And the Grandfather of the Year Award Goes to…

Hacker dads often have great plans for all the fun projects they’ll build for their kids. Reality often intrudes, though, creating opportunities for hacker grandfathers who might have more time and resources to tackle the truly epic kid hacks. Take, for instance, [rwreagan] and the quarter-scale model railroad he built for his granddaughter.

Taking inspiration from a 1965 issue of Popular Mechanics, grandpa hit this one out of the park. Attention to detail and craftsmanship are evident from the cowcatcher to the rear coupler of this 4-2-0 steam engine replica, and everywhere along the 275 feet of wooden track — that’s almost a quarter-mile at scale. The locomotive runs on composite wood and metal flanged wheels powered by pair of 350-watt motors and some 12-volt batteries; alas, no steam. The loco winds around [rwreagan]’s yard through a right-of-way cut into the woods and into a custom-built engine house that’ll make a great playhouse. And there are even Arduino-controlled crossbucks at the grade crossing he uses for his tractor on lawn mowing days.

The only question here is: will his granddaughter have as much fun using it as he had building it? We’ll guess yes because it looks like a blast all around. Other awesome dad builds we’ve covered include this backyard roller coaster and a rocketship treehouse.

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New Useless Machine Does The Twist

Useless machines might not do any work or produce anything of value on their own, but they can be a great learning tool, and are often beautifully crafted as an expression of the builder’s artistic talents. By and large, they consist of a switch to turn the machine on, and an arm that switches the machine back off in response to this. Vladimir had a different take, and built this twisting vase useless machine instead.

The build references the twisting vases we saw recently – [Vladimir] loved the way they so elegantly opened and closed, and decided to base the build around that. The useless part of the machine is the lifting mechanism – a servo turns a pulley, which uses a magnet on a rope to lift the vase. Upon reaching a certain point, the vase drops, and the magnet is once again lowered to lift it back up again.

The first prototype used a simple delay-based timing loop to determine when to drop the magnet again, however over time this would fall out of sync with the vase’s position and the magnet would fail to attach to the vase. For the second version, [Vladimir] improved things by using a limit switch to determine the position of the vase instead of running on timing alone. The machine’s frame was also rebuilt using copper pipe, which allowed the wires and servo to be hidden from sight. The second revision of the project shows the difference polish can make – differences like these make the machine more suitable for display as a curio in a stylish home setting, rather then a messy project that lives on the workbench only.

Be sure to check out the video of the project below the break. For a simpler useless machine, check out this build. 
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Restoring a Strange Milling Machine from Craigslist

[diyVT] found a real white elephant in this milling machine from Craigslist. It cost him only $200, cheap for a small mill, so it was worth the gamble. We’re not sure what to call this — it’s not exactly a gantry mill, not a horizontal mill, and definitely not a knee mill. The tag says V-Mill, made by either Pierce West or Tree Tool and Die Works, depending on which ID plate you read. The Tree has a three-phase motor, but it came with a phase converter, so it should be good to run on single phase 220 volt household power.

The machine was in good physical shape, at least until the previous owner attempted to move it out of the garage. During the move one of the cast iron chain drive handwheel brackets broke into three pieces. Cast iron is no fun to weld. It has to be pre-heated, welded with nickel rod, and slowly cooled. Some hackers would have given up or built a new part, but [diyVT] accepted the challenge. He put the puzzle pieces back together, grooved them out with an angle grinder, and welded everything. The result wasn’t pretty, but it only has to take the force of the handwheel and the 200 lb gorilla spinning it.

After a bit of work on the motor and head, including a new belt, this tree was ready to cut. [diyVT] snuck out of a family bar-b-que to cut his first chips on the new (to him) machine.

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Watch the ClearWalker Light Up and Dip Its Toes

[Jeremy Cook]’s latest take on the Strandbeest, the ClearWalker, is ready to roll! He’s been at work on this project for a while, and walks us through the electronics and control system as well as final assembly tweaks. The ClearWalker is fully controllable and includes a pan and tilt camera as well as programmable LED segments, and even a tail.

When we last saw [Jeremy] at work on this design, it wasn’t yet functional. He showed us all the important design and assembly details that went into creating a motorized polycarbonate version of [Theo Jansen’s] classic Strandbeest design; there’s far more to the process than simply scaling parts up or down. Happily, [Jeremy] is able to show off the crystal clear beauty in his photo gallery as well as a new video, embedded below.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: A Community Mesh Network

While the Internet of Things is here to stay, and will kill us all, there are a few places left on the planet that will remain unscathed during the robot uprising. These underserved communities still have a need for communications and networking, leading [hlew] to create a Community Engagement Mesh Network as an entry for The Hackaday Prize.

While there are many, many options available for DIY networking solutions out there today, [hlew] is leaning on some work done by some of [Bruce Land]’s students at Cornell. This project used simple and cheap nRF24 radio modules for a true mesh network with multi-node communication, dynamic route discovery, and dynamic route reconfiguration.

The CEMN will rely on this network to provide communications to underserved communities. The primary goal of this network is to broadcast information like crop reports and health advisories, but it can also be used for peer to peer communications between individuals.

Invention Killed the Inventor

The desire to innovate and change the world can drive one to take dangerous risks. Sometimes, inventors pay the ultimate price. Inventors can be early testers of a device under development, and sometimes pushing the limits of what’s possible has deadly consequences. In this era of warning labels on coffee cups, it’s perhaps worth taking a look back at some inventors of the past who lost their lives in the pursuit of building something new.

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DIY Induction Soldering Iron

[Kasyan TV] shows us how to make a really simple DIY induction soldering iron complete with DIY soldering tips.

This is a pretty cool project. Most of us are used to temperature controlled ceramic heating elements, but there are other ways to get those irons up to temperature. Using scraps from older, presumably broken, soldering irons and some pieces of copper and iron along with a thermocouple for temperature management, [Kasyan TV] manages to throw together an Inductively heated soldering iron. To insulate the coil from the iron they use Kapton tape. The video goes on to show how to make your own induction iron, although missing is a power supply. We are sure a quick eBay search for an induction heater module should bring up something suitable to power the iron, or you could just wait and watch the their next video that will go over power supplies. The soldering tips are simply made from thick copper wire sculpted into the correct shape.

There are advantages to using a soldering iron like this, for example they are pretty durable and will take a knock or two, Our concern is that magnetically sensitive parts may not be happy, and the iron might destroy what you are trying to build. Either way we’ve put the video below the break, so take a look.

Hackaday has featured a few different DIY soldering irons and some pretty cool DIY Soldering Stations over the years. What is your soldering iron of choice and why?

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