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.

Giving 3D printed parts a shiny smooth finish

No matter how good a 3D printer gets, you’re always going to have visible print layers. Even with very high-quality prints with sub-0.1mm layer height, getting a shiny and smooth finish of injection molded plastic is nearly impossible. That is, of course, until you do some post-print finishing. [Neil Underwood] and [Austin Wilson] figured out a really easy way to smooth out even the jankiest prints using parts you probably already have lying around.

The technique relies on the fact that ABS plastic and acetone don’t get along together very well. We’ve seen acetone used to smooth out 3D printed objects before – either by dunking the parts in an acetone bath or brushing the solvent on – but these processes had mixed results. [Neil] and [Austin] had the idea of using acetone vapor, created in a glass jar placed on top of a heated build plate,

The process is pretty simple. Get a large glass jar, put it on a heated build plate, add a tablespoon of acetone, and crank the heat up to 110C. Acetone vapor will form in the jar and react with any printed part smoothing out those layers. The pic above shows from right to left a 3D printed squirrel at 0.35 mm layer height, 0.1 mm layer height – the gold standard of high-end repraps – and another print with 0.35 layer height that was run through a vapor bath for a few minutes. Amazing quality there, and cheap and easy enough for any 3D printer setup.

You can check out the tutorial video after the break along with a video showing exactly how dangerous this is (it’s not, unless you do something very, very dumb).

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Taking a look at decapped ICs

Aside from wanting to play around with nitric acid, [Ben] really didn’t have a reason to decap a few 74xx and 4000-series logic chips. Not that we mind, as he provides a great tutorial at looking at a bare IC that isn’t covered in epoxy and resin.

Most ICs are encased in a hard epoxy shell making it very difficult to look at the circuits within. [Ben] tried to grind this epoxy off with a Dremel tool, but didn’t have much luck until he moved over to a CNC mill to remove 0.040 – 0.050″ of epoxy without breaking the bond wires.

After carving out a nice pocket above the die, [Ben] put a few drops of nitric acid on the chip to dissolve the epoxy coating.  This worked very slowly at room temperature, but after putting the chips on a hot plate the acid was able to reveal the die underneath.

After successfully removing all the epoxy and giving them an acetone bath, [Ben] took his chips over to the microscope and was able to check out the underlying circuit. He doesn’t have any idea what he could do with these decapped logic chips, but the bond wires are still intact so he could still use these chips in a build.

We’d like to see a few decapped MEMS devices, but if you have a suggestion on what [Ben] can do with his decapped chips, drop a note in the comments.

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Store your RFID transit card inside your cellphone

Check it out, this is a Boston transit pass — or at least the parts of it that matters. [Becky Stern] got rid of the rest in a bid to embed the RFID tag inside her cellphone.

The transit pass, called a CharlieCard, started out as a normal credit card shaped tag which you might use for access in the workplace. She unsheathed the chip and its antennae by giving it a generous soak in acetone. In about thirty minutes the plastic card looks more like paper pulp, and you can gently fish out the electronics. These are now small enough to fit in the back cover of a cellphone much like those inductive charging hacks.

[Becky] put hers in an iPhone. But the idea comes from [Dhani Sutanto] who used the same technique to extract the coil from a London transit pass. He then embedded the hardware in a resin cast ring.

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What the flux: buy it or brew it yourself

Flux generally makes our lives easier. It’s the best bet when trying to prevent solder bridges with fine-pitch components like you see here. But it is also indispensable when it comes to desoldering components from a board (we’re talking just one component without disturbing all of the others). But have you ever looked at what it costs to pick up a syringe of liquid flux from an online retailer? In addition to the cost of the product itself there’s usually a hazardous material handling fee that is rolled into the shipping cost. So we were happy that [Christopher] sent in a link to the DIY flux page over at Dangerous Prototypes.

The concept is simple enough. Mix some rosin with some solvent. Turns out these items are really easy to source. The solvent can be acetone (which you may have on hand for removing toner transfer from freshly etched PCBs) or plain old rubbing alcohol. And an easy source for rosin is your local music store. They sell it to use on bow hair for String players. Grind it up, throw it in a bottle and you’re good to go. Now does anyone know where we can source needle-tipped bottles locally?

For those that still just want to buy flux we highly recommend watching part one and part two of [Ian’s] flux review series.

DIY ultrasonic plastic welding

Here’s something that may be of interest to all the reprappers, vacuum formers, and other plastic fabbers out there: ultrasonic welding of plastics. If you’ve ever wanted to join two pieces of plastic without melting them together with acetone or screwing them together, [circuitguru] is your guy.

Ultrasonic welder setups are usually reserved for companies that don’t mind spending tens of thousands of dollars on a piece equipment. There are smaller versions made for heat staking – melting plastic pillars into rivets on the work piece – and [circuitguru] was lucky enough a somewhat reasonable price.

Because the heat staking gun was a handheld unit, a rotary tool drill press was put to work. The end result is a relatively inexpensive way to join two plastic parts without screws, glue, or solvents. The bond is pretty strong, too. Check out the video after the break to see [circuitguru] join two pieces of a plastic enclosure and try to tear them apart.

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Welding and casting ABS

Anybody who has a 3D printer always has a ton of useless plastic lying around. Some of that plastic may be from useless baubles, but most of it is in bad prints, short bits of filament, and general scraps. [Luke] found an interesting way to put those ABS scraps to use, and ended up turning trash into valuable plastic parts.

Commonly sold as nail polish remover, acetone will turn anything made out of ABS into a puddle of plastic. [Luke] makes glue using the same process – he fills a small container half full of acetone and half with small bits of ABS. After a day or so, he has a nice thin glue that dries into solid ABS. [Luke] used this to create a 400mm long piece of extruded t-slot. We don’t know if it would be suitable to build a child RepRap from, but it would sure be an interesting experiment.

[Luke] also did a little bit of casting with his ABS glue. With a thicker solution of ABS and Acetone, he managed to make this ‘thing’. The entire process is explained over at Thingiverse, We can’t wait to see what can be done with this stuff.