Big  Blue Saw


General Updates

I recently came across via a Hacker News post. It's a nifty tool for showing animated gear trains and producing SVG gear outlines. I found it can work with Big Blue Saw to make custom gears out of aluminum, steel, plastic, or other materials. Before reading this, you might want to review our article on waterjet cutting gears to get an idea of what to expect when waterjet cutting gears.


In addition to allowing you to change the pitch diameter, number of teeth, and pressure angle of each gear, the website will send you a gear outline if you click the "Download SVG" button.

Here's what the SVG looks like when opened in Inkscape. Most of this stuff isn't used when making the gear, so you'll need to delete all of the unnecessary text, the pitch diameter outline, and the filled area so that you're just left with the outline of the gear.

img-polaroid img-rounded

Once you have the plain outline of the gear, you can use Big Blue Saw's DXF Export for Inkscape or pstoedit to generate a DXF file.

The vector outlines produced by are fairly clean, so once everything but the gear outline is deleted, the resulting DXF file works well with Big Blue Saw's online quoting system.


If you need advanced features like rack-and-pinion or internal gears, there's another tool which I discovered. Dr. Rainer Hessmer's Involute Spur Gear Builder offers many more options.

What's your favorite tool for creating gears? Let us know in the comments.



Numbers with a simulated bevel





Miscellaneous Signs

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Inkscape Logo

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Turn a Logo Into a Custom Metal Sign




For Guy Fawkes Day, a Laser Cut V for Vendetta Mask

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See a quote on this sign

Four Different Ways to Turn a Logo Into a Sign

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Turning a Logo Into a Sign


Based on our recent surveys from our customers, we've added a few new helpful features to our online quoting and ordering system so that it's easier than ever to get custom parts made.

First up, you'll notice that we've rearranged the links on the upload page and added a link to the complete list of materials available online.


Next, the material selection page has 2 useful new features: the ability to see an extra large image of your design in order to verify that it's being interpreted correctly by our system AND a handy resize button for use if you need to re-scale the design.

On the quote page, we've given you an easy way to change the material so that it's easier to get quotes on multiple materials and thicknesses for the same design.



If you're logged in, we also made it easier to get to your order status and stored files. Note the link on the right hand side of most pages on the website.



This leads to an account status screen where you can get to your order history and saved files.

Do you like the new improvements? Any suggestions for other ways we can make things better for you? Let us know in the comments or e-mail .

From mini cannon tech Alex comes this wonderful 1/10 scale cannon. Modeled after 1841 6pdr field gun, this may be one of the most realistic minitature versions ever made.

Many of the parts of this masterwork of miniature munitions were waterjet cut by Big Blue Saw. You'll notice that the carriage and fittings are wood and steel. We made many of the steel parts. Oh, did I mention that it can actually fire? Check it out:

If you've decided that this would be a great Christmas present for you or someone you love, head over to the official website to order. But hurry, these are hand made one at a time.


A fellow robot builder once told me that using ball bearings in a waterjet cut base was "advanced waterjet mastery," which I thought was a little odd. To get ball bearings to work in a waterjet cut part isn't hard: just make a hole big enough to fit the outer race. It turns out, though, that there is a lot more subtlety to making this work the right way.

You see, without a precise hole to fit in, ball bearings tend to wear out early.  Choosing a fit is complicated, and depends on the type of load the bearings will see, among other factors. (See SBP's article on the subject and the MITCalc website), but typically what is known as an H7 fit is used. This would mean that, for example, that a the hole to hold a ball bearing with an outer diameter of 0.5 inches would need to be between +0 inches/mm and +0.001 inches (0.018 mm) oversized. This type of tolerance is impossible to achieve with the waterjet or even ordinary twist drills. You'd need a very accurate milling machine, lathe, or possibly a precision reamer in a drill press.

In practice, however, that kind of precision is often not necessary. For light loads, infrequent use, or short lived prototypes, you can get away with using a low-taper waterjet cut hole that's 0.01 inches oversized. Additionally, to fill in any gaps and hold the bearing more solidly, you can use a retaining compound like Locktite 638 or Devcon 68050.

I built the gearbox shown below for my fighting robot Jaws. The bearings for the larger shaft have a 3/4 inch inner diameter and a 1 5/8 inch outer diameter. The smaller shafts, at 1/2 inch inner diameter, ride on ball bearings that have a 1 1/8 inch outer diameter.

I used the more primitive technique for this: rather than going for an exact H7 fit, I oversized the hole and fit the ball bearing in place, holding it tight with retaining compound. You can see the robot in action in the video below. The ball bearing seems to run quite smoothly in this case, even though it has been placed under some brief, intense use. I don't know if I'd trust it to work under a heavy load for a year of continuous operation, though.

Let's take a look at how the waterjet cut pieces work together. The ball bearings in this case are 3/8 inch thick. Since the bearings are thicker than the main 1/4 inch walls of the gearbox they are held in place using 1/8 inch thick plates. At Big Blue Saw, we call this type of construction the stacking technique. I tapped 3 holes into the 1/4 inch wall for the screws to hold the stacked plates in place.

Here's a closeup of one of the the 1/2 inch shafts with the shaft collar removed. If you look closely, you can see there are two 1/8 inch layers stacked on top of the 1/4 inch wall: the inner layer supports the bearing much like the 1/4 inch wall. The outer capture plate layer keeps the bearing from sliding out axially. It has just enough clearance to allow the ball bearing inner race to move freely.

Here's the assembly with the outer capture plate removed.

If you're less worried about the efficiency of the rotating shaft and don't want to bother with getting a precise fit for a ball bearing, a bronze bushing is a good alternative. Bushings are also compact, light weight, and less expensive than ball bearings.

Find out how you can get free CAD software to start designing your waterjet cut parts with bearings today.