Circuit Playground – An electronics reference app from Adafruit

It’s not everyday that we review software around here, but the folks at Adafruit recently put together an iOS app that I figured might be of interest. Their iPad/iPhone compatible application is called “Circuit Playground”, and it includes all sorts of handy electronics reference tools. For the context of this review, it should be noted that I paid for the application myself, and that I have had no communication with the Adafruit team regarding my assessment of the app.

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Building a ’60s guerilla homebrew square wave generator

What do you do when you’ve got three broken function generators? Build your own, obviously. Since your workshop has already gone through three of these bad boys, you might find yourself repairing your build. Better not use any fancy ICs and go with a transistor only build.

When [Miroslav] sent in his ‘guerilla homebrew’ square wave generator, we were really impressed. With a relatively simple schematic that uses parts that could be salvaged from old radios, this is a real MacGyver build.

The generator is based around a simple astable multivibrator. It doesn’t provide sine waves, but it’s the easiest circuit to get working. The build started off with a quartet of 2N4401 transistors, but according to the datasheet and the venerable Tektronix 502A, these had a very bad rise time compared to 2N3904s.

[Miroslav]‘s project generates square waves up to 2.22 MHz and pulses with a variable duty cycle from 1-49% and 51-99%. Output is either 5 Volt TTL levels or an adjustable 0-3.38 level. The generator is exactly what [Miroslav] needed, so that makes it a great tool in our book.

Laser level tripod made from recycled parts

laser_level_tripod

[msuzuki777] is a self-proclaimed “Lazy Old Geek” with way too much free time on his hands. He recently picked up a laser cross and figured that he would use some of that time to make a laser tripod for various projects around the house.

He pulled out an old camera tripod, and modified an unused CD jewel case so that it could be screwed onto the traditional camera mount. He added three bolts to the platform, on which he mounted another CD case, letting him adjust both the laser platform as well as the tripod.

He put together a simple power supply for the laser, and then mounted it on a pair of CDs sandwiched on top of one another. The CD platform was then popped onto the guts of an old CD player, allowing him to spin his laser pointer in any direction without having to re-level it.

The laser cross tripod certainly looks a bit complicated, but [msuzuki777] says it works a treat, allowing him to easily hang pictures and the like. He also mentions that he wants to throw an Arduino at it to automate the leveling process, which is something we’d love to see.

DIY table saw cuts through anything, leaves no room for mistakes

diy_table_saw

Students in the BASTLI lab at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich had been stuck using underpowered and unreliable saws for quite some time. The saws often got stuck while cutting through PCBs and were generally a drag to use. When group member [Mario Mauerer] came across a big and powerful brushless motor in his basement, he decided it was time to upgrade the lab’s cutting tools.

Along with fellow student [Lukas Schrittwieser] he built a test rig to see how powerful the motor really was, and satisfied with the results, the pair set off to build their own table saw. The enclosure was wrapped up pretty quickly, leaving the pair to source a power supply. Rather than purchase one, they built a 700w monster switching PSU to power their saw.

As you can see in the video below the saw chews through most things with the greatest of ease, but the students added a “boost button” to the saw just in case they need to run it at full tilt.

While we can’t exactly overlook the lack of finger and eye protection in their demonstration, it does look like a great little tool to have around.

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Salvaged coil magnetizes tools on demand

magnetizing_wand

When working in hard to reach areas, magnetized tools can mean the difference between wrapping things up quickly and spending way too much time blindly grasping for dropped screws. [Damir] wrote in to share a handy little contraption he built which allows him to magnetize and demagnetize his tools as needed.

While rubbing a magnet against the tip of a screwdriver will impart a weak and temporary magnetic field, he felt that a stronger more permanently magnetized tool was far more useful. It is pretty well known that subjecting metal to a direct current magnetic field will magnetize the item, and an alternating magnetic field will demagnetize the same object. [Damir’s] wand will perform either task with the simple flip of a switch.

He salvaged the motor coil from a broken washing machine and mounted it in a project box, along with a single-pole changeover switch. A small diode is used to perform rectification on the AC input, providing the DC current required for magnetizing his tools.

Every once in awhile we find the need for magnetized tools, so we think this would be great to have around the workshop.

Check out a quick video demo of the magnetizing wand after the jump.

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Building a one-ton linear servo

one_ton_servo_jack

A while back, [Windell] from Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories wrote up an article for Make Magazine detailing how he built a one-ton, servo-controlled scissor jack for under $100. He dropped us a line to let us know that the project details have been released for free at Make Projects, so we stopped by to take a look.

The project starts out by pulling apart an electronic scissor jack to get access to the solder pads for the up and down buttons. Once wires are added there, a servo is the next victim. [Windell] recommends using an old servo with a busted motor, but you can use a good one just the same. The servo’s pots are replaced with 10 turn pots, and then wired up to a controller board, to which the jack is also connected. Then, to provide feedback to the servo, a string is looped around the top of the jack, which is used to turn the pots added in the previous step.

[Windell] says that the setup works quite well, though we imagine the duty cycle might be a bit short before adjustments are required. Regardless, it’s a quick way to get a heavy load lifted with servo precision.

DIY high voltage electric field detector

electric_field_detector

Who needs a Fluke high voltage detector when you’ve got one of these things?

Actually, we still recommend a professional high voltage detector for serious work, but you’ve got to like this electric field detector that [Alessandro] recently put together.

The detector works by using a JFET to detect the high impedance electric fields that are generated by high voltage lines. The JFET amplifies the signal while dropping the impedance in order to drive a pair of NPN transistors which are used as a threshold amplifier. Once the voltage hits 3V, an LED is lit, indicating the presence of high voltage near the detector’s probe. A wire-wrapped resistor does double-duty serving as the probe while providing a high impedance path to ground, ensuring that stray charge does not accumulate on the JFET’s gate, causing false readings.

It’s a neat project, and something that can be constructed in no time, making it perfect for beginner electronics classes.

Keep reading to see a quick video of the HV detector in action.

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