Piston-Powered Pellet Pusher For Peckish Pets

We all have our new and interesting challenges in lockdown life. If you’ve had to relocate to ride it out, the chances are good that even your challenges have challenges. Lockdown left [Kanoah]’s sister in the lurch when it came to feeding her recently-adopted pet rat, so he came up with a temporary solution to ensure that the rat never misses a meal.

Most of the automated pet feeders we see around here use an auger to move the food. That’s all fine and good, but if you just need to move a singular mass, the screw seems like overkill. [Kanoah]’s feeder is more akin to a pellet-pushing piston. It runs on a Metro Mini, but an Arduino Nano or anything with enough I/O pins would work just fine. The microcontroller starts counting the hours as soon as it has power, and delivers pellets four times a day with a servo-driven piston arm. [Kanoah] has all the files up on Thingiverse if you need a similar solution.

There many ways of solving the problem of dry pet food delivery. Wet food is a completely different animal, but as it turns out, not impossible to automate.

Building An Engine With An A/C Compressor

Air conditioning compressors aren’t exactly a mainstay of the average hacker’s junk box. Typically, they’re either fitted to a car to do their original job, or they’re on the bench getting refurbished. However, with the right mods, it’s possible to turn one into a functioning internal combustion engine.

The build starts by disassembling the compressor, which contains three double-sided pistons. The housing is drilled with ports to allow gas to flow into and out of the cylinders, as well as to transfer from one side of the piston to the other. Acrylic end plates are fitted to the assembly. One end acts as an intake manifold, delivering air and fuel to the cylinders. The other side acts as the cylinder head, mounting the sparkplugs. Everything is then connected with acrylic tubing and a small square section of acrylic is turned into a carburetor to supply the air-fuel mix. Ignition is handled by coils triggered by the movement of the flywheel.

After an initial failure due to the acrylic manifold cracking, a stronger part is fabricated, and the engine bursts into life. The acrylic end caps give a great view of the combustion process in action. We’d love to see the a dyno graph on how much power and torque the unit puts out, or to see it hooked up to a bicycle or cart.

We’ve seen others attempt their own engine builds, too. If you’ve got an unconventional engine build of your own, be sure to let us know. Video after the break.

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Shop-Made Pneumatic Cylinders From PVC And Plywood

You see a lot of pneumatic actuators in industrial automation, and for good reason. They’re simple, powerful, reliable, and above all, cheap. Online sources and fluid-power suppliers carry a bewildering range of actuators, so why would anyone bother to make their own pneumatic cylinders? Because while the commercial stuff is cheap, it’s not PVC and plywood cheap.

Granted, that’s not the only reason [Izzy Swan] gives for his DIY single-acting cylinder. For him it’s more about having the flexibility to make exactly what he needs in terms of size and shape. And given how ridiculously easy these cylinders are, you can make a ton of them for pennies. The cylinder itself is common Schedule 40 PVC pipe with plywood endcaps, all held together with threaded rod. [Izzy] cut the endcaps with a CNC router, but a band saw or jig saw would do as well. The piston is a plywood plug mounted to a long bolt; [Izzy] gambled a little by cutting the groove for the O-ring with a table saw, but no fingers were lost. The cylinder uses a cheap bungee as a return spring, but an internal compression spring would work too,. Adding a second air inlet to make the cylinder double-acting would be possible as well. The video below shows the cylinder in action as a jig clamp.

True, the valves are the most expensive part of a pneumatic system, but if nothing else, being able to say you made your own cylinders is a win. And maybe you’ll get the fluid-power bug and want to work up to DIY hydraulics.

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Espresso Machine From Motorbike Engine Parts

[Rulof Maker] is a master at making things from salvaged parts, and being an Italian lover of espresso coffee, this time he’s made an espresso machine. The parts in question are a piston and cylinder from an old motorbike, believe it or not, and parts from an IKEA lamp.

Why the piston and cylinder? For those not familiar with espresso machines, they work by forcing pressurized, almost boiling water through ground coffee. He therefore puts the water in the piston cylinder, and levers the piston down onto it, forcing the water out the bottom of the cylinder and through the waiting coffee grounds. Parts from the IKEA lamp form a base for the waiting cup to sit on.

Of course, he takes great care to clean out any burnt oil and gas before starting. We also like how he centers a lever arm on a U-shaped bolt using two springs. Clever. But see the master in action for yourself in the video below.

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3D Printed Airplane Engine Runs On Air

One of the most important considerations when flying remote-controlled airplanes is weight. Especially if the airplane has a motor, this has a huge potential impact on weight. For this reason, [gzumwalt] embarked on his own self-imposed challenge to build an engine with the smallest weight and the lowest parts count possible, and came away with a 25-gram, 8-part engine.

The engine is based around a single piston and runs on compressed air. The reduced parts count is a result of using the propeller axle as a key component in the engine itself. There are flat surfaces on the engine end of the axle which allow it to act as a valve and control its own timing. [gzumwalt] notes that this particular engine was more of a thought experiment and might not actually produce enough thrust to run an airplane, but that it certainly will spark up some conversations among RC enthusiasts.

The build is also one of the first designs in what [gzumwalt] hopes will be a series of ever-improving engine designs. Perhaps he should join forces with this other air-powered design that we’ve just recently featured. Who else is working on air-powered planes? Who knew that this was a thing?

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Reviving A $25 Generator

[Jennies Garage] found a used and abused inverter based generator in the clearance section of his local home improvement store. The generator had been returned on a warranty claim and was deemed uneconomical to fix. Originally $799, [Jennies Garage] picked it up for just $25. He documented his quest to get the device running with a trio of videos.

The generator had spark, but didn’t want to fire. The only obvious problem was the fact that the machine had been overfilled with oil. There was little or no compression, but that is not uncommon with modern small engines – many of them have a compression release mechanism which makes them easier to start.

With all the obvious problems eliminated, the only thing left to do was tear into the engine and figure out what was wrong. Sure enough, it was a compression issue. The overfull oil condition had forced engine oil up around the piston rings, causing them to stick, and snapping one of the rings. The cylinder bore was still in good shape though, so all the engine needed was a new set of rings.

That’s when the problems started. At first, the manufacturer couldn’t find the rings in their computer system. Then they found them but the rings would take two weeks to ship. [Jennies Garage] isn’t the patient type though. He looked up the piston manufacturer in China. They would be happy to ship him complete pistons – but the minimum order quantity was 5000. Then he started cross-referencing pistons from other engines and found a close match from a 1960’s era 90cc motorcycle. Ironically, it’s easier to obtain piston rings for an old motorcycle than it is to find them for a late model generator.

The Honda rings weren’t perfect – the two compression rings needed to be ground down about 1/2 a millimeter. The oil ring was a bit too thick, but thankfully the original oil ring was still in good shape.

Once the frankenpiston was assembled, it was time to put the repair to the test. [Jennies Garage] reassembled the generator, guessing at the torque specs he didn’t have. The surgery was a complete success. The generator ran perfectly, and lit up the night at the [Jennies Garage] cabin.

If you’re low on gas, no problem. Did you know you can run a generator on soda? Want to keep an eye on your remote generator? Check out this generator monitor project.

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From Foot Pump Cylinders To Pneumatic Robot Fighting Arm

Halfords Essentials foot pump
Halfords Essentials foot pump

[James Bruton] is well known for making robots using electric motors but he’s decided to try his hand at using pneumatics in order to make a fighting robot. The pneumatic cylinders will be used to give it two powerful punching arms. In true [James Bruton] fashion, he’s started with some experiments first, using the pneumatic cylinders from foot pumps. The cylinders he’s tried so far are taken out of single cylinder foot pumps from Halfords Essentials, costing only £6.29, around $8.11 US. That’s far cheaper than a commercial pneumatic cylinder, and perfectly adequate for this first step.

He did have to hack the cylinder a little though, besides removing it from its mounting and moving it to a DIY frame. Normally when you step down on a foot pump’s lever, you compress the cylinder, forcing air out the hose and into whatever you’re inflating. But he wanted to push air in the other direction, into the hose and into the cylinder. That would make the cylinder expand and thereby extend a robot fighting arm. And preferably that would be done rapidly and forcefully. However, a check valve at the hose outlet prevented air from entering the cylinder from the hose. So he removed the check valve. Now all he needed was a way to forcefully, and rapidly, push air into the hose.

For that he bought a solenoid activated valve on eBay, and a compressor with a 24 liter reservoir and a decent air flow rate of 180 liters per minute. The compressor added £110 ($142) to the cost of his project but that was still cheaper than the batteries he normally buys for his electric motor robots.

After working his usual CAD and 3D printing magic, he came up with an arm for the cylinder and a body that could fit two more valve activated cylinders to act as a working shoulder. A little more 3D printing and electronics, and he had 3 switches, one for each valve and cylinder. He then had the very successful results his experiment. You can see the entire R&D process in the video below, along with demonstrations of the resulting punching robot arm. We think it’s fairly intimidating for a first step.

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