Fail of the Week: The Spot Welder Upgrade That Wasn’t

Even when you build something really, really nice, there’s always room for improvement, right? As it turns out for this attempted upgrade to a DIY spot welder, not so much.

You’ll no doubt recall [Mark Presling]’s remarkably polished and professional spot welder build that we featured some time ago. It’s a beauty, with a lot of thought and effort put into not only the fit and finish but the function as well. Still, [Mark] was not satisfied; he felt that the welder was a little underpowered, and the rewound microwave oven transformer was too noisy. Taking inspiration from an old industrial spot welder, he decided to rebuild the transformer by swapping the double loop of battery cable typically used as a secondary with a single loop of thick copper stock. Lacking the proper sized bar, though, he laminated multiple thin copper sheets together before forming the loop. On paper, the new secondary’s higher cross-sectional area should carry more current, but in practice, he saw no difference in the weld current or his results. It wasn’t all bad news, though — the welder is nearly silent now, and the replaced secondary windings were probably a safety issue anyway, since the cable insulation had started to melt.

Given [Mark]’s obvious attention to detail, we have no doubt he’ll be tackling this again, and that he’ll eventually solve the problem. What suggestions would you make? Where did the upgrade go wrong? Was it the use of a laminated secondary rather than solid bar stock? Or perhaps this is the best this MOT can do? Sound off in the comments section.

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Not Just Your Average DIY Spot Welder

Microwave oven transformer spot welder builds are about as common as Nixie tube clocks around here. But this spot welder is anything but common, and it has some great lessons about manufacturing techniques and how to achieve a next level look.

Far warning that [Mark Presling] has devoted no fewer than five videos to this build. You can find a playlist on his YouTube channel, and every one of them is well worth the time. The videos covering the meat of what went into this thing of beauty are below. The guts are pretty much what you expect from a spot welder — rewound MOT and a pulse timer — but the real treat is the metalwork. All the very robust parts for the jaws of the welder were sand cast in aluminum using 3D-printed patterns, machined to final dimensions, and powder coated. [Mark] gives an excellent primer on creating patterns in CAD, including how to compensate for shrinkage and make allowance for draft. There are tons of tips to glean from these videos, and plenty of inspiration for anyone looking to achieve a professional fit and finish.

In the category of Best Appearing Spot Welder, we’ll give this one the nod. Runners-up from recent years include this plastic case model and this free-standing semi-lethal unit.

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Home-Brew Ruby Laser Packs A Wallop

In the past half-century, lasers have gone from expensive physics experiments using rods of ruby to cheap cutting or engraving tools, and toys used to tease cats. Advances in physics made it all possible, but it turns out that ruby lasers are still a lot of fun to play with, if you can do it without killing yourself.

With a setup that looks like something from a mad scientist movie set, [styropyro]’s high-powered laser is a lot closer to the ray gun of science fiction than the usual lasers we see, though hardly portable. The business end of the rig is a large ruby rod nestled inside a coiled xenon flash lamp, which in turn is contained within a polished reflector. The power supply for the lamp is massive — microwave oven transformers, a huge voltage multiplier, and a bank of capacitors that he says can store 20 kilojoules. When triggered by a high-voltage pulse from a 555 oscillator and an old car ignition coil, the laser outputs a powerful pulse of light, which [styropyro] uses to dramatic effect, including destroying his own optics. We’d love to hear more about the power supply design; that Cockcroft-Walton multiplier made from PVC tubes bears some exploration.

Whatever the details, the build is pretty impressive, but we do urge a few simple safety precautions. Perhaps a look at [Ben Krasnow]’s 8-kJ ruby laser would help.

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Your Work Won’t Move with a Magnetic Drill Press Vise

Setting up your workpiece is often the hardest part of any machining operation. The goal is to secure the workpiece so it can’t move during machining in such a way that nothing gets in the way of the tooling. Magnetic chucks are a great choice for securely and flexibly holding down workpieces, as this simple shop-built electromagnetic vise shows.

It looks like [Make It Extreme] learned a thing or two about converting microwave oven transformers to electromagnets when they built a material handling crane for the shop. Their magnetic vise, designed for a drill press but probably a great choice for securing work to a milling machine, grinder, or even a CNC router, has a simple but sturdy steel frame. Two separate platforms slide on the bed of the vise, each containing two decapitated MOTs. Wired to mains power separately for selective control and potted in epoxy, the magnets really seem to do the job. The video below shows a very thick piece of steel plate cantilevered out over one magnet while having a hole cut; that’s a lot of down force, but the workpiece doesn’t move.

Like the idea of a shop-made vise but would rather go the old-fashioned way? Check out [Make It Extreme]’s laminated bench vise, which also makes an appearance in this video.

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Dual-Purpose DIY Spot Welder Built with Safety in Mind

Ho-hum, another microwave oven transformer spot welder, right? Nope, not this one — [Kerry Wong]’s entry in the MOT spot welder arms race was built with safety in mind and has value-added features.

As [Kerry] points out, most MOT spot welder builds use a momentary switch of some sort to power the primary side of the transformer. Given that this means putting mains voltage dangerously close to your finger, [Kerry] chose to distance himself from the angry pixies and switch the primary with a triac. Not only that, he optically coupled the triac’s trigger to a small one-shot timer built around the venerable 555 chip. Pulse duration control results in the ability to weld different materials of varied thickness rather than burning out thin stock and getting weak welds on the thicker stuff. And a nice addition is a separate probe designed specifically for battery tab welding — bring on the 18650s.

Kudos to [Kerry] for building in some safety, but he may want to think about taking off or covering up that ring when working around high current sources. If you’re not quite so safety minded, this spot welder may or may not kill you.

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Put Plasma to Work with this Basic Toolkit

Fair warning: [Justin Atkin]’s video on how to make plasma, fusors, and magnetrons is a bit long. But it’s worth watching because he’s laying a foundation for a series of experiments with plasma, which looks like it will be a lot of fun.

After a nice primer on the physics of plasma, [Justin] goes into some detail about the basic tools of the trade: high voltage and high vacuum. A couple of scrap microwave oven transformers, a bridge rectifier, and a capacitor provide the 2000 volts DC output needed. It’s a workable setup, but we’ll take issue with the incredibly dangerous “scariac” autotransformer, popularized by [The King of Random]. It seems foolish to risk a painful death mixing water and line current when a 20-amp variac can be had for $100.

A decent vacuum pump will be needed too, of course; perhaps the money you can save by building your own Sprengel vacuum pump can be put toward the electrical budget. Vacuum chambers are cheap too — Mason jars with ground rims and holes drilled for accessories like spark plugs. Magnets mounted below one chamber formed a rudimentary magnetron, thankfully without the resonating cavities needed for producing microwaves. Another experiment attempted vapor deposition of titanium nitride.

It’s all pretty cool stuff, and we’re looking forward to more details and results. While we wait, feel free to check out the tons of plasma projects we’ve featured, from tiny plasma speakers to giant plasma tubes.

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Heavy Lift Electromagnet from Microwave Oven Transformers

It’s OK, you can admit it — from the time you first saw those huge electromagnetic cranes in scrap yards you’ve wanted to have one. While it may not fling around a car, parts donated from scrapped microwaves can let you build your own electromagnetic lifting device and make that dream finally come true.

We recently watched [MakeItExtreme] turn a couple of microwave oven transformers into a somewhat ill-advised wall-climbing rig. It looks like that may have been the inspiration for this build, and the finished product appears to be a tad more useful this time. The frames of three MOTs are cut open to remove the secondary coils and leave the cores exposed as poles for the future magnets. A shallow dish is fabricated out of steel and the magnets are welded in place.

With the primaries wired together, the magnets are epoxy potted, the business end is faced off cleanly, and the whole thing put to the test. [MakeItExtreme] doesn’t go into control details in the video below, but the website mentions the magnet being powered off a 24V 15A power supply with battery backup in case of mains failure.

They’ve lifted 200kg so far, and it looks like a pretty cool addition to a shop already packed with other builds, like their MOT spot welder and a propane tank sandblaster.

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