Clamps, Cauls, And The Mother Of Invention

If there’s one thing you need in a woodshop, it’s more clamps. There are bar clamps, pipe clamps, spring clamps, and trigger clamps, but for one task in the workshop, no clamp does the job just right. Gluing up panels – a few wide pieces of wood joined on edge – either requires more clamps than you have or cauls, devices that press down on the boards vertically while the clamps press the board together horizontally.

[Andrew Klein] has just invented a new type of clamp for this task, proving once again that not all problems are solved, and there’s still some places where an invention can pop out of mid-air.

The new clamps are a modification to traditional bar clamps that allow for two clamps to interlock. On each of the ‘working’ ends of the clamps, there are two adjustment handles. The first screws the clamp horizontally, just like any bar or pipe clamp. The second adjustment handle moves a bearing up and down. When this bearing meshes with a riser on the mating end of another clamp, the two clamps are pressed together vertically.

The new clamps are effectively clamps and cauls, able to push material together from side to side and top to bottom. The new clamps work, too. In the video below, you can see [Andrew] gluing up a panel. When the vertical adjustment wheel is loosened, the boards come apart vertically. When the vertical adjustment wheel is tightened, the boards are perfectly in line with each other, both edge to edge and face to face.

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Maker Barn Organizer Creates Makerspace Access Control System

The MakerBarn is a new makerspace between The Woodlands and Tomball, TX (north of Houston). [George Carlson], one of the founders and a retired design engineer, wanted to make sure only members certified on a machine could use it. He worked with [Kolja Windeler] to create the MACS or Makerspace Access Control System. He has one video explaining MACS and, after the break, another explaining the browser based user interface for the system.

20151205_181615A control box, [George] calls them stations, controls the power to a machine. Member badges have an RFID tag that is read when inserted into the station’s reader. If the member is authorized to use the machine, the power is enabled. For safety, the member’s badge must remain in the reader to maintain power. The reader uses a Photon board from Particle with a WiFi link to a Raspberry Pi server.

[Kolja] developed a Pi system to maintain a database of member numbers and the machines they can use. The list is sent to the stations periodically or when updates occur. The user interface is browser based on the MakerBarn’s LAN so it can be maintained by a computer or smartphone in the space. Presently 21 MACS modules have been built with some going to Hanover University in Germany for their auto hobby shop.

Not only did [George] lead the effort on creating MACS but has been key to getting the construction done inside a pole barn to make the MakerBarn a reality.

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Measuring Capacitance Against Voltage

Ceramic capacitors are pretty much the pixie dust of the electronics world. If you sprinkle enough of them on a circuit, everything will work. These ceramic capacitors aren’t the newest and latest technology, though: you can find them in radios from the 1930s, and they have one annoying property: their capacitance changes in relation to voltage.

This is a problem if you’re relying on ceramic caps in an RC filter or a power supply. What you need is a device that will graph capacitance against voltage, and [limpkin] is here to show you how to do it.

Of course capacitance is usually measured by timing how long it takes to charge and discharge a cap through an RC oscillator. This requires at least one known value – in this case a 0.1% resistor – by measuring the time it takes for this circuit to oscillate, an unknown capacitance can be calculated.

That’s all well and good, but how do you measure capacitance against a bias voltage? EDN comes to save the day with a simple circuit built around an op-amp. This op-amp is just a comparator, with the rest of the circuit providing a voltage directly proportional to the percentage of charge in the capacitor.

This little project is something [limpkin] has turned into a Kickstarter, and it’s something we’ve seen before. That said, measuring capacitance against a voltage isn’t something any ‘ol meter can do, and we’re glad [limpkin] could put together an easy to use tool that measures this phenomenon.

PCB Holder for Limited Depth-of-Field Microscopes

As time marches on, so does the need to have the right tools to deal with the ever increasing popularity of SMD components. Ok. Maybe “popularity” isn’t the best word choice, as there are plenty of people out there that prefer through-hole components for ease of prototyping. But, whether you like it or not, you’ll eventually need to deal with SMDs.

One of the problems with smaller packages is that with such small pins, their solder joints are difficult to inspect with the naked eye. A lighted magnifying lamp will only let you see so much. You can switch to a jeweler’s loupe for a quite a bit more magnification if you like – but nothing beats a microscope on your workbench. Unfortunately, unless you’re willing to spend the price of a used car on a microscope, the limited depth-of-field (DOF) can be a concern. It’s often handy to hold the PCB and move it around at different angles to get a good view of the solder pad fillets. But then you’re fighting the a very small DOF, and the steadiness of your hands.

[Tom Keddie] came up with this super simple hack – it’s nothing more then an angled PCB holder. It allows you to view your PCB at 30 or 60 degrees. Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that make your work that much more enjoyable. You can find the source files on github. And have a gander at our overview article if you’re thinking of getting your feet wet with SMDs.


[via Dangerous Prototypes]

Hacking Old Ethernet Gear

Have you ever wanted a pocket-sized device that could tell you if a network jack was live or not? [TanzerGuy] did and he hacked a piece of old networking gear to do the job.

Today when you think of Ethernet, you probably think of CAT-5 cable or something similar. But it hasn’t always been like that. In the early days of Ethernet networking, an Ethernet cable was a big piece of coax. A media attachment unit (MAU) clamped to the cable and then connected to an attachment unit interface (AUI) that resided in the actual network card. Later standards used thinner coax that attached to the card using a Tee connector, but even these are rare today.

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A Teensy Logic Analyzer For A 6502

[John] has an interesting, if old piece of tech sitting on his workbench. It’s an Ohio Scientific C3-8P computer from the late 70s by way of a few garages, basements, and attics. As with most tech of this vintage, there are some problems, and [John] found debugging a little frustrating without the ability to trace and watch the programs. He needed a logic analyzer, and found one in an unlikely piece of hardware. [John] built one using a Teensy microcontroller, and further refinement of this project could turn it into a full in-system emulator.

The old Ohio Scientific computer [John] is trying to bring back from the dead is based on the 6502 CPU. That’s sixteen address lines to monitor, eight data lines, and four control lines. These were wired directly to a Teensy 3.1.

Reading and controlling all the signals from a 6502 is a task that falls to Linux. A command line program controls the Teensy and is capable of reading memory, setting trigger addresses, dumping the entire address space to a file, or just recording the last 5,000 clock cycles. This kind of tech existed back in the late 70s and early 80s. It also cost a fortune. Now, with a $20 Teensy and probably another $30 in ribbon cables and test clips, anyone can build a logic analyser for a very old computer system.

Videos below.

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Nuts About Volts

Among multimeters one instrument stands far and above the rest. An object desired for its accuracy, resolution and shear engineering beauty. I speak of course of the HP 3458A. That’s right, not Keysight, not even Agilent (though of course it goes by those brands too). The 3458A was released in 1989, when HP was still… well… HP. An elegant meter from a more civilized age. As the HP Journal documents, the 3458A was a significant engineering feat and has remained in production (and largely unchallenged) for the last 26 years.

keyBut what, you might ask, makes the 3458A such a significant and desirable instrument? It’s all in the digits. The 3458A is one of the few 8.5 digit multimeters available. It is therefore sensitive to microvolt deflections on 10 volt measurements. It is this ability to distinguished tiny changes on large signals that sets high precision multimeters apart. Imagine weighing an elephant and being able to count the number of flies that land on its back by the change in weight. The 3458A accomplishes a similar feat.

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