Radial Solenoid Engine is Undeniably Cool

Radial engines are just plain cool – it’s inarguable that any tech that originated with early aviation is inherently awesome. But, what do you do when you want to build a radial engine in your dorm where a combustion engine would be inadvisable? For University of Washington students [Jeffrey Weng] and [Connor Lee] the answer was to power it with solenoids in place of the pistons.

The easiest way to approach a project like this would have been to use a microcontroller. A simple program running on an Arduino could have easily provided the timing to switch power to each solenoid in succession. [Jeffrey Weng] and [Connor Lee], however, took a much more interesting approach by controlling timing via a simple distributor. This works in the same way a spark distributor on a combustion engine would have worked, except it’s actually providing the power to actuate the solenoids instead of providing just an ignition spark.

Also impressive is what they were able to accomplish with such basic tools. Those of us who are lazy and have access to more expensive tools would have just 3D printed or CNC cut most of the parts. Either [Jeffrey Weng] and [Connor Lee] didn’t have access to these, or they wanted to increase their machining street cred, because they created all of the parts with simple tools like a band saw and drill press. We’ve seen some beautiful engine projects before, but what this build lacks in objective beauty it makes up for in ingenuity.

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3D Objects From a Laser Cutter

Actors want to be singers and singers want to be actors. The hacker equivalent to this might be that 3D printers want to be laser cutters or CNC machines and laser cutters want to be 3D printers. When [Kurt] and [Lawrence] discovered their tech shop acquired a 120 Watt Epilog Fusion laser cutter, they started thinking if they could coax it into cutting out 3D shapes. That question led them to several experiments that were ultimately successful.

The idea was to cut away material, rotate the work piece, and cut some more in a similar way to how some laser cutters handle engraving cylindrical objects. Unlike 3D printing which is additive, this process is subtractive like a traditional machining process. The developers used wood as the base material. They wanted to use acrylic, but found that the cut away pieces tended to stick, so they continued using wood. However, the wood tends to char as it is cut.

In the end, they not only had to build special jigs and electronics, they also had to port some third party control software to solve some issues with the Epilog Fusion cutter’s built in software. The final refinement was to use the laser’s raster mode to draw surface detail on the part.

The results were better than you’d expect, and fairly distinctive looking. We’ve covered a similar process that made small chess pieces out of acrylic using two passes. This seems like a natural extension of the same idea. Of course, there are very complicated industrial machines that laser cut in three dimensions (see the video below), but they are not in the same category as the typical desktop cutter.

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Custom Machined Triple Threat Slingshot

Time was when a lad in need of a ranged weapon would hack a slingshot together out of a forked tree branch and a strip of inner tube. Slingshot design has progressed considerably since [Dennis the Menace]’s day, but few commercially available slingshots can match up to the beauty and functionality of this magnificently machined multipurpose handheld weapon system.

Making it clear in his very detailed build log that this is but a prototype for a design he’s working on, [Gord] has spared little effort to come up with a unique form factor that’s not only functional as a slingshot, but also provides a few surprises: a magazine that holds nine rounds of ammo with magnets; knuckle protection on the hand grip that would deal a devastating left hook; and an interchangeable base that provides a hang loop or allows mounting a viciously sharp broadhead hunting arrow tip for somewhat mysterious purposes. There’s plenty to admire in the build process as well – lots and lots of 6061 billet aluminum chips from milling machine and lathe alike. All told, a nice piece of craftsmanship.

For a more traditional slingshot design with a twist, check out this USB-equipped slingshot that talks to Angry Birds. And when your taste in slingshots run more toward the ridiculously lethal, [Jörg Sprave]’s machete launcher never disappoints.

[Thanks Leslie!]

Miniature Cannon Packs a Punch, Shows off Manual Machining Skills

CNC machine tools are getting ever more affordable for the amateur machinist, and they’re an enabling technology for many projects. But you’ve got to respect the old school approach to turning hunks of metal into finished parts with no computer control. [Ticktock34] shows off his skills on a WWII vintage manual lathe with a photo album of his .75 caliber miniature black powder cannon build. What starts as a 3″ diameter actuator from a front end loader ends up as a beautiful replica of a full-sized cannon, along with a half-filled barrel of nicely blued scrap metal. Particularly impressive is the nicely proportioned ball end, cut by hand with no more instrumentation than a set of calipers. [Ticktock34] also shares a few tips for getting the trunnions exactly squared and aligned.

Good looking, and functional – stay tuned after the break for a video with the impressive blast from a test firing – with only a quarter charge of powder, mind you.

Want something a little safer for the kiddies and less likely to result in a visit from the police? Perhaps this PVC pirate cannon is more your speed.

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Machine Metal With Electricity: An EDM Attachment For 3D Printers

[SuperUnknown] has revealed a secret project he’s been working on. He’s cooked up an EDM attachment for 3D printers, or any CNC machine for that matter. Electrical Discharge Machining (EDM) is a method of using sparks to machine metal. EDM isn’t a new technology, in fact commercial machines have been around since the 1960’s. If you’ve ever had an arc scar up your multimeter probes, you’ve unwittingly done a bit of EDM.

The theory behind EDM is simple: High voltage between the tool and workpiece causes sparks to jump between them. Each spark erodes the workpiece (and the tool). Big EDM machines perform their magic in a liquid which acts as both a dielectric and a flushing medium. This liquid can be anything from deionzed tap water to specially formulated oil. [SuperUnknown] is using good old-fashioned tap water.

edm-roughAs you can imagine, a single spark won’t erode much metal. EDM machines fire tens of thousands of times per second. The exact frequencies, voltages, and currents are secrets the machine manufacturers keep close to their chests. [SuperUnknown] is zeroing in on 65 volts at 2 amps, running at 35 kHz. He’s made some great progress, gouging into hardened files, removing broken taps from brass, and even eroding the impression of a coin in steel.

While we’d love to say this is a free open source project, [superUnknown] needs to pay the bills. He’s going with crowdsourced funding. No, not another Kickstarter. This project is taking a different route. The videos of the machine will be uploaded to YouTube and visible to [superUnknown’s] Patreon supporters. They will also be available for rent using YouTube’s new rental system. [SuperUnknown] has pledged to figure out a way to make the content available for starving college students and others with limited incomes.

Based upon his previous adventures with lil’ screwy, his homemade 100 ton press, and various other projects on the Arduino verses Evil YouTube channel, we think [superUnkown] has a pretty good chance of making home EDM work. Click past the break to see two videos of the 3D printer EDM toolhead in action. We should mention that [SuperUnknown] is rather colorful with his dialogue, so make sure you’re using headphones if you’re at work.

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Anodized Phone Mount For Your Bike

There’s a slew of apps out there for tracking your bike rides. If you want to monitor your ride while using the app, you’ll need it securely affixed to your bike. That’s where [Gord]’s No Dropped Calls build comes in. This aluminium mount was hand milled and anodized, which gives it a professional finish.

The mount consists of 3 parts which were machined out of stock 6061 aluminium. The plans were dreamt up in [Gord]’s head, and not drawn out, but the build log gives a good summary of the process. By milling away all of the unnecessary material, the weight of the mount was minimized.

Once the aluminium parts were finished, they were anodized. Anodization is a process that accelerates the oxidization of aluminum, creating a protective layer of aluminium oxide. [Greg] does this with a bucket of sulphuric acid and a power supply. Once the anodization is complete, the part is dyed for coloring. If you’re interested, [Gord] has a detailed writeup on home anodization.

The final product looks great, puts the phone within reach while biking, and prevents phone damage due to “dropped calls.”

Pneumatic Pen Gun is Fit for James Bond

The James Bond franchise is well-known for many things, but perhaps most important to us hackers are the gadgets. Bond always had an awesome gadget that somehow was exactly the thing he needed to get out of a jam. [hw97karbine’s] latest project would fit right into an old Bond flick. He’s managed to build a single-shot pellet gun that looks like a pen.

[hw97karbine] started out by cutting the body from a tube of carbon fiber. He used a hacksaw to do the cutting, and then cleaned up the edges on a lathe. A barrel was cut from a piece of brass tubing with a smaller diameter. These two tubes will eventually sit one inside of the other. A custom front end cap was machined from brass. One end is ribbed and glued into the carbon fiber tube. The barrel is also glued to this end of the front cap, though it’s glued to the inside of the cap. The other end of the cap has 1/8″ BSP threads cut into it in order to allow for attachments.

A rear end cap is machined from Delrin. This piece also has a Delrin piston placed inside. The piston has a small piece of rubber used as a gasket. This piston valve is what allows the gun to operate. The rear cap gets glued into place and attached to a Schrader valve, removed from an automotive tire valve stem.

To pressurize the system, a bicycle pump is attached to the Schrader valve. This pushes the piston up against the barrel, preventing any of the air from escaping. The piston doesn’t make a perfect seal, so air leaks around it and pressurizes the carbon fiber tube. The Schrader valve prevents the air from leaking out of the pen body. A special machined button was threaded onto the Schrader valve. When the button is pressed, the air escapes; the sudden pressure imbalance causes the piston to shoot backwards, opening up a path for the air to escape through the barrel. This escaping air launches the projectile. The whole process is explained better with an animation.

Now, the question left in our mind: is this the same pressure imbalance concept that was used in that vacuum pressure bazooka we saw a couple years back?

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