DIY Tuning Capacitors From Washers And 3D-Printed Parts

The inside of classic radios holds wonders that the sterile chips and SMD components of today’s circuits can’t hold a candle to. Chunky resistors and capacitors, vacuum tubes with cathodes aglow, and seemingly free-form loops of wire forming inductors will all likely make an appearance. But the most fascinating bit of any old radio was connected to the tuning knob: the big variable capacitor with its interdigitating metal plates. Watching one at work, with its plates evenly and finely spaced, is still a joy to behold.

In an attempt to recapture a little of that magic, [Jeremy S. Cook] came up with this home-brew variable tuning capacitor. The frame is built mainly from 3D-printed parts, which supports a shaft made from a common bolt. Plates are fashioned from stainless steel fender washers cut in half; the fixed plates are press-fit into the frame while the rotary plates ride on the shaft. The spacing between the rotary plates is maintained by printed spacers, which also serve to lock the rotor into one solid unit. [Jeremy]’s prototype, for which he provides STL files, can be tuned between about 7 and 15 pF. Check out the build in the video below.

We love the look of this, and we can imagine custom tuning caps would come in handy for certain retro radio builds. The tuning range is a little narrow, but that could be fixed with more plates or closer spacing. That might be a tall order with thick steel washers, but we’ve seen really thin aluminum machined and closely spaced before, so this might be one approach to higher capacitance. Continue reading “DIY Tuning Capacitors From Washers And 3D-Printed Parts”

Building A Portable Solar Powered Spot Welder: Charging Supercapacitors

Before Lunar New Year, I had ordered two 3000 F, 2.7 V supercapacitors from China for about $4 each. I don’t actually remember why, but they arrived (unexpectedly) just before the holiday.

Supercapacitors (often called ultracapacitors) fill a niche somewhere between rechargeable lithium cells and ordinary capacitors. Ordinary capacitors have a low energy density, but a high power density: they can store and release energy very quickly. Lithium cells store a lot of energy, but charge and discharge at a comparatively low rate. By weight, supercapacitors store on the order of ten times less energy than lithium cells, and can deliver something like ten times lower power than capacitors.

Overall they’re an odd technology. Despite enthusiastic news coverage, they are a poor replacement for batteries or capacitors, but their long lifespan and moderate energy and power density make them suitable for some neat applications in their own right. Notably, they’re used in energy harvesting, regenerative braking, to extend the life of or replace automotive lead-acid batteries, and to retain data in some types of memory. You’re not likely to power your laptop with supercapacitors.

Anyway, I had a week-long holiday, and two large capacitors of dubious origin. Sometimes we live in the best of all possible worlds. Continue reading “Building A Portable Solar Powered Spot Welder: Charging Supercapacitors”

Make Your Own Simple VHF Tuning Capacitor

If you enjoy building radio projects you may have noticed something slightly worrying over the last few years in your component supply. Variable capacitors are no longer as plentiful as they used to be. There was a time when all radio receivers contained at least one, now with the advent of the varicap diode and the frequency synthesiser the traditional tuning capacitor is a rare breed. They are still made, but they’re not cheap and they won’t appear so readily in your junk box any more.

Fortunately a variable capacitor is a surprisingly simple device, and one you can make yourself if you are of a mind to do so. [Patrick] did just that with his home-made capacitor, in this case of a few tens of pF and suitable as a low-power trimmer capacitor or in a single-chip FM radio.

Rather than make a set of interlocking vanes as you’d find in a commercial design, he has gone for a screw in a tube. The capacitance is set by the length by which the screw is inserted into the tube. And his tube is not a tube in the traditional sense, instead he has used a coil of enamelled copper wire wound on the screw thread, whose insulation forms the dielectric. It looks wrong to use a coil in this way as you’d expect a similar coil to form the inductive part of a tuned circuit, but this coil is shorted out to prevent its inductance becoming a factor at the frequency in question.

It’s evidently not the answer to all variable capacitor problems, but it’s a neat piece of lateral thinking and it will make a simple working capacitor from readily available parts.

We’ve featured a couple of more traditional style home-made variable capacitors in the past on these pages, one made from thin aluminium sheet cut with scissors, and another one designed for use in higher power transmitters.

Thanks [PeterF] for the tip.

Crack Open A USB Car Charger To Make It A Variable DC-DC Converter

[Boolean90] hacked a cheap USB car charger into a variable power supply. His proof of concept is to use this as a variable-speed motor controller. The best part is that nothing is being abused, the regulator inside is still running within manufacturer’s spec.

While we’ve seen similar hacks before, [Boolean90]s video is pretty cool and provides a nice insight into the components used in these cheap devices. Rather than a linear regulator, which would dissipate too much heat the device uses a common jelybean MC34063A (PDF) switching DC-DC converter which costs about 10 cents on eBay (about two dollars for twenty, shipped). Here it’s used to step the car batteries 12 volts down to 5, but can also be used in step-up and inverting configurations.

Like all switching buck converters the MC34063A uses a PWM (pulse width modulated) signal to drive an inductor and capacitor, which effectively form an LC filter. By controlling the pulse width, the output voltage can be regulated. [Afrotechmods] has a great tutorial on the basic principle. The regulation is controlled by feedback resistors. [Boolean90] simply added a variable resistor to allow the output voltage to be controlled.

Neat hack [Boolean90]! Continue reading “Crack Open A USB Car Charger To Make It A Variable DC-DC Converter”

Making A Variable RF Signal Sampler

One of [Brian]’s hobbies is Amateur Ham radio, in which it is usually required to check that the transmitted signals are within specifications. As it isn’t safe to connect the radio’s output directly to measuring equipment due to the high voltages involved, [Brian] made his own dedicated RF signal sampler. It works by using capacitive coupling between the signal you wish to sample and a high impedance output. The latter can then safely be connected to an oscilloscope or spectrum analyzer for monitoring.

In the picture you see above, the air gap between the core signal conductor and the output plays the role of a capacitor. By adjusting its length you can therefore vary the output signal’s voltage range. The sampler is built using a die-cast aluminium enclosure which is 52x38x27mm. As you may have guessed, due to the case geometry the output attenuation will depend on the signal’s frequency. [Brian] tested the unit using a 30MHz signal generator and printed this frequency attenuation graph while also varying the air gap.

Variable Capacitance/reistance Switch Box Has You Covered

variable_cap_resistor_box

While working on electronics projects, it’s often necessary to test out different capacitance or resistance values as things are moving along. Depending on what you are testing, this can be a tedious process even when using a breadboard. Instructables user [mattthegamer463] recently built a very useful device that would help out in these situations, and would likely be a welcome addition to any Hackaday reader’s workbench.

His variable resistor/capacitor box makes it easy to test out any number of different resistance or capacitance values with a simple turn of a knob. He wired up a pair of pots to provide a wide range of resistance values, being sure to add a low-resistance safety as well as safety override switch for those of you who like to have things blow up in your face live dangerously. A set of 22 capacitors were wired up on a piece of perfboard, each of which can be selected using a pair of knobs. He added a simple switch to allow the capacitors to be toggled between parallel and series orientations as well.

[Matt] did a wonderful job here – this is a great project that can be customized in a multitude of ways to fit almost anyone’s specific needs.

Circuit VR: The Wheatstone Bridge Analog Computer

We are always impressed with something so simple can actually be so complex. For example, what would you think goes into an analog computer? Of course, a “real” analog computer has opamps that can do logarithms, square roots, multiply, and divide. But would it surprise you that you can make an analog device like a slide rule using a Wheatstone bridge — essentially two voltage dividers. You don’t even need any active devices at all. It is an old idea and one that used to show up in electronic magazines now and again. I’ll show you how they work and simulate the device so you don’t have to build it unless you just want to.

A voltage divider is one of the easiest circuits in the world to analyze. Consider two resistors Ra and Rb in series. Voltage comes in at the top of Ra and the bottom of Rb is grounded. The node connecting Ra and Rb — let’s call it Z — is what we’ll consider the output.

Let’s say we have a 10 V battery feeding A and a perfect voltmeter that doesn’t load the circuit connected to Z. By Kirchoff’s current law we know the current through Ra and Rb must be the same. After all, there’s nowhere else for it to go. We also know the voltage drop across Ra plus the voltage drop across Rb must equal to 10 V. Kirchoff, conservation of energy, whatever you want to call it.  Let’s call these quantities I, Va, and Vb. Continue reading “Circuit VR: The Wheatstone Bridge Analog Computer”