Improbably Cheap Pocket Welder Gets An ESP32 Makeover

If you move in certain shady circles, you may have noticed the crop of improbably cheap “pocket welders” popping up on the market these days. They’re all variations on a theme, most with wildly optimistic specs minimal accessories of the lowest possible quality. But their tiny size and matching price make them irresistible to the would-be welder, as well as attractive to hardware hackers.

With a 220-V outlet in the garage waiting to be filled and well-knowing the risks, [Mr. RC-Cam] purchased one of these diminutive welding machines. Its shortcomings were immediately apparent, and a complete rework of the welder was undertaken. After addressing safety issues like the lack of a ground connection, [Mr. RC-Cam] added a color-matched 3D-printed hood to house a fancy new LCD touchscreen display. Backing that up is an ESP32 with Bluetooth, which supports remote control via a key fob. He also added a current sense board that uses the welder’s current shunt to measure welding current. Expediently calibrated using a waffle iron and a milli-ohmmeter, the sensor showed that the 200A max advertised for the welder was more like 100A. He tried adding some big electrolytics to fix the current issues, but no dice. With a decent stinger and ground clamp, the modified welder is good enough for his needs, and much was learned in the process. We call that a hacking win.

As an aside, [This Old Tony] recently did a review on a similar welder if you want more details on the internals. We also covered the conversion of a buzz-box to a TIG welder recently, should that be more your style.

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A Lot Of Volts For Not A Lot

There was a time when high voltage in electronic devices was commonplace, and projects driving some form of vacuum or ionisation tube simply had to make use of a mains transformer from a handy tube radio or similar. In 2019 we don’t often have the need for more than a few volts, so when a Geiger–Müller tube needs a bit of juice, we’re stumped. [David Christensen] approached this problem by creating his own inverter, which can produce up to 1 kV from a 12 V supply.

Instead of opting for a flyback supply he’s taken a traditional step-up approach, winding his own transformer on a ferrite core. It has a centre-tapped primary which he drives in push-pull with a couple of MOSFETS, and on its secondary is a voltage multiplier chain. The MOSFETs take their drive at between 25 kHz and 50 kHz from a 555 timer circuit, and there is no feedback circuit.

It’s fair to say that this is a somewhat hair-raising circuit, particularly as he claims that it is capable of delivering that 1 kV at 20 W. It’s usual for high-voltage supplies driving very high impedance loads to incorporate a set of high-value resistors on their outputs to increase their internal impedance such that their danger is reduced. We’d thus exercise extreme care around this device, though we can see a lot of value in his description of the transformer winding.

We can’t criticise this circuit too much though, because some of us have been known to produce far hackier high voltage PSUs.

Split Flap Clock Keeps Time Thanks To Custom Frequency Converter

Why would anyone put as much effort into resurrecting a 1970s split-flap clock as [mitxela] did when he built this custom PLL frequency converter? We’re not sure, but we do like the results.

The clock is a recreation of the prop from the classic 1993 film, Groundhog Day, rigged to play nothing but “I Got You Babe” using the usual sound boards and such. But the interesting part was getting the clock mechanism keeping decent time. Sourced from the US, the clock wanted 120 VAC at 60 Hz rather than the 240 VAC, 50 Hz UK standard. The voltage difference could be easily handled, but the frequency mismatch left the clock running unacceptably slow.

That’s when [mitxela] went all in and designed a custom circuit to convert the 50 Hz mains to 60 Hz. What’s more, he decided to lock his synthesized waveform to the supply current, to take advantage of the long-term frequency control power producers are known for. The write-up goes into great detail about the design of the phase-locked loop (PLL), which uses an ATtiny85 to monitor the rising edge of the mains supply and generate the PWM signal that results in six cycles out for every five cycles in. The result is that the clock keeps decent time now, and he learned a little something too.

If the name [mitxela] seems familiar, it’s probably because we’ve featured many of his awesome builds before. From ludicrous-scale soldering to a thermal printer Polaroid to a Morse-to-USB keyboard, he’s always got something cool going on.

Overengineering The Humble USB Power Bank

Back in the flip phone days, you could get through the whole weekend before you had to even think about plugging the thing in. But as the processing power of our mobile devices increased, so to did their energy consumption. Today you’re lucky if your phone doesn’t die before you make it home at the end of the day. To avoid the horrors of having to live without their mobile devices, many people have resorted to lugging around small “power banks” to keep their phones topped off.

That said, the “Ultimate 18650 Power Bank” created by [Kennedy Liu] is on a whole new level. Only true Road Warriors need apply for this particular piece of kit. Inside the 3D printed enclosure is…well, pretty much everything. It’s got an internal inverter to power your AC devices, a Qi wireless charging coil, an adjustable DC output, displays for all relevant voltages, and naturally plenty of USB ports to charge your gadgets. Oh, and some RGB LEDs tossed in for good measure.

[Kennedy] packed a lot of hardware into this relatively small package, and in the video after the break, shows off exactly how everything is arranged inside of this power bank. A big part of getting the whole thing together is the 3D printed frame, which includes carefully designed insets for all of the key components. So if you want to build your own version, you’ll need to get the exact same hardware he used to make sure the puzzle fits together. Luckily, he’s provided links for all the relevant components for exactly that purpose.

Now, you might be wondering about the wisdom of packing all this electronic gear into a thermoplastic enclosure. But [Kennedy] has thought about that; in addition to tacking a heatsink onto pretty much everything, he’s added fans for active cooling and a fairly robust thermal overload protection scheme. By mounting thermally controlled switches to the heatsinks of the high-output components, the system can cut power to anything getting too hot before it has a chance to melt the plastic (or worse).

Most of the DIY power banks we’ve seen in the past have been little more than a simple collection of 18650 cells, so it’s interesting to see one with so much additional functionality packed in. Admittedly some elements of the construction are, to quote the great Dave Jones, “a bit how ya doin.” But with some refinements we think it would be a very handy device to have in your arsenal.

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Adventures In Power Outage Hacking

The best type of power outage is no power outage, but they will inevitably happen. When they do, a hacker with a house full of stuff and a head full of ideas is often the person of the hour. Or the day, or perhaps the week, should the outage last long past the fun little adventure phase and become a nuisance or even an outright emergency.

Such was the position that [FFcossag] found himself in at the beginning of January, when a freak storm knocked out power to his community on a remote island in the middle of the Baltic Sea. [FFcossag] documented his attempts to survive the eight-day outage in vlog form, and although each entry is fairly long, there’s a lot to be learned from his ordeal. His main asset was a wood cook stove in the basement of the house, which served as his heat source. He used a car radiator and a small water pump to get some heat upstairs – a battery bank provided the power for that, at least for a while. The system evolved over the outage and became surprisingly good at keeping the upstairs warm.

The power eventually came back on, but to add insult to injury, almost as soon as it did, the ground-source heat pump in the house went on the fritz. A little sleuthing revealed an open power resistor in the heat pump control panel, but without a replacement on hand, [FFcossag] improvised. Parts from a 30-year-old TV transmitter were close at hand, including a nice handful of power resistors. A small parallel network gave the correct value and the heat pump came back online.

All in all, it was a long, cold week for [FFcossag], but he probably fared better than his neighbors. Want to be as prepared for your next outage? Check out [Jenny]’s comprehensive guide.

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Vintage Audio Gear Gets A Display Upgrade

The lengths the retrocomputing devotee must go to in order to breathe new life into old gear can border on the heroic. Tracing down long-discontinued parts, buying multiple copies of the same unit to act as organ donors for the one good machine, and when all else fails, improvising with current productions parts to get that vintage look and feel.

This LCD display backlighting fix for a vintage audio sampler falls into that last category, which was pulled off by [Inkoo Vintage Computer]. The unit in question is an Akai S1100 sampler, a classic from the late 1980s that had already been modified to replace the original floppy drive with a USB reader when the backlight on the LCD began to give out. Replacements for the original electroluminescent backlight are available, but [Inkoo] opted for a cheaper way out. An iPhone 6s 6 Plus backlight was an inexpensive option, if it could be made to fit. Luckily, [Inkoo] was able to trim the diffuser without causing any electrical issues. A boost converter was needed to run the backlight from the sampler’s 5 V DC rail, and interfacing the backlight’s flexible circuitry to the 80s-era copper wiring was a bit fussy, but the results were great. The sampler’s LCD is legible again, and looks just like it might have in the studio back when [Depeche Mode] and [Duran Duran] were using it to crank out hits.

As much as we like this repair, it doesn’t imply that EL is a dead technology. Far from it – [Ben Krasnow] is using it to create unique displays, and EL wire makes for some dazzling wearables. It doesn’t last forever, but while it does, it’s pretty neat stuff.

AV Synth Is Psychedelic Analog Mayhem

Digital video is cool and all, but it can’t compete with analog in terms of smooth, creamy glitches and distortion. [gieskes] has developed an analog audio-visual synthesizer that is a great example of the old-school retro visuals you can create with a handful of simple components.

Known as the 3TrinsRGB+1c, it’s available both assembled and in kit form. It’s probably best to start with the manual. Synthesis is achieved through the use of a HEF40106 hex inverting buffer – a cheap and readily available part that nonetheless provides for excellent results. Video can be switched between RGB oscillators and a series of inputs, and there are various controls to create those classic scrolling effects and other visual oddities.

Additionally, a series of connections to the underlying circuitry are broken out on a header connector. This allows for extra modules to be plugged in, and several designs are available to expand the unit’s capabilities.

Analog video isn’t used so much on a day-to-day basis anymore, but it’s a great technology to tinker and experiment with. We’ve seen some of [gieskes] experiments in this arena before, too – like this Arduino video sampler. Video after the break.

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