Wield The Power of Molten Metal

[TheBackyardScientist] at it again with another super villain-esque demonstration of gadgetry: a liquid metal squirt gun.

The squirt gun has a compressed air tank like most others — more on that later — but to fire its primary ammunition, a nozzle that connects directly to an air compressor is needed. Again, like most guns of this nature, air is forced into the gun’s reservoir, displacing the pewter and expelling it out the gun’s barrel. Yes, pewter.

Working around the heat tolerances of thread seal tape, pewter has a low enough melting point that an airtight system is preserved — plus it’s really cool to fire a stream of liquid metal. The ammunition is made from pewter ware melted down and cast into pucks. These pucks are stacked into the gun’s magazine, melted with a propane torch and carefully loaded into the gun.

The built-in compressed air tank lacks the oomph to push out the pewter — hence the air compressor, but any lighter liquids or condiments are fair game for rapid-fire exercises. Yes, condiments.

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A Great Way to Make Quick and Easy Knobs

Here’s a great way to quickly and easily make attractive and functional knobs with no tools required. All you need is some casting resin (epoxy would do in a pinch), a silicone mold intended for candy, and some socket head bolts. With the right preparation and a bit of careful placement and attention, smooth and functional knob ends are only minutes away. Embedded below is a short video demonstrating the process.

These may not replace purpose-made knobs for final products, but for prototypes or to use around the shop on jigs, clamps, or furniture they certainly fit the bill. With a layer of adhesive fabric or rubber, they might even make serviceable adjustable feet for low-stress loads.

This technique could be extended to reproducing broken or missing dakaware or bakelite knobs. This, of course, would require an original, unbroken knob and a small silicone mold, but it’s still a project that’s well within the capabilities of the garage-bound hacker.

While we’re on the subject of knobs, don’t forget we’ve seen an excellent method of repairing knobs as well.

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Bringing A 50 Watt Laser Cutter to Life

This is the future and we live in a world of 3D printers and laser cutters. Have you ever pondered the question of getting yourself a laser cutter? Well [Erich Styger] just landed a 50 Watt Laser Cutter from AliExpress and has written up a detailed guide to his experience.

[Erich] had been wrestling with the idea of buying one for himself for some time but was put off by the difficulty in their operation. This changed when [Scorch] published the K40 Whisperer control software which allows for better control over these machines. With the hopes of an interesting weekend project, [Erich Styger] took a leap of faith and spent $900 on a model 4040 laser cutter.

In his blog, he goes through the steps in setting up the machine as well as calibrating the laser. With a plethora of images and a detailed look at each aspect of the leveling and testing, [Erich Styger] had a weekend well spent and a working K40 laser cutter for his workshop. But perhaps the more valuable part of the stories is the overall experience.

It was not a “what you see is what you get” order, but it did turn out to be a hacker’s “what you want is what you get” adventure. The machine didn’t look the same as the picture, it came with a burned CD-R with a box full of small parts (in addition to separate shipment of a USB thumb drive and silicone sealant), and there were some mechanical touchups plus a stuck switch requiring reassembly. He has done an excellent job of documenting from order to test-runs and the photos alone are worth taking a look.

Adding value to inexpensive laser cutters in an often-featured project around here. If you are looking for more details on these wonderful machines, be sure to check out more tales of Cheap Laser Cutters and our coverage of the K40 Whisperer software launch from last month.

Superconference Interview: Ben Krasnow

Ben Krasnow is a consummate prototyper. He’s built a machine that makes the perfect chocolate chip cookie, he has a ruby laser, and he produces his own liquid nitrogen in-house because simply filling up a dewar is too easy. If you need a prototype, Ben is the guy to talk to.

Ben gave a talk at last year’s Hackaday Superconference on prototyping quickly and verifying technical hypotheses. The philosophy can be summed up simply as, ‘Build First, and Ask Questions Later’. This philosophy served him well when he wanted to see if backscatter x-ray machines were actually more effective than metal detectors at TSA checkpoints. The usual bean-counter protocol for answering this question would be to find an x-ray expert, wait weeks, pay tens of thousands of dollars, and eventually get an answer. Ben simply built his own backscatter x-ray machine from parts sourced on eBay.

After the talk, we asked Ben about the limits of this philosophy of building first and asking questions later. With the physical and mental toolset Ben has, it’s actually easy to build something that can get in the ballpark of answering a question. The problem comes when Ben needs to prove something won’t work.

Answering this question is all a matter of mindset. In Ben’s view, if a prototype works, a hypothesis is verified. Even if it’s a complete accident, he’s totally okay with the results. Some of his other colleagues have an opposite mindset — if a quick and dirty prototype doesn’t work, a research hypothesis is verified.

This rapid-proof-of-concept mindset is something we see a lot in the Hackaday audience, and we know there are some of you out there who have a mind and garage that is at least as impressive as Ben’s. We’ve extended the Call for Proposals for the 2017 Hackaday Superconference. If you have a story about rapid prototyping or just making the perfect chocolate chip cookie with robots, we want to hear about it. Tickets are still available for the Superconference in Pasadena, California on November 11th and 12th.

Fridge Compressor to 2-Stroke Engine: JB Weld for the Win

We like this one because it has a real Junkyard Wars feel to it: turning a cast-off fridge compressor into a two-stroke internal combustion engine. [Makerj101] is doing this with tooling no more complicated than a hacksaw and a hand drill. And JB Weld — lots and lots of JB Weld.

[Makerj101]’s video series takes us through his entire conversion process. Despite the outward similarity between compressors and engines, there are enough crucial differences to make the conversion challenging. A scheme for controlling intake and exhaust had to be implemented, the crankcase needed to be sealed, and a cylinder head with a spark plug needed to be fabricated. All of these steps would have been trivial in a machine shop with mill and lathe, but [Makerj101] chose the hard way. An old CPU heat sink serves as a cylinder head, copper wire forms a head gasket and spacer to decrease the compression ratio, and the old motor rotor serves as a flywheel. JB Weld is slathered everywhere, and to good effect as the test run in the video below shows.

Think you recognize [Makerj101]? You probably do, since we featured his previous machine shop-less engine build. This guy sure gets his money’s worth out of a tube of JB Weld.

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The Best Stereo Valve Amp In The World

There are few greater follies in the world of electronics than that of an electronic engineering student who has just discovered the world of hi-fi audio. I was once that electronic engineering student and here follows a tale of one of my follies. One that incidentally taught me a lot about my craft, and I am thankful to say at least did not cost me much money.

Construction more suited to 1962 than 1992.
Construction more suited to 1962 than 1992.

It must have been some time in the winter of 1991/92, and being immersed in student radio and sound-and-light I was party to an intense hi-fi arms race among the similarly afflicted. Some of my friends had rich parents or jobs on the side and could thus afford shiny amplifiers and the like, but I had neither of those and an elderly Mini to support. My only option therefore was to get creative and build my own. And since the ultimate object of audio desire a quarter century ago was a valve (tube) amp, that was what I decided to tackle.

Nowadays, building a valve amp is a surprisingly straightforward process, as there are many online suppliers who will sell you a kit of parts from the other side of the world. Transformer manufacturers produce readily available products for your HT supply and your audio output matching, so to a certain extent your choice of amp is simply a case of picking your preferred circuit and assembling it. Back then however the world of electronics had extricated itself from the world of valves a couple of decades earlier, so getting your hands on the components was something of a challenge. I cut out the power supply by using a scrap Dymar Electronics instrument enclosure which had built-in HT and heater rails ready to go, but the choice of transformers and high-voltage capacitors was something of a challenge.

Pulling the amplifier out of storage in 2017, I’m going in blind. I remember roughly what I did, but the details have been obscured by decades of other concerns. So in an odd meeting with my barely-adult self, it’s time to take a look at what I made. Where did I get it right, and just how badly did I get it wrong?

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Friday Hack Chat: Graphical Programming Languages with Boian Mitov

There is a long history of Visual or Graphical Programming Languages, and most of them make more sense than the name of Microsoft’s Visual Basic, C#, and Visual Studio IDE. Some people don’t like to code, and for them, graphical programming languages replace semicolons and brackets with easy-to-understand boxes and wires.

This Friday, we’re going to be talking about graphical programming languages with [Boian Mitov]. He’s a software developer, founder of Mitov Software, and the creator of Visuino, a graphical programming language for the embedded domain. Everything from the Arduino to Teensy, ESP8266, ESP32, the chipKIT, and Maple Mini are supported with this IDE. It’s a simple drag-and-drop way of programming microcontrollers that Scratches an itch (see what I did there?) for an easy way to introduce non-programmers to the embedded world and also provides a faster way to build custom applications.

When it comes to graphical programming languages, we can’t find a better Hack Chat guest than [Boian]. He’s the author of the OpenWire dataflow processing technology — another graphical programming language –, the IGDI+ library, VideoLab, SignalLab, AudioLab, PlotLab, InstrumentLab, and author of VCL for Visual C++. He’s a regular contributor to Blaise Pascal Magazine, too.

During this Hack Chat, we’ll be discussing what makes Visual Programming worth it, how and why it works, when it doesn’t and how to develop a graphical programming language. Visuino will be of special interest, And I’m sure someone will work in a, ‘what’s happening with Max/MSP under Ableton’ question. If you have a question for [Boian], here’s a question sheet to guide the discussion.

Here’s How To Take Part:

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This Hack Chat will take place at noon Pacific time on Friday, August 11th. Here’s a time and date converter!

Log into Hackaday.io, visit that page, and look for the ‘Join this Project’ Button. Once you’re part of the project, the button will change to ‘Team Messaging’, which takes you directly to the Hack Chat.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talk