The Evolution of the Robot Trap Shop, 2020-ish to Today

I thought I’d take a quick detour from the ever more delayed 2022 van and robot content, and dive into where all of these activities were taking place. A lot of this stemmed from simply looking through my old photos to see in what arrangement I had things before the move. I realized then that my whole facility evolved through necessity and new acquisitions… mostly getting larger and larger… and so I felt it was another interesting ‘build log’ of sorts that people could find useful or entertaining.

Up until the Old Robot Trap House, I hadn’t really had a place to call “my” workspace or facility. Sure, I had the run of the place when it came to my years at MITERS, and subsequently at the lab then known as the International Design Center where I was the steward of the fabrication space. But it was always someone else’s space too, or I was doing it for someone else.

At “Marconi Motors“, it wandered even more towards a personal space between me and the bros, which was great until our consulting gigs and then the startup company had to take over all the resources. By 2019, when the company grew enough to move to a real building, my workspace consisted of one bench in the back of the loading dock area where all of our other “Co-founders’ Baggage” was kept. That was where the first Überclocker V5, or 30Haul, was spawned. At the same time, this was when I was renting a garage bay for the Vantruck rehab that summer, which luckily concluded as they found a real business tenant in lieu of my “Barely keeping the lights on” at-will tenancy.

What I didn’t like about that arrangement was the existence of a 3rd location I had to physically go to. Rents in the Boston area were already sky high (and they’re absurd now), and so I felt like I was getting a bad deal as I had to rent a garage to work on stuff as I had to rent an apartment for a not insignificant amount of money, an apartment that at times felt like I was only falling asleep in for a few hours a day. I honestly feel pretty lucky that the garage was around the corner from said apartment; if it were further away in the outer reaches of town, I probably wouldn’t have gone there nearly as often, and the Vantruck project would have drawn out much longer.

This ever-present feeling of living for the sake of someone else, at the mercy of someone else, was a major factor in leaving Boston in the first place. But it was also a chance to consolidate my operations. Instead of renting an apartment again ($1200-1500 for a worthwhile one at the time of early 2020) and then finding another shop space or makerspace (probably several hundred a month minimum with no guarantee I could even find one amenable to van activities), I would just accept that my Boston cost of living would be a baseline and I would see what I could find to house the entire operation.

Again, I was quite lucky to find the Old Robot Trap House because it wasn’t listed on any of the apartment finder websites, just on Craigslist, and I was also lucky enough to see it on Craigslist not long after it popped up, and happened to be making a trip down already for job interviews. The other options I had queued up were, let’s put it this way.. “real” houses in “real” neighborhoods, and I have a sneaking feeling almost none of the adventures of the past 3 years would have happened in such “real” communities. I, of course, use “real” with the largest airquotes you can buy on McMaster-Carr.

So let’s get to it. This is what the 2.5ish-car detached garage of the Old Robot Trap House looked like in the days after I dumped the U-Haul out. It was just boxes, totes, and stuff on carts. I went ahead and broke down all the shelves I came to own (through my MIT, Artisan’s Asylum, and company building moves) and brought them with me.

By mid January, the shelves had been reassembled and stuff was falling into place. The shop wasn’t really functional yet, as the tools didn’t have homes and I’d just plug stuff in as I needed.

Inside the house, I reserved what normal people would call the ‘living room’ as my 3D printing room, electronics lab, and Equals Zero merchandise warehouse. The goal was to avoid ‘dirty’ work inside and to keep it to the garage.

One of the January immediate activities as soon as I made space was either obtaining or making workbenches and tables. I ultimately decided to just pound some out instead of waiting for an industrial auction or Facebook Marketplace miracle. The thought of paying several hundred dollars each to Global Industrial or ULine was abhorrent to me, of course, for something that I’ll probably just beat senseless and drill holes into.

These benches were 8 feet by 30 inches, since I could arrange three of them across the back of the garage. Or at least that was the plan, until I figured I didn’t need that much bench space right away, and decided to make only two.

I also made a 4 by 8 foot rolling table for general integration and assembly work. The first target project for this facility was, of course, Overhaul 3 for BattleBots’ later-delayed 2020 season. At this point in January, I had most of it designed already and needed a landing spot for the parts I wanted to order.

Taken some time in February 2020, this is the first iteration of the Robot Trap Shop. Looking pretty nice, right? By this point, I’d managed to accrue a lot more tools on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. Besides the tinylathe, I got the Craftsman floor bandsaw in the back for a song and dance. It needed some love, but wasn’t anything I considered difficult (but to the normie, it might as well be a writeoff). The arbor press off to the left also came from Craigslist.

Enjoy this photo, because this was literally the last time the place looked this good!

The living room now contained this very cozy EE corner and 3D printing row. Behind me was the Equals Zero stock shelves, as well as some more shelves and racks for electronic parts and projects. The small workbench to the right came with the house (it was sitting in the basement when I moved in), and is a very interesting little stainless steel framed table with a neglected/abused butcher-block top which I sanded a little and oiled. Hey, a table’s a table.

It’s some time in early 2021 now, and the garage is starting to get….. tragic. I’ve accrued another tool chest, which became dedicated to the lathe and mill as a tooling cabinet. I grabbed Overhaul 1 back from the company shop as well, and there was even an Overhaul 3 and all of its parts to contend with (foreground). The air compressor that I half-bought, half-built in the back half of 2020 is also visible here.

Notice, too, that the shelves have all been shuffled to one side. This was done to arrange the bandsaws in a more useful fashion and put up a stock rack of sorts on the back wall. Yes, bandsaws – months earlier, I accrued a 8″ horizontal bandsaw as well, which has featured many times here.

I set up a bunch of shelves in the unfinished half-basement and transferred as many of the van parts as I could down there instead, along with electronics cruft that was on the garage shelves. The basement had climate control but wasn’t particularly insulated, which was fine for storing stuff that I’d prefer not get humidity cycled like the outbuilding.

The next addition came in Late ’21 into early ’22. I had found a local discount store (the kind that sells Amazon, eBay, etc. returned goods or damaged stuff in big bins) which miraculously had some serious hardware come through, including this laser cutter. It had a big dent in one corner and the tube was broken on the inside, so it was scrap to everyone but me. I made a too-low-to-advertise offer with a snide comment that I’d likely be the only person to buy it, so you might as well.

A replacement tube and dialing in the mirrors later and I had a K40-type 18×18 60 watt laser cutter. Oh boy!

This thing needed its own facility since it needed cooling water and an air compressor. I built another rolling bench in the usual fashion (same height and wheels as the big 4 x 8 foot one) but equipped it with a 1 inch thick MDF top for smoothness and a lower shelf deck. All of this effort… and I ran it from a bucket of water. Oh well…

The 3D printer cohort changed towards the end of 2022. I gave away the old trustworthy and working Fakerbot to a former student/mentee who wanted to start doing stuff on their own. The orange Up Plus printer which is now 12 years old became my private office 3D printer because the lab printers were always backed up.

I became a Creality Household when, in January of 2022, at the same junk store I found a returned Ender 3 V2 printer that was missing the Z axis towers and some other parts. Same story: Who else you gonna sell this to bud? Simply buy 400mm Z axis lift kit on Amazon and suddenly, new small portable workhorse printer.

Some time later, a co-worker was getting rid of an Ender 5 Plus. Its huge print volume (350mm cube) appealed to me greatly, despite the more primitive hardware in that product line. In the most inopportune of coincidences, the coworker’s friend actually had contacts at Micro Center who told me that there was an open-box Ender 5 Plus at my local store. TWO Ender 5 Plussen in the SAME WEEKEND? More likely than you think. In fact, as I took this photo, one of them was printing something.

I was 3D printer’d out, but also out of tables to put them on. So I decided to fully refactor the “Living” “Room” with 3D printers on this wall!

These Ikea Linnmon tables are nice and portable, but what I found was when you put tools and equipment on them, they sag over time. All of my original 2020 3D printer tables had acquired a roughly 1/4″ sag in the middle, with the Markforged Mark Twos being heaviest and causing the most sag.

To remedy this, I turned them upside down, sanded them gently down the center of the underside ( to get rid of the waxy coating they come with as a byproduct of manufacturing), and glued a 2×4 down the middle. Because the tables had sagged, I propped them up and put a bunch of weight on each one to make sure the wood glue sets with them straightened out.

I picked up a few new Ikea Linnmon tables and pre-emptively did this same operation to them for the updated EE row:

A lot more space for activities! Notice, too, that I added a magical 5th leg to these extra long Linnmon tables. These were the extra long 59 or 65 inch model and I’m not sure what you’re supposed to put on these in real life without them bending. The parts and project storage was consolidated to where the Equals Zero stock racks were, as by this time I’d basically stopped selling anything.

This was the final state of the “Living” “Room” and garage right up until the day I started packing things up.

That leads to the present (ish) day.

Taking the lessons learned from the past three years of ops, I decided I wanted the following out of the New Robot Trap Shop.

  • Having all of my tools out in the garage but my EE/wiring inside meant I often walked in and out of the house just to get something. Besides being real cold in the winter, it meant more dirt and grunge was tracked inside the house than needed. With a full size basement now, I wanted to consolidate most light fabrication work and electronics work indoors.
  • Keeping van bits with vans, now made possible by the hangar. Avoiding bringing greasy van paraphernalia inside the house and polluting all the Generic Cheap-ass Renovation White walls!
  • Consolidate my cruft and project storage into one spot instead of three (side of garage, basement, “Living” “Room”

Here’s how that’s shaping up!

This room is adjacent to the hangar and will become what I call the “Minishop”. The toy machine tools will live here, along with my benchtop drill press, cordless tools, and other light fab stuff. For doing small mechanical work, this would be pretty much it. Eventually I’ll be building up the “heavy” shop in the hangar bay, probably with a full size mill and lathe. All of the welding and obnoxious grinding/sanding will also be out there, though I’ll keep my small belt sander inside here. There’s a cubby off to the right which I’ll set up as the nut and bolt repository.

This was allegedly a basement bedroom, according to the old faded labels on the circuit breaker panel. Like many of these older construction homes, it’s basically an entire second house downstairs with a (former) kitchen and two bathrooms with a central living room.

The Minishop a few days after the first photo and from the opposite direction. The bench against the machiner-ing accessories toolbox was a new construction, and I built it extra heavy because it’ll eventually support a “midi-mill” like a 7×27 size Grizzly or Precision-Matthews.

What I found was that the bench I put tinylathe and the BenchMaster, Master of Benches upon began sagging over a year or so because of its lightweight build. This is why the long bench above had sprouted an extra middle leg. I also paved over their tops with 1/8″ hardboard since the exposed OSB had deteriorated (and I had drilled, cut, sanded, hammered, screwed, and ground into them anyway). Coincidentally, these tops were cut from the very hardboard I bought to act as moving sidewalks.

These familiar looking shelves are being populated into “Basement Bedroom 2”, which is I suppose the basement master suite because there is a bathroom off to the left here. It’s very long and rectangular, which is odd for a master bedroom in my experience, but it lets me line up a bunch of shelves together. I plan to order two more 4 x 2 foot wheel shelves like these, and that should be more than enough cruft storage volume. There’s also a walk-in closet off to the right which I’ll fit with built-in shelves some time for even more cruft storage volume. What, are you supposed to put your family in a house like this or something?

In the main “Living” “Room” I’m back to my old antics. This 450-ish square foot room is going to be the EE/3d printing/cosplay/whatever headquarters. To this end, I went ahead and built some more tables (my life for the past two months has contained a lot of woodmongering), once again because I couldn’t find what I liked on the secondhand informal market.

Except these are much much more serious. They’re 8 foot by 3 foot deep and have 1.5″ thick laminate tops. They’re too large to ever fit through the basement door in any orientation. Each leg has a leverller on the bottom and I actually leveled them together. Like the old pit ponies of First Industrial Revolution coal mining; they were born, will serve, and will die underground.

I simply do not believe in soldering on a table you can wiggle by hand.

The EE bench row temporarily dressed out. In this state, it’s functional, but I’d like to move my tools out of the plastic cubbies into a real dedicated tool chest. I also will eventually put shelf rails on this wall, since some of the equipment could live on a second deck instead of occupying table space (plus, more space for cruft). The reason I made these a full 36″ deep was so I could lay out bench tools like the power supplies, meters, and scopes and still have space to fondle boards.

Some time in the near future, when I feel like doing more woodworking, I’ll make one more 8 x 3 foot table to span the two columns present in this room since they are otherwise just in the way. I figure integrating them into a bench will make it seem like it was always meant to be that way!

Behind the vantage point in the previous photo is the 3D printing wall, basically transposed from the Old Robot Trap House. This gallery of misfits was actually more of a pain to set up than it might seem and in fact led directly to the rest of the space being laid out the way it is.

So whoever did this basement patch-up job went ahead and wired the entire back wall of the living room and “Basement Bedroom 2” on a single circuit. Not only that, it’s regular 14 gauge Romex cable but being fed by a 20 amp breaker. That’s neither up to code nor is it even a good idea (like, if you must throw the NEC out the window, at least do a funny or out of the ordinary thing, right?). Therefore, my original plans of putting the EE Lab in “Basement Bedroom 2” and the 3D printers along where my big EE benches are now…. were foiled. I can’t have that many bed heaters and soldering irons and hot plates sharing a single circuit.

This led to a brief game of chase-the-circuit and find-the-breaker. I decided that this wall was the only plausible spot for 3D printers. It was served already by the basement kitchen GCFI loop (three outlets, one circuit). But right next to it was another circuit going towards the second basement bathroom. Well, I don’t have plans of making the bathroom a heated build chamber or theater or something, so its power needs are very light (literally… just lights). I forked that circuit to the 3D printer row, so now it’s served by two 15 amp circuits. The computer and Enders are one, and the Markforged machines (plus future undetermined printers, maybe finally my own resin printer) will occupy the other.

So that’s where I stand as of 2 or 3 weeks ago. Like the Old Robot Trap Shop, the New Robot Trap Shop is probably going to be a work in progress for quite a while to come! As of this point in time, I can hammer out a beetle if I need to (which I will, for Motorama!). The hangar is still a disaster area of half-unpacked totes and dangerously teetering shelves full of van kibbles. I risk tripping and impaling myself on one of several Overhauls every time I walk in. My life is full of very unique Charles-related problems.

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