Soldering Like It’s 205 BC

Did you ever stop to think how unlikely the discovery of soldering is? It’s hard to imagine what sequence of events led to it; after all, metals heated to just the right temperature while applying an alloy of lead and tin in the right proportions in the presence of a proper fluxing agent doesn’t seem like something that would happen by accident.

Luckily, [Chris] at Clickspring is currently in the business of recreating the tools and technologies that would have been used in ancient times, and he’s made a wonderful video on precision soft soldering the old-fashioned way. The video below is part of a side series he’s been working on while he builds a replica of the Antikythera mechanism, that curious analog astronomical computer of antiquity. Many parts in the mechanism were soldered, and [Chris] explores plausible methods using tools and materials known to have been available at the time the mechanism was constructed (reported by different historians as any time between 205 BC and 70 BC or so). His irons are forged copper blocks, his heat source is a charcoal fire, and his solder is a 60:40 mix of lead and tin, just as we use today. He vividly demonstrates how important both surface prep and flux are, and shows both active and passive fluxes. He settled on rosin for the final joints, which turned out silky smooth and perfect; we suspect it took quite a bit of practice to get the technique down, but as always, [Chris] makes it look easy.

If you’d like to dig a bit deeper into modern techniques, we’ve covered the physics of solder and fluxes in some depth. And if you need more of those sweet, sweet Clickspring videos, we’ve got you covered there as well.

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A Dozen Tubes Make An Educational Amplifier

If you asked [Hans_Daniel] what he learned by building a tube audio amplifier with a dozen tubes that he found, the answer might just be, “don’t wind your own transformers.” We were impressed, though, that he went from not knowing much about tubes to a good looking amplifier build. We also like the name — NASS II-12 which apparently stands for “not a single semiconductor.”

Even the chassis looked really good. We didn’t know textolite was still a thing, but apparently, the retro laminate is still around somewhere. It looks like a high-end audio component and with the tubes proudly on display on the top, it should be a lot of fun to use.

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Transistor Logic Clock Gets Stacked Up

A couple years back we covered a very impressive transistor logic clock which was laid out so an observer could watch all of the counters doing their thing, complete with gratuitous blinkenlights. It had 777 transistors on 41 perfboards, and exactly zero crystals: the clock signal was extracted from the mains frequency of 50 Hz. It was obviously a labor of love and certainly looked impressive, but it wasn’t exactly the most practical timepiece we’d ever seen.

Creator [B Brett] recently wrote in to share news that the second version of his transistor logic clock has been completed, and we can confidently say it’s a triumph. He’s dropped the 41 perfboards in favor of 9 professionally fabricated PCBs, which this time around are stacked vertically to make it a bit more desktop friendly. The end goal of a transistor logic clock that you can take apart to study is the same, but this “MkII” as he calls it is a far more refined version of the concept.

In addition to using fewer boards, the new MkII design cuts the logic down to only 283 transistors. This is thanks in part to the fact that he allowed himself the luxury of including an oscillator this time. The clock uses a standard watch crystal at 32.768 KHz, the output of which is converted into a square wave through a Schmitt trigger. This is then fed into a divider higher up the stack which uses flip flops to produce 1Hz and 2Hz signals for use throughout the rest of the clock.

In addition to the original version of this project, we’ve also seen a beautiful single-board wall mounted version, and even a “dead bug” style one built from scraps.

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LED “Candle” Gets the 555 Treatment

Regular readers may recall we recently covered a neat Arduino trick that allowed you to “blow out” an LED as if it was a candle. The idea was that the LED itself could be used as a rudimentary temperature sensor, and the Arduino code would turn the LED on and off when a change was detected in its forward voltage drop. You need to oversample the Arduino’s ADC to detect the few millivolt change reliably, but overall it’s pretty simple once you understand the principle.

But [Andrzej Laczewski], like many of our beloved readers, feels the Arduino and other microcontrollers can be a crutch if used exclusively. So he set out to replicate this hack with that most cherished of ICs, the 555 timer. In the video after the break, he demonstrates his “old-school” LED candle for anyone who thinks the only way to control an LED is with digitalWrite.

Not to say it’s easy to replicate the original Arduino project with a 555, or that it’s even practical. [Andrzej] simply wanted to show it was possible, which is something we always respect around these parts. He goes into great detail on how he developed and tested the circuit, even including oscilloscope screenshots showing how the different components work together in real-time. But the short version is that a MOSFET is used to turn the LED on and off, a comparator detects change in the LED’s voltage drop, and the 555 is used to control how long the LED stays off for.

Ever the traditionalist, [Andrzej] wrapped up this build by etching his own PCB using a variation of the classic laser toner transfer method. If this all looks a bit too much like Black Magic to you, there’s no shame in sticking with the Arduino version. At 1/20th of the parts count, and with no calibration required, who’s to say which version is “simpler”.

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Make The Surface Dial Do More Things, Such As MIDI

The Surface Dial is a $100+ rotary control. You can turn it, and it’ll make some basic stuff happen on your Microsoft Surface. It’s silver and sleek and elegant but fundamentally, it just works via emulated keyboard shortcuts. This doesn’t really do much for translating analog rotational motion into digital feedback in a nice way, so [SaveTheHuman5] created Elephant to fix this issue.

As standard, there are two ways to work with the Surface Dial as an end-user. The easiest way is to use existing utilities to map dial actions to shortcut keys. However, for interfacing with knobs and sliders in user interfaces, this is clunky. Instead, [SaveTheHuman5] drilled down and created their own utility using the Surface Dial API provided by Microsoft. This allows raw data to be captured from the dial and processed into whatever interactions your heart desires – as long as you’ve got the coding muscles to do it!

The Elephant software allows the knob to be used in two distinct modes – mouse capture, and MIDI. Mouse capture allows one to use a regular mouse to select UI objects, such as knobs in a music application, and then turn the Surface Dial to adjust the control. Anyone that’s struggled with tiny emulated rotary controls on a VST synth before would instantly know the value of this. In MIDI mode, however, the knob simply presents itself as a MIDI device outputting commands directly which would be more useful in performance environments in particular.

Overall, it’s a tidy hack of an otherwise quite limited piece of hardware – the only thing we’d like to see is more detail on how it was done. If you’ve got a good idea on how this could work, throw it down in the comments. And, if your thirst for rotary controls is still not satiated, check out this media controller. Video after the break.

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Recreating The Amiga 1200 PCB from Pictures

In the past we’ve talked about one of the major downsides of working with vintage computer hardware, which of course is the fact you’re working with vintage computer hardware. The reality is that these machines were never designed to be up and running 20, 30, or even 40-odd years after they were manufactured. Components degrade and fail, and eventually you’re going to need to either find some way to keep your favorite classic computer up and running or relegate it to becoming a display piece on the shelf.

If you’re like [John Hertell], you take the former option. Knowing that many an Amiga 1200 has gone to that great retrocomputing museum in the sky due to corroded PCBs, he decided to recreate the design from scans of an unpopulated board. While he was at it, he tacked on a few modern fixes and enhancements, earning his new project the moniker: “Re-Amiga 1200”.

To create this updated PCB, [John] took high quality scans of an original board and loaded them up into Sprint Layout, which allows you to freely draw your PCB design over the top of an existing image. While he admits the software isn’t ideal for new designs, the fact that he could literally trace the scan of the original board made it the ideal choice for this particular task.

After the base board was recreated in digital form, the next step was to improve on it. Parts which are now EOL and hard to come by got deleted in place of modern alternatives, power traces were made thicker, extra fan connectors were added, and of course he couldn’t miss the opportunity to add some additional status blinkenlights. [John] has released his Gerber files as well as a complete BOM if you want to make your own Re-Amiga, and says he’ll also be selling PCBs if you don’t want to go through the trouble of getting them fabricated.

It seems as if Amiga fans never say never, as this isn’t the first time we’ve seen one brought back from the brink of extinction by way of a modernized motherboard. Whatever it takes to keep the vintage computing dream alive.

[Thanks to Anders for the tip.]

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UnMaker 2.0 Is Wile E Coyote’s Dead Blow Hammer

Hammers! They’re good for knocking in nails, breaking things apart, and generally smashing up the joint, if you’re in such a mood. Typically, they’re made of iron or steel and come in a variety of sizes depending on the purpose — from tiny chipping hammers for delicate sculpture work, to the heavy-duty sledge for tearing through building materials. But what if you built your own comically large mallet? Enter UnMaker 2.0.

The hammer receiving an eye-catching lick of paint.

Basically, it’s a really big hammer. It’s vaguely reminiscent of a dead blow type design, in that it consists of a moderately shock-absorbing outer shell filled with heavier material. In this case, steel ball bearings find a home inside the shell made out of maple and with a traditional tapered handle. In many ways it’s quite a typical build — other than the fact of its gigantic size and 34-pound head weight. Both of these make it a shoe-in for the ACME catalog. That roadrunner won’t know what hit him.

[Kevin] reports that it is not so much “swung” as it is “raised and allowed to drop”, due to its impressive weight. Clearly, it packs a punch. It’s a solid follow-on from the group’s former work – a truly gigantic utility knife.