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Archive for the ‘tool hacks’ Category

We’ve all been there. A big bag of resistors all mixed up. Maybe you bought them cheap. Maybe your neatly organized drawers spilled. Of course, you can excruciatingly read the color codes one by one. Or use a meter. But either way, it is a tedious job. [Ishann’s] solution was to build an automatic sorter that directly measures the value using a voltage divider, rather than rely on machine vision as is often the case in these projects. That means it could be modified to do matching for precise circuits (e.g., sort out resistors all marked 1K that are more than a half-percent away from one nominal value).

There is a funnel that admits one resistor at a time into a test area where it is measured. A plate at the bottom rotates depending on the measured value. In the current implementation, the resistor either falls to the left or the right. It wouldn’t be hard to make a rotating tray with compartments for different values of resistance. It looks like you have to feed the machine one resistor at a time, and automating that sounds like a trick considering how jumbled loose axial components can be. Still, its a fun project that you probably have all the parts to make.

An Arduino powers the thing. An LCD screen and display control the action. If you want some practice handling material robotically, this is a great use of servos and gravity and it does serve a practical purpose.

We have seen many variations on this, including ones that read the color code. If you ever wanted to know where the color code for resistors came from, we took a trip to the past to find out earlier this year.

Economy of scale is a wonderful thing, take the switch-mode power supply as an example. Before the rise of the PC, a decent multi-voltage, high current power supply would be pretty expensive. But PCs have meant cheap supplies and sometimes even free as you gut old PCs found in the dumpster. [OneMarcFifty] decided to make a pretty setup for a PC supply that includes a very nice color display with bargraphs and other niceties. You can see the power supply in action in the video below.

The display is a nice TFT driven by an Arduino Nano. The project uses ACS712 current sensor modules, which are nice Hall effect devices that produce a linear output for current and have over 2 KV of voltage isolation.

There are three current sensors, one for each output. Really what makes this impressive compared to many similar projects is the very nice graphical output. The GitHub has all the software as well as PCB layouts. Of course, you’ll have to adapt the enclosure to your specific power supply, but it should be pretty easy to arrange an enclosure.

With only a few buttons, the user interface is a little clunky, but no more so than a lot of other projects. You essentially only use the buttons to change the speed, scale, and resolution of the bar graphs. The output voltages are fixed and there are no current limits.

Another answer is to find a higher voltage supply and mate it with a cheap power supply module. We’ve also seen non-PC power supplies put in a PC case.

No, it’s not the kind of honeycomb you’re probably thinking of. We’re talking about the lightweight panels commonly used in aerospace applications. Apparently they’re rather prone to dents and other damage during handling, so Boeing teamed up with students from the California State University to come up with a way to automate the time-consuming repair process.

The resulting machine, which you can see in action after the break, is a phenomenal piece of engineering. But more than that, it’s an impressive use of off-the-shelf components. The only thing more fascinating than seeing this robotic machine perform its artful repairs is counting how many of its core components you’ve got laying around the shop.

Built from aluminum extrusion, powered by an Arduino Due, and spinning a Dewalt cut-off tool that looks like it was just picked it up from Home Depot, you could easily source most of the hardware yourself. Assuming you needed to automatically repair aerospace-grade honeycomb panels, anyway.

At the heart of this project is a rotating “turret” that holds all the tools required for the repair. After the turret is homed and the condition of all the cutting tools is verified, a hole is drilled into the top of the damaged cell. A small tool is then carefully angled into the hole (a little trick that is mechanical poetry in motion) to deburr the hole, and a vacuum is used to suck out any of the filings created by the previous operations. Finally a nozzle is moved into position and the void is filled with expanding foam.

Boeing says it takes up to four hours for a human to perform this same repair. Frankly, that seems a little crazy to us. But then again if we were the ones tasked with repairing a structural panel for a communications satellite or aircraft worth hundreds of millions of dollars, we’d probably take our time too. The video is obviously sped up so it’s hard to say exactly how long this automated process takes, but it doesn’t seem like it could be much more than a few minutes from start to finish.

Whether you’re using a soldering iron or a table saw, ventilation in the shop is important. Which is why [Atomic Dairy] built a monster air cleaner called the Fanboy that looks like it should be mounted under the wing of an F-15. Realizing a simple switch on the wall wouldn’t do this potent air mover justice, they decided to build a sound activated controller for it.

It’s certainly an elegant idea. The sound created once they kick on their woodworking tools would be difficult to miss by even the most rudimentary of sound-detection hardware. At the most basic level, all they needed was a way for an Arduino to throw a relay once the noise level in the room reached a specific threshold.

Of course it ended up getting a bit more complicated than that, as tends to happen with these kinds of projects. For one, the sound doesn’t directly control the solid state relay used in the fan controller. When the microphone equipped Arduino detects enough noise, it will start a timer that keeps the fan running for two hours. If the tool keeps running, then more time gets added to the clock. This ensures that the air in the room is well circulated even after the cutting and sanding is done.

[Atomic Dairy] also added a few additional features so they could have more direct control over the fan. There’s a button to manually add more time to the clock, and another button to shut it down. There’s even support for a little wireless remote control, so the fan can be operated without having to walk over to the control panel.

We’ve seen some impressive air circulation and dust collection systems over the years, but finding a way to elegantly switch them on and off has always been a problem given the wide array of tools that could be in use at any given time. Sound activation isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s certainly one we’d consider for our own shop.

Counting frequency is one of those tasks that seems simple on the face of it, but actually has quite a bit of nuance. There are two obvious methods, of which the first is to count zero crossings for some period. If that period is one second you are done, otherwise it’s a simple enough case of doing the math. That is, if you count for half a second, multiply the result by 2, or if you count for 10 seconds, divide by 10. The other obvious method is to measure the period of a single cycle as accurately as you can. Then there’s this third method.from [WilkoL], which simultaneously counts a known reference clock alongside the frequency to be measured.  You can see the result in the video, below.

The first method is easy but the lower the frequency you want to measure, the longer you have to count to get any real resolution. Also, you need the time base to be exact. For the second method, you need to be able to make a highly precise measurement. The reason [WikolL] chose the third method is that it doesn’t require a very precise time base — a moderately accurate reference oscillator will do. The instrument gets good resolution quickly at both high and low frequencies. 

The key to making the measurement is a clever way of connecting a D flip flop in such a way that it counts the high frequency reference clock and the lower frequency of interest for a fixed period of time. The fixed period doesn’t have to be very accurate. You wind up with two counts: How many input clocks you saw over the period and how many reference clocks. Since you know the frequency of the reference clock, the rest is simple math.

The real danger to projects like this is you can quickly get obsessed with measuring frequency and time. Of course, we’ve seen plenty of gated counter designs.


There’s nothing quite like building something to your own personal specifications. It’s why desktop 3D printers are such a powerful tool, and why this scalable plotter from the [Lost Projects Office] is so appealing. You just print out the end pieces and then pair it with rods of your desired length. If you’ve got some unusually large computer-controlled scribbling in mind, this is the project for you.

The design, which the team calls the Deep Ink Diver (d.i.d) is inspired by another plotter that [JuanGg] created. While the fundamentals are the same, d.i.d admittedly looks quite a bit more polished. In fact, if your 3D printed parts look good enough, this could probably pass for a commercial product.

For the electronics, the plotter uses an Arduino Uno and a matching CNC Shield. Two NEMA 17 stepper motors are used for motion: one to spin the rod that advances the paper, and the other connected to a standard GT2 belt and pulley to move the pen back and forth.

We particularly like the way [Lost Projects Office] handled lifting the pen off the paper. In the original design a solenoid was used, which took a bit of extra circuitry to drive from the CNC Shield. But for the d.i.d, a standard SG90 servo is used to lift up the arm that the pen is attached to. A small piece of elastic puts tension on the assembly so it will drop back down when the servo releases.

If this plotter isn’t quite what you’re after, don’t worry. There’s more where that came from. We’ve seen a number of very interesting 3D printed plotters that are just begging for a spot in your OctoPrint queue.

Digitizing an object usually means firing up a CAD program and keeping the calipers handy, or using a 3D scanner to create a point cloud representing an object’s surfaces. [Dzl] took an entirely different approach with his DIY manual 3D digitizer, a laser-cut and 3D printed assembly that uses rotary encoders to create a turntable with an articulated “probe arm” attached.

Each joint of the arm is also an encoder, and by reading the encoder values and applying a bit of trigonometry, the relative position of the arm’s tip can be known at all times. Manually moving the tip of the arm from point to point on an object therefore creates measurements of that object. [Dzl] successfully created a prototype to test the idea, and the project files are available on GitHub.

We remember the earlier version of this project and it’s great to see how it’s been updated with improvements like the addition of a turntable with an encoder. DIY 3D digitizing takes all kinds of approaches, and one example was this unit that used four Raspberry Pi Zeros and four cameras to generate high quality 3D scans.

A few months ago we brought word that [Electronoobs] was working on his own open source alternative to pocket-sized temperature controlled soldering irons like the TS100. Powered by the ATMega328p microcontroller and utilizing a 3D printed enclosure, his version could be built for as little as $15 USD depending on where you sourced your parts from. But by his own admission, the design was held back by the quality of the $5 replacement soldering iron tips he designed it around. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for.

But [Electronoobs] is back with the second version of his DIY portable soldering iron, and this time it’s using the vastly superior HAKKO T12 style tip. As this tip has the thermocouple and heating element in series it involved a fairly extensive redesign of the entire project, but in the end it’s worth it. After all, a soldering iron is really only as good as its tip to begin with.

This version of the iron deletes the MAX6675 used in V1, and replaces it with a LM358 operational amplifier to read the thermocouple in the T12 tip. [Electronoobs] then used an external thermocouple to compare the LM358’s output to the actual temperature at the tip. With this data he created a function which will return tip temperature from the analog voltage.

While the physical and electrical elements of the tip changed substantially, a lot of the design is still the same from the first version. In addition to the ATMega328p microcontroller, version 2.0 of the iron still uses the same 128×32 I2C OLED display, MOSFET, and 5V buck converter from the original iron. That said, [Electronoobs] is already considering a third revision that will make the iron even smaller by replacing the MOSFET and buck converter. It might be best to consider this an intermediate step before the DIY iron takes on its final form, which we’re very interested in seeing.

The first version of the DIY Arduino soldering iron garnered quite a bit of attention, so it seems there’s a decent number of you out there who aren’t content with just plunking down the cash for the TS100.

[Thanks to BaldPower for the tip.]

There’s little question that an oscilloscope is pretty much a must-have piece of equipment for the electronics hacker. It’s a critical piece of gear for reverse engineering devices and protocols, and luckily for us they’re as cheap as they’ve ever been. Even a fairly feature rich four channel scope such as the Rigol DS1054Z only costs about as much as a mid-range smartphone. But if that’s still a little too rich for your taste, and you’re willing to skimp on the features a bit, you can get a functional digital oscilloscope for little more than pocket change.

While there are a number of very cheap pocket digital storage oscilloscopes (DSOs) on the market, [Peter Balch] decided he’d rather spin up his own version using off-the-shelf components. Not only was it an excuse to deep dive on some interesting engineering challenges, but it ended up bringing the price even lower than turn-key models. Consisting of little more than an Arduino Nano and a OLED display, the cost comes out to less than $10 USD for a decent DSO that’s about the size of a matchbox.

But not a great one. [Peter] is very upfront about the limitations of this DIY pocket scope: it can’t hit very high sample rates, and the display isn’t really big enough to convey anything more than the basics. But if you’re doing some quick and dirty diagnostics in the field, that might be all you need. Especially since there’s a good chance you can build the thing out of parts from the junk bin.

Even if you’re not looking to build your own version of the Arduino-powered scope [Peter] describes, his write-up is still full of fascinating details and theory. He explains how his software approach is to disable all interrupts, and put the microcontroller into a tight polling loop to read data from the ADC as quickly as possible. It took some experimentation to find the proper prescaler value for the Atmega’s 16MHz clock, but in the end found he could get a usable (if somewhat noisy) output with a 1uS sample rate.

Unfortunately, the Arduino’s ADC leaves something to be desired in terms of input range. But with the addition of an LM358 dual op-amp, the Arduino scope gains some amplification so it can pick up signals down into the mV range. For completion’s sake, [Peter] included some useful features in the device’s firmware, such as a frequency counter, square wave signal source, and even a voltmeter. With the addition of a 3D printed case, this little gadget could be very handy to have in your mobile tool kit.

If you’d rather go the commercial route, Hackaday’s very own [Jenny List] has been reviewing a number of very affordable models such as the DSO Nano 3 and the JYE Tech DSO150 build-it-yourself kit.

[Thanks to BaldPower for the tip.]

We know, we know. Getting PCBs professionally fabricated anymore is so cheap and easy that making them in-house is increasingly becoming something of a lost art. Like developing your own film. Or even using a camera that has film, for that matter. But when you’re in Brazil and it takes months for shipments to arrive like [Robson Couto] is, sometimes you’re better off sticking with the old ways.

[Robson] writes in to tell us how he decided to buy a ~$150 CNC “engraver” kit from an import site, in hopes that it would allow him to prototype his designs without having to use breadboards all the time. The kit turned out to be decent, but with a series of modifications and a bit of trial and error, he’s improved the performance significantly and is now putting out some very nice looking boards.

The primary hardware issues [Robson] ran into were in the Z axis, as some poor component selections made the stock configuration wobble a bit too much. He replaced some flimsy standoffs as well as swapping in some bushings he salvaged from dead inkjet printers, and the movement got a lot tighter.

Despite the fact that the version of Grbl flashed onto the engraver’s cloned Arduino Uno supports Z leveling, it’s not actually enabled out of the box. [Robson] just needed to add some extra wiring to use the spindle’s bit as a probe on the copper clad board. He also went ahead and updated to the latest version of Grbl, as the one which ships with the machine is fairly old.

He wraps up the post by going through his software workflow on GNU/Linux, which is useful information even if you’ve taken the completely DIY route for your PCB mill. If you’d like to know more about the ins and outs of milling your own boards, check out this excellent primer by [Adil Malik].

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