Roll Your Own Trackball Mouse

What do you do when you’re into trackball mice, but nothing out there is affordable or meets all your murine needs? You build one, of course. And if you’re like [Dangerously Explosive], who has a bunch of old optical mice squeaking around the shop, you can mix and match them to build the perfect one.

The mouse, which looks frozen mid-transformation into a rodential assassin, is a customized work of utilitarian art. Despite the excellent results, this project was not without its traps. [Dangerously] got really far into the build before discovering the USB interface chip was dead. Then he tried to sculpt a base out of Plasticine and discovered he’d bought the one kind of clay that can’t be baked. After trying his hand at making homemade salt dough, he painstakingly whittled a base from scrap pine using a drill and a hacksaw.

Every bit of this mouse is made from recycled bits, which, if you pair that with the paint job and the chosen shade of blinkenlights, makes this a green mouse on three levels. One of the two parts of this mouse that isn’t literally green, the cord, is still ecologically sound. [Dangerously] wanted a really long tail, so he scavenged a charger cable built for fruity hardware and threaded it through a hollowed-out piece of purple paracord.

We love the thumb-adjacent scroll wheel and the trackball itself, which is a ping pong ball painted black. The cool part is the guide it rolls around in. [Dangerously] spent a long time hand-whittling the perfect size hole in a particularly wide mouse palm rest. All that plastic shaving paid off, because the action is smooth as Velveeta.

[Dangerously] certainly designed this mouse to fit his preferences, and ergonomics seem a bit secondary. For a truly custom fit, try using whatever passes for Floam these days.

Laser Cutter Turns Scrapped To Shipped

We’ll go way out on a limb here and say you’ve probably got a ridiculous amount of flattened cardboard boxes. We’re buying more stuff online than ever before, and all those boxes really start to add up. At the least we hope they’re making it to the recycling bin, but what about reusing them? Surely there’s something you could do with all those empty shipping boxes…

Here’s a wild idea…why not use them to ship things? But not exactly as they are, unless you’re in the business of shipping big stuff, the probably won’t do you much good as-is. Instead, why not turn those big flattened cardboard boxes into smaller, more convenient, shippers? That’s exactly what [Felix Rusu] has done, and we’ve got to say, it’s a brilliant idea.

[Felix] started by tracing the outline of the USPS Priority Small Flat Rate Box, which was the perfect template as it comes to you flat packed and gets folded into its final shape. He fiddled with the design a bit, and in the end had a DXF file he could feed into his 60W CO2 laser cutter. By lowering the power to 15% on the fold lines, the cutter is even able to score the cardboard where it needs to fold.

Assuming you’ve got a powerful enough laser, you can now turn all those Amazon Prime boxes into the perfect shippers to use when your mom finally makes you sell your collection of Yu-Gi-Oh! cards on eBay. Otherwise, you can just use them to build a wall so she’ll finally stay out of your side of the basement.

[Thanks to Adrian for the tip.]

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Broken Screen Becomes Polarizing Art Lamp

Got a broken laptop screen sitting around? If you haven’t already pilfered the LEDs and used the polarizing sheets for screen privacy filters, why not turn it into a unique table lamp? See if you can use more parts of the screen than [alexmaree-ross] did.

This is a simple idea with great-looking results, but the process is a bit fiddly. After all the layers are separated and the LEDs extracted, there’s still the matter of figuring out how they’re wired up. [alexmaree] tested them in pairs to see how they’re grouped together and ultimately powered them with a transformer from an old printer. To build the case, [alexmaree] carefully scored and snapped the pieces from the plastic layer and carefully glued pieces of the polarizing layer on top to give it that underwater infinity mirror look. The finishing touch comes from edging the shade with thin metal from the bezel.

The case could be in any shape you want, but we think the prism is quite appropriate considering the polarizing effects. And it looks really cool when you walk around it, which you can do vicariously after the break.

If the screen still works but laptop doesn’t, why not drive it with an FPGA?

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DIY Designer Wallet From Designer Bag

Why do people drop hundreds of dollars on designer goods? The easy answer is that, in theory, the goods are worth the expense. The materials, craftsmanship, and attention to detail are all top-notch and culminate in the finest finery money can buy.

So, would you spend hundreds of dollars on a designer wallet? If you have leather crafting skills and a thrift store nearby, you could just follow [Corter Leather]’s example and make your own. He found a diamond in the rough—a genuine, well-loved Louis Vuitton bag languishing in a secondhand shop. The leather bottom and handles were dry and worn, but the signature LV canvas was still in great shape. Never crafted leather? If you can’t get free scraps for practicing, then deconstructing cheap, used stuff is the next best thing.

To isolate the canvas, [Corter] carefully removed the bag’s handles, bottom, liner, and zipper and then popped the rivets and peeled the backing from the fabric. He drew up a pattern in Illustrator that pays homage to the illustrious designer’s wallets and cut the pieces out of 3oz vegetable tanned leather using card stock templates.

[Corter] brought his A-game to the details. Every visible edge is painted Italian red, which he applied with an awl for a crisp line. The larger pockets have hidden stitches that keep cards from drifting to the bottom and throwing off the shape. No need to open your wallet to see how he did it—just watch the video after the break.

Though it technically isn’t a real Louis Vuitton, a thief wouldn’t know it until later. Maybe [Corter] should add a pickpocket alarm.

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Soda Can Lamp Pinpoints Your Interests

We’ve said it a million times before: 3D printing will expand your horizons. The more you print, the more you think about things you could print and new ways to use printing in the process of building projects. [AHNT] knows all about this phenomenon, because he thought of a way to use soda cans as canvases for customizable pixel art lamp shades.

[AHNT] designed a printable sleeve that fits perfectly over 250mL cans. It provides a sturdy grid for poking tiny holes with a medical needle, and can be reused indefinitely with any pattern imaginable. He created two different printable bases to illuminate the lamp: one is sized to hold a votive candle, and the other is made for an LED strip circuit with a rocker switch and 12 VDC barrel jack. We suppose it wouldn’t take much to use an RGB LED instead—a Trinket or a Gemma would surely fit in the base.

In the video after the break, [AHNT] talks about prepping the can by cleanly removing the lid, which he does by filing the top edge until the layers separate. He also discusses a few methods for removing the paint, and notes that sandblasting worked the best.

Don’t need another lamp? There’s a million things you can do with that empty soda can. You could make a theremin, or a battery, or even a treasure box. Cut it open and make a solder stencil. Or do something else entirely, and send us a tip.

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From Plastic Bottle to Plastic Brush

We first saw someone turn a plastic bottle into plastic ribbon about four years ago. Since then, we’ve wondered what this abundant, sturdy material could be used for besides just tying things together.

[Waldemar Sha] has answered that question with his excellent brush made from scrap wood and plastic bottle rope. Turning seven 1-litre bottles into curly bristle fodder was easy enough, but they have to be straight to brush effectively. No problem for [Waldemar]. He wound it all up on a  spinning homemade jig that’s anchored in a bench vise. The jig is designed to slide into a small electric sandwich grill he had lying around, and he just flips it after a while so the rope straightens evenly.

We really like the way he secured the bristles into the brush base. After drilling the holes, he sawed lengthwise channels that are deep enough for a bamboo skewer. Each group of bristles is hung over the skewer and down through the hole, and everything is glued in place before the handle is added. Sweep past the break to watch him tidy his workbench, and then learn how to make your own plastic rope.

Is there a better use of recycled plastic than making tools? Check out this joiner’s mallet made from milk jugs. Continue reading “From Plastic Bottle to Plastic Brush”

An ADS-B Antenna Built From Actual Garbage

With the advent of low-cost software defined radio (SDR), anyone who’s interested can surf the airwaves from the FM band all the way up to the gigahertz frequencies used by geosynchronous satellites for about $20 USD. It’s difficult to overstate the impact this has had on the world of radio hacking. It used to be only the Wizened Ham Graybeards could command the airwaves from the front panels of their $1K+ radios, but now even those who identify as software hackers can get their foot in the door for a little more than the cost of a pizza.

But as many new SDR explorers find out, having a receiver is only half the battle: you need an antenna as well. A length of wire stuck in the antenna jack of your SDR will let you pick up some low hanging fruit, but if you’re looking to extend your range or get into the higher frequencies, your antenna needs to be carefully designed and constructed. But as [Akos Czermann] shows on his blog, that doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. He shows how you can construct a very capable ADS-B antenna out of little more than an empty soda can and a bit of wire.

He makes it clear that the idea of using an old soda can as an antenna is not new, another radio hacker who goes by the handle [abcd567] popularized their own version of the “cantenna” some time ago. But [Akos] has made some tweaks to the design to drive the bar even lower, which he has dubbed the “coketenna”.

The primary advantages of his design is that you no longer need to solder anything or even use any special connectors. In fact, you can assemble this antenna with nothing more than a pocket knife.

You start by cutting the can down to around 68 mm in length, and cutting an “X” into the bottom. Then strip a piece of coax, and push it through the X. The plastic-coated center conductor of the coax should emerge through the bottom of the can, while the braided copper insulation will bunch up on the other side. If you want to make it really fancy, [Akos] suggests cutting a plastic drink bottle in half and using that as a cover to keep water out of the “coketenna”.

How well does it work? He reports performance being very similar to his commercial ADS-B antenna which set him back $45 USD. Not bad for some parts of out the trash.

We’ve covered the math of creating an ADS-B antenna in the past if you’d like to know more about the science of how it all works. But if you just want an easy way of picking up some signals, this “coketenna” and an RTL-SDR dongle will get you started in no time.