It’s Time to Finally Figure Out How to Use KiCAD

KiCAD has been making leaps and bounds recently, especially since CERN is using it almost exclusively. However, while many things are the same, just enough of them are different from our regular CAD packages that it’s hard to get started in the new suite.

[Chris Gammell] runs Contextual Electronics, an online apprenticeship program which goes from concept to assembled electronics covering everything in between. To take the course you pay a nominal fee, but [Chris] posted a very excellent ten-part video series made during the last run of classes which you can watch without charge. The videos go through the basics of KiCAD while hitting the major points to consider when designing and manufacturing your electronics.

The project [Chris] chose is a simple circuit that blinks an LED with a 555. The first videos cover navigating KiCAD’s component schematic editor and library system. Next comes creating circuit schematics and component footprint creation. [Chris] covers PCB layout, the generation of Gerber files, and finally ordering the design from OSH Park — the purveyors of purple boards we’ve come to know and love. The series finishes up with simulating the circuit in LTSpice, ordering the parts, and finally soldering and debugging of the board. If all goes correctly you should now have a single blinking LED.

If the bright summer sun is burning your delicate skin, and you’d rather be locked inside with solder fumes, add this to your watch list now!

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Hacklet 110 – Optical Microscopy Projects

Humans have always wanted to make small things bigger. To see that which is unseen with the naked eye. The inventor of the original microscope happened sometime in the 1600’s, though the inventor is still contested. Some say it was Cornelis Drebbel, while others say Hans Lippershey. Galileo Galilei’s compound microscope is probably the most well-known ancient magnifier. Regardless of who created the device, hackers, makers, engineers, and scientists have used microscopes to study mysteries of biology, geology, electronics, and just about anything else you can imagine.

This is a fitting topic for this week’s Hacklet at is aligns well with the Citizen Scientist challenge round of the Hackaday Prize which began on Monday. Making quality microscopes more widely available is one of many great starting ideas for an entry. Let’s take a look at some of the best microscopy projects on Hackaday.io!

scope1We start with [J. Kha] and Armed Microscope. [J. Kha] was one of the backers of the original uArm over at Kickstarter. He also does quite a bit of work with electronics. After fighting with a cheap USB microscope, he realized he had the perfect platform to control it. Microscopes usually are stationary, with the object being viewed moved on a stage. [J. Kha] turned things upside down by mounting the microscope on his uArm. An Arduino Yun controls the system. The Yun also allows him to stream the microscope’s video over the internet using the mjpg-streamer library. [J. Kha] did have some power issues at first, but he’s got his regulators all sorted out now.

scope2Next we have [andyhull] with Adding a light touch to a “classic” microscope. A lucky dumpster find netted [Andy] a pile of old broken microscopes. From this he was able to build a working classic stereo scope. This was a Gillet & Sibert stereo compound scope. Like most microscopes of its time, the old GS used standard incandescent or halogen lights for illumination. The old bulbs were long gone, and would have been a pain to replace. [Andy] switched his scope over to LED illumination. He ended up using a commercially available LED “bulb” designed to replace type 1157 automotive tail light bulbs. This type of LED is designed to run on 12 volt power which simplifies the wiring. The small LED flashlight in a custom mount also provides a bit of help for opaque subjects.

scope3Next up is [Andre Maia Chagas] with Flypi – cheap microscope/experimental setup. Flypi is [Andre’s] entry in the 2106 Hackaday Prize. Flypi is more than just a microscope, it’s a 3D printed data collection and image analysis device for hackers and scientists alike. A Raspberry Pi 2 or 3 controls the show. Images come in through Pi Camera with an M12 lens. The Pi runs some open source Python code allowing it to acquire and analyze images. It also has an Arduino as a co-processor to handle anything a particular experiment may need – like RGB LEDs, heaters, manipulators, you name it. Andre sees Flypi as having uses in everything from fluorescence imaging to optogenetics and thermogenetics.

scope5Finally we have [Jarred Heinrich] with Stagmo: Microscope Stage Automator. Positioning samples under high magnification requires a steady hand. Trying to image them makes things even harder. To help with this, microscopes have stages. Fine lead screws manually controlled by knobs allow the user to precisely position any subject. Automated stages are available as well, but they can get quite expensive. [Jarred] recognized that the microscope stage is an X-Y platform like any CNC, laser, or 3D printer. He used an Arduino and a motor shield to control a couple of stepper motors. The motors are coupled to the stage knobs with rubber belts. While the mounting system looks a little wobbly, but it got the job done, and didn’t require any modifications to the microscope itself.

Optical microscopes are just one type of scope you’ll find on Hackaday.io. There are also atomic force microscopes, scanning electron microscopes, and more! I’ll cover those on a future Hacklet. If you want to see more awesome optical microscopy projects, check out our new optical microscope projects list! If I missed your project, don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Fixing a Broken Bandsaw with a Custom Steel Part

When a large bandsaw broke down due to a cast iron part snapping in two, [Amr] took the opportunity to record the entire process of designing and creating a solid steel replacement for the broken part using a (non-CNC) mill and lathe.

For those of us unfamiliar with the process a machinist would go through to accomplish such a thing, the video is extremely educational; it can be sobering both to see how much design work happens before anything gets powered up, and just how much time and work goes into cutting and shaping some steel into what at first glance looks like a relatively uncomplicated part.

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Tools of the Trade – Reflow

In our previous issues in this series on making circuit boards, we covered placing solder paste and placing components. Now it’s time to bake our cake!

There are a variety of methods for reflowing a circuit board, but they all rely on a single principle: heat up the solder paste (a mixture of flux and solder) until the flux burns off and the solder becomes liquid, and then cool it down. Accomplishing this once or twice is easy; once you’ve played with a hot plate you’ll swear off through hole. Scaling it up and doing it repeatedly with high yield is extremely challenging, though. Continue reading “Tools of the Trade – Reflow”

Long-Term Review: Weller Magnastat Soldering Iron

One of the things you find yourself doing as a young engineer is equipping yourself with the tools of your trade. These will be the foundations upon which your career is built in a way that a diploma or degree certificate will never be, for the best degree in the world is less useful if the quality of your tools renders you unable to capitalise upon it. You may be lucky enough to make some of them yourself, but others you’ll lust after as unaffordable, then eventually put the boat out a little to buy at the limit of your meager income.

Your bench may have a few of these lifetime tools. They could be something as simple as screwdrivers or you may have one of those indestructible multimeters, but in my case my lifetime tool is my soldering iron. At some time in 1992 I spent about £60($173 back then), a lot of money for a student, on a mains-powered Weller Magnastat. The World Wide Web was still fairly fresh from Tim Berners-Lee’s NeXT in those days, so this meant a trip to my university’s RS trade counter and a moment poring over a telephone-book-sized catalogue before filling in an order slip.

The Magnastat is a simple but very effective fixed-temperature-controlled iron. The tip has a magnet on its rear end which holds closed a power switch for the heating element. When the tip has heated to the Curie temperature of the magnet, it loses its magnetism and the switch opens. The temperature falls to below the Curie temperature and the magnetism returns, the switch closes, the tip warms up again, and the cycle repeats itself. The temperature of the tip is thus dictated by the magnet’s Curie temperature, and Weller provides a range of tips fitted with magnets for different temperatures.

The result is an iron with enough power to solder heat-sucking jobs that would leave lesser irons gasping for juice, while also having the delicacy to solder tiny surface-mount components without destroying them or lifting tracks. It’s not a particularly small or lightweight iron if you are used to the featherlight pencil irons from today’s soldering stations, but neither is it too large or heavy to be unwieldy. In the nearly quarter century I have owned my Magnastat it has had a hand in almost everything I have made, from hi-fi and tube amplifiers through radio transmitters, stripline filters, kits, and too many repairs to mention. It has even been pressed into service plastic-welding a damaged motorcycle fairing. It has truly been a lifetime tool.

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DIY Jigsaw Table Makes Cutting Wood Even Easier

Power tools are fantastic. They make short work of whatever you throw at them, but compared to their big brothers (i.e. full size powered tools you can’t move), they’re less accurate, and difficult for precision work. Then there’s the hybrid tools — power tools you can mount in stands or bases to get better control of your work piece. Some are designed for this, some aren’t. But sometimes, making your own stand for a power tool can be pretty darn easy.

[Yonatan] needed a bandsaw for one of his projects, and not being overly confident in his jigsaw skills (the tool he did possess), he decided to upgrade it, by building a jigsaw table. Still not quite a bandsaw, but almost. Continue reading “DIY Jigsaw Table Makes Cutting Wood Even Easier”

Field Expedient Bandsaw Mill Deals with Leftover Logs

When a questionable tree threatened his house, [John Heisz] did the sensible thing and called in a professional to bring it down. But with a flair for homebrew tools, [John] followed up with a seemingly non-sensible act and built a quick and dirty DIY bandsaw mill to turn the resulting pile of maple logs into usable lumber.

A proper bandsaw mill is an expensive tool. Prices start in the mid-four figures for a stripped down version and can easily head into the multiple tens of thousands for the serious mills. [John] makes it clear that his mill is purpose-built to deal with his leftover logs, and so he made no attempt at essentials like a way to index the blade vertically. His intention was to shim the logs up an inch after each cut, or trim the legs to move the blade down. He also acknowledges that the 2-HP electric motor is too anemic for the hard maple logs – you can clearly see the blade bogging down in the video below. But the important point here is that [John] was able to hack a quick tool together to deal with an issue, and in the process he learned a lot about the limitations of his design and his choice of materials. That’s not to say that wood is never the right choice for tooling – get a load of all the shop-built tools and jigs in his build videos. A wooden vise? We’d like to see the build log on that.

We’ve featured a surprising number of wooden bandsaws before, from benchtop to full size. We’re pretty sure this is the first one purpose built to mill logs that we’ve featured, although there is this chainsaw mill that looks pretty handy too.

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