This Method of Gluing onto Curves Sucks!

Sometimes the right tool for a job can be unusual, and this sucked only in the sense that vacuum sealing was involved. Recently [Martin Raynsford] found himself in a situation of needing to glue a wood veneer onto a curved surface, but faced a shortage of clamps. His clever solution was to vacuum-seal the whole thing and let the contour-hugging plastic bag take care of putting even pressure across the entire glued surface. After the glue had set enough to grip the materials securely, the bag was removed to let the whole thing dry completely. Gluing onto a curved surface has never been so clamp-free.

The curved piece in question was made from dozens of layers of laser-cut plywood, stacked and glued to make the curved lid of a custom-built chest. It might have been just the right shape, but it wasn’t much to look at. As you can see, giving it a wood veneer improved the appearance considerably. Wood veneers are attractive and versatile; we’ve seen for example that LEDs will shine through wood veneer quite easily.

Simple Shop-made Taps for Threading Wood

Wood can be the material of choice for many kinds of projects, but it often falls out of the running in favor of metal or plastic if it needs to take a threaded fastener. But with a little ingenuity you can make your own wood taps and cut threads that will perform great.

Making wood do things that wood isn’t supposed to do is [Matthias Wandel]’s thing. Hackers the world over know and use his wood gears designer to lay out gears for all kinds of projects from musical marble machines to a wooden Antikythera mechanism. Woodworkers have been threading wood for centuries , so making wood take a decent thread isn’t exactly something new. But doing it on the cheap and making the threads clean and solid has always been tricky. The video after the break shows [Matthias]’ method of cutting a tap out of an ordinary threaded rod or even off-the-shelf lag screws. He uses a simple jig to hold the blank so that flutes can be cut with an angle grinder. The taps work well in the materials he tested, and a little informal stress testing at the end of the video shows promise for long service life of the threads.

Wood threads aren’t suitable for every project, but knowing that you can do it might just open the path to a quick, easy build. This is a great tip to keep in mind.

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Review: TS100 Soldering Iron

Temperature-controlled soldering irons can be cheap, lightweight, and good. Pick any two of those attributes when you choose an iron, because you’ll never have all three. You might believe that this adage represents a cast-iron rule, no iron could possibly combine all three to make a lightweight high-performance tool that won’t break the bank! And until fairly recently you’d have had a point, but perhaps there is now a contender that could achieve that impossible feat.

The Miniware TS100 is a relatively inexpensive temperature-controlled soldering iron from China that has made a stealthy entry to the market, and which some online commentators claim to be the equal of far more expensive professional-grade irons. We parted with just below £50 (around $60) to place an order for a TS100, and waited for it to arrive so we could see what all the fuss was about.

Constituent parts of a TS100 iron.
Constituent parts of a TS100 iron.

The Goods

The iron arrived well-packaged in a smart cardboard container that was well up to the task of protecting it through international air mail. Nestled in foam were the iron handle, a single combined element and bit, and an envelope containing a short instruction leaflet and a click-seal bag with an Allen key and a spare screw to secure the bit. There was no power supply, you supply your own 12 to 24 V DC to power it.

The handle is a plastic wand containing the temperature control electronics about 100 mm (4″) long, and similar in girth to a chunky fountain pen. At its rear is a barrel socket for the DC supply alongside a micro-USB socket for firmware and configuration, on its top are a small OLED display and a couple of buttons, and at its front is a receptacle for the element unit. Meanwhile the element unit is about 105 mm (3.15″) long, with an exposed length to the end of the bit of about 70 mm (2.75″).

The assembled TS100 iron
The assembled TS100 iron

Assembling the iron is simple enough, the element slots into the receptacle and an Allen screw is tightened to hold it in place. The whole assembled unit weighs 30 g, or a shade over an ounce, and has a balance point almost at its centre.

We hadn’t ordered a power supply with our TS100, but you will doubtless be able to buy one if you don’t have one of the right power level and polarity to hand. We used a 19.5 V netbook supply which was far more than capable of delivering the 40 W the instruction leaflet claims for the iron at 19 V. Maximum power is given as 65 W when supplied with 24 V, while minimum is 17 W with 12 V.

In the hand, the iron is light and easy on the fingers. On its own it is similar in weight and feel to holding a fountain pen, and it is easy to see where comparisons with more expensive irons from the likes of Weller come from. However the iron itself is not the whole story, because your choice of power supply and in particular its lead will make a huge difference to how it feels in practice. The Weller will come fitted with an extra-flexible silicone lead probably designed to work at higher temperatures, by comparison the lead on a cheap power supply is likely to be a stiffer and cheaper affair. Our netbook supply had a right-angled plug, and though it wasn’t a nice flexible silicone cable it turned out not to be a significant burden once it was ensured to be out of range of the hot end.

The TS100 ready to use
The TS100 ready to use

Heating up, the TS100 may not be as quick as some irons, but it’s no slouch. It’s quoted as 15 seconds to 300 Celsius at 19 volts in its instruction leaflet, and our iron certainly didn’t disappoint. Setting the temperature is a simple case of using the buttons to move the temperature up and down on the OLED display, and once it remains at a particular temperature it stores that setting in its non-volatile memory.

In Test

To test the iron we assembled a little radio kit, a surface mount design intended for first-time surface mount solderers and thus using fairly substantial 1206 components and SOICs rather than SOPs or smaller integrated circuits. We found the iron perfectly easy to use, but with one caveat: the stock bit is a pencil tip, type “B2” that is fine for the larger surface mount devices but which would in our opinion probably be a little unwieldy for anything smaller than an 0805. Fortunately there is a large range of other bits of all shapes and sizes for the iron, including one with a finer point that surface-mount wizards may want to look at.

One of the features of the TS100 is that its firmware can be easily upgraded over USB, and to that end it is easy to download the latest version and install it. Simply hold down one of the buttons on live USB plug-in to enter firmware upgrade mode, and when it appears as a drive on the computer into which you’ve plugged it, copy the firmware file to the drive and it upgrades itself.

Unfortunately, in our case the curse of the firmware upgrade struck us, and after downloading and unpacking the file we were unable to make our iron accept it. We can confirm that the process failed for us on Ubuntu, Windows, and MacOS computers, so maybe it just wasn’t our lucky day. Fortunately the TS100 is not one of those devices that is easily bricked by a failed firmware upgrade, so we were simply presented with an error file rather than a dead iron. A soldering iron is in essence a hardware device not a software one, and the shipped firmware version is fine for soldering, so that’s what we’re reviewing.

It’s worth pointing out here that the TS100 firmware is billed as open-source, and that the code and schematics are available from the link above. We say billed as open-source though, because while the code is officially freely available it does not seem to be accompanied by any form of open-source licence. This may be of more concern to software libre purists than many readers, but still, it is worth mentioning.

The TS100 config file
The TS100 config file

We’re told that the latest versions of the firmware provide adjustment of the iron parameters other than temperature through a menu system on the device itself, but on our model the older firmware requires the editing of a text file that appears in a drive when you plug the iron’s USB port into a computer without holding a button down to enter firmware upgrade mode. In the file you can find settings for the different temperatures and timings, and adjust them to your taste.

The Bottom Line

After having the TS100 for a few weeks, what’s our verdict? Is it a good iron, does it give those expensive irons a run for their money, and would we recommend that you consider one?

It’s important to consider the soldering iron market as a whole when answering those questions. If you spend a four-figure sum on a soldering station, you will find yourself with an iron that is lighter than the TS100, it will have a shorter reach, a quicker warm-up time, better software control, more available bits, in fact it will beat the TS100 in every way possible. You’ll be using that soldering station hard every day for a decade, and it will still deliver the goods.

If however you spend a low three-figure sum on a soldering station from a quality manufacturer, you’ll get something closer. It’ll probably have a similar choice of bits and a nice extra-flexible silicone cable, and it will probably last longer, but in soldering terms it will be a surprisingly similar experience. Even having to spend a few more dollars on a power supply, a decent soldering station in this range will still cost you over twice as much as the TS100.

At the same price range or lower as the TS100 it’s likely that soldering stations will start to decrease in quality, be from anonymous manufacturers with no replacement bit support, and not have quite such a good user experience. Perhaps an all-in-one iron for a similar price such as the Antex TCS50 we reviewed earlier in the year is a better comparison, and at this point we start to see how the TS100 is redefining this sector. The Antex is a good iron for everyday soldering, it is the same weight as the TS100 and has the same reach. It’s mains-powered and comes with an extra-flexible silicone cable, but when you compare the irons side-by-side it becomes obvious that the Antex is being left behind. Its handle is huge by comparison, and its temperature control is limited to a very basic up/down setting with no configurability.

So if you are a high-end professional user looking for an iron to work with every day, the TS100 is probably not a choice that will displace your top-of-the-range model. But if you are a regular solderer or serious electronics hobbyist who is looking for the best bang for buck, you should definitely consider one as an alternative to a low-end soldering station. And if you are buying at the bottom of the temperature-controlled iron food chain then you should really give the TS100 a serious look. Returning to our point at the start of this review, it’s cheap, lightweight, and certainly good enough.

Meanwhile if you manufacture soldering irons, this one will probably have you worried. We look forward to seeing what the models produced to compete with it have to offer.

The Miniware TS100 soldering iron, along with associated bits and power supplies, can be found online from all the usual vendors of Chinese electronics.

Beautiful DIY Spot Welder Reminds Us We Love 3D Printing

[Jim Conner]’s DIY tab spot welder is the sweetest spot welder we’ve ever seen. And we’re not ashamed to admit that we’ve said that before.

The essence of a spot welder is nothing more than a microwave oven transformer rewound to produce low voltage and high current instead of vice-versa. Some people control the pulse-length during the weld with nothing more than their bare hands, while others feel that it’s better implemented with a 555 timer circuit. [Jim]’s version uses a NodeMCU board, which is desperately overkill, but it was on his desk at the time. His comments in GitHub about coding in Lua are all too familiar — how do arrays work again?

Using the fancier microcontroller means that he can do fancy things, like double-pulse welding and so on. He’s not even touching the WiFi features, but whatever. The OLED and rotary encoder system are sweet, but the star of the show here is the 3D printed case, complete with soft parts where [Jim]’s hand rests when he’s using the welder. It looks like he could have bought this thing.
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Customize Forstner Bits For Fidget Spinner Explosions

[Matthias Wandel] is a woodworker par excellence. He’s the guy behind all those wooden gear contraptions, he made cove molding on a table saw, and if the phrase, ‘don’t do this unless you know what you’re doing’ applies to anyone, it applies to [Matthias]. Now he’s getting into the fidget spinner craze, but there’s a problem in the workshop: [Matthias] couldn’t find the right sized drill bit, so he modified a Forstner bit to contain the heart of a spinner.

[Matthias] has a few roller skate bearings, which are 22mm in diameter. However, the closest drill to this size was 7/8″, or 22.23mm. A drill can be ground down, so the bit was chucked into a hand drill and taken over to the bench grinder. As with most things [Matthias] demonstrates, you shouldn’t do this unless you know what you’re doing. [Matthias] does.

With the bit ground down to 22mm, [Matthias] drilled a hole in a piece of wood, inserted the bearing, and completed an epic quest that was his destiny. There is no use for fidget spinners, so [Matthias] decided to make this one explode. After cutting several notches in this wooden spinner, [Matthias] applied shop air liberally and spun the spinner up until it fell apart.

You can check out the video of the fidget spinner carnage below, or check out [Matthias]’ write-up here.

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Dual Trace Scope 1939 Style

If you buy a serious scope these days, it is a good bet it will have at least two channels. There is a lot of value to being able to see two signals in relation to one another at one time. Even though the dual-trace oscilloscope goes back to 1938, they were uncommon and expensive for many years. [Mr. Carlson] found a device from 1939 that would turn a single channel scope into a dual trace scope. In 1939, that was quite the engineering feat.

Today, a dual trace scope is very likely to be digital. But some analog scopes used CRTs with multiple beams to actually draw two traces on the same screen. Most, however, would draw either one trace followed by the other (alternate mode) or rapidly switch between channels (chopper mode). This Sylvania type 104 electronic switch looks like it takes the alternate approach, switching between signals on each sweep using vacuum tubes. You can see the device in action in the video, below.

The inputs and outputs of the device are just simple binding posts, but the unit looked to be in good shape except for the power cord. [Mr. Carlson] does a teardown and he even traced out a hand-drawn schematic. Fair warning. The video is pretty long. If you want to get right to the switch actually driving a scope, that’s at about one hour and seven minutes in.

We doubt we’ll see a tube-based Quake game anytime soon. If you want to get into restoring old tube-based gear yourself, you could do worse than read about radio restoration.

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Overhead Trolley Helps Clear the Air over CNC Router

[Frank Howarth] has a shop most woodworkers would kill for, stuffed with enough tools to equip multiple hackspaces — four radial-arm saws alone! But while the CNC router in the middle of the shop, large enough to work on an entire sheet of plywood, is a gem of a machine, it was proving to be a dusty nightmare. [Frank]’s solution was as unique as his workspace — this swiveling overhead dust extraction system.

The two-part video below shows how he dealt with the dual problems of collection and removal. The former was a fairly simple brush-bristle shroud of the type we’ve featured before. The latter was a challenge in that the size of the router’s bed — currently 8′ but soon to be extended to 12′ — and the diameter of the hoses needed to move enough air made a fixed overhead feed impractical. [Frank]’s solution is an overhead trolley to support the hoses more or less vertically over the router while letting the duct swivel as the gantry moves around the work surface. There were a few pitfalls along the way, like hoses that shorten and stiffen when air flows through them, but in the end the system works great.

Chances are your shop is smaller than [Frank]’s, but you still need to control the dust. This dust collector for a more modest CNC router might help, as would this DIY cyclonic chip separator.

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