The Tiniest Of 555 Pianos

The 555 timer is one of that special club of integrated circuits that has achieved silicon immortality. Despite its advanced age and having had its functionality replicated and superceded in almost every way, it remains in production and is still extremely popular because it’s simply so useful. If you are of A Certain Age a 555 might well have been the first integrated circuit you touched, and in turn there is a very good chance that your project with it would have been a simple electric organ.

If you’d like to relive that project, perhaps [Alexander Ryzhkov] has the answer with his 555 piano. It’s an entry in our coin cell challenge, and thus uses a CMOS low voltage 555 rather than the power-hungry original, but it’s every bit the classic 555 oscillator with a switchable resistor ladder you know and love.

Physically the piano is a tiny PCB with surface-mount components and physical buttons rather than the stylus organs of yore, but as you can see in the video below the break it remains playable. We said it was tiny, but some might also use tinny.

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Upgrading A USB Soldering Iron!

Seeing the popularity of the TS-100 soldering iron, GitHub user [ole00] found himself desirous of a few of its features, but was put off by its lack of a power supply. What is a hacker to do? Find a cheaper option, and hack it into awesomeness.

[ole00] stumbled across the inexpensive ZD-20U and — despite a handful (sorry!) of issues — saw potential: it’s compact, lightweight, and powered via a USB power cable. Wanting to use as much of the ZD-20U’s original board as possible, the modifications were restricted to a few trace cuts and component swaps. The major change was swapping out the 555 timer IC controlling the iron with am ATtiny13a MCU to give it a bit more control.

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DIY Capacitive Rotational Encoder on the Cheap with FR4

Rotary encoders are critical to many applications, even at the hobbyist level. While considering his own rotary encoding needs for upcoming projects, it occurred to [Jan Mrázek] to try making his own DIY capacitive rotary encoder. If successful, such an encoder could be cheap and very fast; it could also in part be made directly on a PCB.

First prototype, two etched plates with transparent tape as dielectric material. Disc is 15 mm in diameter.

The encoder design [Jan] settled on was to make a simple adjustable plate capacitor using PCB elements with transparent tape as the dielectric material. This was used as the timing element for a 555 timer in astable mode. A 555 in this configuration therefore generates a square wave that changes in proportion to how much the plates in the simple capacitor overlap. Turn the plate, and the square wave’s period changes in response. Response time would be fast, and a 555 and some PCB space is certainly cheap materials-wise.

The first prototype gave positive results but had a lot of problems, including noise and possibly a sensitivity to temperature and humidity. The second attempt refined the design and had much better results, with an ESP32 reliably reading 140 discrete positions at a rate of 100 kHz. It seems that there is a tradeoff between resolution and speed; lowering the rate allows more positions to be reliably detected. There are still issues, but ultimately [Jan] feels that high-speed capacitive encoders requiring little more than some PCB real estate and some 555s are probably feasible.

This project is a reminder that FR4 (whether copper-clad, etched, or blank) shows up in clever applications: copper tape and blank FR4 can be used to quickly prototype RF filters, PocketNC built an entire small CNC tool around FR4, and our own [Voja] wrote a full guide on making beautiful enclosures from FR4.

Junkbox Freezer Alarm Keeps Steaks Safe

A fully stocked freezer can be a blessing, but it’s also a disaster waiting to happen. Depending on your tastes, there could be hundreds of dollars worth of food in there, and the only thing between it and the landfill is an uninterrupted supply of electricity. Keep the freezer in an out-of-the-way spot and your food is at even greater risk.

Mitigating that risk is the job of this junkbox power failure alarm. [Derek]’s freezer is in the garage, where GFCI outlets are mandated by code. We’ve covered circuit protection before, including GFCIs, and while they can save a life, they can also trip accidentally and cost you your steaks. [Derek] whipped up a simple alarm based on current flow to the freezer. A home-brew current transformer made from a split ferrite core and some magnet wire is the sensor, and a couple of op-amps and a 555 timer make up the detection and alarm part. And it’s all junk bin stuff — get a load of that Mallory Sonalert from 1983!

Granted, loss of power on a branch circuit is probably one of the less likely failure modes for a freezer, but the principles are generally applicable and worth knowing. And hats off to [Derek] for eschewing the microcontroller and rolling this old school. Not that there’s anything wrong with IoT fridge and freezer alarms.

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Fighting Machine Tool Chatter with a 555 Timer

Vibration is a fact of life in almost every machining operation. Whether you’re milling, drilling, turning, or grinding, vibration can result in chatter that can ruin a part. Fighting chatter has generally been a matter of adding more mass to the machine, but if you’re clever about things, chatter reduction can be accomplished electronically, too. (YouTube, embedded below.)

When you know a little something about resonance, machine vibration and chatter start to make sense. [AvE] spends quite a bit of time explaining and demonstrating resonance in the video — fair warning about his usual salty shop language. His goal with the demo is to show that chatter comes from continued excitation of a flexible beam, which in this case is a piece of stock in the lathe chuck with no tailstock support. The idea is that by rapidly varying the speed of the lathe slightly, the system never spends very long at the resonant frequency. His method relies on a variable-frequency drive (VFD) with programmable IO pins. A simple 555 timer board drives a relay to toggle the IO pins on and off, cycling the VFD up and down by a couple of hertz. The resulting 100 RPM change in spindle speed as the timer cycles reduces the amount of time spent at the resonant frequency. The results don’t look too bad — not perfect, but a definite improvement.

It’s an interesting technique to keep in mind, and a big step up from the usual technique of more mass.

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The Art of Blinky Business Cards

Business cards are stuck somewhere between antiquity and convenience. On one hand, we have very convenient paperless solutions for contact swapping including Bluetooth, NFC, and just saying, “Hey, put your number into my phone, please.” On the other hand, holding something from another person is a more personal and memorable exchange. I would liken this to the difference between an eBook and a paperback. One is supremely convenient while the other is tactile. There’s a reason business cards have survived longer than the Rolodex.

Protocols and culture surrounding the exchange of cards are meant to make yourself memorable and a card which is easy to associate with you can work long after you’ve given your card away. This may seem moot if you are assigned cards when you start a new job, but personal business cards are invaluable for meeting people outside of work and you are the one to decide how wild or creative to make them.

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This Synth Is Okay

While this 3D printed synthesizer might just be okay, we’re going to say it’s better than that. Why? [oskitone] did something with a 555 timer.

The Okay synth from [oskitone] uses a completely 3D printed enclosure. Even the keys are printed. Underneath these keys is a small PCB loaded up with tact switches and small potentiometers. This board runs to another board loaded up with a 555 timer and a CD4040 frequency divider. This, in turn, goes into an LM386 amplifier. It’s more or less the simplest synth you can make.

If this synth looks familiar, you’re right. A few months ago, [oskitone] released the Hello F0 synth, a simple wooden box with 3D printed keys, a few switches, and a single 4046 PLL oscillator. It’s the simplest synth you can build, but it is something that can be extended into a real, proper synthesizer with different waveforms, LFOs, and envelope generators.

The sound of this chip is a very hard square wave with none of the subtleties of A,S,D, or R. Turn down the octave knob and it makes a great bass synth, or turn the octave knob to the middle for some great chiptune tones. All the 3D models for this synth are available on Thingiverse, so if you’d like to print your own, have at it.

You can check out the demo of the Okay synth below.

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