Using the Triple Edge Finder from The Maker’s Guide with the Xylotex Drive Box Part 2

Connection and Configuration

 

Easily, the most popular question I get is how I hooked up my Triple Edge Finder to my Xylotex Drive Box for use with my Shoestring Budget CNC Router. This article is part 2 of a series in which I’ll explain what I needed to buy, how I hooked everything up, what settings I used in Mach3, and how I use it in normal day to day operations. Read More

This article is meant to accompany my video tutorial, which can be viewed on my YouTube channel right here.

With all of the parts ordered, and hopefully received by now, it’s time to start assembling everything.

The Xylotex DB25_BOB_ST Breakout Board (BoB)

First, we’ll hook the Xylotex DB25_BOB_ST Breakout Board (BoB,) up to the drive box. There’s not much that could be simpler. It all depends on your current setup. If you currently use the parallel port on the back of your PC, you simply need to unplug it from the drive box (with the power turned off, of course) plug the BoB into that end of the cable, then plug a parallel cable into the drive box and into the remaining side of the BoB.

If you use a UC 100 or similar device, plug a parallel cable into the drive box (a 3’ parallel cable came with it from Xylotex,) plug the other end into the BoB, the plug your UC 100 and USB cable into the remaining end of the BoB. You’re all set.

Next we’ll get the Triple Edge Finder (TEF) ready to go. The TEF is shipped with a red banana plug and an alligator clip. The banana plug is for the positive lead, and it plugs into one of the holes on the edge of the TEF – it doesn’t matter which one, so use whichever you find to be most convenient.

The plug may need a lead soldered or crimped to it, so that’ll come next. In my case, I used 16-gauge primary wire because it’s what I had on hand. The size of wire isn’t really important, and it doesn’t have to be anything special. We’re only dealing with 5 volts DC. How much wire you use is up to you. In my case, I had a 25 foot roll of both black and red from another project, so that’s what I used. I got it from my local big box store. Most of them sell wire by the foot, so that’s a good alternative if you don’t see yourself ever using 25 feet of wire.

I soldered a length of red wire to the banana plug, and attached a length of black wire to the alligator clips. I use 2 alligator clips of different sizes – one for .125” and .25” bits and end mills, and another for .5” and larger end mills.

The Triple Edge Finder with the two different sizes of clips I use for various bit sizes.

In the video, I describe the simplest, most basic connection possible with the TEF. Simply pick one of the DB terminal numbers and attach the red wire to it. Attach the black wire(s) to the ground on the same terminal strip. Snug them down, but not so tight that you crack the terminal, and you’re finished.

Next it’s time to measure the thickness of your Triple Edge Finder. Measure it at its thickest part, up on the flat as indicated in the video. I used a set of veneer calipers, but a micrometer is more accurate. Either will do in this case. Again, I used what I have.

Take the DB pin number you connected the red wire to and the measurement of your TEF over to the computer and start Mach3. At this point, follow the instructions on the video to configure the Ports and Pins in Mach3, and enter your TEF’s thickness in the Plate Offset space. Don’t forget to press ENTER after you enter that measurement, or Mach3 won’t save it. Remember that you need to go over to the CONFIG menu and select Save Settings for these settings to be made permanent.

The Ports and Pins window with the Input Signals tab selected. The PROBE settings for use with the TEF highlighted in the green box. Click to expand picture.

Now it’s time to do a little bit of script editing. Here is the Z zero Script file you’ll need. Click the link, and it will open the file, and display the plain text that you will need to copy it onto your computer. To do that, first open Notepad. Click the Z zero Script link in the second sentence of this paragraph. Copy the text and paste it into Notepad. Save the Notepad TXT document with the name Z Zero Script in a location that’s easy for you to find. Click your web browser’s BACK button to come back to this page. Once saved to your computer, you can follow along and make the necessary changes as indicated in the video. Once finished, don’t forget to save the file in Notepad before you close it.

A little bit more info on the need to edit this script in the first place. Thomas (AKA Big Tex,) wrote the Mach3 Toolsetter and its scripts for CNC machines that have a fixed touch plate, a mobile touch plate, homing switches, and limit switches – all four of those accessories. My CNC, and indeed a good percentage of home hobby CNCs, don’t have all four of those accessories. Thomas doesn’t currently feel the need to change his script to make the Mach3 Toolsetter work with machines that don’t use all four of those accessories. In many ways I can see his point. He created his screen set for a specific type of customer. I don’t fit into that category. I would be basically asking him to customize his product for my purposes free of charge, and I can see how he’d be reluctant to do that, and I have no problem with that. So I did it myself, as all customizers do.

When I first downloaded and installed the Mach3 Toolsetter, I had a horrible experience with the whole thing. The X zero and Y zero functions have always worked perfectly. They still do. The Z zero function, however, almost ended in disaster. The first time I used it, the end mill I had in my router touched down onto the TEF just fine, it stopped, then lifted up about ¼ of an inch, then plunged downward onto the top of the TEF, and tried to keep going. It would have tried to drive itself through the table had I not been right there to hit the panic button. Naturally, I freaked out. After I calmed down, I did a Google search for this problem to see if anyone else had experienced anything similar. Yes, it appeared, they had.

What followed was about 3 months of emails, phone calls, and video chats with Bill Griggs (the maker of the TEF,) and Thomas (AKA Big Tex.) Both of them tried very hard to help me, but none of us could figure out what was going on or why. No matter what we tried, it just kept performing in the same way – X and Y zero worked fine, and Z zero tried to bore its way through the TEF and table. Thomas sent me several updated versions of the Toolsetter Screen Set, but to no avail. Finally, we decided that the screen set just couldn’t be made to work with my CNC router.

About a month later, I discovered that the problem lies in the script for the Z zero button. I don’t know what the specific problem is. Nobody does. Several people with years of experience have looked at it, and they can find nothing wrong with it. The author, Thomas, says there’s nothing wrong with it. I believe him. He and Bill Griggs couldn’t find a problem. The short version of this long story is this: I finally replaced that Z zero button script with something a LOT simpler, and now it works on my CNC. It’s worked for over a year, and there have no problems at all. Not a single one. None.

One of the reasons I’ve waited so long to post this video is because I wanted to make absolutely sure I didn’t have a problem with it. After over a year, it remains trouble free. I’m now confident in it enough to let folks know about it.

So now you know why I replaced the script for the Z zero button, and now you know why it took me so long to make this video series.

Follow the instructions in the video to replace the script, save it, go to the CONFIG menu, click Save Settings, then restart Mach3.

Don’t forget to go to the CONFIG menu and click Save Settings before restarting Mach3.

Now we’re ready to fire everything up, test it, and use it.

But that’s in part 3 – Putting the Triple Edge Finder to Work.

Stay Tuned!

 

Disclaimer: This is how I use the Triple Edge Finder with the Mach3 Toolsetter and my Xylotex drive box. I am well aware of the problems that have been reported in using the Mach3 Toolsetter with some systems. I have been using this system for over a year with no problems at all. Having said that I cannot and WILL NOT guarantee it will work on any system other than my own. Proper care, research, and due diligence should be exercised in this and any other modification to a CNC router. I am not and will not be responsible for any damages incurred by anyone attempting to copy these modifications. 

Using the Triple Edge Finder from The Maker’s Guide with the Xylotex Drive Box Part 1

The Breakout Board and Mach3 Toolsetter Screen Set

This is a companion article that goes with my YouTube video, posted here.

Easily, the most popular question I get is how I hooked up my Triple Edge Finder to my Xylotex Drive Box for use with my Shoestring Budget CNC Router. This article is part 1 of a series in which I’ll explain what I needed to buy, how I hooked everything up, what settings I used in Mach3, and how I use it in normal day to day operations. Read More

To get started, we’ll need to get the Triple Edge Finder itself, obviously. You can get yours over at The Maker’s Guide by clicking this link.

The Triple Edge Finder by The Maker’s Guide.

Next, we’ll need a way to hook up the Triple Edge Finder (TEF) to the computer and Xylotex Drive Box. We’ll do that through a Breakout Board (BoB.) Xylotex no longer makes a pass-through type of BoB, so a BoB will have to be sourced from another supplier. Jeff at Xylotex suggests you search for “D-SUB-DB25-Male-Female-Header-Breakout-Board-Terminal-Block-Connector.” He also recommends searching for that phrase with and without the dashes.  As an example, he suggested this BoB here.

The BoB goes in between the drive box and the computer. It basically gives you access to the wires within the parallel cable that we’ll need to access. How you’ll connect the BoB to the drive box depends on how you currently connect your drive box to your PC.

If you’re using an older PC with a parallel port, and you have your drive box plugged into the parallel port with a parallel cable, you’ll need to get a second cable. There are a few options here. You can order a second 3 foot parallel cable through Xylotex. They’re only 3 feet long, though, and that just wasn’t long enough for my setup. I needed a 6’ long parallel cable. You can shop for them online, and they’re not expensive. I’ve also found them reasonably priced in small, local computer repair shops, and even in thrift shops. Here’s a link to an 8 foot cable that’s available on Amazon.

The main thing to remember in ordering a parallel cable is to get a DB25 Male to DB25 Female cable. A standard parallel printer cable WILL NOT work. Standard printer cables have a C36 connector at one end that WILL NOT fit your BoB, drive box, or your PC.

DB25 Male to Female Cable.

If you currently use a UC100 and USB cable or an Ethernet smooth stepper to connect your drive box to your PC, you will be fine with what you have, and shouldn’t need to get any additional cables.

With the cable situation sorted, we can move on to the next step – downloading and installing The Mach3 Toolsetter Screen Set for Mach3.

As described in the video, head over to the Mach3 Support site.  There you will find the Mach3 2010 screen set and the Mach3 Toolsetter screen set. I chose to use the Mach3 Toolsetter as I like the interface better than the 2010 screen set, but you’re free to use either one. The remaining instructions, however, are for the Mach3 Toolsetter screen set, as I’ve never used the 2010 screen set.

Both the 2010 screen set and the Toolsetter screen set cost $20 each, and I really think they’re money well spent. Once your purchase is completed, the screen set will be emailed to you. Once you’ve downloaded the .zip file, extract it to a location that’s easy for you to find. I prefer to extract .zip files to the same folder they’re located in. They’re easier to find when they’re kept together.

Don’t forget to create a new Mach3 profile specifically for use with the Toolsetter. In fact, I kept the stock Mach3 Mill profile untouched and created a new profile for my CNC before I ever thought about getting a Triple Edge Finder. It’s just good practice to use a cloned profile and make any modifications in it. That way if the profile becomes corrupt for some reason, you have the original to create a replacement from.

UPDATE: 3/26/17

In the video, I clone the factory Mach3 Mill profile. This was done on a computer that is not hooked up to a CNC. I STRONGLY suggest you DO NOT clone the factory Mach3 Mill profile to set up the Mach3 Toolsetter. INSTEAD, clone the profile you’re using NOW. If you clone the factory Mach3 Mill profile, you will have to set up Mach3 to work with your CNC all over again.

Bottom line: Clone the profile of the Mach3 profile you’re using now!

 

In the video, I named the new profile CNC Router, but you can name it anything you’d like. Just know that installing the Toolsetter into that profile will affect that profile only. The Toolsetter screen set will not appear in any of the other profiles on your computer. If you want to use the Toolsetter in any other profile, you’ll need to copy and paste the macro into that profile’s folder in the Mach3 folder, then activate it in the View menu in Mach3 like we did in the video.

The Mach3 Toolsetter by Big Tex.

Follow the Mach3 Toolsetter installation instructions in my video and you should be all set. Once the Mach3 Toolsetter is installed and we have all of the parts and supplies in hand, we’re ready to go out into the shop and start hooking things up!

But that’s in part 2 – Connection and Configuration.

Stay Tuned!

 

Disclaimer: This is how I use the Triple Edge Finder with the Mach3 Toolsetter and my Xylotex drive box. I am well aware of the problems that have been reported in using the Mach3 Toolsetter with some systems. I have been using this system for over a year with no problems at all. Having said that I cannot and WILL NOT guarantee it will work on any system other than my own. Proper care, research, and due diligence should be exercised in this and any other modification to a CNC router. I am not and will not be responsible for any damages incurred by anyone attempting to copy these modifications. 

Converting Metric Vectors to Imperial (or Vice Versa) in VCarve, Aspire, and Cut2D

Converting from Metric to Imperial is easy.

Have you ever imported a DXF file into your Vectric software, only to find that it’s incredibly huge, or unbelievably small? Well, maybe the vector file was drawn in a different unit of measure.  Read More

When you import a DXF file into VCarve, Aspire, or Cut 2D, the software imports the file as drawn. It doesn’t convert from one unit of measure to another. So if you’re working in Imperial units and import a file that was 200 mm long, Vectric assumes that it’s 200 inches. Obviously that’s a problem. Usually, converting those vectors from metric to Imperial solves the problem.

To convert from metric to Imperial or vice-versa, you have several options. One of these options is the calculators that are built in to Vectric software. That’s right – you can let the software do the math for you. The great thing about it is that it’s easy to do, and only needs to be done one time.

By request, I made a short video for a friend who asked me about converting vectors from one unit of measure to another. It’s easy to do in VCarve, Aspire, and Cut 2D software, using their built in calculators. This method works equally well if you’re attempting to convert from metric to imperial or from imperial to metric.

Don’t forget to save your file after you make the conversion! It might also be a good idea to export a DXF file in the proper unit of measure – just to be on the safe side.

Here’s a link to the video.  As usual, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them here in a comment, or shoot me an email by clicking the Contact Us link right here.

Thanks for watching!

Eliminating Unnecessary Points from Vectors in VCarve, Aspire, and Cut 2D

One of the side effects of importing vectors from a separate CAD or graphics program is that you’re importing those vectors as drawn by the file’s creator. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it can lead to side issues if some of the basics aren’t addressed. Among these basics are the numbers of points in the vectors and what type of vectors they are. Read More

As I’ve mentioned before in previous posts, there are three types of vectors: arcs, curves, and lines. All vectors are based on one of these three types. It may or may not be readily apparent as to which type of vector the file’s creator used when they drew the vectors. Additionally, sometimes the export process within the creator’s program will change the type of vectors being exported to polylines, no matter what type of vector the creator used. This is done to reduce file size and eliminate software conflicts. In any case, we need to get in and check them.

After importing vectors, whether they’re from a DXF file or any other source, it’s usually a good idea to immediately join them, and then go into Node Editing Mode to see how many points make up these vectors. This will almost always result in the need to reduce the number of unnecessary points in these vectors.

Why is it a good idea to remove these extra points? There are several reasons: faster toolpath calculation times, fewer lines of g-code and smaller g-code files, smoother cuts on the final product, and more.
In the example file I used in this video, the program the vectors were drawn in converted all of the vectors to polylines. That resulted in turning the long curves to a series of straight lines – a huge series of straight lines. If these vectors were left as is, the VCarve software would have to calculate the toolpaths necessary to cut the project by calculating from each individual point to the next point. This will result in a huge number of calculations, bloated g-code files, and could lead to faceted curves rather than smooth curves.

It’s generally accepted that the smaller the number of points the software has to calculate, the better your finished project will turn out. By simply applying curves to the vectors, and having those curves replace the imported vectors, we can make a dramatic reduction in the number of points the software has to use to calculate our toolpaths. This can result in quicker calculating times, smaller g-code files, a smoother curved cut, and even shorter machining times.

How much shorter of a machining time? Well, there are lots of variables – it may only be a few seconds or minutes. But those seconds or minutes can add up if you’re cutting a large piece of material, or if you have several copies of the same project to cut. I don’t think anyone would argue that if you can improve your daily output from 5 per day to 6, and achieve a finer finish straight off the table in the process, it’s not worth taking the time to do. This is especially true if it only take a few seconds to do.

In the video linked below, I demonstrate one way to check for and eliminate unnecessary points from vectors imported from a DXF file, into VCarve Pro. The method I used is the same for VCarve, Aspire, and Cut 2D.

Joining Vectors that Just Won’t Join in VCarve, Aspire, and Cut 2D

Sometimes we get what looks like a design that’s ready for toolpathing, even though it’s not.  Trying to calculate even simple profile toolpaths just won’t work. Sometimes you’ll get an error message in VCarve, telling you that a certain number of vectors will be ignored if you proceed. In most cases, this error message is caused by open vectors that just need to be joined. But what do you do when they won’t join? Read More

Normally you can just select the open vectors and use the Join Open Vectors tool in the Edit Vectors section. But what if that doesn’t work?

In the video, I’ll show you some different ways of joining problem vectors. Along the way, I’ll also show you one way of identifying whether or not a design was imported from a DXF or DWG file.

I had a comment on the video the day after I posted it that asked me why I didn’t just adjust the tolerance in the Join Open Vectors tool form. It’s a legitimate question, and it could very well work – in fact, it would have taken care of several of the open vectors. The main reason I didn’t do that was that the video was not meant to be a demonstration of the Join Open Vectors tool – it was supposed to demonstrate why it’s worthwhile to zoom in and do a little bit of investigating to find out why the vectors won’t join in the first place. In the video we find 3 reasons why the vectors wouldn’t join; vectors that needed trimming to create separate vectors from a single vector, vectors that were too long and needed to be trimmed back, and an extra vector that just didn’t match up with the rest of the design. Adjusting the tolerance in the Join Open Vectors tool probably would have fixed the vectors that were just too long and needed to be trimmed back – it wouldn’t have fixed the other two though.

Please keep questions and comments like that coming, though! I get all of my video topics from your input, and questions like that are good examples.

Have a question or comment? Leave it in the comments below. If you’d prefer, go over to the Contact Us page and submit it to me there.

What Exactly is a Vector?

Sometimes we take the simplest things for granted. As an example, I started making CNC videos a little less than a year ago, and I thought I was making basic videos for the absolute beginner. Well, it turns out I haven’t been doing that at all. I fell into the same trap a lot of other people make, and that is assuming that folks already know what I’m talking about when I use certain words and phrases. Take the word Vector. I had never given it much thought. I figured that if a person was interested in CNC, they probably already had some basic knowledge of how they worked, and the steps involved in turning an idea into physical object. Maybe they didn’t know every step along the way, but there was probably at least an understanding that to get from point A to point D, you had to go through points B and C along the way. It turns out I, like a lot of other people, assumed too much. Read More

The first time I was asked what a vector actually was, I was kind of surprised by the question. The person told me that they were an absolute beginner, were trying to wrap their head around the process, and didn’t understand why they couldn’t just draw a line in Microsoft Paint, and get the CNC to cut that line. I walked them through the process, satisfied their curiosity, and didn’t give it much thought from there. That was about 9 months ago as I write this. Then, about 2 months ago, I was asked the same question – twice.

I’ve been asked that question at least half a dozen times in the last month alone. That led me the conclusion that as the CNC becomes cheaper and cheaper for the average woodworker to add to their arsenal of tools, there is a genuine need for this info. More and more people are exploring the thought of buying or building a CNC, so more and more people are asking the questions a lot of us take for granted. If you don’t know something, you just don’t know – there’s no shame in asking about it. I mean, that’s how you learn, right? None of us were born with this information. Someone told us, we read it, or we saw it in a video. The point is that we learned it somewhere. That’s why I decided to make this video.

Some of you seasoned veterans may think this is a silly topic to do a video about. Some of you may be genuinely interested. No matter where you fall in that spectrum, I do hope you’ll be able to take something from this video, no matter how trivial it may be. Don’t think so? Okay, ask yourself the same question; what is a vector? Don’t say that it’s a line – you’d be wrong.

Down with Double-Sided Tape!

I hate double-sided tape. I mean with a flaming red passion. Why? Pull up a chair and I’ll tell you. Read More

In my experience, the double-sided tape I’ve used to mount a project or template falls into two main categories; either the adhesive is too weak, allowing the material you’re trying to hold to move, or it’s too strong, requiring you to use extreme measures such as open flame or blasting to get the material off after you’re finished running it, or abandon the project in place and move on. Nope – I don’t like it at all.

I plodded along in life, using the horrible stuff, figuring I had no alternative, until I happened upon a YouTube video posted by Ben Crowe, owner of Crimson Guitars in the UK. In that video, he demonstrated a technique an apprentice luthier showed him that involved using cyanoacrylate (CA) glue, an activator spray, and common masking tape to mount a template to a guitar body blank. Ben, being the experienced luthier he is, at first scoffed at the idea. Upon first glance, I admit that I did the same thing. How ridiculous – it’ll never work. The thing is, it DOES work. It works very well.

I tried it myself, and became hooked, and no longer use double-sided tape at all in my shop. I use this technique in every instance I would have otherwise used double-sided tape, and it’s never failed me.

I think the secret of its success is the fact that you burnish the tape to the material you’re going to cut, AND burnish it to the work surface or template you’re going to stick it to. You can’t do that with double-sided tape – you can only burnish it to one or the other. Double-sided tape has to be mounted on a flat surface for it to work. With this method, the glue spreads out and will bond to the surface of the tape it’s contacting, no matter how irregular that surface may be. If the two taped surfaces touch, it’ll stick.

In the video, I demonstrate the technique on a piece of ¼” thick material I cut some cigar box guitar pickup trim rings out of. As you can see, they hold fast, never move, and release easily when the operation is complete. Yes, I’m basically making my own double-sided tape, but it’s tape that I can control and can rely on. THAT’S what really matters.

I’ve been using this method almost exclusively for well over a year, and it has never failed me – not once. On larger panels, I’ll still screw the material down to the spoilboard and use the tape and glue to keep the parts I’m cutting in place on the spoilboard.

By request, here are some links to the tape, glue, and activator I used in this video.  In my experience, the brand of masking tape, glue, and activator don’t really matter. These are what I used in the video – your mileage may vary.

Scotch Blue Painter’s Tape

FastCap 2P10 Medium CA Glue

FastCap 12 oz Activator

Try it! No, seriously!

Using Dingbats in VCarve and Aspire

Dingbats are free vector graphics that you already have installed on your Windows based PC.

 

So what are Dingbats? Historically speaking, Dingbats are little ornaments that were used to decorate printed pages. Although they were also used as place holders or spacers, they were usually used to frame images or add graphics to a page. Read More

In computer terms, a Dingbat is a small graphic image used to convey information, such as arrows, punctuation marks, or even just small images for decorative purposes. If you’ve ever used a word processor and searched through the font list, you’ve probably come across them under the name Wing Dings or something similar.

Some examples of Dingbats are the symbols Σ ℘ ♠ ⇐ ↵ → etc.

They’re not limited to those types of symbols, however. Far from it. Dingbats come in all shapes and sizes. Everything from representations of individual playing cards and their suits, to Celtic knot work, to zoo animals, and everything else in between.

As mentioned, they’re regular TrueType fonts that are available for use within just about any CAM software. What few people realize, however, is that all TrueType fonts are also scalable vector graphics. That’s right – they’re free, scalable vector graphics that can be used in your projects.

A simple Google search for “Dingbats” will give you links to more sources of dingbats than you could imagine. Some Dingbats follow a theme such as arrows or common symbols. Others are quite sophisticated miniature works of scalable art.

In the video, I show you what Dingbats are, where to find them, and how to use them in VCarve and Aspire.

Once you see how these fonts can be used for your projects, you’ll wonder how you got along without them. Explore Dingbats online – you’ll be amazed at what’s out there, in most cases for free.

As usual, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them in the comments below. If you’d prefer, email me using the Contact Us link.

Grouping Vectors, Creating Layers, and Creating Linear Arrays in VCarve, Aspire, and Cut 2D

There are times when you’ll want to create several copies of a single part and calculate toolpaths to cut them all out. Fortunately for us, the folks at Vectric have included several ways of getting the job done without the need to draw each individual copy. The use of layers, linear arrays, and grouping vectors all come together to make this task a lot easier. Read More

Since VCarve Pro is a Windows based program, there are several ways to do the same thing. I’ll demonstrate one way to get the job done in this video.

In the video, I draw out 150 small parts for a fictitious customer. Along the way I explain how I copy vectors, group vectors, align vectors with one another. I’ll demonstrate how to place vectors on individual layers and why. I’ll show you how to use the Linear Array tool to keep from having to draw 150 copies of the same part.

I did not cut these parts out in real life, but if I did, I’d certainly use the masking tape and superglue method of mounting the work material to my spoil board. I can’t think of another way to mount the material that would be as effective. I also wouldn’t cut all the way through the material. Instead, I’d cut to within a few thousandths of cutting all the way through, then sand through the back of the material to release the parts from the skeleton. This method is known as onion skinning. We’ll get into that technique further in another article.

If you noticed the typo in the title thumbnail, score yourself 5 bonus observation points.