Prototyping PCBs With Electrical Discharge Machining

Here at Hackaday, we thought we’d seen every method of making PCBs: CNC machining, masking and etching with a variety of chemicals, laser engraving, or even the crude but effective method of scratching away the copper with a utility knife. Whatever works is fine with us, really, but there still does seem to be room for improvement in the DIY PCB field. To whit, we present rapid PCB prototyping with electrical discharge machining.

Using an electric arc to selectively ablate the copper cladding on a PCB seems like a great idea. At least that’s how it seemed to [Jake Wachlin] when he realized that the old trick of cutting a sheet of aluminum foil using a nine-volt battery and a pencil lead is really just a form of EDM, and that the layer of copper on a PCB is not a million miles different from foil. A few experiments with a bench power supply and a mechanical pencil lead showed that it’s relatively easy to blast the copper from a blank board, so [Jake] took the next logical step and rigged up an old 3D-printer to move the tool. The video below shows the setup and some early tests; it’s not perfect by a long shot, but it has a lot of promise. If he can control the arc better, this homebrew EDM looks like it could very rapidly produce prototype boards.

[Jake] posted this project in its current state in the hopes of stimulating a discussion and further experimentation. That’s commendable, and we’d really love to see this one move along rapidly. You might start your brainstorming by looking at this somewhat sketchy mains-powered EDM, or look into the whole field in a little more detail.

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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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[Ben Krasnow] Drills Really Small Holes With Electricity

Drilling holes is easy; humans have been doing it in one form or another for almost 40,000 years. Drilling really tiny holes in hard materials is more challenging, but still doable. Drilling deep, straight holes in hard materials is another thing altogether.

Luckily, these days we have electric discharge machining (EDM), a technique that opens up all kinds of possibilities. And just as luckily, [Ben Krasnow] got his hands on some EDM gear to try out, with fascinating results. As [Ben] explains, at its heart EDM is just the use of a small arc to ablate metal from a surface. The arc is precisely controlled, both its frequency via an arc controller, and its location using CNC motion control. The arc controller has always been the sticking point for home EDM, but the one [Ben] tried out, a BaxEDM BX17, is squarely aimed at the small shop market. The whole test platform that [Ben] built has a decidedly home-brew look to it, with a CNC gantry rigged up to a water tank, an EDM drill head spinning the drill rods slowly, and an airless paint gun providing high-pressure process fluid. The video below shows that it works remarkably well nonetheless.

While we’re certainly keen to see [Ben]’s promised videos on EDM milling and cutting, we doubt we’ll line up to shell out €2,950 for the arc controller he used. If you have more courage than money, this mains-powered EDM might be a better fit.

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DIY Arc Light Makes An Unnecessarily Powerful Bicycle Headlight

Remember when tricking out a bike with a headlight meant clamping a big, chrome, bullet-shaped light to your handlebar and bolting a small generator to your front fork? Turning on the headlight meant flipping the generator into contact with the front wheel, powering the incandescent bulb for the few feet it took for the drag thus introduced to grind you to a halt. This ridiculous arc-lamp bicycle headlight is not that. Not by a long shot.

We’re used to seeing [Alex] doing all manner of improbable, and sometimes impossible, things on his popular KREOSAN YouTube channel. And we’re also used to watching his videos in Russian, which detracts not a whit  from the entertainment value for Andglophones; subtitles are provided for the unadventurous, however. The electrodes for his arc light are graphite brushes from an electric streetcar, while the battery is an incredibly sketchy-looking collection of 98 18650 lithium-ion cells. A scary rat’s nest of coiled cable acts as a ballast to mitigate the effects of shorting when the arc is struck. The reflector is an old satellite TV dish covered in foil tape with the electrodes sitting in a makeshift holder where the feedhorn used to be. It’s bright, it’s noisy, it’s dangerous, and it smokes like a fiend, but we love it.

Mounting it to the front of the bike was just for fun, of course, and it works despite the janky nature of the construction. The neighbors into whose apartments the light was projected could not be reached for comment, but we assume they were as amused as we were.

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Add Some Edge To Your Blades With Blown-Arc Plasma

If you polled science fiction fans on what piece of technology portrayed by the movies that they most desire, chances are pretty good that the lightsabers from the Star Wars franchise would be near the top of the list. There’s just something about having that much power in the palm of your hand and still needing to be up close and personal to fight with it. Plus being able to melt holes in bulkheads is pretty keen, as are the cool sounds.

Sadly, the day we can shape and contain plasma in a blade-shaped field is probably pretty far off, but that didn’t stop [Alan Pan] from trying the next best thing: a handheld plasma-projecting blade. He starts with a basic Jacob’s ladder. We’ve seen many of these before, but the basic idea is to ionize the air between two parallel, vertical conductors; the hot plasma heats the air causing it to rise until it reaches the top and snuffs itself out, starting the process over again at the bottom. His twist is to force the plasma into a sheet between the electrodes with air from a leaf blower, forming a blown-arc plasma. That’s pretty cool looking by itself, but he also stretched the electrodes along razor-sharp wood planer blades, for extra danger. We have to admit that the thing looks pretty intimidating, even if the plasma doesn’t really pack bulkhead-melting thermal power. Check out the results in the video below.

We’d love to see [Alan] make good on his promise to make the whole thing self-contained with an electric ducted fan or mini jet engine. Even as it is, it’s still pretty neat. It’s not really his first lightsaber rodeo, but at least this one doesn’t need butane.

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Perf Board Pyrotechnics Courtesy Of A High-Voltage Supply

You may have asked yourself at one time or another, “Self, what happens when you pass 100 thousand volts through a printed circuit board?” It’s a good question, and [styropyro] put together this fascinating bit of destructive testing to find out.

Luckily, [styropyro] is well-positioned to explore the high-voltage realm. His YouTube stock-in-trade is lasers, ranging from a ridiculously overpowered diode-laser bazooka to a bottle-busting ruby laser. The latter requires high voltage, of course, and his Frankenstein’s lab yielded the necessary components for this destructive diversion. A chopper drives dual automotive ignition coils to step the voltage up to a respectable 100 kV. The arcs across an air gap are impressive enough, but when applied to a big piece of copper-clad protoboard, the light show is amazing. The arcs take a seemingly different path across the board for each discharge, lighting up the path with an eerie blue glow accompanied by a menacing buzz. Each discharge path may be random, but they all are composed of long stretches across the rows and columns of copper pads that never take the more direct diagonal path. [styropyro]’s explanation of the math governing this behavior is feasible, but really we just liked looking at the pretty and dangerous display. Now if only the board had been populated with components…

No, there’s not much of a hack here, but it’s cool nonetheless. And it’s probably a well-earned distraction from his more serious stuff, like his recent thorough debunking of the “Chinese laser rifle” that was all over the news a while back.

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A Dramatic Demo Of AC Versus DC Switching

Switches seem to be the simplest of electrical components – just two pieces of metal that can be positioned to either touch each other or not. As such it would seem that it shouldn’t matter whether a switch is used for AC or DC. While that’s an easy and understandable assumption, it can also be a dangerous one, as this demo of AC and DC switching dramatically reveals.

Using a very simple test setup, consisting of an electric heater for a load, a variac to control the voltage, and a homemade switch, [John Ward] walks us through the details of what happens when those contacts get together. With low-voltage AC, the switch contacts exhibit very little arcing, and even with the voltage cranked up all the way, little more than a brief spark can be seen on either make or break. Then [John] built a simple DC supply with a big rectifier and a couple of capacitors to smooth things out and went through the same tests. Even at a low DC voltage, the arc across the switch contacts was dramatic, particularly upon break. With the voltage cranked up to the full 240-volts of the UK mains, [John]’s switch was essentially a miniature arc welder, with predictable results as the plastic holding the contacts melted. Don your welding helmet and check out the video below.

As dramatic as the demo is, it doesn’t mean we won’t ever be seeing DC in the home. It just means that a little extra engineering is needed to make sure that all the components are up to snuff.

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