Magnetic Stir Plate is a Hack

If you’ve ever spent any time around a lab, you’ve doubtless seen one of those awesome combination magnetic stirrer and heater plates that scientists use to get liquids mixed and up to temperature. If you’ve ever etched your own PCBs using ammonium persulfate, you’ve experienced the need for both heating and agitation firsthand. Using a stirrer plate for PCB etching is putting two and two together and coming up with four. Which is to say, it’s a good idea that’s not amazingly novel. [acidbourbon] built his own, though, and there’s almost no part of this DIY heater/stirrer that isn’t a hack of some kind or another.

Start off with the temperature controller. Instead of buying a thermocouple or using an LM75 or similar temperature-measurement IC, [acidbourbon] uses a bog-standard 1n4148 diode. The current passed through a diode, at a given voltage, is temperature dependent, which means that adding a resistor and a microcontroller’s ADC yields a quick hacked temperature sensor. [acidbourbon] glued his straight onto the casserole that he uses as an etching tray.

Does the type of person who saves $0.25 by using a diode instead of a temperature sensor go out and buy a stirrer motor? No way. Motor and gears come from a CD-ROM drive. The “fish” — the magnetic bar that spins in the etchant — is made of neodymium magnets lengthened by shrink-wrapping heat-shrinking them together with some capacitors. Who knew that shrinkwrap heat-shrink, fused with pliers, was waterproof? Is that a wall-wart in that box, with the prongs wired to mains electricity?

Anyway, this just goes to show that etching equipment need not be expensive or fancy. And the project also provides a showcase for a bevy of tiny little hacks. And speaking of [acidbourbon]’s projects, this semi-automatic drill press mod has been on our to-do list for two years now. Shame on us! Continue reading “Magnetic Stir Plate is a Hack”

Open Source Firmware For A Cheap Programmable Power Supply

A few months ago, someone clued us in on a neat little programmable power supply from the usual Chinese retailers. The DPS5005 is a programmable power supply that takes power from a big AC to DC wall wart and turns it into a tiny bench-top power supply. You can pick one of these things up for about thirty bucks, so if you already have a sufficiently large AC to DC converter you can build a nice 250 Watt power supply on the cheap.

[Johan] picked up one of these tiny programmable power supplies. His overall impression was positive, but like so many cheap products on AliExpress, there wasn’t a whole lot of polish to the interface. Additionally, the DPS5005 lacked the ability to be controlled over a serial port or WiFi.

This programmable power supply is built around an STM32, with the programming pads exposed and labeled on the PCB. The changes [Johan] wanted to make were all in software, leading him to develop OpenDPS, a firmware replacement for the DPS5005. Continue reading “Open Source Firmware For A Cheap Programmable Power Supply”

Punching it Down: Insulation Displacement Connectors

In my misspent youth I found myself doing clinical rotations at a local hospital. My fellow students and I were the lowest of the low on the hospital pecking order, being the ones doing the bulk of the work in the department and paying for the privilege to do so. As such, our locker facilities were somewhat subpar: a corner of a closet behind a door labeled “COMMS”.

In the room was a broken chair and a couple of hooks on the wall for our coats, along with an intriguing (to me) electrical panel. It had a series of rectangular blocks with pins projecting from it. Each block had a thick cable with many pairs of thin, colorful wires fanned out and neatly connected to the left side, and a rats nest of blue and white wires along the right side. We were told not to touch the board. I touched it nonetheless.

I would later learn that these were Type 66 punchdown blocks for the department’s phone system, and I’d end up using quite a few of them over my hacking life. Punchdown connectors were a staple of both private and public telco physical plants for decades, and belong to a class of electrical connections called insulation displacement connections, or IDC. We’ve recently looked at how crimp connections work, and what exactly is going on inside a solder joint. I thought it might be nice to round things out with a little bit about the workings of IDC.

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Bulking up a Lightweight Lathe with a Concrete Cart

When it comes to machine tools, a good rule of thumb is that heavier is better. A big South Bend lathe or Bridgeport mill might tip the scales at ludicrous weight, but all that mass goes to damping vibration and improving performance. So you’d figure a lathe made of soda cans could use all the help it could get; this cast concrete machine cart ought to fit the bill nicely

Perhaps you’ve caught our recent coverage of [Makercise]’s long and detailed vlog of his Gingery lathe build. If not, you might want to watch the 5-minute condensed video of the build, which shows the entire process from melting down scrap aluminum for castings to first chips. We love the build and the videos, but the lightweight lathe on that wooden bench never really worked for us, or for [Makercise], who notes that he was never able to crank the lathe up to full speed because of the vibrations. The cart attempts to fix that problem the old fashioned way – more mass.

There are a few “measure twice, cut once” moments in the video below, as well as a high pucker-factor slab lift that could have turned into a real disaster. We might have opted for a countertop-grade concrete mix that could be dyed and polished, but that would be just for looks. When all is said and done, the cart does exactly what it was built to do, and there’s even room on it for the shaper that’s next on the build list. We’re looking forward to that.

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Beefy 100 Amp Electronic Load uses Two MOSFETs

[Kerry Wong] had some extreme MOSFETs (IXTK90N25L2) and decided to create a high current electronic load. The result was a two-channel beast that can handle 50 A per channel. Together, they can sink 400 W and can handle a peak of 1 kW for brief periods. You can see a demo in the video below.

An electronic load is essentially a load resistor you can connect to a source and the resistance is set by an input voltage. So if the load is set to 10 A and you connect it to a 12 V source, the MOSFET should look like a 1.2 ohm resistor. Keep in mind that’s 120 watts–more power than a common incandescent light bulb. So you are going to need to carry some heat away.

The circuit is pretty simple. The FETs accept a voltage on their gates that sets them to look effectively like a resistor that varies with the voltage. A very small source resistor develops a voltage based on current (only 75 mV for a 50 A draw). That voltage feeds a comparator which generates the gate voltage after looking at the input control voltage. Each millivolt into the comparator translates to an additional 1.33 A through the load.

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Ask Hackaday: What’s Your Etchant?

Although the typical cliché for a mad scientist usually involves Bunsen burners, beakers, and retorts, most of us (with some exceptions, of course) aren’t really chemists. However, there are some electronic endeavors that require a bit of knowledge about chemistry or related fields like metallurgy. No place is this more apparent than producing your own PCBs. Unless you use a mill, you are probably using a chemical bath of some sort to strip copper from your boards.

The standard go-to solution is ferric chloride. It isn’t too tricky to use, but it does work better hot and with aeration, although neither are absolutely necessary. However, it does tend to stain just about everything it touches. In liquid form, it is more expensive to ship, although you can get it in dry form. Another common etchant is ammonium or sodium persulphate.

pcbyThere’s also a variety of homemade etchants using things like muriatic acid and vinegar. Most of these use peroxide as an oxidizer. There’s lots of information about things like this on the Internet. However, like everything on the Internet, you can find good information and bad information.

When [w_k_fay] ran out of PCB etchant, he decided to make his own to replace it. He complained that he found a lot of vague and conflicting information on the Internet.  He read that the vinegar solution was too slow and the cupric acid needs a heated tank, a way to oxygenate the solution, and strict pH controls. However, he did have successful experiments with the hydrochloric acid and peroxide. He also used the same materials (along with some others) to make ferric chloride successfully.

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DIY Syringe Pump Saves Big Bucks for Hacker’s Lab

If you had a choice between going to your boss and asking for funds for a new piece of gear, would you rather ask for $3000 to buy off-the-shelf, or $200 for the parts to build the same thing yourself? Any self-respecting hacker knows the answer, and when presented with an opportunity to equip his lab with a new DIY syringe pump for $200, [Dr. D-Flo] rose to the challenge.

The first stop for [Dr. D-Flo] was, naturally,, which is where he found [Naroom]’s syringe pump project. It was a good match for his budget and his specs, but he needed to modify some of the 3D printed parts a little to fit the larger syringes he intended to use. The base is aluminum extrusion, the drive train is a stepper motor spinning threaded rod and a captive nut in the plunger holders, and an Arduino and motor shield control everything. The drive train will obviously suffer from a fair amount of backlash, but this pump isn’t meant for precise dispensing so it shouldn’t matter. We’d worry a little more about the robustness of the printed parts over time and their compatibility with common lab solvents, but overall this was a great build that [Dr. D-Flo] intends to use in a 3D food printer. We look forward to seeing that one.

It’s getting so that that you can build almost anything for the lab these days, from peristaltic pumps to centrifuges. It has to be hard to concentrate on your science when there’s so much gear to make.

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