Tour de Force Battery Hacking

Lithium-Ion batteries are finicky little beasts. They can’t be overcharged, overdischarged, overheated, or even looked at funny without bursting into flames. Inside any laptop battery pack, a battery charge controller keeps watch over all the little cells, and prevents them from getting damaged.

Of course, any “smart” device will sometimes make the wrong choices, and then it’s up to us to dig inside its brains and fix it. When [Viktor] got a perfectly good battery pack with a controller that refused to charge the batteries, he started off on what would become an epic journey into battery controllers, and the result is not just a fixed battery, but a controller-reprogramming tool, software, and three reversed controller chips so far.

devbBattery controller chips speak SMBus, and [Viktor] started out by building a USB-SMBus tool. It’s a clever use of a cheap eBay development board for a Cypress CY7C68013A USB microcontroller. Flashed with [Viktor]’s firmware and running his software on the host computer, a SMBus scan is child’s play.

The rest of the story is good old-fashioned hacking: looking for datasheets, reading industry powerpoints, taking wild guesses, googling for passwords, and toggling the no-connect pins while booting the controllers up. We’re not going to argue with results: the bq8030, R2J240, and M37512 controllers have all given up their secrets, and tools to program them have been integrated into [Viktor]’s SMBusb tool.

In short, this is one of the nicest hard-core hacks we’ve seen in a while. Kudos [Viktor]! And thanks for the SMBus tool.

Mini Plasma Cutter

What do you get when you combine an arc cigarette lighter and some scrap glass and metal? [NightHawkInLight] created a simple plasma cutter project along with some hot glue and a few simple tools.

If you aren’t a smoker, an arc lighter uses a high voltage spark to light the cigarette. He essentially cannibalizes it for use as a power supply. Any similar high-voltage power supply should work just as well. He also uses the same cigarette lighter power supply for an arc pen, that we covered earlier.

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Likely Everything You Need To Know Before Adopting A Drill Press

Oh sure, the thought of owning a happy whirring drill press of your very own is exciting, but have you really thought about it? It’s a big responsibility to welcome any tool into the home, even seemingly simple ones like a drill press. Lubricants, spindle runout, chuck mounts, tramming, and more [Quinn Dunki], of no small fame, helps us understand what it needs for happy intergration into its new workshop.

[Quin] covers her own drill press adventure from the first moments it was borne into her garage from the back of a truck to its final installation. She chose one of the affordable models from Grizzly, a Washington based company that does minimal cursory quality control on import machinery before passing on the cost to the consumer.

The first step after inspection and unpacking was to remove all the mysterious lubricants and protectants from the mill and replace them with quality alternatives. After the press is set-up she covers some problems that may be experience and their workarounds. For example, the Morse taper on the chuck had a few rough spots resulting in an incomplete fit. The chuck would work itself loose during heavier drilling operations. She works through the discovery and repair of this defect.

Full of useful tips like tramming the drill press and recommended maintenance, this is one of the best guides on this workshop staple that we’ve read.

 

How To Make Your Weller Wireless

On occasion I have encountered portable soldering irons and my impressions of them have ranged from nearly usable to total rubbish. While using a popular butane powered model and pondering if it was really any better than a copper wire and a candle a thought occurred to me. A regular old Weller station runs on 24 volts AC and performs all of its temperature regulation in a magnetically activated thermostatic fashion and all of that goodness occurs within the hand piece itself. It stood to reason that it could perform just as well with a DC source.

In this instance we are ignoring the negative effects of switching DC current over AC current on mechanical contacts. After all we are “In the Trenches” wherever we might have need for such a device. Using a couple of gel cell 12 volt 7 amp hour batteries freshly removed from a UPS I strung them up, and there you have it, a totally battery operated  iron with performance equal to that of the one at my bench.

Connecting SMPS to the Weller Iron
Connecting Power to the Weller Iron

Right at 24 volts the iron Thermocycles at the same rate as it would be while using the bench top supply for it. Just sitting under no load it cycles about every ten seconds and there was no perceptible difference in heat capacity or performance. A fully charged pair of batteries will last all day. The on state current draw from a full charge (13.5 volts on each of the batteries) yielded about a 2 amp draw. As the voltage began to decrease the current off cycle would get shorter as one would expect, but no drop in heat transfer was noticed until the batteries were well depleted and that took most of a work day.

For this instance I used the hand piece from the venerable Weller WTCPT station. For ongoing use I would not recommend this due to the use of a mechanical contact within the unit and switching of DC can reduced the life of most mechanical switches. Currently I am awaiting the arrival of some cheap eBay Hakko handpieces; I am sure they are knockoffs, but fine to experiment with a simple PWM with a feedback loop controller as the basic Hakko design also utilizes a 24 volt source. An automatic shut off timer would also be handy to avoid premature battery abuse due to a forgetful operator.

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Internet Of Things Woodworking

Woodworking is the fine art of building jigs. Even though we have Internet-connected toasters, thermostats, cars, and coffee makers, the Internet of Things hasn’t really appeared in the woodshop quite yet. That’s changing, though, and [Ben Brandt]’s Internet of Things box joint jig shows off exactly what cheap computers with a connection to the Internet can do. He’s fully automated the process of making box joints, all with the help of a stepper motor and a Raspberry Pi.

[Ben]’s electronic box joint jig is heavily inspired by [Matthias Wandel]’s fantastic screw advance box joint jig. [Matthias]’ build, which has become one of the ‘must build’ jigs in the modern woodshop, uses wooden gears to advance the carriage and stock across the kerf of a saw blade. It works fantastically, but to use this manual version correctly, you need to do a bit of math before hand, and in the worst-case scenario, cut another gear on the bandsaw.

[Ben]’s electronic box joint jig doesn’t use gears to move a piece of stock along a threaded rod. Stepper motors are cheap, after all, and with a Raspberry Pi, a stepper motor driver, a couple of limit switches, and a few LEDs, [Ben] built an Internet-enabled box joint jig that’s able to create perfect joints.

The build uses a Raspberry Pi 3 and Windows IoT Core to serve up a web page where different box joint profiles are stored. By lining the workpiece up with the blade and pressing start, this electronic box joint jig automatically advances the carriage to the next required cut. All [Ben] needs to do is watch the red and green LEDs and push the sled back and forth.

You can check out [Ben]’s video below. Thanks [Michael] for the tip.

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The Most Traveled Security Screwdriver, A Hacker’s Tale

Nespresso is a variant of disposable single serve coffee pods with an extensive, expensive, and proprietary accessory line. After selling inconvenient bits of his soul for convenience and, admittedly, fairly tasty shots of coffee, [Chriss Lott] was predictably betrayed by his Nespresso Jura coffee machine. 

Rather than simply exchange more local currency for a replacement revenue guarantee for the Nestle conglomerate, he did what any self-respecting hacker would do and tried to fix it himself. Unfortunately he quickly found their cunningly oval shaped security screws to be more trouble than his time was worth. He listed his remaining coffee pods for free on craigslist and decided to toss the machine in the planned obsolescence receptacle which comes standard in any civilized home.

This is where our story would end were it not for the kindness of a fellow hacker. [Dave H] was browsing through craigslist when he spotted the sad tale. However, possessing a different skillset from [Chris], [Dave] had solved the particular oval shaped conundrum with a security screwdriver hand made from an old bolt. He answered his fellow hacker’s vaguely ardent plea and mailed the converted bolt over to [Chris]’s house.

With the proper tool in hand, [Chris] quickly discovered that all that was standing between him and his convenient coffee was a bit of schmoo between the cost cutting membrane switch and its mating pad on the circuit board. With the practically free repair complete, the machine happily vibrated back to life and produced coffee as if its planned obsolescence wasn’t for another few years. We assume a Nestle engineer was thrown into the pit on principle for this loss (they, of course, are evil enough to have a pit).

We’re not sure how the story proliferated through the internet, but we do know that it was inspirational to many convenient caffeine deprived hackers with similar problems. [Chris] found himself the hub in a network of circumnavigating security screw circumventing hackers.

[Dave]’s hacked bolt was the first to go on an adventure resulting in the repair of many machines before the postmen lost it under a cart, standard procedure. A replacement was purchased from an eBay seller for a hefty $40 american dollars and took up the journey where it left off. Others sent in guides on making the tool for those unwilling to wait for one to be shipped. In fact, even the maker of the $40 dollar tool weighed in on the issue. Apparently he was unaware that the consumer and commercial Nespresso machines used the same tools. A hacker himself, he ran a listing of the custom tool at a quarter of the price for the home repairman and another for the commercial appliance at the higher price.

The whole page is an entertaining read, for a certain kind of person, about appliance repair, reverse engineering, and camaraderie. Happily, the hub is still alive. If you find yourself with an oval screw which needs turning, get in touch with [Chris] and a strange community’s kindness will have a nomadic security bit crossing nations your way soon.

Stop Buying Expensive Circular Saw Blades, Use Paper Instead

[John Heisz] was contemplating the secrets of the universe when an errant thought led him to wonder, could I use a sheet of paper as the blade in my table saw?

He takes a sheet of regular printer paper, draws a circle on it the same diameter as his regular blades, and cuts it out. He then bolts it into place on the spindle, slots in the table saw insert for really really thin kerf blades, and fires it up.

The blade is surprisingly dangerous. One would maybe expect a paper blade to be minimally damaging to a finger at best, but it quickly shows itself to be capable of tearing through paper and cutting through wood at a reasonable clip. Since the paper is minimally conductive, a SawStop couldn’t save someone from a lack of caution.

The blade finally meets its match half way through a half-inch thick piece of wood scrap. Wood and paper dust explode outward as the experiment ends. Video after the break.

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