Alphabet Series MakerShed

A is for Alphabet

Welcome to a series of posts about my experience as a “maker” of things. The Make revolution, or Internet of Things, is here to stay. I have enjoyed watching the tools and technology evolve since my first Apple IIe in the early 1980’s to the introduction of Shockwave3D in 2000  which led me to Unity3D,  VR, and fast-forward to today’s Augmented Reality,  Arduino micro controllers,  sensors, 3D printers, laser cutters, and my favorite woodworking tool, the Handibot 2.0

How do I combine all of this into one theme? It’s as easy as A-Z or in the case of numbers, 0-9 (It’s all just zeros and ones after all.)

Alphabet Series

Join me on a series of “rapid experiments” from A-Z leading up to the
Charlotte Mini Maker Faire (October 8th, Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC)

I have recently focused on using the Handibot 2.0 to create a series of woodcut blocks to “print on demand” at the upcoming technology faire. I decided to create an alphabet set, or font, that could be used to embellish a series of associated woodblock images that visitors can print, while I proceed to output some more printing plates on my Handibot 2.0.

Creating an Alphabet is also a great way to practice design of multicolor “process printing” which uses a series of aligned blocks to create color overprints, similar to the traditional 4-color printing process (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black). I am using a Wacom Tablet to retain the hand-drawn style, complete with imperfections and minimal ‘undo’ with respect to the traditional woodcut medium.

Of course, I am not restricting my designs to CMYK or even RGB. Some prints are monotone, some look best in duotone, some tritones use a 3rd plate to create accent colors, and some very ambitious images will use full four color separations, or posterization.

Each letter has invoked a side project, of which there are many! All of the ideas are from my personal sketchbooks. Some concepts have been “in progress” for a week, a month, a year, or more! Some items have been on the front burner, and this is a “kickstart” to breathe new life into the builds that begin to emerge from the drawn pages into real life. The beta test of the interactive art installation for this new series will be shared at the Maker Faire which is my favorite audience to share with, and learn from.

Usually, when I create a really innovative concept sketch for a new product, feature, contraption, invention, or artistic endeavor, I will mysteriously see it on  Kickstarter, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr, or even the nightly news, within a day or so.  This is part of the excitement of being a Maker.

Is any idea truly unique, or is everything built from a collective experience? There is great merit in the concept of Open Source, so I encourage anyone reading this to expound on the ideas! Make them better, make recommendations, provide formal design critique, or try to make money from it somehow… (Share the good, bad, ugly, and revenue with me freely!)

Or just enjoy them for what they are today; Visual expressions of design and technology that I am inspired to create every day. In the spirit of continual improvement, nothing is ever truly finished, only created and sometimes destroyed.

Check back for new posts semi-daily, following the letters A-Z, and a final countdown to the Charlotte Mini-Maker Faire

Bonus Round: Once finished, the entire set will be a web compatible font icon library,  suitable for printing or web use,  available at


Alphabet Series

B is for Butterfly

Brazil is home to hundreds of species of brightly colored insects, including the iridescent blue morpho. I was given a collection of beautifully framed  specimens, likely collected in Brazil  in the early 1960’s and transported overseas by my father, Leon Schneider a Merchant Marine from 1941-1967. If you were expecting to read about Butterflies and Merchant Marines in the same story, look no further! He’s now 94, perhaps he has a story to tell about them….

For the woodblock series, a butterfly block print is perfect for a random mix of colors.


The resulting prints will be used to create a vibrant display of butterfly wing patterns resembling the original family heirlooms. I look forward to seeing what the visitors to the Charlotte Mini Maker Faire on October 8th will create with this featured item, brought to you by the letter B:



Alphabet Series MakerShed

D is for Dice


One of my first constructions with the Handibot was a simple box. A box is a very important shape to be able to make, since it is a good challenge in a traditional woodworking shop. A box will tell you if your table saw is “square” and your measurements are “true”. It will tell you if your box joints are “strong”. Not sure why I put quotes around strong, other than a weak joint will result in scrap wood on the floor.

A box is also the first of many geometric primitives, or polyhedra. Think about Dungeons & Dragons die. Now think about making a set of Dice (Die).


I used, which is a perfect app for creating laser cut templates. I just adapted it to my dimensions and tolerances for the CNC Handibot.

This meant fitting my template within a 6″ x 8″ cutting area. I could have cut each side as large as 6″ x 6″ but I prefer 3″ dice, about the same size as fuzzy dice that I could hang from my rear view mirror…


So, a singe pass of the router will result in 6 sides. Each side has finger joints, or box joints to create an interlocking assembly.

With CNC milling, you select the “Kerf” or cutting tool width, when finalizing your tool path design.

For example a laser will burn away approximately .02 of material (in wood) so you have to adjust your design tolerances accordingly.

A typical router bit for doing a straight cut into wood is 1/8″ so I set my cutting path to cut “outside” of the line. Now, to ensure a tight fit and not have to rely on hand-sanding, I offset the cutting blade by .01, which means my exact digital dimensions now have a slight undercut, so everything “just fits”.

One other learning (the hard way) is that every production run of plywood is a bit different. If the tag says 1/8″ plywood, take out a caliper and measure it. On some days, it is actually .175″. On another purchase, it is .2 or 1/5″   This will dramatically impact your finger joints, since they are measured based on the thickness of the wood for a tight fitting joint. Or the box will fall apart and land on the floor. Glue is messy and ruins your paint/stain unless you have excellent edge control of the glue. (I don’t). So I like to rely on my Japanese Woodcutting ethics and use no glue. Unless of course I am using “Captive Bolts” and T-Slots on my joints. Then I rely on my Victorian Steampunk woodworking ethics.  And maybe some glue for my American Woodworking ingenuity. Whatever works, make it YOUR style….

I have broken 1/8″bits before, so be careful what material you use as your underlay surface (MDF is much harder than plywood). Now, I cut straight through the 1/5″ plywood in two passes which is easier on the tools.

I take the template into Adobe Illustrator just because I am most familiar with the vector editing tools there, but you can use Inkscape (free) or V-Carve (comes with Handibot) to achieve your design intent.

My design intent for the box, was to add the Dots (or as they are called,”Pips”). I just referred to an actual set of dice for placement, to prevent humiliation from the dice rolling community. All corresponding sides must equal 7 and there are 6 ways to make a 7 or 6:1 Odds. But that’s for another post.

Before cutting the parts, I coated the wood with water-based color stain, and coated with a clear water based polyurethane. This gives a nice contrast between the coated surface and uncoated edges of the pieces.

I exported the tool paths, uploaded to my Handibot, cut and assembled the parts, and immediately put them into good use:


Alphabet Series

E is for Eye

The Eye is part anatomical, part tracking system using a Pixy board camera, which can track color patterns and motion. The sensor translates the target coordinates into the motion of the Eye model. The possibilities can be seen here:




Alphabet Series

F is for Fujisan

fujisanClimbing Mt. Fuji, or Fujisan, is a pilgrimage that many Japanese people make with their families to see the sunrise and pay tribute to ancestors. For visitors, it is a path that keeps going up and up some more until you find yourself at the rim of an inactive volcano, surrounded by endless sky, clouds, sun, and lava rocks of every color. There is much more to see, but you  will have to go there in person to experience all of the mystery and allure of the journey. As I was told, “To visit Mt. Fuji once is wise. To visit it twice is foolish…..” I will leave it up to you to decide, and I highly recommend the Shabashiri descent into the small town of Gotemba.


Alphabet Series

S is for Stamp

At today’s forever rate, a postcard requires a 39-cent stamp.

Create and send a hand-printed postcard from the upcoming
Charlotte Mini Maker Faire on October 8th, directly from the ShopBot/Handibot display.

 Visitors can mail a self-addressed, STAMPED postcard, with this postage design included. ($.39 value!) *while supplies last

Receiving a custom designed postcard from the event that is stamped as cancelled by the US Postal service….priceless!