An Introduction To CNC Machine Control

We recently gave you some tips on purchasing your first milling machine, but what we didn’t touch on was CNC (Computer Numerical Control) systems for milling machines (or other machines, like lathes). That’s because CNC is a complex topic, and it’s deserving of its own article. So, today we dive into what CNC is, how it works, and ultimately if it’s right for you as a hobbyist.

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Brazing Aluminum

Where do you stand on one of the eternal questions of metalwork: brazing, or welding? As your Hackaday writer, and the daughter of a blacksmith, it’s very much on the welding side here. Brazed joints can come apart too easily, which is why in the territory this is being written in at least, they are not permitted for the yearly vehicle roadworthiness test. If you’ve ever had to remove a brazed-on patch with an angle grinder, you’ll know which one you’d trust in a crisis.

What if the metal in question is aluminum? [George Graves] sends us a link to a forum discussion on the subject from a few years ago, and to a YouTube video which we’ve embedded below the break. Miracle brazing rods claim astounding toughness, but the world divides into those who favour TIG’s strength versus those who point to brazing’s penetration far between the surfaces of the metal to be joined. Having experimented with them a while back, we’ll admit that it’s true that aluminum brazing rods join broken parts impressively well. But yet again you won’t see this Hackaday writer riding a bike that wasn’t welded with the trusty TIG torch.

Take a look at the video, and see what you think. Even if it’s not a joint you’d stake your life on it’s still a technique that’s a useful addition to your workshop arsenal.

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Probably The Simplest Electronic Temperature Controlled Soldering Iron

We’re all used to temperature controlled soldering irons, and most of us will have one in some form or other as our soldering tool of choice. In many cases our irons will be microprocessor controlled, with thermocouples, LCD displays, and other technological magic to make the perfect soldering tool.

All this technology is very impressive, but how simply can a temperature controlled iron be made? If you’re of an older generation you might point to irons with bimetallic or magnetic temperature regulation of course, so let’s rephrase the question. How simply can an electronic temperature controlled soldering iron be made? [Bestonic lab] might just have the answer, because he’s posted a YouTube video showing an extremely simple temperature controlled iron. It’s not the most elegant of solutions, but it does the job demanded of it, and all for a very low parts count.

He’s taken a ceramic housing from a redundant fuse holder, and mounted it on a metal frame to make a basic soldering iron holder into which the tip of his unregulated iron fits. To the ceramic he’s fitted a thermistor, which sits in the gate bias circuit of a MOSFET. The MOSFET in turn operates a relay which supplies mains power to the iron.

Temperature regulation comes as the iron heats the ceramic to the point at which the thermistor changes the MOSFET and relay state, at which point (with the iron power cut) it cools until the MOSFET flips again and restarts the process. You may have spotted a flaw in that it requires the iron to be in the holder to work, though we suspect in practice the thermal inertia of the ceramic will be enough for regulation to be reasonably maintained so long as the iron is returned to its holder between joints. Nobody is claiming that this temperature controlled iron is on a par with its expensive commercial cousins, instead it represents a very neat hack to conjure a useful tool from very few components. And we like that. Take a look at the full video below the break.

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Magnets For A Machinist

We’re not sure if [Stefan Gotteswinter] ever makes anything but tools to make more tools in his shop. This nice set of toolmaker’s magnets are no exception to the trend.

We can gather that [Stefan] is a professional machinist by trade. Like all professionals who do the same thing for work and play, he was spoiled by the nicer tools at work. One tool in particular, a toolmaker’s magnet, always came in handy. These are strong magnets that have been ground flat, square, and parallel.

He really only needed one magnet, so he started to build a 20 x 20 x 100 mm one. It would be made out of alternating mild steel and brass plates. The steel plates would have a hole drilled through them and he’d place a correctly oriented magnet in the middle. It would all be clamped and glued together.

The build was going pretty well when he decided that he couldn’t really trust the glue alone. He had just begun grinding, but decided to switch to a quick drilling operation. Two brass rods through the whole assembly would be enough to hold it together. He started drilling, and then, suddenly, he had two magnets.

The assembly had broken in half. He decided that, all things considered, two 20 x 20 x 50 mm magnets were also handy. So he completed the drilling, and ground the new set of magnets to be a perfect match to each other.  In the end he had a tool that looks just as expensive as the commercial option. There is also a video series on the magnets, part 1 and part 2, viewable after the break.

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An Open Source 96 MSPS Logic Analyzer For $22

If you are in the market for an inexpensive USB logic analyser you have a several choices, but few of them deliver much in the way of performance. There are kits from China for a few dollars using microcontrollers at their heart, but they fail to deliver significant sample rates. If you require more, you will have to pay for it.

It is therefore rather interesting to see [kevinhub88]’s SUMP2 project, an open source logic analyser with a claimed 96 MSPS sample rate using an off-the-shelf Lattice iCEstick FPGA evaluation board that only costs about $20. It talks to a host computer via USB using the established SUMP protocol, so its software front-end comes from the sump.org logic analyser project. Edit: Since this post was published [Kevin] has contacted us to inform us that the project’s capabilities have now moved beyond SUMP’s capabilities and in fact it now uses his own software.

This project has the promise to add a very useful piece of test equipment to the armoury of the engineer on a budget, and to aid the cost-conscious reader he’s provided extensive documentation and installation instructions, as well as the code for the FPGA. Thanks to one of the more awesome hacks of 2015, there is an entirely open toolchain for this Lattice part, and our own [Al Williams] has written up a multi-part getting-started guide if you want to get your feet wet. You probably want one of these anyway, and now it’s a logic analyzer to boot.

We’ve covered quite a few inexpensive home-produced digital instruments here over the years, including this logic analyser with a slightly higher price tag, this inexpensive VNA, and this oscilloscope board. Maybe one day the bench of our dreams will all come on one open-source PCB for $100, who knows!

Why You Should Own A Sewing Machine

This could probably be any of our grandmothers at work. George Grantham Bain Collection [PD], via Wikimedia Commons
This could probably be any of our grandmothers at work. George Grantham Bain Collection [PD], via Wikimedia Commons.
In our hackspace, we’ve opened a textile room in the last month. We have high hopes for it as a focal point for cosplayers and LARPers as well as the makers of wearable electronics and more traditional textile users. Putting it in has involved several months of hard work bringing a semi-derelict and previously flooded room that was once the walk-in safe for our local school authority to a point at which it is a light and welcoming space, but a surprising amount of work has also had to go into winning the hearts and minds of our community for the project.

Putting it quite simply, textiles aren’t seen as very cool, in hackspace terms. You know, Women’s stuff. Your mother does it, or even maybe if you are a little younger, your grandmother. It’s just not up there with laser cutting or 3D printing, and as a result those of us for whom it’s a big part of making stuff have had to fight its corner when it comes to resources within the space.

Yet not so long ago when I brought a pair of worn-out jeans into the space on a social night and hauled out our Lervia sewing machine to fix them, I had a constant stream of fellow members passing by amazed at what I was doing. “You can repair jeans?” they asked, incredulously. For some reason this prospect had not occurred to them, I was opening up a new vista in clothing reincarnation, to the extent that before too long in our new facility I may be giving a workshop on the subject as the beloved former trousers of Oxford Hackspace denizens gain a chance of new life.

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Want To Make A PCB? The Pantum Knows…

We’ve done a lot of PCBs with the toner transfer method over the years. The idea is simple: print a pattern using toner (which is just ground up black plastic) and then use an iron or other heat and pressure device to transfer the toner to a copper-clad board. It works and it works well. But getting just the right combination of heat, pressure, release paper, and toner is sometimes tricky.

Some people hack their printers to turn off the fuser wire (to make the toner not stick to the paper) or to run a PCB directly through it. If you have a big expensive laser printer, though, you might not want to chop it up just to run PCBs. Have you looked at laser printer prices lately? We aren’t sure if it is cheap units flooding the market, or the overwhelming popularity of color printers, but you can pick up a Pantum P2500 for about $25 or $30–and probably get WiFi printing at that price. [Mlermen] picked one of these up and shows you how to convert it to a PCB printer.

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