DIY PCB Fixture Helps You Spread the Paste

(Yeah, we don’t know what that title means either.) But holding your PCBs down in one place and nicely registered while you spread solder paste over them is a problem that needs solving, and [Carsten] did it nicely.

High volume PCB manufacturers have expensive screen printers to do this. The standard hardware hacker solution is to tape some scrap PCBs of the same thickness down to the table to hold the PCBs solidly in place. But if you’re doing a large run, and if you’re already firing up the laser to cut out mylar stencils, you might as well cut out some PCB-holding fixtures to match.

[Carsten]’s blog entry is short on details, but you get the idea just from looking at the picture, right? Adding registration pins to the holder that engage with the stencils could make this a real time-saver as well. As long as you’re lasering the stencil and the holder, there’s nothing stopping you. It’s a simple idea, but a good one, so we thought we’d share. Our only remaining question: what’s a Karate Light?

Precision CNC With Epoxy Granite

Epoxy granite is an overlooked material when it comes to making home CNC builds. As far as time and money goes, when you add in all the equipment it comes out cheaper than an aluminum casting set-up. Epoxy granite has mechanical properties better than cast iron, increased dimensional stability, better vibration damping, and looks awesome when done right. Also, you can cast precision surfaces and threaded holes into your design, which is pretty cool.

In these two videos by [Jørgen Hegner] we get to watch him and a friend make a matching set of precision CNC machines. It’s built in a similar style to other nice builds we’ve featured. This way of making it needs a bigger footprint than a gantry mill and can’t be built as large. However, it solves a lot of mechanical issues and squaring with the gantry design while not being as difficult to get right as a box or knee mill.

After casting they machined the material embedded in the granite to mount the ways. The ways are linear bearings and ball screws. Expensive, but as the footage shows, very accurate.  The rest of the machine is assembled and tuned. Then it gets installed in a home made 80/20 enclosure. We really like the LCD panel that’s incorporated into the front shield of the machine. They really went all out with the CNC control panel. It looks like they can do anything from jog the axis to monitor and control the water cooling for the spindle.

It appears that all the precision work is put to good use as there are some shots at the end of video two of a beautiful clock CNC’d on this machine. Videos after the break.

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Six Years of Work and Rationale In A DIY Book Scanner Documented

[Daniel Reetz] spent six years working as a Disney engineer during the day and on his book scanner, the archivist at night. Some time last year, [Daniel] decided enough is enough, got married, and retired from the book scanner business. There’s a bit more to it than that, but before leaving he decided to dump, not just the design, but the entire rationale behind the design into a twenty-two thousand word document.

One of his big theses in this document, is his perceived failure of the open hardware movement. The licenses aren’t adequate, as they are based on copyright law that only applies to software. This makes it impossible to enforce in practice, which is why he released the entire design as public domain. He also feels that open hardware shares design, but not rationale. In his mind this is useless when encouraging improvement, and we tend to agree. In the end rationale is the useful thing, or the source code, behind a design that truly matters. So, putting his money time where his mouth is, he wrote down the rationale behind his scanner.

The rationale contains a lot of interesting things. At a first glance the book scanner almost seems a simple design, not the culmination of so much work. Though, once we began to read through his document, we began to understand why he made the choices he did. There’s so much to getting a good scan without destroying the book. For example, one needs a light that doesn’t lose any color information. It doesn’t have to be perfect, as the software can correct the white balance. However, it can’t lean too far away from the natural spectrum, it can’t be too bright, and it can’t be uneven, and it can’t be prohibitively expensive. A lot of thought went into the tent light design.

[Daniel]’s book scanners are immensely popular, and are being used all over the world. He’s certainly made an impact, and the community that formed around his project continues to grow without him. He made some interesting points, and if anything wrote a really good build and design log for the rest of us to learn from.

DIY Thermal Imaging Smartphone

We wish we had [Karri Palovuori] for a professor! As an exciting project to get incoming freshmen stoked on electrical engineering, he designed a DIY thermal-imaging smartphone that they can build themselves. It’s all built to fit into a sleek wooden case that gives the project its name: KAPULA is Finnish for “a block of wood”.

It’s just incredible how far one can push easily-available modules these days. [Karri] mounts a FLIR Lepton thermal camera, an LPC1768 Cortex M3 ARM micro, a GSM phone module, and a whole bunch of other cool stuff on a DIY-friendly two-sided board. The design uses 10 mil (0.25mm) trace and space, which is totally achievable with home etching methods. Copper wire bits fill up the vias. Did we mention he’s making the students do all this themselves? How awesome is that?

[Karri] expects that the students will tweak the software side of things. With additional onboard goodies like an accelerometer, microphone, speaker, SIM card, and USB, it’s not likely that they’ll get bored with the platform. He has a stretch hope that someone will take the hardware and modify it. That’s ambitious for sure, but it’s so cool that someone could.

We’ve seen some sophisticated DIY cellphones before, but this one rises above by being easily DIYable and including awesome extra features. Order parts now, and start etching. You could be sending thermal-photo tweets inside of just a few days.

Building a Taller Drillpress

[BF38] bought a mid-range miniature drill-press, and discovered that it was just too short for some of his applications. “No problem,” he thought, “I’ll just measure the column and swap it out for a longer one.” It sounds foolproof on paper.

He discovered, after having bought a new 48.3 mm steel column, that the original was 48 mm exactly in diameter. He’d have to make it fit. But how do you bore out a 48 mm diameter hole, keeping it perfectly round, and only increase the diameter by 0.3 mm? A file is out because you’d never get it round. A lathe is out because [BF38] doesn’t have a lathe.

[BF38] ended up making a DIY honing head, which is a gadget that presses (in this case) two pieces of sandpaper evenly against the sides of the hole to be widened. The head in question is a little bit rough — it was made as a learning project, but it looks like it served the purpose admirably.

DIY Active Sub-GHz Differential Scope Probe

Fancy measurement gear is often expensive to buy, but some bits of kit are entirely DIY’able if you’re willing to put a little work into the project. [Christer Weinigel] needed to get some measurements of a differential clock signal that was ticking away around 500 MHz. El-cheapo probes aren’t going to cut it here. They won’t have the bandwidth and most off-the-rack probes are single-ended, that is they’re referenced to ground. [Christer] needed the difference between two balanced signals, neither of which is grounded. In short, [Christer] needed a high-frequency active differential oscilloscope probe, and they’re not cheap. So he built one himself.

simulation-schematicThe circuit in the probe is really just an instrumentation amplifier design with a modified input stage and a 50 ohm output impedance. (See this article on in-amps if you need to brush up.) With higher frequencies like this, it’s going to be demanding on the op-amp, so [Christer] spent some time simulating the circuit to make sure it would work with his chosen part. Then he made up a bunch of PCB designs and had them made. Actual results matched fairly well with the simulation.

With some minor tweaking on the input damping resistors, he got a tool that’s dead flat up to 300 MHz, and totally usable up to 850 MHz. If you tried to buy one of these, it’d set you back the cost of a few hundred lattes, but this one can be made for the price of one or two if you get the PCBs done cheaply. Of course, the design files are available for your own use. Kudos [Christer].

Edit: By total coincidence, Bil Herd just posted a video intro to differential signals. Go check it out.

And thanks to [nebk] for the tip!

Mid Century Modern Speaker from 90s Road Trash

[BarryAbrams] found some 90s speakers on the side of the road.  At first he thought he might have made a real score, but his coworker who knows about this sort of thing (we all have one) let him know they were merely average. Undaunted, he removed the speakers from their MDF housing, fixed a small dent in one of the tweeters, and got to work.

He cut a new frame for the speakers out of plywood. He adorned the plywood box with maple and walnut from a local supplier. The box then got a coat of urethane. His skill at sign making showed in the final finish, and the wood looks very good. Our only complaint is the straight legs instead of the slightly angled and tapered ones common to mid-century modern furniture style.

The electronics are a Chinese amp and a Sonos knock-off. [Barry] only needed to control the volume and power for the speaker set. He came up with a clever 3D-printed knob and switch configuration. When the volume is turned all the way down the speaker set turns off.

The end result sounds and looks better than anything he could get for the $125 US Dollars he spent on the project. We certainly wouldn’t complain if this were a fixture in our living space.

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