Air-Assist Analysis Reveals Most Effective — And Quietest — Methods

If there’s one thing that continues to impress us about the Hackaday community as the years roll by, it’s the willingness to share what we’ve learned with each other. Not every discovery will be news to everyone, and everything won’t be helpful or even interesting to everyone, but the mere act of sharing on the off chance that it’ll help someone else is really what sets the hardware hacking world apart.

Case in point: this in-depth analysis of laser cutter air-assist methods. Undertaken by [David Tucker], this project reads more like a lab writeup than a build log, because well, that’s pretty much what it is. For those not into laser cutters, an air assist is just a steady flow of air to blow smoke and cutting residue away from the beam path and optics of a laser cutter. It’s simple, but critical; without it, smoke can obscure and reflect the laser beam, foul lenses and mirrors, and severely degrade cut quality.

To see what air-assist methods work best, [David] looked at four different air pumps and compressors, along with a simple fan. Each of these methods was compared to a control of cuts made without air assist. The test was simple: a series of parallel lines cut into particle board with the beam focused on the surface at 80% power, with the cut speed slowly decreasing. It turned out that any air-assist was better than nothing, with the conspicuous exception of using just a fan, which made things worse. Helpfully, [David] included measurements of the noise levels of the compressors he tested, and found there’s no advantage to using an ear-splitting shop compressor over a quieter aquarium air pump. Plus, the aquarium pumps are cheap — always a bonus.

Not sure how to get up to speed with lasers? Laser Cutting 101 might be a great place to start.

Why Does Solder Smoke Always Find Your Face?

For some of us the smell of rosin soldering flux vaporizing from the tip of an iron as a project takes shape is as evocative as the scent of a rose on a summer’s day. We’ve certainly breathed enough of it over the years, as it invariably goes from the piece of work directly into the face of the person doing the soldering. This is something that has evidently troubled [AlphaPhoenix], who has gone to extravagant lengths to research the problem using planar laser illumination and a home-made (and possibly hazardous) smoke generator.

He starts with a variety of hypotheses with everything from a human-heat-driven air vortex to the Coandă effect, but draws a blank with each one as he models them using cardboard cut-outs and boxes as well as himself. Finally he has the light bulb moment and discovers that the key to the mystery lies in his arms coming across the bench to hold both iron and solder. They close off an area of lower-pressure dead space which draws the air current containing the smoke towards it, and straight into his face.  It’s something that can be combated with a small fan or perhaps a fume extractor, as despite some video trickery we have yet to master soldering iron telekinesis.

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Put A Smoke Detector To Some Use

While we’re certainly not denying that smoke detectors are useful, there’s a certain kind of tragedy to the fact that most of them will never realize their true purpose of detecting smoke, and alerting us to a dangerous fire. On the other hand, [Ben] really unlocks the potential hidden deep in every smoke detector with his latest project which uses the smoke-detecting parts of a smoke detector to turn on the exhaust fan over his stove.

The project didn’t start with the noble aim of realizing the hidden and underutilized quiescent nature of a smoke alarm, though. He wanted his range exhaust fan to turn on automatically when it was needed during his (and his family’s) cooking activities. The particular range has four speeds so he wired up four relays to each of the switches in the range and programmed a Particle Photon to turn them on based on readings from an MQ-2 gas-detecting sensor.

The sensor didn’t work as well as he had hoped. It was overly sensitive to some gasses like LPG which would turn the range on full blast any time he used his cooking spray. Meanwhile, it would drift and not work properly during normal cooking. He tried disabling it and using only a temperature sensor, which didn’t work well either. Finally, he got the idea to tear apart a smoke detector and use its sensor’s analog output to inform the microcontroller of the current need for an exhaust fan. Now that that’s done, [Ben] might want to add some additional safety features to his stovetop too.

Making Colored Smoke Devices, The Right Way

Pyrotechnics are fun, and, with the proper precautions taken, safe enough to play with at home (usually). While it’s typical to purchase fireworks and smoke devices off the shelf, it’s actually possible to brew these up in a properly stocked home lab. [Tech Ingredients] is here to share the techniques behind producing your own super vibrant colored smoke devices at home.

Producing colored smoke requires a slightly different tack than making a simpler white smoke device. Colored smokes use dyes that are temperature sensitive, and thus the reaction temperature must be controlled carefully. This is achieved by choosing a potassium chlorate oxidiser, and combining it with magnesium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate, which help stop the reaction getting too hot. Sugar is used as the primary fuel, with both lactose and sucrose being fit for purpose. Color is then added with solvent-based dyes, readily sourced online. These are stable at higher temperatures than typical water-based food grade dyes, and thus are the best choice for creating thick, vibrant colored smoke.

[Tech Ingredients] does a great job of explaining both the theory behind the work, as well as the practical considerations necessary to be successful. The video is the result of much experimentation and work off-camera, which shows in the final presentation. If you’ve been working on your own pyrotechnic creations, be sure to hit up the tips line. Video after the break.

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Ghost Rider Costume Is Smoking Hot

It’s that spooky time of year once again, with pumpkins and cobwebs as far as the eye can see. This year, [Mikeasaurus] has put together something really special – a Ghost Rider costume with some amazing effects.

The costume starts with the skull mask, which started with a model from Thingiverse. Conveniently, the model was already set up to be 3D printed in separate pieces. [Mike] further modified the design by cutting out the middle to make it wearable. The mask was printed in low resolution and then assembled. [Mike] didn’t worry too much about making things perfect early on, as the final finish involved plenty of sanding and putty to get the surface just right. To complete the spooky look, the skull got a lick of ivory paint and a distressed finish with some diluted black acrylic.

With the visual components complete, [Mike] turned his attention to the effects. Light is courtesy of a series of self-blinking LEDs, fitted inside the mask to give the eye sockets a menacing orange glow. However, the pièce de résistance is the smoke effect, courtesy of a powerful e-cigarette device and an aquarium pump. At 225W, and filled with vegetable glycerine, this combination produces thick clouds of smoke which emanate from the back of the wearer’s jacket and within the skull itself. Truly stunning.

[Mike] reports that the costume is scary enough that he has been banned from answering the door as Ghost Rider. We think it’s bound to be a hit, regardless. For another epic mask build, check out the Borderlands Psycho. Video after the break. Continue reading “Ghost Rider Costume Is Smoking Hot”

Making Smoke That Really Performs

Smoke is a useful thing, whether you want to hide from enemy combatants or just make a big scene at a local sporting match. Smoke devices have lots of applications, many of which will likely cause a nuisance to somebody, somewhere. With that said, they can also be really cool, and [Tech Ingredients] is here to tell you how to make them.

Far from a simple tutorial, the video guide is loaded with detail. It begins with an explanation of the basic chemistry involved, using potassium nitrate and sugar. This is the basis of rocket candy, a popular method for making solid rocket motors at home. However, it’s then explained how the formula is altered to suit a smoke-making, rather than a thrust-making device. The trick is the addition of paraffin to moderate the reaction.

The tips don’t stop there. The guide explains how to use a coffee grinder to make the coarse ingredients finer, which increases the surface area and allows the powder constituents to blend with the wax more easily. Enclosures are also discussed, with a cardboard tube and bentonite clay favored for its heat resistance and stability.

Overall, it’s an excellent guide which takes the time to explain the rationale behind each step in the process. It’s great to see the underlying concepts explained with the practical execution, giving a strong understanding of not just how to do it, but why. Video after the break.

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Benchtop Fume Extractor Cuts The Cord, Clears The Air

What good is safety gear that isn’t used because it’s annoying and gets in the way of getting the job at hand completed? None, really, and the solder fume extractor is one item that never seems to live in harmony with your workspace. They’re often noisy, they obstruct your vision, and a power cord draped across your bench is a sure way to ruin your soldering zen.

To fix those problems, [Nate] has built a nice battery powered solder fume extractor that’s so low profile and so quiet, you won’t mind sharing a bench with it. Based on a standard 80-mm case fan, the extractor has a built-in 18650 battery for power and a USB charging port. There are nice little features, like a speed control and a low-battery indicator. The fan mounts to a pair of custom PCBs, which form the feet for the fan. [Nate] claims to have run the fan for 12 hours straight on battery before needing a charge, and that it’s so quiet he needs to add a power indicator to the next version. Also making an appearance in rev 2 will be a carbon filter to catch the fumes, but as [Nate] notes, better to spread them around for now than let them go directly up his nose.

Are you in the hacking arts for the long haul? Let’s hope so. If you are, make sure you’re up on the basics of mitigating inhalation hazards.