Hand-Forged Cases Make Nixie Clocks into Works of Art

Both “Nixie” and “Steampunk” are getting a bit overused. It’s hard to count the number of clock projects we’ve seen recently that combine the two, and normally we’d be loath to feature yet another variation on that theme without a good reason. This is a good reason.

The single-digit Nixie clocks that [Claes Vahlberg] built are, simply put, works of art. There’s a small version of the clock, featuring a single IN-16 Nixie, and a larger version that uses a Dalibor Farny custom Nixie, a work of art in its own right. Each clock has features like time and date, temperature and barometric pressure, and even days remaining in the current lunar cycle. The cases for the clocks, though, are the real treat. Hand forged from steel, they remind us of steam whistles on top of a boiler.

[Claes] doesn’t have many details on the build process — we’ve been in contact and he says he’s working on documentation — but it doesn’t matter. As if all that weren’t enough, the clocks are controlled by a remote, which has its own IN-16 tube and is motion controlled. The last bit is a nice touch since there are no buttons to distract from the smooth lines of the hammered metal case.

We gush, but we think this one really shines. That’s not to take anything away from previous Nixie-steampunk mashups, like this single-digit clock or this solar power meter. But these clocks are a step beyond.

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Retrotechtacular: The Iron Giants That Built The Jet Age

In the closing months of World War II, the Axis and the Allies were throwing everything they had at each other. The tide was turning to the Allies’ favor, but the Germans were showing a surprising resilience, at least in terms of replacing downed fighter and bomber aircraft. When the Allies examined the wreckage of these planes, they discovered the disturbing truth: the planes contained large pieces forged from single billets of metal, which suggested a manufacturing capability none of the Allies possessed and which allowed the Germans to quickly and cheaply make better and faster planes.

When the war was over, the Allies went looking for the tools the Germans had used to make their planes, and found massive closed-die forging presses that could squeeze parts out of aluminum and magnesium alloys in a single step. The Soviets carted off a 30,000 ton machine, while the Americans went home with a shipload of smaller presses and the knowledge that the Russians had an edge over them. Thus began the Heavy Press Program, an ultimately successful attempt by the US military to close a huge gap in strategic manufacturing capabilities that [Machine Thinking] details in the excellent video below.

One doesn’t instantly equate monstrous machines such as the Mesta 50,000-ton press, over nine stories tall with half of it buried underground and attached directly to bedrock, with airplane manufacture. But without it and similar machines that came from the program, planes from the B-52 to the Boeing 747 would have been impossible to build. And this isn’t dead technology by any means; sold to Alcoa in 1982 after having been operated by them for decades, the “Fifty” recently got a $100 makeover after cracks appeared in some castings, and the press and its retro-brethren are still squeezing out parts for fighters as recent as the F-35.

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Fail of the Week: When Good Foundries Go Bad

Like many of us, [Tony] was entranced by the idea of casting metal, and set about building the tools he’d need to melt aluminum for lost-PLA casting. Little did he know that he was about to exceed the limits of his system and melt a hole in his patio.

[Tony]’s tale of woe begins innocently enough, and where it usually begins for wannabe metal casters: with [The King of Random]’s homemade foundry-in-a-bucket. It’s just a steel pail with a homebrew refractory lining poured in place, with a hole near the bottom to act as a nozzle for forced air, or tuyère. [Tony]’s build followed the plans pretty faithfully, but lacking the spent fire extinguisher [The King] used for a crucible in the original build, he improvised and used the bottom of an old propane cylinder. A test firing with barbecue charcoal sort of worked, but it was clear that more heat was needed. So [Tony] got hold of some fine Welsh anthracite coal, which is where the fun began. With the extra heat, the foundry became a mini-blast furnace that melted the thin steel crucible, dumping the molten aluminum into the raging coal fire. The video below shows the near catastrophe, and we hope that once [Tony] changed his pants, he hustled off to buy a cheap graphite or ceramic crucible for the next firing.

All kidding aside, this is a vivid reminder of the stakes when something unexpected (or entirely predictable) goes wrong, and the need to be prepared to deal with it. A bucket of dry sand to smother a fire might be a good idea, and protective clothing is a must. And it pays to manage your work area to minimize potential collateral damage, too — we doubt that patio will ever be the same again.

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Making a Gun Without a 3D Printer

Around four years ago the world was up in arms over the first gun to be 3D printed. The hype was largely due to the fact that most people don’t understand how easy it is to build a gun without a 3D printer. To that end, you don’t even need access to metal stock, as [FarmCraft101] shows us with this gun made out of melted aluminum cans.

The build starts off by melting over 200 cans down into metal ingots, and then constructing a mold for the gun’s lower. This is the part that is legally regulated (at least in the US), and all other parts of a gun can be purchased without any special considerations. Once the aluminum is poured into the mold, the rough receiver heads over to the machine shop for finishing.

This build is fascinating, both from a machinist’s and blacksmith’s point-of-view and also as a reality check for how easy it is to build a firearm from scratch provided the correct tools are available. Of course, we don’t need to worry about the world being taken over by hoards of angry machinists wielding unlicensed firearms. There’s a lot of time and effort that goes into these builds and even then they won’t all be of the highest quality. Even the first 3D printed guns only fired a handful of times before becoming unusable, so it seems like any homemade firearm, regardless of manufacturing method, has substantial drawbacks.

Thanks to [Rey] for the tip!

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Blacksmith’s Junkyard Power Hammer Packs a Punch

Any way you look at it, blacksmithing is a punishing trade. Heavy tools, a red-hot forge, flying sparks, and searing metal all exact a toll on the smith’s body unless precautions are taken. After proper safety equipment and good training, a blacksmith may want to invest is power hammer to replace at least some of the heavy hammer work needed to shape hot metal.

Power hammers aren’t cheap, though, which is why [70kirkster] built one from an old engine block. You’ve got to admire the junkyard feel of this thing; it’s almost nothing but scrap. The engine block is a straight-6 from an old Ford pickup stripped of everything but the crankshaft and one piston. An electric motor spins the crankshaft and moves the hammer against the anvil through connecting rods and a trip arm fashioned from a trailer leaf spring. Everything looks super solid and the hammer hits hard; the videos below tell the tale of the build and show the hammer in action. Not bad for $100 out-of-pocket.

Blacksmithing is one of those dark arts that really deserves to have more adherents. The barriers to entry can be high, but the rewards are great. Looking to get started on the cheap? Then check out [Bil Herd]’s guide to hacking together a backyard smithy.

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Impressive Custom Built Blacksmith’s Forge

[EssentialCraftsman] is relatively new to YouTube, but he’s already put out some impressive videos. We really enjoyed an episode dedicated to a fixture in his shop, his large custom blacksmith’s forge.

The forge is a custom cast vault of refractory that sits on a platter of fire bricks suspended on a heavy-duty rotating frame. Two forced air natural gas burner provide the heat.  The frame is plasma CNC cut steel welded together.

A lot of technical challenges had to be solved. How does one hold a couple hundred pound piece of refractory in such a way that it can be lifted, especially when any steel parts exposed to the heat of the forge would become plastic and fail? When the forge turns off, how do you keep the hot air in the forge from rising into the blowers and melting them? There were many more.

We were really impressed by the polished final appearance of the forge, and the cleverness of its design. Everything is well thought out, and you can even increase the height of the forge by propping it up on more fire bricks. We hope [EssentialCraftsman] will continue to produce such high quality videos. We also enjoyed his episode on Anvils as well as a weirdly informative tirade on which shape of stake (round or square) to use when laying out concrete jobs. Videos after the break.

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Flying Balls of Molten Aluminum!

We’re replacing “holy moley” in our vocabulary. Levitating globs of molten aluminum are that much more amazing. It’s not that we couldn’t believe it would work — we understand the physics after the fact. It’s just that we never would have thought to build an induction forge that can simultaneously melt and levitate a chunk of aluminum. (Video embedded below.)

[imsmoother] has had plans for 3 kW and 10 kW induction heaters online since at least 2011, and we’re wondering how we haven’t covered it before. Anyway, in the video, he’s using the smaller of the two to melt a chunk of aluminum. Continue reading “Flying Balls of Molten Aluminum!”