VFD Puts the Suck Back into Desoldering Station

A dedicated desoldering station is a fantastic tool if you’re in the business of harvesting components from old gear. Having heat and suction in a single tool is far more convenient than futzing with spring-loaded solder suckers or braid, but only as long as the suction in the desoldering tool has a little oomph behind it. So if the suction on your solder sucker is starting to suck, this simple VFD can help restore performance.

Luckily for [Mr. Carlson], his Hakko 470 desoldering station is equipped with an AC induction motor, so it’s a perfect candidate for a variable frequency drive to boost performance. He decided to build a simple VFD that boosts the frequency from 60-Hz mains to about 90-Hz, thereby jacking the motor speed up by 50%. The VFD is just a TL494 PWM chip gating the primary coil of a power transformer through a MOSFET. Duty cycle and frequency are set by trimmers, and the whole thing is housed in an old chassis attached to the Hakko via an anachronistic socket and plug from the vacuum tube days. That’s a nice touch, though, because the Hakko can be returned to stock operation by a simple bridging plug, and the video below shows the marked difference in motor speed both with and without the VFD plugged in.

We’ve marveled at [Mr. Carlson]’s instrument packed lab before and watched his insider’s tour of a vintage radio transmitter. Here’s hoping we get to see more of his hopped-up solder sucker in action soon.

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Modified Uke Keeps the Beat with a Solenoid

A classic one-man band generally features a stringed instrument or two, a harmonica in a hands-free holder, and some kind of percussion, usually a bass drum worn like a backpack and maybe some cymbals between the knees. The musician might also knock or tap the sound-boards of stringed instruments percussively with their strumming hand, which is something classical and flamenco guitarists can pull off with surprising range.

The musician usually has to manipulate each instrument manually. When it comes to percussion, [JimRD] has another idea: keep the beat by pounding the soundboard with a solenoid. He built a simple Arduino-driven MOSFET circuit to deliver knocks of variable BPM to the sound-board of a ukulele. A 10kΩ pot controls the meter and beat frequency, and the sound is picked up by a mic on the bridge. So far, it does 3/4 and 4/4 time, but [JimRD] has made the code freely available for expansion. Somebody make it do 5/4, because we’d love to hear [JimRD]  play “Take Five“.

He didn’t do this to his good uke, mind you—it’s an old beater that he didn’t mind drilling and gluing. We were a bit skeptical at first, but the resonance sweetens the electromechanical knock of the solenoid slug. That, and [JimRD] has some pretty good chops. Ax your way past the break to give it a listen.

Got a cheap ukulele but don’t know how to play it? If you make flames shoot out from the headstock, that won’t matter as much. No ukes? Just print one.

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Reed Organ MIDI Conversion Tickles All 88 Keys

What did you do in high school? Chances are it wasn’t anywhere near as cool as turning a reed organ into a MIDI device. And even if you managed to pull something like that off, did you do it by mechanically controlling all 88 keys? Didn’t think so.

A reed organ is a keyboard instrument that channels moving air over sets of tuned brass reeds to produce notes. Most are fairly complex affairs with multiple keyboards and extra controls, but the one that [Willem Hillier] scored for free looks almost the same as a piano. Even with the free instrument [Willem] is about $500 into this project. Almost half of the budget went to the solenoids and driver MOSFETs — there’s a solenoid for each key, after all. And each one required minor surgery to reduce the clicking and clacking sounds that don’t exactly contribute to the musical experience. [Willem] designed custom driver boards for the MOSFETs with 16 channels per board, and added in a couple of power supplies to feed all those hungry solenoids and the three Arduinos needed to run the show. The video below shows the organ being stress-tested with the peppy “Flight of the Bumblebee”; there’s nothing wrong with a little showing off.

[Willem]’s build adds yet another instrument to the MIDI fold. We’ve covered plenty before, from accordions to harmonicas and even a really annoying siren.

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Super simple controller for Motorcycle LED lights

For automobiles, especially motorcycles, auxiliary lighting that augments the headlights can be quite useful, particularly when you need to drive/ride through foggy conditions and poorly lit or unlit roads and dirt tracks. Most primary lighting on vehicles still relies on tungsten filament lamps which have very poor efficiency. The availability of cheap, high-efficiency LED modules helps add additional lighting to the vehicle without adding a lot of burden on the electrical supply. If you want to add brightness control, you need to either buy a dimmer module, or roll your own. [PatH] from WhiskeyTangoHotel choose the latter route, and built a super simple LED controller for his KLR650 bike.

He chose a commonly available 18 W light bar module containing six 3 W LEDs. He then decided to build a microcontroller based dimmer to offer 33%, 50% and 100% intensities. And since more code wasn’t going to cost him anything extra, he added breathing and strobe modes. The hardware is as barebones as possible, consisting of an Arduino Nano, linear regulator, power MOSFET and control switch, with a few discretes thrown in. The handlebar mounted control switch is a generic motorcycle accessory that has two push buttons (horn, headlight) and a slide switch (turn indicators). One cycles through the various brightness modes on the pushbutton, while the slide switch activates the Strobe function. A status indicator LED is wired up to the Nano and installed on the handlebar control switch. It provides coded flashes to indicate the selected mode.

It’s a pity that the “breathing” effect is covered under a patent, at least for the next couple of years, so be careful if you plan to use that mode while on the road. And the Strobe mode — please don’t use it — like, Ever. It’s possible to induce a seizure which won’t be nice for everyone involved. Unless you are in a dire emergency and need to attract someone’s attention for help.

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Let’s Play Spot The Fake MOSFET

Recently, the voice push to talk circuit in [Ryan]’s BITX40 radio was keyed down for a very long time. Blue smoke was released, a MOSFET was burnt out, and [Ryan] needed a new IRF510 N-channel MOSFET. Not a problem; this is a $1 in quantity one, but shipping from Mouser or Digikey will always kill you if you only buy one part at a time. Instead, [Ryan] found a supplier for five of these MOSFETs for $6 shipped. This was a good deal and a bad move because those new parts were fakes. Now we have an opportunity to play spot the fake MOSFET and learn that it’s all about the supply chain.

Spot the fake

To be fair to the counterfeit MOSFET [Ryan] acquired, it probably would have worked just fine if he were using his radio for SSB voice. [Ryan] is using this radio for digital, and that means the duty cycle for this MOSFET was 100% for two minutes straight. The fake got hot, and the magic blue smoke was released.

Through an industry contact, [Ryan] got a new, genuine IRF510 direct from Vishay Semiconductors. This is a fantastic opportunity to do a side-by-side comparison of real and counterfeit semiconductors, shown at right. Take a look: the MOSFET on the left has clear lettering, the one on the right has tinned leads and a notched heatsink. [Ryan] posed the question to a few Facebook groups, and there was a clear consensus: out of 37 votes, 21 people chose the MOSFET on the left to be genuine.

The majority of people were wrong. The real chip looked ugly, had tinned leads, and a thinner heatsink. The real chip looked like a poor imitation of the counterfeit chip.

What’s the takeaway here?  Even ‘experts’ — i.e. people who think they know what they’re talking about on the Internet — sometimes don’t have a clue when it comes to counterfeit components. How can you keep yourself from being burned by counterfeit components? Stick to reputable resellers (Mouser, Digikey, etc) and assume that too good to be true is too good to be true.

Hacked Sea Scooter Lives Another Day

The Seadoo GTI Sea Scooter is a simple conveyance, consisting of a DC motor and a big prop in a waterproof casing. By grabbing on and firing the motor, it can be used to propel oneself underwater. However, [ReSearchITEng] had problems with their unit, and did what hackers do best – cracked it open to solve the problem.

Investigation seemed to suggest there were issues with the logic of the motor controller. The original circuit had a single FET, potentially controlled through PWM.  The user interfaced with the controller through a reed switch, which operates magnetically. Using reed switches is very common in these applications as it is a cheap, effective way to make a waterproof switch.

It was decided to simplify things – the original FET was replaced with a higher-rated replacement, and it was switched hard on and off directly by the original reed switch. The logic circuitry was bypassed by cutting traces on the original board. [ReSearchITEng] also goes to the trouble of highlighting potential pitfalls of the repair – if the proper care isn’t taken during the reassembly, the water seals may leak and damage the electronics inside.

Overall it’s a solid repair that could be tackled by any experienced wielder of a soldering iron, and it keeps good hardware out of the landfill. For another take on a modified DC motor controller, check out the scooter project of yours truly.

 

Beefy 100 Amp Electronic Load uses Two MOSFETs

[Kerry Wong] had some extreme MOSFETs (IXTK90N25L2) and decided to create a high current electronic load. The result was a two-channel beast that can handle 50 A per channel. Together, they can sink 400 W and can handle a peak of 1 kW for brief periods. You can see a demo in the video below.

An electronic load is essentially a load resistor you can connect to a source and the resistance is set by an input voltage. So if the load is set to 10 A and you connect it to a 12 V source, the MOSFET should look like a 1.2 ohm resistor. Keep in mind that’s 120 watts–more power than a common incandescent light bulb. So you are going to need to carry some heat away.

The circuit is pretty simple. The FETs accept a voltage on their gates that sets them to look effectively like a resistor that varies with the voltage. A very small source resistor develops a voltage based on current (only 75 mV for a 50 A draw). That voltage feeds a comparator which generates the gate voltage after looking at the input control voltage. Each millivolt into the comparator translates to an additional 1.33 A through the load.

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