Teardown Of A Cheap Glue Gun

A hot glue gun is one of those standard tools of the hardware hacker’s bench, called upon to provide adhesion between an astonishing range of materials, and to provide a handy filler and strain relief in the form of blobs of polymer glue. We’ve all got one, but how many of us have taken a look inside it?

[Andrew Lorimer] bought a super-cheap eBay glue gun, and subjected it to a teardown. As you might expect, he found it to be a pretty simple device with only a trigger mechanism and a dumb heating element, but his write-up is of passing interest because he’s characterised its heating element. It has a positive temperature coefficient, which means that its resistance increases from around 2.5 kΩ at room temperature to about 7 kΩ at its 150 ºC operating temperature. This limits the current, and provides a very simple thermostat action.

The build quality is surprisingly good for such a cheap appliance, and he notes a surfeit of screws holding its shell together. But the quality of the insulation and strain relief leaves a lot to be desired, and he wonders whether it truly qualifies for its double-insulated logo. The LED pilot light is simply fed from the 240 V mains supply through a 250 kΩ resistor which he replaces with a 12 kΩ component for a brighter result.

We cover plenty of teardowns here at Hackaday. Often they are of extremely expensive and complex devices, but sometimes they are of much simpler subjects.

Digital Panel Meter Tear Down

[Big Clive] had some 22mm digital AC voltmeters, made to put in a panel. There was a time when this would have been a significant pain, since it required you to make a large square hole. Of course, in a world of CNC and 3D printers that isn’t as big a deal as it used to be, but the ones [Clive] has are nice because having a round footprint you can drill a hole for them with a hole saw or a stepped bit. Of course, he wasn’t satisfied to just use these inexpensive meters. He had to tear one apart to look inside. You can see his review and teardown in the video below. The meters are available in a range of AC voltages, although [Clive] didn’t think the ones he had would safely handle their rated maximum.

Inside, the modules reminded us of cordwood construction in a way. Most of the electronics are on a small round board. But several components connect to the board and the bottom cap in a vertical orientation. The meters are available in several colors, but [Clive] likes the red ones as they appear brighter than the others. The voltage reading compared favorably to a Fluke meter.

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A look at Chinese Value Engineering

Seventy cents doesn’t buy you a lot these days. Maybe some sweets or candies at most. How about a string of LEDs that you can use to decorate your home during the festive season? [Amaldev] was curious to know what was, or wasn’t, inside these blinky LED strings which made them so cheap. He’s done a Christmas LED Light Teardown and shows how blinky LED string lights can be built with the bare minimum of components.

The string he purchased had 28 LEDs – seven each in four colors, a controller box with one push button and a  power cord. Without even knowing what is inside the controller box, the cost of the product seems astonishing based on this BoM. The single push button cycles through eight different light patterns for each press. It even has a faux CE mark for the supply plug. Cracking open the case, he finds that the controller board is sparsely populated with just seven through hole components and a COB (chip on board) module. A simple, 8-bit, 8-pin microcontroller is possibly what controls the device.

[Amaldev] sketches out a schematic to figure out how it works. There are two arms with 14 LEDs of alternating colors, each of which is controlled by an SCR. Two GPIO output pins from the COB control the gates of each of these SCR’s. The button is connected to a GPIO input, and a second input is connected to the AC supply via a current limiting resistor. Most likely, this is used to determine the zero crossing of the waveform so that the COB can generate the appropriate trigger signals for the gate outputs.

It is unlikely that these products are manufactured using automated processes. The PCB production could be automated, but soldering all the wires, fitting it all in the enclosure and preparing the LED string itself would require manual labor. At US$ 0.7 retail on the street, it is difficult to imagine the cost breakdown even when the quantities are in large numbers. Maybe a combination of cheap components, recycled or rejected parts (mains cord/enclosure), lack of safety and protection measures (no fuses, no strain reliefs) and reducing the component BoM to an absolute, bare minimum, coupled with very high volumes lets them pull it off? What are your thoughts – chime in with comments.

Flip-Dot Display Brought Out of Retirement by New Drivers

LED matrix displays and flat-screen monitors have largely supplanted old-school electromechanical models for public signage. We think that’s a shame, but it’s also a boon for the tinkerer, as old displays can be had for a song these days in the online markets.

Such was the case for [John Whittington] and his flip-dot display salvaged from an old bus. He wanted to put the old sign back to work, but without a decent driver, he did what one does in these situations — he tore it down and reverse engineered the thing. Like most such displays, his Hannover Display 7 x 56-pixel flip-dot sign is electromechanically interesting; each pixel is a card straddling the poles of a small electromagnet. Pulse the magnet and the card flips over, changing the pixel from black to fluorescent green. [John] used an existing driver for the sign and a logic analyzer to determine the protocol used by the internal electronics to drive the pixels, and came up with a much-improved method of sending characters and graphics. With a Raspberry Pi and power supply now resident inside the case, a web-based GUI lets him display messages easily. The video below has lots of details, and the code is freely available.

You may recall [John] from a recent edge-lit Nixie-like display. Looks like he’s got a thing for eye-catching displays, and we’re fine with that.

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Inside an Amateur Bugging Device

[Mitch] got interested in the S8 “data line locator” so he did the work to tear into its hardware and software. If you haven’t seen these, they appear to be a USB cable. However, inside the USB plug is a small GSM radio that allows you to query the device for its location, listen on a tiny microphone, or even have it call you back when it hears something. The idea is that you plug the cable into your car charger and a thief would never know it was a tracking device. Of course, you can probably think of less savory uses despite the warning on Banggood:

Please strictly abide by the relevant laws of the state, shall not be used for any illegal use of this product, the consequences of the use of self conceit.

We aren’t sure what the last part means, but we are pretty sure people can and will use these for no good, so it is interesting to see what they contain.

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Teardown With A Twist: 1975 Sinclair Scientific Calculator

When writing a recent piece about Reverse Polish Notation, or RPN, as a hook for my writing I retrieved my Sinclair Scientific calculator from storage. This was an important model in the genesis of the scientific calculator, not for being either a trailblazer or even for being especially good, but for the interesting manner of its operation and that it was one of the first scientific calculators at an affordable price.

I bought the calculator in a 1980s rummage sale, bodged its broken battery clip to bring it to life, and had it on my bench for a few years. Even in the early 1990s (and even if you didn’t use it), having a retro calculator on your bench gave you a bit of street cred. But then as life moved around me it went into that storage box, and until the RPN article that’s where it stayed. Finding it was a significant task, to locate something about the size of a candy bar in the storage box it had inhabited for two decades, among a slightly chaotic brace of shelves full of similar boxes.

The Sinclair's clean design still looks good four decades later.
The Sinclair’s clean design still looks good four decades later.

Looking at it though as an adult, it becomes obvious that this is an interesting machine in its own right, and one that deserves a closer examination. What follows will not be the only teardown of a Sinclair Scientific on the web, after all nobody could match [Ken Shirriff]’s examination of the internals of its chip, but it should provide an insight into the calculator’s construction, and plenty of satisfying pictures for lovers of 1970s consumer electronics.

The Sinclair is protected by a rigid black plastic case, meaning that it has survived the decades well. On the inside of the case is a crib sheet for its RPN syntax and scientific functions, an invaluable aid when it comes to performing any calculations.

It shares the same external design as the earlier Sinclair Cambridge, a more humble arithmetic calculator, but where the Cambridge’s plastic is black, on the Scientific it is white. The LED display sits behind a purple-tinted window, and the blue-and-black keyboard occupies the lower two-thirds of the front panel. At 50 x 111 x 16 mm it is a true pocket calculator, with an elegance many of its contemporaries failed to achieve and which is certainly not matched by most recent calculators. Good industrial design does not age, and while the Sinclair’s design makes it visibly a product of the early 1970s space-age aesthetic it is nevertheless an attractive item in its own right.

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Mike Harrison’s Reverse Engineering Workshop

Hardware teardowns are awesome when guided by experts. One of our favorites over the years has been [Mike Harrison], who has conquered teardowns of some incredibly rare and exquisitely engineered gear, sharing the adventure on his YouTube channel: mikeselectricstuff. Now he’s putting on a workshop to walk through some of the techniques he uses when looking at equipment for the first time.

[Mike] will be in Pasadena a few days early for the Hackaday Superconference and floated the idea of hosting a workshop. We ordered up some interesting gear which he hasn’t had a chance to look at yet. A dozen lucky workshop attendees will walk through the process [Mike] uses to explore the manufacturing and design choices — skills that will translate to examining any piece of unknown gear. He may even delve into the functionality of the equipment if time allows. Get your ticket right now!

To keep things interesting we’re not going to reveal the equipment until after the fact. But follow the event page where we’ll publish the details of his reverse engineering work after the workshop.

[Mike] is the badge designer for this year’s Hackaday Superconference badge. Unfortunately Supercon is completely sold out (we tried to warn you) but you can check out the badge details he already published. And we will be live streaming the Supercon this year — more details on that next week!