Free Routing for gEDA

If you lay out PC boards using software, it is a good bet you have an opinion about autorouters. Some people won’t use a package that can’t automatically route traces. Others won’t accept a machine layout when they can do their own by hand. You can, of course, combine the two, and many designers do.

The open source gEDA PCB package (and pcb-md) have an autorouter, but it is pretty simplistic. [VK5HSE] shows how you can use a few tools to interface with the Java Freerouting application, to get a better result. For example, the original router made square corners, while the Freerouting application will create angles and arcs, if configured properly.

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DIY Wire Spooler with Clever Auto-Tensioning System

[Solarbotics] have shared a video of their DIY wire spooler that uses OpenBeam hardware plus some 3D printed parts to flawlessly spool wire regardless of spool size mismatches. Getting wire from one spool to another can be trickier than it sounds, especially when one spool is physically larger than the other. This is because consistently moving wire between different sizes of spools requires that they turn at different rates. On top of that, the ideal rate changes as one spool is emptying and the other gets larger. The wire must be kept taut when moving from one spool to the next; any slack is asking for winding problems. At the same time, the wire shouldn’t be so taut as to put unnecessary stress on it or the motor on the other end.

There aren’t any build details but the video embedded below gives a good overview and understanding of the whole system. In the center is a tension bar with pulleys on both ends though which the wire feeds. This bar pivots at the center and takes up slack while its position is encoded by turning a pot via a 3D printed gear. Both spools are motor driven and the speed of the source spool is controlled by the position of the tension bar. As a result, the bar automatically takes up any slack while dynamically slowing or speeding the feed rate to match whatever is needed.

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Home-made Soldering Station For $15

A proper soldering iron is one of the fundamental tools that a good hacker needs. Preferably one that has a temperature control so it can handle different types of solder and connectors.

Decent soldering stations aren’t cheap, but [Code and Solder] show you how to make one for about $15 in parts. This uses a cheap non-temperature-controlled USB soldering iron, an Arduino and a few other bits that they got from AliExpress. The plan is to add a thermocouple to the soldering iron, and let the Arduino control the temperature. A rotary dial and LCD screen control the set-point, and the Arduino switches the feed to the heating element on and off through the FET.

It’s not the cleanest build in the world, and these USB soldering irons aren’t suitable for large joints or long soldering jobs, but it’s a neat little hack for the builder on a budget. We’ve seen teardowns of these rather neat little USB soldering irons before, but this is an interesting way to expand its capabilities.

 

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DIY Roll Bender Keeps it Simple and Sturdy

If you’ve ever tried to bend a metal pipe or bar over your knee, you’ll know that even lightweight stock requires quite a bit of force. And the force needs to be properly directed, lest the smooth bend you seek become a kink or a crease. When your hands and knees no longer fill the bill, try [MakeItExtreme]’s sturdy and simple roll bender.

As we watched the video below, we had a little déjà vu — hadn’t the [MakeItExtreme] crew built a roll bender for their shop before? Turns out they had, but in reviewing that video, we can see why they gave it a second shot. This build is a model of simplicity compared to the previous. With a frame fabricated from just a few pieces of steel I-beam, this version is far more approachable than its big brother and just about as capable. The three forming rollers ride in stout pillow blocks and can be repositioned for different bending radii. A 2-ton hydraulic bottle jack provides the force needed to direct the stock through the rollers, which are manually powered. In a nice touch, the incomplete tool was used to create the rim of the large-diameter handwheel for the drive roller.

The tools keep piling up at [MakeItExtreme]’s open air workshop — we even get a glimpse of their heavy-lift electromagnet that we recently featured. As always, we love the fit and finish on these builds, and watching the time-lapse videos is like a condensed class in metalworking.

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$2700 eBay Bet Pays off for this 14 GHz Spectrum Analyzer Repair

The eBay addiction starts small. One night you’re buying $3 buck-boost converters and cheap Chinese USB power packs. The next thing you know you’re spending thousands on dead instruments with no documentation. You’ve got the skills though, and if your bet that you can diagnose and repair a 14 GHz real-time spectrum analyzer is right, you’ll be putting a snazzy instrument on the bench for a fraction of the original $50,000 it cost.

Make some popcorn and get cozy before settling in to watch [Shahriar]’s video below, because it clocks in at just over an hour. But it’s pretty entertaining, and just seeing how Tektronix built the RSA 6114A spectrum analyzer is worth the time. Things are different when you’re piping microwave signals around the chassis of a beast such a this, the interior of which is densely packed with pluggable modules. Tek factory service would no doubt perform a simple module swap to get this machine running again, but [Shahriar] wasn’t having any of that on his $2,700 eBay find. After isolating the problem to the local-oscillator generator module, [Shahriar] takes us on a tour of where the signals go and what they do. We won’t reveal the eventual culprit, but suffice it to say that after a little SMD rework, [Shahriar] has a very fancy new instrument for the shop.

If this repair gives you the itch to get working on microwave circuits, maybe it’s time to build that backyard synthetic aperture radar set you’ve always wanted.

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Bandsaw Tension Gauge Uses Raspberry Pi And Load Cell

No matter what material you’re cutting, getting the blade tension right is one of the keys to quality cuts on the bandsaw. Unfortunately, most bandsaws come with only a rudimentary tension gauge, and while there are plenty of tricks for measuring blade tension indirectly, nothing beats a digital blade tension gauge for repeatable results.

Despite being an aftermarket accessory for his beefy Hitachi CB-75F bandsaw, [Stephen B. Kirby]’s Pi-based tension guide looks like an OEM product. Housed in a sturdy case and sporting a sealed membrane keypad and four-line LCD display, the interface electronics are pretty straightforward. The tricky bit is sensing the amount of tension on the bandsaw blade. For that task, [Stephen] mounted a load cell in place of the original tensioning spring. A few adapters helped that job, and with a little calibration, the gauge is capable of displaying the tension by measuring the force over the cross-sectional area of the current blade.

We really like it when electronics can bring a new level of precision to old-school hardware, whether it’s a simple DRO for a manual lathe or a more accomplished build like [Stephen]’s. Sometimes adding new silicon can make old iron a little easier to use.

How To Sharpen Your Woodworking Tools On A Budget

Wood may seem like a soft, weak material if you’re used to working with steel, but to do good work, you’ll quickly learn you need your tools sharp. Buying and maintaining a good set of tools can be expensive for the home gamer, so [shopbuilt] put together an Instructable on how to sharpen your woodworking tools on a budget.

The trick is to use sandpaper. It’s a good quality abrasive material and is readily available. You’ll want a selection of different grits – low grits to get started, higher grits when finishing. The reason this is cheaper is that you can get a selection of 5-10 different sandpapers for under $20. Getting even a couple of decent sharpening stones wouldn’t be possible at that price. In the long run, they’ll last longer but this is a budget option we’re talking about.

Obviously you can’t just sharpen something with sandpaper – [shopbuilt] suggests mounting the paper to the flattest surface you can find. The use of a tempered glass panel from a fridge shelf is, in our mind, an inspired choice here. 3D printer enthusiasts have been using similar techniques for heated beds for the best part of a decade now.

We love woodworking here at Hackaday, so get your feet wet with these woodworking basics for the hardware hacker.