Review: LinkSprite Mini CNC

It’s a great time to be a hobbyist. No matter how you feel about the Arduino/Raspberry Pi effect, the influx of general enthusiasm and demand it has created translates to better availability of components, a broader community, and loads of freely available knowledge. When people have access to knowledge and ideas, great things can happen. Tools that were once restricted to industrial use become open source, and the price of entry-level versions goes into a nosedive.

As we’ve seen over the last several years, the price of cheap 3D printers keeps falling while the bar of quality keeps rising. It’s happening with laser cutters and carving tools, too. Strolling through Microcenter a few weeks ago, I spotted a new toy on the back wall next to the 3D printers. It was LinkSprite’s desktop mini CNC. They didn’t have one out on display, but there were two of them in boxes on the shelf. And boy, those boxes were small. Laughably small. I wondered, could this adorable machine really be any good? To some, the $200 price tag suggests otherwise. To me, the price tag made it justifiable, especially considering that the next price point for a hobby CNC mill is at least twice as much. I took my phone out and stood there frantically looking for reviews, documentation, anything that was available. It seemed that the general, if sparse consensus is that this thing isn’t a total waste of money. Oh, and there’s a wiki.

According to LinkSprite’s wiki, this little machine will engrave wood, plastic, acrylic, PVC, and PCBs. It will specifically not engrave metal (PCB copper notwithstanding). I’m a bit leery of the chemicals used in the PCB etching process, so the idea of engraving them instead was especially tempting. I pulled the trigger.

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An Enchanted Rose For A Beauty

Being a maker opens up so many doors in terms of ways to romance one’s partner through passion projects. If their passion is Disney films, then you may handily make them the enchanted rose from Beauty and the Beast for their birthday. Easy-peasy.

In addition to the love and care that went into this build, redditor [Vonblackhawk2811] has included a set of LEDs, salvaged from cheap flashlights and electronic candles, which are controlled by four toggle switches and offer multiple lighting selections — candlelight, soft white, colour cycling, and bright white — to appropriately set the mood. As if that wasn’t enough to romance his sweetheart, he’s also included an aux cord input and a pair of speakers so they may be serenaded by a tune or two as they dance the night away.

Liberal use of hot glue and duct tape are keeping the electronics secured, preventing any shorts. After all — what would it say if this gift went up in flames? An inspired stencil design — hand drawn and cut out — was used to apply a spray-on frosted glass finish to the cloche, and a romantic phrase was burned into the base, completing this heartfelt gift. The only quibble we have is that now we all have to step up our game in the courtship department.

That is, unless one is sporting the Romance Pants.

[via /r/DIY]

Blowing Out A Candle Flicker LED: The Death Of Flame

One day there will be no more need for flames. [slider2732] has put yet another nail in the coffin of this most ancient of all technology by making a candle that uses a flicker LED that you blow out. A little more miniaturization and we’ll have them fully integrated into the size of birthday cake candles (Hint hint, hackers!).

You may have seen these candle flicker LEDs.  They have a small chip inside them that modulates the LED’s light to flicker like a candle. We’ve even reported on what [Cpldcpu] found when he reverse engineered them first here and then here.

What [slider2732] did was to buy an electronic candle that used one of the LEDs actually shaped like a flame, and to drill a hole near the ‘flame’. He them embedded a microphone behind the hole. That goes to an LM386 amplifier circuit and from there to an Arduino Pro Mini all powered by a LiPo. As you’d expect, the Arduino code is very simple, just watch the pin from the amplifier and based on an internal variable, turn the LED on or off. We really like how none of the electronics is visible and how you actually have to lean over and blow into the top of the candle to blow it out. You can see this demonstrated in the video below.

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AVR vs PIC, Round 223: Fight!

Get ready to rumble! [Thierry] made the exact same Hello-World-esque project with two microcontrollers (that are now technically produced by the same firm!) to see how the experience went.

It’s not just an LED-blinker, though. He added in a light-detection function so that it only switches on at night. It uses the Forest Mims trick of reverse-biasing the LED and waiting for it to discharge its internal capacitance. The point is, however, that it gives the chip something to do instead of simply sleeping.

Although he’s an AVR user by habit, [Thierry] finds in favor of the PIC because it’s got a lower power draw both when idling and when awake and doing some computation. This is largely because the PIC has an onboard low-power oscillator that lets it limp along at 32 kHz, but also because the chip has a lower power consumption in general. In the end, it’s probably a 10% advantage to the PIC on power.

If you’re competent with one of the two chips, but not the other, his two versions of the same code would be a great way to start familiarizing yourself with the other. We really like his isDarkerThan() function which makes extensive use of sleep modes on both chips during the LED’s discharge period. And honestly, at this level the code for the two is more similar than different.

(Oh, and did you notice [Thierry]’s use of a paper clip as a coin-cell holder? It’s a hack!)

Surprisingly, we’ve managed to avoid taking a stray bullet from the crossfire that occasionally breaks out between the PIC and AVR fans. We have covered a “shootout” before, and PIC won that round too, although it was similarly close. Will the Microchip purchase of Atmel calm the flames? Let’s find out in the comment section. We have our popcorn ready!

Hacking Candle Extinguishing

Anyone can put out a candle by blowing on it. According to [Physics Girl], that method is old hat. She made an educational video that shows five different ways to put out a candle using–what else–physics.

You might not need alternate ways to put out a candle, but if you are looking to engage students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), this video along with others from [Physics Girl] might spark interest.

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Reverse Engineering A Real Candle

[cpldcpu] just can’t leave the mysteries of candles alone. We’ve covered his explorations of candle flicker LEDs before, but this time he’s set his sensors on the real thing. [cpldcpu] hooked a photodiode to his oscilloscope, pointed it at a candle flame, and recorded the result.

The first interesting observation was the candle slowly changed brightness, whether it was interacted with or not. Next he measured the effect when the flame was disturbed by small gusts of air. This produced a bright flicker with an oscillation at 5Hz before returning to steady state, which as [stygiansonic] mentioned in a the Hacker News comment, is a known phenomenon used in flame detectors. Neat! There’s even an equation:

Under normal gravity conditions, the flames have a well defined oscillation frequency which is inversely proportional to the square root of the burner diameter, D, and to a good approximation can be written as f » 1.5/D½, with D given in meters.

[cpldcpu] then compiled his measurements into a series of graphs and ultimately an animated gif comparing the candle steady state, a real candle’s flicker, and the flicker he recorded from a candle flickr LED. It’s surprising how different the fake is from the real thing. You can look at his measurements and code at his github.

[via Hacker News]

Spark Plug Lights the Darkness

When you have an idea, just go build it. That’s the approach that [GordsGarage] takes with most of his projects, and he’s back in the machine shop again. This time it’s with a rather unique oil candle that uses a spark plug as inspiration. We have to say, the results are on fire.

thumbThe spark plug candle was fashioned out of a single piece of 6061 aluminum. To create the scale model, first the stock metal hit the lathe to create the “insulator” section of the plug. From there, he milled in the hex bolt section, then it hit the lathe again to create the threaded section. The inside was bored out to create space for the wick and oil, and then the electrode was installed just above the flame.

This is a pretty impressive scale model and has a great finished look. The only thing that isn’t to scale is the gap for the electrode which is completely necessary to keep the candle from getting smothered. It’s an interesting, unique idea too, which is something that [GordsGarage] excels at. And, if you want to scale his model up a little bit, perhaps you can find some inspiration from this other candle.