Milling Planetary Position Jewelry

For Valentine’s Day 2020, I made my wife a necklace with three CNC-milled charms, each with a representation of the positions of the planets on specific important days: the day we started dating, and the birthdays of our two children.

Generating Artwork

First, I developed some Python code to generate the images I needed. Since it was graphical and I knew I’d have to play around, I created a Jupyter notebook. (You can play around with my code, too! Change the date and make your own with Binder or Colab!)

You can click through on the Python, but I use sunpy to get coordinates of the planets at a specific time.

After I played around with the data, I created a ray for each planet, starting from the sun, aimed at the planet.

I then saved an SVG for each of the dates for import into my CAD/CAM tool.

CAD/CAM; or “transforming the artwork to something millable”

Once I had the SVG, I created a Fusion 360 project. I made a sketch with three circles, imported the SVGS, and added little holes for the jump rings. An extrusion later, and tada!

The charms in Fusion 360

In the Fusion 360 CAM view, I set up a trace operation with an engraving bit, and then a 2D Pocket and 2D Contour operation with a 1/16″ flat end mill.


I loaded up an anodized aluminum wallet card (which also lasers really really well, by the way!) into my Othermill V2, and a few minutes later, the charms were ready.

The mill right before it engraved the line art into the anodized aluminum card.
I took a video of the mill cutting the charms out.

After loading the first set onto jump rings and then onto a necklace chain, the charms seemed too big, so I went back to Fusion 360 and shrunk the charms down, recut, and a few minutes later, I was finished.

The larger charms, before having their edges buffed.


I think this project turned out quite well. Using a Jupyter Notebook was a huge win, although PyCharm in late 2019 tends to freeze when using it. I really like that using Colab or Binder, folks can open a webpage and use my code–without me having to think about it being a web service when rigging code together. I love laser cutters and 3D printers, but sometimes milling is such a perfect fit for a project.

(This project (1, 2) is also on Instagram.)


Laser-cut “Jigsaw” Puzzle

My son had a Kindergarten assignment–to bring in 100 of something, for a celebration of 100 days of school.

The finished puzzle
“100th day 2-20-20” (I guess I’ll have to teach him about ISO 8601.)

He decided he’d make a puzzle. I took him to my workshop to laser-cut a 100 piece puzzle out of 1/8th inch Baltic birch.

He was incredibly patient and simply delighted by how awesome laser cutting is.

We used an online jigsaw puzzle generator to make the design. It worked well enough, but the pieces weren’t really distinct enough with the settings that I used.

It was really fast!

Next time, I would tape the puzzle together after it had been cut. Solving a blank two-sided puzzle of “wood grain” was not fast!

After we solved it, my son colored it with markers. It turned out great!

(This (1, 2) is on Instagram, too, if that’s your thing.)

Projects Thinking hard, or hardly thinking?

“Art in Space”

On a cold, dark, Minnesota November evening, after what was, for me, a long week, and for the students, months of work, we shipped Blue Origin two payloads: art, for space.

In November 2019, I was contacted by the kind folks at Playful Learning Lab.

They had conducted a contest with OK Go where middle schoolers and high schoolers could dream up some art that could only happen in space. Two teams were selected, one focused on paint splatters and music, and the other focused on suspended magnets and whirling particle vortexes. The undergraduate team at the Playful Learning Lab worked with the winning student teams and also the engineers at Blue Origin.

Once these payloads were created, they’d be launched on Blue Origin’s New Shepard for an 11-minute suborbital flight into space. Actually, that’s not true! As you may suspect, putting things into space tends to have strict deadlines (and mass requirements!), and the team needed some help getting everything ready in time.

They knew I was handy with microcontrollers and electronics and making solid one-off interactives and worked well under pressure, and wanted to know if I was interested.

WAS I INTERESTED?! Rewind a few years to an interview of mine by Mark Fraunfelder.

Mark asked me what sorts of things I dream of making, and I spouted off a few things, and ended with "I'd love to build something that goes into space."

Long story short, it was like a heist movie and Apollo 13 combined. There was the “gathering the team” intro. I brought in folks I’ve spent a decade or more working with, like Matthew Beckler (with whom I have a set of informal Hardy-Littlewood rules) and some of the folks from Kidzibits (who are great at thinking creatively while creating robust, rock-solid fabrications).

We spent a week or so of long days and nights working with a truly extraordinary team of engineering undergraduate students, covering massive whiteboards with diagrams and frequently dumping everything we had onto a table and saying “We gotta remove off 100 grams from this subassembly.” (100 grams here, 100 grams there, when you only have 500 grams per payload, it really adds up!)

474 grams, or 26 grams under the limit! (Photo credit: Maria Baklund)

There were two projects. Cosmic Song had a paint chamber with sticky paper and bright powder pigment, and what I can’t describe any other way than “a space guitar”, with three strings strung across some aluminum, struck by little solenoids. They were driven in a random way, driven by a procedural combination of the telemetry data from the rocket and a little chamber with a proximity sensor and a ball in it. Once it reached space, the powder chambers opened, the powder vibrated out of the boxes and onto the sticky paper, while the space guitar’s strings get tapped by solenoids. Dark Origin had a series of magnets suspended in the middle of the payload, various types of magnetic debris in chambers, and powerful fans blowing a whirlwind. When it reached space, the chambers opened, the fans blew, and the particles swirled and interacted and coalesced upon the strong suspended magnets.

Art in space.

The “space guitar” (Photo credit: Maria Baklund)

(This showed up on Instagram, but I didn’t want to spill any beans.)


Overpass for Magic Tracks

Have you seen Magic Tracks? It’s a relatively inexpensive little electric car and a serpentine track.

My folks got some for my kids during the holidays, and my son wanted some extras. What else am I to do except design and 3D print some?

I uploaded an Overpass for Magic Tracks onto Thingiverse a bit ago.

Have fun!


Tea Tin Planter

I wanted to transplant my baby snake plants into some tea tins I had around, but the tins weren’t waterproof. I designed a little planter in Fusion 360.
It fits inside of the tins, has some holes from drainage, and a lip to hold some water in. I 3D printed a few in this beautiful blue filament Matthew picked up from matterhackers. It’s actually pretty enough I’m not certain I want to put them in the tins now!

(If you make some, remember to put a little gravel in the bottom to help the drainage situation.)

I uploaded the Tea Tin Planter files over at Thingiverse.


Cardboard Charging Box

One of the key insights I think I’ve had is the importance of being able to work a medium that you keep around.

Cardboard Charger Box

If the majority of the things around you are made of metal and plastic, either know how to work finished metal or plastic, or keep other materials around.

Case in point: Cardboard!

I had an Anker 5 port USB charger on my desk to charge some of my geegaw. It was always in a big nest of cables, even when I bought short cables for it. After a year of being irritated at the messiness, I grabbed a cardboard box that I bought to hold filled breadboards, took out my multitool, and cut some holes. There’s plenty of space inside, it doesn’t get too hot, and the cleanliness pleases me everyday.

Opened Cardboard Charger Box

Power plug end

I’m really glad I finally took the ten minutes to do this!


Five-Fingered Hand of Eris

Hand of Eris on chain
Hand of Eris on chain

I like to design symbols from things I read in CAD software. (Wow, that sounds nerdy even for me!)

I designed a few different “Five-Fingered Hand of Eris” symbols from Principia Discordia, one with a longer middle than the other. Both have a hole for a chain.

I posted the Five-Fingered Hand of Eris files over at Thingiverse.

Hail Eris. The Goddess Prevails!


3D Printed Esperanto Jubilee Cookie Cutters

I published the design files for the Esperanto Jubilee cookie cutters I talked about earlier in the Esperanto Lives! post.

Let me know what you think!


Small Guitar Hook

Small Guitar Hook with Loog Guitar

I bought a pretty nice three string guitar before the holidays this year. It’s made by a company called Loog. They were a Kickstarter, actually filled their orders, and are now a pretty cool business. (Also, folks, I am not affiliated with Loog beyond being a happy customer!)

I wanted to show my toddler, Henry, someone working hard to pick up a new skill (and I wanted to learn how to play the guitar!)

Henry fell in love with it, and we realized we needed to put the guitar out of his reach when we weren’t playing with it. The neck is pretty small, so I didn’t know if it would fit in traditional wall hooks.

I downloaded Fusion 360, spent a few hours learning and prototyping, and designed this small guitar hook. It works like a dream.

Small Guitar Hook

My main goal was to make a wall hook for my guitar that would keep all parts of the guitar from rubbing against the wall, while being strong enough for me to trust it. I didn’t want “explosive delamination” to send my guitar to the floor. I used a static load of 3 times the weight of my guitar hanging from the hook to test the strength, and it lasted more than a week without any visible deformation.

Stress Test

I took a few CAD classes in college, but all my 3D printing experience before this had been with OpenSCAD. This was my first project using Fusion 360. I wish it was open source, but it certainly got the job done.

The hook has been used daily for more than six months, with no visible signs of wear.

If you make one of these, please be cautious! Increase your infill, and do testing before you hang your wonderful guitar using this! The last thing I want to see is a person’s guitar in pieces because they downloaded my hook and it didn’t work for them.

I posted the files for the small guitar hook up at Thingiverse–go take a look!


Inexpensive Airtight Box for Storing Filament

Sterlite 20 Quart Air Tight Storage

Sterlite makes a plastic box that is pretty great for storing spools of 3D printer filament. There’s a gasket to make it air tight, which should help keep your filament fresh and dry longer.

I can store about four 1 kg spools, with some extra space.

I found mine at Target for $6.99 each!

Sterlite 20 Quart Air Tight Storage