3D Printed Jig Makes Custom Springs A Snap

We’ve often heard it said that springs come in in all shapes and sizes…except for the one you need. In light of this, the hardware hacker would do well to keep the tools and knowledge required to make a custom spring close at hand when building something that moves. Luckily, all it really take is some stiff metal wire, a rod, and patience.

Unless you’ve got a 3D printer, that is. In which case, we’d suggest you print out this very clever “Spring Factory” designed by [Vincent Baillet]. The simple tool, consisting of just two parts, makes it easier and faster to make consistent DIY springs when compared to traditional methods. Rather than trying to eyeball the spacing of the coil as you wind the wire around the mandrel, this design does it for you.

As seen in the video, springs made with this tool look very professional. Not only does the threaded mandrel keep the spacing between coils even, it also makes sure all the springs you produce are identical. This can be especially important with projects that need to use multiple matching springs. [Vincent] says his handy tool works with piano wire from 0.8 to 1.2 mm, and slightly thicker if plain steel.

Of course, the obvious flaw in a tool like this is that it can only be used to make springs of a specific diameter. Changing the length is easy enough, just use more or less wire. But to make a thinner or thicker spring, you’d need a different size of mandrel. It seems that [Vincent] has only released the gadget in this approximately 9 mm diameter so far, but here’s hoping a few more sizes get added to the mix before too long.

Looking for something a bit more advanced? This Arduino-powered wire bender is capable of making some very impressive custom springs, among other things.

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Heat Turns 3D Printer Filament Into Springs

The next time you find yourself in need of some large-ish plastic springs, maybe consider [PattysLab]’s method for making plastic springs out of spare filament. The basic process is simple: tightly wind some 3D printer filament around a steel rod, secure it and wrap it in kapton tape, then heat it up. After cooling, one is left with a reasonably functional spring, apparently with all the advantages of annealed plastic.

The basic process may be simple, but [PattysLab] has a number of tips for getting best results. The first is to use a 3D-printed fixture to help anchor one end of filament to the steel rod, then use the help of an electric drill to wind the filament tightly. After wrapping the plastic with kapton tape (wrap counter to the direction of the spring winding, so that peeling the tape later doesn’t pull the spring apart), he suspends it in a pre-heated oven at 120 C for PLA and 160 C for PETG. How long does it stay in there? [PattysLab] uses the following method: when the spring is wound, he leaves a couple inches of filament sticking out to act as a visual indicator. When this segment of filament sags down, that’s his cue to begin the retrieval process. After cooling, the result is a compression or extension spring, depending on how it was wound before being heated.

[PattysLab] shared a short video on this Reddit post that shows both springs in action, and the process is all covered in the video, embedded below.

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Springs And Things Wrap Into A Polyhedron Of Interactive LED Art

Any resemblance between The Wobble Sphere and a certain virus making the rounds these days is purely coincidental. Although as yet another project undertaken during the COVID-19 lockdowns, we can see where the inspiration came from.

Wobble Sphere is another work of interactive art from the apparently spring-driven imagination of [Robin Baumgarten], whose Quantum Garden piece graced our pages last year. The earlier, flatter version used a collection of spring door stops — the kind that sound awesome when plucked by a passing foot — each of which is surrounded by a Neopixel ring. The springs act as touch sensors that change the patterns and colors on the LED rings in endlessly fascinating ways.

For Wobble Sphere, [Robin] took the same spring and LED units, broke them into a collection of hexagonal and pentagonal PCBs, and wrapped the whole thing up into a 72-sided polyhedron. There’s some impressive mechanical and electrical engineering involved in the transition from 2D to 3D space, not least of which is solving the problem of how to connect everything while providing pluck-friendly structural support. The former was accomplished with a ton of ribbon cables, while the latter was taken care of with a combination of a 3D-printed skeleton and solder connections between adjacent PCBs. The result is a display that invites touch and rewards it with beautiful patterns of light chasing around the sphere. See it in action in the video after the break.

Lest anyone think springs are the only tool in [Robin]’s box, we mustn’t forget that he once set a knife-wielding Arduino-powered game on an unsuspecting public. Check it out; it’s way more fun than it sounds.

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Clacker Hacker: Hot Rod Switch Mods

Whether you’re a programmer, gamer, writer, or data entry specialist, the keyboard is an extension of your nervous system. It’s not so much a tool as it is a medium for flow — for being in the zone. So I think it’s only natural that you should care deeply about your keyboard — how it looks, how it sounds, and above all, how it feels to finger-punch those helmeted little switches all the live-long day. That’s my excuse, anyway.

It might surprise you that mechanical keyboard switches can be modified in a number of ways. Depending on what you want from your keyboarding experience, you can make switches feel lighter or less scratchy, quiet them down, or tighten up any wobble in the housing. Why would you want to do this? Because customization is fun. Because electromechanical things are awesome, and because it’s fun to take switches apart and put them back together again. Because it’s literally hacking and this is Hackaday.

This is a pair of plates from a macro keeb I’m making that will sit directly in front of my trackball.

I got into switch modding because I wanted to put Cherry clears in my dactyl, but worried that they would take too much force to actuate and wear my fingers out. So I bought some really light (39g) springs and was really looking forward to swapping them into the clears, but they just don’t work. Like, physically. Slider goes down, slider gets stuck. It will come back up, but only if I hit it again and smear my finger to the side a bit at the same time. Those springs must be too weak to return clear sliders.

I took this as a sign that I should suck it up and use browns instead. After all, no one else has to know what my sliders look like. While I was opening switches, I tried out one of these super-light springs in a brown, thinking maybe they wouldn’t have to go to waste. Not only did the lighter spring work in the brown, it felt pretty nice. It’s hard to imagine how a whole keeb would feel based on a single switch, but if you can gather a handful and snap them into a plate to riffle your fingers over them, well, it’s probably close enough to a full keyboard to get a good feel for whatever mod you’re doing.

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Printed It: Print-in-Place PCB Gripper

The goal of Printed It is to showcase creations that truly embrace the possibilities offered by desktop 3D printing. The most obvious examples are designs that can be printed quickly and cheaply enough that they’re a valid alternative to commercially available products. But as previous entries into the series have shown, there are also technical considerations. Is it simply a duplicate of something that could be produced via traditional means, or does the design really benefit from the unique nature of 3D printing?

A perfect example is the Print-in-Place PCB Holder/Gripper created by SunShine. This design is able to hold onto PCBs (or really, whatever you wish) without any additional components. Just pull it off the bed, and put it to work. While having to add a rubber band or generic spring would hardly be an inconvenience, there’s always something to be said for a design that’s truly 100% printable.

The secret is the dual flat spiral springs integrated into the device’s jaws. While most of the common thermoplastics used in desktop 3D printing are relatively stiff, the springs have been designed in such a way that they can be printed in standard PLA. The backside of the jaws have teeth that mesh together, so the energy of the springs is combined to provide a clamping force. Serrations have been added to the jaws to catch the edge of the PCB and help stabilize it.

Visually, it’s certainly striking. The design largely eschews right angles, giving it an almost biological appearance. Many have compared it to the head of a mantis, or perhaps some piece of alien technology.

There’s no question that the design leverages the strengths of 3D printing either; there’s no other way to produce its intricate interlocking components, especially without the use of any sort of fasteners. In short, this design is an ideal candidate for Printed It. But there’s still one question to answer: does it actually work?

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3D Printing A Macro Pad, Switches And All

Building a macro pad inside of a 3D printed enclosure is hardly news these days. Neither is adding 3D printed keycaps to the mix. But if you go as far as [James Stanley] has, and actually print the switches themselves, we’ve got to admit that’s another story entirely.

Now you might be wondering how [James] managed to print a mechanical keyboard switch that’s the size of your garden variety Cherry. Well, the simple answer is that he didn’t. While his printed switches have the same footprint as traditional switches, they are twice as tall.

The switches could probably made much smaller if it wasn’t for the printed spring, but using a “real” one would defeat the purpose. Though we do wonder if the mechanical design could be simplified by making it an optical switch.

But can printed switches really stand up to daily use? [James] wondered the same thing, so he built a testing rig that would hit the switches and count how many iterations before they stopped working. This testing seems to indicate that the keys will either fail quickly due to some mechanical defect, or last for hundreds of thousands of presses. So assuming you weed out the duds early, you should be in pretty good shape.

Naturally, there are a few bits of copper inside each printed switch to act as the actual contacts. But beyond that, all you need to build one of these printable pads yourself is a USB-HID capable microcontroller like the Arduino Pro Micro. If you used the ESP32, you could even make it Bluetooth.

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Arduino Wire Bender Probably Won’t Kill All Humans

Do you want to make your own springs? Yeah, that’s what we thought. Well, blow the dust off of that spare Arduino and keep reading. A few months ago, we let you know that renowned circuit sculptor [Jiří Praus] was working on a precision wire-bending machine to help him hone his craft. Now it’s real, it’s spectacular, and it’s completely open source.

Along with that ‘duino you’ll need a CNC shield and a couple of NEMA 17 steppers — one to feed the wire and one to help bend it. Before being bent or coiled into springs, the wire must be super straight, so the wire coming off the spool holder runs through two sets of rollers before being fed into the bender.

[Jiří]’s main goal for this build was precision, which we can totally get behind. If you’re going to build a machine to do something for you, ideally, it should also do a better job than you alone. It’s his secondary goal that makes this build so extraordinary. [Jiří] wanted it to be easy to build with commonly-available hardware and a 3D printer. Every part is designed to be printed without supports. Bounce past the break to watch the build video.

You can also make your own springs on a lathe, or print them with hacked g-code.

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