Creating A PCB In Everything: Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Fritzing

This week, we’re continuing our Creating A PCB In Everything series, where we go through the steps to create a simple, barebones PCB in different EDA suites. We’re done with Eagle, and now it’s time to move onto Fritzing.

fritzing-logoFritzing came out of the Interaction Design Lab at the University of Applied Sciences of Potsdam in 2007 as a project initiated by Professor Reto Wettach, André Knörig and Zach Eveland. It is frequently compared to Processing, Wiring, or Arduino in that it provides an easy way for artists, creatives, or ‘makers’ to dip their toes into the waters of PCB design.

I feel it is necessary to contextualize Fritzing in the space of ‘maker movement’, DIY electronics, and the last decade of Hackaday. Simply by virtue of being an editor for Hackaday, I have seen thousands of homebrew PCBs, and tens of thousands of amateur and hobbyist electronics projects. Despite what the Fritzing’s Wikipedia talk page claims, Fritzing is an important piece of software. The story of the ‘maker movement’ – however ill-defined that phrase is – cannot be told without mentioning Fritzing. It was the inspiration for CircuitLab, and the Fritzing influence can easily be seen in Autodesk’s 123D Circuits.

Just because a piece of software is important doesn’t mean it’s good. I am, perhaps, the world’s leading expert at assessing poorly designed and just plain shitty PCBs. You may scoff at this, but think about it: simply due to my vocation, I look at a lot of PCBs made by amateurs. EE professors, TAs, or Chris Gammell might beat me on volume, but they’re only looking at boards made by students using one tool. I see amateur boards built in every tool, and without exception, the worst are always designed in Fritzing. It should be unacceptable that I can even tell they’re designed in Fritzing.

Fritzing has its place, and that place is building graphical representations for breadboard circuits. Fritzing has no other equal in this respect, and for this purpose, it’s an excellent tool. You can also make a PCB in Fritzing, and here things aren’t as great. I want to do Fritzing for this Creating A PCB In Everything series only to demonstrate how bad PCB design can be.

For the next few thousand words, I am going to combine a tutorial for Fritzing with a review of Fritzing. Fritzing is an important piece of software, if only for being a great way to create graphics of breadboard circuits. As a PCB design tool, it’s lacking; creating parts from scratch is far too hard, and there’s no way to get around the grid snap tool. No one should ever be forced to create a PCB in Fritzing, but it does have its own very limited place.

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How to Get Started with the ESP32

ESP32 is the hottest new wireless chip out there, offering both WiFi and Bluetooth Low Energy radios rolled up with a dual-core 32-bit processor and packed with peripherals of every kind. We got some review sample dev boards, Adafruit and Seeed Studio had them in stock for a while, and AI-Thinker — the company that makes the most popular ESP8266 modules — is starting up full-scale production on October 1st. This means that some of you have the new hotness in your hands right now, and the rest of you aren’t going to have to wait more than a few more weeks.

As we said in our first-look review of the new chip, many things are in a state of flux on the software side, but the basic process of writing, compiling, and flashing code to the chip is going to remain stable. It’s time to start up some tutorials!

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Custom Keyboard Makes the Case for Concrete

One of the worst things about your average modern keyboards is that they have a tendency to slide around on the desk. And why wouldn’t they? They’re just membrane keyboards encased in cheap, thin plastic. Good for portability, bad for actually typing once you get wherever you’re going.

When [ipee9932cd] last built a keyboard, finding the right case was crucial. And it never happened. [ipee9932cd] did what any of us would do and made a custom case out of the heaviest, most widely available casting material: concrete.

To start, [ipee9932cd] made a form out of melamine and poured 12 pounds of concrete over a foam rectangle that represents the keyboard. The edges of the form were caulked so that the case edges would come out round. Here’s the super clever part: adding a couple of LEGO blocks to make space for the USB cable and reset switch. After the concrete cured, it was sanded up to 20,000 grit and sealed to keep out sweat and Mountain Dew Code Red. We can’t imagine that it’s very comfortable to use, but it does look to be cool on the wrists. Check out the gallery after the break.

Concrete is quite the versatile building material. We’ve seen many applications for it from the turntable to the coffee table to the lathe.

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Home-Made Metal Brake

Sometimes, the appropriate application of force is the necessary action to solve a problem. Inelegant, perhaps, but bending a piece of metal with precision is difficult without a tool for it. That said, where a maker faces a problem, building a solution swiftly follows; and — if you lack a metal brake like YouTuber [makjosher] — building one of your own can be accomplished in short order.

Drawing from numerous online sources, [makjosher]’s brake is built from 1/8″ steel bar, as well as 1/8″ steel angle. The angle is secured to a 3/4″ wood mounting plate. Displaying tenacity in cutting all this metal with only a hacksaw, [makjosher] carved slots out of the steel to mount the hinges, which were originally flush with the wood. He belatedly realized that they needed to be flush with the bending surface. This resulted in some backtracking and re-cutting. [Makjosher] then screwed the pivoting parts to the wood mount. A Box tube serves as a handle. A coat of paint  finished the project, and adding another tool to this maker’s kit.

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Lock Up Your Raspberry Pi with Google Authenticator

Raspberry Pi boards (or any of the many similar boards) are handy to leave at odd places to talk to the network and collect data, control things, or do whatever other tasks you need a tiny fanless computer to do. Of course, any time you have a computer on a network, you are inviting hackers (and not our kind of hackers) to break in.

We recently looked at how to tunnel ssh using a reverse proxy via Pagekite so you can connect to a Pi even through firewalls and at dynamic IP addresses. How do you stop a bad guy from trying to log in repeatedly until they have access? This can work on any Linux machine, but for this tutorial I’ll use Raspberry Pi as the example device. In all cases, knowing how to set up adequate ssh security is paramount for anything you drop onto a network.

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Creating A PCB In Everything: Eagle DRC and Gerber Files

For the next post in the Creating A PCB series, we’re going to continue our explorations of Eagle. In Part 1,  I went over how to create a part from scratch in Eagle. In Part 2, we used this part to create the small example board from the Introduction.

This time around I’ll be going over Design Rule Check (DRC) — or making sure your board house can actually fabricate what you’ve designed. I’ll also be covering the creation of Gerber files (so you can get the PCB fabbed anywhere you want), and putting real art into the silkscreen and soldermask layers of your boards.

The idea behind this series is to explore different EDA suites and PCB design tools by designing the same circuit in each. You can check out the rest of the posts in this series right here.

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The Healthy Maker: Tackling Vapors, Fumes And Heavy Metals

Fearless makers are conquering ever more fields of engineering and science, finding out that curiosity and common sense is all it takes to tackle any DIY project. Great things can be accomplished, and nothing is rocket science. Except for rocket science of course, and we’re not afraid of that either. Soldering, welding, 3D printing, and the fine art of laminating composites are skills that cannot be unlearned once mastered. Unfortunately, neither can the long-term damage caused by fumes, toxic gasses and heavy metals. Take a moment, read the material safety datasheets, and incorporate the following, simple practices and gears into your projects.

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