Logitech Joystick Gets A Mechanical Sidekick

The mechanical keyboard rabbit hole is a deep one, and can swallow up as much money and time as you want to spend. If you’ve become spoiled on the touch and responsiveness of a Cherry MX or other mechanical switch, you might even start putting them on other user interfaces as well, such as this Logitech joystick that now sports a few very usable mechanical keys for the touch-conscious among us.

The Logitech Extreme 3D Pro that [ErkHal] and friend [HeKeKe] modified to accept the mechanical keys originally had a set of input buttons on the side, but these were unreliable and error-prone with a very long, inconsistent push. Soldering some mechanical switches directly on the existing board was a nice improvement, but the pair decided that they could do even better and rolled out an entire custom PCB to mount the keys more ergonomically. The switches are Kailh Choc V2 Browns and seem to have done a great job of improving the responsiveness of the joystick’s side buttons. If you want to spin up your own version, they’ve made the PCBs available on their GitHub page.

While [ErkHal] notes the switches aren’t the best and were only used since they were available, they certainly appear to work much better than what the joystick shipped with originally. In fact, we recently saw similar switches used to make a custom mechanical keyboard made for the PinePhone.

Exhaust Fan-Equipped Reflow Oven Cools PCBs Quickly

With reflow soldering, sometimes close is good enough. At the end of the day, the home gamer really just needs a hot plate or an old toaster oven and a calibrated Mark I eyeball to get decent results. This exhaust fan-equipped reflow oven is an attempt to take control of what’s perhaps the more challenging part of the reflow thermal cycle — the cool down.

No fan of the seat-of-the-pants school of reflow soldering, [Nabil Tewolde] started with a cast-off toaster oven for what was hoped to be a more precise reflow oven. The requisite temperature sensors and solid-state relays were added, along with a Raspberry Pi Zero W and a small LCD display. Adding the cooling assist started by cutting a gaping hole cut in the rear wall of the oven, which was then filled with a short stretch of HVAC duct and a stepper-controlled damper. The far end of the duct was fitted with a PC cooling fan; while it seems sketchy to use a plastic fan to eject hot air from the oven, [Nabil] says the exhaust isn’t really that hot by the time it gets to the fan. At the end of the reflow phase of the thermal profile, the damper opens and the fan kicks on, rapidly cooling the oven’s interior.

Unfortunately, [Nabil] still needs to crack open the oven door to get decent airflow; seems like another damper to admit fresh air would help with that. That would complicate things a bit, but it still wouldn’t be as over-the-top as some reflow builds we’ve seen. Then again, that calibrated eyeball thing can work pretty well too, evenĀ without a toaster oven.

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SMD Challenge Extreme Edition Gets Our Flux Flowing

Skills challenges have become a fun way to facilitate friendly competition amongst anyone who appreciates a fine solder joint. If you’ve seen any Supercon / Remoticon coverage there’s surely been a mention of the infamous soldering skills challenge, where competitors test their mettle against surface mount components sized to be challenging but fair. What if there was a less friendly SMD challenge designed to make you hold your breath lest you blow the components away? Well now there is, the SMD Challenge Extreme Edition by friend-of-the-Hackaday and winner of the 2019 Supercon soldering challenge [Freddie].

When assembled the SMD Extreme Edition uses a 555 timer and a 74HC4017 decade counter to light a ring of 10 LEDs lights around its perimeter, powered by a coin cell. However theĀ  Extreme Edition deviates from the typical SMD Challenge format. Instead of ramping up in difficulty with ever-shrinking components, the Extreme Edition only has one size: torturous. See those gray blobs in the title image? Those are grains of rice.

The Extreme Edition’s 0201-sized LEDs aren’t the absolute smallest components around, but to minimize enjoyment all passives are 01005. (Check out the SMD Challange Misery Edition for even 01005 LED action.)

The Extreme Edition has other tricks up its sleeve, too. That 555 may be venerable in age, but this version is in an iron-frustrating 1.41 x 1.43 mm BGA package, which pairs nicely with that decade counter in 2.5 mm x 3.5 mm QFN.

Despite the wordwide pandemic locking down travel and conferences, a few brave challengers have already taken up their iron and succeeded at Extreme SMD. Want to see it in action? Check out the original Tweets after the break.

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Magnifying On The Cheap

If there is one thing we’ve learned during several years of running the Hackaday SMD soldering challenge it is this: Most people need magnification to do good soldering at a tiny scale. The problem is, like most tools, you can buy something as cheap as a $5 binocular headset or you can spend $1,000 or more on a serious microscope. What’s in between? [Noel] looks at some affordable options in a recent video that you can see below.

[Noel] started out with a cheap “helping hand” that has a simple little magnifying glass attached to it. The major criterion was to find something that would have no delay so he could solder under magnification. While it is possible to work under a scope with a little lag in the display, it is frustrating and there are better options.

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Robotics Club Teaches Soldering

Oregon State University must be a pretty good place to go to school if you want to hack on robots. Their robotics club, which looks active and impressive, has a multi-part video series on how to solder surface mount components that is worth watching. [Anthony] is the team lead for their Mars Rover team and he does the job with some pretty standard-looking tools.

The soldering station in use is a sub-$100 Aoyue with both a regular iron and hot air. There’s also a cheap USB microscope that looks like it has a screen, but is covered in blue tape to hold it to an optical microscope. So no exotic tools that you’d need a university affiliation to match.

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An Arduino Controller For Hot Air Handles

In general, the cost of electronic components and the tools used to fiddle with them have been dropping steadily over the last decade or so. But there will always be bargain-hunting hackers who are looking to get things even cheaper. Case in point, hot air rework stations. You can pick up one of the common 858D stations for as little as $40 USD, but that didn’t keep [MakerBR] from creating an Arduino controller that can be used with its spare handles.

Now to be fair, it doesn’t sound like price was the only factor here. After all, a spare 858D handle costs about half as much as the whole station, so there’s not a lot of room for improvement cost-wise. Rather, [MakerBR] says the Arduino version is designed to be more efficient and reliable than the stock hardware.

The seven wires in the handle connector have already been mapped out by previous efforts, though [MakerBR] does go over the need to verify everything matches the provided circuit diagrams as some vendors might have fiddled with the pinout. All the real magic happens in the handle itself, the controller just needs to keep an eye on the various sensors and provide the fan and heating element with appropriate control signals. An Arduino Pro Mini is more than up to the task, and a custom PCB makes for a fairly neat installation.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen somebody replace the controller on one of these entry-level hot air stations, but because there are so many different versions floating around, you should do some careful research before cracking yours open and performing a brain transplant.

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Single Piece 3D-Printed PCB Vise

Making full use of the capabilities and advantages of 3D printing requires a very different way of thinking compared to more traditional manufacturing methods. Often we see designs that do not really take these advantages into account, so we’re always on the lookout for interesting designs that embrace the nature of 3D-printed parts in interesting ways. [joopjoop]’s spring-loaded PCB vise is one such ingenious design that incorporates the spring action into the print itself.

This vise is designed to be printed as a single piece, with very little post-processing required if your printer is dialed in. There is a small gap between the base plate and the springs and clamping surfaces that need to be separated with a painters knife or putty knife. Two “handles” have contours for your fingers to operate the clamping surfaces. It opens quickly for inserting your latest custom PCB.

PLA can be surprisingly flexible if the right geometry is used, and these springs are an excellent example of this. In the video below [Chuck Hellebuyck] does a test and review of the design, and it looks like it works well for hand soldering (though it probably won’t hold up well with a hot air station). Last month our own [Tom Nardi] recently reviewed a similar concept that used spiral springs designed into the printed part. While these both get the job done, [Tom’s] overall verdict is that a design like this rubber-band actuated PCB vise is a better long-term option.

It takes some creativity to get right, but printing complete assemblies as a single part, is a very useful feature of 3D printing. Just be careful of trying to make it the solution for every mechanical problem.