Making an Inexpensive DRO

[Andrew] wanted a digital readout (DRO) for his mini lathe and mini mill, but found that buying even one DRO cost as much as either of his machines. The solution? You guessed it, he built his own for cheap, using inexpensive digital calipers purchased off eBay.

The DRO he created features a touch screen with a menu system running on an LPCXpresso, while smaller OLED screens serve as labels for the 7-segment displays to the right. The DRO switches back and forth between the lathe and mill, and while the software isn’t done, [Andrew] hopes to be able to transfer measurements from one machine to the other.

In a very sweet touch, [Andrew] hacked cheap digital calipers to provide measurements for each axis, where they provide a resolution of 0.01mm. There are six daughter boards, one for each caliper, and each has a PIC that converts from serial to I2C, freeing the main firmware from dealing with six separate data streams.

The DRO doesn’t have a case, [Andrew] has it positioned out of chip-range from either machine.

A previous DRO we featured in 2012 used an Android tablet as its display.

Hack Your Hot Air Station

It used to be hot air soldering gear was exotic, but not anymore. There are plenty of relatively inexpensive choices. Many of these appear to be the same despite having different brand names and model numbers. One that is common and inexpensive is the 858D. These run about $50. [Gabse] has one and decided to upgrade it using some open source controller hardware and software. There wasn’t a complete guide, so he created one himself.

According to the original GitHub page, the controller will work with the Youyue-858D and any clones. However, there are others like the Atten 858D that use a different controller. In addition, there have been several variants. [Gabse’s] guide is for the latest version. Information on other versions and brands might be on this discussion board thread.

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[Bre Pettis] Buys Other Machine Co.

Other Machine Co., manufacturer of the very capable and very cool OtherMill Pro CNC machine, has been acquired by [Bre Pettis], former CEO of MakerBot. Under the terms of the acquisition, current CEO of Other Machine Co, Dr. Danielle Applestone, will remain in charge of the company.

We have a love affair with the OtherMill here at Hackaday. We have a few of them kicking around the Design Lab, and they’re great. Six mil traces are possible, and the OtherMill is a very reliable machine. We’ve taken a look at the OtherMill manufacturing process and liked what we saw, and we’ve invited [Danielle Applestone] to talk about the quest for the highest precision per dollar.

Of course, the newsworthy item for this, ‘rich guy buys a company’ story is who acquired the company. [Pettis] is most famous for being one-third of the original MakerBot team, a position that netted him about $130 Million after Stratasys acquired MakerBot. Stratasys’ acquisition of MakerBot has made a lot of people angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move. The history of MakerBot is not written yet, but the general consensus is that [Pettis] only played a very limited role in the downfall of MakerBot and desktop 3D printing as a whole.

Since leaving MakerBot for greener pastures, [Pettis] has put his money to work; he’s also an investor in the laser cutter startup Glowforge. While Glowforge has seen its share of troubles including a ridiculous policy on field-replaceable laser tubes, and perpetual delays for production units, Glowforge will be shipping soon. It’s unclear how the Glowforge will ultimately be received. But [Pettis’] continues to put his money where his mouth is (and into hardware startups) with this acquisition of Other Machine Co..

The Textile Bench

What’s on your bench? Mine’s mostly filled with electronic test equipment, soldering kit, and computers. I’m an electronic engineer by trade when I’m not writing for Hackaday, so that’s hardly surprising. Perhaps yours is like mine, or maybe you’ve added a 3D printer to the mix, a bunch of woodworking tools, or maybe power tools.

So that’s my bench. But is it my only bench? On the other side of the room from the electronics bench is a sturdy folding dining table that houses the tools and supplies of my other bench. I’m probably not alone in having more than one bench for different activities, indeed like many of you I also have a messy bench elsewhere for dismantling parts of 1960s cars, or making clay ovens.

My textile bench, with a selection of the equipment used on it.
My textile bench, with a selection of the equipment used on it.

The other bench in question though is not for messy work, in fact the diametric opposite. This is my textile bench, and it houses the various sewing machines and other equipment that allow me to tackle all sorts of projects involving fabric. On it I’ve made, modified, and repaired all sorts of clothing, I’ve made not-very-successful kites, passable sandals, and adventurous tent designs among countless other projects.

Some of you might wonder why my textile bench is Hackaday fodder, after all it’s probably safe to assume that few readers have ever considered fabricating their own taffeta ball gown. But to concentrate only on one aspect of textile work misses the point, because the potential is there for so much cross-over between these different threads of the maker world. So I’m going to take you through my textile bench and introduce you to its main tools. With luck this will demystify some of them, and maybe encourage you to have a go.

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Custom Workstation Makes Plasma Cutting a Breeze

A plasma cutter is probably top of every metalworker’s short list of dream tools. From freehand curves to long straight cuts, nothing beats a plasma cutter for getting the creative juices flowing. Unfortunately, there’s also the jet of superheated metal blasting through the workpiece to deal with, which is the reason behind this shop-built plasma cutting workstation.

[Regalzack] looks like he had a couple of design goals in mind for his table. A solid work surface isn’t a great idea for plasma cutting, so he designed the top as a grid of replaceable steel slats. Underneath is a hopper to collect the slag, both for neatness and for fire safety. The table top and hopper live on a custom-built wheeled steel frame, and the lower shelf provides plenty of room for his Lincoln 375 plasma rig. With hooks for cables and a sturdy ground clamp tab, the whole thing is a nicely self-contained workstation. The video below shows the build and some of the fabrication techniques [Regalzack] used; we were especially taken by the clever way he cut the slots for the table slats.

Plasma is versatile stuff – you can use it to make music, cook a burger, or decorate wood. And it’s not too shabby for notching metal tubing either.

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Blacksmith’s Junkyard Power Hammer Packs a Punch

Any way you look at it, blacksmithing is a punishing trade. Heavy tools, a red-hot forge, flying sparks, and searing metal all exact a toll on the smith’s body unless precautions are taken. After proper safety equipment and good training, a blacksmith may want to invest is power hammer to replace at least some of the heavy hammer work needed to shape hot metal.

Power hammers aren’t cheap, though, which is why [70kirkster] built one from an old engine block. You’ve got to admire the junkyard feel of this thing; it’s almost nothing but scrap. The engine block is a straight-6 from an old Ford pickup stripped of everything but the crankshaft and one piston. An electric motor spins the crankshaft and moves the hammer against the anvil through connecting rods and a trip arm fashioned from a trailer leaf spring. Everything looks super solid and the hammer hits hard; the videos below tell the tale of the build and show the hammer in action. Not bad for $100 out-of-pocket.

Blacksmithing is one of those dark arts that really deserves to have more adherents. The barriers to entry can be high, but the rewards are great. Looking to get started on the cheap? Then check out [Bil Herd]’s guide to hacking together a backyard smithy.

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Doubling The Capacity of Power Tool Batteries

YouTube User [Vuaeco] has come up with a novel idea, combining power tool battery packs to double the capacity.

Starting off with two slimline 2.0Ah compact battery packs, [Vuaeco] wanted a larger 4.0Ah rebuilt drill battery pack. These battery packs are different in size so it wasn’t just a case of adding in more cells in empty slots, instead he goes on to show us how to connect the batteries in parallel using some thin nickel strips. Once completed he modifies the battery casing so it fits another stack of batteries. He does this by bolting the top and bottom together with long screws, and insulating the otherwise exposed battery terminals with insulating tape. The final product isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as a real battery pack, but it looks good enough.

There are a few things we might have done differently, for instance providing some hard plastic around the insulation so should the battery get knocked in an awkward position it would still have a hard shell protecting it. Also, instead of combining the batteries together fully charged as the video suggests, we might have done the opposite approach and fully drained them, avoiding unnecessary risks. If you try this, how about giving it a 3D printed case?

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