Ahoy, fellow millers! I’m Marc Fong, a recent graduate from the Industrial Design program at the California College of the Arts (CCA). This summer, I’ve had the great fortune of designing projects for the Othermill as one of the Design Studio Fellows for Other Machine Co.
Why Breakfast Heroes? I love making small, intricate models and wanted to design something deceptively simple: a project that seemed simple on the surface but actually required a lot of steps to build. Also, breakfast is amazing. When eating out, I often order breakfast at all hours of the day if given the opportunity (much love for corned beef hash, despite its resemblance to dog food).
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Thinking of what makes breakfast so special conjures up certain items — icons, if you will. There is much talk about a “hero’s breakfast” but even more so about what heroes eat (especially our sports icons and Olympic champions). I felt that the breakfast items themselves were heroes in their own right and needed to be celebrated. By making them into wearables, we could have breakfast all day!
First, I looked at actual breakfast items, deciding which were the most iconic and how to represent them. Most of the existing jewelry in this genre is made out of plastic. These icons deserved more than just the usual 3D printing or injection-molding process. With the Breakfast Heroes set, we have mid-century modern meets breakfast!
It would be pretty easy to mill these pieces from one side only. When I made models for design projects at CCA (and I love making models), I found it important for me to have something that was not only beautiful but could also stand to be touched and passed around. To that end, the back of each Breakfast Hero had to be just as compelling as the front. Double-sided milling was the way to go and a welcomed challenge.
I initially tried to just cut the material down to roughly the size I needed on the band saw and choose the best-looking corner. This did not go well.
One word: registration. By that I mean not having the design line up when doing double-sided milling. Part of this was due to using wood that was roughly cut on the band saw and didn’t have good square corners. It was close, but sometimes close doesn’t quite cut it. For the fried egg, I didn’t mark my material and I ended up flipping it and rotating it the wrong way. The hanging nub was easy to cut off and sand, but the goal was accuracy and repeatability.
Also, making constant design changes in CAD produced new challenges on the CAM side. When I added a through hole for hanging one piece as a necklace, the tool (1/16" flat end mill with a short cutter length) wouldn’t make it all the way through. I had to go back into CAM and go halfway down on each side. And remember that those holes had to line up almost perfectly.
It’s the little details that make you realize that miniatures present the same challenges (if not more) than full-sized models. The tool has to actually fit inside the feature. Things can look great in CAD, but when there’s no scale available, it’s easy to lose sight of things.
I used Fusion 360 for all the CAD and CAM on this project since you can export the G-code that can be used directly by Otherplan. Fusion is pretty amazing once you get the hang of it — and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. One thing to remember is to always uncheck “Stock to Leave” in the Passes tab of the CAM. If you don’t, it will leave a small amount of your material to finish with another toolpath. One time I forgot to deselect it for the toast, and it didn’t mill the hole for the brass insert large enough. Once you pull your piece off the machine, it won’t line up perfectly as it did before.
Note: I was able to speed up the milling process on the toast by doing quick and deep roughing passes followed by a finishing pass for a smooth surface (as separate steps with the same tool).
Designing in miniature was fun, though! I kept things pretty standard at first. I was going for iconic, remember? But once these little heroes were in my hand, I saw that any shape or curve needed to be a bit over the top to look right.
I took careful measurements, double-checking the figures and (most importantly) squaring the material. Taking the material down to a square edge via belt sander (that has been checked with a known square tool) worked sometimes. The spatula was my third design, and by then I realized that starting out with a known square piece should make all the difference. The only way to get decent results was to cut the material down in Otherplan (via Illustrator or similar) to a perfectly square (or rectangular) shape.
After successfully milling the spatula, I tried cutting a perfectly squared piece from a walnut block.
Marking the material with the edge to be flipped and the x- and y-axes helped to ensure that it was oriented properly. Here the walnut is shown with the 1 and 2 origin corners labeled (one can never be too careful).
A lot of the work on this series was done on the front end (CAD, CAM, material prepping). Cutting is a breeze once you’ve ironed out all the unknowns first. After that, I went back to the design drawing board and re-milled both the toast/butter and the fried egg.
First, I learned that press-fits will wear if you constantly keep showing how well the parts fit together. Every time somebody asked about one of the two-part pieces, I would wiggle the brass insert out to show how it was assembled, and each time the fit became a little less snug. I ended up adding cyanoacrylate (aka super glue) as an optional material in the tutorial’s tools and materials list so folks wouldn’t be tempted to loosen their parts as I had done. You’d be pretty sad to return home only to find your butter pat or egg yolk had not made the return journey (although you could still mill another!).
Also, you can save material if Fusion and Otherplan are “tricked” into thinking the overall size of the material is smaller than it is. Essentially, you’re using one small corner. When flipping the piece over, if you have the same (arbitrary) x and y values, you can’t go wrong!
Next, I learned how to make little details visually “pop” from a distance, one of the tricks of working in miniature. The only way to do this was by trial and error. Sometimes I had to mill an item only to realize that a certain feature needed to be exaggerated or accentuated.
Oftentimes, what you see as a 2D sketch on paper or a 3D sketch in CAD cannot compare to actually holding it in your hand and seeing it with your own eyes. Only then do questions begin to answer themselves, such as how much curve (radius) feels right in your hand when a piece of toast is 1" x 1" x 0.25".
Finally, the “toast crust” edge offset detail took a bit to get right and I ended up landing in between my first try (shallow engraving bit V-cut) and the accidental deep groove on the back side (1/16" ball end mill that cut into a sketch I had left visible). The deeper groove looked much better so I went back into CAD and CAM to get it right. I love those happy accidents!
I started working on a one-piece miniature aluminum pan (think All-Clad stainless steel) but need to find some thicker material. Also, there’s one hero missing from the lineup: brass bacon! Look for it soon.
For full instructions on how to make the toast and butter, along with design files for the other Breakfast Heroes, check out Marc’s tutorial.