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VCR-Head Scrollwheel

I’ve always wanted to build a nice weighted scrollwheel, and after finding a VCR head in my stash of parts hoarded during college, I decided there was no time like the present!  Researching online shows several preexisting builds, but they always seemed too complicated. Quadrature encoders, opamps, voltage comparators…. I thought there had to be an easier way.  And there is. The secret is: don’t reinvent the wheel. There’s a preexisting scroll wheel and chip in the mouse, and by reusing them we can entirely avoid the electronics-side of the equation. I started by drilling a hole in the shaft of the VCR head. This was easy with a lathe, but you could 3d print an adapter, turn one on a lathe, or even fab one out of a small piece of plastic with a few holes drilled in it. We just need some way of keeping the axles concentric.

After removing all the existing electronics and wiring inside the VCR head, a dab of superglue was all it took and I now had an encoder wheel hard-mounted to the VCR head.  Next step was figuring out how to hold the rest of the mouse in position to read the encoder wheel. I desoldered the buttons from the mouse to shrink the footprint, and then carved a block of foam to a shape that would fit the mouse board and support the VCR head.


I traced the foam in cad, and then CNC’d it into a chunk of Iroko wood from our scrap hardwood pile. Again, you could do this with a router, a drillpress and a bandsaw, or even with handtools – but I took the shortcuts I had on hand.  In retrospect, I should have left both ends of the pocket capped to avoid having to glue in a plate beneath the wheel, but I was making this up as I went.  Then was a bunch of assembly – gluing the blocks together, a holesaw to create a recess for the wheel, routing the corners for a round-over, sanding everything, and epoxying the base of the wheel in place.


Now, all that was left was to attach the board so that the IR beam passed through the scrollwheel. I used a screw to temporarily mount the board while I tested it (and it worked great! I can scroll 7500 lines in excel with a hard flick!!). Once I established the location was good and there was no rubbing, I epoxied the board permanently in place.  To finish, I added a small escape channel for the mouse wire, knotted the wire for strain relief, and finished with wax for a nice shine. And just like that, a project I’d had on my list for literally a decade was done in a weekend, and I couldn’t be more pleased with it.


Art Deco Lamp



Another project inspired by Cowboy Bebop, this one an art-deco lamp glimpsed in the background.  This time, I didn’t try to replicate the original, I just took inspiration from that glimpse and started brainstorming.  Brainstorming turned into cad, and turned into an excuse to practice my cad. Which turned into an excuse to do trig, build spreadsheets of pipe lengths, and completely overthink the whole design. That’s going to be a recurring theme here – excuses to practice skills, try new techniques, and vastly try-hard the whole build. Because it’s fun.


CAD completed, I ordered some brass pipe from Online metals, and chopped it to size.  I used the CAD to CNC some internal and external spacers (thank goodness the shopbot will let you scale files, I ended up needing to run at 102.5% for a snug but not impossible fit), and then used those spacers to hold the pipes in place while I affixed them. The first attempt was soldering, but that was a complete failure. So I TIG’d the whole thing, mostly because I needed practice tigging. It turned out needing a lot of cleanup, so if I were to do it again, I’d build it in two halves, left and right. I’d tig the tops and bottoms which  are hidden in the bases, but I’d rivet the centers in from the inside. TBH, it could be done entirely with rivets, and you’d maintain the polished surface finish.



For the top and the bottom I used walnut, CNC’d the pockets in place to hold the ends of the tubes, and then turned them on the lathe. I could have done the shaping on the CNC, but (as you probably guessed) I wanted practice turning on the lathe. Once I had them shaped, I set about adding detail. I love the marbled look, but didn’t want to actually do marble, so I set about recreating the look with Lichtenburg burning. All the references recommend using Baking Soda dissolved in water to add conductivity to the surface, but looking around the shop we didn’t have any. Second choice was salt, but again absent in the shop. Looking around, desperate for ions, I found some borax – which actually worked beautifully.  Using a 10kv high-voltage tester, I painted the dissolved borax solution onto the wood, then burned paths while blowing air with the compressor. The airflow deepened the burn patterns, which gave me more room to add bronze.  Instead of telling you about inlaying bronze, I will instead link to Blanch Woodworking who has done all the experimenting, and who’s techniques I followed.  TLDR: Superglue, brass powder, sand, repeat, repeat.




After some stain and a lot of polyurethane, it was on to the feet.  Again, this was just an excuse to play on the lathe, this time with machine tools instead of chisels. Knurling, pocketing, drilling, and parting.


After that, it was a pretty simple assembly. A top plate from SCS, a bunch of lamp parts (quite reasonably priced from Grand Brass Lamp Parts),  an expensive shade from wayfair, and it’s done!


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