Adjustable, Piston-Damped Hammer

When all you have is a hammer, every problem is a constant quest for an even better hammer, as the popular saying goes. At least, that seems to be [Ebenisterie Éloïse]’s situation. She wanted a deadblow hammer that not only had an aesthetically pleasing wood and brass construction, but also one that included adjustable dampers to make sure that each hammer swing is as efficient as possible.

For those unfamiliar with specialty hammers, dead blow hammers typically have some movable mass such as sand or lead shot within the hammer head. This mass shifts forward when the hammer strikes an object, reducing rebound of the hammer off of the object and transferring more energy into each strike. This hammer omits a passive mass in favor of four custom-machined brass tubes, each of which holds a weighted fluid, a spring, and brass weight. Each piston acts as a damper in a similar way to a shock absorber on a vehicle, and a screw and o-ring at the top of each one allows them to be adjustable by adding different weight fluids as needed. Some detailed testing of the pistons shows a marked improvement over any of the passive mass varieties as well.

Not only is this an incredible amount of detail and precision for a tool that is often wielded in a non-precise way (at least among those of us for who aren’t skilled craftspeople), but it is also made out of wood, leather, and brass which gives it an improved look and feel over a plastic and fiberglass hammer that is typical of most modern deadblow hammers. It even rivals this engineer’s hammer with its intricate custom engraving in craftsmanship alone.

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Inside A DEC Hard Drive

A lot of technology from the not-so-distant past doesn’t resemble modern versions very much. For a case in point, look at the DEC RS08 disk drive meant to pair with a circa 1970 PDP-8. Paired with an RF08 controller, this was state of the art, holding 262K 12-bit words with a blistering access speed of almost 63K/second unless you were plugged into 50Hz AC when it was closer to 50K/second. [Uniservo] had the disk unit, but not the controller. Someone else had a controller, but no disk drive. So [Uniservo] is shipping the disk to its new owner in a move worthy of a Reeses’ Peanutbutter Cup. The problem? The disk is super fragile and shipping is risky, so he decided to remove the platter for separate packing. Good thing for us, because we get a peek inside.

The nickel-cobalt platter looks like a thick LP record with heads underneath. As you might guess from the data transfer specification, the motor was just a common AC motor that rotated the platter against the head.

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Smart Pet Feeder Is Well Engineered

Having pets can sometimes be more demanding than raising kids. Pet owners obviously love and adore their pets, but anything that can be done to reduce their “chores” can be a welcome relief. One big pain point is feeding them at the right time and in the right amount, especially when it comes to cats. As the saying goes, “Dogs have Masters, Cats have Staff! ”

[Sebastian] had had it with his cat [Strachu] nagging him at odd hours for food. Luckily, [Sebastian] is a skilled maker, and his IoT Cat Feeder is not only practical, but also extremely well engineered. He designed and built it from scratch, and the beautiful, final version shows the effort he put in to it. His requirements were quite straightforward. It had to integrate with his home automation system, had to dispense food based on a regular schedule, send him a notification at other times of the day when the feeder detected the cat so he could decide if the cat deserved a special treat or not, and allow him to manually dispense cat food. Finally, he also wanted it to be easy to take apart so he could wash the parts that are in contact with food.

For the electronics, [Sebastian] designed a custom board to hold the ESP12F module and all the other associated parts. Everything, other than the stepper motor is mounted on the PCB. A PIR sensor is used for cat detection. A piezo buzzer lets the cat know that food is ready. A push button can be used to manually dispense food when required. The ESP8266 is flashed with ESPhome which allows control via simple yet powerful configuration files and control them remotely through the Home Assistant addon. If you’re interested in taking a look under the hood, [Sebastian] walks through some of the key code blocks on the ESP side, as well as the various configuration and setting options for the Home Assistant.

But by far the most effort he needed was in getting the mechanical design perfected. He had to go through several rounds of prototype iterations – after all, his cat deserved the very best in feeder design. The basic parts of the design are simple – a stepper motor drives an auger that pushes the cat food from the main container and deposits it in the bowl. Check out the detailed assembly instructions and pictures on his blog. The best part of his design is how easy it is to take it apart the feeder for cleaning. The stepper motor is held in place by a snap fit end piece without using any screws. The main body then just slides out from the top of the electronics box. Check out [Sebastian]’s cat feeder video after the break for details.

If this design makes you hanker to make one for your cat too, head over to his blog post and provide your mail address and [Sebastian] will send all the files for the project.

If your cat isn’t satisfied with dry food nuggets, you probably ought to build this Automated Cat Feeder That Handles Wet Food With Aplomb.

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Large Format Lego Camera Is A Bit Near-Sighted

Photography doesn’t have to be expensive, something that’s especially true in the realm of film photography, where the imperfections of the medium can be half the appeal. There are many DIY plans and kits available for analog cameras, but [bhiga143] had couple spare components and a pile of small, colorful bricks lying around, so he decided to build a functional 4×5″ film camera out of Lego.

Details are light for this build, but with a little knowledge about camera structure we can guess at what’s going on inside. Simplicity makes for robust design, and what we have here is in effect a box with a lens on one side and photographic film on the other. The center section of the front, which actually supports the lens, is capable of sliding in and out to adjust focus. On the far side (not pictured) is a slot just wide enough to insert a standard film holder.

The camera really is a hack. [bhiga143] stayed true to the “Lego” part of Lego camera, so there is no glue, no black paper lining, and no frills. The tripod is whatever stack of books lay underneath it. The lens is, quote, “barely functional”. There are light leaks galore, and it can’t focus beyond about 3 feet (1 meter). But every one of those points just makes us love it more. Every nugget of imperfection is a few words added to the story each picture tells. And we honestly can’t wait to see more pictures.

Other Lego cameras we’ve seen have been smaller and less colorful, but using a simple pinhole lens can reduce the overall cost. Of course, you’re not limited to Lego if you want to build your own pinhole camera. Although, the ubiquitous plastic bricks can also be useful in later stages of the film photography process.

A Superheterodyne Receiver With A 74xx Twist

In a world with software-defined radios and single-chip receivers, a superheterodyne shortwave radio might not exactly score high on the pizzazz scale. After all, people have been mixing, filtering, and demodulating RF signals for more than a century now, and the circuits that do the job best are pretty well characterized. But building the same receiver using none of the traditional superhet trappings? Now that’s something new.

In what [Micha] half-jokingly calls a “74xx-Defined Radio”, easily obtained discrete logic chips, along with some op-amps and a handful of simple components, take the place of the tuned LC circuits and ganged variable capacitors that grace a typical superhet receiver. [Micha] started by building an RF mixer out of a 74HC4051 analog multiplexer, which with the help of a 2N3904 phase splitter forms a switching mixer. The local oscillator relies on the voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO) in a 74HC4046 PLL, a chip that we’ve seen before in [Elliot Williams]’ excellent “Logic Noise” series. The IF filter is a simple op-amp bandpass filter; the demodulator features an op-amp too, set up as an active half-wave rectifier. No coils to wind, no capacitors to tune, no diodes with mysterious properties — and judging by the video below, it works pretty well.

It may not be the most conventional way to tune in the shortwave bands, but we always love the results of projects that are artificially constrained like this one. Hats off to [Micha] for the interesting trip down the design road less travelled.

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The Wright Stuff: First Powered Flight On Mars Is A Success

When you stop to think about the history of flight, it really is amazing that the first successful flight the Wright brothers made on a North Carolina beach to Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon spanned a mere 66 years. That we were able to understand and apply the principles of aerodynamics well enough to advance from delicate wood and canvas structures to rockets powerful enough to escape from the gravity well that had trapped us for eons is a powerful testament to human ingenuity and the drive to explore.

Ingenuity has again won the day in the history of flight, this time literally as the namesake helicopter that tagged along on the Mars 2020 mission has successfully flown over the Red Planet. The flight lasted a mere 40 seconds, but proved that controlled, powered flight is possible on Mars, a planet with an atmosphere that’s as thin as the air is at 100,000 feet (30 km) above sea level on Earth. It’s an historic accomplishment, and the engineering behind it is worth a deeper look.

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AVR Reverse Engineering Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, April 21 at noon Pacific for the AVR Reverse Engineering Hack Chat with Uri Shaked!

We’ve all become familiar with the Arduino ecosystem by now, to the point where it’s almost trivially easy to whip up a quick project that implements almost every aspect of its functionality strictly in code. It’s incredibly useful, but we tend to lose sight of the fact that our Arduino sketches represent a virtual world where the IDE and a vast selection of libraries abstract away a lot of the complexity of what’s going on inside the AVR microcontroller.

While it’s certainly handy to have an environment that lets you stand up a system in a matter of minutes, it’s hardly the end of the story. There’s a lot to be gained by tapping into the power of assembly programming on the AVR, and learning how to read the datasheet and really run the thing. That was the focus of Uri Shaked’s recent well-received HackadayU course on AVR internals, and it’ll form the basis of this Hack Chat. Then again, since Uri is also leading a Raspberry Pi Pico and RP2040 course on HackadayU in a couple of weeks, we may end up talking about that too. Or we may end up chatting about something else entirely! It’s really hard to where this Hack Chat will go, given Uri’s breadth of interests and expertise, but we’re pretty sure of one thing: it won’t be boring. Make sure you log in and join the chat — where it goes is largely up to you.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, April 21 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.
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