Let Your Finger Do The Soldering With Solder Sustainer V2

Soldering is easy, as long as you have one hand to hold the iron, one to hold the solder, and another to hold the workpiece. For those of us not so equipped, there’s the new and improved Solder Sustainer v2, which aims to free up one of however many hands you happen to have.

Eagle-eyed readers will probably recall an earlier version of Solder Sustainer, which made an appearance in last year’s Hackaday Prize in the “Gearing Up” round. At the time we wrote that it looked a bit like “the love child of a MIG welder and a tattoo machine.” This time around, [RoboticWorx] has rethought that concept and mounted the solder feeder on the back of a fingerless glove. The solder guide is a tube that clips to the user’s forefinger, which makes much finer control of where the solder meets the iron possible than with the previous version. The soldering iron itself is also no longer built into the tool, giving better control of the tip and letting you use your favorite iron, which itself is no small benefit.

Hats off to [RoboticWorx] for going back to the drawing board on this one. It isn’t easy to throw out most of your design and start over, but sometimes it just makes sense.

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Spying On The ESP32’s GPIO

The ESP32 has been a go-to microcontroller platform for a while now, thanks to its versatile capabilities, integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and low power consumption. It’s ideal for a wide range of projects especially those revolving around IoT, partially because of all of the libraries and tools available for it now. The latest tool from [The Last Outpost Workshop] adds a feature we didn’t know we wanted until now: a webserver showing real-time updates of what all of the GPIO pins are doing.

The live GPIO pin monitoring library sets up the ESP32 to stream information about what all of the pins are doing in real time to a webserver, which displays the information as a helpful graphic. The demonstration in the video below shows and example troubleshooting a situation where the code is correct but there’s a mistake in the wiring, helping to quickly identify the problem and hopefully eliminating a wild goose chase for a bug in the software. The library can be quickly installed using the Arduino IDE and only requires the use of one other library and a few lines of code to get everything up and running.

As far as a debugging tool goes, something like this could save a lot of us a significant amount of time, especially with how easy it is to set up. A real-time look into the pins and their behavior, including those set up for PWM, is invaluable for plenty of situations. Of course if you’re building something like a real-time operating system that needs responses within a very specific interval you may want to look at more in-depth strategies for probing the GPIO.

Thanks to [Bob] for the tip!

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Plasma Cutting And 3D Printing Team Up To Make Bending Thick Sheet Steel Easier

Metalworking has always been very much a “mixed method” art. Forging, welding, milling, grinding; anything to remove metal or push it around from one place to another is fair game when you’ve got to make something fast. Adding in fancy new tools like CNC plasma cutting and computer-aided drafting doesn’t change that much, although new methods often do call for a little improvisation.

Getting several methodologies to work and play well together is what [tonygoacher] learned all about while trying to fabricate some brackets for an electric trike for next year’s EMF Camp. The parts would have been perfect for fabrication in a press brake except for the 4 mm thickness of the plate steel, which was a little much for his smallish brake. To make the bending a little easier, [tony] made a partial-thickness groove across the plasma-cut blank, by using a reduced power setting on the cutter. This worked perfectly to guide the brake’s tooling, but [tony] ran into trouble with more complicated bends that would require grooves on both sides of the steel plate.

His solution was to 3D print a couple of sacrificial guide blocks to fit the bed of the press brake. Each guide had a ridge to match up with a guide groove, this allowed him to cut his partial grooves for both bends on the same side of the plate but still align it in the press brake. Yes, the blocks were destroyed in the process, but they only took a few minutes to print, so no big deal. And it’s true that the steel tore a little bit when the groove ended up on the outside radius of the bend, but that’s nothing a bead of weld can’t fix. Good enough for EMF is good enough, after all.

The brief video below shows the whole process, including [tony]’s interesting SCARA-like CNC plasma cutter, which we’re a little in love with now. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen 3D prints used as tools in metalworking, of course, but we picked up some great tips from this one. Continue reading “Plasma Cutting And 3D Printing Team Up To Make Bending Thick Sheet Steel Easier”

Micromanipulator Touches The Tiny Things, Cheaply

Some things are small and fragile enough that they cannot be held or touched by even the steadiest of hands. Such cases call for a micromanipulator, and [BYU CMR]’s DIY micromanipulator design can be 3D printed and assembled with the help of some common hardware, and a little CA glue.

You may recall an ultra-tiny Nerf-like blaster recently; clearly such a tiny mechanical device cannot be handled directly, yet needed to be loaded and have its trigger pressed. A micromanipulator is exactly the tool for such a job. This design is in fact the very same one used to move and manipulate that tiny blaster at a microscopic level.

The design doesn’t include any end effectors — those depend on one’s application — but there is a mount point for them and the manipulator can effectively move it in X, Y, and Z axes by turning three different knobs. In addition, because the structural parts can be 3D printed and the hardware is just some common nuts and screws, it’s remarkably economical which is always a welcome thing for a workshop.

Programming A Poker Game With GPT Help

Although ChatGPT generated a huge amount of hype around replacing white collar workers completely when it was first released to the public, the general consensus now is that it won’t outright replace anyone yet, but rather people who know how to use it as a tool will replace those who don’t. Getting started with it is not too hard, either, but you’ll of course need a project to work on to familiarize yourself with the tool. [Volos Projects] gave himself the challenge of writing a poker game using ChatGPT not as the opposing player, but as a co-designer in order to learn more about it as an assistant.

The poker game is being built on an ESP32 board with a built-in AMOLED screen. Five buttons are wired to the microcontroller to allow the player to select which cards to discard and which to keep. The bet for each hand can be raised or lowered much like the tabletop poker games often seen in bars and restaurants. To program it, though, ChatGPT was used to help design the code at each step of the way, first describing the overall goal and then building each function one-by-one like shuffling the deck, dealing the hand, and then replacing and dealing new cards.

For anyone who hasn’t yet explored using ChatGPT to help design their programming projects, this effort goes a long way to showing just how useful a tool it can be. For more complex tasks, though, it does take a little bit of knowledge on the part of the user because ChatGPT can often turn out nonsense or factually inaccurate information, but at least in a programming environment you’ll generally find out quickly when that happens. It’s not just a useful tool for writing programs, either. It can accomplish a lot of ancillary tasks related to programming as well, even if it’s not writing the code directly.

Thanks to [Peter] for the tip!

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Checking Belt Tension Gets Easier For (Some) Prusa 3D Printers

Belts on a 3D printer should be tight enough, but not too tight. That can be an iffy thing to get right for someone who lacks familiarity with CNC platforms. Prusa Research aims to make it a bit easier with a web app that can measure tension via your mobile phone’s microphone and diagnose belt tightness, at least for their MK4 and XL printers.

Using different tools to analyze belt tightness (including belt acoustics) have been tried in the past with mixed results, but this is a pretty focused approach that aims to give exact guidance for specific printer models. It’s pretty useful to provide someone with a reliable go/no-go number, after all.

What happens to a printer if a belt’s tension is not right? Well, there’s actually a pretty forgiving range within which the printer will mostly work fine, but not as well as it could be. Loose belts can have novices chasing other problems, and overly-tightened belts definitely put extra strain on parts. It’s one of those things that’s worth a little extra work to get right.

3D printable tension meter is a different option for Prusa MK3 and Mini printers, if one has some Prusament PETG to print it in.

Everything about belt tension for Prusa printers is covered in their documentation, but did you know there’s also neat 3D printable tension meter for Prusa MK3 and Mini printers? It’s meant to be printed in Prusament PETG (printing in other materials may have different results) but it’s a pretty neat idea for a tool.

If you have a Prusa MK4 or XL and want to try their new method, go here and allow access to your device’s microphone. Then select a printer model and an axis to test. Gently strum the upper part of the belt (avoid touching the bottom belt in the process) and watch live results telling you whether the belt is too tight, too loose, or just right. Prusa have a video demonstrating the process, also embedded below.

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Open-Source Firmware For Soldering Irons

For most of us, the first soldering iron we pick up to start working on electronics has essentially no features at all. Being little more than resistive heaters plugged straight into the wall with perhaps a changeable tip, there’s not really even a need for a power switch. But doing anything more specialized than through-hole PCB construction often requires a soldering iron with a little more finesse, though. Plenty of “smart” soldering irons are available for specialized soldering needs now, and some are supported by the open-source IronOS as well.

The project, formerly known as TS100, is a versatile soldering iron control firmware that started as an alternative firmware for only the TS100 soldering iron. It has since expanded to have compatibility with several other soldering irons and hosts a rich set of features, including temperature control, motion activation, and the ability to temporarily increase the temperature when using the iron. The firmware is also capable of working with irons that use batteries as well as irons that use USB power delivery.

For anyone with a modern smart soldering iron, like the Pinecil or various Miniware iron offerings, this firmware is a great way of being able to gain fine control over the behavior of one’s own soldering iron, potentially above and beyond what the OEM firmware can do. If you’re still using nothing more than a 30W soldering iron that just has a wall plug, take a look at a review we did for the TS100 iron a few years ago to see what you’re missing out on.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons