Machine Shop Growth

This summer Vector Space received a generous grant of $9,500 from The Easley Foundation to fund the acquisition of new capital equipment for our machine shop. Our existing milling machine (a 3-axis Bridgeport) will stay, and we will add sheet metal tools, tube benders, a cold cut saw and a vertial bandsaw. We will also replace our existing lathe with a larger and more powerferul one. Our plans for expansion go beyond this grant, and will eventually include a CNC milling machine.

What will we do with these new tools?
In the last few months our community of makers at Vector Space and outside organizations have shown a need for training and access to machining equipment. Vector Space is the only publicly available machine shop in Central Virginia, and this expansion of our machining facilities will increase our capacity for teaching these valuable, sought-after skills. As an older workforce looks toward retirement, these fields are in need of skilled and experienced welders, machinists, and CNC operators. Our membership ranges from students and hobbyists to certified professionals, and each will have access to training and use of this equipment.

Making Year End Gifts For Teachers

School is officially out for the year. My boys had a great group of teachers this year so I thought I'd make them some nice gifts.

  1. It's cheaper than gift cards.
  2. It will last them for years to come
  3. It's fun
  4. Because I can

Last year I did something similar. I used the CNC machine to make desk plaques with the teachers names on them.

I thought it would be fun this year to do something similar but using the 130 watt laser.

For my Son's science teacher I started off trying to make the entire periodic table. But it was a bit too large, the numbers too small, and the Laser focus was off on the bottom. Not to be deterred I took the elements of the periodic table and spelled the word SCIENCE with them. To make the modifications I was using INKSCAPE and saving as a .DXF so I could scale the file to the size I needed in the lasers software.

Laser is fast. But still takes time.

Design takes longer. I found some great vector files at No relation to Vector Space. Vectorstock is great because you can get vector graphics for around $1.00. All you have to do is pre-purchase credits.

The laser will cut material that is up to 1/2 inch thick. Most of what I was working with was 1/4. It will move at 8 mm per second at 95% power to make a cut.

I probably spent 8 hours working on all of these. Most got a coat of poly added. I am very happy with the results:



"People Who Buy Things are Suckers"

This is a tale of making without blueprints and loving every moment of it.

Last summer I built a fence in our backyard, but the soil was so rocky, I had to use a jackhammer to "drill" the holes for the posts. Unfortunately, my extension cord was not long enough for the jackhammer to dig all the holes, so, for the last 4 posts, I used metal stakes that go 3' into the ground and have a 6" holder for the fence post to sit in - I know, I know... should have just got a longer extension cord, but I had to learn that the hard way.

A few weeks ago, a tornado decided to come through Lynchburg, and along with it - lots of wind. Well, you guessed it, that wind took out those last four posts in the fence. The trusty (not trusty) metal stake snapped in half right where the stake was welded to the post holder. I didn't want to go and rent another jackhammer + my spine was fractured - that is another story - so I resorted to buying metal fence posts to hammer into the ground on both sides of the fence posts.

I took a trip to Home Depot and put eight 5' metal fence posts into my cart and then went over to look at the fence post drivers - you know, the metal cylinder thing with handles on the sides to hammer the stakes into the ground easily - $60. WHAT?! $60?? I thought, "I don't need that, I'll just hit everything in with a mallet - HA. When I got home and started my project, my mallet wouldn't drive the post an inch into the ground. Now, I could have driven back to HD and bought that post driver, but at that moment, I was called back to the wise words of one of the greatest TV characters of all time - Ron Swanson. In an episode of Parks and Rec, He made Andy and April's wedding rings out of a wall sconce (and says, "People who buy stuff are suckers." - I was not about to be a sucker! (Check out this 22 second video for the reference:

I thought, "As a student, I pay $40 for a membership to Vector Space. I could buy this post driver [and be a sucker] OR - I could go to Vector Space and BUILD IT MYSELF. So that's exactly what I did. All of the projects I have done, from building furniture to renovating my house have been so planned out and sequenced, but I didn't want to do that on this project - I didn't want to measure a single thing. I got in my car, drove to Vector, scanned my card, went to the welding space, looked through the plethora of scrap metal pieces and proceeded to grind and cut and weld my post driver. I didn't measure all but once piece so that I could cut it exactly in half (after which I thought, "I really didn't need to do that") It took my 20 minutes to build.

found my scrap pieces! now time to weld.

It was not pretty. It was not perfect. It was crude and the welds would make Doc wince, but it was everything it needed to be. I got home and checked my watch - the whole adventure took only 45 minutes. I walked into the backyard and *TAP, TAP, TAP, TAP, TAP* - 5 taps with my "vectormade" post driver and the post was in the ground. I was so ecstatic, I called my wife outside, showed her with the next post and did it in just three taps - I then proceeded to do the happy-dance-punch-the-air-and-make-primitive-man-noises celebration.

found my scrap pieces! now time to weld.

So, I learned that every once and a while, you need make things out of scrap pieces with no drawings or sketches beforehand... and you don't always have to buy that $60 tool from Home Depot, sometimes... yes sometimes, you can head over to your local makerspace and make something that might not look as shiny, but will do a better job.

So get out there! Make... and don't plan too much.

Lynchburg Mini Maker Faire

We are just weeks away from the second annual Lynchburg Mini Maker Faire on March 25th! Check out some of our featured events and makers below. Remember, entry is free but you must register! Get your tickets here.

Share your business or product idea on stage for a chance to win a Business Starter Package from Opportunity Lynchburg, full of valuable tools for startups in our area. Apply online to share your pitch! A panel of entrepreneurs will provide feedback and suggestions, and a winner will be selected.

The James River Council for the Arts and Humanities invites you to this family friendly competitive event. Simple rules, tons of fun! Take a hand-held power tool, turn it into a custom racing machine, and compete with your friends and neighbors. Don’t forget to decorate your racer and give it a bold name. Compete for prizes and bragging rights! Not sure where to start? Join us Saturday at Vector Space for a free Build Day to get advice and ideas for creating your own power tools racer. Register your tool here.

Airigami specializes in creating large-scale installations, illustrations, and experiences entirely out of balloons. From stadium-filling sculptures to sleek advertising imagery, Airigami combines storytelling & visual artistry to capture the attention of audiences world-wide. At LMMF the creative genius behind these sculptures will be piloting a new crowdsourced experience. YOU get to help build the 10x10' balloon mural on site!


In addition to these exciting events, we have an amazing line up of makers ready to share their passions with you. From professional woodworkers to hobbyist 3D printers, there is so much to see and do! View all registered makers here.

E-Week with Framatome

Happy Engineers Week! We are celebrating for the third year in a row with our partner Framatome Inc. Each year we host a free Family Night Workshop where kids ages 8-12 and their caregivers can come together to learn about and explore engineering. We provide the tools and materials for a hands-on project, which changes every year. In the past we have done earthquake shaker tables and a giant pinko board.

This year, each family will make an art pendulum. With a wooden frame and moving platform, the pendulum will work by sliding under a pen or writing tool that is fixed in postition. When the hanging platform is pushed, the pen draws figures and elipses based on the pendulum movement. Students will tweak the height and movement or the platform as well as the color and type of writing utensil to create unique works of art.

Another feature of our E-Week celebration this year is highlighting a few of the engineers doing awesome work at Framatome and in our community. Let us introduce you:

Elisa Calvo Tone has a Masters Degree in Nuclear Energy and Renewable Sources Engineering. Her childhood dream of being an astronaut morphed into an engineering career dedicated to finding solutions for clean energy and better quality of life on our own planet.

Elisa uses post-it notes to record crazy ideas and discussion points for later reference. When not engineering, she enjoys baking with her toddler (brave woman), volleyball, knitting, and reading.

Meet Heshan Gunawardane, a Mechanical Engineer at Framatome. Heshan started tinkering and taking things apart at a young age, and followed his uncle and cousins into a career in engineering. He recalls, "Growing up in Kenya, I would go for holidays to my country of birth, Sri Lanka, and stay with at my uncle’s house.  He was a marine engineer, so he started out his career on commercial ships going around the world, before settling down in the government sector as he got older.  Two of his sons chose to pursue engineering as well, one a marine engineer, and the other an electrical engineer.  My uncle was always tinkering with stuff, fixing broken stuff around the house, or working on his cars.  I used to help him with these tasks, if it wasn’t too “dangerous” or I wasn’t in the way.  This combination of the family influence, my personal experience and a natural inclination towards the sciences and mathematics drove my decision to become an engineer."

Heshan enjoys listening to music, particularly vinyl, as well as reading, traveling, and hitting the gym. The one item on his desk he can't do without: his coffee mug. We feel you, Heshan.

Pam Reed is a Mechanical Engineer that specialises in Plastic Product Design. She loves to walk out on a manufacturing floor and watch products roll off a press. The noise and the smell of industrial space brings a great feeling of accomplishment. When you’ve worked a design up from paper and developed the tooling and process to create it, the moment it culminates into a real life product is empowering!

Pam also loves to nerd out in the garden...learning about soil chemistry and plant characteristics is a favorite hobby. Like many of us she can be her own worst critic, so she keeps an inspirational message or quote on her desk to keep negativity at bay.

Aaron Pierce is a VCU grad with a BS in Mechanical Engineering. He enjoys engineering because there is never a dull moment: each day presents a different problem to solve or an opportunity to learn something new.

Aaaron recently got into analog photography and film development, and has combined his interests in gardening and coffee by growing and roasting his own coffee beans.

Maya Chandrashekhar has BS and MS degrees in Industrial and Systems Engineering. She loves problem solving, and being part of a field that has been making the impossible possible for centuries.

When she's not at work Maya enjoys hanging out with her kids and puppy, and cooking. She would be lost without her cell phone (wouldn't we all, Maya!).


Anti-Fighting Campaign at Linkhorne MS

This Fall myself and Adam Hughes lead two projects with students from Linkhorne Middle School. Each group met at Vector Space for two hours once per week, for the entirety of the semester. On Mondays our students worked to create an anti-fighting campaign to spread to their peers at school, as well as an FPV robot for home security.

When asked to identify problems in their everyday lives, this group didn't hold back. They identified racism, fighting, and home security as issues they wanted to tackle. With a twelve week time line (a total of 24 hours), we focused on both fighting at school and a home security solution. I worked with five students to craft a plan to reduce fighting at school; students talked about how pointless fights are and that communication is key to preventing these skirmishes. In an effort to spread their non-violence message, they made t-shirts, patches, and stickers for their classmates. The students each worked on a design for the campaign; they chose green and black as their colors and a fist and "Non-fighter" or "NF" as their visual elements.

Once designs were finalized students made samples of each product (which they later kept for themselves); t-shirts were screen printed, patches were embroidered, and stickers were made on the vinyl cutter and applied to pop sockets. The students then broadcast their campaign to their peers by going on the morning announcements and taking orders at lunch for each product. Items were sold at cost and then students spent their remaining time at Vector Space filling the orders. 

For the home security group, students learned about electronics, soldering, radio, and motor controllers. They built a small rover with a camera attached, which could be controlled remotely. The camera was set up with first person view (FPV) goggles, with the idea that one could drive the bot around your home from a safe distance away to ensure that no intruders were present. One modification was the addition of magnets to the rovers tracks, so that it could climb metal surfaces (or a refigerator). 

All of our students did a great job identifying a real problem and creating a workable solution. Throughout the class many iterations of each project were necessary, from troubleshooting screen printing inks to redesigning the rover when a 3D printed model failed. As an integral part of the engineering design process, our students learned that failure is not the end of a project but the next hurdle to overcome.

Micro:bit Watches with Linkhorne MS

This Fall myself and Adam Hughes lead two projects with students from Linkhorne Middle School. Each group met at Vector Space for two hours once per week, for the entirety of the semester. On Wednesday our students turned to computer programming and microcontrollers to make their daily lives easier and more efficient.

Using the BBC Micro:bit, each student programmed a watch (or other object) to their liking. The micro:bit is a microcontroller half the size of a credit card, with a 16 pixel LED grid, accelerometer, light sensor, compass, wifi, and blutooth capabilities. Each is powered by two AAA batteries or via USB cable. The programming is done quickly and easily with Blocks, a browser- and app-based JavaScript drag and drop coding tool. An extensive project library and thurough documentation make this an excellent tool for education and beginning programmers. 

While the initial focus of the project was making smart watches, a few students discovered other uses for the micro:bit and went different routes. One student created a guitar, which used the built in light sensor to control musical notes played. Sound was played through headphones or computer speakers, which were connected to one of the micro:bit's four digital/analog input/output rings. Students that did make watches added unique functions like games (rock, paper, scissors was popular), a compass, and personalization with scrolling text. 

In addition to programming, students used hand tools, sewing machines, leather punches, and more to create watch bands. They chose leather and fabric pieces that they again personalized; each student determined how to attach their micro:bit and battery holder to the band, and used snaps or other attachments to close the band. Check out the slideshow below for images of the students working on thier projects.


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