Author: James

Getting started with the BFB Rapman 3D Printer

Getting started with the BFB Rapman 3D Printer

So if you read my last post you know why I bought a £35 3D printer, so now the story of how I got it running.

My initial plan was to see if I could get it running in its original form. I applied 5v to the power socket and the controller fired up, I was able to navigate the menus and everything looked good but obviously the steppers wouldn’t move. I slowly increased the voltage up to 12v and like magic it sprung into life. 

So what to do with it? I was able to move the head, and with a little help the Z axis. I could even get it to extrude filament although the extruders method of pulling the filament in was interesting. The SD which came with the printer even had a couple of files on it so it made sense to give them a go. I selected the print, hit go and it started moving, it extruded a few mm of filament and then began to lay down a raft. It even got to layer 10 or so before the nozzle began to clog and the print became a spluttered mess of little plastic blobs.

As interesting as these 2 files probably were they simply would not print, was this a problem with the printer or with the files. Was the Hotend cooling down and causing the blockage, was the extrusion too fast or too slow causing it? I didn’t know and had no way of telling.

The Bits From Bytes Rapman shipped with its own board and firmware (this was 2 years before Marlin arrived). This meant I had no way of monitoring the prints from a PC to try and identify the cause, with my very limited experience I struggled to know where to start diagnosing the problem.

To compound matters the printer used a bespoke file format called .bfb produced by software called Axon. This meant I couldn’t even try printing a different model to see if the issues were due to the files on the card. After much searching I found a website with some info on these legacy models from 3D Systems. I tried the Axon software but that wouldn’t run on my modern Mac or Win10 PC. Next I tried a firmware update to hope for some connectivity on USB or it loading GCode files. Sadly the newer firmware wouldn’t load so back to the drawing board.

The plan

So the plan now, replace the controller with a RAMPS control board, Arduino MEGA 2560 and then install the Marlin firmware. The cost of these would double the value of the printer but at only £30-35 this is a great upgrade. It will give me a controller with full USB control from a range of modern software and it will include all the latest features for controlling the printer. Most importantly though it should give me clear monitoring of the printer while its running so I can see the temperatures and try to identify what’s causing the extrusion issues.


Why I bought a £35 3D Printer

Why I bought a £35 3D Printer

10 years ago I heard about a new project at Bath University. They had just invented a new machine which could be used to manufacture another of these machines. It’s name was RepRap. The following year I visited Bath for a course and saw one of what is now known as Darwin.

Ever since I had a desire to build one of these magical machines but had no knowledge, experience or even seen one in action. Over the years I’ve kept looking at the site and at the growing number of commercially available 3D printers. Since joining the Basingstoke Makerspace I’ve had the opportunity to use the Ultimaker printer and convinced me I wanted to have my own.

I started looking for a second hand printer, Ebay, Gumtree, Facebook. Many different options were available but the majority were in the style of the Mendel or Prusa designs. My heart was set on the cube design of the original Darwin with the bed moving up and down in the Z axis and the print head moving through the XY space. Although seemingly less popular as a design a number of them are produced, these include the Ultimaker, Tronxy, Makerbot and a plethora of chinese copies. 

Then I found it, based on the original Darwin design and made by a long defunct company called Bits From Bytes, the Rapman. Sold as a kit originally for a starting price of $1400, almost 10 years on since it was made I finally had my Darwin clone and for just 2.5% of its original value.

The eBay listing said it was complete but hadn’t been used so sold as spares or repair. On the basis that I was considering building from scratch anyway I decided to take a punt and give it a try.

Check out my next post for progress on getting it running.


Honeywell Evohome Install & Review

Honeywell Evohome Install & Review

Our house had a manual thermostat in the hallway and a very simple timer for heating and hot water. This has been a bugbare for me since we moved in, we’d turn the temperature up in the evening to keep the living room warm but forget to turn it down before bed, if we set the heating to turn off the bedrooms get cold and our daughter wakes up at 4am, if we leave it on we get hot and wake up. So finally I took the plunge and ordered the Honeywell Evohome system from The Evohome Shop not only were they one of the cheapest but they have a support forum and from reviews etc online seem to be quick to help.

The Honeywell Evohome system is a wireless smart home thermostat, but for me its greatest feature is that it can control individual radiator thermostats which each act as sensor and actuator, so rather than making the fairly random guess between 1 and 6 for how hot a room is and then hoping that the heating is on when you want it to be, each room can demand heat as required and be closed off to save energy when not. The latest version of the controller also has built-in Wifi so can connect to your router and then the internet so the system can be controlled remotely via an iPhone or Android app. 

The installation was relatively painless, our system doesn’t have a proper 10way junction box as Honeywell suggest but rather a box full of screw connector blocks. When I installed a new pump last year I upgraded these to Wago connectors to tidy it up and give better connections but they are still a jumble of wires in a box. Once I’d identified which cables were which and disconnected the unused cables for the room stat and spares leading to the old timer it was easy to wire in the BDR91 relay devices as per the instructions.

Setting up the Evohome controller was straight forward, it was a step by step guide and binding (pairing) the various room thermostats was a simple procedure. The greater problem came when setting up the relays, the controller comes with one of the BDR91 relays as a kit, this is pre-bound as the boiler control. Then with the Hot Water Kit, a second BDR91 is supplied. The obvious assumption is that the relay for turning the heating on and off would be the one pre-bound and labeled boiler control, then the 2nd BDR91 from the hot water kit would be bound for turning on hot water.

The problem occurs when you try to setup the hot water, it asks if you have “2 two way or 3 way valves” or “Hot water only valve”, I have a 3 way so selected to first option, the controller asks to bind the Hot Water relay, this is fine, but then it asks to bind the Heating relay, so I bind the one that came with the controller. All seems well so hopefully it all works. I start testing it, turn the room temperature up and wait, and wait, and wait. Nothing happens, well, I’d gone downstairs maybe its a signal issue, so I head into the hallway, centre of the house so should reach everything, lets try that again. Nothing still, OK maybe I screwed up the bindings, so lets do a factory reset and try that again. Followed the instructions again and all looks good, I begin testing and the heating comes on, happy days, but within a few seconds it went off, and the hot water wouldn’t do anything.

OK so I take to the internet, read the FAQ’s, and the Evohome Shop Forum. The main issue I found seemed to be that the BDR91 relays must be minimum 30cm from any other devices and from any large metal objects, boilers & water tanks particularly. (The manual just shows 30cm from the boiler). So I moved the relays, and separated them and managed to get them over 30cm from the HW tank. I tried the system again and unbound and rebound the devices. Still no luck or HW and heating.

After more googling & reading the forum posts I find one that discusses the same Y-Plan system I have, this one suggested that because the heating and HW relays control the 3-way valve and then this controls the boiler this setup doesn’t require a separate boiler relay. So the boiler relay that came pre-bound should be unbound and the boiler relay set to None. Then the Heating and Hot Water relays would both be bound through the Hot Water setup.

Success, after a 4th unbinding and rebinding exercise it finally began working in some way as expected, heating worked, it would come on as expected and go off again but still no joy on hot water. I gave up on it and went to bed figuring that it would be a case of fault finding in the morning.

The following morning I get up wondering where to start, do I reset it all and go from scratch, do I check the wiring again for a 3rd time, should I switch the relays around and see if its a faulty relay, etc, etc. First things first though have a wash and get dressed, who’d have thought, hot water. Maybe its left over from last night, lets worry about it after breakfast. Some deeper testing and once again the heating is working, but the hot water is at temperature too. OK so the easiest test is to take the thermostat of the tank and let the temperature drop, sure enough after about 2 minutes the temp on the controller updates and the relay clicks, the valve turns and the boiler fires, put the thermostat back on the tank and after another couple of minutes the temp goes back up and the relay clicks off. I’m not sure what happened overnight, maybe I didn’t test properly after the final reset but it’s now working so I’m not going to question it.

Conclusion: It’s only been 24hours since I installed so we’ll see how it functions long term but as a review of the installation process I have to say that the physical installation is much easier than configuring the settings on the device, I don’t know whether the installer training that Honeywell provides covers this in more depth but the different configurations and the fact that although the relay comes pre-bound it is likely wrong for the majority of installations all seems counterintuitive. In the end I figured it out without contacting Evohome Shop for assistance but I did find the important information on their forum so must give them credit for that.

I did today check the heating while we were out and although it was an unseasonably warm day I did consider boosting the heating ready for when we got home. I’ll try and remember to update this again once we’ve had the system running for a few weeks with a better review of performance.

Trailer Restoration 2017

Trailer Restoration 2017

So after 4 years of hard work and little care and attention my trailer finally began to feel the strain, the biggest problem was that the plywood base had begun to rot / de-laminate / generally collapse. Not a difficult job I hear you cry, undo the screws, pop the sides out and lift the base. New sheet of plywood and a couple of coats of wood preservative and bobs your uncle.

So I lifted the trailer to remove the electrics and noticed a rather worrying 2″ wobble side to side on the offside wheel, the bearing had obviously seen better days. With a bit of encouragement and the now infamous “They’re only a couple of quid on eBay” quote I proceeded to take the hub off. The wheel nuts were a bit stiff but to be expected, the dust cap came off without too much trouble and the bent nail that held the castle nut came out with ease.

Then the fun began, half a dozen ball bearings and a couple of pieces of broken brass drop out, then when I finally get to the hub the cases are well and truly stuck in the hub. So look for new bearings but they are minimum £20 for a pair and I’d still have to get the cases out without damage, what about new hubs, they come with bearings and I can get them for £15, bargain! Trouble is the new hubs are 25mm ID and the old arms are 22mm. So it’s new suspension arms, hubs & bearings, well that’s £60 but not the end of the world.

In the end once I’d decided to replace the whole suspension I decided to go out and vent my frustration on the stuck bearing shells, with brute force and no concern for damaging the hub I managed to free them. Happy days, trip to the local trailer merchant for new bearings and job done.

Now just to Hammerite the metalwork and wood preserve the new base. Oh and new end panels, the old ones had started to break up and 2 coats of wood preserve on each side, because, it couldn’t be simple, but other than that jobs a good-un.



The power of professional tools

The power of professional tools

I’ve been an advocate of the Bosch DIY (Green) power tools for many years, they are capable, have lasted well and are cheap by comparison to the professional offering. I’ve got just about every type of tool they do in the DIY range and I couldnt fault any of them. I’ve had 4 drills over the last 10 years, every 2-3 years they start to wear out so they get bumped down and a new model comes in as my go to drill. For example my original 14v cordless slips on any serious drilling and even struggles with screw driving but is perfectly happy drilling pilot holes for woodworking so just sits in the workshop with a pilot bit ready for use.

When I’ve met sales reps at various outlets the only selling point they’ve offered for the Professional (Blue) version was that you could throw them in the air and they wouldnt break. I’m sure thats a useful feature for some, I however look after my tools and although accidents can happen to anyone the price difference makes it worth the risk.

Recently however I decided to get a cordless angle grinder, these are only available in the professional ranges so it was time to take the plunge. I opted for a Bosch Brushless Drill with charge and 2x batteries, mainly because it was cheaper to by this than the charger and batteries separately. I then bought the angle grinder “bare” without battery.

The drill is far more than simply a tougher version that can be thrown about, as an 18v cordless drill it ploughs through brickwork with the ease of my corded SDS (Bosch Green) and drilling joists for cables was a breeze, not only did it drill the hole better than anything else it also fit between the joists unlike the SDS. Battery life has been good so far with dozens of screws done and only 1 bar of life used. I can now say that I wish I’d made the switch a long time ago and certainly before I bought my last green drill a few months ago.

I’ve hardly used the angle grinder but am certainly happy with what I have done and the ease of cordless it fantastic.

DIY Table Saw and Router Table & Scroll (Jig) Saw Table

DIY Table Saw and Router Table & Scroll (Jig) Saw Table

This has become a bit of an epic task, it started out as an idea to build a table saw using a normal circular saw mounted under a wood top, nice, simple, quick to build and most of all cheap. Then I saw videos of router tables, well that looks useful, and how hard can it be to mount my existing plunge router under a table. Why not use the same table as the saw, that will keep the size down and I can make a better table for them. Wouldn’t a scroll saw be useful, maybe if I mounted the jigsaw under the table with the blade coming up I could achieve a similar effect. Well that was where it all began!

I love the bargain corner in IKEA, so far it’s provided some draws for a future pillar drill storage unit, the worktops that adorn the workshop (and now also the utility room) and most recently a new desk for our office, although the piece we got was about twice the size we needed so the offcut has become the top for this project.

UPDATE: Having built the circular saw table saw and tried it on a few jobs it worked great, it wasn’t perfect, it didn’t have the greatest power or depth of cut but it worked. That was right up until a piece I was cutting caught on the back teeth and fired out of the saw with considerable speed straight into my stomach, now thankfully I’m well padded and it didn’t cause a serious injury but the 2″ square bruise was rather painful. I concluded that for all the simplicity of the homemade solution its lack of safety features were not something I was willing to for-go any longer and I began looking for a purpose made replacement. See the Jet Table Saw post for more details on that.

Jet-JTS10 Table Saw Review

Jet-JTS10 Table Saw Review

After spending time searching eBay for a suitable saw I bought a Jet JTS-10, this model is the entry level to Axminsters range at £199 but seems to have a couple of features over and above Axminsters own Hobby models And significantly more than cheaper models from Screwfix or Machine Mart.

At this price level, they seem a fairly standard 10″ or 254mm blade size, a couple quote 250mm but this is probably an equivalent European designation.
The Jet will cut a respectable 80mm @ 90º down to 55mm @ 45º, 20mm more than the basic Axminster model and with a 1500W motor compared to 1100W should have the power to keep up.

This is an area that the Jet differs from many models at similar prices. Most low-end table saws have a hand wheel to adjust the blade height that also acts as a handle to pull or push the mechanism to change the angle with a lever to lock it. The Axminster and Jet have 2 separate hand wheels, one on the front for height and one on the side for angle, this allows a much more accurate and controlled adjustment to be made.

Table Top, Mitre Gauge & Fence
The table top is made from cast aluminium, the version I have is fully painted in a cream colour, the version Axminster stock now has the grooves painted but the top bare aluminium looking almost as if it was painted and then sanded back, this might be done to ensure the top is perfectly flat after production.
The mitre gauge was missing on the model I bought but having read various reviews about how bad it is I wasn’t concerned and knew that UJK made well-reviewed replacements (although they cost nearly as much as the saw did). The problem with this began when I visited Axminster to get one, I looked at them on the shelf and they seemed too big for the slots, assuming it was a trick of the eye I picked one up and took it to the saw on display. Sure enough, it was about 2mm too wide for the slot, looking at the Axminster models both hobby and higher end they all fit fine. It appears that the Jet has a 16.6mm (5/8″) slot widening to 20mm to make the T shape compared to a straight 19mm (3/4″) on the Axminster.
This is going to take some work to resolve as it doesn’t appear that anyone makes a suitable gauge or T-Track to fit so will have to look at making my own.

At first impressions, this seems a capable unit with good and bad features I’ll update this post as I get it cleaned up and decide what to do with it.


It’s cleaned and a new blade fitted, I took over a vacuum bag full of dust out of it, the insides were literally solid with sawdust and thin scraps so it took quite some cleaning. I’ve had a play with it and it’s working well, I’ve made a few test cuts in a variety of materials. The next jobs will be to build it into a table to give a wider cutting range and then to build a cross cut sled for it.

Zero Clearance Base

Zero Clearance Base

This was a relatively simple upgrade for the circular saw to reduce the breakout when cutting a laminated worktop.

First job was to measure and cut the piece of 9mm plywood slightly smaller than the base so that it wouldn’t interfere with the saws included fence or if I used a straight edge.

Then I drilled and tapped M4 holes in the corners of the saw base, these will also be used  to mount it in the table saw project. I went with M4 as although smaller than I would like they are the same size as the screws holding the base on my router, this means when I do build the Router / Table / Saw the screws will be interchangeable between attachments.

For the table saw project I’ll use countersunk screws but as I don’t have any yet I drilled 12mm recesses with a Forstner bit and then drilled the clearance holes for normal M4 bolts. In the end these were a little closer to the edge of the plywood than I had intended but they were in the best places on the saw base to avoid the workings but remain on the flat of the base.

Zero Clearance Base

The final task was to plunge the blade through the plywood to create a slot that perfectly matched the blade dimensions hopefully preventing splintering and breakout when cutting laminate.

Axminster Radial Pillar Drill

Axminster Radial Pillar Drill

Pillar Drill Box

For Christmas this year my incredibly understanding wife bought me a pillar drill for the workshop. I looked at lots of options and read many reviews before deciding what to go for, these ranged from the small units sold by many retailers under  a number of brands but look very similar to the Engineering Series at Axminster and as nice as it was slightly out of budget doesn’t come close (£2500) so eventually I decided on the Axminster Hobby AH16FRD.

This is a floor mounted radial type pillar drill, its biggest feature is its adjustable throat allowing adjustment up to 440mm compared to 178mm on the non adjustable version. It also allow adjustment of the drilling angle up to 90º left and right so plenty of flexibility for the future.

Drill Parts

Building the drill was relatively simple as the main components (drill head, motor etc) were already assembled but does need at least 2 people. The base, pillar, table were all simple to put together with basic tools and it even included a couple of Allen keys to help. The only complication was fitting the drill head assembly to the pillar, this doesn’t seem difficult on the surface but the throat adjustment is locked with a Bristol clamping handle, this screws against a small metal spacer block that fits into a recess in the drill head. It took 3 attempts to place the drill head onto the column without this falling out, considering the head must weigh a significant proportion of the 62kg total this wasn’t the easiest of tasks with just 2 people.

Axminster AH16FRD Radial Pillar Drill

Once assembled I was pretty happy with the results a few test drills proved effective and the flexibility of the design looked impressive. A couple of issues did show the main one was that the chuck didn’t retract after drilling, this isn’t the end of the world as it can easily be wound back with the handle but it is annoying. The other is more concerning, the spindle has a definite wobble when retracted that goes away as the drill is extended, I know counter intuitive but that’s what’s happening.

Quill not retracting



I contacted Axminster and quickly got a reply that the return spring may be faulty and they dispatched a replacement that was delivered the following day. This seems like excellent service and I was initially very impressed, however this evaporated as I disassembled my new toy. After taking the spring out of its holder I realised the replacement they had sent was significantly smaller than the original, but I persevered and tried fitting it, winding the tension enough to just hold the quill up let alone retract it after drilling caused the new spring to snap. I can confirm that certain expletives were offered at this point. To add insult to (coming) injury it quickly became obvious that the original spring had been tightly wound to fit into the holder, to get it back together took a frustratingly long time and an even more annoying amount of spilt blood from my fingers as the spring quickly unwound each time I slipped. The final solution was a jig with 2 bits of wood with holes in, a pair of needle nose pliers held in the vice and a screw to retain the spring.

Return Spring Comparison

During these struggles I ended up disassembling the quill and feed arm, this exposed the very poor quality of manufacturing on these lower end units. The main casting is very rough and the edges around the quill I suspect contributed to the issue of it not retracting. The second thing I noticed is the machining on the quill itself was very rough and the channel that a locking screw slides through to prevent the quill rotating was rough to the point that when taken out of the drill and put together the locking screw noticeably catches at numerous points. I was able to file this groove smooth and consistent width so that the locking screw now moves smoothly, with a little TLC on the casing itself and a liberal application of grease to the mechanism I’ve been able to get the retraction smooth and consistent.


The vibration continues and I will investigate this further before contacting Axminster again about getting it resolved.

Update 2:
This evening I disassembled the drill again and applied a liberal coating of grease to all parts, this made it run significantly smoother with virtually no vibration so hopefully that has resolved the problem.

Overall I am happy with the drill as it does work well and over the month since getting it I have taken full advantage of its flexibility in throat length to drill large and small objects and now wouldn’t be without it.