The Othermill is an easy-to-use desktop CNC mill that can fabricate amazing things out a variety of materials, including wood and metal. It’s also great for prototyping PCBs in classrooms, for hobby projects, or for manufacture.
In this tutorial, we use the Otherplan on Windows or Mac OS X to make a light-up circuit board that displays the famous “Hello World” startup message. The rack that extends from the side of the finished project even gives you a charming yet handy way to store the hardware included with your Othermill. It’s adorable and functional!
This tutorial is designed for Othermill beginners, and we will walk you through all the steps.
This tutorial covers:
- Using Otherplan with an Eagle board file (provided in the next step)
- Getting familiar with Otherplan and the Othermill
- Using FR-1 as a structural building material
The Othermill comes with all the materials needed to complete this project — the only additional thing you’ll need is a soldering iron and diagonal cutters.
Step 1: Materials, Tools, Files, and Skills
- 1/32" Flat End Mill
- Computer running Mac OS X or Windows, with Otherplan installed
- Soldering iron and solder
- Diagonal cutters for clipping wires
- Calipers to measure your board (optional). They’re useful for very tiny, accurate measurements, more so than a ruler or by eyeball.
- Helping hands tool aka “third hand,” to hold your circuit board in place while soldering (optional)
Materials (all included in the Othermill’s Hello World Kit, which comes with the mill)
- Single-sided FR-1 printed circuit board blank
- 22-ohm resistors (2)
- LEDs (2)
- Coin cell battery, 3-volt, CR2032
- Coin cell battery holder
- Double-sided sticky tape
- Basic understanding of how a simple electrical circuit works
- Basic soldering skills
- Basic understanding of what milling is
- OR the willingness to pick these skills up while you make this project. It might take a little longer, but if you’ve never done it before, you’ll feel like you just invented fire!
Step 2: Set Up Otherplan and Your Othermill
Follow these steps to set up your mill. For a complete walkthrough of unboxing and setting up your mill for its first use, see our Getting Started guide.
- Make sure your mill is plugged in to a grounded electrical outlet.
- Connect the USB cable to the back of the Othermill and to your computer.
- Download and install Otherplan. To do this, click Download on the Otherplan webpage, double-click the file for OS X or Windows, and install according to the methods of your operating system.
- Open Otherplan by double-clicking on the icon, which should be wherever you chose to save it.
- Turn on your Othermill by pushing the power button on the back of the machine.
- Enjoy the mill’s cheerful beeping startup (these beeps sound only when all the windows are in place).
- In Otherplan, a dialogue will pop up asking you to “Start Homing” the machine. Homing tells the machine where it is in space and makes sure the position of the tool in the machine matches the position of the tool in the software. This ensures that all your cuts are exactly where you want them to be.
- Click the Start Homing button.
The Othermill will go through its homing procedure, which will take a few seconds. You’re now ready to set up your file!
Step 3: Set Up Your File in Otherplan
- In Otherplan, click Open Files and select the HelloWorldV6.brd file that you downloaded.
- You’ll see a rendered version of the file appear on the machining bed in Otherplan, and the file name should appear on the right side of the screen with some options and buttons below.
- On the right-hand side of the screen, you’ll see the Configure column, which is made of expandable menus labeled Tool, Material, and Move By, followed by a button labeled Open Files.
- Expand out the Material arrow, and click on the preset dimensions. They should expand out and provide editable fields for you to enter the dimensions of your FR-1 PCB blank, if they differ from the defaults. (Make sure Otherplan is set to view the units you’d like to work with using View > Show Units in Inches/mm.)
- Use your calipers to measure the width and length of your material.
- Enter the width as the x value, the length as the y value, and the thickness as the z value.
- In the Placement bar directly underneath the z value for the material dimension, enter in .003" (0.076mm) in the z field of the Placement drop-down. This will raise the plan .003" (0.076mm) to make up for the thickness of the tape underneath the board.
- Now, in the panel for the plan you opened, select the tool you’re going to use to cut out the circuit board. In this case, you’ll want to use a 1/32" flat end mill.
Your file is ready! Next comes the tool setup.
Step 4: Set Up Your Tool
- In the upper-right corner of the Otherplan window, click on Change (or Set if no tool is selected) to set your tool. This will lower the z-carriage, making it easier to insert a tool, and it will also bring up a dialogue box to walk you through the tool-changing process.
- In the dialog box in Otherplan, click Continue and select a 1/32" flat end mill.
- In the dialogue box in Otherplan, select a 1/32" flat end mill and click Continue.
- Remove the collet from your accessories kit if you haven’t already installed it. The collet is the round device with a hole through it that holds your tool in the machine. Make sure the collet is snapped with the wide end into the collet nut (it’s ok if it doesn’t make a snapping sound). Then screw the nut loosely back onto the spindle shaft.
- Grab a 1/32" flat end mill (see our tool identification guide if you’re not sure what a 1/32" looks like).
- Slide the 1/32" flat end mill most of the way into the collet as shown below, and then use the two wrenches to tighten the collet nut onto the spindle. It doesn’t have to be super tight, just snug plus a little bit.
- Click Continue, and the mill will position the tool over the bed. Since we haven’t put the material onto the mill yet, we don’t have to worry about where the tool touches down.
Note: In the future, if you have material loaded before you locate the tool, the machine will go to a spot on the bed it thinks is clear. In that case, make sure the material is truly not in the way, and if it is, double check your material dimensions in Otherplan. Also make sure the tool is not going to sink itself into an alignment bracket hole on the bed. If you are not quite sure where on the bed the tool will touch down, keep your finger on the ESC key and press it if anything looks out of place.
- Click on Locate Tool. The tool will descend to the surface of the machining bed and calculate where the tip of the tool is in space. When the touch-off is complete, the tool will retract but stay in place above the machining bed.
Step 5: Set Up Your Board on the Mill
Now it’s time to position your FR-1 in the machine!
- Cover the non-copper side of a single-sided FR-1 PCB blank with one layer of double-sided tape.
- Click the Loading button in the main Otherplan window. This will bring the bed of the mill forward.
- Stick the board down to the bed of the mill so that the bottom left corner of the board just hangs over the edges of the bottom left corner of the aluminum bed.
- Click on the Home button to retract the bed to the home position.
Step 6: Cut Your Board
It’s a good idea to stay close by your mill while it’s cutting. Never leave a working mill unattended.
- Grab whatever you need to get cozy with your Othermill for the next hour or so.
- Click the Start Cutting button inside the “HelloWorldV6.brd” panel. Watch as the mill cuts the traces, holes, and then outline of the file into the board.
- When the mill is finished, vacuum all the chips out and click the Loading button. Grab a cheese knife or a putty scraper and gently pry up the FR-1 board as well as the separated pieces that were cut from it.
- Clean the edges of your board with a Scotch-Brite pad and use a knife or engraving bit to clear out the slots.
Note: Due to occasional variation in PCB blank thickness, you might notice that when the machine starts cutting, it’s just grazing the surface of the board; this is fine — it will cut all the way through the copper if you let the job complete.
Step 7: Add the Electronics
It’s easier to solder on the electronic components before you assemble the pieces together, but it’s helpful to understand how the structure fits together before you start soldering on the components. So fit the pieces together using the instructions in the photo below.
Use this to get a sense of where the LEDs, resistors, and battery holder go, and on which side they’re mounted. Once you understand where they go, take apart the model and follow these photos to solder them:
The photo of the EAGLE board at the top of this step is also helpful for locating where the components should be attached.
Step 8: Assemble
Now that your parts are soldered, assemble your bit rack once more and solder it all together following these steps.
- Press-fit the sides onto the front piece just like you did before.
- Solder the copper tabs that overlap in the joints. There are two tabs to be soldered on each side. These joints not only hold the pieces together, but they also complete the circuit. This allows current to flow from the battery on the left side, through the text on the front, all the way to the LEDs on the right side.
- Next, slide the bottom piece of the rack into the bottom slot on the right side and solder the joint.
- Do the same for the top piece of the rack.
- Use a piece of double-sided tape to stick the rack base underneath the bottom of the rack.
- Now that the structure is complete, gently bend the LEDs so they point towards the back of the front piece.
Continue on to the next step to see if the circuit works!
Step 9: Use It!
Slip the battery into the holder so that the flat top of the battery (with the text on it) faces inside. The LEDs should now be on.
Fill up the rack with the hardware and tools you got in your accessories kit and use it all day every day!
Congratulations, you’ve just made your first project on the Othermill!
Have questions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to help!
As always, for more information about new kits, store goodies, stories we tell, and machine updates, check us out at othermachine.co.