Air-Assist Analysis Reveals Most Effective — And Quietest — Methods

If there’s one thing that continues to impress us about the Hackaday community as the years roll by, it’s the willingness to share what we’ve learned with each other. Not every discovery will be news to everyone, and everything won’t be helpful or even interesting to everyone, but the mere act of sharing on the off chance that it’ll help someone else is really what sets the hardware hacking world apart.

Case in point: this in-depth analysis of laser cutter air-assist methods. Undertaken by [David Tucker], this project reads more like a lab writeup than a build log, because well, that’s pretty much what it is. For those not into laser cutters, an air assist is just a steady flow of air to blow smoke and cutting residue away from the beam path and optics of a laser cutter. It’s simple, but critical; without it, smoke can obscure and reflect the laser beam, foul lenses and mirrors, and severely degrade cut quality.

To see what air-assist methods work best, [David] looked at four different air pumps and compressors, along with a simple fan. Each of these methods was compared to a control of cuts made without air assist. The test was simple: a series of parallel lines cut into particle board with the beam focused on the surface at 80% power, with the cut speed slowly decreasing. It turned out that any air-assist was better than nothing, with the conspicuous exception of using just a fan, which made things worse. Helpfully, [David] included measurements of the noise levels of the compressors he tested, and found there’s no advantage to using an ear-splitting shop compressor over a quieter aquarium air pump. Plus, the aquarium pumps are cheap — always a bonus.

Not sure how to get up to speed with lasers? Laser Cutting 101 might be a great place to start.

Clever Gas Mixer Gets Just The Right Blend For Homebrew Laser Tubes

[Lucas] over at Cranktown City on YouTube has been very busy lately, but despite current appearances, his latest project is not a welder. Rather, he built a very clever gas mixer for filling his homemade CO2 laser tubes, which only looks like a welding machine. (Video, embedded below.)

We’ve been following [Lucas] on his journey to build a laser cutter from scratch — really from scratch, as he built his own laser tube rather than rely on something off-the-shelf. Getting the right mix of gas to fill the tube has been a bit of a pain, though, since he was using a party balloon to collect carbon dioxide, helium, and nitrogen at measuring the diameter of the ballon after each addition to determine the volumetric ratio of each. His attempt at automating the process centers around a so-called AirShim, which is basically a flat inflatable bag made of sturdy material that’s used by contractors to pry, wedge, lift, and shim using air pressure.

[Lucas]’ first idea was to measure the volume of gas in the bag using displacement of water and some photosensors, but that proved both impractical and unnecessary. It turned out to be far easier to sense when the bag is filled with a simple microswitch; each filling yields a fixed volume of gas, making it easy to figure out how much of each gas has been dispensed. An Arduino controls the pump, which is a reclaimed fridge compressor, monitors the limit switch and controls the solenoid valves, and calculates the volume of gas dispensed.

Judging by the video below, the mixer works pretty well, and we’re impressed by its simplicity. We’d never seriously thought about building our own laser tube before, but seeing [Lucas] have at it makes it seem quite approachable. We’re looking forward to watching his laser project come together.

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Fridge Compressor Turned Into Capable Little Four-Stroke Engine

Never underestimate the power of a well-stocked junk bin. Along with a TIG welder and mechanical ingenuity bordering on genius-level, all of which come to bear on this fridge compressor to four-stroke engine build.

The video posted by [Let’s Learn Something] is long, but watching it at double speed doesn’t take away much from the enjoyment. By using a piston-type compressor, a lot of the precision machining is already taken care of here. Adding the intake and exhaust valves, camshaft, timing chain, carburetor, and ignition system are still pretty challenging tasks, though. We loved the home-made timing chain sprockets, made with nothing more than a drill and an angle grinder. In a truly inspired moment, flat-head screws are turned into valves, rocker arms are fabricated from bits of scrap, and a bolt becomes a camshaft with built-up TIG filler. Ignition and carburetion are cobbled together from more bits of scrap, resulting in an engine that fired up the first time — and promptly melted the epoxy holding the exhaust header to the cylinder head.

Now, compressor-to-engine conversions aren’t exactly new territory. We’ve seen both fridge compressors and automotive AC compressors turned into engines before. But most of what we’ve seen has been simple two-stroke engines. We’re really impressed with the skill needed to bring off a four-stroke engine like this, and we feel like we picked up quite a few junk-box tips from this one.

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Manual To Hydraulic Press, With A Paint Sprayer

A press can be one of the most useful additions to a workshop, once you have one you will wonder how you ever coped beforehand when it came to all manner of pressing in and pushing out tasks. An arbor press with a big lever and ratchet is very quick to use, while a hydraulic press  gives much higher pressure but is extremely slow. [The Buildist] missed out on an arbor press, so turned his eye to improving the speed of his hydraulic one. The solution came from an unexpected source, an airless paint sprayer that had come his way because its valves were gummed up with paint.

An airless paint sprayer is simply a high pressure pump that supplies paint to a nozzle, and that pump is easily repurposed to pump oil instead of paint. Testing revealed it could produce a pressure of 3000 PSI, which would be plenty to move the hydraulic jack even if the hand pump would be needed to finish the job when higher force was required.

What follows over two videos is a masterclass in hydraulic jacks, as he strips down the jack from his press, and modifies it not only to take an input from the pump, but also to run inverted by the addition of an oil reservoir pick-up pipe. Along the way we learn a few useful gems such as the fact that a grease gun pipe is the same as a hydraulic pipe, but much cheaper.

The result is a jack that extends quickly, and has the pressure to do most pressing tasks without the hand assistance. He crushes a drinks can for effect, then pinches the end of a piece of pipe, because given a press, why wouldn’t you! Take a look at both videos below the break.

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See How Wildly Different Air Conditioners Can Be (On The Inside)

Air conditioners are easy to take for granted. From refrigerators to climate control, most of us would miss them dearly if they disappeared. That’s part of what draws [Josh Levine]’s interest in air conditioners, and he has provided an interesting tour of several different units and how different they can be, despite all working in basically the same way.

That white PCB is crucial (for running the bluetooth speaker and LED flashlight, that is.)

One way that air conditioners try to stand out is by being quiet, and the bulk of noise comes from the fans and the compressor. One unit (the Haier Serenity) aimed to be the quietest unit possible, but while this effort had mixed results at best it is still interesting to see [Josh] give a tour of the different ways they tried to reduce noise (YouTube, embedded below). Noise-limiting elements include the unusual step of using separate motors for the indoor and outdoor fans, and even little counterweights to ensure they are perfectly balanced, just like wheel weights on automobile tires.

Another notable air conditioner is the Zero Breeze, a portable unit that was the product of a Kickstarter campaign. Features included (either bizarrely or predictably, you be the judge) a bluetooth speaker and an LED flashlight. [Josh] more than half suspected the product would never actually ship, but was pleasantly surprised. Not only did it deliver, it turned out to be a pretty nice design with only a couple of mildly head scratching moments (YouTube, also embedded below).

There are a few more to check out in the roundup on [Josh]’s web site, which he also compares and contrasts with his own DIY unit¬†which we featured in the past.

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Building An Engine With An A/C Compressor

Air conditioning compressors aren’t exactly a mainstay of the average hacker’s junk box. Typically, they’re either fitted to a car to do their original job, or they’re on the bench getting refurbished. However, with the right mods, it’s possible to turn one into a functioning internal combustion engine.

The build starts by disassembling the compressor, which contains three double-sided pistons. The housing is drilled with ports to allow gas to flow into and out of the cylinders, as well as to transfer from one side of the piston to the other. Acrylic end plates are fitted to the assembly. One end acts as an intake manifold, delivering air and fuel to the cylinders. The other side acts as the cylinder head, mounting the sparkplugs. Everything is then connected with acrylic tubing and a small square section of acrylic is turned into a carburetor to supply the air-fuel mix. Ignition is handled by coils triggered by the movement of the flywheel.

After an initial failure due to the acrylic manifold cracking, a stronger part is fabricated, and the engine bursts into life. The acrylic end caps give a great view of the combustion process in action. We’d love to see the a dyno graph on how much power and torque the unit puts out, or to see it hooked up to a bicycle or cart.

We’ve seen others attempt their own engine builds, too. If you’ve got an unconventional engine build of your own, be sure to let us know. Video after the break.

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Air Compressor From Fridge Parts Gets An Upgrade

Air compressors are often loud, raucous machines – but they don’t have to be. [Eric Strebel] built a remarkably quiet compressor using parts salvaged from an old fridge. After several years of use, it was due for an upgrade (Youtube link, embedded below}.

While performance of the original setup was good, [Eric] desired a compressor with more capacity for his resin casting activities. A 15 gallon air tank was sourced from a damaged Craftsman brand compressor, and pressed into service. The build involved plenty of sheet metal work to mount the various components, as well as an upgrade to the pressure regulator.

During the refit, [Eric] takes the time to answer questions from the audience about his original build. He notes that the fridge compressor has worked well without using any noticeable amount of oil, and that there was a problem with water build up in the original tank which has been solved in the new rig.

It’s a great example of building your own tools, which can provide years of service if done right. Check out our write up on [Eric]’s first build, or his work on photogrammetry. Video after the break.

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