drbo – experiments and drawing big

Once you have assembled your drawbot and got it working on a small scale, you can start experimenting.

Find a suitable wall / board that you can draw on, and attach two screw in the top two corners. You can place the drawbot on the floor and run the threads up and over the two screws – hugely increasing your drawing area.

Note that you may need to add two more screw in the bottom corners of your drawing area, to stop the threads from fouling on the pen holder when it is drawing low down. Remember to change the machine width and page sizes in the controller software!

drbo – drawbot assembly


Once you have finished assembling your drawbot kit, you will need to set up the software to get it working. To start with I’d recommend heading over to Sandy Noble’s polargraph site, downloading his software and following his instructable to get it working / the forum for further help.

I would stress the importance of getting your parameters set up in the control software properly – experiment on a small scale drawing on the supplied backboard before going big.

Next: experiments and drawing big.

drbo – thread spool assembly

Assembling the thread spools is a little simpler than the pen holder:

Assemble the first spool and repeat for the second one.

Next up: drawbot assembly.

drbo – motor shield soldering

Motorshield Soldering

Assemble the Motor Shield kit according to the instructions on the Adafruit website. If you are inexperienced at soldering – don’t be put off – just take your time and you’ll be fine.

Once the motor shield is soldered we can move on to kit assembly.

Hackshack – Full Circle Arts April 2012

Continuing project work with Full Circle Arts in Trafford, Manchester I organised and took part in a 4 day workshop hacking session with Dave Murray-Rust, Scott Towler and Matt Venn.

Hackshack blog post detail:

All links above written by Mike Wallis @nalsa



SNIJLABS / plywood clamps

When I first saw SNIJlab’s lasercut plywood hinge online, I was blown away. I showed Chrissy at Full Circle Arts, we got excited, then decided to launch the SNIJECT project based around it.

The booklet design also includes a laser cut clamp that holds a pad of paper in place. This design is also very cool – and easily overlooked as the hinge is more prominent in the overall design. It wasn’t until I started cutting the booklets and assembling them myself that I realised just how cool the pad clamp is too.

Whilst glueing the clamps onto the booklet covers, I came across a problem. Ideally, you should weigh down or somehow clamp the pieces of plywood you are glueing together to ensure a secure fix. I was struggling to find lots of suitable weights, meaning I could only glue 5 booklets or so at a time.

My thoughts turned to the plywood clamp – perhaps it could be modified to suit my needs – a clamp to secure the pad clamp whilst glueing. I set about trying some designs – rapid prototyping – until I came up with a working design.

As you can see, it took quite a few attempts to get a nicely working design. Problems / things encountered include:


  • - Enough leverage to make clamp easy to position
  • - Including a jig part to line up the pad clamp correctly
  • - Adding holes to allow bolting two clamps together (later ignored, not necessary)
  • - Trying different widths / dimensions / shapes / stops for best flexibility and durability
  • - Removing ‘teeth’ – they were marking the plywood cover and pad clamps and not needed for this application
  • - Rounding corners for ergonomics


This design process was fun and now I can cut my own clamps from the same material as the end product. Working like this has made me think a lot about how having access to the laser cutter has changed the way I do things. I wouldn’t have been able to work through as many revisions as quickly as this if I had to send the design off to be cut and returned for testing. This may lead to careless / lazy prototyping as the cost of testing a new design is cheap. Is this a bad thing? Should I be a more disciplined designer? Should I strive to get something right in, say 5 revisions or less? Or should I embrace this way of working?

leverage to make opening clamp easy

jig piece to line up clamp

clamping one side

both sides clamped

lots of booklets glueing

The SNIJCLAMP design is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. Open up your designs!

Grab the files here:

As ever – bigup to SNIJLAB for sharing the original booklet design.

Polargraph / Drawbot Pen Holder

I have been playing with Drawing robots / Polargraphs for a few months now, first inspired by my friend Matt Venn’s Energy Monitor: http://www.mattvenn.net/2011/09/19/polargraph-energy-monitoring/

and later Sandy Noble’s Polargraph: http://www.polargraph.co.uk/

Like many projects, I have ended up making many revisions / versions of my drawbots. First, there was David, then Derek, then Doris, Delilah is the latest, and next up is Deirdre [can you spot a theme?].

There are many problems/issues/obstacles/characterful niggles that one comes across when building a drawing robot. I won’t list them here – take a look through the polargraph forums, or have a go at making your own to find out!

One challenge is the pen holder:

  • must hold pen securely enough for drawing
  • nice if can change pen easily
  • needs to also hold servo to lift pen
  • detachable from holding wires for transportability
  • place to attach weight


Early experiments by Matthew and Sandy addressed some of these problems, but often included extra / hard to find parts, or more expensive parts, etc. Then Sandy (I think) came across Mr Drew’s pen holder (name of a drawbot by Darcy Whyte of mambohead.com ) and put it up on his own site.

There are pros and cons to different designs of pen holder / gondola – I was keen to address some of the cons of the holders I have been using and seeing how my own changes affected performance / usability.

Bigup Darcy and mambohead for sharing their Mr Drew pen holder! I can’t find the original file link, but Sandy has it up on his google code hosting (sketchup file) here:


I downloaded this file, converted it to dxf for my laser cutter and made one up. After getting a spring from an old printer in my junk store, I had a nice, easy-to-swap-your-pen, pen holder. Sweet!

After a bit of use I had a few thoughts of design improvements [in my eyes] and decided to make a few changes.

It is entirely possible/likely that I didn’t assemble the parts as intended (I used ~60% of the parts in the MrDrew file) but I had a working holder. From that base I tried:


  • extend string hooks for easier stringing/de-stringing
  • reduce number of components
  • modify sprung arm to clear spacers
  • modify pen holder to include servo holder
  • extend weight attachment position
  • widen pen space to allow larger pens to be held
  • extended lever handles on sprung jaws


You can download my design here:


All files above are shared under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license – for more details see the Creative Commons website.

Other hardware

In addition to the laser cut parts (I used 3mm sheet stock), you will also need:
  • 2x M3 40mm machine screws
  • 2x M3 16mm machine screws
  • 4x M3 nuts
  • 10x M3 nylon washers (optional)
  • 1x small spring
  • 1x micro servo
  • drawbot, pen, etc etc


Big nice to Matt Venn, Sandy Noble and the many other drawbot / polargraph people doing lovely things.

UPDATE - fatter pens

My first revised version could hold Sharpies but I got hold of some fatter markers that I wanted to try, so I did some more tweaks and have two other versions available – one that can take pens up to ~20mm in diameter and another that can take up to ~28mm diameter (pretty chunky markers).

Grab the files here:




Working with Full Circle Arts to lead an experimental design project based upon a shared laser cutting technique from SNIJ lab in Rotterdam.

Cutting a series of parellel / offset lines into sheet plywood makes it flexible. SNIJ labs designed these booklets then shared the design under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. I wanted to experiment with a wiki and design project / competition based around this nice technique.


- What happens when a design is shared under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license

- How [many] people contribute to a wiki and what happens when they do

- Is sharing / open design a catalyst

Competition running 01-Feb-2012 to 01-May-2012

More information on the wiki: http://sniject.wikispaces.com/

Original design available at: http://www.snijlab.nl/?page_id=358

60 seconds AudioBoo sound recording project // October 2009 – ongoing

Ever since getting hold of the AudioBoo app for my phone – I wanted to do something with it. I experimented to start with, then had the idea of recording 60 second clips of what I was hearing.

I like how geo-location of the sound recordings gives them a context. I am also a fan of field recordings – I think they are more consuming / gripping than watching a video online.

I chose 60 seconds as a loose theme / template for my sound recordings – allowing the actual sonic content to vary wildly whilst still giving the project a backbone, or form factor.

Some of my favourite ‘boos:




and more on my AudioBoo profile here.

I am fascinated by sound and how it can trigger memory – I don’t think it’s as evocative as smells can be but it’s easier to record + reproduce, and AudioBoo provided me with a quick and convenient way to start this project.

After starting the 60second project I found out about the UK sound map project – led by the British Library and the Noise Futures Network. I started adding my recordings to the sound map – you can add yours by adding the #uksm tag to your ‘boos.

I presented the 60 second project at TEDxLeeds in November 2010.