Minamil: a minimal CNC mill. And friends.

Each axis: $̶5̶$8 motor+lead screw, 3x LM6UU, 3x 6mm x 100mm rod, 1/8in hardboard, PC case screws

Similar projects worth following
Developing a cheap small 3-axis CNC mill for $̶1̶0̶$15/axis.

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$̶5̶$8 motor+lead screw CH-SM1545 (low price seller raised price - hello supply risk)
Linear bearing cost minimum at 6mm (smaller costs more)
1/8in hardboard is practically free per small area
#6-32 x 1/4in computer case screws are practically free
3x 6mm x 100mm rods per axis can be $1 each or 6mm rod is common in printers etc.

It's working. Log entries say more than the "Details" at the moment.

Skip to log entries

Not much here yet. See logs for what might end up here.

Skip to log entries

XY test
XY table test under fixed spindle

First test of minimal build of axis concept (already teased at #CDCNC):

First there was #CDCNC, a highly-constrained just-barely-functional one-off toy built by improvisation with found junk with simple tools.

Here I'm developing an idea that came from thinking about whether or not there is any space between a dumb stunt like CDCNC and a commercially (i.e. efficiently) produced entry level CNC mill. Encouraged by early results -- see project logs -- I think maybe so.

In contrast to CDCNC, this is about reproducibility from a simple BoM and economical access to laser cutting. And somewhat greater capability.

Next there may be #"Desk Accessory" CNC Milling Machine

Parts prices

tracking because they've been a bit volatile and small changes to small prices can be significant.

  • CH-SM1545 -- motor + leadscrew
    • Banggood 15 Oct 20:
      • spend: 3x $6.48 + $2.90 = $22.34 "10-15 business days" to US
      • unit cost: $22.34 / 3 =  $7.45
      • ... but IME BG shipping options at checkout vary between item view and checkout and over time
    • Aliexpress "TO-HO store" 15 Oct 20
      • was $4.78 shipped in Aug and some longish time before that, which made a stronger argument for designing around this part!
      • spend: 3x $6.97 + $3.47 = $24.38
      • unit cost: $24.38 / 3 = $8.13 (+70% alas)
      • Still says "free shipping" on search hit, but not
    • Aliexpress "Shenzhen Chihai Motor Store" 15 Oct 20
      • spend: 3x $6.50 + $8.45 = $27.95 ePacket "12-20 Days"
      • unit cost: $27.95 / 3 = $9.32
      • possibly more consistent quality
  • LM6UU -- 6mm linear bearing
    • Aliexpress "CNC Factory Supply" 15 Oct 20
    • spend: 1x 10pcs $5.15 shipped "19-39 Days"
      • unit cost: $5.15 / 9 = $0.57
      • extra: 1
      • current minimum $4.39 @8mm
    • Aliexpress "DZPR Official Store" 15 Oct 20
      • spend: 1x 10pcs $7.54 shipped "12-20 Days"
      • unit cost: $7.54 / 9 = $0.84
      • extra: 1
  • 6x100mm rod
    • Aliexpress "CNC Factory Store" 15 Oct 20
      • spend: 5x 2pcs $2.64 = $13.20
      • unit cost: $13.20 / 9 = $1.47
      • extra: 1
    • Aliexpress "SNWNYN Store" 14 Oct 20
      • spend: 1x 4pcs 6x300mm $4.07 + $2.24 = $6.31
      • unit cost: $6.31 / 9 = $0.70 + means to cut w/small kerf
      • extra: 1x300mm
        • or
      • spend: 2x 4pcs 6x300mm $4.07 + $2.24 = $10.38
      • unit cost: $10.38 / 9 = $1.15 + means to cut
      • extra: 4x <100mm, 1x <200mm, 3x 300mm (free rods for next unit if later find means to cut with small kerf)
    • Scavenge
      • pretty common in printers, etc.
      • need means to cut (probably not a hacksaw)
  • Screws #6-32x1/4in -- general assembly
    • Grainger
      • spend: 1x 100pcs pan head Phillips $1.79
    • Scavenge
      • Common PC case screw
        • but need a pile, so less likely by casual scavenging
        • unless building less, like just one axis
  • Screws #6-32xSmaller -- mounting motor/leadscrew units
    • roll your own
      • spend: $0.00 if you drop no more than 2 from the 100pc bag (current rev)
      • unit cost: $0.00 + file
      • 12x file heads to <2mm thickness
      • 4x file length to material thickness
    • Supermicro 3.5in hdd caddy screws (via Amazon seller)
      • spend: 1x MCP-410-00005-0N $5.49 shipped
      • unit cost: $5.49 / 12 = $0.46
      • extra: 88x screws, 24x caddy labels
      • but probably not if you don't already have some
    • other
      • not really a standard screw (that I know of - comment plz?)
      • #6-32x4mm screws exist
        • some of which have thin heads
      • thin head
      • thin/shallow countersunk flathead ideal for constraining position
  • Material
    • 1/8 in hardboard
      • finish one side
      • ~15"x15" for current design
    • Home Depot
      • spend: 1pcs 2'x4' $3.37
      • fits 3x current cut layout + ~9"x48" extra
      • unit cost by potential cut count: $1.12
      • unit cost by area: $0.66
      • extra: 2x complete units + ~9"x48"
        • or
      • spend: 1pcs 4'x8' $6.74
      • fits 18x current cut layout + ~9"x48" extra
      • unit cost by potential cut count: $0.37
      • unit cost by area: $0.33
      • extra: lots

Example cost

$22.34 - 3x motors

$5.15 - 10x bearings (1 extra)

$13.20 - 10x rods (1 extra)

$1.79 - 100x screws

<$1.00 - ~15"x15" 1/8" hardboard

total <$43.50 (+tax)

Missing the early $10/axis target, but still <$15. Motor price hike accounts for ~$2.50 of that. Scavenging 6mm rod...

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  • Bevel gears: two's company

    Paul McClay11/09/2020 at 07:33 0 comments

    In the last episode, a little bevel gear looked like nifty output, but it was too late at night to make more with a noisy dremeloid, and what's one bevel gear?

    Another day, another gear:

    Bevel Gears
    little milled bevel gears

    More of that with fun zippy sounds and a bit of the milling:

    The gears started as an experiment to see if I could tweak a plain gear from fma/Fred's Bevel Gear featurescript in Onshape into something suitable for milling from ~3mm material with a relatively "large" 0.5 mm cutter. CAM by Stewart Allen's current development version of his "Free 3D Slicer and GCode generator": Kiri:Moto. (the CAM took some massaging - maybe more about that later - but with Stewart's current pace of work the details prolly will differ next week)

    Zippy speed sounds aside, I'm happily surprised that when I put some drag one one gear and roll the other, they mesh quite smoothly under load. They're supposed to, but it was a pretty uncertain experiment to see if the modeling and milling on this scale would actually turn out a decent result. Yay.

  • Lonely bevel gear

    Paul McClay11/08/2020 at 07:58 0 comments

    One involute bevel gear, module 0.8, needs a friend.

    Hopefully I can fix that when there are fewer people sleeping.

    I've been pretty quiet on here lately. Project time is going into:

    • writing up, slowly, some of the ideas that seem to be working (edit: have published that entry which, being started before, now appears older than this entry)
    • the Kiri:Moto forum where author Stewart Allen is working furiously lately, so now's the time to p̶e̶s̶t̶e̶r̶ ̶h̶i̶m̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶w̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶I̶ ̶w̶a̶n̶t̶ give feedback.

  • Some of the basic ideas that seem to be working

    Paul McClay10/20/2020 at 16:46 0 comments

    Here's an attempt to describe some of what makes this extremely low cost sub-mini CNC mill work. Hopefully having it somewhere to refer to will simplify writing more about how to make one for yourself!


    Simple linear slide
    Looking through a basic example cut from acrylic; each half 100 mm long, >55 mm travel

    This idea for a cheap, compact, and usefully functional linear slide seems to work pretty well.

    The following photos of a simple unit made to test the idea show the basic configuration. (please pardon the fake rods - they're just for the pix)

    The stiffness of the telescoping configuration varies through the range of motion. The diagrams below show the triangle supported by the three bearings in green and the favored loading area in blue.  Assuming the "bottom" half anchored and the "top" half in motion, the left & right photo pairs show how to orient the unit for different applications. 

    In the test linked above, this slider shifted half of a 30lb (14kg) moving load while oriented as illustrated on the left. Minamil uses the same orientation for the Z axis to carry the (relatively) massive rotary tool while the X & Y axes use the orientation on the right to move the workpiece around under the point where the tool acts on it.

    The telescoping arrangement is obviously less stiff when extended. At full extension the "far end" gets pretty weak. Using the blue area minimizes the change in stiffness with extension. In practice with evolving versions of Minamil I have neither noticed any difference in capability as the axes extend, nor tried to flog it in the far corner of the work area. That's not much data except to say that it's working well enough that I haven't had to deal with the question. Within given constraints (size, money, etc.), machines generally have to trade off between range of motion and stiffness. More traditional carriage-on-track machines have past decisions about that baked in. I'll call it a feature that the telescoping arrangement makes that a run-time decision.

    The telescoping design seemed like the best way to do something with parts in hand. If I've overcomplicated this build by not seeing the obvious, please comment. Apart from this specific instance, I think it's possible that the basic layout might have some legs as a way to pack greater range (with reduced stiffness)  and stiffness (with reduced range) in the same box compared with conventional configuration under same constraints. For example, this layout can get equal range from shorter rods and slightly shorter rods deflect significantly less. But I haven't worked that through to discover why it's not already common. If you know, please comment.

    The leadscrew can attach to either part, in case more abuse will happen to one side than the other. Minamil protects the leadscrews from milling debris.



    As one of the early ideas that gave this project a place to start, the design relies on 2D parts machine-cut from cheap -- i.e. thin and soft -- material.  I first thought that would be 1/8in/3mm acrylic. Then I thought I'd use 1/8in hardboard for "rough drafts" and fit checking. Then the hardboard parts worked. So, hardboard. Just keep it dry.

    In addition to cheapness of material, part of the cheap material idea was accessibility of capacity to cut it. As laser cutters become increasingly available in entirely ordinary places like schools and libraries, lasers able to cut 1/8in will be more common than lasers able to cut 1/4in+. I haven't heard of much community-accessible capacity to cut metal plate. Yet. (PS:1 being more exception than rule.)

    So what to do with thin soft material? Minamil relies on 2D parts to hold a shape in the plane of the material by resisting skew distortion, but not so much for stiffness to resist bending or hardness to bear point loads.


    For lots of reasons, this has to be put together in such a way that it can come apart and go back...

    Read more »

  • Naming the project/instance/class

    Paul McClay10/20/2020 at 05:14 0 comments

    Writing about things requires words to call them by.

    This project started with the explicitly provisional title:

    Cheap small CNC mill - "Formula 1551" for now

    This log entry corresponds with renaming the project to:

    Minamil: a minimal CNC mill. And friends.

    So far this project has mostly described a single line of development of a specific machine. I've had difficulty thinking of how to write about both the single design and the general ideas that make it go. Thinking of other variations on this theme that I hope to build aggravates that by disallowing lazy conflation of class and instance.

    So I'm thinking of

    • describing the class as "sub-mini CNC mill", and
    • calling the current instance "Minamil", it being a minimal CNC mill.

    Minamil as a play on minimal mill.

    Sub-mini because mini mills already exist as a category and this doesn't pretend to compare with any of that. Some mini mills already use "micro" to imply the smaller end of mininess so I could say "nano", but SI prefix escalation rarely ages well IMO. The "sub-" can connote both smaller-than and less-than.

    And friends because I hope to complete at least one variation that will be intentionally less minimal, and to provide enough information to enable replication of the specific machine and extension of the general ideas.

    But isn't this more like a CNC router than like a CNC mill?

    I can't refute that. I do think the generally taller-than-wide configuration with a relatively small work area on a relatively bulky XY cross slide arrangement under a relatively massive spindle attached via a Z-only axis that's not short to a bulky vertical frame evokes mill more than router. And I think the pretentiousness of calling it a "mill" hides in plain sight the pretentiousness of calling a toy-scale device a tool at all. Kind of like an Easy-Bake® "oven".

  • Go Faster? Yes.

    Paul McClay10/19/2020 at 21:48 0 comments

    tl;dr: 12x

    So far I've run the same "feeds and speeds" as the prior project  just to get things working. Lately I've tried pushing a little harder.

    #CDCNC can manage extremely conservative cuts with a 1 mm end mill. Typically 0.15 mm step-down, 40% step-over, and nominally[1] 500 mm/min feed. That yields a material removal rate (MRR) like the material addition rate of grass growing. Numerically, 0.03 cc/min or two seconds per microliter. This machine should be able to do better, but I hadn't tried much beyond an early stab at cutting deeper. Until eventually I got around to trying.


    (summary below video)

    More briefly:

    • 3x feed rate: 500 -> 1500 mm/min
    • 2x depth of cut: 0.15 -> 0.3 mm
    • 2x stepover: 40% -> 80%

    Those gains multiply out to 12x MRR in a straight line.

    I think it's fair to call that "faster".


    The X & Y maximum "rapid" motion speed capped the feed rate. In other words, the machine cuts at g0 speed. In other words, "rapid" isn't very.

    On one hand, that limit has floated around pretty conservative numbers while sorting other faults and may hide some more available speed. I didn't try.

    On the other hand, the 0.5 mm pitch lead screws have to spin pretty rapidly to produce "rapid" motion and the top end of that may be not very tall. That's the trade for useful axial thrust from 15mm can-stack steppers. At 40 steps/mm and 8x microstepping (iirc what worked best when I poked at that a couple years ago), a diagonal 1500 mm/min "rapid" eats 16k step pulses/second. Doubling that would exceed Grbl's nominal max pulse rate (unless that's per axis?). All assuming sufficient torque at whatever speed. So if the motors have potential to make torque faster, the microstepping may need review.


    I've been running the dremeloid rotary tool at minimum speed to avoid rubbing at slow feed rates. Except that's not really how it worked. A major part of the prior project was pushing up the feed rate to escape from rubbing at the minimum spindle speed. Either way: minimum speed. About 10,000 rpm but spontaneously and seemingly randomly variable in some range. Increasing the feed rate made opportunity to try dialing up the spindle speed. About that:

    • MRR
      • For shallow cuts, the machine can do fast feeds (thicker chips) at minimum spindle speed. 
      • Faster feed does enable faster spindle speed. Up to maximum spindle speed at maximum feed. The spindle maxed out at 29,000 rpm. Tripling the spindle speed at triple the feed rate seemed like a reasonable thing to try and it did work agreeably well. I didn't look for a minimum feed for maximum speed
      • Faster speed enables more aggressive step-down and step-over at high feed rate.
    • Surface finish
      • tl;dr: better. Prior logs show a history of variably imperfect surface finish quality for flat face cuts, with evidence of vertical oscillation in Z. And the tool never sounds really right at min speed but smooths out at higher speeds. Apparently min speed allows something to rattle axially, apparently somewhat coupled with radial loading, which apparently shows up in the cutter path. That calms down at higher speeds (the internal fan makes enough thrust to preload the bearings?) and cut surfaces look and feel much better.
    • Noise noisenoisenoisenoise
      • At minimum speed the sound, while qualitatively rough, doesn't overwhelm. While the sound smooths out with increasing speed, it also picks up strong tonal peaks that make it unpleasant if not crazy loud. At max it's just #!%&$☆ loud. Earplugs (you were already wearing eyeball protection, right?), pre-emptive apologies and short runs. Apart from max MRR attempts, mid-range spindle speeds turn out decent results and there may be a sweet spot. tbd.

    Depth of cut / step-down

    Not a strength. Trying that first (see first log entry) didn't encourage me to try more of this earlier. Doubling the step-down helps MRR but it's still just 300 microns. Subjectively, it seems like the machine...

    Read more »

  • One screw

    Paul McClay10/07/2020 at 16:20 0 comments

    I've been saying this is designed for assembly with 6-32 x 1/4 -- common PC case screws -- only[*].

    [*] except for different screws[**] to mount the motor/screw assemblies

    [**] which are something of a specialty item for mounting 3.5in HDDs in compact sleds

    Here's confirming that the qualifier can be reduced to:

    [*] and a file

    Well, one kind of screw. x100. Of which a dozen need the head thinned and four of those need to be a couple mm shorter. Or spend a few $ of the special screws.

  • Back for more -- but first review

    Paul McClay10/03/2020 at 23:36 0 comments

    Ok, it looks like I can take another swing at this.

    New motors were waiting in the mailbox when I got back here. After swapping out the crippled motor the revised machine cut a test pocket like it was supposed to a month ago. Yay. Onward.

    But first:

    (or just skip to the next entry)

    That Day of Fail

    tl;dr: I got get-there-itus and tried to grab the ring when I should have taken a day off.

    Retrospectively sorting out a timeline of the unrequited sprint of early September reminded me how poorly (my) memory works for some things, and thus the value of notes and pics/vids/files with timestamps. One day in particular I wanted to review to have a history of many loose ends that feel like the sort of thing that I'll wish I had a better history of when they turn up again later.

    Just about a month ago I logged that I had:

    • CADed, cut, built & tested another rev of the axes, that
      • [good things]
      • roughs out my test pocket encouragingly well, but with a new imperfection that i don't understand
      • has died, in three different ways, at about the same point in the first finishing pass of same test pocket

    What that looks like:

    Three Strikes
    three different ways to die in the same place. click or see gallery for full res

    After redesigning the XY table as described under the Direction header in the same log entry and adding a Z axis of similar design, I tried cutting the usual test pocket. In addition to validating the revised design, because of course it would just work, this would test conventional milling with no extra mass on the X & Y leadscrews for the first time since climb milling lost _the_chatter_wars_.

    For all three tries the roughing operation completed without difficulty. I had inserted a pause in the gcode at this point to get a look. Here's the first try below. It looked ok but not great:

    Because this version of the XY table uses less material and may be less stiff, the merely "ok" output didn't throw me too hard. But some of it was weird. Ungreat features included:

    • Variation in quality of the four vertical walls of the pocket. Although something of a regression, that's nothing new. I didn't try very hard to interpret that at the time -- and I still haven't worked out how the differences around the four sides correlate with various mechanical imperfections. Mystery.
      • 2nd try: worse but not awful
      • 3rd try: pretty good
    • The outside surface of the round feature has -- this is hard to describe and barely visible above but shows better in the next photo below -- a patch near the pocket wall in each quadrant that looks depressed or offset inward from the intended surface. I still have no idea what caused that. It's unlike some earlier tries where excessive runout punched out the pocket wall instead of punching in the side of the ring. Mystery.
      • 2nd & 3rd about the same
    • A conspicuous ring of too much horizontal offset around the outside of the round part between the 3rd and 4th slices. I think it looks like the 3rd slice was cut too small. No idea how so. Mystery.
      • 2nd: same but less so
      • 3rd: none

    Once resumed, the first attempt continued with the constant-X parallel finish profiles. About 3/4 of that appeared to run ok. Then the X axis stopped feeding and the machine cut progressively smaller profiles in the same spot, cutting into the part. Bah. Stop job. That's the first/left fail shown in the triptych above. Right after that the X axis didn't respond to movement commands. Then in a short time it fixed itself. Ok. But why did it die and how to not repeat that?

    I guessed something like this:

    • Steppers heat up more when holding position than when running. At least in my experience (this will come up again...)
    • The X motor mostly holds position(s) through the X finish operation
    • So the X motor temperature rose through that operation
    • Rising temperature increased copper winding resistance
    • Constant-current stepper driver increased voltage (pulse width) to maintain current
    • Crappy wall-wart power supply -- grabbed for first tests and...
    Read more »

  • Did I say frustration?

    Paul McClay09/14/2020 at 19:42 0 comments

    The crippled motor crippled work on this last week while opportunity remained open. Now I expect to disappear for at least a week and don't know what to expect after that. Really bummed to not do more functional testing because ... I think it would have been fun and exciting. And because I was sprinting for the 'ibles CNC contest and missing that means loss of reward for the sprint. Whine. Pout.


    I did cut the revision mentioned a couple logs ago and assembled that for fit testing and taking notes for assembly instructions and further revisions.

    That rev eliminated the remaining blind screws. Now the spindle clamp -- which should be easy to modify/replace -- can be separated from the Z axis without disassembling the slide. Experimentally, it uses some intentional interference to bias which way an otherwise loose fit tightens up. Assuming the material will deform a bit. It seems to work in hardboard - to the extent that it feels solid but no real testing until I don't know when.

    Also: I was able to tile the parts within Ponoko P2 dimensions. Likewise for the next rev ready to cut, but NO PROMISE re future revisions.

  • Dense

    Paul McClay09/11/2020 at 22:54 2 comments

    To illustrate to density of this design, here's an XY table next to a compactly arranged stack of what's in it.

    XY table vs compact stack of parts
    "compact" stack is slightly more compact

    (for completeness: the assembled example has none of the running gear actually "in" it, which would make it ~1.5mm taller)

  • Progress but frustration

    Paul McClay09/07/2020 at 09:43 0 comments

    Eye candy

    next rev at work: cool continuous curls of "chip" from this blue stuff


    My metaproject here, the real project in some sense, is to get better at writing about stuff like this. My silence lately demonstrates a weakness: reporting unsatisfying progress between tidy milestones. I've often found the work to simplify a complicated thing easier than trying to describe the complications, so instead of writing a lot I've kept working until the writing can focus on the point briefly rather than blur a pile of provisos. I think that trade has often worked well. In this context the habit works against the concept of logging progress and process. So what can I say without either writing a book, or waiting until I get to a point that doesn't require a book to describe, or "simplifying" to an extent that approaches dishonesty, or otherwise offending myself?



    • CADed, cut, built & tested another rev of the axes, that
      • simplifies assembly & accessibility
      • simplifies backlash adjustment
      • includes Dremel-clone spindle mount from laser-cut material and string
      • roughs out my test pocket encouragingly well, but with a new imperfection that i don't understand
      • has died, in three different ways, at about the same point in the first finishing pass of same test pocket
    • Injured, apparently, and maybe crippled, but not entirely killed one of my motors
      • it's complicated
      • how much time to spend on figuring that out?
      • ordered more
        • gonna take a while
        • which illustrates another element of supply risk
          • already noted price hike in "Details"
    • Mostly CADed the next rev including
      • minor design tweaks
      • major CAD refactoring - for eventual sharing
    • Deferred writing logs

    [...writing down a rabbit hole to discover the point & discard the detail -- a process that works but absorbs time...]

    I've been working this project with some urgency because I expect life to interfere "soon", but i don't know when or for how long, and i hope to get a useful increment of progress before this gets shut down for a while. And Instructables has a relevant contest open for what has now diminished to a few more days.

    So maybe-losing a motor and almost-but-not getting timely replacement combines poorly with my expectations for the future. Aggravated by several simultaneous uncertainties. So, it's complicated.

    Anyhow... after handling the second design some, I've been working on a next revision that I aspire to cut today. But right now I'm writing this instead of working on that, so, see the meta? While design changes are small, I've put time into refactoring the CAD to better suit eventually sharing that - but still leaving "opportunity" to put more time into learning better ways to do things in Onshape.


    Lately in this project I've concentrated on simplification for reproducibility from laser cut material & a simple BoM. At lowest cost, assuming "free" laser cutting.

    The first rev was tricky & tedious to assemble and required lots of dis/reassembly to work on. Some tricky/tediousity is baked into the design, but at least exposing all the screws will allow random access vs sequential access into the layers.

    At this point I'm focusing on simplification of "user experience" and accepting some compromise to capability. In the current design there are

    • no screws buried under other parts
      • almost, and maybe zero soon
      • except for attaching the motor units, which are very interior
    • no counter-sinks
      • one less tool
      • one kind of screw
        • for structure - different screw for motors
        • 6-32x1/4 "PC case" screws
          • commonly scavengable
          • but need many so probably a purchase item anyhow
      • better for building with acrylic
    • greatly improved backlash adjusters - yay
    • fewer large-area parts
      • area (not shape) of latest cut job would fit within a Ponoko P2 sheet (384mm*384mm)
      • but that's not a feature claim yet
    • [is] mount for Dremel-clone spindle - reduces add'l BoM to: string

    (design feature list overlaps personal accomplishment list -- janky redundancy but I'll say that's ok for a progress log)


    Read more »

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Enjoy this project?



Dan Maloney wrote 09/14/2020 at 20:18 point

I like the idea that you're building on the ideas tested in the CDCNC. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Paul McClay wrote 09/15/2020 at 04:43 point

Hi Dan - thanks for skulls! Sorry to keep you waiting for results. While slow shipping and other life block progress for a while, I think early results give [me] good cause for confidence.

  Are you sure? yes | no

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