Ask Hackaday: How Do You Make A Hotplate?

Greetings fellow nerds. The Internet’s favorite artificial baritone chemist has a problem. His hotplates burn up too fast. He needs your help to fix this problem.

[NurdRage] is famous around these parts for his very in-depth explorations of chemistry including the best ways to etch a PCB, building a thermometer probe with no instructions, and chemical synthesis that shouldn’t be performed by anyone without years of experience in a lab. Over the past few years, he’s had a problem: hotplates suck. The heating element is usually poorly constructed, and right now he has two broken hotplates on his bench. These things aren’t cheap, either: a bare-bones hotplate with a magnetic stirrer runs about $600.

Now, [NurdRage] is asking for help. He’s contacted a few manufacturers in China to get a hundred or so of these hotplate heating elements made. Right now, the cost for a mica and metal foil hotplate is about $30 / piece, with a minimum order quantity of 100. That’s $3,000 that could be better spent on something a bit more interesting than a heating element, and this is where you come in: how do you build the heating element for a hotplate, and do it cheaply?

If you buy a hotplate from the usual lab equipment supplier, you’ll get a few pieces of mica and a thin trace of metal foil. Eventually, the metal foil will oxidize, and the entire hotplate will stop working. Repairs can be done with copper tape, but by the time that repair is needed, the heating element is already on its way out.

The requirements for this heating element include a maximum temperature of around 350 ºC. That’s a fair bit hotter than any PCB-based heat bed from a 3D printer gets, so consider that line of reasoning a dead end. This temperature is also above what most resins, thermoplastics, and composites can handle, which is why these hotplates use mica as an insulator.

Right now, [NurdRage] will probably end up spending $3,000 for a group buy of these heating elements. That’s really not that bad – for the price of five hotplates, he’ll have enough heating elements to last through the rest of his YouTube career. There must be a better way, though, so if you have an idea of how to make a high-temperature heating element the DIY way, leave a note in the comments.

Tiny Hotplate Isn’t Overkill

When working on a new project, it’s common to let feature creep set in and bloat the project. Or to over-design a project well beyond what it would need to accomplish its task. Over at Black Mesa Labs, their problem wasn’t with one of their projects, it was with one of their tools: their hot plate. For smaller projects, an 800W hot plate was wasteful in many ways: energy, space, and safety. Since a lot of their reflow solder jobs are on boards that are one square inch, they set out to solve this problem with a tiny hot plate.

The new hot plate is perfectly sized for the job. Including control circuitry, it’s around the size of a credit card. The hot plate is powered from a small surplus 20V 5A laptop power supply and does a nice 4 minute reflow profile and cools off completely in under a minute. Compared to their full-sized hot plate, this is approximately 29 minutes faster, not to mention the smaller workspace footprint that this provides. The entire setup cost about $20 from the heating element to the transistors and small circuit board, and assuming that you have an Arduino Pro sitting in your junk bin.

It’s a good idea to have a reflow oven or a hot plate at your disposal, especially if you plan to do any surface mount work. There are lots of options available, from re-purposed toaster ovens to other custom hot plates of a more standard size. Overkill isn’t always a bad thing!

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Basic Toolkit for the Basement Biohacker

Laying hands on the supplies for most hacks we cover is getting easier by the day. A few pecks at the keyboard and half a dozen boards or chips are on an ePacket from China to your doorstep for next to nothing. But if hacking life is what you’re into, you’ll spend a lot of time and money gathering the necessary instrumentation. Unless you roll your own mini genetic engineering lab from scratch, that is.

arduino-based-biolab-data-logger-thumbTaking the form of an Arduino mega-shield that supports a pH meter, a spectrophotometer, and a PID-controlled hot plate, [M. Bindhammer]’s design has a nice cross-section of the instruments needed to start biohacking in your basement. Since the shield piggybacks on an Arduino, all the data can be logged, and decisions can be made based on the data as it is collected. One example is changing the temperature of the hot plate when a certain pH is reached. Not having to babysit your experiments could be a huge boon to the basement biohacker.

Biohacking is poised to be the next big thing in the hacking movement, and [M. Bindhammer]’s design is far from the only player in the space. From incubators to peristaltic pumps to complete labs in a box, the tools to tweak life are starting to reach critical mass. We can’t wait to see where these tools lead.

Controlling a Hot Plate’s Temperature for the Lab

When you need precise heating — like for the acetone polishing shown above — the control hardware is everything. Buying a commercial, programmable, controller unit can cost a pretty penny. Instead of purchasing one, try creating one from scratch like [BrittLiv] did.

[BrittLiv] is a Chemical and Biological Engineer who wanted something that performs well enough to be relied upon as a lab tool. Her design utilizes a plain, old hot plate and with some temperature feedback to run custom temperature ramps from programs stored on an SD card.

The system she developed was dealing directly with temperatures up to 338°F. The heating element is driven from mains, using an SSR for control but there is also a mechanical switch in there if you need to manually kill the element for some reason. An ATmega328 monitors the heating process via an MAX6675 thermocouple interface board. This control circuitry is powered from a transformer and bridge rectifier inside the case (but populated on a different circuit board).

She didn’t stop after getting the circuit working. The project includes a nice case and user interface that will have visitors to your lab oohing and aahing.

Mr. Tea is a hot plate and magnetic stirrer in the same enclosure


Not being a coffee drinker [Hunter Scott] wanted a way to make tea while lurking in his workshop. Well it’s not exactly rocket science, as all you need is water at the right temperature and a vessel in which the tea can be steeped. But we do commend him on not only building a nice little hot plate enclosure, but rolling a magnetic stirrer into the other side of the box.

You heard us right, the stirrer is not combined with the plate, but resides on the underside of the same PSU enclosure. The plate itself is from a unit he bought at the store and cannibalized. The light switch dimmer lets him adjust the heat it puts out. When not hot, he can flip it over and use the stir plate. This consists of a hard drive magnet attached to a PC fan. For the stirrer itself he encased a neodymium magnet in some thermoplastic. The magnetic combination works well together with a demonstration which shows it stirring water through the base of a tea-cup.

Hackaday Links: November 15, 2012

Another way to break out dual pin headers

[Uwe] wrote in to share his technique for breaking out dual pin headers. He uses two single pin headers, a piece of protoboard, and a dual row pin socket to make an adapter. This is removable where the other method we saw this week was not.

Web-based slide show hack

Wanting to use an old Android tablet as a digital picture frame, [Gordon] coded up a simple way to use an HTML page to scan your picture directories to feed a rotating background image.

The simplest hot plate

For his chemistry experiments [Charlie] is using a plain old clothes iron for a hot plate. he simply clamps it upside down to the bench. It doesn’t have any stirring abilities, but we already have an old iron in the shop which we use for toner transfer so we’ll have to keep this in mind if we ever need to heat chemicals (might be a good way to warm etchant).

A charging VU meter

This Cambrionix series8 universal charger has columns of LEDs that are animated when a device is charging. [Steve Tyson] works for the company and has had some fun messing with the firmware. He’s showing off the display as a VU meter.

Game Boy knockoff teardown

This wide-form-factor Game Boy is a knockoff from way back when the original system hit the market. You won’t want to miss this lengthy post that takes a look at what’s inside. [Thanks Neil]


Thermosonic wedge bonding


In the past, if we’ve been doing smd soldering, we’ve used pretty basic hot plates. This project takes that idea a bit further.  Since [kc6qhp] will be using parts that aren’t conducive to soldering, he has to use wire bonding. After locating a fairly cheap wire bonding machine and microscope, he built the heated stage to fit perfectly with his other tools.  You’ll notice that he has machined a lip around the heat plate for small custom C-clamps as well as made it adjustable height. Very nice work [kc6qhp].