Building A Workshop Crane From Scratch

Buying tools is all well and good, but it doesn’t suit the ethos of Youtube channel [Workshop From Scratch]. Building what you need is much more the go, and that’s demonstrated ably with this home-built electric workshop crane.

The crane is put together in a straightforward manner using basic steelworking techniques. Plates and bars are machined with a drill press, bandsaw and grinder, though we could imagine you could use hand tools if you were so inclined. An ATV winch is pressed into service to do the heavy lifting, powered by a set of 12V lead acid batteries placed in the base. This design choice does double duty as both a mobile power supply for the crane, and acts as a counterweight in the base.

The final result looks sharp in its orange paint finish, and does a good job of moving heavy equipment around the workshop. The legs are reconfigurable, so that even very heavy loads can be lifted with appropriate counterweight placed on the back. It’s a significant upgrade on the earlier version we featured last year, which was hydraulic in operation. Video after the break.

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A Crane Fit For Any Workshop

Sometimes we will encounter items in our workshops that are a little bigger than we bargained for. An engine block, an anvil, or a particularly substantial machine tool. Lifting these things may be possible, but doing so risks injury, perhaps a hernia or worse. For these moments a particularly well-appointed workshop will include a small crane, and [Workshop from scratch] has posted a video that we’ve placed below the break showing the construction of a particularly nice model.

The fabrication of a crane is not in itself a difficult task, in that most metalwork-minded readers could probably make one. What’s appealing about this video is the sense of gratification at watching metalwork being done well, and that while he does use a bandsaw and a drill press there’s not a lot in the video that couldn’t be done with more basic tools. The result is a handsome item that is probably better than many commercial offerings, though the gut feeling here is that the pivot points would have been better made with a sleeve and pin rather than a threaded bolt. The lifting effort comes from an off-the-shelf hydraulic ram.

Cranes feature here surprisingly rarely, but at least we’ve brought you a balcony crane.

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A DIY Balcony Crane Lifts Groceries For The Lazy But Patient

If necessity is the mother of invention, then laziness is probably its father. Or at least a close uncle. Who hasn’t thought, “There has to be a better way to do this, one that doesn’t involve me burning precious calories”?

Motivational laziness seems to increase with potential energy, as anyone who needs to haul groceries up four flights of stairs will tell you. This appears to be where this balcony-mounted drill-powered crane came from. Starting with a surplus right-angle gearbox and drum, [geniusz K] fabricated the rest of the crane from steel plate and tubing. We like the quality of fabrication and the tip on making slip couplings from bits of square tubing. The finished product got a nice coat of brown paint to match the balcony railing; keeping the neighbors happy is always important. He tested the crane with a 20-kg weight before installing it on the balcony and put it to work hauling groceries up three stories. Check out the build and the test in the video below.

While it won’t set any speed records, at least the drill is doing the work. But what if you’re impatient as well as lazy? Aside from being two-thirds of the way to programming greatness, you may have to up the game. A heavy-lift quadcopter, perhaps?

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Fishing For AirPods With Magnets

Note to self: if you’re going to hack at 4 in the morning, have a plan to deal with the inevitable foul ups. Like being able to whip up an impromptu electromagnetic crane to retrieve an AirPod dropped out a window.

Apartment dweller [Tyler Efird]’s tale of woe began with a wee-hours 3D print in need of sanding. Leaning out his third-story window to blow off some dust, he knocked one AirPod free and gravity did the rest. With little light to search by and a flight to catch, the wayward AirPod sat at the bottom of a 10-foot shaft below his window, keeping company with a squad of spiders for two weeks. Unwilling to fork over $69 and wait a month and a half for a replacement, [Tyler] set about building a recovery device. A little magnet wire wound onto a bolt, a trashed 100-foot long Ethernet cable, and a DC bench supply were all he needed to eventually fish up the AirPod. And no spiders were harmed in the making of this hack.

Need to lift something a little heavier than an AirPod? A beefy microwave oven transformer electromagnet might be the thing for you. And confused about how magnets even work in the first place? Check out our primer on magnetism.

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Heavy Lift Electromagnet From Microwave Oven Transformers

It’s OK, you can admit it — from the time you first saw those huge electromagnetic cranes in scrap yards you’ve wanted to have one. While it may not fling around a car, parts donated from scrapped microwaves can let you build your own electromagnetic lifting device and make that dream finally come true.

We recently watched [MakeItExtreme] turn a couple of microwave oven transformers into a somewhat ill-advised wall-climbing rig. It looks like that may have been the inspiration for this build, and the finished product appears to be a tad more useful this time. The frames of three MOTs are cut open to remove the secondary coils and leave the cores exposed as poles for the future magnets. A shallow dish is fabricated out of steel and the magnets are welded in place.

With the primaries wired together, the magnets are epoxy potted, the business end is faced off cleanly, and the whole thing put to the test. [MakeItExtreme] doesn’t go into control details in the video below, but the website mentions the magnet being powered off a 24V 15A power supply with battery backup in case of mains failure.

They’ve lifted 200kg so far, and it looks like a pretty cool addition to a shop already packed with other builds, like their MOT spot welder and a propane tank sandblaster.

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Maybe Your Next Robot Should Be A Cyclocrane

At my university, we were all forced to take a class called Engineering 101. Weirdly, we could take it at any point in our careers at the school. So I put it off for more interesting classes until I was forced to take it in one of my final years. It was a mess of a class and never quite seemed to build up to a theme or a message. However, every third class or so they’d dredge up a veritable fossil from their ranks of graduates. These greybeards would sit at the front of the class and tell us about incredible things. It was worth the other two days of nondescript rambling by whichever engineering professor drew the short straw for one of their TAs.

The patent drawing.
The patent drawing.

One greybeard in particular had a long career in America’s unending string of, “Build cool stuff to help us make bad guys more deader,” projects. He worked on stealth boats, airplanes with wings that flex, and all sorts of incredibly cool stuff. I forgot about the details of those, but the one that stuck with me was the Cyclocrane. It had a ton of issues, and as the final verdict from a DARPA higher-up with a military rank was that it, “looked dumb as shit” (or so the greybeard informed us).

A Cyclo-What?

The Cyclocrane was a hybrid airship. Part aerodynamic and part aerostatic, or more simply put, a big balloon with an airplane glued on.  Airships are great because they have a constant static lift, in nearly all cases this is buoyancy from a gas that is lighter than air. The ship doesn’t “weigh” anything, so the only energy that needs to be expended is the energy needed to move it through the air to wherever it needs to go. Airplanes are also great, but need to spend fuel to lift themselves off the ground as well as point in the right direction. Helicopters are cool because they make so much noise that the earth can’t stand to be near them, providing lift. Now, there’s a huge list of pros and cons for each and there’s certainly a reason we use airplanes and not dirigibles for most tasks. The Cyclocrane was designed to fit an interesting use case somewhere in the middle.

In the logging industry they often use helicopters to lift machinery in and out of remote areas. However, lifting two tons with a helicopter is not the most efficient way to go about it. Airplanes are way more efficient but there’s an obvious problem with that. They only reach their peak efficiency at the speed and direction for which their various aerodynamic surfaces have been tuned. Also worth noting that they’re fairly bad at hovering. It’s really hard to lift a basket of chainsaws out of the woods safely when the vehicle doing it is moving at 120mph.

The cyclocrane wanted all the efficiency of a dirigible with the maneuverability of a helicopter. It wanted to be able to use the effective lifting design of an airplane wing too. It wanted to have and eat three cakes. It nearly did.

A Spinning Balloon with Wings

Four wings stick out of a rotating balloon. The balloon provides half of the aerostatic lift needed to hold the plane and the cargo up in the air. The weight is tied to the static ends of the balloon and hang via cables below the construction. The clever part is the four equidistant wings sticking out at right angles from the center of the ship. At the tip of each wing is a construction made up of a propellor and a second wing. Using this array of aerofoils and engines it was possible for the cyclocrane to spin its core at 13 revolutions per minute. This produced an airspeed of 60 mph for the wings. Which resulted in a ton of lift when the wings were angled back and forth in a cyclical pattern. All the while, the ship remaining perfectly stationary.

There’s a really great description of its operation in the article this photo came from.


It really didn't like strong winds.
It really didn’t like strong winds.

Now the ship had lots of problems. It was too heavy. It needed bigger engines. It was slow. It looked goofy. It didn’t like strong winds. The biggest problem was a lack of funding. It’s possible that the cyclocrane could have changed a few industries if its designers had been able to keep testing it. In the end it had a mere seven hours of flying time logged with its only commercial contract before the money was gone.

However! There may be some opportunity for hackers here. If you want to make the quadcopter nerds feel a slight sting of jealousy, a cyclocrane is the project for you. A heavy lift robot that’s potentially more efficient than a balloon with fans on it is pretty neat. T2here’s a bit of reverse engineering to be done before a true performance statement can be made. If nothing else. It’s just a cool piece of aerospace history that reminds us of the comforting fact that we haven’t even come close to inventing it all yet.

If you’d like to learn more there’s a ton of information and pictures on one of the engineer’s website. Naturally wikipedia has a bit to say. There’s also decent documentary on youtube, viewable below.

Photo Credits: Rob Crimmins and Hal Denison

Here Comes Santa Claws

Liberty Games in the UK was looking for a fun way to support charity for the holidays, and we think they succeeded. They decided to set up an arcade crane machine to run over the internet, with each type of toy snagged earning  a donation. Snag a bear, and they will donate £5 to St Mungos, a UK charity that works with homeless or at risk people. Snag one of the rarer Santa toys, and they will donate £20. It’s a great cause, and a nice hack. Behind the scenes, the Internet side of things runs on a Raspberry Pi connected to a PiRack and a couple of PiFace digital interface cards that are wired into the electronics of the crane machine so they could control the buttons on the machine from a Web interface. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to be running when we tried it, but hopefully someone will give the machine a swift kick shortly to get it going until the Hackaday traffic invariably brings it down again.

One of the interesting thing that they discovered while working on these hacks: they have a pay-out ratio that is determined by the strength of the grabbing arm. The owner can tweak this so that the arm does not grab very firmly, which means a dropped bear. Want to torture your friends with hopes of snagging the best stuffed animals?. Follow the example of this claw machine build all from parts on hand.