The interior of a failed boiler.

Fail Of The Week: Learning How Not To Silver Solder

Sure, there are subtleties, but by and large it’s pretty easy to pick up soldering skills with a little practice. But wait! Not all soldering is created equal, and as [Quinn Dunki] learned, silver soldering is far harder to get right.

Granted, the job [Quinn] is working on is much more demanding than tacking some components to a PCB. She has been building a model steam engine, a task fit to put anyone’s machining skills to the test. And a steam engine needs a boiler, which is where the silver soldering comes in. As she explains in the video below, silver soldering, or “hard” soldering, uses solder that melts at a much higher temperature than “soft” solders like we’re used to in electronics. That’s a big advantage in the heat and pressure of a boiler, but it does pose some problems, many of which [Quinn] managed to discover as she tried to assemble her copper beast.

It turns out that heating a big hunk of copper evenly without burning off the flux actually isn’t that easy, though you can’t say she didn’t give it the old college try. In the process, she managed to share a number of tidbits that were really interesting, like the fact that drawing acetylene from a tank too fast can be dangerous, or that model steam boilers have to be certified by qualified inspectors. In the end, her boiler couldn’t be salvaged, and was put to the saw to determine the problem, which seems to be her initial choice of heating with oxyacetylene; after that initial failure, there was little she could do to save the boiler.

As [Quinn] says, “Failure is only failure if you don’t learn from it.” And so it may be a bit unfair to hang “Fail of the Week” on this one, but still — she has to go back to the beginning on the boiler. And we already know that model steam engines aren’t easy.

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Arduino Reduces Heating Costs

While almost everyone has a heater of some sort in their home, it’s fairly unlikely that the heat provided by a central heating system such as a furnace is distributed in an efficient way. There’s little reason to heat bedrooms during the day, or a kitchen during the night, but heating systems tend to heat whole living space regardless of the time of day or the amount of use. You can solve this problem, like most problems, with an Arduino.

[Karl]’s build uses a series of radiator valves to control when each room gets heat from a boiler. The valves, with a temperature monitor at each valve, are tied into a central Arduino Mega using alarm wiring. By knowing the time of day and the desired temperature in each room, the Arduino can control when heat is applied to each room and when it is shut off, presumably making the entire system much more efficient. It also has control over the circulating pump and some of the other boiler equipment.

Presumably this type of system could be adapted to a system which uses a furnace and an air handler as well, although it is not quite as straightforward to close vents off using a central unit like this as it is to work with a boiler like [Karl] has. With careful design, though, it could be done. Besides replacing thermostats, we can’t say we’ve ever seen this done before.

Thanks to [SMS] for the tip!

Retrotechtacular: The Art Of The Foundry

Mention the term “heavy industry” and the first thing to come to mind might well be the metal foundry. With immense machines and cauldrons of molten metal being shuttled about by crane and rail, the image of the foundry is like a scene from Dante’s Inferno, with fumes filling a vast impersonal factory, and sparks flying through the air. It looks like a dangerous place, as much to the soul as to the body, as workers file in each day to suffer mindlessly at the hearths and ladles, consumed in dirty, exhausting work even as it consumes them.

Things are not always as they appear, of course. While there’s no doubting the risks associated with working in a foundry such as the sprawling Renfrew works of Babcock and Wilcox Ltd. in the middle of the previous century, as the video below shows the work there was anything but mindless, and the products churned out by the millions from this factory and places like it throughout the world were critical to today’s technology.

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Suffer No Substitutes — The Hudspith Steam Bicycle Is One-Of-A-Kind

In a bit of punky, steam-based tinkering, Brittish engineer [Geoff Hudspith]’s obsession for steam and passion for cycles fused into the Hudspith Steam Bicycle.

Built and improved over the past thirty years, the custom steam engine uses a petrol and kerosene mix for fuel, reaching a top speed of 32km/h and has a range of 16km on one tank of water. While in motion, the boiler is counter-balanced by the water tank on the rear as well as the flywheel, water pump, and the other components. However, [Hudspith] says he doesn’t have an easy go of it carrying the bike up the flight of stairs to his flat — as you can imagine. A steam whistle was fitted to the bike after insistence from others — and perhaps for safety’s sake as well, since it does take a bit of distance to stop the bike.

Many people have offered large sums for it — and at least one house in exchange for the bike — but [Hudspith] has held on to this one-of-a-kind steam-machine. A little more about the development of the bicycle can be read here! A video of the bike in action is waiting after the break.

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Brasilia Espresso Machine PID Upgrade Brews Prefect Cup Of Energy

Coffee, making and hacking addictions are just bound to get out of control. So did [Rhys Goodwin’s] coffee maker hack. What started as a little restoration project of a second-hand coffee machine resulted in a complete upgrade to state of the art coffee brewing technology.

coffee_hack_arduinoThe Brasilia Lady comes with a 300 ml brass boiler, a pump and four buttons for power, coffee, hot water and steam. A 3-way AC solenoid valve, wired directly to the buttons, selects one of the three functions, while a temperamental bimetal switch keeps the boiler roughly between almost there and way too hot.

To reduce the temperature swing, [Rhys] decided to add a PID control loop, and on the way, an OLED display, too. He designed a little shield for the Arduino Nano, that interfaces with the present hardware through solid state relays. Two thermocouples measure the temperature of the boiler and group head while a thermal cut-off fuse protects the machine from overheating in case of a malfunction.

Also, the Lady’s makeup received a complete overhaul, starting with a fresh powder coating. A sealed enclosure along with a polished top panel for the OLED display were machined from aluminum. [Rhys] also added an external water tank that is connected to the machine through shiny, custom lathed tube fittings. Before the water enters the boiler, it passes through a custom preheater, to avoid cold water from entering the boiler directly. Not only does the result look fantastic, it also offers a lot more control over the temperature and the amount of water extracted, resulting in a perfect brew every time. Enjoy [Rhys’s] video where he explains his build:

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Energy-Saving Fireplace Thermostat

[Andrian] has a boiler stove that heats water and sends it to a radiator. As the fireplace heats the water in a boiler a temperature sensor opens the a valve to send the warm water to the radiator. The radiator sends its cool water back to the boiler to be reheated. The valve is slow, so before the boiler can send all the water to the radiator, it’s getting cool water back causing the valve to close while the heat is built back up. To prevent the valve from working so hard and wasting energy, [Andrian] designed a better thermostat to control the valve operation.

The thermostat uses one LM85 temperature sensor to check the water in the boiler and another one for the ambient temperature. Once the boiler water reaches the desired temperature, the valve is opened via relay. The system waits for half an hour and then checks the boiler temperature again. The brains of this operation is an ATMega168 with a 32.768kHz crystal as the RTC. Code and PCB files are available in his repo.

We love to see these types of hacks that challenge the status quo and increase the efficiency of appliances. We applaud you, [Andrian], for turning your dissatisfaction into a positive plan of action and for sharing your experience with the rest of us!

If you want to up the eco-friendliness of heating water a bit, you could heat the water with a compost heap.

DIY Pellet Fed Boiler Is Hot Stuff

pelletburner

[Firewalker] has designed a great pellet burning boiler (translated). Wood and biomass pellets have gained popularity over the last few years. While freestanding stoves are the most popular method of burning the pellets, [Firewalker] went a different route. He’s converted a boiler from what we assume was oil to pellet power. An Arduino controls the show, but don’t hold it against him. [Firewalker] is just using the Arduino as an AVR carrier board.The software is all written in C using AVR studio. The controller’s user interface is pretty simple. A two-line character based LCD provides status information, while input is via buttons. Once the system is all set up, thermostats are the final human/machine interface.

Burning pellets requires a bit of prep. A cleanup of the burn chamber must be performed before each burn. The AVR is programmed to handle this. Once the chamber is clean, new pellets are fed in via an auger system. The burner is monitored with a standard flame sensor. When the fire is up the pellets feed in until the boiler gets up to temp. Then the system enters a standby mode where it feeds in just enough pellets to maintain the flame. When the thermostats stop calling for heat, the whole system shuts down, ready for the next burn.

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