Measuring current draw of home shop tools

Using Homebrew Coils To Measure Mains Current, And Taking The Circuit Breaker Challenge

Like many hackers, [Matthias Wandel] has a penchant for measuring the world around him, and quantifying the goings-on in his home is a bit of a hobby. And so when it came time to sense the current flowing in the wires of his house, he did what any of us would do: he built his own current sensing system.

What’s that you say? Any sane hacker would buy something like a Kill-a-Watt meter, or even perhaps use commercially available current transformers? Perhaps, but then one wouldn’t exactly be hacking, would one? [Matthias] opted to roll his own sensors for quite practical reasons: commercial meters don’t quite have the response time to catch the start-up spikes he was interested in seeing, and clamp-on current transformers require splitting the jacket on the nonmetallic cabling used in most residential wiring — doing so tends to run afoul of building codes. So his sensors were simply coils of wire shaped to fit the outside of the NM cable, with a bit of filtering to provide a cleaner signal in the high-noise environment of a lot of switch-mode power supplies.

Fed through an ADC board into a Raspberry Pi, [Matthias]’ sensor system did a surprisingly good job of catching the start-up surge of some tools around the shop. That led to the entertaining “Circuit Breaker Challenge” part of the video below, wherein we learn just what it really takes to pop the breaker on a 15-Amp branch circuit. Spoiler alert: it’s a lot.

Speaking of staying safe with mains current, we’ve covered a little bit about how circuit protection works before. If you need a deeper dive into circuit breakers, we’ve got that too.

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Keep Coffee Warm Through Induction Heating

Transformers have an obvious use for increasing or decreasing the voltage in AC systems, but they have many other esoteric uses as well. Electric motors and generators are functionally similar and can be modeled as if they are transformers, but the truly interesting applications are outside these industrial settings. Wireless charging is essentially an air-core transformer that allows power to flow through otherwise empty space, and induction cooking uses a similar principle to induce current flow in pots and pans. And, in this case, coffee mugs.

[Sajjad]’s project is an effort to keep his coffee warm while it sits on his desk. To build this special transformer he places his mug inside a coil of thick wire which is connected to a square wave generator. A capacitor sits in parallel with the coil of wire which allows the device to achieve resonance at a specific tuned frequency. Once at that frequency, the coil of wire efficiently generates eddy currents in the metal part of the coffee mug and heats the coffee with a minimum of input energy.

While this project doesn’t work for ceramic mugs, [Sajjad] does demonstrate it with a metal spoon in the mug. While it doesn’t heat up to levels high enough to melt solder, it works to keep coffee warm in a pinch if a metal mug isn’t available. He also plans to upgrade it so it takes up slightly less space on his desk. For now, though, it can easily keep his mug of coffee hot while it sits on his test bench.

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DIY Induction Heater Draws 1.4 KW And Gets Metal Hot

Induction heaters can make conductive objects incredibly hot by generating eddy currents within the metal. They’re used in a wide variety of industrial processes, from furnaces to welders and even heat treatments. [Schematix] whipped up his own design, and put it through its paces on the bench.

The build in question is a fairly compact design, roughly shoebox-sized when fitted with its six-turn coil. Running off anything from 12 V to 48 V, the heater put out at a massive 1.4 kW in testing. At this power level, the high current draw led the power traces to heat up enough to melt solder, and eventually burn out. [Schematix] plans to rebuild the heater with added copper wiring along these traces to support the higher power levels without failure.

The heater is able to quickly heat ferrous metals, though was not able to meaningfully dump power into aluminium under testing. This is unsurprising, as non-ferrous metals primarily undergo only Joule heating from induction, forgoing the hysteresis portion of heat transfer due to being non-magnetic. However, modification to the design could improve performance for those eager to work with non-ferrous materials.

We’ve seen a few induction heaters before, for purposes as varied as soldering and casting. Video after the break.

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A Clock From An Electricity Meter

Electric utilities across the world have been transitioning their meters from the induction analog style with a distinctive spinning disc to digital “smart” meters which aren’t as aesthetically pleasing but do have a lot of benefits for utilities and customers alike. For one, meter readers don’t need to visit each meter every month because they are all networked together and can download usage data remotely. For another, it means a lot of analog meters are now available for projects such as this clock from [Monta].

The analog meters worked by passing any electricity used through a small induction motor which spun at a rate proportional to the amount of energy passing through it. This small motor spun a set of dials via gearing in order to keep track of the energy usage in the home or business. To run the clock, [Monta] connected a stepper motor with a custom transmission to those dials for the clock face because it wasn’t possible to spin the induction motor fast enough to drive the dials. An Arduino controls that stepper motor, but can’t simply drive the system in a linear fashion because it needs to skip a large portion of the “minutes” dials every hour. A similar problem arises for the “hours” dials, but a little bit of extra code solves this problem as well.

Once the actual clock is finished, [Monta] put some finishing touches on it such as backlighting in the glass cover and a second motor to spin the induction motor wheel to make the meter look like it’s running. It’s a well-polished build that makes excellent use of some antique hardware, much like one of his other builds we’ve seen which draws its power from a Stirling engine.

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Simple Induction Heater Helps With Homebrew Shrink-Fitting

Machinists have a lot of neat shop tricks, but one especially interesting one is shrink-fitting tools. Shrink-fitting achieves an interference fit between tool and holder by creating a temperature difference between the two before assembly. Once everything returns to temperature, the two parts may as well be welded together.

The easiest way to shrink-fit machine tooling is with induction heating, and commercial rigs exist for doing the job. But [Roetz 4.0] decided to build his own shrink-fitting heater, and the results are pretty impressive. The induction heater itself is very simple — a 48 volt, 20 amp power supply, an off-the-shelf zero-voltage switching (ZVS) driver, and a heavy copper coil. When the coil is powered up, any metal within is quickly and evenly heated by virtue of the strong magnetic flux in the coil.

To use the shrinker, [Roetz 4.0] starts with a scrupulously clean tool holder, bored slightly undersized for the desired tool. Inside the coil, the steel tool holder quickly heats to a lovely deep brown color, meaning it has gotten up to the requisite 250-300°C. The tool is quickly dropped into the now-expanded bore, which quickly shrinks back around it. The advantage of this method over a collet or a chuck is clear in the video below: practically zero runout, and the tool is easily released after another run through the heater.

You say you’ve got no need for shrink-fitting tools? How about stuck bolts? Induction heaters work great there too.

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The Easiest Way To Put Your Doorbell On The Internet

Thanks to low-cost WiFi enabled microcontrollers such as the ESP8266 and ESP32, it’s never been a better time to roll your own smart home system. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t daunting for new players. If you’re looking for an easy first project, putting your old school doorbell on the Internet of Things is a great start, but even here there’s some debate about how to proceed.

Most people stumble when they get to the point where they have to connect their low-voltage microcontroller up to the relatively beefy transformer that drives a standard doorbell. We’ve seen a number of clever methods to make this connection safely, but this tip from [AnotherMaker] is probably the easiest and safest way you’re likely to come across.

His solution only requires an inductive current sensor, which can be had for less than $1 from the usual overseas suppliers. One leg of the doorbell circuit is passed through the center of this sensor, and the sensor itself is connected up to your microcontroller of choice (here, and ESP32). The rest is software, which [AnotherMaker] explains in the video after the break. With the addition of a little debounce code, your microcontroller can reliably determine when somebody is out there jabbing the bell button; what you do with this information after that is up to you.

If you’re worried this method is too easy you could always try it with an optocoupler, or maybe convert the low-voltage AC to something your microcontroller can handle.

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Set Your Nuts (and Bolts) Free With This Induction Heater

[Amon] built an induction heater to break stuck bolts loose. If you work on cars, machines, or anything big and metal, sooner or later you’re going to run into stuck nuts and bolts. Getting them unstuck usually involves penetrating oil, heat from a torch, and cheater bars. Heat usually works well, as heating the bolt makes the metal expand, helping it to break free. Torches aren’t exactly precision instruments though, and things can get interesting using one in tight spaces.

Fire isn’t the only way to heat a bolt through. Electricity can do the job as well. But why use a heating coil when you can grab an induction heater. Mechanics have had induction heaters in their toolboxes now for a few years, under names such as Bolt Buster or Mini Ductor. These devices cost several hundred dollars. However, you can purchase a 1000 watt induction heater from the usual sources for around $30. These are open frame Zero Voltage Switching (ZVS) power supplies, with uninsulated copper coils.

[Amon] bought one of these induction heaters, along with a beefy 24V, 40 amp switch mode supply to power it. He built the two into a plastic enclosure. A relay energizes the induction heater, so it isn’t always running. The key to this build is the handle. Rather than mount the induction coil directly on the supply, [Amon] ran two extension wires to a 3d printed gun style handle. This keeps the bulky part of the heater away from the work. The copper tube coil was re-shaped to better work with the gun. Some fiberglass sleeve keeps everything insulated, even at extreme temperatures.

The result is a very useful heater, ready to bust loose some bolts. We’ve seen homebuilt ZVS supplies powering induction coils before. It will be interesting to see how well these commercial units hold up.

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