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Othermill: Another Way to Make

By Kim O’Neill

Desktop 3D printers enjoy the buzz that comes with novelty, but a desktop mill is another way to make things — sometimes a more suitable way. Instead of building a form layer by layer as a 3D printer does, a mill carves away from a block of material.  A desktop mill can turn your idea and a slab of wood, metal, or plastic into a huge range of artwork, products, toys, and tools. To better understand the possibilities, I spoke to Ezra Spier, the community manager for the Othermill, a desktop mill manufactured by the Other Machine Co.

Spier says that the company’s desktop app, Otherplan, is key. Otherplan's visual user interface gives you a preview of the milling job, which helps to take the guesswork out of the process while letting you use Othermill without learning complicated codes and settings some other mills require. “People shouldn't have to learn all the details of how a mill works for it to be useful,” Spier notes.

I asked about the possibilities of using Othermill with Adobe software. “As with any design process, it all starts with an idea,” Spier says. “Designers can use all of Illustrator's tools in the way they're used to, but instead of designing for a screen or printed page, they can design for a physical object. Every object in an Illustrator design with a fill color will translate to a milled (or carved) region of the final object. In other words, if I wanted to make an engraving, all I'd have to do is draw out the areas I want to be engraved and save the file. Once I have an .svg file, I would import it into Otherplan, choose a material and milling tool, and hit 'Cut.'”

The Othermill in action

Artists and makers of all stripes have embraced Othermill and created a wide variety of products. Two examples are the sleek silversmithing of Sophia Dengo and a digital interactive disco ball, created at California College of the Arts’ cutting edge Hybrid Lab. 

An especially interesting application of Othermill is by a group called Fundi Bots, described on the Othermill website as  "an organization whose mission is to use robotics training in African schools to create and inspire a new generation of problem solvers, innovators, and change-makers.” According to Spier, “This is a great example of what can happen when people who typically don't have access to technology suddenly are able to harness it. As tools like the Othermill become more accessible, we hope that people from diverse backgrounds will be able to help shape their own lives in ways they can't today. Whether it's starting or growing a small business, building necessary parts or projects needed for daily life, or simply learning how manufacture goods, we hope that our work will help enable people to better impact the physical world around them.”

Necklace by Sophia Dengo, produced using the Othermill

A necklace by Sophia Dengo

disco ball by California College of the Arts

Interactive disco ball created by students of the California College of the Arts

Members of Fundi Bots

Members of Fundi Bots

From disco balls to doing good, desktop mills have the potential to make the world a better place, one machine at a time.