Tag Archives: Harris Educational

Identify It Challenge for 7-26-2012 Answer

Sorry for the delay in posting this, its been a very busy late summer for Harris Educational!  Mostly good stuff, but enough of that, on to the answer.

Here is the original video “Identify It Challenge” as posted on 7-26-2012

And now here is the answer:

Read/Write Head Assembly from Diablo Systems Series 30 Disk Drive

Read/Write Head Assembly from Diablo Systems Series 30 Disk Drive
Shown with late 1990’s Iomega Zip Disk for Comparison

This assembly is the read/write head from a Diablo Systems Series 30 Disk Drive manufactured around 1976.  The drive was not a traditional Hard Drive (or fixed disk) but instead took IBM 2315 disk cartridges that were about one foot in diameter and could hold a grand total of 1.25 MB!  (the later series 31 model used a disk that could hold 2.5 MB).   A photo of these disks can be found here.

The mechanism has a synchronous drive motor (with run capacitor) built into the bottom of its cast housing.  This motor drives a shaft with integral pinion gears that engage a rack gear that can move the drive’s double sided read/write heads back and forth along the disk surface.  The large solenoid and damper open and close the read/write head around the cartridge after it has been inserted into the drive.  The green marked disk on top  corresponds to the tracks on the disk itself and was used to mechanically orient the drive heads in order to synchronize them to a standard disk during manual alignment.  The green disk also contains a kind of rotational position sensor that sends pulses back to the controller based on its movement.  The micro-switches act as end-stops to keep the heads from being sent past their absolute physical end-stops.  The whole drive head assembly weighs in at about six and a half pounds.

You can see a pictures of the whole drive AND read about how it works through repair and maintenance manuals at the following links:

This drive (and two others) came into my possession around 1990.  My high school electronics lab received them as a junk donation much earlier in the mid 1980’s and they’d sit in storage taking up space until then.  My electronics teacher gave them to me when I helped him clean out the storage and I then dissected them to learn how they worked and for parts.  They were much too large and heavy for me to keep intact at the time, though I did keep the read/write mechanism intact knowing that one day it might come in handy for some kind of display, and sure enough it fits into the Identify It Challenge nicely!

This assembly (or rather the disk drive that it came from) has some significance in the history of computing because:

  • It is a predecessor to the Floppy Drive
  • It helped to show the value of removable random access storage (not just linear access storage like tape)
  • It was a peripheral for mini-computers and as such was an add on (not necessarily manufactured by the mini-computer maker) and as such helped to bring in the idea of standards and interchangeability.
  • It was used as storage for the Xerox Parc computer, the first computer with a graphical user interface and a predecessor to modern PC’s

Thanks to everyone who made guesses over on Facebook.  The  first person to make a correct guess was Duffy Toler, guessing it was a read/write head assembly.  John Sucilla came closer by guessing it was from a DEC RK-05 disk drive.  (in reality Diablo Systems was bought out and became a part of Xerox and then later Xerox sold these drives to Digital Equipment Corporation where they were used as peripherals for their PDP line of computers.)

Stay Tuned for the Next Identify It Challenge!


Making Nails with the Alamance Makers Guild

On Saturday March 3rd 2012 Dick Snow, Blacksmith and member of the Alamance Makers Guild graciously invited several members from the Guild to his home in Efland NC for a lesson in blacksmithing. The topic was nail making and I have to say I doubt I’ll have a more educational, entertaining, or humbling day for quite a while!


Nails… we take them for granted and in many ways they are probably the simplest fastener devised by man. Today they are mass produced by computer controlled machines far from the view of most people but there was a time not that long ago in human history that if you needed a nail, you’d either need to make one yourself, or go to the local blacksmith. In reality the actual act of nail making was beneath a skilled blacksmith and instead the production of nails was work for women or children. Looking at how simple a nail is, and knowing that it was children’s work its easy to think “sure I can make a nail, easy!” But you would be very wrong! (at least for your first many times)

The Tools of the Blacksmith

The Tools of the Blacksmith, hammer and anvil

Nail Making is often an introductory lesson in the art of the blacksmith because it illustrates several of the tasks of a blacksmith; forging (or hammering), drawing out, cutting, and upsetting (heading). It is also a relatively economical task for learning hammer control. Dick was a great teacher. First he demonstrated the task at hand a few times, the first time he just gave a general overview, and the second time he demonstrated the less-than-a-minute task over a 20 minute talk that leveraged his knowledge and emphasized the fact that our first nails would not be quite what we might hope or expect. He repeated that only time and practice would improve our technique. In addition to the knowledge behind blacksmithing (which was often passed down not as scientific theory and mathematics but rather a word-of-mouth tradition) there is a great deal of technique and body kinesthetics that are required. In some ways learning about hammer control reminded me of a tennis lesson!

Most of the folks who took part agreed that even though the process seems straight forward, the first time is fairly intimidating (even for folks used to working with their hands and being around potentially dangerous equipment.) As in any work, there are always things to be aware of and to respect. At first the thought of 1800 degree hot metal seemed daunting but then I learned that since iron and steel are such poor conductors of heat, that its possible to heat one end of an 18 inch rod to 1800 degrees while the other end remains at room temperature. By far the biggest danger for a novice is probably just awareness of surroundings and being safe around others who are working. After a time the fear gave way to a focus on all of the things I should be doing in a different or better controlled way! As I say, its a very humbling experience!

To make a cut nail:

First a small diameter rod (around 1/4” in diameter) of low carbon steel is heated in a forge to a orange to yellow heat (around 1800 to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. Blacksmiths don’t generally measure temperature by exact number, but rather rely upon the color of the metal to determine the working temperature. The forge can be a more modern propane gas forge for an even regulated heat. We used, a charcoal burning forced air forge. Its possible to use real hardwood charcoal as fuel, but in our case we used a metallurgical grade of bituminous coal. To regulate the temperature of the fire its necessary to operate a bellows or in our case a hand-cranked air blower. More oxygen to the fire means more fire and more heat.

The Forge (Coal Fired)

The Forge (Coal Fired)

Cut nails are square and taper to a point. To achieve this, the hot rod is removed from the fire and brought to the anvil where it is carefully hammered to draw it out to a point. It is important not to hammer too far up the rod and also to make sure to rotate the rod by 90 degrees as you hammer. The hammer flattens and draws out one side while the dead mass of the anvil underneath flattens and draws out the opposite side. Hammering can be done so long as the metal is hot enough, but once it cools down to a “red hot” then it must be re-heated in the fire in order to continue working. Dick, thanks to years of practice can make a nail (including all the following steps) in one heating and he says that some really serious blacksmiths can make multiple nails from one rod in one heating! For our efforts it took several trips to the fire to complete our nails.

Tapering the Rod by Hammering to Form a Square Point

Tapering the Rod by Hammering to Form a Square Point

Interesting fact that I learned: Every time you heat steel in a fire some of the carbon inside the steel is burned away. At the same time, every time the steel is removed from the fire and exposed to oxygen the surface of the metal rapidly oxidizes (or rusts) and produces “slag.” As you hammer the metal this slag chips off the surface and the net result is that the overall diameter and mass of the workpiece is reduced. Its also possible to over-heat a piece of steel and remove enough carbon and other material that the workpiece becomes pitted just like my first nail!

Once the taper of the nail has been established the next step is to partially cut the nail from the rod. Every anvil has a square hole called a “Hardy Hole” that can be used to hold “Hardy Tools.” The most common Hardy Tool is a Hardy Cutter, a wedge shaped cutter that pinches a workpiece when it is hammered from above and separates metal into a V-shaped cut. The heated rod is placed over the cutter and hammered over the cutter until a cut is made at least 2/3 of the way through the piece. If you hammer too many times you’ll cut through the complete rod and send a hot piece of shrapnel flying through the workshop!

Cutting Through the Rod with a Hardy Cutter and Hammer

Cutting Through the Rod with a Hardy Cutter and Hammer

After heating the rod again, the next step is to remove the partially cut nail from the rod. To do this the square tapered end of the nail is placed into a nail heading tool and then the nail is broken off by twisting back and forth. The metal is hot and in a plastic state so this action is kind of like breaking off a piece of licorice candy (if the licorice was around 1800 degrees Fahrenheit at the time!)

Forming the Head by Upsetting with a Headset Tool, Hammer, and Pritchel Hole

Forming the Head by Upsetting with a Headset Tool, Hammer, and Pritchel Hole on the Anvil

Immediately after breaking off the nail in the nail heading tool, the nail is brought over the “Pritchel Hole” on the anvil and before it has a chance to cool the head of the nail is formed by “upsetting.” To do this you have to land a heavy, square blow to the top of the nail. There is time for maybe four hits to the nail before it cools too much to continue. (An experienced nail maker can make a faceted head with four offset blows after the main blow, we were not experience nail makers!) Once this is done the nail (still in the nail setting tool) is dipped into water to quench it. This causes the nail to rapidly cool and in so doing it contracts so that it can be removed from the nail setting tool. All that is left is to bring it to the anvil, tap it to release it from the nail setting tool, and then re-quench it in the water to take care of remaining heat underneath the nail head. Then you’ve got a finished nail!

Angi Parrish from the Alamance Makers Guild Inspects her First Nail

Angi Parrish from the Alamance Makers Guild Inspects her First Nail

Another interesting fact that I learned: Blacksmiths may make horse shoes and nails, but in general they do not shoe horses. The job of shoeing a horse is left to the Farrier. Farriers have specialized training in anatomy and know how to properly, safely, and healthily shoe a horse.

A Horseshoe and Some Cut Nails

A Horseshoe and Some Cut Nails

Stemming from that interesting fact comes the story of horse shoes and good luck. Have you ever wondered why Horse Shoes are supposed to bring good luck? There has long been a tradition that iron was somehow magical and mystical, but the tradition that horse shoes bring good luck comes from around the 10th century in England. It was said that the patron saint of blacksmiths “Dunstan” was visited by the devil because he needed a new shoe for one of his split hooves. Dunstan, being a good smith recognized who this customer was, grabbed him with his hot tongs, and tied him to the wall. He then applied the horse shoes with such force and causing such pain that the devil promised to never again enter a building that displayed a horseshoe! It was also said that the ringing of a blacksmith’s anvil kept away demons and witches and so at closing time on Saturday evenings the blacksmith would traditionally hit his anvil a final three times to keep evil away from his shop while he was away on Sunday.

The trade of the blacksmith is just as much art as it is science. As metal heats and cools it expands and contracts, and in most cases its not possible to exactly measure lengths or angles as metal is being worked. Each hammer blow changes the shape and size of the material and so making something like you want is very much a question of experience and a good eye. Dick explained that if you want to make two items (like a candlestick for instance) that are alike, its an easy task… just make 100 candle sticks and then find the two from the bunch that are most alike! Alternately, if two objects are separated by enough distance then they will look more alike than they really are!

I’ve seen nails being made by blacksmiths at Colonial Williamsburg in Virgina and at the North Carolina State Fair in the past but I’d never had the chance to try my own hand at the skill of nail making. Something as simple as a nail requires a lot of thought, planning, and skill. And all of that comes after the fact that someone worked out all of the science and technology, made the anvil, built the forge, made the hammers and other tools, and created a supply of steel rod after someone else mined the iron ore! We truly stand on the shoulders of giants! In our world of high speed communications, smart phones, and throw-away technology that just 100 years ago would have seemed like magic its easy to get out of touch with how, where, and why things are made. Personally I think every high school student should spend at least one hour of their comprehensive educational career making a few nails. Its very interesting to see how such a fundamental building block of our world is made, and very humbling to see the skill and thought process that goes into it. I’m even more impressed with the products of a highly skilled blacksmith’s work now that I’ve had a chance to try my own hand at something that would be considered child’s work!

Eric Hart of the Alamance Makers Guild Concentrates on Hammer Technique

Eric Hart of the Alamance Makers Guild Concentrates on Hammer Technique

I’m very thankful for Dick Snow, and for opportunities for learning that come out of Maker Spaces and Maker Groups like the Alamance Makers Guild!

I’ve put an annotated photo gallery up from my day making nails at the Alamance Makers Guild’s page on Facebook at this link.

Also, Eric Hart, talented prop maker and fellow Alamance Makers Guild member was also one of the participants at Dick’s tutorial on nail making. He’s written a blog about his experience that can be found here.

Learn More and Get Involved:

Thanks for Reading!


2011 was a Great Year for Harris Educational

2011 was a fairly trying year for the world as a whole with man-made problems of economic turmoil and political strife, as well as natural disasters and bad weather. But in spite of the environment Harris Educational had a wonderful year in 2011. I’m attributing this to hard work and dumb luck on our part but I know the biggest reason for our success was due to our readers, our fans, our customers, the good folks at ShopBot, Make Magazine, and all the wonderful resellers of our Reinventing Science kits.

Our year started out with an upgrade to our science kit production capabilities in the form of a new CNC Router. Our goal was to automate the production of some of the parts of our Reinventing Science kits and also to allow for new product development of parts that would not be easy to achieve using other more traditional methods. To learn how to use the new router my first project was to build a custom computer case and a new computer that we could use to edit and produce more video. The Ingenematic Visitron was born and I’m proud to say that the story was picked up by Hack-a-day sending quite a few visitors to our blog and making us a few new fans.

2011 saw my first trip to Maker Faire in California. In May my nephew Brian and I traveled to California to exhibit the Reinventing Science kits to throngs of people at the Maker Shed inside Maker Faire. We met a lot of interesting people, made some new friends, and caught the attention of Popular Mechanics who mentioned Harris Educational and the Reinventing Edison kit by name as one of the reasons that the Maker Shed was one of the top ten coolest things to do at Maker Faire! (TONS of photos from Maker Faire are on our fan page here, here, here, and don’t forget the video we posted “The Motion of Maker Faire” below)

One of the big events at Maker Faire in California was the Hackerspace Challenge, and I met a lot of interesting people from different maker spaces from around the country. On my flight back to North Carolina I kept thinking how great it would be to have such a place here in my home town of Burlington. I started brainstorming for ways to make this happen by expanding Harris Educational (a project I’m still working on)

In June my nephew Brian helped me again and we exhibited Harris Educational and the Reinventing Science kits at Maker Faire NC in Raleigh. (Tons of Photographs Here, Here, and Here) Maker Faire NC was in its second year and it was great to meet and become involved with all of the folks responsible for making this faire a reality. Two other great things came out of this mini maker faire. Thanks to a sign in our booth asking Alamance County people to say hey to us I met a couple of folks who have become founding members of our new Alamance Makers Guild. The second thing to come out of MFNC is our new relationship with ShopBot tools of Durham NC. Harris Educational is now working with ShopBot to create STEM based curriculum materials around Digital Fabrication technologies such as their CNC Routers. The second half of our year has seen quite a bit of development on this project, not to mention the addition of a ShopBot desktop CNC Router to our list of tools.

In July and August more people learned about Harris Educational thanks to some local news stories. The first was a full page article written about us in the Burlington Newspaper, “The Times News.” This story then got the attention of WGHP Fox 8 news out of Greensboro NC who interviewed me for the evening news segment “Made in NC” You can see the video above.

In August I set up a “Meeting of the NC Makers” including the folks from ShopBot Tools, Roy Underhill from PBS’s Longest Running DIY Show “The Woodwright’s Shop”, the folks from Maker Faire NC, and some others for a fun day of woodworking in high tech and in historical contexts. In the morning Roy Underhill visited ShopBot tools to see CNC Routers in action, and after a great lunch at Ted Hall’s house in Durham, everyone visited Roy Underhill’s Woodworking School in Pittsboro NC. While there I shot put together the following videos.

With support from the folks I met at Maker Faire NC I’ve officially launched “The Alamance Makers Guild” through a meetup.com group, a fan page on facebook, and a twitter feed. We’re now holding regular monthly meetings and members have shared their talents and their creations including some really cool wood turnings, steam punk art pieces, and even a home made tesla coil! Much more with the Alamance Makers guild in 2012.

This year also saw our first international sale of Reinventing Science kits with the addition of a new reseller in the Republic of Korea.  The year also saw the addition of Pasco Scientific as a dealer, and Educational Innovations adding our Reinventing Morse kit.  We’ve also laid some groundwork for the setup of some more new resellers for 2012. Sales for the kits continue to increase, a great accomplishment for such a flat economy.

The year finished out with some very positive recognition of our Reinventing Science kits! The Surprising Science blog at the Smithsonian picked our Reinventing Edison: Build your own Light Bulb science kit as one of the top 10 best gifts for Science lovers. We were also highly honored to have been picked by Make Magazine as one of 12 Science Kits reviewed in their “Ultimate Kit Guide” special edition. We received a 5 out of 5 for the quality of our instructions and our materials! I was also very happy to read all of the comments about the kit when they gave one away at their blog.

2011 was a great year for Harris Educational and I’m sure 2012 will bring all new challenges and opportunities.  Thanks to everyone who supports us!


Harris Educational and Reinventing Science Kits in the News!

Thanks to my involvement with Maker Faire, my efforts in Social Media, and some other projects I am starting to get a little attention from the local news media for Harris Educational and the Reinventing Science kits.

On July 10th I was featured in a full page article in the “Accent” section of the Sunday edition of “The Times News” here in Burlington NC. The article “A Science Hobby becomes a career” by reporter Molly McGowan tells some of the story behind how and why I started Harris Educational and how I make the Reinventing Science kits here in Burlington (proudly hand made in the USA!). The article is online and can be found at the Times News website HERE.

That article lead to an interview with Brad Jones of WGHP Fox 8 News (of Greensboro NC) for their “Made in NC” segment. “Made in NC” features new, innovative, and interesting companies in North Carolina that make products here in NC. It was an honor to be included in this segment and I’m glad to be able to get the word out about what I’m doing. I’m very happy at how the interview turned out and feel it was a good mix of my philosophy behind Reinventing Science kits, a look at the kits themselves in action, and some good footage of me making parts for the kits. They even managed to get some focus for my new ShopBot Desktop CNC router.

The interview aired on the evening news on August 26th. I’ve uploaded my off-air recording of the interview to YouTube (see above) but a higher quality version can be found at the Fox 8 “Made in NC” site HERE (along with links to all of the other interesting companies and products they’ve featured).

They say everyone gets fifteen minutes of fame. By my calculations I’ve now used up about three of mine. I wonder where my adventures with Harris Educational, Maker Faire, ShopBot, and my other projects will lead me next? Its always great to make more people aware of the kits and help improve sales a little, but really I’ll be happiest if these stories (and hopefully future ones) lead to more fans for the community I’ve been developing on Facebook on the Harris Educational fan page.

If you are interested you can learn more about the Reinventing Science kits check out the Science Kits tab here on this blog or visit my website:

If you are interested in purchasing a Reinventing Science kit please visit:

Announcing a New Partnership between Harris Educational and ShopBot Tools

It is with great pleasure that I announce a new partnership between Harris Educational and ShopBot tools of Durham NC. I will be applying my skills and experience in instructional design, educational development, and K-12 science and technology education to help ShopBot create a unified, modular STEM curriculum about Digital Fabrication related to their popular and successful CNC routers and other tools.

ShopBot Desktop CNC Router Digital Fabrication Tool

The New ShopBot Desktop CNC Router Digital Fabrication Tool

ShopBot Tools of Durham NC designs, manufactures, and supplies digital fabrication tools such as 2D/3D CNC Routers, 5-axis CNC routers, and related equipment. They are committed to making these tools at a very high quality but also at a very affordable price. I’ve met the folks from ShopBot, toured their facilities, sat in on some of their training, and observed them at two Maker Faires and I can tell you they are a different kind of company! I’ve found them to be very open and very forward thinking. Every employee is enthusiastic and committed to what they are doing. As one of their motto’s says, they build the tools for building the future!

Digital Fabrication covers a wide range of technologies that have evolved from expensive specialized industrial machines and processes to affordable and flexible solutions that are now well within the reach of individuals, students, schools, and small businesses. These tools and techniques allow a person to go from a digital design created on a computer and translate that it into a real working physical object.

ShopBot Buddy Mills out 3D Replicas of attendees of the San Mateo Maker Faire

ShopBot Buddy Mills out 3D copies of attendees of the San Mateo Maker Faire

Digital Fabrication tools can be subtractive (like CNC routers, milling machines, or laser cutters) or additive (like plastic extruders and deposition printers) or even a combination of the two. Just as the PC and then the Internet have revolutionized how we create and share information digital fabrication technologies are revolutionizing how we create and distribute physical objects and products. To translate an idea into reality in the past would have require a workshop full of tools as well as a great deal of experience, skill, and patience. These new tools such as ShopBot’s CNC machines free anyone to focus on design while the machine does the work.

President Obama views a ShopBot in Action at Loraine County Community College

President Obama views a ShopBot in Action making wind turbine parts at Loraine County Community College in Ohio

Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success. But if we want to win the future—if we want innovation to produce jobs in America… then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.”              … President Obama (State of the Union Address, January 2011)

STEM stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics” and is a new way of looking at education. Instead of teaching concepts like science and math separately in a vacuum or without real world application or reference STEM seeks to integrate other disciplines including Engineering and Technology with Science and Math. STEM tends to be more hands-on and draws from other areas to create learning experiences that are closer to what a person might expect to find in the real world.

The U.S. now ranks 60th in the world in producing scientist and engineers; it has fallen 22% in just the last decade. Our high school students rank 23rd in science and 30th in math. To continue to thrive in a modern world and to prepare our children for lives, jobs, and a culture which increasingly depend on an understanding of science and math, we need to be making a stronger investment in education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)” … Quoted from the ShopBot Website (ShopBot in Education)

Harris Educational shares ShopBot’s views on Education and the need to improve skills and knowledge, and make more young people aware of and enthusiastic about STEM related career paths. Every person does not necessarily have talents in any given area, but every human being is creative! We are all innate problem solvers and we all invent and create the world around us every day. Digital Fabrication is a great platform to unleash the creative side of every person. Through their ideas and designs young people can build a desire to go a bit further and investigate “how does that work?” and “how can I improve that?” and “how can I share that?” To go further they can learn the geometry and science and other “hard stuff” that helps them get to their goals.

ShopBot Tools are already in use in schools around the world serving a wide range of rolls from educational platforms to job training to tools for art and architecture projects. Many teachers, students, and others have already shared lesson plans, information, instructions, projects, and designs with each other and with ShopBot. ShopBot’s and Harris Educational’s goal is to leverage this material and add to it in order to create a complete modular curriculum that meets the needs of STEM educators for students in Middle School, High School, and College.

Harris Educational will be producing educational materials and publishing them through ShopBot for free distribution and use by anyone that desires to teach Digital Fabrication as part of their STEM educational program. At first we’ll be producing PDF materials that educators can download and use. As time goes on we’ll be producing videos, animations, e-learning modules, and other materials. I’ll be creating teach-the-teacher materials, teacher classroom materials, and student materials. We’ll also leverage the extensive training materials and actual projects that are available through ShopBot for users of their tools.

Work on this project is beginning now and we’ll be publishing materials as they are available so that teachers can begin working with them as soon as possible. This is an ongoing, evolving, and living project! We’ll be working with educators for suggestions, peer review, and feedback. We’ll then improve and add to the content as time goes on. If you use a ShopBot in your school (or are considering it) you can contact us to help with our project! You can contact Harris Educational at info@harris-educational.com or through our website at http://www.harris-educational.com You can contact ShopBot tools at http://www.shopbottools.com (for questions about ShopBots or Purchasing a ShopBot please contact them, to be a part of the curriculum project please contact Harris Educational)

Stay tuned to our blog for further information and updates. We’ll make announcements as we publish and make new materials available.

If you are a STEM educator reading this blog, then please also consider “liking” us on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/HarrisEducational)… we are building a community of people who are interested in STEM including students, teachers, and every day people including some leading figures in the worlds of Science and Technology. We also have a LOT of free resources for educators available at our website at: http://www.harris-educational.com/resources/index.html

Unboxing the CNC Shark Pro Plus CNC Router

Today I’ll be discussing the unboxing of Harris Educational’s new Shark Pro Plus CNC Router manufactured by Next Wave Automation and sold by Rockler Woodworking and Hardware. I’ll also go over my initial impressions of the machine. Stay tuned for future articles including why I chose the Shark Pro Plus for Harris Educational’s manufacturing needs as well as assembly and use articles.

The CNC Router Arrives (checked in by Sundance the English Setter, our receiving clerk)

The CNC Router Arrives (checked in by Sundance the English Setter, our receiving clerk and quality assurance manager)

At Harris Educational we are a small business that manufactures science kits like Reinventing Edison: Build your own Light Bulb and Reinventing Morse: Build your own Telegraph. Up until now we’ve done all manufacturing processes totally by hand using traditional power tools and various jigs and fixtures. As we’ve expanded (and hopefully plan to expand more) its become clear that we need a CNC Router in order to produce more complex kit components, save on labor costs, improve prototyping for new kit design, and most importantly keep high quality standards. After a lengthy research process I settled on the CNC Shark Pro Plus by Next Wave Automation as sold through Rockler Woodworking and Hardware. (more on the decision making process in a future article)

CNC Shark Pro Plus is VERY well packed
The CNC Shark Pro Plus is VERY well packed

The CNC Router comes in three boxes, two of which are packed full of Styrofoam. The first box is the heaviest at 92 pounds and contains the table/Y-axis. The second box weighs in at 49 pounds and contains the Gantry (with X and Z Axis), the controller/power-supply, and a box with hardware, software, and instructions. The last box is the Bosch Colt 1.0 HP trim/panel router.

The Bosch Colt Panel Router
The Bosch Colt Panel Router

The CNC Shark Pro Plus comes with a tool holder that is designed to accommodate the 2-3/4” diameter body of the Bosch Colt trim/panel router. Its possible to make your own custom tool holder for any applicable tool of similar size and weight. The screws holding the machine together are either torx or phillips head and are secured with locking nuts to avoid loosening from vibration and continued use. I love the quality and flexibility in the design of this machine.

Closeup of the tool holder on the gantry

Closeup of the tool holder on the gantry

The Gantry is fully pre-assembled and simply bolts onto the Y-axis carriage with 12 bolts. Movement along each axis is accomplished by high speed stepper motors that drive precision modified stainless steel lead-screws through anti-backlash nuts. The gantry (like the base) of the Shark Pro Plus is made out of a sturdy black PVC plastic. In my opinion the black plastic looks a lot more professional and serious than the off-white color plastic in their older Shark and Shark Pro models. Parts for the unit were machined and shipped with the scratch protection film still in place which is a nice touch to help the machine get to the end user in good condition, another of the quality packing touches.

Front view of the Gantry Assembly

Front view of the Gantry Assembly

Rear view of the Gantry Assembly showing the manufacturer's logo machined into the cross beam.

Rear view of the Gantry Assembly showing the manufacturer's logo machined into the cross beam.

The work table/Y-axis also comes completely assembled in its own box. The work table measures 28-1/2” wide by 36” long. The router itself can be moved over a 25” x 25” work path centered on the table. With its open end design work pieces longer than 36” can be placed into the machine, and continuous machining is possible with careful indexing of the workpiece. The table is much improved over the original Shark and Shark Pro in that its made of a blue anodized extruded aluminum channel which allows for great flexibility in clamping down workpieces. Obviously you’ll need to add a sacrificial piece of MDF underneath any workpieces that you intend to cut or drill completely through. Another design improvement that I like is the fact that the over-width table covers the Y-axis stepper motor which helps prevent any kind of accidental damage to this expensive component.


The Work Table / Y-axis

The Work Table / Y-axis

Closeup of the Y-axis prior to mounting the Gantry

Closeup of the Y-axis prior to mounting the Gantry

Next up is the controller and power supply unit. In the Shark Pro Plus the design for the controller has been greatly improved by including the power supply and controller inside one enclosure that also includes a new E-stop (emergency stop) button for the machine. In their older design emergency stop could only be accomplished through the software interface. The control box measures 10-3/4” wide by 8-1/2” deep by 3” tall and is made of brushed aluminum.


Front View of the Controller Box showing LED's and E-stop

Front View of the Controller Box showing LED's and E-stop

The front of the controller contains three LED’s on the left (that I’m assuming indicate pulses being sent to the X/Y/Z steppers) and the Emergency Stop button on the right. The back of the case contains the power connector and connectors for X, Y, and Z stepper motors. An additional axis (hopefully for future use in a rotary fixture) is also available. The back also has an unidentified connector (possibly for use with the optional 3D scanning probe?) as well as the USB connector and a slot for a micro-SD memory card. The Shark Pro Plus’s controller also offers automatic on/off control for the router via a switched power connector on the back of the unit, another improvement over their earlier design that required manually turning the router on and off.

Rear View of the Controller Box showing connectors.

Rear View of the Controller Box showing connectors.

I wouldn’t be a true DIY’er if I didn’t open up the hood and look inside the box, and so with six screws removed I took a quick look inside. By building the switched mode power supply into the case of the unit the end user is spared an extra wiring step as well as additional clutter in their workspace. Cooling is accomplished through a thick aluminum slab heat sink located underneath the power supply and main circuit board. Extra cooling for the motor driver transistors is accomplished with a secondary heat sink, another aluminum slab bolted to the top of the circuit board and vented to outside air via the only cooling slots in the case. Dust is the enemy of moving parts, especially cooling fans. Common sense says that eliminating the fan is therefore a good design choice. Actual use will tell if the cooling is adequate. To avoid dust issues I’d still recommend that heavy users of the machine consider isolating the controller box and PC from the shop area and/or frequently blowing/vacuuming out these components. Another design improvement over other similar CNC machines is the use of 9-pin D style connectors for the stepper motor wiring. This makes wiring quick and fool proof, and while wiring four or more color coded wires to a terminal block for each axis might not present much difficulty to many DIY’ers its still a nice addition considering the cost of the machine.


Inside the Controller Box

Inside the Controller Box

In addition to the larger main components of the CNC Shark Pro Plus is a box that contains all the other odds and ends needed to bring the machine to life. Included in the box are 12 torx-head bolts with lock-nuts used to connect the gantry to the work deck, two Rockler hold-down clamps with T-slot bolts, the power cord, USB cable, a V-carve router bit, software discs including V-Carve Pro, Cut 3D, and a 3D Graphics Library, and the Instruction Manual. The instruction manual is one area that I can find some fault with, weighing in at 12 pages its a bit thin on information… there are wonderful online forums for the machine, and additional materials online but for the cost of the machine it would be nice to have a little more printed matter included in the box and more illustrations of the hardware, for example a diagram of the controller box with info on the extra jack and axis control connector.


Contents of the parts box including the Software

Contents of the parts box including the Software

So far I’m pleased with my decision to purchase a Shark CNC Pro Plus over other alternatives on the market. The machine shows thoughtful design and a definite evolution from earlier products made by Next Wave Automation. The machine was well packaged and assembly and setup is straight forward and easy. I especially applaud the new design of the controller and the inclusion of Vectrix CAM and 3D design software (a major factor in my choice to purchase the Shark). The one area that might need some improvement, especially for the casual home user, would be a more inclusive user manual. Stay tuned for future articles about setup and use, the CAM software, and more about CNC in general.

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Identify It! Answer for 10-13-2010

Thanks to everyone that played this week’s Identify It! Challenge. For this week’s challenge we asked fans to guess the informal name, scientific name, give several facts, and identify one unique feature of this specimen of spider. Here is the original photograph:


Writing Spider : Argiope aurantia
Writing Spider : Argiope aurantia

The answers are:

Informal Name: Writing Spider (AKA Black and Yellow Garden Spider)

Scientific Name: Argiope aurantia


  • This spider is called a writing spider because it often creates zig-zags (that look like the letter Z) or X’s or other patterns that look like letters. It does this because it often weaves very large webs and the patterns make the web visible to birds, squirrels, and other animals that might knock its web down.
  • Although incorrectly drawn in the cartoon, Charlotte from “Charlotte’s Web” was a writing spider!
  • This spider will bite human beings if provoked but is not aggressive and its venom is usually not very potent. (its still a good idea to leave all spiders alone though)
  • Argiope aurantia often leave an egg sack with thousands of eggs at the end of the fall season.
  • The size and complexity of its web are a good indication of how well fed it is.
  • Males are small and uninteresting marked, often building a small web adjacent to their female mates. Females are much larger (on the order of 3 inches in diameter) and are brightly marked with yellow spots and patterns on their abdomen and back.

Unique to this specimen: If you look closely at the photograph you will notice that this spider only has seven legs. It isn’t clear if the spider lost its leg at some point or if it was born without it.

This specimen has lived for at least the last three years on the side of the Sylvan Learning Center in Burlington NC. (As one fan pointed out its interesting that a “writing spider” would take up residence at a learning center.)

More Higher Resolution photographs can be found at the following link:

Click Here for more High Resolution Photographs

or also at our “photo” tab at our fan page on facebook (http://www.facebook.com/HarrisEducational)


Belly View (through the web)
Belly View (through the web)
3/4 Side View in Web
3/4 Side View in Web

Thanks to everyone for playing this week’s Identify It! Challenge. Stay tuned for the next one!