Chris Gammell Talks Circuit Toolboxes

Chris Gammell wants to know: What’s in your circuit toolbox?

Personally, mine is somewhat understocked. I do know that in one of my journals, probably from back in the 1980s, I scribbled down a schematic of a voltage multiplier I had just built, with the classic diode and capacitor ladder topology. I probably fed it from a small bell transformer, and I might have gotten a hundred volts or so out of it. I was so proud at the time that I wrote it down for posterity with the note, “I made this today!”

I think the whole point of Chris’ 2018 Hackaday Superconference talk is precisely what I was trying to get at when I made my “discovery” — we all have circuits that just work for us, and the more you have, the better. Most readers will recognize Chris from such venues as The Amp Hour, a weekly podcast he hosts with Dave Jones, and his KiCad tutorial videos. Chris has been in electrical engineering for nearly twenty years now, and he’s picked up a collection of go-to circuits that keep showing up in his designs and making life easier, which he graciously shared with the crowd.

As Chris points out, it’s the little circuits that can make the difference. Slide after slide of his talk had schematics with no more than a handful of components in them, covering applications from dead-simple LED power indicators and switch debouncing to IO expansion using a 74HC595. And as any sensible engineer might, Chris’ toolbox includes a good selection of power protection circuits, everything from polarity reversal protection with a MOSFET and a zener to a neat little high-side driver shutoff using a differential amp and an optoisolator.

My favorite part of the talk was the “Codeless” section — things you can do with discrete components that make microcontroller circuits better. We see the “You could have used a 555!” comments from readers all the time, and Chris agrees, at least to a point. He aptly notes that microcontrollers can wake up with their IO pins in unknown states, and offered several circuits to keep the potential for mischief at bay, such as Schmitt trigger power-on reset or the simple addition of a pull-down resistor to default a MOSFET to a safe state. There’s a lot that code can accomplish, but adding just a few parts can make a circuit much safer and useful.

Chris acknowledges that in any audience, everyone is always at different places with regard to their hardware learning curve, so what’s old hat to someone might be a fresh revelation to another. Still, everything is new to someone at some point, and that’s often the best time to write it down. That’s what I did all those years ago with that voltage multiplier, and it never left me as a result. It’s good advice, and if you haven’t started building your own circuit toolbox, now’s the time.

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Laser-Cut Modular Toolbox

[ystoelen] created this modular wooden toolbox out of laser-cut 5mm plywood secured with leather hinges bolted into place. The leather strips secure the various tool boards with grommets connecting to plastic plugs. The toolboards use cross-shaped holes with laser-cut plugs and strips of elastic securing the tools, allowing each board to be uniquely configured depending on what tool is being stored there. There is a larger, “main” board, onto which smaller boards can be placed depending on what tools you’ll need.

While this is a clever approach to tool transport, we have some concerns about this project. Usually the problem with a box full of tools is that you’ve overloaded it and can’t readily lift it up. Often this involves a steel toolbox that won’t break, no matter what happens. But a plywood construct isn’t nearly that strong, and if overloaded or dropped it’s gonna take some damage.

For more toolbox inspirations, read our posts on a machine shop in a toolbox as well as this Transformers-themed portable workbench.

 

The Ultimate Traveler’s Toolkit

Looking for a better way to store your tools during transportation? While we certainly wouldn’t recommend trying to check this thing as a carry-on (oh and prepare for it to be searched even in checked luggage), this clever use of a road case is probably one of the best tool boxes we’ve ever seen.

This is [Robb Godshaw’s] tool box. It’s been developed over the past five years as he’s become a skilled maker. You might remember him best from his ironic project “Why are we limited to C-Clamps?” — a clamp offering of the entire alphabet.

He also picked up the road case close to home for Hackaday — at Apex Electronics Surplus in LA — one of our favorite places to find parts. But the most clever part of the project is the way he’s divided the case for different tools.

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Hacklet 92 – Workbenches And Toolboxes

Everyone needs a place to work. While some of us have well equipped labs with soldering stations, oscilloscopes, and a myriad of other tools, others perform their hacks on the kitchen table. Still, some hackers have to be on the go – taking their tools and work space along with them on the road. This week’s Hacklet is all about the best toolbox and workbench projects on Hackaday.io!

worktableWe start at the top – in this case, a bench top. [KickSucker] created Mondrian Inspired Work Table as a multi-use tabletop for all kinds of projects. Rather than slap down a piece of plywood, [KickSucker] took a more artistic route. Piet Mondrian was a dutch artist known for painting irregular grids of black and white lines. He’d fill a few of the rectangles up with primary colors, but leave most of them white. Between different off-cuts of wood, and colorful bits of skateboard deck [KickSucker] had the makings of an awesome work surface. The frame of the bench is an IKEA expedite shelf unit. The frame is made from MDF, with the offcuts laid on top of it. The fun part was arranging all the pieces to make lines and colors. The result is a great custom work table, and a heck of a lot less wood scraps lying around the shop. That’s a double win in our book!

toolboxNext up is [M.Hehr] with Portable Workbench & mini Lab. [M.Hehr] has wanted a portable electronic workstation for years. We’re betting he’s seen a few of them here on the blog. While cleaning up the lab before Christmas, [M.Hehr] found a couple of wooden IKEA boxes. Each box held some drawers. An idea formed in [M.Hehr’s] head. It was time to put the plan in motion! The boxes were attached and hinged. Custom brackets were cut on a Shapeoko 2 router. Everything – even the screws were recycled. [M.Hehr] created a perfect space for each tool, ensuring that things won’t end up in a tangled mess when the box is carried around. We really love the retractable power point and custom-made power supply!

roadcaseNext we’ve got [Tim Trzepacz] with Musician’s Road Box with 9 space rack. [Tim’s] sister [Tina] was playing a lot of music on the road, and needed a way to organize her gear. There are plenty of commercial solutions for this, but [Tim] decided to roll the perfect solution. He designed a plywood box with a 9U rack. [Tina’s] mixer and backing sound sources were located on the top, while effects and other modules were located in the rack. [Tim] spent a good amount of time designing the box. He was able to get the cut list down to a single piece of plywood, with room to spare. This is perfect for a 4′ x 8′ router like the ShopBot. When it comes time to hit the road, the case seals up to a rugged package. Standard roadcase corners and twist-latches finish this awesome piece.

boxtopFinally we have [Géllo] with protoBox. [Géllo] is into induction heating, which requires a Zero Voltage Switching (ZVS) flyback driver. ProtoBox started life as a place for [Géllo] to store his ZVS. It has evolved to become a small portable electronics lab. [Géllo] powers the box with a set of lithium-ion batteries sourced from old laptops. This particular ZVS design is plenty powerful enough to heat metal red hot, or create some nice arcs. [Géllo] added an Arduino Mega, a Bluetooth radio, and a 2×16 character LCD. The system is controlled with relays. A bluetooth enabled smartphone can be used to enable or disable any feature. [Géllo’s] assembly techniques are a bit scary, especially considering the fact that this is a high power design. However, this is a great proof of concept!

If you want to see more workbench and toolbox projects, check out our new workbench and toolbox list! If I missed your project, don’t be shy! Just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Adam Savage’s First Order Of Retrievability Tool Boxes

Let’s face it, we’re all a bit obsessed with tools. Whether it’s an oscilloscope or a screwdriver, having just the right tool can be the difference between loving what you are doing, or dreading it. But oddly enough, not much is talked about tool organization. We tend to think that how you organize your tools is just as import as the tools themselves.

[Adam Savage] of Mythbusters fame might just be the king of tool organization. In this thread on the Replica Props Forum, [Adam] shares the design and construction of two sets of mobile tool boxes he built while working at Industrial Light and Magic. The idea is simple: First Order Retrievability. That is, you should never have to move one tool to get to another. That in turn affords the fastest, most efficient way of working.

The evolution of this idea started with medical bags (the kind doctors would use, back in the day when doctors still made house calls), but as [Adam’s] tool collection grew, the leather was no match for 50 pounds of tools. So, he stepped up to two aluminum tool boxes. Adding wheels and a scissor lift allowed for a moveable set, at just the right height, that are always in reach. Perfect for model making, where being able to move to different parts of a model, and taking your tools with you is key. If you’re looking for a list of what’s inside [Adam]’s box of wonder, here you go.

What are some of your favorite ways of organizing your tools? What tips or tricks do you have? Post a picture or description in the comments.  I’m sure we all could learn a bit from one another.

Soundwave Tunes Up Your Portable Workbench

[Tez_Gelmir] built an awesome portable workbench. Not satisfied with just mundane designs, he patterned his box after Soundwave from the classic Transformers: Generation 1 series. This portable bench keeps his tools organized and ready to roll out.

[Tez] has all the basic tool groups covered – screwdrivers small and large, pliers, crimpers, soldering iron, fume extractor, vice, and wire spool. He’s also got room for parts boxes to hold his components.

soundwaveThe basic box is built from a single sheet of 7mm plywood. The front work area is a smaller piece of 12mm plywood. Working with 7mm plywood did prove to be a challenge – [Tez] had to use some very small screws for his hinges.  The basic box construction was easy though – [Tez] used a pneumatic nailer and PVA (wood) glue.

[Tez] used a number of 3D printed parts in his design. He kept the Transformer theme going with a Decepticon logo built into his screwdriver holder. The fume extractor and lamp were also especially clever – [Tez] mounted them to drawer sliders, so they are there when he needs them, and out of the way when he doesn’t.

[Tez] spent quite a bit of time setting up his power system, and it shows. The inside of the box is framed with four power points. The main cord has its own “mouse door”, and everything tucks neatly away when not in use.

The Soundwave paint job is what sets this box apart – [Tez] spent quite a bit of time getting everything just right. It looks like Ravage is ready to spring out at any moment.

We really love this setup – Our only suggestion would be to add some sheet metal to protect the corners of the box while in transit.

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Auto Roll-up Tool Storage

Auto Roll-up Tool Storage

[Anred’s] got the right idea. Everybody and their mother has a toolbox: rectangular, wooden, crowded. You’re not impressing anyone with that old thing. Instead, why not spice it up by rolling it up, with a tool case that spins to store in style?

This storage hack seems to draw its inspiration from field medic roll-up bags, where everything’s laid out for easy access with a quick toss. [Anred] started by taking inventory of all the items he wanted to use on a regular basis, organizing them across a sturdy fabric. Next, he marked all the mounting spots and affixed some elastic material with needle and thread to hold each tool in place. The tools then roll up around a center rod, like an upside-down pull curtain.

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