• The Plug Track functions are experimental and still being developed. Some of the earlier pages of this topic are now out-of-date.

    For an updated overview of this project see this post.   For some practical modelling aspects of using Plug Track see The Book of Plug Track.

    Some pages of this and other topics include contributions from members who are creating and posting their own CAD designs for 3D printing and laser-cutting. Do not confuse them with Templot's own exported CAD files.

The Book of Plug Track

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Martin Wynne

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.
The idea of this topic is to cover the practical use of the 3D file exports from Templot -- track-laying, printers, machines, materials, tools, polymers, CNC cutters, etc.

For more about using the Templot software to create the 3D files, see:

https://85a.uk/templot/club/index.php?forums/plug-track.34/

Be aware that it is all still very experimental and unfinished.

If you are using your own designs instead of the Templot files, please post instead in this topic:

https://85a.uk/templot/club/index.php?threads/building-3d-track.520/

or if you do post here, underline in red 5 times the stuff which didn't come from Templot.

I'm getting emails from folks getting in a terrible muddle about what this is all about, trying to order track parts or 3D printers from me, etc.

Just to clarify for anyone reading this for the first time -- Templot is my hobby. It is not a commercial product. I'm not selling anything. And nothing is ever actually finished. :) -- certainly not the Plug Track project.

cheers,

Martin.
 
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Martin Wynne

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Sanding FDM-printed timbering bricks

If you have printed a timbering brick on an FDM (filament) printer, you have likely got the usual 3D-printed mottled look to the timber surfaces.

That might get lost under a heavy coat of paint, but maybe not under a thin coat -- which might make it look even worse.

The "ironing" function in the Cura slicer can help to smooth the surface, but it tends to create a slight pillowed effect between the sockets, and adds significantly to the pinting time.

So you will probably want to sand the timber tops to a flat surface before using the timbering brick. Here is my high-tech setup to do that. I forgot to add the jar of water, so you will have to imagine that bit: :)

brick_sanding_tools.jpg


1. a dead-flat piece of board with a waterproof surface. This is the obvious choice, an off-cut of laminate-faced shelving. The workmate bench outside was convenient for daylight photography.

2. glue the timbering brick dead-flat to it with the same PVP glue-stick used on the bed of the printer -- they can be obtained from:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08ZRXNH8D/

(ordinary paper glue-sticks don't work).

3. wait a few minutes for the glue to set (can be speeded up with a hair-dryer).

4. rub some soap onto the surface of the brick.

5. dip the sander in some water.

My sander is not the usual sanding block, it's a Plasterer's Margin Trowel. One can be obtained from:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Faithfull-SGTMARG5-2-inch-Margin-Trowel/dp/B002KHR71Q/

but mine came from the bargain bin at a local DIY shop.

It has a smooth rectangular metal blade, to which I have attached some Wet&Dry abrasive paper using double-stick tape (all over, to keep it flat).

For a rapid result you can use 400-grit paper, but you need to be careful not to overdo it. I'm using 600-grit which takes a bit longer but gives more control. From your local car body repair shop, or from:

https://www.screwfix.com/p/sanding-sheet-unpunched-280-x-230mm-400-grit-10-pack/908jg
https://www.screwfix.com/p/sanding-sheet-unpunched-280-x-230mm-600-grit-10-pack/519jg

6. work over the timbering brick until you are satisfied the surface is smooth all over. Then stop -- you want to keep a constant timber thickness for level track. It doesn't take long. Add more water as needed to keep it cool, but don't flood it otherwise you may loosen the adhesive. If you try working dry the friction heat may be sufficient to melt the surface of the plastic, which will just clog up the abrasive paper and render it useless. The water keeps it cool, the soap acts as a wetting agent and lubricates the process, add more if needed.

No doubt the metal trowel blade also helps to keep the abrasive cool. A traditional wooden sanding block might not do that. Other shapes and sizes of plasterers trowel are available, some at high professional prices.

7. remove the brick from the board using the window scraper (from the pound shop). It should release quite easily. If not, a scrub with a wet nail brush will soften the adhesive.

8. give it a rinse under the tap and a scrub with a nail brush to remove the sandings and any remaining adhesive. Leave in a warm place to dry, or use the hair-dryer again. Don't leave it soaking in water for an extended period of time.

This is the surface result after ironing in Cura and a light wet-sanding with 600-grit paper. The timber surface no longer looks FDM-printed. In this cruel close-up the layering from the printer is visible on the timber sides, but will be lost in the ballast:

index.php


If wanted, an overscale wood-grain effect could be scratched into the surface using a broken bit of junior hacksaw blade, dragged sideways.

9. clean the board for next time with a kitchen scourer. The PVP glue is water-soluble with the aid of the scourer.

p.s. the above is my process for eSun toughened PLA+ polymer. I haven't tried it with any other polymers, feedback welcome.

cheers,

Martin.
 
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Martin Wynne

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The work bench seems to de devoid of normal DIY use !!!
@Hayfield

Hi John,

It's a cheap one from Lidl which I purchased about 5 years ago and then forgot all about. :)

I discovered it unopened in its box a couple of weeks ago and put it together quickly before I forget all about it again! I do have a more substantial one scarred with many years of use. My thinking was that it's useful to have two if you ever need to work on a long plank. No such plank has appeared in my life recently, and had it done I doubt I would have remembered that I had a second workmate somewhere. :(

p.s. I have sent you an email.

cheers,

Martin.
 
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Martin Wynne

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Fitting chairs

Work on a suitable solid flat board:

brick_chairing_tools.jpg



The resin-printed plug-in chairs are each printed supported on a pyramid above a base raft (skate) (slab) of resin:
plug_flush_cutting.png

The wider chairs such as S1J joint chairs and L1 bridge chairs have a correspondingly wider plug and pyramid. This is to ensure that the fragile edge of the chair base is fully supported and prints properly.

It is important that the plug is cut cleanly from the support pyramid using flush cutters such as a Xuron rail cutter. If there are any rough or broken remains on the base of the plug, the chair may bottom in the socket and not seat down properly on the timber surface.

brick_chairing_tools2.jpg


The short length of wood is a cocktail stick with the ends snipped off. More about that below.

1. The rail is used as a means to install the chairs in the sockets. Using a needle file, remove any burrs from the end of the rail so that the chairs can be threaded on easily. Do not press the chairs into the timbers without the rail through them -- they are a firm press-fit and risk being damaged if pressed hard with your fingers.

2. Lay out the chairs on the paper template in their proper positions with the keys on the correct side of the rail and facing the right way. It is much easier to do this before threading them onto the rail. :)

3. Then slide them onto the rail in the correct order, and space them out to match the template.

If you have the rail-fit settings correct, the chairs should slide along easily, but stay put in the desired position.

4. Check that there is no debris or other obstructions in the timber sockets. A few fine cobwebby strings from the FDM printer do not matter -- the plug will usually break through them. You can see a few in the photo below. The end of a piece of code75 bullhead rail is a convenient fit to use as a tool in clearing the sockets in 4mm scale.

5. The chairs will fit more easily if the timbering base is warmed, e.g. using a hair dryer.

6. Loosely locate the chairs in the timber sockets. The plugs are tapered so that they locate easily.

7. Then work to and fro along the rail with a suitable implement, gently at first, and then more firmly, gradually firming the chairs down home into the timbers:

brick_chairing_tools1.jpg


I found a length of hardwood capping strip having radiused edges. An off-cut from that has made a perfect firming-down tool without damaging the rail.

If an odd chair refuses to firm down, place the wood flat on the rail and give it a light tap with a pin hammer. But make sure it is not bottoming in the socket for some reason.

If necessary the chairs can be removed by turning the brick over and pushing them out sharply with a small screwdriver or similar.

The P slide chairs cannot be threaded onto the rail. Locate them loosely in their sockets beforehand, and hook the rail into them as you locate it in place. Firm down the P chairs along with the others.

Because the rail is offset from the centre of the P chair, it may not go fully home using the rail only. Cut the ends from a cocktail stick and use it as a punch on the slide pad area of the chair. Most cocktail sticks are 2mm diameter and in 4mm/ft scale will just fit conveniently between the rail and the chair screw heads. Give it a light tap with the pin hammer to seat the chair fully home.

8. If desired for a permanent fix, turn the brick over and run a little adhesive around the base of the plugs and leave to set. It's not strictly necessary unless you anticipate your track being roughly treated.

cheers,

Martin.
 
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Martin Wynne

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1091.jpeg


James Walters kindly gave me a laser cut P4 ply turnout base, as of yet I have not tried using it.
@Hayfield

Hi John,

I'm getting a bit concerned about the above. A lot of plywood has been wasted there because the sockets for the entire V-crossing area are complete junk. I haven't even looked at that area yet -- currently Templot is assuming it is two lengths of plain track overlaid. You need to cut all that part away and bin it -- I can't imagine any practical use for it.

Also, the chairs you have there are for the 3D-printed timbering bases. I doubt they will work in laser-cut plywood as they stand unless James has adjusted the socket settings to match them. Also of course, if that is P4 the slide chairs you have there won't fit -- they are for EM.

Ideally when resin-printing chairs the chair/socket fit settings need to be set up for the intended usage. For example for CNC-milled bases the chair plugs need an increased corner relief setting.

Also, what is the thickness of that plywood? For the plug-in assembly method to work as intended it needs to be 1/8" (3.2mm) thick -- as are those FDM printed bases and the chairs.

In thinner plywood there are three problems -- it gets very much more fiddly to align the shorter plugs over the sockets; they will probably need to have smaller plugs to be glued in place because a press-fit will damage the thin ply socket sides; that it turn probably means the rails will need to be threaded in afterwards when the glue has set, like assembling a turnout kit. Which rules out having prototypical one-piece wing rails through the knuckle.

It's still far too experimental to go ahead and create an entire turnout base from the Templot files. It's just a waste of material. I feel folks are jumping ahead of me, and there seems to be a push towards laser-cut plywood which I don't share. I'm currently focused on FDM-printed and CNC milled bases -- for which I have the necessary bench-top machines here.

Templot is my hobby and essentially for my own use, and I don't have a laser-cutter, especially not one capable of cutting 1/8" thick which I believe would be expensive, and unpleasant in use. I can't really develop Templot for something for which I can't do my own trial and error experiments. I've tended to assume that track-builders are much more likely to have an FDM printer and/or a benchtop CNC engraver/miller in their workshop, rather than a laser-cutter, but maybe I'm wrong?

Here's something now in 236c which is no problem for FDM printing or CNC milling, but would be trickier for plywood -- the steel soleplate on the toe timber:

soleplate_cad.png


It still needs the rib which is welded or riveted onto the end of the soleplate. That could be added with a bit of plastic card, but I'm planning to do a special version of the slide chair for the toe timber, having the rib integral with the chair base (including the rivet heads, which can be filed off for the more modern welded designs). GWR soleplates have the end of the plate forged up instead of a separate rib, but that will have to wait until I have done the GWR chairs.

cheers,

Martin.
 
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Hayfield

Member
Location
Essex
Martin

The ply timbers are 3.27mm thick, but the holes for the plugs may be slightly larger. certainly on the timbers for the J chairs have burnt away the tops of the plug side walls. I think you also know my thoughts on ply timbers
 
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I am leaning towards a combination of FDM printing for pointwork and laser cut ply for plain track panels. I think laser cutting ply will be much faster and I have a fairly ambitious layout plan in my head, one that will require a lot of plain track. I will let you know how my ordered 40W (input power, allegedly 10W output power) diode laser can actually do. The youtube clips I've seen of these more powerful diode lasers would suggest 3.2mm in ply should be achievable and cleanly. If this does not work, my fallback is to FDM print all the visible sleepers and probably the off scene ones too, but with just enough spacing to keep everything in gauge. May also just use copperclad and solder the rails in the off scene areas.
 
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Charles Orr

Member
Location
Leicester UK
I am leaning towards a combination of FDM printing for pointwork and laser cut ply for plain track panels. I think laser cutting ply will be much faster and I have a fairly ambitious layout plan in my head, one that will require a lot of plain track. I will let you know how my ordered 40W (input power, allegedly 10W output power) diode laser can actually do. The youtube clips I've seen of these more powerful diode lasers would suggest 3.2mm in ply should be achievable and cleanly. If this does not work, my fallback is to FDM print all the visible sleepers and probably the off scene ones too, but with just enough spacing to keep everything in gauge. May also just use copperclad and solder the rails in the off scene areas.
Hi Martin,
I've just bought one of these which is an Atomstack clone. Laser is rated at 10W.
Available from Banggood.



Also the compatible AtomStack Air Assist system from Amazon which has just been reduced in price.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B09W5QSKY7/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

It does need a suitable enclosure but I can assure you that it cuts 6mm ply easily and will cope with thicker material with suitable ventilation/extraction.

Best regards

Charles
 
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Martin Wynne

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I will let you know how my ordered 40W (input power, allegedly 10W output power) diode laser can actually do.
@murphaph

Please do let us know how you get on.

@Charles Orr

Hi Charles,

Thanks for that.

But I think I must be missing something. For example this laser cutter claims to cut through 12mm wood:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/ATOMSTACK-Engraver-Engraving-Compressed-Protection/dp/B0B3C2ZWNV

But with what precision and quality? We don't just want to burn a hole through the wood. It needs to be a precise square-edge with a resolution of about 0.05mm (2 thou).

This one costs 4 times as much, but claims a cutting thickness of only 2-4mm?

https://www.amazon.co.uk/TEN-HIGH-Engraving-300x400mm-Engraver-Version/dp/B07M9Y34CG

I would like to try laser cutting, but after the disappointment of the Silhouette Cameo cutter I don't want to risk the same again. I fear the results from these machines on Amazon won't be good enough for what we want.

In the Gauge 0 Guild Gazette there is an advertisement for one of these:

https://www.rayjetlaser.com/en/products/r-series-laser-cutter

with prices starting at £8795. Is that the level of investment actually needed? This company obviously thinks that there is a market for their product in home workshops. What machines are used by the firms currently offering laser-cut track bases?

For the present I think FDM printing probably offers the best option for most home track builders. Yes it's very slow, but it runs without needing any attention, so the speed is hardly relevant. And it's low-cost (including materials) and domestic-friendly. This one seems to be making waves at present:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/ELEGOO-Printing-Function-Printers-220x220x280mm-Neptune-3/dp/B0B2PCCPJQ

cheers,

Martin.
 
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Charles Orr

Member
Location
Leicester UK
Hi Martin,
There are many reviews on YouTube for this sort of cutter/engraver which demonstrate it's cutting ability.
Clearly care is needed when doing this sort of thing.
I will let you know how I get on but I need to build a case and suitable extraction system first.
My first experiments indicated that cutting 3mm ply and thicker was no problem at all, apart from the smoke (and flames 😉) produced.
I used it to cut some station platforms.

Best regards
Charles
 
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Location
Manchester
Seeing the talk about laser cutters, readers of this thread will have seen my posts regarding making timbers from card using a laser. I have had a laser for 3 or 4 years now and I bought it from Darkly Labs in Australia. Expensive? Perhaps and certainly more than the Chinese offerings but I have never regretted spending on the Emblaser 2, it has proved a reliable work horse and has produced many buildings and bits and pieces for Slattocks Jnc, the P4 layout of the Manchester Model Railway Society. Since purchasing this they now make a kit so you can put your own together and they are now upgrading the Emblaser 2 to a more powerful system. Take a look at Darkly Labs and see if it is something for you. Have I ever regretted buying from Australia (I am in the UK) - no never. If I have a problem I email them at the end of the day and when I wake in the morning I get a response. Parts come within 2 days and so far I have only had to replace fans which I stock up on. Overall an excellent product which I would recommend to anyone interested in getting a system they can take out of the box and switch on and start cutting.

Ralph
 
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@Terry Downes

Hi Terry,

I know nothing about laser-cutting, but that timbering base looks a bit over-cooked? It gives the impression that press-fitting the chairs into it would break the timbers apart? Are you intending to use smaller plugs and glue the chairs in place instead?

I suggest you don't change the height of the chair support pyramids. They are set at 3mm tall, and anything less makes it awkward to use flush cutters in removing the chairs from them.

You need to change the depth of the plug part of the chair for your thinner plywood:

View attachment 4314

The plug part of the chair comprises three sections.

The first section below the chair base is parallel-sided and a bash interference fit in the sockets at each end of the socket.

The second and third sections provide a taper lead-in, so that the chairs can be located loosely in the sockets before being pressed home.

View attachment 4313

Make sure you have set your model scale/gauge, and then click the chair / socket fit... button.

Press the Enter key about 16 times until you get to the above settings 1, 2 and 3, corresponding to the drawing above. They are stored internally in prototype dimensions but shown there at the model size (hence the importance of having your model scale/gauge set correctly in the control template).

The default dimensions showing there are for 4mm/ft scale and intended for use with 1/8" (3.2mm) timbering thickness.

For 1/16" timbering I suggest a first trial would be to divide all three of them by 2. Then it will likely need some further trial and error changes to get the best results.

The total plug depth needs to be less than the timber thickness to allow for any rough or broken remains on the bottom of the plug after snipping from the support.

More info in this topic: https://85a.uk/templot/club/index.php?threads/the-book-of-plug-track.529/

cheers,

Martin.
Hi Martin,
As always, thanks for your detailed reply. I will test the reduced chair plugs later today and let you know how I get on. Please keep up the sterling work with this topic. I'm constantly impressed with your level of detail and passion for your 'Hobby'
Regarding laser cut ply timbers... I purchased a very cheap Chinese Laser (Omtech 40W ~ £400) about 8 months ago to add to my modelling tools arsenal. I'm still playing with settings to achieve acceptable results and I have to say I'm very disappointed in the inconsistent results and very bad machine quality. I could go on and would like to share my results but, I'm not sure this is the right thread.
 
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Marsh Lane

Member
Location
UK
Martin,
I have been following this topic with interest, quietly in the background as I don’t have a 3D printer. But the results and possibilities are very interesting, and I agree with the earlier positing about recognition for your services to the model railway world! Sir Martin of Templot perhaps?!

From your current experience, do you feel that the Plug Track system would work for Code 55 N Gauge rail, or is that a step too far? Would the chairs be too small to reliably hold the rail accurately?

I recall you have said what printer and filament you have been using earlier in the thread. Is that, from your experience what you feel is best for this type of project, or merely what you chose when you bought it?

Keep up the development work, your doing a grand job.

Rich
 
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Location
Manchester
I know nothing about laser-cutting, but that timbering base looks a bit over-cooked?
My experience shows that the material is very hard and/or your head is moving too slowly. If you are able to, try using 2 passes to cut lowering the head by half the thickness on the second pass and set it on a much faster speed. Alternatively try using poplar ply which is a much softer ply and is readily available. SLEC Poplar ply I use the rule that if I can cut it easily with a Stanley knife then my laser will cut it easy, if it needs more than one cut then it is a hard material and will be a hard cut on the machine which is why I always use card first. I do use poplar ply but never use MDF. If you see burn marks like that to me it indicates your birch ply is very hard.

Why don't you get some mounting board (£4 or so an A1 sheet from most stationers) and try making the timbers from that and change the plug sizes to match 1.5mm thickness (see my posts for how I did it). Why everyone wants to use ply sleepers beats me, modellers back in the 1950s used card on their layouts and it worked for them so why not for us too?

Hope this might help.

Ralph
 
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A question which has probably already been answered. If so, apologies.

Is the idea that the rail is threaded through the chairs in one go while they are all "lined up" on the raft and then the xuron cutters comes in to separate from the support pyramids or are they supposed to be snipped off and slid onto the rails one by one?
 
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Location
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Personally I always slide a pointed piece of rail through the chairs as soon as they come off the printer after an IPA wash, this clears any residue that might be left in the jaw. As the rail is in position I then break all the chairs from the bottom support pyramid by pushing the rail back and forward and then when they are free from the base I use a cutter to trim the remnants off. If necessary I run a file over the bottom of the plug too. Note: I am talking about S1 chairs here for plain track, I have no experience of 3D printing for turnouts preferring to use ply and rivet.
20221020_110613.jpg


Edited for typo
 
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Last edited:

Martin Wynne

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Please do not send requests for help direct to me via email.

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A question which has probably already been answered. If so, apologies.

Is the idea that the rail is threaded through the chairs in one go while they are all "lined up" on the raft and then the xuron cutters comes in to separate from the support pyramids or are they supposed to be snipped off and slid onto the rails one by one?

Hi,

I snip them off the raft one at a time, and lay them out in the required positions on the paper template. Making sure that the keys are on the outside of the rails, and in some cases selecting chairs which have the keys facing in the correct direction.

Then slide them one a time on the rail. knowing that they are all in the correct order.

It's not really possible to slide the rail through them on the raft, because as it ages the raft tends to curl up (differential shrinkage):

index.php


This has no significant effect on individual chairs, but it means they are no longer aligned with each other on the raft to slide the rail through.

Also, sliding the rail through on the raft would mean they need to be arranged in the correct order on the raft. Which makes the bunching process for 3D printing very tricky, unless you waste a lot of resin and space printing them directly at the template positions. Bunching them up already requires some ingenuity with partial templates, adding a text label to the raft, and keeping a careful note on the paper template of which is which.

But your workshop, your way of doing things. Templot is just a tool to assist you. :)

cheers,

Martin.
 
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Martin Wynne

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Location
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Enjoy using Templot?
Thanks.

Please do not send requests for help direct to me via email.

Post your questions on the forum where everyone can see them and add
helpful replies.
Regarding laser cut ply timbers... I purchased a very cheap Chinese Laser (Omtech 40W ~ £400) about 8 months ago to add to my modelling tools arsenal. I'm still playing with settings to achieve acceptable results and I have to say I'm very disappointed in the inconsistent results and very bad machine quality. I could go on and would like to share my results but, I'm not sure this is the right topic.
@Terry Downes

Hi Terry,

Thanks for your report about the Omtech.

I have moved some of these posts to this topic as they are not directly related to the Templot program.

So yes, do please share here your experiences and results with your laser cutter.

I was also very disappointed -- with the Silhouette Cameo blade cutter. I imagined that it might be able to cut timbers and sockets in card, following glowing discussions on other forums. In practice it was utterly useless for anything thicker than 10 thou; the driver software runs on the computer and not on the cutter, taking over 30% continuous cpu use potentially for hours, leaving the computer running hot, slow, and barely usable for anything else. Also there were bugs in the DXF import making accurate dimensions very tricky to get right. It would have gone in the bin, but for its saving grace of being usable as a pen plotter on roll paper.

So yes, we need reports of all experiences and results with machines and methods for building plug track.

cheers,

Martin.
 
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Martin Wynne

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Enjoy using Templot?
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Please do not send requests for help direct to me via email.

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Personally I always slide a pointed piece of rail through the chairs as soon as they come off the printer after an IPA wash,
@ralphrobertson

Hi Ralph,

I'm a bit puzzled. Does that mean you are threading the rail through the chairs while they are still soft? Before any UV curing?

Does that work ok? On my printer they are very delicate at that stage and easily damaged. Do you UV cure them with the rail through them, or remove it for curing? If the rail is in place, does it prevent the UV light reaching all parts of the chair?

cheers,

Martin.
 
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