Jonathan Odom (AKA “Jon-a-tron”) published the “XYZen Garden Kit” a simplified version of his earlier XYZen Garden, which you can build from the plans with a laser cutter and “nothing but a screwdrive”. The complete plans are available for free at Instructables.
This is kind of neat from a number of angles.
At base, it is sort of a complicated Etch-A-Sketch, but the mechanism should also remind you of CNC routers and line plotters, among other machines. All these devices use the simple principle of controlled movement in two axes to generate any path and pattern you want in two dimensions. Once you play with something like XYZen, adding the third dimension is simple and obvious, and you’ve got the principle of both milling and 3D printing.
In other words, the ‘zen’ in the title is quite appropriate: it teaches “The Zen of X-Y”.
Of course, the ‘Garden’ part refers to Zen gardens made from abstract patterns drawn in gravel or sand. In this case, the device doesn’t cut wood or draw on paper or plastic, it drags through fine sand, creating a fragile ‘Zen Garden’. It’s not quite as ‘hands on’ as the classic raked gravel garden, but there is a similar direct connection between hands as natural materials.
The mechanism itself is kind of ugly and non-Zen, but the complex of cranked cogs, pulleys, and belts is certainly worth contemplating in action. Very analog. No motors. No computer. No software. NO TOUCH SCREEN!
A twenty first century meditation, perhaps.
Finally, the DIY plans add another layer of personal significance: it’s a DIY, and when you build it yourself you know how all the pieces connect, and in that sense, how it works. There is so much deeper connection to a machine you have put together yourself. The Zen of Making.