Case Study: Machining the Solar System


After studying Physics and Maths at college, Gary Liming has spent his professional life in the software industry. However, his personal interest in astronomy has led him to create a rather special mechanical device using the Aspire software.

About a year and half ago, Gary saw his first CNC machine at a woodworking show and was fascinated by the possibilities the technology offered. Instead of simply buying a CNC machine, Gary decided to design and build his own! This separate project is chronicled at

Shortly after finishing the CNC machine, Gary found a page from an 18th century book about an orrery, and thought that it would make a nice feature for his library. Asking around on-line, he was steered toward V-Carve Pro and soon upgraded to Aspire.

Gary started by sourcing the vector files needed to design the 12 Orrery panels and searched for vector images for all the constellations

“I first got some images of the constellations of the zodiac off the net.  There are an amazing number and variety of these.  I wanted the symbols to lend themselves to a nice V-carved image.  I typed in “free clipart zodiac vector” and got lucky, downloading a file with all 12 signs that fit the bill.  Sometimes you get lucky!”

Gary then opened the vector files in Aspire and created the first panel.  This was sized based on the math of a 12 sided polygon of a diameter that would comfortably house the gear train. Gary then placed the vector image on the blank panel, but felt the design looked a little sparse

“ I added some lines above and below to direct the eye around the base, tying the panels together.  I also wanted a bit more ornament, so I added a couple of symmetric ornaments under each sign.”  "These were actually part of a font.  'Wingdings' was one of the first type fonts to represent symbols, and these were part of a free font called ‘WWFloral’ ”

After sizing and placing the character, Gary converted it to a curved vector then flipped and elongated it. The 12 indvidual panels were machined and bound together at 30 degree angles to form the base.


The screenshot to the right is of the opening top of the orrery, which was also done in Aspire.

“This is from a scanned image of a design by John Tribe, which I imported and fitted curved vectors to as shown in the screenshot.  I wasn't worried about the outside edges of the board, as I had already created a round blank for the top that I would do this carving on.”

The actual gears for the piece’s mechanics were designed in a specialist gear design program. If you would like to read about this project in more detail, a step-by-step narrative of the project is available on a website for the orrery at

Gary had this to say about Vectric and the Aspire product:

“I think the software is a delight to use.  Donald Knuth once said that all software should be written twice - once to figure out how to do it, and again to make it easy to use.  I think this is exemplified in your product set.  I attended the Dallas Vectric user group meeting and will be attending the Memphis meeting as well.  I find I get a lot out of the meetings.”

Gary Liming


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