Homebrew Coil Winder Makes Toroids A Snap To Wind

Anyone who has ever wound a toroidal coil by hand can tell you that it’s not exactly a fun job. Even with the kinds of coils used in chokes and transformers for ham radio, which generally have relatively few windings, passing all that wire through the toroid time after time is a pain. And woe unto anyone who guesses wrong on how much wire the job will take.

To solve those problems, [Sandeep] came up with this clever and effective toroid winder. The idea is to pass a small spool of magnet wire through the toroid’s core while simultaneously rotating the toroid to spread the windings out as evenly as possible. That obviously requires a winding ring that can be opened up to allow the toroid form to be inserted; [Sandeep] chose to make his winding ring out of plywood with a slit in it. Carrying the wire spool, the winding ring rotates on a C-shaped fixture that brackets the toroid, which itself rotates under stepper motor control on a trio of rollers. An Arduino controls the rotation of both motors, controlling the number of windings and their spread on the form. lacking a ferrite core for testing, [Sandeep] used a plywood ring as a stand-in, but the results are satisfying enough to make any manual coil-winder envious.

We love tools like this that make a boring job a snap. Whether it’s cutting wires for wiring harnesses or winding guitar pickups, tools like these are well worth the time spent to build them. But we suppose when it comes to toroid winding, one could always cheat.

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Don’t Scrape Magnet Wire, Do This Instead

[Tom] doesn’t much like breadboarding. He prefers to wire up prototypes with perfboard and solder point-to-point with enameled magnet wire. That may sound troublesome to some of you, but [Tom] has come up with a few tips to make prototyping with perfboard and magnet wire easier and more effective, and the biggest tip is about how to manage stripping all that magnet wire.

Push the tip of the magnet wire a small distance into the molten solder and hold it there for a few moments. The solder will bubble away the enamel and tin the copper underneath in the process.

Magnet wire is a thin, solid-core conductor that has a clear coating of enamel. This enamel acts as an electrical insulator. The usual way to strip away the enamel and reveal the shiny copper underneath is to scrape it off, but that would get tiresome when working with a lot of connections. [Tom] prefers to “boil it away” with a blob of molten solder on an iron’s tip.

Begin by melting a small amount of solder on the iron, then push the tip of the magnet wire a small distance into the molten solder and hold it there for a few moments. The enamel will bubble away and the solder will tin the copper underneath in the process. The trick is to use fresh solder, and to clean the tip in between applications. You can see him demonstrate this around the 1:00 mark in the video embedded below.

Once the tip of the magnet wire is tinned, it can be soldered as needed. Magnet wire bends well and holds its shape nicely, so routing it and cutting to size isn’t too difficult. [Tom] also suggests a good hands-free PCB holder, and points out that 0603 sized SMT resistors fit nicely between a perfboard’s 0.1″ pads.

Perfboard (and veroboard) have been standbys of prototyping for a long time, but there are still attempts at improving them, usually by allowing one to combine through-hole and surface-mount devices on the same board, but you can see [Tom] demonstrate using magnet wire on plain old perfboard in the video below.

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Tiny LED Cube Packs Six Meters Of Madness

When [Freddie] was faced with the challenge of building a sendoff gift for an an LED-loving coworker he hatched a plan. Instead of making a display from existing video wall LED panels he would make a cube. But not just any cube, a miniature desk sized one that wasn’t short of features or performance. We’d be over the moon if someone gifted us with this itty-bitty Qi coil-powered masterpiece of an RGB cube.

Recently we’ve been blessed with a bevy of beautiful, animated RGB cubes but none hit quite this intersection of size and function. The key ingredient here is tiny but affordable RGB LEDs which measure 1 mm on a side. But LEDs this small are dwarfed by the otherwise minuscule “2020” package WS2812’s and APA102s of the world. Pushing his layout capabilities to the max [Freddie] squeezed each package together into a grid with elements separated by less than 1 mm, resulting in a 64 LED panel that is only 16 mm x 16 mm panel (with test points and controller mounted to the back). Each of these four-layer PCBs that makes up the completed cube contains an astonishing 950 mm of tracking, meaning the entire cube has nearly six meters of traces!

How do you power such a small device with no obvious places to locate a connector? By running magnet wire through a corner and down to a Qi coil of course. Not to let the cube itself outshine the power supply [Freddie] managed to deadbug a suitably impressive supply on the back of the coil itself. Notice the grain of rice in the photo to the left! The only downside here is that the processor – which hangs diagonally in the cube on a tiny motherboard – cannot be reprogrammed. Hopefully future versions will run programming lines out as well.

Check out the video of the cube in action after the break, and the linked photo album for much higher resolution macro photos of the build. While you’re there take a moment to admire the layout sample from one of the panels! If this sets the tone, we’re hoping to see more of [Freddie]’s going-away hacks in the future!

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Liquid Damaged MacBook Saved With A Keen Eye

Even among those of us with a penchant for repairing electronics, there are some failures which are generally considered too severe to come back from. A good example is liquid damage in a laptop; with so many components and complex circuits crammed into such a small area, making heads or tails of it once the corrosion sets in can be a real nightmare. Especially in the case of an older laptop, the conventional wisdom is to try and recover your files and then buy a new one.

But as we’ve come to learn, [Jason Gin] is not a man who often finds himself concerned with conventional wisdom. After finding an older MacBook with suspected liquid damage, he decided to see what it would take to restore it to working order. According to a note on the device, the screen was dead, the USB ports were fried, the battery didn’t take a charge, and it wouldn’t boot. No problem then, should be easy.

Upon opening up the circa-2012 laptop, [Jason] found the machine to be riddled with corrosion. We’re not just talking surface gunk either. After giving everything a good cleaning with isopropyl alcohol, the true extent of the damage became clear. Not only had traces on the PCB rotted away, but there were many components that were either damaged or missing altogether. Whatever spilled inside this poor Mac was clearly some nasty stuff.

[Jason] used OpenBoardView to pull up schematics and diagrams of the motherboard, and started the arduous task of visually comparing them to his damaged unit. In some areas, the corrosion was so bad he still had trouble locating the correct traces and pads. But with time and effort, he was able to start probing around and seeing what components had actually given up the ghost.

For the USB ports it ended up being a bad 10-microfarad ceramic capacitor, but for the LCD, he ended up having to replace the entire backlight driver IC. The prospect of working on this tiny BGA-25 device might have been enough for some to throw in the towel, but compared to the hand-soldered magnet wire repairs required elsewhere on the board, [Jason] says the installation of the new LP8550 chip was one of the easier aspects of the whole operation.

The write-up is a great read if you like a good repair success story, and we especially like the way he documented his diagnosis and resulting work on a per-system basis. It makes it much easier to understand just how many individual fires [Jason] had to put out. But if you’re more interested in feats of steady-handed soldering, check out his recent project to add a PCI-E slot to the Atomic Pi.

How Do You Get PCI-E On The Atomic Pi? Very Carefully.

At this point, you’ve almost certainly heard about the Atomic Pi. The diminutive board that once served as the guts of a failed robot now lives on as a powerful x86 SBC available at a fire sale price. How long you’ll be able to buy them and what happens when the initial stock runs out is another story entirely, but there’s no denying that folks are already out there doing interesting things with them.

One of them is [Jason Gin], who recently completed an epic quest to add a PCI Express (PCI-E) slot to his Atomic Pi. Things didn’t exactly go according to plan and the story arguably has more lows than highs, but in the end he emerged victorious. He doesn’t necessarily recommend you try the same modification on your own Atomic Pi, but he does think this sets the stage for the development of a more refined upgrade down the line.

[Jason] explains that the board’s Ethernet controller was already communicating with the Intel Atom x5-Z8350 SoC over PCI-E, so there was never a question about whether or not the modification was possible. In theory, all you needed to do was disable the Ethernet controller and tack on an external PCI-E socket so you could plug in whatever you want. The trick is pulling off the extremely fine-pitch soldering such a modification required, especially considering how picky the PCI Express standard is.

In practice, it took several attempts with different types of wire before [Jason] was able to get the Atomic Pi to actually recognize something plugged into it. Along the way, he managed to destroy the Ethernet controller somehow, but that wasn’t such a great loss as he planned on disabling it anyway. The final winning combination was 40 gauge magnet wire going between the PCB and a thin SATA cable that is mechanically secured to the board with a piece of metal to keep anything from flexing.

At this point, [Jason] has tested enough external devices connected to his hacked-on port to know the modification has promise. But the way he’s gone about it is obviously a bit temperamental, and far too difficult for most people to accomplish on their own anyway. He’s thinking the way forward might be with a custom PCB that could be aligned over the Ethernet controller and soldered into place, though admits such a project is currently above his comfort level. Any readers interested in a collaboration?

Like most of you, we had high hopes for the Atomic Pi when we first heard about it. But since it became clear the board is the product of another company’s liquidation, there’s been some understandable trepidation in the community. Nobody knows for sure what the future looks like for the Atomic Pi, but that’s clearly not stopping hackers from diving in.

RFID Payment Ring Made From Dissolved Credit Card

RFID payment systems are one of those things that the community seems to be divided on. Some only see the technology as a potential security liability, and will go a far as to disable the RFID chip in their card so that it can’t be read by a would-be attacker. Others think the ease and convenience of paying for goods by tapping their card or smartphone on the register more than makes up for the relatively remote risk of RFID sniffers. Given the time and effort [David Sikes] put into creating this contactless payment ring, we think it’s pretty clear which camp he’s in.

Alright, so the whole ring making part sounds easy enough, but how does one get an RFID chip that’s linked to their account? Easy. Just call the bank and ask them for one. Of course, they won’t just send you out a little RFID chip and antenna to mount in your hacked up project. (If only things were so simple!) But they will send you a new card if you tell them your old one is getting worn out and needs a replacement. All you have to do when it gets there is liberate the electronics without damaging them.

[David] found that an hour or so in an acetone bath was enough to dissolve the plastic and expose the epoxy-encased RFID chip, assuming you scrape the outer layers of the card off first. He notes that you can speed this part of the process up considerably if you know the exact placement and size of the RFID chip; that way you can cut out just the area you’re interested in rather than having to liquefy the whole card.

Once you have your chip, you just need to mount it into a ring. [David] has designed a 3D printable frame (if you’ve got a high-resolution SLA machine, that is) which accepts the chip and a new antenna made from a coil of 38 AWG magnet wire. With the components settled into the printed frame, its off to a silicone mold and the liberal application of epoxy resin to encapsulate the whole thing in a durable shell.

If a ring is not personal enough for you, then the next step is getting the RFID chip implanted directly into your hand. There are even folks at hacker cons who will do that sort of thing for you, if you’re squeamish.

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Stepper Motor Mods Improve CNC Flat Coil Winder

Finding just the right off-the-shelf part to complete a project is a satisfying experience – buy it, bolt it on, get on with business. Things don’t always work out so easily, though, which often requires the even more satisfying experience of modifying an existing part to do the job. Modifying a stepper motor by drilling a hole down its shaft probably qualifies for the satisfying mod of the year award.

That’s what [Russ] did to make needed improvements to his CNC flat-coil winder, which uses a modified delta-style 3D-printer to roll fine magnet wire out onto adhesive paper to form beautiful coils of various sizes and shapes. [Russ] has been tweaking his design since we featured it and coming up with better and better coils. While experimenting, the passive roller at the business end proved to be a liability. The problem was that the contact point lagged behind the center axis of the delta, leading to problems with the G-code. [Russ] figured that a new tool with the contact point at the dead center would help. The downside would be having to actively swivel the tool in concert with the X- and Y-axis movements. The video below shows his mods, which include disassembling the NEMA-17 stepper and drilling out the shaft to pass the coil wire. [Russ] also spent some time reversing the rotor in the frame and provided a small preload spring to keep the coil roller in contact with the paper.

A real-time coil winding session starts at the 21:18 mark, and we’ve got to admit it’s oddly soothing to watch. We’re not sure exactly what [Russ] intends to do with these coils, and by his own admission, neither is he. But it’s still pretty cool to see, and the stepper motor mods are a neat trick to keep in mind.

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