A Thoughtful Variety of Projects and Failures

Our friends at [The Thought Emporium] have been bringing us delightful projects but not all of them warrant a full-fledged video. What does anyone with a bevy of small but worthy projects do? They put them all together like so many mismatched LEGO blocks. Grab Bag #1 is the start of a semi-monthly video series which presents the smaller projects happening behind the scenes of [The Thought Emporium]’s usual video presentations.

Solar eclipse? There are two because the first was only enough to whet [The Thought Emporium]’s appetite. Ionic lifters? Learn about the favorite transformer around the shop and see what happens when high voltage wires get too close. TEA lasers? Use that transformer to make a legitimate laser with stuff around your house. Bismuth casting? Pet supply stores may have what you need to step up your casting game and it’s a total hack. Failures? We got them too.

We first covered ionocraft (lifters) awhile back. TEA lasers have been covered before. Casting is no stranger to hackaday but [The Thought Emporium] went outside the mold with their technique.

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The Illuminated Waterways of the United States

A recent convert to the ways of the laser cutter, redditor [i-made-a-thing] was in want of a project and — stumbling on some waterways maps on Etsy — launched into fabricating an illuminated map of all the waterways in the United States.

The map itself was laser-cut out of 1/4 inch plywood at his local makerspace. Thing is, smaller rivers and tributaries were too narrow at the scale [i-made-a-thing] wanted, so he ended up spending several hours in Photoshop preparing the image so larger rivers would be laser-cut — and not break off– while the rest would be etched onto the surface. After testing the process by making a few coasters, he was ready to get started on the real deal.

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Battery Management Module Hacked for Lithium-Iron Battery Bank

In a departure from his usual repair and tear down fare, [Kerry Wong] has set out on a long-term project — building a whole-house battery bank. From the first look at the project, this will be one to watch.

To be fair, [Kerry] gave us a tease at this project a few months back with his DIY spot welder for battery tabs. Since then, he appears to have made a few crucial design decisions, not least of which is battery chemistry. Most battery banks designed for an inverter with enough power to run household appliances rely on lead-acid batteries, although lithium-ion has certainly made some inroads. [Kerry] is looking to run a fairly small 1000-watt inverter, and his analysis led him to lithium-iron cells. The video below shows what happens when an eBay pack of 80 32650 LiFePo4 cells meets his spot welder. But then the problem becomes one of sourcing a battery management system that’s up to the charge and discharge specs of his 4s battery pack. We won’t spoil the surprise for you, but suffice it to say that [Kerry] really lucked out that only minimal modifications were needed for his $9 off-the-shelf BMS module.

We’re looking forward to seeing where this build goes, not least because we’d like to build something similar too. For a more traditional AGM-based battery bank, check out this nicely-engineered solar-charged system.

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A Massive Adjustable Standing Desk From Scratch

Standing at your desk all day is healthier by far than sitting, but the commercial options tend to be expensive. [drivenbyentropy] had to contend with a heater right where the desk would go, but building an adjustable office desk to accommodate it turned out — well — gorgeous.

Two 18″ heavy duty 12 V DC actuators raise and lower the desk with a 600 lbs static load capacity and 200 lbs of  lifting load each. One actuator is actually slightly faster than the other, so instead of working out something fancy, [drivenbyentropy] simply extended the cable length on the faster actuator to disguise the difference.

Framed with some standard 2×4’s and sheathed with plywood, the massive four by eight foot desk has twelve ball-bearing drawer slides in the legs to add stability and smooth out height adjustments. Because of its size and having to build around the heating unit, the desk is stuck in the room since it does not easily come apart. There is, however, easy access to the two electronics compartments for troubleshooting!

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Winter Is Coming: Keeping Heat Where It’s Needed

If your workshop has ceilings as high as [Niklas Roy]’s 3.6 meters (11.8 feet), then you’re familiar with his problem. Hot air rises, and there it usually stays until the heat is transferred outdoors. But in the winter time we need that heat indoors and down low. One solution is to install ceiling fans that blow that hot air back down. However, [Niklas] often builds tall things that would collide with those fans. And so he had to hack together some wall hugging fans which will be both high up and out of the way.

Corroded industrial controller
Corroded industrial controller

For the fans he’s using six of those ubiquitous standing fans, the ones that normally sit on a post a few feet off the ground and swivel back and forth. Discarding the posts, he mounted the fan bodies to a horizontal wooden frame with a wheel attached to one end, one that he’d made for another project. A rope around the wheel, and hanging down, makes it easy to tilt the fans. For controlling the fans, a friend had given him an old industrial controller, and opening it up, all he saw was corrosion. Cleaning it all out he installed an old Russian 3-position switch from his collection.

In the future he’d like to add a closed-loop control system that would not only turn the fans on and off but also adjusting their speed. For now, however, he reports that it works really well. Check out his page for build photos and more details.

Meanwhile, winter really is coming to these northern latitudes and so here are more hacks to prepare you. For automated shovelling snow, how about an RC controlled 3D printed snow blower. And while you’re snug and warm inside remotely controlling your snow blower, you can still be getting exercise using a DIY bicycle roller. But if you do venture outside, perhaps you’d want to zip around on a dogless dog sleigh.

Joe Activation with a WiFi-Controlled Electrical Outlet

[Mike] is the only one in his house who drinks coffee, and uses a simple single-serving brewer with no auto-on feature. And since no one really wants to have to stand around making coffee in the morning, [Mike]’s solution was to IoT-ize his electrical socket.

MQTT Dash is an Android app “for nerds only ;)”

The project consists of a relay board controlled by an ESP8266-packing Adafruit Huzzah. It’s all powered by a 9V power supply with a regulator supplying the relay coil and Huzzah with 5V. [Mike]’s using CloudMQTT to communicate with the outlet.

We often see these automation projects hit a wall when it comes to adding a user-side dashboard. [Mike] is using a free Android app called MQTT Dash which allows for a number of different UI components and even had coffee maker icons already built in. It’s certainly worth a look for your own projects. [Mike] uses it to turn on the outlet for 10 minutes, and by the time he grabs half-and-half the outlet is already off again.

It turns out that connecting coffee pots to the Internet is a driving force among out readers. This one alerts the whole office when the coffee is done, while another one is controlled by Alexa. Then again, sometimes all you can do is reverse engineer the Internet of coffee.

Me Casa es Techno Casa

“Jarvis, make me a sandwich” is not a reality yet. Though there exist a lot of home automation products out there today, commercial solutions just don’t make the cut for the self-respecting geek. So [Matias] took the DIY route with his La CasaC Home Automation project and achieved the functionality he was after.

[Matias’] project is one of the most elaborate and large-scale DIY home automation projects we have seen in recent years. With over 200 nodes, this project took a number of years of planning and execution. The core of the design is the ever popular Raspberry Pi running OpenHAB to ease the pain of customization and integration with various protocols. To further simplify the ginormous task, the design uses RS485 to communicate between master and slave devices.

Each wall node is managed by a nearby Arduino which in turn talks to a central Arduino Mega. OpenHab takes care of the higher functions such as UI, integration with existing hardware such as the solar heater, media center control,  and RFID and keypad control. Sensor data aggregation and building management is done centrally with data funneled to a separate NAS system as long-term storage.

What makes this project awesome is that [Matias] did not integrate a Raspberry Pi into his house, no! He actually integrated his entire house around the system because this build includes the construction of the house as well. Take a look at this Google Photos Gallery to see the photographic progress of the build. That is amazing!

The code and snippets are available on GitHub for your viewing pleasure though that seems the easy part. If this inspired you, then also take a look at the Raspberry Pi Home Automation of a Gingerbread House if you’d like to try it out before fully committing.