Over the past year, fidget spinners, the multi-lobed toy with a ball bearing in the middle, have become wildly popular among young and old. Perhaps we all spend so much time staring at screens that having a tangible object to channel restlessness is just what the doctor ordered. At any rate, we've seen them in every color, material, and quality, but by and large, they're usually mass-produced, plastic, and not exactly what comes to mind when you think "artisanal." That is, until we laid eyes on Eddie Kramer's spinners, lovingly handcrafted on an earlier version of the Bantam Tools Desktop PCB Milling Machine, no less.
But by 2015, I was growing frustrated with the limited range of materials that could be handled by the affordable FDM 3D printing technology of the day. I was also playing around with embedded systems (Arduino and Raspberry Pi) and designing my own PCBs. Around that time, I ran across a blog story about Other Machines Co.'s recently completed Kickstarter campaign. I fell in love with the Othermill at first sight.
How was the learning curve for using the machine? What was the biggest challenge?
What inspired you to make high-end spinners?
I was initially drawn in by their form. I was intrigued by the flowing, organic curves I saw on some of the beautiful high-end spinners coming out of the every day carry (EDC)/knife-making online communities. I wanted to try to design one myself simply as a modeling exercise.
What was your R&D process?
Once I have a concept in mind, I leverage the amazing tools in Fusion 360 to iterate through the design, model all the components, create the assembly, and check clearances for unintended interference between parts before committing anything to metal.
Then I get to my favorite part of the process. I make a complete spinner and do some real-world testing by carrying it around everywhere I go and playing with it for days, passing it around to friends and family — all very rigorous and scientific.
Once that's all done and I've built a few parts using a single piece workflow, I optimize to support a multi-piece batch workflow. This may include machining custom work-holding fixtures, more aggressive toolpaths, or completely different CAM strategies. For example, I recently switched from a pocketing operation using a flat end mill to a drill op using a carbide drill bit for all those tiny holes in the spinner buttons. This trimmed several hours off the machining time for these parts.
Any projects on the horizon?
I'm working on designs for other fun, everyday carry items to make along with the spinners. I've been looking at beautiful CNC-machined yo-yos and spinning tops for inspiration. I'm also in the thinking-about-it phase on a more functional product line. I'd like to expand the variety of work holding solutions available to users of small desktop machines. Products include modular tooling plates, a miniature pallet fixture system, and a low-profile vacuum work-holding solution for thin/flat materials.
And dreaming at night about some sort of future collaboration with other makers on something big. Maybe something like an Arduino-based robotics/motion-control system and tool changer to automatically load/unload parts in the Othermill. It would be so cool to have lights-out, unattended batch machining capability at desktop scale, just like the big industrial milling machines do it. That would be sweet.
What has the Bantam Tools Desktop PCB Milling Machine enabled you to do that you couldn’t previously?
The Bantam Tools machine has enabled a smooth, iterative, rapid prototyping workflow for me, using a wide range of materials. I can go from idea to model to physical part many times in the same day, or even the same hour. I don't have to wait days or weeks for parts to come back from a job shop or PCB fab just to find out the design needs a correction.
Tell us about your powder coating technique.
For the two-color black/red Bantam Tools rooster on Danielle's custom spinner, I tried something new to me. I machined the front side of the weights in a plate of brass stock. Then I remove the partially machined plate from the mill and apply the black powder coating using the usual process, with the aid of an electrostatic powder-coating gun.
Are you a hobbyist or do you hope to create a business around your milled creations?
Both. I'm still hobby-focused when it comes to all things CNC, but I recently opened my online store to reach a wider audience interested in low-volume, high-quality products made using desktop CNC machining.