Hack Safely: Fire Safety in the Home Shop

Within the past two months we’ve covered two separate incidents of 3D printing-related fires. One was caused by an ill-advised attempt to smooth a print with acetone heated over an open flame, while the other was investigated by fire officials and found to have been caused by overuse of hairspray to stick prints to the printer bed. The former was potentially lethal but ended with no more than a good scare and a winning clip for “Hacking’s Funniest Home Videos”; the latter tragically claimed the life of a 17-year old lad with a lot of promise.

In light of these incidents, we here at Hackaday thought it would be a good idea to review some of the basics of fire safety as they relate to the home shop. Nowhere was this need made clearer than in the comments section on the post covering the fatal fire. There was fierce debate about the cause of the fire and the potential negative effect it might have on the 3D-printing community, with comments ranging from measured and thoughtful to appallingly callous. But it was a comment by a user named [Scuffles] that sealed the deal:

“My moment of reflection is that it’s well past time I invest in a fire extinguisher for my workstation. Cause right now my fire plan pretty much consists of shouting obscenities at the blaze and hoping it goes out on its own.”

Let’s try to come up with a better plan for [Scuffles] and for everyone else. We’ll cover the basics: avoidance, detection, control, and escape.

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DIY Air Compressor Made From Refrigerator and Fire Extinguisher

[Giorgos] wanted to build a pneumatic solder paste application tool but needed an air compressor to power it. Instead of going out and buying a compressor, he decided to build one himself. It sure is an ugly duckling but we’re impressed with it’s performance.

The air tank is an old spent fire extinguisher. The stock valve was removed and the insides were cleaned out. Out of curiosity, [Giorgos] figured out the volume by filling the tank with water, then measuring how much water came out. It turned out to be 2.8 liters. Two holes were drilled and threaded bungs were welded on to attach inlet and outlet lines.

The compressor portion is straight out of a refrigerator. Besides the compressor being free, the other benefit is that it is super quiet! Check the video after the break, you’ll be astonished. [Giorgos] did some calculations and figured out that his solder paste applicator needed about 8 bar (116 psi) of pressure. The refrigerator compressor easily handles that, filling the tank in 1 minute, 25 seconds.

On the output side of the tank resides a pressure switch for automatically filling the tank and a regulator for ensuring the solder paste applicator gets the required pressure. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a refrigerator compressor used as an air compressor. Check out this dual setup capable of 400 psi.

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Putting out Fires with a Dubstep Drop

Two engineering students from George Mason University have built a rather unorthodox fire extinguisher. It uses a subwoofer to send sound waves powerful enough to extinguish small fires.

Similar in concept to a giant smoke-ring canon, the device uses a subwoofer with a tube that has a smaller aperture opening at the end. When the bass drops (literally), this causes an intense wave of sound (well, air), to be expelled from the device. And as you can see in the video below, it’s quite effective at putting out small fires.

They use a small frequency generator and amplifier to power the system, and throughout extensive testing found 30-60Hz to work best. It’s not actually one big blast of air, but a pressure wave that goes back and forth — agitating the air, and separating it from the fire. There is a catch though.

One of the problems with sound waves is that they do not cool the fuel,” Isman said. “So even if you get the fire out, it will rekindle if you don’t either take away the fuel or cool it.

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Heat-seeking firebot drowns out the flames

This robot can find and extinguish fires automatically. It is the culmination of an Embedded Design class project from last school year. [Dan] and his classmates developed a turret that holds both a spray nozzle and heat sensor which would be a fantastic building block for a real-life tower defense game.

The jewel of the sensor array is a TPA81 thermopile array. Note the use of the term ‘array’ in the name. This is more like eight temperature sensors aligned with each other. By monitoring them all, the direction from which the most heat is coming can be determined. Once it’s zeroed in on the fire getting water to the right place can be a difficult task. That’s where the other sensors come into play. An accelerometer allows the bot to determine the angle of the spray nozzle (a weed sprayer was used in this case). An ultrasonic range finder and few algorithms let the Arduino which drives it all make sure that the arc of the water lands on the hot spot. This is all shown quite clearly in the clip below the jump.

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Weapon of mass graffiti

What uses a fire extinguisher, a bike pump, and provides hours of probation, community service, and possibly jail time? If you said an automatic graffiti writer you’re correct! [Olivier van Herpt] calls this little job the Time Writer. We call it defacing property… but tomato, tomahto.

Details are a bit scarce, but you get a fine overview of the system from the video after the break. [Olivier] tagged the post as Arduino; it’s obviously running the dot matrix printer made up of seven solenoid valves on a metal rod. These are fed ink via a tube connected to a fire extinguisher which serves as the reservoir. The bike pump is used to pressurize the enclosure so that a pump isn’t necessary when out and about.

Obviously you shouldn’t try this at home, but let’s talk about possible improvements as an academic exercise. First off the mix of the ink/paint needs to be reigned in to get rid of the dripping. We’d also like to see the inclusion of some proper spray can nozzles to tidy up the results. That, paired with an IMU board should be able to smooth out the printed designs.

This might make an interesting add-on to that rainbow graffiti writer.

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Build a confetti cannon for your next party

[Scott] built a confetti canon to spice up the party. It’s pneumatic and re-purposes a fire extinguisher as the air tank. He had a refillable extinguisher that used water instead of chemical retardant. After emptying the water and ensuring all of the pressure had been release he swapped the hose and nozzle for a sprinkler solenoid valve. Securing the extinguisher’s actuator lever with a pipe clamp holds the internal valve open, leaving the solenoid to control the pressure release. This way the canon can be fired electronically, or manually.

This type of solenoid valve is a popular choice with pneumatic canons. We suppose you could even adapt this for use as a T-shirt cannon.

[Thanks BoBeR182]

Rovio fire extinguisher


[Colt45] shows us some pictures of his Rovio fire extinguisher mod. Being a fan of model building, he built a new shell for the Rovio and mounted a halon distribution system to the top of it. He says he loaded some custom software for identifying and extinguishing flames, which he’ll upload eventually. We really wish we knew more, or at least had a video of it working. We’re a little bit surprised we haven’t seen more done with these things.

[Thanks Robert]