Christmas Lights Done the Hard Way

It’s that time of the year again when you gotta start worrying if you’ve been naughty enough to not receive any gifts. Hopefully, Blinky Lights will appease St. Nick. Grab a strip of RGB LEDs, hook them up to an Arduino and a Power supply, slap on some code, and Bob’s your Uncle. But if you want to retain your hacker cred, you best do it the hard way. Which is what [roddersblog] did while building his Christmas Starburst LED Stars this year — and bonus points for being early to the party.

christmas-lights-the-hard-wayFor starters, he got panels (as in PCB panels) of WS2812 boards from eBay. The advantage is it lets you choose your own pitch and strand length. The flip side is, you need to de-panel each board, mount it in a jig, and then solder three lengths of hook up wire to each LED. He planned for an eight sided star with ten LED’s each. And he built three of them. So the wiring was, substantial, to say the least. And he had to deal with silicone sealant that refused to cure and harden. But nothing that some grit and determination couldn’t fix.

For control, he choose the PIC16F1509 microcontroller. This family has a feature that PIC calls the “Configurable Logic Cell” and this Application Note describes how to use CLC to interface the PIC to a WS2811. He noticed processing delays due to C code overheads that caused him some grief. After some experimentation, he re-wrote the entire program in assembly which produced satisfactory results. You can check out his code on the GitHub repository.

Also well worth a look, he’s got a few tricks up his sleeve to improve the quality of his home-brew PCB’s. He’s built his own UV exposure unit with timer, which is an interesting project in itself. The layout is designed in Eagle, with a flood fill to minimize the amount of copper required to be etched away. He takes a laser print of the layout, applies vegetable oil to the paper to make it more translucent to UV, and doubles up the prints to get a nice contrast.

Once the sensitized board has been exposed in the UV unit, he uses a weak but fresh and warm solution of Sodium Hydroxide as a developer to remove the unexposed UV photo-resist. To etch the board, he uses standard Feric Chloride solution, which is kept warm using an aquarium heater, while an aquarium air-pump is used to agitate the solution. He also describes how he fabricates double sided boards using the same technique. The end result is quite satisfying – check out the video after the break.

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Home Brew Supercapacitor Whipped Up In The Kitchen

[Taavi] has a problem – a wonky alarm clock is causing him to repeatedly miss his chemistry class. His solution? Outfit his clock radio with a supercapacitor, of course! But not just any supercapacitor – a home-brew 400 Farad supercap in a Tic Tac container (YouTube video in Estonian with English subtitles.)

[Taavi] turns out to be quite a resourceful lad with his build. A bit of hardware cloth and some stainless steel from a scouring pad form a support for the porous carbon electrode, made by mixing crushed activated charcoal with epoxy and squeezing them in a field-expedient press. We’ll bet his roommates weren’t too keen with the way he harvested materials for the press from the kitchen table, nor were they likely thrilled with what he did to the coffee grinder, but science isn’t about the “why?”; it’s about the “why not?” Electrodes are sandwiched with a dielectric made from polypropylene shade cloth, squeezed into a Tic Tac container, and filled with drain cleaner for the electrolyte. A quick bit of charging circuitry, and [Taavi] doesn’t have to sweat that tardy slip anymore.

The video is part of a series of 111 chemistry lessons developed by the chemistry faculty of the University of Tartu in Estonia. The list of experiments is impressive, and a lot of the teaser stills show impressively exothermic reactions, like the reduction of lead oxide with aluminum to get metallic lead or what happens when rubidium and water get together. Some of this is serious “do not try this at home” stuff, but there’s no denying the appeal of watching stuff blow up.

As for [Taavi]’s supercap, we’ve seen a few applications for them before, like this hybrid scooter. [Taavi] may also want to earn points for Tic Tac hacks by pairing his supercapacitor with this Tic Tac clock.

[Thanks, Lloyd!]

Hot plate stirrer dissolves support material in 3D printed objects


When you want to print a 3D object you run into problems if there is a part that has nothing below it. The hot, soft filament coming out of the extruder will droop with gravity if not given something to rest on while it hardens. The solution is to use a second material as a support. But then you’ve got to find a way to remove the support structure when the printing is done. That’s where this beauty comes in. It’s a heated stir plate for dissolving PLA.

The PLA is printed using a second extruder head. Once the part is cooled [Petrus] puts it into a heated bath of sodium hydroxide (lye). The solvent will remove the PLA but not harm the ABS. Speaking of ABS, [Petrus] also mentions that this can double as a temperature controlled hot plate for polishing ABS prints using acetone vapor.

There’s all kinds of good stuff inside of this beast so do check out the full plans to learn more. Our favorite part is the stir bar which is a piece of threaded rod and a couple of nuts. To make it safe to submerge in the chemicals he 3D printed a pill-shaped enclosure for it.

[Thanks Matt]

Anodizing and dyeing aluminum without battery acid

While many people have tried their hand at anodizing aluminum at home, there are plenty who would just as soon leave it up to the professionals due to the highly concentrated sulfuric acid required for the process. [Ken] started thinking about the process and wondered if there was a way to get comparable results using chemicals that are easier to obtain and dispose of.

Through some experimentation he found that sodium bisulfate (NaHSO4), which is a sodium salt of sulfuric acid, can easily be used in its place with great results. The chemical is typically advertised in hardware and pool stores as “Aqua Chem”, and can be had at a very reasonable price. When paired with the proper DC current along with a cathode, the sodium bisulfate easily anodizes an aluminum workpiece and renders it ready for coloring with RIT, readily available cloth dye.

We were impressed with the results, and when looking at [Ken’s] test pieces, it seems that the metal dyed with sodium bisulfate has a more uniform, less streaky coloring to it. It’s also worth mentioning that [Ken] has found it is fairly easy to etch the aluminum before anodizing using a solution of sodium hydroxide, which is great for individuals who prefer a more matte finish.

If this is something that interests you, be sure to swing by his site. He has a posted nice video overview of the process that may be of some help.

Powering vehicles with aluminum

Pop a few aluminum bits into this little RC racer and you’ll have power for around forty minutes. This concept, which has been patented, is the result of a college research project. It uses a chemical reaction between aqueous Sodium Hydroxide and aluminum. The result of that reaction is hydrogen, which is gathered and directed to a fuel cell that drives the car.

Novel? Yes. Interesting? Absolutely. But you should be raising an eyebrow at the dubious choice of fuel that is aluminum.

If you don’t know what we’re talking about let us paint you a picture. Aluminum is a metal that is refined from bauxite ore. It takes an immense amount of electricity to smelt the metal. This is usually justified because aluminum is one of the most recyclable substances on earth, capable of being melted down and reformed countless times. But dissolving it in drain cleaner breaks it down and then it’s gone. So what we have here simply must be the least efficient disposable battery so far developed. It’d probably use less resources to grow and harvest lemons as a power source.

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