Fail of the Week: Cutting Steel with Baking Soda

[NightHawkInLight] wants what may be the impossible – a dirt cheap replacement for a laser cutter or a water jet. He’s got this crazy idea about using electrolysis to etch sheet steel parts, but he just can’t get the process to work. Sounds like a job for the Hackaday community.

In theory, electrolytic cutting of metal  is pretty simple to understand. Anyone who lives in the northeast of the USA knows all about how road salt can cut holes in steel given enough time – say, one winter into payments on that new car. Adding a few electrons to the mix can accelerate the process of removing metal, but doing so in a controlled manner seems to be the crux of [NightHawkInLight]’s problem.

In his research into the method, he found a 2010 video by [InterestingProducts] of etching reed valves for DIY pulse jet engines from spring steel that makes it look easy. [NightHawkInLight] deviated from the reed valve process by substituting baking soda for salt to avoid the production of chlorine gas and changed up the masking technique by using different coatings. We applaud the empirical approach and hope he achieves his goal, but we tend to agree with frequent-Hackaday-tipline-project notable [AvE]’s assessment in the YouTube comments – the steel is just too darn thick. Once the etching starts, a third dimension is created at 90° to the surface and is then available to electrolyze, causing the corrosion to extend under the masking.

What does the Hackaday hive mind think? Is there any way to fix this process for thicker steel stock? Narrower traces, perhaps? Somehow modulating the current in the tank? Perhaps using the Hackaday logo would have helped? Chime in down below in the comments, and maybe we can all throw out our laser cutters.

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HHO generator makes bubbles that go boom

Here’s [Phil] showing off the components he used to make an HHO generator. The device uses household items to generate hydrogen and oxygen from water using electrolysis.

He’s using a plastic Nesquik container as the vessel for his experiment. Inside is water doped with a bit of baking soda. The lid plays host to the majority of components. There are electrodes which stick through the lid of the container. To help boost the productivity of the generator these electrodes have several metal washers suspended between. It’s importnat to avoid a short circuit so they’re mounted with the plastic bolt from a toilet seat, and isolated using hot glue. A plastic tube used collects the gasses. You can tweak the ratio of what’s being collected by reversing the polarity of the battery.

It’s interesting to see soap bubbles lit on fire in the demo video. But there are more serious uses for this concept. People have been working on making it feasible to power cars from the hydrogen generated this way. We’ve also seen a plastic bottle rocket powered from an HHO generator, and there’s always the thought of building your own miniature dirigible.

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Water purification uses home-built electrolysis rig

If you plan ahead a little bit you could have your own system of water purification to use in emergencies. Everyone needs clean drinking water and this gadget will let your produce your own purification drops quite easily.

The solution contains chlorine, which is created through electrolysis. The PVC cap seen near the bottom of the image has two electrodes sticking out of it. These are titanium plated mesh plates separated by a rubber ring. The cap has a small hole in it to keep the flow rate low and the fitting at the top acts as a funnel. When you pour in a salt water mixture it passes through the energized plates and a chemical reaction splits the sodium from the chlorine.

A twelve volt power source is necessary for this to work. But since the electrolytic process takes just a minute or two you could easily source the power from batteries charged with solar cells. Check out a full build walk through and demonstration video after the break.

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Gilded Hello Kitty ax made using electrolysis

Ummm…. cute? For the Hello Kitty fan who has everything?

Yeah, we’re really not sure what’s going on here. It’s an art piece on which [Denis] spent a lot of time. He polished it, etched it, painted it, applied gold leaf, and drilled a hole for a charm. It’s that hole which interested us the most. He had a heck of a time figuring out how to make a hole in the hardened steel. The solution that finally worked was to use electrolysis to bore through the metal (translated).

[Denis] first made a small depression where he wanted the hole. This took time, and pretty much ate through the engraver bit he was using. But it was just enough to hold a drop of saline. He connected the positive side of his power supply to the ax head, then dipped the negative lead into the drop of saline. Each time the drop turned black he wiped it away and replaced it with fresh solution. Just five hours of this and a pack or two of cotton swabs and he was through.