Custom Workstation Makes Plasma Cutting a Breeze

A plasma cutter is probably top of every metalworker’s short list of dream tools. From freehand curves to long straight cuts, nothing beats a plasma cutter for getting the creative juices flowing. Unfortunately, there’s also the jet of superheated metal blasting through the workpiece to deal with, which is the reason behind this shop-built plasma cutting workstation.

[Regalzack] looks like he had a couple of design goals in mind for his table. A solid work surface isn’t a great idea for plasma cutting, so he designed the top as a grid of replaceable steel slats. Underneath is a hopper to collect the slag, both for neatness and for fire safety. The table top and hopper live on a custom-built wheeled steel frame, and the lower shelf provides plenty of room for his Lincoln 375 plasma rig. With hooks for cables and a sturdy ground clamp tab, the whole thing is a nicely self-contained workstation. The video below shows the build and some of the fabrication techniques [Regalzack] used; we were especially taken by the clever way he cut the slots for the table slats.

Plasma is versatile stuff – you can use it to make music, cook a burger, or decorate wood. And it’s not too shabby for notching metal tubing either.

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Blacksmith’s Junkyard Power Hammer Packs a Punch

Any way you look at it, blacksmithing is a punishing trade. Heavy tools, a red-hot forge, flying sparks, and searing metal all exact a toll on the smith’s body unless precautions are taken. After proper safety equipment and good training, a blacksmith may want to invest is power hammer to replace at least some of the heavy hammer work needed to shape hot metal.

Power hammers aren’t cheap, though, which is why [70kirkster] built one from an old engine block. You’ve got to admire the junkyard feel of this thing; it’s almost nothing but scrap. The engine block is a straight-6 from an old Ford pickup stripped of everything but the crankshaft and one piston. An electric motor spins the crankshaft and moves the hammer against the anvil through connecting rods and a trip arm fashioned from a trailer leaf spring. Everything looks super solid and the hammer hits hard; the videos below tell the tale of the build and show the hammer in action. Not bad for $100 out-of-pocket.

Blacksmithing is one of those dark arts that really deserves to have more adherents. The barriers to entry can be high, but the rewards are great. Looking to get started on the cheap? Then check out [Bil Herd]’s guide to hacking together a backyard smithy.

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Doubling The Capacity of Power Tool Batteries

YouTube User [Vuaeco] has come up with a novel idea, combining power tool battery packs to double the capacity.

Starting off with two slimline 2.0Ah compact battery packs, [Vuaeco] wanted a larger 4.0Ah rebuilt drill battery pack. These battery packs are different in size so it wasn’t just a case of adding in more cells in empty slots, instead he goes on to show us how to connect the batteries in parallel using some thin nickel strips. Once completed he modifies the battery casing so it fits another stack of batteries. He does this by bolting the top and bottom together with long screws, and insulating the otherwise exposed battery terminals with insulating tape. The final product isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as a real battery pack, but it looks good enough.

There are a few things we might have done differently, for instance providing some hard plastic around the insulation so should the battery get knocked in an awkward position it would still have a hard shell protecting it. Also, instead of combining the batteries together fully charged as the video suggests, we might have done the opposite approach and fully drained them, avoiding unnecessary risks. If you try this, how about giving it a 3D printed case?

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KiCAD Best Practices: Library Management

One common complaint we hear from most new KiCAD users relates to schematic and footprint libraries. The trick is to use just one schematic symbol and footprint library each with your project. This way any changes to the default schematic libraries will not affect your project and it will be easy to share your project with others without breaking it. I’ve spent some time refining this technique and I’ll walk you through the process in this article.

We have covered KiCAD (as well as other) Electronic Design Automation (EDA) tools several times in the past. [Brian Benchoff] did a whole series on building a project from start to finish using all the various EDA packages he could lay his hands on. No CAD or EDA software is perfect, and a user has to learn to get to grips with the idiosyncrasies of whichever program they decide to use. This usually leads to a lot of cussing and hair pulling during the initial stages when one can’t figure out “How the hell do I do that?”, especially from new converts who are used to doing things differently.

Read on to learn the best practices to use when using KiCAD and its library management.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: OLED Displays For Soldering Iron Tips

Having soldered one end of a wire to a switch, you move on to the next step in your hack, soldering the other end of the wire to the more temperature sensitive pin 11 on the 6847 video chip. You set the soldering pen’s target temperature to something lower. You position the end of a tinned wire just so, with the solder held between the ring and pinky fingers of the same hand. You stare hard at the pin while you still know which one it is. Luckily this soldering pen has a display in the handle, close enough for you to glance at it quickly and see that the target temperature has been reached. You solder the wire in place.

The previous hack was one I did back in 1982 to my TRS-80 color computer but alas, there was no display in the soldering pen’s handle. I was just too early for the sweet soldering pen that [vlk] is making, and has entered into the 2017 Hackaday Prize.  It’s powered by a LiPo battery and can go from 25 to 400℃ in 5 seconds. The handle contains the electronics, including an STM32F031, and we’re impressed with how small he’s managed to get it all. Two buttons provide control and an OLED display simultaneously shows what looks like two target temperatures, the current temperature, voltages, battery charge level, and status. And if you want to make your own, his page even includes the schematics. Watch how easy it is to use in the videos below the break.

While [vlk]’s soldering pen has all the precision and ease of use you’d want, check out what is probably the simplest approach to soldering iron temperature control we’ve seen here. Or you could go for something in between, this one that’s also powered by LiPo batteries but has the display in a small laser cut box.

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Cameo Cutter Makes SMD Stencils

You never know what you might find in an arts and craft store. A relatively recent addition to crafting is automatic cutting machines like the Cricut and Cameo cutters. These are typically used to cut out shapes for scrapbooking, although they will cut or engrave almost anything thin. You can think of them as a printer with a cutting blade in place of the print head. [Mikeselectricstuff] decided to try a Cameo cutter to produce SMD stencils. The result, as you can see in the video below, is quite impressive.

If you’ve ever wanted to do SMD soldering with a reflow oven, stencils are invaluable for putting solder paste on the board where you want it quickly. The board [Mike] has contains a boat-load (over 2,000) of LEDs and dropping solder on each pad with a syringe would be very time consuming (although he did do some touch up with a syringe).

The board he’s using doesn’t have any extreme fine-pitched parts. However, he did some test patterns and decided he could get down to a finer pitch, especially with a little tweaking. However, the stencil he used didn’t need any changes. All he did was export the solder paste layer as a DXF and bring it straight into the Cameo software.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen one of these cutters pressed into stencil service. You can also get some use out of your 3D printer.

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Cheap Helping Hands: Just Add Time

We think of helping hands as those little alligator clips on a metal stand. They are cheap and fall over, so we tend to buy them and don’t use them. However, if you are willing to put $35 or $40 into it, you can get the newer kind that have–well–tentacles–on a heavy base.  [Archie_slap] didn’t want that kind of investment, so he made his own for about $10. We think that’s Australian dollars, so that’s even less in the United States.

What’s better is he documented every step in meticulous detail and with great pictures. You probably won’t directly duplicate his project because you will probably pick up a slightly different base, but that’s not hard to figure out. The arms are actually coolant hose, [Archie_slap] picked up almost everything but the base plate on eBay.

It’s obvious [Archie] is a frugal guy, based on his drill press. It gets the job done, though. The build is attractive and looks like a much more expensive commercial product. Some of us around the Hackaday lab are old enough to wish there was a magnifying glass attached, but maybe that’s version two.

We’ve looked at a lot of different helpers recently. We couldn’t help but think about a somewhat similar Gorillapod holder we covered last year.