[CNLohr] Demos His Photoetch PCB Process


If you’re going to learn something, it only makes sense to learn from a master. [CNLohr] is known around these parts for his fablous PCBs, and he’s finally started to document his entire fabrication process.

[CNLohr] is using a photoetch process, where a mask is created with a laser printer on overhead transparencies. He covers the copper clad boards with a Riston photosensitive mask—available here, and they accept Bitcoin—sent through a laminator, and exposed with the laser printed mask and a UV grow bulb. After the mask has developed, [CNLohr] drops his boards into a ferric chloride bath that eats away the unexposed copper. He then removes the photomask with acetone and cuts the boards with a pair of aircraft snips, and they’re ready to be soldered up with components.

Yes, home PCB etching tutorials are pretty much a solved problem, but [CNLohr]’s work speaks for itself. He’s also the guy who made a microcontroller/Linux/Minecraft thing on a glass microscope slide. Learning from a guy with these skills means you’re learning from one of the best.

Video below, and there’s also a video going over the design of a PCB using KiCAD (!) and TopoR (!!!) available here.

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Polishing optics milled from acrylic


[Ben Krasnow] milled some lenses out of cast acrylic and needed a way to get an optical finish on the tool-marked surface. He tested several acrylic finishing methods to achieve a crystal clear finish. The tests were done using flat chunks. A regiment of sandpaper, from coarse to fine, was used as the first stage of the operation. From there [Ben] sought out the best finishing step, starting with hand polishing tests, flame polishing, and methylene chloride vapor polishing (which is something along the lines of acetone vapor polishing for 3D printed ABS parts).

Flame polishing and vapor polishing are not really exact sciences… at least in the tests he performed. It was difficult to know exactly how long to expose the acrylic. Too short or too long resulted in poor clarity. Watch his video to get a look at all results. We’d say the the easiest way to make milled acrylic clear without achieving an optical finish is to flame polish it as it doesn’t really require that you sand it ahead of time. But [Ben’s] tests prove that you can’t beat hand polishing with 600 then 2000 grit sandpaper before finishing up with a liquid plastic polish.

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The definitive guide to solder stencils


Yes, we’ve seen our share of tutorials for making solder paste stencils, but [Felix] hit it out of the park with this one. It’s the definitive guide to making solder stencils at home, with quality as good as you would find in any professionally made stencil.

The material for the stencils comes from the same source as so many other DIY solder stencils – aluminium cans. The interior plastic coating and the exterior paint job are both removed with heat, acetone, and patience. After laying out the cream layer of his board in a PDF file, [Felix] used a fairly interesting transfer medium to get the toner onto the aluminum; cheap vinyl shelving paper attached to a piece of paper apparently makes for an ideal surface to transfer toner.

After transfer, the board is etched with HCl and peroxide. [Felix] is getting some very good results with his method, including a few very fine pitch IC footprints. It’s just as good as a professionally made, laser cut stainless stencil, and you probably already have all the necessary ingredients lying around your house. That’s a win anytime.

Measuring ketosis with an Arduino


A bit of biology and nutrition before we roll into this: Ketosis is when your body runs on fat reserves instead of carbohydrates. This is the basis of diets such as Atkins, and despite the connotations of eating hamburger patties and butter, you can actually lose weight on these diets. One problem with a keto diet is the difficulty of measure how many ketones your liver is processing; this can be done with a urine sample, but being able to measure small amounts of acetone in your breath would be the ideal way to measure ketosis. [Jens] came up with a device that does just that. It’s called Ketosense, and it will tell you how well your keto diet is doing by just having you blow into a sensor.

[Jens]’ device consists of an Arduino, LCD display, and two sensors – one for acetone, and another for temperature and humidity. By carefully calibrating a TGS822 sensor, [Jens] was able to measure the acetone content of an exhaled breath along with temperature and pressure. This gave him a reading in parts per million, and with a short bit of math was able to convert that into something that made sense when talking about ketosis, mmol/l.

Without access to a lab that can measure blood ketone levels, it’s difficult to say if [Jens] device really works as intended. If he were to find his way into a lab, though, it would be possible to correlate his sensor’s values with blood ketone results and improve the accuracy of his sensor.

Smoothing PLA printed parts

We’ve seen a few advances in the finishing processes of 3D prints over the last few months that result in some very attractive parts that look like they were injection molded. Smoothing ABS prints is now a necessary skill for anyone looking to produce professional parts, but those of us using PLA for our RepRaps have been left in the cold. After some experimentation, the guys over at protoparadigm have come up with a way to smooth out those PLA prints, using the same technique and a chemical that’s just as safe as acetone.

Instead of acetone, the guys at protoparadigm are using tetrahydrofuran, or THF, as a solvent for PLA. Other PLA solvents aren’t friendly to living organisms or are somewhat hard to obtain. THF has neither of these qualities; you still need to use it in a well ventilated area with nitrile gloves, but the same precautions when using acetone or MEK still apply. It’s also easy to obtain, as well: you can grab some on Amazon, even.

The process for smoothing PLA prints with THF is the same as smoothing ABS prints with acetone. Just suspend the print in a glass container, pour in a tiny amount of the solvent, and (gently) heat it. The evaporated solvent will smooth all the ridges out of the print, leaving a shiny and smooth surface. You can, of course, hand polish it by dedicating a lint-free cloth and a pair of gloves to the task.

Hot plate stirrer dissolves support material in 3D printed objects


When you want to print a 3D object you run into problems if there is a part that has nothing below it. The hot, soft filament coming out of the extruder will droop with gravity if not given something to rest on while it hardens. The solution is to use a second material as a support. But then you’ve got to find a way to remove the support structure when the printing is done. That’s where this beauty comes in. It’s a heated stir plate for dissolving PLA.

The PLA is printed using a second extruder head. Once the part is cooled [Petrus] puts it into a heated bath of sodium hydroxide (lye). The solvent will remove the PLA but not harm the ABS. Speaking of ABS, [Petrus] also mentions that this can double as a temperature controlled hot plate for polishing ABS prints using acetone vapor.

There’s all kinds of good stuff inside of this beast so do check out the full plans to learn more. Our favorite part is the stir bar which is a piece of threaded rod and a couple of nuts. To make it safe to submerge in the chemicals he 3D printed a pill-shaped enclosure for it.

[Thanks Matt]

The coolest homebrew computer gets its own case


When you’re building one of the best homebrew computers ever created, you’ll also want a great case for it. This was [Simon]’s task when he went about building an enclosure for his Kiwi microcomputer.

We were introduced to the Kiwi last year as the end result of [Simon] designing the ultimate computer from the early to mid-1980s. Inside is a 68008 CPU, similar to the processor found in early Macs and Amigas, two SID chips taken from a Commodore 64, Ethernet, support for IDE hard drives and floppy disks, and a video display processor capable of delivering VGA resolution video at 32-bit color depth. Basically, if this computer existed in 1982, it would either be hideously expensive or extraordinarily popular. Probably both, now that I think about it.

The case for the Kiwi was carefully cut from ABS sheets, glued together with acetone, and painted with auto body paint by a friend. It’s a great piece of work, but the effort may be for naught; [Simon] is reworking the design of his Kiwi computer, and hopefully he’ll be spinning a few extra boards for everyone else that wants a piece of the Kiwi.