Creating the OlyMEGA donation box

The OlyMEGA Donation Box

The OlyMEGA Donation Box

I often worry that if I don’t act on an idea quickly enough, I will never finish it. This wouldn’t be a problem if I could just forget about the idea, but I can’t do that. I have more than a few ideas that function as unchecked boxes in my life to-do list, a sort of mental clutter similar to the real clutter of some hoarders.

For this reason, amongst others, I am glad to have built the donation box for my makerspace, OlyMEGA.

Maker Faire 2012: Not Enough Time

I originally intended to have the box ready for the 2012 Seattle Mini Maker Faire, which occurred in June. The box would replace the old donation box, a shoebox with a hole cut in the top. Unfortunately, my goals for the box proved to be too complicated at the time, so I gave up on working on it for another project.

My initial plan then was essentially the same as the box I created. It would be roughly the same size as a shoebox turned sideways, and I would make it out of the same laser cut plywood that I use for my catapult kits. This wood is about 5mm thick and, strong, and good looking. The walls would be two layers thick, with a space in between for gears. These gears would be functional*: by turning the gears that protruded from the sides of the box, latches would lock or unlock the box. I had thought about making some kind of combination locking system, but dropped it in acknowledgment that I had already made my project complicated enough.

That year, I got as far as cutting some experimental gears for the front of the box, and I had created a model for the general shape of the box. All 20 of the pieces making up the walls of the box needed to fit together, and I spent a few hours on a computer at StudentRND working on the design. I didn’t have a good system of making lots of interlocking pieces, so the process was very tedious.¬† As night approached, there wasn’t enough time to finish, so I put this project aside and worked on getting my catapult kits ready.

Maker Faire 2013: Finishing What I Started

About 11 months later, I decided that I should make the box a big priority for the upcoming Maker Faire.

I resumed the project by making the pieces of the box fit together, I still didn’t have a fast way to do this. I had to change the model of every piece of the box, one by one. My challenge was to make the box fit together like a puzzle in a way that would hold it together, and not be too ugly. Normally, using round numbers for dimensions makes¬† everything easier when using measurements across computer models. Unfortunately, I was planning on using wood that was measured in millimeters, and dowels that were measured in inches, so I ended up with a lot of crazy numbers. Come to think of it, I probably could have had an easier job if I had used metric units, and only used imperial units when working near the dowels. After a few nights of work, I had a design for the box. My next task was to create the pattern that would decorate the front, and make sure the gears fit together.

The OlyMEGA logo

The logo on the box

The front design came from a schematic of the Arduino circuit board, with one side getting cut all the way through, and the opposite side getting the outlines laser engraved. Over this, I put the OlyMEGA name, and the OlyMEGA logo (designed by Keith Youngblood, but converted into a line format by me.) went on the top of the box. I also cut out business card holders on the side of the box. I decided to do the whole design out of laser cut wood or dowels, so the hinges are laser cut as well.

My experiments with the gears did not go well. The gears turned well when there were only a couple, but when all 10 of them (along with two racks) were together, they would lock up at multiple points. When I finally assembled the box, I dipped each axle in molten wax, and I lowered the addendum of the gear teeth. This, combined with the gears being sandwiched between the layers of the box, allowed the gears to turn quite smoothly.

I didn’t get any sleep the night before Maker Faire. I got the box pieces after 10PM, and spent the whole night gluing the box pieces together. Fortunately, all the pieces fit together, and the gears worked much better than any of my earlier tests.

*: I get rather annoyed by useless gears being used as decoration.