, these are still a gem and are very useful in our home base garages or home machine shops.

Sad to say, I may never get my hands on any of these in the near future within my current capabilities financial (else I could have paid a ton in price & shipping to order these second hand from US or UK) but my quest continues and hopefully I will come across one in Asia.

A never ending quest and my list will probably keep on growing larger. Sour grapes!!