Custom Engine Parts from a Backyard Foundry

Building a car engine can be a labor of love. Making everything perfect in terms of both performance and appearance is part engineering and part artistry. Setting your creation apart from the crowd is important, and what better way to make it your own than by casting your own parts from old beer cans?

[kingkongslie] has been collecting parts for a dune buggy build, apparently using the classic VW Beetle platform as a starting point. The air-cooled engine of a Bug likes to breathe, so [kingkongslie] decided to sand-cast a custom crankcase breather from aluminum.

Casting solid parts is a neat trick but hardly new; we’ve covered the techniques for casting plastic, pewter, and even soap. The complexity of this project comes from the fact that the part needs to be hollow. [kingkongslie] managed this with a core made of play sand and sodium silicate from radiator stop-leak solution hardened with a shot of carbon dioxide. Sure, it looks like a Rice Krispie treat, but a core like that will stand up to the molten aluminum while becoming weak enough to easily remove later. The whole complex mold was assembled, beer cans melted in an impromptu charcoal and hair-dryer foundry, and after one false start, a shiny new custom part emerged from the sand.

We’ve got to hand it to [kingkongslie] – this was a nice piece of work that resulted in a great looking part. But what we love about this is not only all the cool casting techniques that were demonstrated but also the minimalist approach to everything. We can all do stuff like this, and we probably should.

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The First 5nm Chip

For almost forty years, integrated circuits have become smaller and smaller. These chips started out with massive transistors in the early 1970s. They shrank to less than 1μm by 1990, and shrank yet again to less than 100nm by the turn of the last century. Now, Imec and Cadence are experimenting with 5nm technology – the smallest technology available for any mass-produced integrated circuit.

The history of microelectronic fabrication over the last decade is a story of failure. Something happened in 2005, and although chips could be designed at ever-smaller technologies, the transition to these smaller manufacturing processes didn’t go as smoothly as in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Just a few years ago, Intel said 10nm chips would ship by 2015. These chips are nowhere to be found, and even 14nm technology is still catching up to the yields found in 22nm technology. In 2009, Nvidia said their flagship graphics card would be built with a 11nm process. The current Nvidia flagship desktop graphics card is built with 28nm technology. Moore’s law isn’t 18 months anymore.

While Imec and Cadence have completed the tapeout on a 5nm device, it’s just a test chip. Before starting manufacturing on a single process node, Intel and others will tapeout a simple test chip to verify their latest process. This 5nm tapeout will not become a manufactured chip, but it does mean we’ll see more talk about the 5nm process in the future.

Kentucky-Fried Induction Furnace

[John] and [Matthew] built an induction-heater based furnace and used it to make tasty molten aluminum cupcakes in the kitchen. Why induction heating? Because it’s energy efficient and doesn’t make smoke like a fuel-based furnace. Why melt aluminum in the kitchen? We’re guessing they did it just because they could. And of course a video, below the break, documents their first pour.

Now don’t be mislead by the partly low-tech approach being taken here. Despite being cast in a large KFC bucket, the mini-foundry is well put together, and the writeup of exactly how it was built is appreciated. The DIY induction heater is also serious business, and it’s being monitored for temperature and airflow across the case’s heatsinks. This is a darn good thing, because the combination of high voltage and high heat demands a bit of respect.

Anyway, we spent quite a while digging through [John]’s website. There’s a lot of good information to be had if you’re interested in induction heaters. Nonetheless, we’ll be doing our metal casting in the back yard.

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Two-thirds of a casting foundry

[Th3BadWolf] decided to undertake a casting foundry project of epic proportions. The hardest part of the build is obviously the apparatus for melting the metal. It needs a vessel that can stand up to the heat, and a heating method that has enough thermal power to melt metal. He’s just finished the burner portion of the build. His writeup includes information about the cement casting that finishes up the vessel on which he had already done a lot of work.

You’ll remember that for the enclosure he started with an oil drum and lined it with a ceramic blanket. That was lined with fire brick. In this update he finish it off by placing a smaller barrel inside to act as an inner form, then filled the remaining gap with 3000 degree cement.

The burner injects air, propane, and oil which are all driven by a blower and forced through a nozzle into the chamber. You can catch a quick blower and burner test clip after the break. We can’t wait to see the next post, which we assume will be a test run of the final assembly.

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Building a foundry in your backyard

[th3BadWolf] has been wanting to build a foundry for some time now. Done right, it’s a very neat tool; it’s fairly easy to do aluminum castings, and if you’re clever enough a foundry can lead to building large machine tools such as a lathe or a mill. Anything worth doing is worth overdoing, so [BadWolf] is designing his foundry to melt 150 pounds of aluminum every 45 minutes.

The build began with a humble oil barrel. [th3BadWolf] cut the top off of the barrel and began lining the inside of the barrel with a ceramic blanket and refractory bricks. To hold this somewhat precarious assemblage of blanket and brick together, [BadWolf] is holding everything together with 3000° F cement.

The body of the furnace is nearly complete, but [BadWolf] still has to drill a few holes for the burner system. He’s going to start each burn with Propane, then move over to engine oil when the furnace gets hot enough. Truly an awesome project, and we can’t wait to see the results.

Smelting metal in your microwave oven

Grab some scrap metal and a microwave oven and you’ll be casting your own metal parts in no time. [Mikeasaurus], who is known for doing strange things like making Silly Putty magnetic or building his own spray paint bottles, doesn’t disappoint this time around. He read about microwave smelting in Popular Science and is giving it a shot himself.

The image above shows him pouring an ingot. He build an insulated brick enclosure inside of the microwave oven, then set it to go ten minutes for a 50/50 lead/tin mixture, or fifteen minutes for silver. This will vary based on the power rating of your microwave. You can see in the video after the break that the setup gave him some trouble shortly after pouring. It wasn’t a problem with the molten metal, but spontaneous combustion of the rigid foam insulation that did him in. We shouldn’t say ‘I told you so’, but that insulation says right on it that it’s flammable!

This isn’t the first time we’ve looked at casting metal melted in a microwave. Check out this other version posted back in 2005. Continue reading “Smelting metal in your microwave oven”