A solenoid engine is a curiosity of the electrical world. By all measures, using electricity to rotate something can be done almost any other way with greater efficiency and less hassle. But there’s just something riveting about watching a solenoid engine work. If you want to build one of your own and see for yourself, [Emiel] aka [The Practical Engineer] has a great how-to.
For this build though he used a few tools that some of us may not have on hand, such as a lathe and a drill press. The lathe was used to make the plastic spool to hold the wire, and also to help wind the wire onto the spool itself rather than doing it by hand. He also milled the wood mounts and metal bearings as well, and the quality of the work really shows through in the final product. The final touch is the transistor which controls power flow to the engine.
If you don’t have all of the machine tools [Emiel] used it’s not impossible to find substitute parts if you want to build your own. It’s an impressive display piece, or possibly even functional if you want your build to have a certain steampunk aesthetic (without the steam). You can even add more pistons to your build if you need extra power.
As far as electric propulsion is concerned, the vast majority of applications make use of some kind of rotational motor. Be it induction, universal, brushed or brushless, these are the most efficient ways we have to do mechanical work with electricity. There are other, arcane methods, though – ones which [Maker B] explores with this 4-cylinder solenoid engine.
The principle of the solenoid engine is simple. Cylinders are wound with coils to act as solenoids, with the piston acting as the armature. When the solenoid is energised, it pulls the piston into the cylinder. The solenoid is then de-energised, and the piston can return to its initial position. The piston is coupled to a crankshaft via a connecting rod, and a flywheel is used to help the motor run continually. These are also known as reciprocating electric motors.
[Maker B]’s build is a 4-cylinder design in a boxer configuration. Produced with basic hand-operated machine tools, the build process is one to watch. Aluminium and brass are carefully crafted into the various components of the motor, and parts are delicately assembled with small fasteners and plenty of retaining compound. Solenoid timing is via a series of microswitches, installed neatly in the base of the motor and actuated by the crankshaft.
While solenoid motors are inefficient, they’re quite something to watch in action. This one is no exception, with the motor spinning up to 1100 rpm when running at 7.2 volts. We’d love to see some data on the power output and efficiency too. It’s possible to build solenoid motors in different configurations, too – this radial build is particularly fun. Video after the break.
There’s no doubting the allure of a nicely crafted LED cube; likewise, there’s no doubting that they can be a tremendous pain to build. After all, the amount of work scales as the cube of the number of LEDs you want each side to have, and let’s face it – with LED cubes, the bigger, the better. What to do about all that tedious lead forming?
[TylerTimoJ]’s solution is a custom-designed lead-forming tool, and we have to say we’re mighty impressed by it. His LED cubes use discrete RGB LEDs, the kind with four leads, each suspended in space by soldering them to wires. For the neat appearance needed to make such a circuit sculpture work, the leads must be trimmed and bent at just the right angles, a tedious job indeed when done by hand. His tool has servo-controlled jaws that grip the leads, with solenoid-actuated lead formers coming in from below to bend each lead just the right amount. The lead former, along with its companion trimmer, obviously went through a lot of iterations before [TylerTimoJ] got everything right, but we’d say being able to process thousands of LEDs without all the tedium is probably worth the effort.
This particular piano’s keys use lever action to strike thin steel tines. These tines are spaced just wide enough for tiny 5V solenoids to fit over them. Once [Måns] got a single solenoid striking away via MIDI input, he began designing 3D printed holders to affix them to the soundboard.
Everything worked with all thirty solenoids in place, but the wiring was a bird’s nest of spaghetti until he upgraded to motor driver shields. Then he designed a new bracket to hold eight solenoids at once, with a channel for each pair of wires. Every eight solenoids, there’s an Arduino and a motor shield.
The resulting junior player piano sounds like someone playing wind chimes like a xylophone, or a tiny Caribbean steel drum. Check out the build video after the break.
Some hackers have a style all their own that is immediately recognizable from one project to the next. For instance, you can tell a [Takashi Kaburagi] by its insides. The behavior of his Farting Baseball project (machine translation) is amusing, but the joke is only skin deep. Look inside and you’ll gain a huge appreciation for what has been done here. It’s not as mind-boggling as his work on the self-solving Rubiks cube robot, but the creativity and design constraints are similarly impressive.
This whimsical project is a curve ball no matter who throws it. While in flight, a jet of compressed gas can alter the trajectory at the press of a button. Inside is a small pressure vessel that is filled with HFC134A refrigerant commonly used on gas blowback pistols. It’s a non-combustible that lies in wait until a solenoid is activated to release the pressure in a powerful jet. The ball carries a CR2032 to power the wireless link for activation, but that solenoid needs more juice so capacitors are charged for this purpose.
It’s worth digging through the details on this one, including the article on measuring discharge time (machine translation). There are numerous nice touches, like the yellow Whoopee Cushion neck that directs the jet, the capacitor discharge materials so there is not an accidental activation when not in use, and clever and clean construction that make everything fit.
Another hacker with an equally iconic style is [Mohit Bhoite]’s work; make his flywire sculptures your next stop.
One of the joys of electronics as a hobby is how easy it is to get parts. Literally millions of parts are available from thousands of suppliers and hundreds of distributors, and everyone competes with each other to make it as easy as possible to put together an order from a BoM. If you need it, somebody probably has it.
But what do you do when you need a part that doesn’t exist anymore, and even when it did was only produced in small numbers? Easy – you create it yourself. That’s just what [Mike Gardi] did with this unique motorized rotary switch he needed to complete his replica of a 1960s computer trainer. We covered his build of the Minivac 601, a trainer from the early computer age that let experimenters learn the ropes of basic digital logic. It used mostly relays, lamps, and switches connected by jumpers, but it had one critical component – a rotary control that was used for input and, with the help of a motor, as an output indicator.
[Mike]’s version of the switch is as faithful to the original as possible, at least in terms of looks. The parts are mostly 3D-printed, with 16 reed switches embedded in the walls and magnets placed in the rotor. The motor to operate the rotor is a simple gear motor mounted to a hinged bracket; when the rotor needs to move, a solenoid pulls the motor’s friction drive wheel up against the rotor.
The unique control slots right into the Minivac replica and really completes the look and feel. Hats off to [Mike] for a delightful replica of a lost bit of computer history and the dedication to see it through to completion.
Cue up the [Christopher Walken] memes, it’s time for moped turn signals with more cowbell. Because moped turn signals with less cowbell are clearly the inferior among moped turn signals.
It seems that [Joel Creates] suffers from the same rhythm recognition disorder that we do. The slightest similarity between a rhythmic sound such as turn signals, and any song in our seemingly infinite intracranial playlist cues up that song for the rest of the day. [Joel] heard “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” in his turn signals, and that naturally led to a need for More Cowbell. So with a car door lock actuator, a relay, an improvised clapper, and a lot of hot glue and cable ties, the front of his scooter is now adorned with a cowbell that’s synchronized to the turn signals. The video below shows that it’s of somewhat limited appeal in traffic, but at least [Joel’s dad] was tickled pink by it.
Kudos to [Joel] for marching to the beat of his own [Gene Frenkle] on this one. It may be a little weird, but not as weird as an Internet of Cowbells.