A DIY Step Attenuator, By Gluing Together Two Smaller Ones

In the RF world, attenuators are a useful test and measurement tool. Variable units that can apply different levels of attenuation in discrete steps are even better. [DuWayne] made a 63 dB step attenuator by putting two smaller units in series, with an Arduino Nano in control of them. With a 3D printed enclosure and OLED for feedback, the device is easily adjusted with a single rotary encoder. There was even room to add a micro USB plug for recharging the power supply.

The two smaller digital attenuators [DuWayne] used are essentially breakout boards for the PE4302 digital RF attenuator, and cheaply available from the usual overseas sources. They are capable of up to 31.5 dB of attenuation in 0.5 dB steps, and by using two in series (and controlling them in parallel) [DuWayne] gets a range of up to 63 dB. The design files can be downloaded from a Dropbox share for the project, should you wish to try any of it for yourself.

Are you interested in RF and maybe software defined radio (SDR)? We’ve covered all the stuff you’ll need to get started with an inexpensive RTL-SDR, and sooner or later you may find yourself in need of [Dan Maloney]’s info on cheap and effective dummy loads.

Custom Storage Boxes, From Cardboard And 3D Printed Bits

It’s not that storage boxes and organizers are hard to find. No, the problem this project set out to solve was more nuanced than that. The real trouble [theguymasamato] had was that his storage options — wide shelves and deep drawers — weren’t well suited to storing a lot of small and light objects. The result was a lot of wasted space and poor organization. To make matters worse, his big drawers had oddball dimensions, meaning that store bought organizers weren’t a good fit either.

To solve these problems, [theguymasamato] decided to design his own stackable boxes to store small and light objects far more efficiently than before. The design also allows the boxes to be made in a variety of sizes without changing any of the 3D printed parts. Carefully measured and cut cardboard is critical, but that’s nothing a utility knife and ruler can’t solve. The only other requirements are a few simple plastic parts, and some glue. He can fit six of these inside a single one of his drawers with enough room to access and handle them, but without wasting space.

Cardboard is really versatile stuff. Not only has it been behind some amazingly complex devices such as this tiny working plotter, but we’ve seen it form major components in the remarkably ambitious cardboard CNC.

Make An Electroplating Marker, Because Plating Complex Objects Is Hard

If an object is conductive or has been given a conductive coating, it can be given a metal skin via electroplating. Electroplating is a simple process that is perfectly accessible to anyone in possession of vinegar, salt, a power supply, and some metal such as copper or nickel.

The process might be simple, but as with all such things there are a few gotchas. One of them is this: because electricity follows the path of least resistance, recessed areas of an object may not electroplate well (or at all) no matter how long the object is left immersed. To address this, [Brodie Fairhall] designed a 3D printed electroplating marker. The marker is essentially a more refined version of brush plating, and allows more precision and control than full immersion in an electrolyte bath.

[Brodie] created an excellent video that explains all one needs to start electroplating, and demonstrates using his marker to electroplate complex recessed shapes. Watch him coat a 3D-printed cat pendant in both copper and nickel in the video embedded below. It’s concise, well-edited, and chock full of useful tips.

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Star Wars Electrostaff Effect, Done With Spinning LEDs

[Bithead] wanted to make a prop replica of an Electrostaff from Star Wars, but wasn’t sure how best to create the “crackling arcs of energy” effect at the business ends. After a few false starts, he decided to leverage the persistence of vision effect by spinning LEDs in more than one axis to create helical arcs of light and it seems that this method has some potential.

Many multi-axis persistence of vision devices use a component called a slip ring in order to maintain electrical connections across rotating parts, but [Bithead] had a simpler plan: 3D print a frame and give each axis its own battery. No centralized power source means a quicker prototype without any specialized parts, and therefore a faster proof of concept to test the idea.

[Bithead] already has improvements planned for a new version, but you can see the current prototype in action in the short video embedded after the break.

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3D Printed Tank Track Pops Together With Plastic BB For Hinge

3D printing is well-suited to cranking out tank tread designs, because the numerous and identical segments required are a great fit for 3D printing’s strengths. The only hitch is the need for fasteners between each of those segments, but [AlwynxJones] has a clever solution that uses plentiful hard plastic spheres (in the form of 6 mm airsoft BBs) as both a fastener and a hinge between each of the 3D printed track segments.

Each segment has hollows made to snugly fit 6 mm BBs (shown as green in the image here) which serve both as fasteners and bearing surfaces. Assembly requires a bit of force to snap everything together, but [AlwynxJones] judges the result worth not having to bother with bolts, wires, or other makeshift fasteners.

Bolts or screws are one option for connecting segments, but those are heavy and can get expensive. Segments of printer filament have been successfully used in other tread designs, though that method requires added work in the form of either pins, or heat deforming the filament ends to form a kind of rivet. This design may be a work in progress, but it seems like a promising and clever approach.

[via Reddit]

Recreating Classic Model Kits With Modern Tech

It used to be that if you wanted to make a nice scale model of an airplane, you’d be building the frame out of thin balsa ribs and covering it all up with tissue paper. Which incidentally was more or less how they built most real airplanes prior to the 1930s, so it wasn’t completely unreasonable to do the same on a smaller scale. But once injection molded plastics caught on, wood and tissue model kits largely went the way of the dodo.

[Marius Taciuc] wanted to share that classic model building experience with his son, but rather than trying to hunt down balsa kits in 2019, he decided to recreate the concept with modern techniques. His model of the Supermarine Spitfire, the vanguard of the British RAF during the Second World War, recreates the look of those early model kits but substitutes 3D printed or laser cut components for the fragile balsa strips of yore. The materials might be high-tech, but as evidenced by the video after the break, building the thing is still just as time consuming as ever.

Using a laser cutter to produce the parts would be the fastest method to get your own kit put together (you could even cut the parts out of balsa in that case), but you’ll still need a 3D printer for some components such as the propeller and cowling. On the other hand, if you 3D print all the parts like [Marius] did, you can use a soldering iron to quickly and securely “weld” everything together. For anyone who might be wondering, despite the size of the final plane, all of the individual components have been sized so everything is printable on a fairly standard 200 x 200 mm print bed.

While there’s no question the finished product looks beautiful, some might be wondering if it’s really worth the considerable effort and time necessary to produce and assemble the dizzying number of components required. To that end, [Marius] says it’s more of a learning experience than anything. Sure he could have bought a simplified plastic Spitfire model and assembled it with his son in an afternoon, but would they have really learned anything about its real-world counterpart? By assembling the plane piece by piece, it gives them a chance to really examine the nuances of this legendary aircraft.

We don’t often see much from the modeling world here on Hackaday, but not for lack of interest. We’ve always been in awe of the lengths modelers will go to get that perfect scale look, from the incredible technology packed into tiny fighter planes to large scale reproductions of iconic engines. If you’ve got some awesome model making tips that you think the Hackaday readership might be interested in, don’t be shy.

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Giving An Industrial Push Button USB, Elegantly

[Glen]’s project sounds perfectly straightforward: have a big industrial-style push button act as a one-key USB keyboard. He could have hacked something together in any number of ways, but instead he decided to create a truly elegant solution. His custom PCB mates to the factory parts perfectly, and the USB cable between the button and the computer even fits through the button enclosure’s lead hole.

It turns out that industrial push buttons have standardized components which can be assembled in an almost LEGO-like manner, with components mixed and matched to provide different switch actions, light indicators, and things of that nature. [Glen] decided to leverage this feature to make his custom PCB (the same design used in his one-key keyboard project) fit just like a factory component. With a 3D printed adapter, the PCB locks in just like any other component, and even lines up with the lead hole in the button’s enclosure for easy connecting of the USB cable.

What does [Glen] use the big button for? Currently he has two applications: one provides a simple, one-button screen lock on a Linux box running a virtual machine at his place of work. It first disengages the keyboard capture of the virtual machine, then engages the screen lock on the host. The other inserts a poop emoji into Microsoft documents. Code and PCB design files for [Glen]’s small keyboards are available on GitHub.