Diamond Drag Engraving with my CNC Router

Includes affiliate links that help offset our expenses at no cost to you.

This shows how I use my CNC Router with a diamond drag engraving bit to engrave anodized aluminum. I’m making a credit-card-sized map ruler, which I designed for Fortune Bay Expedition Team, as a trinket that we can leave in geocaches when we’re out practicing our navigation skills.

Engraving Feed and Speed

I tried a few different feed depths, which is the distance the Z axis plunges the bit “below” the surface to compress its spring-loaded tip. A depth of 0.5mm gave good results, because it didn’t apply too much pressure and was far enough that it wasn’t significantly affected by variations in the surface height. So I zeroed out the Z axis when the diamond just touched the surface, and then set the depth of cut in VCarve to 0.5mm.

After trying a range of travel speeds, I settled on 1500 mm/min as the fastest speed that gave good-looking results. This has a lot to do with the rigidity of my machine, or lack thereof, as faster speeds gave lines that had more wiggles in them. I think the diamond bit itself could give good results with a faster speed on a more rigid machine.

Vacuum Fixture Details

The vacuum fixture is made from MDF, and I sprayed it with two coats of polyurethane to seal the pores. Probably any type of clear finish would work fine, polyurethane or acrylic for example. It’s not going to seal the material perfectly but it does result in MUCH less air leakage versus unsealed MDF.

It took some trial and error to get a good fit with the 3mm diameter rubber seal, and in the end I cut the groove 2.85mm wide. That gave enough snugness to hold the rubber in place, but not so much that it was hard to put in. The side-to-side compression of the rubber squishes it up a little, so the groove is a full 3mm deep but the rubber gets squeezed above the surface in order to make a seal against the card.

Stuff That I Used

Here are links to the diamond drag bit that I used, plus the parts for the vacuum fixture and the 0.8mm thick business card blanks.

CNC Diamond Engraving Bit 90-degree

The above link takes you to this item on eBay, where the manufacturer sells it for a little less than on their own website at engravingbit.com.

RDZ Engraver For CNC Machine

This is a similar alternative that’s somewhat less expensive on Amazon. I haven’t used this one but I would expect very similar performance.

Foam Rubber Weather Strip

I used the 3mm size for this vacuum fixture, and I also got some of the 4mm size to use for larger parts in the future.

Air Tank Valve 1/8″ MNPT

These work well for making an air outlet fitting attached to the vacuum fixture, and my vacuum pump hose has a quick connector that just clips on. Remove the valve core to use as a vacuum fitting.

Metal Business Cards Anodized Aluminum Plaque Plate 86X54X0.8mm (Blue, Blank,10PCS)

You can find much thinner blanks at lower cost, but the 0.8mm thick ones are stiff and worked better for my application.

Metal Business Cards Anodized Aluminum Plaque Plate 86X54X0.8mm (Black, Blank,10PCS)

Black is perhaps the most common color, and it’s available from many different vendors if you shop around. Just pay attention to the thickness.

Metal Business Cards Anodized Aluminum Plaque Plate 86X54X0.8mm (Green, Blank,10PCS)

Green is somewhat hard to find but it’s an attractive color.

VCarve Pro Project File

If you have Vectric VCarve Pro and want to make something similar, you may download my project file below. It was created with VCarve Pro 11.5 and may or may not work in earlier versions of the software.

Our Adventure Van

Here are some videos we made of our Thor Sanctuary 19P camper van:

CNC Epoxy Inlay Backgammon and Cribbage Board

Includes affiliate links that help offset our expenses at no cost to you.

I’m using my CNC router to make a travel-sized backgammon and cribbage board, inlaid with epoxy and colored mica powder.

Part 1 – Milling Stock, Cutting Pockets

In this first installment I introduce the project, mill the wood to size, and set up the CNC router to cut the inlay pockets on the backgammon board.

Part 2 – Backgammon Inlay

In the second installment I mix the mica and epoxy, and pour the inlays.

Part 3 – Special Details

In the third installment I add gold edges to the points on the backgammon board, and make the inlay and holes on the cribbage board side.

Part 4 – Finishing It Up

In the fourth and final installment I dye the wooden playing pieces and build the finished boxes with splined miter joints.


Here are links to some of the tools, materials and software that I’m using in this project:

AutoDesk Fusion 360 for personal use
Blender software
Next Wave CNC Shark Router
Carbide 2-flute Down-cut end-mills
Mica Powder for Epoxy Resin
West System Epoxy
Wooden checker pieces
Wooden cribbage pegs
Keda Aniline Dye 5 Color Kit

CNC Feeds & Speeds

UsageBitRPMDepth of
Roughing0.1250″ (3.18mm)
2-flute downcut
250003/32″ (2.38mm)500800
Finish0.0313″ (0.80mm)
2-flute downcut
250003/32″ (2.38mm)200250
Drill0.1250″ (3.18mm)
4-flute upcut
250000.25″ (6.35mm)
200n/aPeg holes
Engrave0.1250″ (3.18mm)
30-degree point
25000Variable400400V-carved text

Wood Dye Info

I dyed the playing pieces using a Keda Aniline Dye 5 Color Kit, and I mixed it following the manufacturer’s instructions but with a higher ratio of dye to water to get more concentrated colors. Here are the amounts of dye I mixed with 3 ounces of warm water:

Red: 1/8 teaspoon
Blue: 1/4 teaspoon
Green: 1/8 teaspoon yellow + 1/4 teaspoon blue
Purple: 1/8 teaspoon red + 1/4 teaspoon blue

Next time I use the blue dye, I’ll mix it with hot (not just warm) water in hopes of getting it to dissolve better.

Quick Mount Camera Boom

Includes affiliate links that help offset our expenses at no cost to you.

I made a quick-release mount for this 7-foot camera boom to shoot videos from various locations in my workshop.

Here are links to the parts that I used:

Impact 7 ft HD Wall-Mounted Boom Arm
DMKFoto Heavy Duty Ball Head with Quick Release Plate
Konsait Black Camera 323 Quick Release Plate
IRWIN Step Drill Bit, 3/16-Inch to 7/8-Inch

The ball head listed above is inexpensive but its quick-release is not compatible with Manfrotto quick-release plates, which I use on all my gear. So I changed out the plate for the quick-release listed above. You can also get Manfrotto ball heads that come with their quick-release plate, and they’re a bit more expensive but good quality.

My main cameras are a Panasonic GH5 and a Panasonic G95, and prefer to use the G95 on the camera boom because it’s lighter weight. I also have an older Canon EOS Rebel SL1 that I used to shoot many of my previous videos and that’s what I’m showing on the camera boom in this video.

Portable Wood Fired Pizza Oven

Includes affiliate links that help offset our expenses at no cost to you.

This video shows how I built a portable wood-fired pizza oven that’s inexpensive, easy to build, weighs only 7.5 pounds, and can be carried easily in a backpack. And it makes fantastic pizza too!

Also see our Cooking with Fire event where we used this oven along with some other great fire cooking techniques.

Materials List

Here are the materials I used to build this oven. I recommend getting these materials locally but in case you can’t, I’ve included links to amazon.com.


These are the tools I used for this project, again with links in case you have trouble finding any of these items:

How to Use a CNC Router for Shell Inlay

Here’s how I designed a shell inlay for a guitar headstock using Fusion 360, and cut the inlay using my CNC router.

Part 1 – Design in Fusion 360

Part 2 – Cutting Shell Material


Here are links to some of the tools, materials and software that I’m using in this project:

AutoDesk Fusion 360 for personal use
Next Wave CNC Shark Router
Carbide 2-flute Down-cut end-mills
1/32″ Carbide shell cutter
Phenolic backer board

CNC Feeds & Speeds

UsageBitRPMDepth of
Wood pocket0.0313″ (0.80mm)
2-flute downcut
250000.5mm roughing
0.2mm finish
Shell0.0313″ (0.80mm)
shell cutter

Welding Cart

Includes affiliate links that help offset our expenses at no cost to you.

I built this welding cart to hold my new Everlast PowerPro 205S TIG Welder and Plasma Cutter as well as my Lincoln MIG Welder. The cart features a large work surface and five hitch-style attachment points for mounting accessories such as a bench vise and camera supports.


I used SketchUp software to design the cart, and here is the model file: WeldingCart.skp. You are welcome to download this model and customize it any way you like.

Here’s a link to the Menard’s Masterforce 30-inch Five-Drawer Mobile Tool Cabinet around which this cart is built.

I used a 4 in. Swivel Vise with Anvil from Harbor Freight. It’s an inexpensive vise but the quality is good enough for my purposes.

Also from Harbor Freight I bought the 8 in. Deep Throat U-Clamp and 12 in. Deep Throat U-Clamp for under $10 each. The 12-inch clamp is deep enough to reach almost anywhere on the 25-inch wide work surface of my cart. Their quality seems pretty good for the price.

How I Made a 4th Axis Harmonic Drive

Includes affiliate links that help offset our expenses at no cost to you.

After finishing my Modular CNC Controller I built this 4th axis attachment for my CNC router and my milling machine. This will let me machine parts such as gears, and carve 3D patterns wrapped around cylindrical shapes. In the Part 1 video I build the main drivetrain components, using a harmonic drive gearbox to get precise angular positioning and high torque with low backlash.

In the Part 2 video I weld and machine the steel enclosure, install the harmonic drive system, and try it out.

In this video I apply Powder Coating to the housing.


The Harmonic Drive web site has detailed information about the style of gearbox that I used. The Catalog link on that page provides detailed documentation about this family of ultra-low-backlash gearboxes.

I bought the 3-jaw front-mounting self centering lathe chuck from Shars. Any similar chuck should work, provided that it can be mounted from the front.

I bought my stepper motor on Ebay after quite a bit of searching to find one with the specs I wanted, including the 8mm output shaft to fit the coupling on my particular gearbox. Here is a link to a similar Nema 23 stepper motor on Amazon.com, but with the more common 1/4″ output shaft.


Includes affiliate links that help offset our expenses at no cost to you.

Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil). The wastes from the fish are broken down by bacteria living in the growing medium, and converted into a form that can be used by the plants.

Integrated Vertical Tube System
Here’s a drawing and a photo of the integrated vertical tube aquaponics system we built. The photo shows the tubes in the planting/harvesting position; normally they are rotated 180 degrees so that the openings face the window.

I made the drawing using SketchUp, a great free 3-D drawing program. If you have SketchUp and want my drawing file you can download it by clicking here.

To make the grow tubes, I cut slots across with a hack saw and then heated the plastic with a heat gun to soften it. Once it was soft I pushed in a tapered wooden plug to hold it open until the plastic hardened again. I did this outside because the PVC gives off some fumes when you heat it. The second photo below shows a close up of one of the openings after the tube was filled with pea gravel.

The PVC caps on the bottom of the tubes have slots cut around the edges with a table saw, so that any water that might drip out around the plants can just run down the outside of the tube and through the slots. Otherwise the cap would seal against the funnel and the water could not drain. Normally the water flows down through the tube and out the holes I drilled in the bottom of the cap.

The photo below shows the top of the system, with the flow control valves that regulate the flow of water to each tube. These were necessary in order to balance the flow because without them, most of the water runs into the tube closest to the pump. Note that the tubing is black in order to prevent algae from growing inside it, but after a while it will still develop a film inside from beneficial bacteria that break down the fish wastes. We found that it was necessary to clear the tubes out now and then, by closing all but one valve and turning the pump off and on. The sudden surge of water when the pump starts is enough to clean the accumulated biofilm that adheres to the inside of the tubing.

April 3, 2007  We got fish today! They are about 3″ long and cost us $3 apiece. Their first meal was a small handful of earthworms, which they ate eagerly. I think the one in the bottom picture is burping.

Here’s my new experimental setup to permit multiple fish to each establish a breeding territory in one tank:

5-2-2007  Here’s our first harvest of lettuce, which totaled a whopping 9 grams (0.3 ounces)! The lettuce is a red variety so the color is normal for this type.

6-3-2007: We’ve had quite a few salads now and the plants are doing great. The spinach is spindly but the basil, upland cress and lettuce are thriving.

8-14-2007 We’ve got babies! We hadn’t looked closely for a while so we were surprised to see about 50 little tilapia in the tank today and they’re already over 1 cm long. The water isn’t normally this cloudy but we just cleaned the tank so it’s all stirred up.

The adults are doing well too, and they’ve grown quite a bit.

9-3-2007: The first group of babies have grown to about 1″ long, and we now have a second brood of little ones. The adults pretty much ignore them but the larger babies will “thin out” the smaller ones for us. It’s survival of the fittest in this tank!

Epilog: We shut down this project in the spring of 2008, in preparation for moving to Michigan. We ate the largest of the fish, which weighed in at about 10 ounces – not quite market size but enough for a taste anyway, and it was pretty tasty.In retrospect we wouldn’t undertake any serious fish-raising project without first developing a food source, as purchasing fish food getsrather pricey plus there’s no control over its contents. We’d also use a tank that’s easier to clean!

4th Axis Engraving a Micrometer Dial

This project is the first real test of the new Modular CNC Controller and 4th Axis Assembly that I built. I used themto engrave a micrometer dial to make an adjustable carriage stop for my metal lathe, which is based on a YouTube video by Tubalcain. Here’s how the finished part looks:

The first video shows how I modeled the part and created engraving toolpaths using AutoDesk Fusion 360:

The second video shows the machining of the dial using the toolpaths generated in Part 1:

I ran into some difficulties during the machining, one of which was that my cheap stepper motor drivers were not able to keep up with the pulse rate coming from the DDCSV1.1 control panel. Upgrading them to higher-end drivers solved the problem, and the specific ones I’m using are the KL-5056 from Automation Technology:

This driver supports a power supply up to 50V and can deliver up to 5.6A of current, which is more than I need for the steppers I’m using at the moment, but I also plan to use these drivers someday to run my milling machine where I’ll need bigger stepper motors. I have the drivers set at 2.7A for the smaller stepper motors that I’m using on the CNC Shark router and the 4th axis. I noticed that in addition to solving the problem I was having with lost steps on the Z axis, the improved drivers also gave noticably smoother motion and less noise.