An LM386 Oscillator Thanks To Tungsten Under Glass

Once ubiquitous, the incandescent light bulb has become something of a lucerna non grata lately. Banned from home lighting, long gone from flashlights, and laughed out of existence by automotive engineers, you have to go a long way these days to find something that still uses a tungsten filament.

Strangely enough, this lamp-stabilized LM386 Wien bridge oscillator is one place where an incandescent bulb makes an appearance. The Wien bridge itself goes back to the 1890s when it was developed for impedance measurements, and its use in the feedback circuits of vacuum tube oscillators dates back to the 1930s. The incandescent bulb is used in the negative feedback path as an automatic gain control; the tungsten filament’s initial low resistance makes for high gain to kick off oscillation, after which it heats up and lowers the resistance to stabilize the oscillation.

For [Grug Huler], this was one of those “just for funsies” projects stemming from a data sheet example circuit showing a bulb-stabilized LM386 audio oscillator. He actually found it difficult to source the specified lamp — there’s that anti-tungsten bias again — but still managed to cobble together a working audio oscillator. The first pass actually came in pretty close to spec — 1.18 kHz compared to the predicted 1.07 kHz — and the scope showed a very nice-looking sine wave. We were honestly a bit surprised that the FFT analysis showed as many harmonics as it did, but all things considered, the oscillator performed pretty well, especially after a little more tweaking. And no, the light bulb never actually lights up.

Thanks to [Grug] for going down this particular rabbit hole and sharing what he learned. We love builds like this that unearth seemingly obsolete circuits and bring them back to life with modern components. OK, calling the LM386 a modern component might be stretching things a bit, but it is [Elliot]’s favorite chip for a reason.

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Test Unknown Fuses Without Destroying Them

There’s a problem with fuses. On the face of it, testing would seem to be a one-shot deal — exceed the rated current and see if it blows. But once you know the answer, the device is useless. If only there were a way to test fuses without damaging them.

As it turns out there is, and [Kerry Wong] weaves quite a tale about his attempts to non-destructively test fuses. The fuses in question are nothing fancy — just the standard glass tube type, from a cheap assortment kit off Amazon. Therein lies the problem: can such cheap devices be trusted? Finding out requires diving much deeper into the technology of fuses than many people will have done, including understanding how the thermal and electrical characteristics of the fuse element behave.

[Kerry]’s test setup is simple, consisting of a constant current power supply and a voltmeter across the fuse to measure the voltage drop caused by the resistance of the fuse element. As he ramps up the current, the voltage drop increases linearly due to the increase in resistance of the alloy with increasing temperature. That only lasts up to a point, where the fuse resistance starts increasing exponentially. Pushing much past the point where the resistance has doubled would blow the fuse, so that’s the endpoint of his tests. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his no-name fuses all went significantly beyond their rated current, proving that you get what you pay for. See the video below for the tests and an analysis of the results.

It’s handy to know there’s a way to check fuses without popping them, and we’ll file this one away for future reference. Don’t forget that you should always check the fuse when troubleshooting, because you never know what the last person did to it.

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Wax Motors Add Motion To Your Projects

[electronicsNmore] has uploaded a great teardown and tutorial video (YouTube link) about wax motors. Electric wax motors aren’t common in hobby electronics, but they are common in the appliance industry, which means the motors can be often be obtained cheaply or for free from discarded appliances. Non-electric wax motors have been used as automotive coolant thermostats for years.  Who knows, this may be just what the doctor ordered for your next project.

As [electronicsNmore] explains, wax motors are rather simple devices. A small block of wax is sealed in a metal container with a movable piston. When heated, the wax expands and pushes the piston out. Once the wax cools, a spring helps to pull the piston back in.

The real trick is creating a motor which will heat up without cooking itself. This is done with a Positive Temperature Coefficient (PTC) thermistor. As the name implies, a PTC thermistor’s resistance increases as it heats up. This is the exact opposite of the Negative Temperature Coefficient (NTC) thermistors we often use as temperature sensors. PTC’s are often found in places like power supplies to limit in rush current, or small heating systems, as we have in our wax motor.

As the PTC heats up, its resistance increases until it stops heating. At the same time, the wax is being warmed, which drives out the piston. As you might expect, wax motors aren’t exactly efficient devices. The motor in  [electronicsNmore’s] video runs on 120 volts AC. They do have some advantages over solenoid, though. Wax motors provide smooth, slow operation. Since they are resistive devices, they also don’t require flyback diodes, or create the RF noise that a solenoid would.

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