Sawdust and panic

7 September, 2012

The Wisdom Exchange prototype sat on the Shelf of Shame for four months. With about a week to go, a couple of people asked me: hey, did you finish that contraption you were making?

Er. No. I bought wood, and varnish, and ICs, and wrote some code, and then got stuck trying to port the whole thing to a PIC and gave up. Conceding temporary defeat to the PIC, I set to work.

Duck to show scale. Because we all know there's no such thing as giant rubber ducks.

Right then, let’s make a start.

The last time I did any woodwork was at school. I made a little box thing for my parents (which they dutifully used) and a somewhat over-engineered chicken coop door (which thankfully was never used in the presence of actual live chickens). Occasionally, the smell of sawdust will still trigger a wave of fear that Mr Morgan, a small angry Welshman with a purple velvet waistcoat, will start shouting because someone (possibly me) is doing it wrong. But now I am a grown-up, and I can learn woodwork on my own terms*.

"What do you mean, you don't have a wood plane?"

So far, so good.

Woodwork is the art of hiding screws, mistakes and accidentally-countersunk-on-the-wrong-side holes behind other bits of wood.

It's held in place by friction and one screw. Shonky.

The front section provides access to change the paper and batteries.

Wood shrinks when you work with it. So you measured it, allowing a bit for sanding, and drew a line, and measured it again to check, and then cut on the other side of the line? Irrelevant: the wood is now ~1mm smaller than you wanted, because it has shrunk. Or the rest of the project expanded, I’m not sure which.

Bamboo skewers. No craft box should be without them.

At this point, I am basically making it up as I go along.

Woodwork is a reminder that geometry does not actually apply in the real world. There is no such thing as a right angle**, or a straight line, or even a flat piece of wood.

Taking shape.

Paper goes in. Paper comes out.

Much sanding and redoing later, I had an approximately box-shaped thing. I gave it a few coats of staining varnish for that authentic steampunk look.

Note the white spirit, Mum.

“Mahogany”. Sure.

While the varnish dried, I transferred the circuit to stripboard. Stripboard is all about the right angles. You know where you are with it.

Worked first time. I felt pretty smug about that.

Homebrew Arduino shield.

The contraption behaves slightly differently on battery power, because of differences in voltage and current. Some software updates later, it seems to be working again.

Note the cold cup of tea.

Ahh, this is the life.

I’d hoped that the box would hold four or five wisdoms inside, but the more rollers I added, the more trouble the motor had pulling the paper though. Three wisdoms would have to do.

For the rollers, I sawed up five of my favourite pens. You have to make sacrifices for your art, right?

Testing and tuning.

With the addition of a €2 picture frame and a decorated cocoa tin, the Wisdom Exchange is ready to go. It will never look this shiny again, but that’s ok. Time to pack…

It's not actually levitating, it has feet.

Project complete.

* See also: sewing, cooking and running, all of which turned out to be fun when angry teachers were no longer shouting at me to make me do them. Maybe I should retry French, too.

** This is because corners are the negation of the universe.


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