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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Cook Up Your Own High-Temperature Superconductors

It looks more like a charcoal briquette than anything, but the black brittle thing at the bottom of [Ben Krasnow]’s crucible is actually a superconducting ceramic that can levitate magnets when it’s sitting in liquid nitrogen. And with [Ben]’s help, you can make some too.

Superconductors that can work at the relatively high temperature of liquid nitrogen instead of ultracold liquid helium are pretty easy to come by commercially, so if you’re looking to just float a few magnets, it would be a lot easier to just hit eBay. But getting there is half the fun, and from the look of the energetic reaction in the video below, [Ben] had some fun with this. The superconductor in question here is a mix of yttrium, barium, and copper oxide that goes by the merciful acronym YBCO.

The easy way to make YBCO involves multiple rounds of pulverizing yttrium oxide, barium chloride carbonate, and copper oxide together and heating them in a furnace. That works, sort of, but [Ben] wanted more, so he performed a pyrophoric reaction instead. By boiling down an aqueous solution of the three components, a thick sludge results that eventually self-ignites in a spectacular way. The YBCO residue is cooked in a kiln with oxygen blowing over it, and the resulting puck has all the magical properties of superconductors. There’s a lot of detail in the video, and the experiments [Ben] does with his YBCO are pretty fascinating too.

Things are always interesting in [Ben Krasnow]’s life, and there seem to be few areas he’s not interested in. Of course we’ve seen his DIY CAT scanner, his ruby laser, and recently, his homemade photochromic glass.

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Digital Kiln

A kiln or foundry is too often seen as a piece of equipment which is only available if a hackspace is lucky enough to have one or individuals are dedicated enough to drop the cash for one of their own. [The Thought Emporium] thought that way until he sourced materials to make his own kiln which can also be seen after the break. It costs half the price of a commercial model not including a failed—and exploded—paint can version.

As described in the video, these furnaces are tools capable of more than just pottery and soft metal baubles. Sure, a clay chess set would be cool but what about carbon fiber, graphene, aerogel, and glass? Some pretty hot science happens at high temperatures.

We get a nice walk-through of each part of the furnace starting with the container, an eleven-gallon metal tub which should set the bar for the level of kiln being built. Some of the hardware arrangements could be tweaked for safety and we insist that any current-carrying screw is safely mounted inside an enclosure which can’t be opened without tools. There’s good advice about grounding the container if metal is used. The explanation of PID loops can be ignored.

What else can you do with a kiln? How about jewelry, heat treating metal, or recycle your beer cans into an engine.

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The Chemistry and Engineering of DIY Photochromic Glass

[Ben Krasnow] is no stranger to exploring the more arcane corners of hackerdom, and the latest video on his “Applied Science” channel goes into a field few DIYers have touched: homemade glass, including the photochromic variety.

That DIY glassmaking remains a largely untapped vein is not surprising given what [Ben] learned over the last months of experimenting. With searing temperatures bordering on the unobtainable, volatile ingredients that evaporate before they can be incorporated, and a final product so reactive that a platinum crucible is the best vessel for the job, glassmaking is not easy, to say the least. Glassmaking doesn’t scale down from an industrial process very well, it seems. Nonetheless, [Ben] came up with a process that could be replicated using common enough ingredients and a simple electric kiln modded with a PID controller for pinpoint temperature setting. And while Luxottica has nothing to worry about yet, he did manage to get some clearly if subtly photochromic samples, despite the challenges.

Without a doubt, [Ben] crossed over into “mad scientist” territory a while back, and we think it’s great. What other way is there to describe a guy who has an electron microscope, a high-power ruby laser, a CT scanner, and a cookie making robot in his basement? Whatever you call it, we like the results.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: An Open Source Kiln

For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Matt] is building a small kiln for melting metals and firing clay.  He’s making this kiln out of materials anyone can acquire — dirt and a bit of nichrome wire.

Most kiln builds you’ll find on the Internet use fancy refractory bricks and other materials you may not have in your back yard. [Matt]’s project is entirely DIY, and starts with a large pile of dirt and rocks. Aftter shaking off the sifted dirt, washing the rocks, straining off the gravel, getting rid of the sand, and siphoning off the water, [Matt] has a big bag of wet clay. This clay is mixed with perlite, an insulating, refractory material, molded into bricks, and fired. The result is a brick that looks good enough to be made into a kiln.

[Matt] has already put a lot of work into the calculations required to figure out the heat transfer of this kiln. At best, this kiln is going to take 14 hours to get up to temperature. That’s incredibly slow, but then again, this kiln will be electric, and will only use 1500 Watts. That’s nothing compared to a commercial electric kiln, but it is a build [Matt] designed himself without any outside help, using only parts he can easily acquire. In any event, this is an excellent project for the Hackaday Prize.

Up Your Tiny House Game with Stone Age Hacks

Bare feet, bare hands, and bare chest – if it weren’t for the cargo shorts and the brief sound of a plane overhead, we’d swear the video below was footage that slipped through a time warp. No Arduinos, no CNC or 3D anything, but if you doubt that our Stone Age ancestors were hackers, watch what [PrimitiveTechnology] goes through while building a tile-roofed hut with no modern tools.

The first thing we’ll point out is that [PrimitiveTechnology] is not attempting to be (pre-)historically accurate. He borrows technology from different epochs in human history for his build – tiled roofs didn’t show up until about 5,000 years ago, by which time his stone celt axe would have been obsolete. But the point of the primitive technology hobby is to build something without using any modern technology. If you need a fire, you use a fire bow; if you need an axe, shape a rock. And his 102 day build log details every step of the way. It’s fascinating to watch logs, mud, saplings, rocks and clay come together into a surprisingly cozy structure. Especially awesome if a bit anachronistic is the underfloor central heating system, which could turn the hut into a lovely sauna.

Primitive technology looks like a fascinating hobby with a lot to teach us about how we got to now. But if you’re not into grubbing in the mud, you could always 3D print a clay hut. We’re not sure building an enormous delta-bot is any easier, though.
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Basement Wood-Drying Kiln

Once upon a time, a woodworker met another woodworker who happened to have a tree business. They struck a deal stating that the first woodworker would dry the sawn boards provided by the second and both would share the lumber. That’s exactly what happened to [Tim], which led to his entry in The Hackaday Prize.

[Tim] does a great job explaining his build of the kiln itself, his controls, and the gist of running the thing. The idea is to pull moisture out of the wood at just the right speed. Otherwise, the boards might check on the outside, honeycomb on the inside, or bear residual tension. He’s using a dehumidifier to pump dry air into the kiln and a control system to both monitor the relative humidity in the kiln and to dry the stock down to a moisture content in the 6-8% range.

kiln controlsThe kiln is built from slightly blemished pallet rack shelving that [Tim] cut to suit his needs. He skinned it with 1/2″ insulation boards sealed with aluminium tape and plans to add sheet metal to protect the insulation.

[Tim] wanted to control both a fan and the dehumidifier, monitor relative humidity in the kiln, log the data, and send it to the internets. For this, he has employed an Arduino Due, a DHT-22, an RTC, a relay board, an Ethernet shield, and an LCD to show what’s happening. The hardware is all working at this point, and the software is on its way. Check out his entry video below.


SpaceWrencherThis project is an official entry to The Hackaday Prize that sadly didn’t make the quarterfinal selection. It’s still a great project, and worthy of a Hackaday post on its own.

 

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