Smooth and Steady Cuts with an Improvised Power Feeder

Some woodworking operations require stock to be fed at a smooth, steady rate, for which purpose a power feeder is usually employed. They’re expensive bits of gear, though, and their cost can usually be borne only by high-output production shops. But when you need one, you need one, and hacking a power feeder from a drill and a skate wheel is a viable option.

It should come as no surprise that this woodshop hack comes to us from [Matthias Wandel], who never seems to let a woodworking challenge pass him by. His first two versions of expedient power feeders were tasked with making a lot of baseboard moldings in his new house. Version three, presented in the video below, allows him to feed stock diagonally across his table saw, resulting in custom cove moldings. The completed power feeder may look simple — it’s just a brushless drill in a wooden jig driving a skate wheel — but the iterative design process [Matthias] walks us through is pretty fascinating. We also appreciate the hacks within hacks that always find their way into his videos. No lathe? No problem! Improvise with a drill and a bandsaw.

Surprised that [Matthias] didn’t use some of his famous wooden gears in this build? We’re not. A brushless motor is perfect for this application, with constant torque at low speeds. Want to learn more about BLDC motors? Get the basics with a giant demo brushless motor.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Very, Very Powerful Servos

A few years ago, [patchartrand] decided to build a robot arm. The specs were simple: he needed a drive system that would be at least as strong as a human arm. After looking at motors, [patch] couldn’t find a solution for under $3,000. This led to the creation of the Ultra Servo, an embiggened version of the standard hobby servo that provides more than ten thousand oz-in of torque.

Your typical hobby servo has three main components. The electronics board reads some sort of signal to control a motor. This motor is strapped into a gear train of some sort, and a potentiometer reads the absolute position of a shaft. This is basically what the Ultra Servo is doing, although everything is much, much bigger.

The motor used in the Ultra Servo is a very large brushed DC motor. This is attached to a 160:1 planetary gearbox and the electronics are built around four reasonably large MOSFETs. The electronics are built around the ATmega168 microcontroller, and the specs for the completed servo include 12 V or 24 V operation, TTL, SPI, and standard RC communication, 60 RPM no load speed, and 60 ft-lbs of torque.

This is not your standard servo. This is a massive chunk of metal to move stuff. If you’ve ever wanted a remote-controlled Cessna, here you go. That said, servos of this size and power will always be pricey, and [patch] is looking at a cost of $750 per unit. Still, that’s much less than the thousands of a comparable unit, and a great entry to the Hackaday Prize.

Hand-Wound Brushless Motors Revive Grounded Quad

You’re happily FPVing through the wild blue yonder, dodging and jinking through the obstacles of your favorite quadcopter racing course. You get a shade too close to a branch and suddenly the picture in your goggles gets the shakes and your bird hits the dirt. Then you smell the smoke and you know what happened – a broken blade put a motor off-balance and burned out a winding in the stator.

What to do? A sensible pilot might send the quad to the healing bench for a motor replacement. But [BRADtheRipper] prefers to take the opportunity to rewind his burned-out brushless motors by hand, despite the fact that new ones costs all of five bucks. There’s some madness to his method, which he demonstrates in the video below, but there’s also some justification for the effort. [Brad]’s coil transplant recipient, a 2205 racing motor, was originally wound with doubled 28AWG magnet wire of unknown provenance. He chose to rewind it with high-quality 25AWG enameled wire, giving almost the same ampacity in a single, easier to handle and less fragile conductor. Plus, by varying the number of turns on each pole of the stator, he’s able to alter the motor’s performance.

In all, there are a bunch of nice tricks in here to file away for a rainy day. If you need to get up to speed on BLDC motor basics, check out this primer. Or you may just want to start 3D printing your own BLDC motors.

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Balancing Robot Needs Innovative Controller and Motor

A self-balancing robot is a great way to get introduced to control theory and robotics in general. The ability for a robot to sense its position and its current set of circumstances and then to make a proportional response to accomplish its goal is key to all robotics. While hobby robots might use cheap servos or brushed motors, for any more advanced balancing robot you might want to reach for a brushless DC motor and a new fully open-source controller.

The main problem with brushless DC motors is that they don’t perform very well at low velocities. To combat this downside, there are a large number of specialized controllers on the market that can help mitigate their behavior. Until now, all of these controllers have been locked down and proprietary. SmoothControl is looking to create a fully open source design for these motors, and they look like they have a pretty good start. The controller is designed to run on the ubiquitous ATmega32U4 with an open source 3-phase driver board. They are currently using these boards with two specific motors but plan to also support more motors as the project grows.

We’ve seen projects before that detail why brushless motors are difficult to deal with, so an open source driver for brushless DC motors that does the work for us seems appealing. There are lots of applications for brushless DC motors outside of robots where a controller like this could be useful as well, such as driving an airplane’s propeller.

Cheap Chainsaw Teardown Reveals Buried Treasures

People seem to have a love-hate relationship with Harbor Freight, and it mostly seems that they love to hate the purveyor of discount tools. This is not without cause — any number of HF tools have fallen apart in our hands. But there are some gems to be found amid the dregs and dross of your local branch of the 700-store US chain, as long as you match the tool to your needs and manage your expectations.

Now, we’d normally shy away from any electric chainsaw, especially a cordless saw, and doubly so a Harbor Freight special. But as [Professor Charles] demonstrates with his detailed and humorous teardown, the Lynxx 40-volt cordless 14″ chainsaw might be worth picking up just for harvesting parts. First there’s the battery pack, which is chock full of 18650 lithium cells. [Professor Charles] leads us on a detailed tour of the design compromises of the battery and charger and is none too impressed with either, but he clearly understands what it means to build to a price point. While [Charles] found the stock motor controller somewhat anemic, the real buried treasure in the tool is a huge brushless motor, powerful enough to “throw an 8-inch Vise Grip at you” during a (not so) locked rotor test.

The whole teardown is enlightening as to the engineering decisions that go into mass-market tools, so even if you can’t think of something to do with this motor, the article is worth a read. At $169 for the Lynxx (before the 20% coupon in your Sunday paper every week) it’s a little pricey to buy just to harvest parts, but it wouldn’t be the first HF tool to suffer that fate. We’ll bet these things will start showing up broken on the secondary market for a song, and if the [Professor]’s assessments are right, it likely won’t be the motors that fail.

3D Printed R/C Lifeboat

Radio control boats usually bring up thoughts of racing catamarans, or scale sailing yachts. This build takes things in a slightly different direction. A radio controlled lifeboat with a built-in First Person View (FPV) transmitter. [Peter Sripol] used to be one of the awesome folks over at Flite Test. Now he’s gone solo, and has been cranking out some great builds on his YouTube channel. His latest build is a lifeboat loosely based on the totally enclosed lifeboats used on oil tankers and other seafaring vessels.

[Peter] designed the boat in 3D modeling software and printed it on his Lulzbot Taz 6. The files are available on Thingiverse if you want to print your own. The lower hull was printed in two pieces then epoxied together. Peter’s musical build montage goes by fast, proving that he’s just as good editing video as he is scratch-building R/C craft. Along the way he shows us everything from wiring up speed controls to cutting and soldering up a rudder. The final touch on this boat is a micro FPV camera and radio transmitter. As long as the boat is in range, it can be piloted through video goggles.

[Peter’s] boat is destined to be tested on an upcoming trip to Hawaii, so keep an eye on his channel to see how it fares in the monster waves!

HobbyKing Cheetah: Building Running Robots from Hobby Motors

[Ben Katz] is building a running robot from hobby level brushless motors, all on his blog under the tag, “HobbyKing Cheetah.

One of the features of fancy modern industrial motor and controller sets is the ability for the motor to act as a mass-spring-damper. For example, let’s say you want a robot to hold an egg. You could have it move to the closed position, but tell the controller you only want to use so much force to do it. It will hold the egg as if there was a spring at its joint.

Another way you could use this is in the application of a robot leg. You tell the controller what kind of spring and shock absorber (damper) combination it is and it will behave as if those parts have been added to the mechanism. This is important if you want a mechanical leg to behave like a biological leg.

[Ben] had worked on a more formal project which used some very expensive geared motors to build a little running robot. It looks absolutely ridiculous, as you can see in the following video, but it gives an idea of where he’s going with this line of research. He wanted to see if he could replace all those giant geared motors with the cheap and ubiquitous high performance brushless DC motors for sale now. Especially given his experience with them.

So far he’s done a very impressive amount of work. He’s built a control board. He’s characterized different motors for the application.  He’s written a lot of cool software; he can even change the stiffness and damping settings on the fly. He has a single leg that can jump. It’s cool. He’s taking a hiatus from the project, but he’ll be right back at it soon. We’re excited for the updates!