Retrotechtacular: We’re Gonna Have Manual Transmissions the Way My Old Man Told Me!

archimedesSimple machines are wonderful in their own right and serve as the cornerstones of many technological advances. This is certainly true for the humble lever and the role it plays in manual transmissions as evidenced in this week’s Retrotechtacular installment, the Chevrolet Motor Company’s 1936 film, “Spinning Levers”.

This educational gem happens to be a Jam Handy production. For you MST3K fans out there, he’s the guy behind shorts like Hired! from the episodes Bride of the Monster and the inimitable Manos: The Hands of Fate. Hilarity aside, “Spinning Levers” is a remarkably educational nine-ish minutes of slickly produced film that explains, well, how a manual transmission works. More specifically, it explains the 3-speed-plus-reverse transmissions of the early automobile era.

It begins with a nod to Archimedes’ assertion that a lever can move the world, explaining that the longer the lever, the better the magic. In a slightly different configuration, a lever can become a crank or even a double crank. Continuous motion of a lever or series of levers affords the most power for the least work, and this is illustrated with some top-drawer stop motion animation of two meshing paddle wheels.

gearsNext, we are shown how engine power is transferred to the rear wheels: it travels from a gear on the engine shaft to a gear on the drive shaft through gears on the countershaft. At low speeds, we let the smallest gear on the countershaft turn the largest gear on the drive shaft. When the engine is turning 90 RPM, the rear wheel turns at 30 RPM. At high speeds using high gears, the power goes directly from the engine shaft to the drive shaft and the RPM on both is equal. The film goes on to explain how the gearbox handles reverse, and the vast improvements to transmission life made possible through synchromesh gearing.

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Shifting gears on your pig roasting spit

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[Tim] and [Jon] have a hankering for some pork product of their own making. Your average residential kitchen is ill-equipped to handle an entire pig, so they got down to business building this pig spit out of old bicycle parts.

The main components in the project are two stands built out of square tube which go on either side of the cooking fire (coal bed?). They include bearings to support a horizontal bar on which a pig carcass is somehow mounted. The whole point of a spit is to turn it while cooking, and that’s where the gear system comes in. The front crank from a bicycle was welded onto the spit, with one pedal still in place. This way if the motorized system breaks down they can still turn the thing by hand.

The crank connects to the cogs with one chain, while the other chain connects the cogs to a windshield wiper motor. When connected to the specified 12V it turns around 6 rpm; close but a bit too fast. After some trial and error they found a 5V supply turns it at the optimal 2 rpm.

We wonder if you can put a whole pig in a meat smoker?

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Add speed control to a DIY CNC machine

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[Jesse Merritt] bought a manual speed controller for his router. It’s used in the CNC mill he build and he figured, why not add the ability for the computer to control the speed.

The speed controller is a $20 unit from Harbor Freight. It comes with an On/Off switch and knob which adjusts the power going to the router. [Jesse] pulled off the knob and milled a gear which takes its place. The second gear is attached to the horn of a hobby servo mounted on the side of the speed controller. The video after the break demonstrates an Arduino driving the servo based on a potentiometer input as well as commands from the CNC controller board he’s using.

Design files for the gears and the Arduino code which drives the servo is available from his Github repository.

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Building a mechanical counter out of scrap wood

Watching [Matthias Wandel] fabricate this mechanical counter from scrap wood is just fascinating. He likens the mechanism to the counters you would find on decades-old cassette tape players.

You may recognize the quality of [Matthias'] work. We’ve seen several pieces, but his binary adder is still one of our favorites. This project gives us a very clear view of the development and fabrication process. He even posted a detailed guide if you want to build your own.

He started by prototyping a mechanism to increment and decrement the counter. With that proven design he started laying out the rest of the gears. These were cut from plywood scraps he had from other projects. Notice the small gears seen above which are missing parts of some teeth. Those sections were removed using a drill press with a Forstner bit. The missing teeth cause the next digit over to increment more slowly, resulting in a 1/10 ratio. This part of the design is demonstrated about three minutes into the video after the break.

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Moulding New Gears for a Micro Helicopter

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So you’ve got a broken gear for you model helicopter, and don’t have a 3d printer handy. If you need your little helo flying right away, [James] wrote in to tell us about his solution. As you may have guessed from the title, he made a tiny mould and produced a copy of the gear he needed with it. Given the complications of printing or some tiny subtractive method, this little gear turned out really nicely!

The video after the break shows all the steps for doing this procedure. If you’d rather just skip to the results, check out around 10:00 to see the finished gear, and eventually the little guy in flight. As noted, he did have to drill a hole in the middle of the gear after the mould process, but this was the only machining operation.

The helicopter gears worked out nicely, but be sure to check out some of the other really interesting projects on the [xrobots], some of which we’ve featured here! [Read more...]

Converting a manual camera lens to use motorized zoom and focus

[Guy] wrote in to share this motorized camera lens project he recently finished. He really loved the zoom lens, but since both zoom and focus are manually controlled, he sometimes had trouble getting both set to the right place in time to take the shot. With modern DSLR cameras which allow video capture, he also wants to have the option of a smooth zoom that is always in focus. The solution was to add motors to the rings and control them with a Wii classic controller.

This hack really shines when it comes to the add-on hardware. He has some beautifully made rings which wrap around the focus and zoom rings on the lens. They are then held in place by a timing belt. These belts have teeth which key into the gears on a pair of servo motors. From there it’s a snap to drive the motors with an Arduino, connecting to the Wii controller with a breakout connector. You can see [Guy] showing off the build in the clip after the break.

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Just in case you didn’t know how awesome laser cutters really are

[Alex] got his hands on an Epiloge laser cutter the easy way — the company he works for bought one. We’re sure he’s not trying to rub it in, but he really does make the tool look and sound cool in the post he wrote purely to show off the new toy hardware.

This model is a CO2 laser and it’s capable of etching and cutting a variety of materials. It does so with a 1200 DPI resolution at 0.005 pitch. The samples of engraved text and images show the clean lines and shapes this type of accuracy can achieve. The most stunning example is a piece of anodized aluminum which ends up showing some fantastic contrast that would make perfect face plates for project enclosures. Then there’s the cutting feature which is responsible for the gear demo seen above. We were surprised to hear that it will cut through acrylic but not polycarbonate.

After the break we’ve embedded [Alex's] video. The camera is focused on the cutter as it engraves some lettering, then cuts out a gear. During the process he discusses what he’s learned about the device, sharing some interesting tidbits along the way.

We’re hoping to see some cool stuff like this from [Grenadier] who recently won a similar 40 Watt CO2 laser from Full Spectrum.

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