Sunday, November 24, 2019

Picking up the Inkwells Again

So fast forward a few years and the landscape had changed a bit, there are more technologies in the hands of engineers and home-based makers to make things.  So by this time I had spoken with the person who makes my hardware and he was willing to make the brass bits but we couldn't quite get off the ground as he needed to make a prototype to use as a master for molding.

One of the early CAD models and a discussion of the
folded over stopper
During this time frame, my house was converted from Lego robot central to a metal robot place.  That meant skills were being learned by all the kids and equipment was moving in to our makeshift labs in the basement.  In 2012 when I had tabled the inkwells to the side, I had just bought my 12 year old son the first 3-D printer kit available.  By 2018 he was an expert and headed to college in mechanical engineering, had built and designed four 3-D printers, and made them operate at perfections that were beyond their original specs.  To do this, one of the things he had to learn was computer aided design.  And to help kids learn, and thus be partial to their software later in their professional careers, the big CAD companies were providing student licenses to FIRST teams.  So we now had a CAD system in the house and a bunch of kids running around learning how to use it as well as multiple computer aided manufacturing tools.

Also developing during this time frame was the services available to people with CAD or 3-D printers.  If your printer wasn't good enough or you didn't have one, you could send your design to a company called Shapeways and they would print it.  This is the beginning of a revolution in 'additive manufacturing' or 'desktop manufacturing'.  If you look at the Shapeways site, you can see that they innovated 3-D printing in wax.  And once you have a high resolution wax, you can use lost wax casting and make metal parts!  So jewelry makers are now using CAD and 3-D printing to make rings and other complex jewelry that would have been hard to make before.

Later when you see the bottle story, you will realize the ah-ha moment.  A moment when I needed to make changes and instead of going back to the professional company I had originally worked with, I realized I could do them here.  And it was that point that I did the huge head slap and realized I could unstick the inkwells in my own basement!

Printing the first model
It was December 2018 and my son was returning from a first semester in London and he was stir crazy.  It had been a very stressful first semester (the academic program had fallen apart and took intervention from the US university, making it really chaotic for the kids) and he had no things to 'make' with him.  As embroiderers, we can understand that need to tinker and create to release stress.  So as soon as he arrived home, I proposed the inkwell project as a way to give him a goal to make something.

He dove in, and of course by this time it was child's play for him.  But never the less, he was excited to work on something - anything... So we got out all the pictures of historic pieces, he measured stuff, looked at proportions, and started making me CAD models of the inkwells.  Once models were made, he started 3-D printing them with his best printer (after he fixed it, tuned it, and generally walked around complaining about all of us neophytes who messed it up while he was in Europe!).  So from my conversations with the brass boundary, the assembly of these little inkwells in the way they were made in the 17th century posed problems.  We would need to make three tiny pins, two of which looked like nails.  One would go through the rotating lid and be smashed on the back to form the hand on the lid.  The second would go through both the sliding lid and the square lid and be smashed to allow them to connect and swing.  The third was rectangular and was soldered in place, bent over.   That was a lot of fiddly work.

The first finished model of the inkwell.  note the extra piece and that the lid with hole had a peg coming out of it.

So after playing with the 3-D printing objects, we had started down the road of integrating some of the pieces into each other, since I was considering casting the pieces and not cutting them out of brass sheet stock.  This was doable, make the handle of the lid part of the lid and maybe make the pin that had to be smashed to hold the lid for the pivot part of the square lid.  You see that thought process in the blue 3-D print.
A printed 3x version of the inkwell in the
new manufacturing idea

But the bent rectangle piece was still going to be a pain.  That is when David came up with a great
idea.  What if he made the pegs come out of the square bottom and we get rid of the irregular pewter piece.  We could put holes in the square lid and the pegs would serve as a way to orient all the pieces before the brass-to-brass soldering (actually called brazing) happened.  This was a brilliant idea!  Oven brazing of dozens of brass parts can be done at once, it is a known process and can be outsourced.  The pegs would keep the parts in place and then we would just need to tap smash the one pin and bend the other over.

Now that we had an interesting manufacturing process idea, would it work??  Needless to say, we spent days of the Christmas vacation working on it.  First was making a new set of CAD models and printing them at a larger scale to work on the peg system.  David was concerned the the resolution of the holes would be a problem on his machine.

So now that it was big scale, we needed a small scale brass version to test with.


  1. I am loving this series. Thanks for sharing the saga.

  2. So interesting to learn of all the effort you put into these pieces. I treasure them all more because of it. Thank you.

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