Ah, the age old tradition of Dumpster diving! Sometimes we happen to spot something that’s not quite trash, but not quite perfect, either. And when [dzseki], an EEVblog.com forum user, spotted some high-precision capacitors being 86’d at their employer’s e-waste pile, [dzseki] did what any good hacker would do: took them home, tested them, and tore them down to understand and either repair or reuse them. They explain their escapades and teardown in this EEVblog.com forum post.
If you’re not familiar with capacitors, they are really just two or more plates of metal that are separated by an insulator, and in the case of these very large capacitors, that insulator is mostly air. Aluminum plates are attached with standard bolts, and plastic insulators are used as needed. There’s also discussion of an special alloy called Invar that lends to the thermal stability of the capacitors.
[dzseki] notes that these capacitors were on their way to the round file because they were out of spec, but only by a very, very small amount. They may not be usable for the precision devices they were originally in, but it’s clear that they are still quite useful otherwise. [dzseki]
Every now and then you need to make your own capacitor. That includes choosing a dielectric for it, the insulating material that goes between the plates. One dielectric material that I use a lot is paraffin wax which can be found in art stores and is normally used for making candles. Another is resin, the easiest to find being automotive resin used for automotive body repairs.
The problem is that you sometimes need to do the calculations for the capacitor dimensions ahead of time, rather than just throwing something together. And that means you need to know the dielectric constant of the dielectric material. That’s something that the manufacturer of the paraffin wax that makes it for art stores won’t know, nor will the manufacturers of automotive body repair resin. The intended customers just don’t care.
It’s therefore left up to you to measure the dielectric constant yourself, and here I’ll talk about the method I use for doing that.
[Jezan] decided to introduce his son to electronics by building a small crystal radio. These crystal sets have been around for a long time, and make for a great beginner electronics project, but some of the required parts are a little hard to come by. The most difficult to source part for these radios is a variable capacitor, and not finding one in his parts bin, [Jezan] decided to make his own.
This variable capacitor comes directly from a piece of 1.5 mm thick aluminum sheet. Instead of fancy CNC machines, power tools, or even a pair of tin snips, [Jezan] cut the rotors and stators for his variable capacitors with a pair of scissors. The center hole was punched out with a piece of sharpened pipe, and all the pieces were filed down and sanded for a perfect finish.
Considering the variable caps you can get your hands on are either rare or very old, this looks like a great afternoon project for the budding electronics wizard or radio enthusiast. [Jezan]’s craftsmanship is incredible as well and the finished part looks like it came off an assembly line.