Steampunk Geiger Counter Is A Mix Of Art And Science

It took nearly a year for [Chris Crocker-White] to assemble this glorious mahogany and brass Geiger counter, but we think you’ll agree with us that it was time well spent. From the servo-actuated counter to the Nixie tubes and LED faux-decatrons, this project is an absolute love letter to antiquated methods of displaying information. Although for good measure, the internal Raspberry Pi also pushes all the collected radiation data into the cloud.

[Chris] says the design of this radiation monitor was influenced by his interest in steampunk and personal experience working on actual steam engines, but more specifically, he also drew inspiration from a counter built by [Richard Mudhar].

Based on a design published in Maplin back in 1987, [Richard] included a physical counter and LED “dekatron” displays as an homage to a 1960s era counter he’d used back in his school days. [Chris] put a modern spin on the electronics and added the glowing display of real-time Counts Per Minute (CPM) as an extra bonus; because who doesn’t like some Nixies in their steampunk?

Internally, the pulses generated by a common Geiger counter board are picked up by some custom electronics to drive the servo and LEDs. Triggered by those same pulses, the Raspberry Pi 3A+ updates the Nixie display and pushes the data out to the cloud for analysis and graphing. Note that the J305β Geiger tube from the detector has been relocated to the outside of the machine, with two copper elbows used as connectors. This improves the sensitivity of the instrument, but perhaps even more importantly, looks awesome.

We’ve seen some very high-tech DIY radiation detection gear over the years, but these clever machines that add a bit of whimsy to the otherwise mildly terrifying process of ionizing radiation are always our favorite.

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Steampunk Brushless Motor Demo Pushes All The Maker Buttons

We’ll be honest right up front: there’s nothing new in [David Cambridge]’s brushless motor and controller build. If you’re looking for earth-shattering innovation, you’d best look elsewhere. But if you enjoy an aimless use of just about every technique and material in the hacker’s toolkit employed with extreme craftsmanship, then this might be for you. And Nixies — he’s got Nixies in there too.

[David]’s build started out as a personal exploration of brushless motors and how they work. Some 3D-printed parts, a single coil of wire, and a magnetic reed switch resulted in a simple pulse motor that performed surprisingly well. This morphed into a six-coil motor with Hall-effect sensors and a homebrew controller. This is where [David] pulled out all the stops on tools — a lathe, a plasma cutter, a welder, a milling machine, and a nice selection of woodworking tools went into making parts for the final motor as well as an enclosure for the project. And because he hadn’t checked off quite all the boxes yet, [David] decided to use the 3D-printed frame as a pattern for casting one from aluminum.

The finished motor, with a redesigned rotor to deal better with eddy currents, joined the wood and metal enclosure along with a Nixie tube tachometer and etched brass control plates. It’s a great look for a project that’s clearly a labor of self-edification and skill-building, and we love it. We’ve seen other BLDC demonstrators before, but few that look as good as this one does.

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Powering Neon With A Joule Thief

Joule thief are small, fun circuits which exploit a few characteristics of electronics and LEDs in order to “steal” virtually all of the energy stored in a battery. They can operate at incredibly small voltages and are fairly simple to make. With a few modifications to this basic circuit it’s possible to drive other things than an LED, though, like this joule thief that lights up a neon bulb.

The circuit from [suedbunker] aka [fuselage] is based on a pin from the Chaos Communication Camp which had a standard LED. To get a neon light to illuminate a few modifications to the standard joule thief are needed.

First, the windings have to be changed from 10:10 to 10:80 to increase the voltage across the bulb. Second, a transistor with slightly different characteristics was used than the original design. The capacitor was also replaced with a larger one.

While it might seem simple, the physics of how a joule thief works are anything but, and modifying the delicate circuit to work with something other than an LED is commendable. It also has a steampunk vibe which is a cool look even in projects that don’t involve steam at all.

Steampunk Motorcycle Runs On Compressed Air, Is Pure Hacking Art

Sometimes it’s ok to sacrifice some practicality for aesthetics, especially for passion projects. Falling solidly in this category is [Peter Forsberg]’s beautiful, barely functional steam punk motorcycle. If this isn’t hacker art, then we don’t know what is.

The most eye-catching part of the motorcycle is the engine and drive train, with most of the mechanical components visible. The cylinders are clear glass tubes with custom pistons, seals, valves and push rods. The crank mechanism is from an old Harley and is mounted inside a piece of stainless steel pipe. Because it runs on compressed air it cools down instead of heating up, so an oil system is not needed.

For steering, the entire front of the bike swings side to side on hinges in the middle of the frame, which is quite tricky to ride with a top speed that’s just above walking speed. It can run for about 3-5 minutes on a tank, so the [Peter] mounted a big three-minute hour glass in the frame. The engine is fed from an external air tank, which he wears on his back; he admits it’s borderline torture to carry the thing for any length of time. He plans to build a side-car to house a much larger tank to extend range and improve riding comfort.

[Peter] admits that it isn’t very good as a motorcycle, but the amount of creativity and resourcefulness required to make it functional at all is the mark of a true mechanical hacker. We look forward to seeing it in its final form.

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Steampunk Radio Looks The Business

Radios are, by and large, not powered by steam. One could make the argument that much of our municipal electricity supply does come via steam turbines, but that might be drawing a long bow. Regardless, steampunk remains a popular and attractive aesthetic, and it’s the one that [Christine] selected for her radio build.

The build cribs from [Christine’s] earlier work on a VFD alarm clock, using similar tubes and driver chips to run the display. FM radio and amplification are courtesy of convenient modules. Tubes are fitted for aesthetic purposes, artfully lit with a smattering of color-changing LEDs. Perhaps the neatest touch is the use of valve handles to control tuning and volume. A stepper motor turns a series of gears, as is mandatory for any true steampunk build, and there’s even an electromagnetic actuator to make the Morse key move. To run it all, a pair of Arduino Megas are charged with handling the I/O needs of all the various systems.

It’s a fancy build that shows how far the rabbit hole you can go when chasing a particular look and feel. It’s a radio that would make a great conversation piece on any hacker’s coffee table.  If that’s not enough, consider going for a whole laptop. Video after the break. Continue reading “Steampunk Radio Looks The Business”

Homebrew Laptop Makes A Statement With A Steampunk Theme

Some may argue, but your choice of computing hardware says exactly zero about you, at least when you buy off the shelf. Your laptop or PC is only one of millions, and the chances of seeing someone with the exact same machine are pretty good. If you want to be different, you really need to build something yourself.

This homebrew steampunk laptop does a great job at standing out from the crowd. [Starhawk]’s build is an homage to the Steampunk genre, in a wooden case with brass bits and bobs adorning. The guts are based on an Intel motherboard, a bit dated but serviceable enough for the job. There’s a touch-capable LCD in the lid, and we absolutely love the look of the keyboard with its retro-style chrome and phenolic keycaps. Exposed USB cables run to and fro, and the braided jackets contribute to the old-timey look. The copier roller as a lid hinge is a nice touch too.

[Starhawk]’s build log is long and detailed, and covers the entire build. We’ve seen interesting builds from him before, like this junk-bin PC build for a friend in need. Looks like this one is for personal use, though, and we can’t blame him.

Hand-Forged Cases Make Nixie Clocks Into Works Of Art

Both “Nixie” and “Steampunk” are getting a bit overused. It’s hard to count the number of clock projects we’ve seen recently that combine the two, and normally we’d be loath to feature yet another variation on that theme without a good reason. This is a good reason.

The single-digit Nixie clocks that [Claes Vahlberg] built are, simply put, works of art. There’s a small version of the clock, featuring a single IN-16 Nixie, and a larger version that uses a Dalibor Farny custom Nixie, a work of art in its own right. Each clock has features like time and date, temperature and barometric pressure, and even days remaining in the current lunar cycle. The cases for the clocks, though, are the real treat. Hand forged from steel, they remind us of steam whistles on top of a boiler.

[Claes] doesn’t have many details on the build process — we’ve been in contact and he says he’s working on documentation — but it doesn’t matter. As if all that weren’t enough, the clocks are controlled by a remote, which has its own IN-16 tube and is motion controlled. The last bit is a nice touch since there are no buttons to distract from the smooth lines of the hammered metal case.

We gush, but we think this one really shines. That’s not to take anything away from previous Nixie-steampunk mashups, like this single-digit clock or this solar power meter. But these clocks are a step beyond.

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