Whip Up Some Homemade Artisanal Flux

You don’t think much about the power company until you flip the lights on and they don’t come on. The same can be said of soldering flux. You don’t think much about it, usually, until you try soldering without it. Flux has a cleaning action on metal surfaces that allows for a proper solder joint. The problem is, do you have any idea what’s in the flux you are using? We don’t either. [Catsndogs] has a recipe to make your own flux and then you’ll know.

At the heart of rosin flux is basically tree sap. If you live near pine trees, you can source it naturally. If not, you can find it at music instrument stores. Stringed instruments use rosin, so it is readily available. If you do source it yourself, [Catsndogs] reports that it doesn’t matter if it is old or clean.  You do want to pick out as much tree bark and dead ants as you can, though. You essentially dissolve it in alcohol (at least 80% isopropyl or ethanol). Then filter it through filter paper or a coffee filter.

You can adjust the viscosity by allowing the alcohol to evaporate to make the mixture thicker or by adding more alcohol to make it thinner. Thicker flux is good for tacking down SMD parts. As you might expect, this isn’t “no clean” flux. Also, the flux is very flammable, so be careful.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of this recipe. Or even the second time. But it is a good reminder that you can make your own free of whatever wacky chemicals are in the commercial preparations.

Magnetic Gearbox Design Improvements Are Toothless But Still Cool

Any project that contains something called a “flux modulator” instantly commands our attention. And while we’re pretty sure that [Retsetman] didn’t invent it after hitting his head on the toilet, this magnetic gearbox is still really cool.

Where most gearboxes have, you know, gears, a magnetic gearbox works by coupling input and output shafts not with meshing teeth but via magnetic attraction. [Retsetman]’s version has three circular elements nested together on a common axis, and while not exactly a planetary gear in the traditional sense, he still uses planetary terminology to explain how it works. The inner sun gear is a rotor with four pairs of bar magnets on its outer circumference. An outer ring gear has ten pairs of magnets, making the ratio of “teeth” between the two gears 10:2. Between these two elements is the aforementioned flux modulator, roughly equivalent to the planet gears of a traditional gearbox, with twelve grub screws around its circumference. The screws serve to conduct magnetic flux between the magnets, dragging the rotating elements along for the ride.

This gearbox appears to be a refinement on [Retsetman]’s earlier design, and while he provides no build files that we can find, it shouldn’t be too hard to roll your own designs for the printed parts.

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Floppy disks

Floppy Interfacing Hack Chat With Adafruit

Join us on Wednesday, February 2 at noon Pacific for the Floppy Interfacing Hack Chat with Adafruit’s Limor “Ladyada” Fried and Phillip Torrone!

When a tiny fleck of plastic-covered silicon can provide enough capacity to store a fair percentage of humanity’s collected knowledge, it may seem like a waste of time to be fooling around with archaic storage technology like floppy disks. With several orders of magnitude less storage capacity than something like even the cheapest SD card or thumb drive, and access speeds that clock in somewhere between cold molasses and horse and buggy, floppy drives really don’t seem like they have any place on the modern hacker’s bench.

join-hack-chatOr do they? Learning the ins and out of interfacing floppy drives with modern microcontrollers is at least an exercise in hardware hacking that can pay dividends in other projects. A floppy drive is, after all, a pretty complex little device, filled with electromechanical goodies that need to be controlled in a microcontroller environment. And teasing data from a stream of magnetic flux changes ends up needing some neat hacks that might just serve you well down the line.

So don’t dismiss the humble floppy drive as a source for hacking possibilities. The folks at Adafruit sure haven’t, as they’ve been working diligently to get native floppy disk support built right into CircuitPython. To walk us through how they got where they are now, Ladyada and PT will drop by the Hack Chat. Be sure to come with your burning questions on flux transitions, MFM decoding, interface timing issues, and other arcana of spinning rust drives.

Our Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, February 2 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

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DIY Mechanical Flux Dispenser Syringe Has Fine Control

[Perinski]’s design for a mechanical flux dispenser uses some common hardware and a few 3D printed parts to create a syringe with fine control over just how much of the thick stuff gets deposited. The design is slick, and there’s a full parts list to accompany the printed pieces. [Perinski] even has some useful tips on how to most effectively get flux into 5 mL syringes without making a mess, which is a welcome bit of advice.

There is also a separate companion design for a magnetic syringe cap. Not only does it have an O-ring to keep things sealed and clean, but the tip of the cap has a magnet embedded into it, so that it can be stowed somewhere safe while the dispenser is in use, and doesn’t clutter the workspace.

This is all a very interesting departure from the design of most syringe dispensers for goopy materials, which tend to depend on some kind of pneumatic action. Even so, we’ve also seen that it’s possible to have a compact DIY pneumatic dispenser that doesn’t require a bulky compressor.

If you can’t quite figure out how the ergonomics of [Perinski]’s design are intended to work one-handed, you’re not alone. One holds the syringe in their hand, and turns the large dial in small increments with a thumb to control extrusion. [Perinski] demonstrates it close-up around the 4:50 mark, but if you have a few minutes it is worth watching the entire video, embedded below.

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Reviving Old Recipe For Faraday Wax Keeps Vacuum Experiments Going

Science today seems to be dominated by big budgets and exotics supplies and materials, the likes of which the home gamer has trouble procuring. But back in the day, science was once done very much by the seats of the pants, using whatever was available for the job. And as it turns out, some of the materials the old-timers used are actually still pretty useful.

An example of this is a homemade version of “Faraday Wax”, which [ChristofferB] is using for his high vacuum experiments. As you can imagine, getting a tight seal on fittings is critical to maintaining a vacuum, a job that’s usually left to expensive synthetic epoxy compounds. Realizing that a lot of scientific progress was made well before these compounds were commercially available, [ChristofferB] trolled through old scientific literature to find out how it used to be done.

This led to a recipe for “Faraday Wax”, first described by the great scientist himself in 1827. The ingredients seem a little archaic, but are actually pretty easy to source. Beeswax is easy to come by; the primary ingredient, “colophony”, is really just rosin, pretty much the same kind used as solder flux; and “Venetian red” is a natural pigment made from clay and iron oxide that can be had from art suppliers. Melted and blended together, [ChristofferB] poured it out onto wax paper to make thin strips that are easily melted onto joints in vacuum systems, and reports are that the stuff works well, even down to 10-7 mbar.

We love this one — it’s the perfect example of the hacker credo, which has been driving progress for centuries. It also reminds us of some of the work by [Simplifier], who looks for similar old-time recipes to push his work in DIY semiconductors and backyard inductors forward.

[David Gustafik] dropped us the tip on this one. Thanks!

Popping The Hood On The Flux Beamo Laser Cutter

While the K40 has brought affordable laser cutting to the masses, there’s no question that it took a lot of sacrifices to hit that sub-$400 price point. There’s a reason that we’ve seen so many upgrades and improvements made to the base model machine, but for the price it’s hard to complain. That being said, for users who don’t mind spending a bit more money for a more complete out-of-the-box experience, there are other options out there.

One of them is the beamo, from FLUX. [Frank Zhao] recently picked up one of these $1,900 USD laser cutters because he wasn’t thrilled with the compromises made on the K40. Specifically, he really liked the idea of the internal water cooling system. Oddly enough, something about using a garden hose and buckets of water to cool the laser seemed off-putting. Luckily for us, he’s got a technical eye and the free time necessary to do a teardown and objective analysis of his new toy.

The short version of the story is that [Frank] is not only happy with the results he’s getting, but finds the machine to be well designed and built. So if you’re looking for a rant, sorry. But what you will find is a methodical look at each subsystem of the beamo, complete with annotated pictures and the kind of technical details that Hackaday readers crave.

We especially like his attempts to identify parts which might be difficult to source in the future; it looks like the CO2 laser tube might be proprietary, but everything else looks fairly jellybean. That includes the Raspberry Pi 3B that’s running the show, and the off-the-shelf touch screen HDMI display used for the interface. [Frank] did note that FLUX was unwilling to give him the credentials to log into the Pi and poke around, but with direct access to the SD card, it’s not like that will stop anyone who wants to get in.

In a way, laser cutters are in a similar situation today to that desktop 3D printers were in a few years ago. The cheap ones cut so many corners that upgrades and fixes are almost a necessity, and building your own machine is often less expensive than buying a commercial offering with similar specs. While the beamo is still a bit too expensive for the average hobbyist, it’s good to see machines of this caliber are at least coming down out of the 5 figure range.

Cheap Alternative Solvents For PCB Cleaning

If you’re in the habit of using isopropyl alcohol to clean your PCBs after soldering, you probably have a nice big jug of the stuff stashed away. If you don’t, you’re probably out of luck, since the COVID-19 pandemic has pretty much cleared IPA out of the retail market. But don’t fret: depending on where you live, alternative PCB cleaning solutions may be as close as your nearest auto parts store.

[Steven]’s search for a cheaper and perhaps more readily available substitute for his usual dedicated flux cleaner lead him to try automotive brake cleaner on a few test boards. He suspected that they might contain acetone, which is prone to yield unfortunate results with solder resist and silkscreen on PCBs, so some tests were in order. The brand he tried was Normfest Bremsenreiniger MC-1, a German brand that according to its Safety Data Sheet contains only hydrocarbons like alkanes, butane, and propane. It did a fine job cleaning all but the crustiest rosin flux without collateral damage.

In the video below, [Steven] goes through a few more brands with similar results, and we were encouraged enough by his results to check brake cleaners made for the US market. Alas, almost all of the cheap and readily available aerosols have acetone as the principle ingredient, mixed in with methanol, ethanol, and assorted ingredients that together will probably make for a bad day. About the only US-sold brand without acetone that we could find was Keller-Heartt, which lists only naptha and ethanol on its SDS. There may be others, but make sure you test whatever you find.

Aerosol solvents aren’t the only way to clean a PCB, of course. Ultrasonic cleaners do a great job, and as [Steven] discovered, they’re generally safe for most components.

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