Turning Old Toggle Switches Into Retro-Tech Showpieces

While those of us in the hacking community usually focus on making new things, there’s plenty to be said for restoring old stuff. Finding a piece of hardware and making it look and work like new can be immensely satisfying, and dozens of YouTube channels and blogs exist merely to feed the need for more restoration content.

The aptly named [Switch and Lever] has been riding the retro wave for a while, and his video on restoring and repairing vintage toggle switches shows that he has picked up a trick or two worth sharing. The switches are all flea market finds, chunky beasts that have all seen better days. But old parts were built to last, and they proved sturdy enough to withstand the first step in any restoration: disassembly. Most of the switches were easily pried open, but a couple needed rivets drilled out first. The ensuing cleaning and polishing steps were pretty basic, although we liked the tips about the micromesh abrasives and the polishing compound. Another great tip was using phenolic resin PCBs as repair material for broken Bakelite bodies; they’re chemically similar, and while they may not match the original exactly, they make for a great repair when teamed up with CA glue and baking soda as a filler.

3D-printed repairs would work too, but there’s something satisfying about keeping things historically consistent. Celebrating engineering history is really what restorations like these are all about, after all. And even if you’re building something new, you can make it look retro cool with these acid-etched brass plaques that [Switch and Lever] also makes.

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Monster Bush Plane Is A One-Off Engineering Masterpiece

All of us dream of reaching a point in life where we have the knowledge, skills, energy and resources to pull off builds that match our wildest dreams. [Mike Patey] is living that dream and with a passion for engineering and aviation that is absolutely infectious, he built Draco, the world’s most badass bush plane.

Draco started life as a PZL-104MA Wilga 2000, which already had impressive short take off and landing (STOL) capabilities for a 4 seater. Its original 300 hp Lycoming piston engine failed catastrophically in 2017, very nearly dumping [Mike] in Lake Utah. He decided it was a good excuse to start building his dream plane, and replaced the motor with a Pratt & Whitney PT6 turboprop engine, putting out a massive 680 hp.

Almost the entire plane was upgraded, and the engineering that went into it is awe-inspiring, especially considering that [Mike] did most of it himself. This includes a redesigned fuel system, enlarged wing and control surfaces, new avionics, oxygen system, upgraded landing gear and an array of lights. The wing tip landing lights are actually from a Boeing 737. [Mike] estimates that the upgrades cost somewhere in the region of a million US dollars. All the highlights of the build is documented in series of videos on [Mike]’s YouTube channel. What we would give for a personal workshop like that…

Try not to let your jaw hit the floor when watching the video after the break.

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A Masterpiece, But Our Maestro Is A CNC Machine

Sometimes we manage to miss projects when they first appear, only to have the joy of discovering them a while later. So it is with [John Opsahl]’s Project Convert To Paint, a CNC painting ‘bot that takes a bitmap image and paints it on canvas as a fine artist would, with a real brush, and paints.

It was first created for the 2017 robotart.org competition, and takes the form of a fairly standard CNC gantry machine. It departs from the norm in its chuck however, as it has what is described as a universal artist chuck, capable of holding a variety of artistic implements. The images are converted from bitmap to vector format, and thence to gcode with the help of a bit of custom Python code.

He’s at pains to say that simply because an image can be converted to a paintable format does not mean that it will produce a good picture. But some of the results are rather impressive, delivering anything from a pointilist effect to a broader brush stroke. We can see that with a bit of experience in the processing it would be possible to create a veritable gallery of masterpieces.

We may have missed this one the first time, but we did catch another drawbot from the same competition.

Hydraulic Bench Vise A Masterpiece Of Scrap Metal And Angle Grinding

For most of us, a vise is the sort of thing you clamp onto the edge of a workbench and crank down by hand. It might even be made of plastic, depending on the kind of work you find yourself doing with it. But it’s safe to say that [WorkshopFromScratch] won’t be soldering any PCBs in the jaws of this nearly 100 lb hydraulic vise that he built from, well… scratch.

In the video after the break, he takes an array of scrap metal including what appears to be a chunk of racking from the Home Depot and a rusted plate that looks like it could be peeled off the hull of a sunken ship, and turns it into a monsterous vise with five tons of clamping force. Outside of a handful of bolts, a couple of gas struts, and the hydraulic bottle jack that that provides the muscle, everything is hand-cut and welded together. No fancy machining here; if you’ve got an angle grinder, a welder, and of course the aforementioned stock of scrap metal, you’ve got the makings of your own mega vise.

The piece of racking is cut down the center to form the base of the vise, but most everything else is formed from individual shapes cut out of the plate and welded together. Considering the piecemeal construction methods, the final result looks very professional. The trick is to grind all the surfaces, including the welds, down until everything looks consistent. Then follow that with a coat of primer and then your finish color.

While the whole build is very impressive, our favorite part has to be the hand-cut cross hatching on the jaws. With the workpiece in one hand and angle grinder in the other, he cuts the pattern out with an accuracy that almost looks mechanical. If we didn’t know better, we might think [WorkshopFromScratch] was some kind of metalworking android from the future.

Being able to work with metal is a fantastic skill to have, and we’re always impressed to see what folks can produce with a welder and some scrapyard finds. Especially when they build tools and equipment that can be put to practical use.

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Tuning Into Atomic Radio: Quantum Technique Unlocks Laser-Based Radio Reception

The basic technology of radio hasn’t changed much since an Italian marquis first blasted telegraph messages across the Atlantic using a souped-up spark plug and a couple of coils of wire. Then as now, receiving radio waves relies on antennas of just the right shape and size to use the energy in the radio waves to induce a current that can be amplified, filtered, and demodulated, and changed into an audio waveform.

That basic equation may be set to change soon, though, as direct receivers made from an exotic phase of matter are developed and commercialized. Atomic radio, which does not rely on the trappings of traditional radio receivers, is poised to open a new window on the RF spectrum, one that is less subject to interference, takes up less space, and has much broader bandwidth than current receiver technologies. And surprisingly, it relies on just a small cloud of gas and a couple of lasers to work.

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A Work Of Art That Also Receives AM And SSB

Over the winter, [Michael LeBlanc] thought a good way to spend his time during those long dark nights would be to scratch build his own direct conversion receiver. He was able to find plans for such a project easily enough online, but where’s the fun in following instructions? The final result incorporates what he found online with his own unique tweaks and artistic style.

[Michael] based his receiver on a modified approach to the DC40 created by [Ashhar Farhan], a name likely familiar to readers involved in amatuer radio. He further modified the design by swapping out the audio amplifier for a TDA2003A, and bolted on a digital tuner by way of an Arduino and a Si5351 clock generator. There’s a small OLED to show the current frequency, which is adjusted with a high-quality Bourns EM14 optical encoder so he can surf the airwaves in the comfort and style.

The digital tuner mated to the analog DC40 receiver gives the radio an interesting duality, which [Michael] really embraces with his enclosure design. From a practical standpoint he wanted to keep the two halves of the system in their own boxes to minimize any interference, but the 3D printed case exaggerates that practical consideration into a fascinating conversation piece.

The analog and digital compartments are askew, and their rotary controls are on opposite sides. The radio looks like it might topple over if it wasn’t for the fact that the whole thing is bolted together, complete with brass inserts for the printed parts. The integrated carry handle at the top somehow manages to make it look vintage and ultra-modern at the same time. Rarely do you see a printed enclosure that’s both meticulously designed inside and aesthetically pleasing externally. [Michael] earned his 3D Printing Merit Badge for sure with this one.

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You’re Sitting On An Engineering Masterpiece: Chairs As A Design Challenge

If you move as a hardware hacker through the sometimes surprisingly similar world of artists, craftspeople, designers, blacksmiths, and even architects, there’s one piece of work that you will see time and time again as an object that exerts a curious fascination. It seems that designing and building a chair is a rite of passage, and not just a simple chair, but in many cases an interesting chair.

An American-made Windsor chair from the turn of the 19th century. Los Angeles County Museum of Art [Public domain]
An American-made Windsor chair from the turn of the 19th century. Los Angeles County Museum of Art [Public domain]
Some of the most iconic seating designs that you will be instantly familiar with through countless mass-produced imitations began their lives as one-off design exercises. Yet we rarely see them in our community of hackers and makers, a search turns up only a couple of examples. This is surprising, not least because there is more than meets the eye to this particular piece of furniture. Your simple seat can be a surprisingly complex challenge.

Moving Charis From Artisan to Mass Market

The new materials and mass production techniques of the 19th and 20th centuries have brought high-end design into the hands of the masses, but while wealthy homes in earlier centuries had high-quality bespoke furniture in the style of the day, the traditional furniture of the masses was hand-made in the same way for centuries often to a particular style dependent on the region in which it was produced.

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