Printed It: Toolbag Essentials

While complex devices assembled from 3D printed components are certainly impressive, it’s the simple prints that have always held the most appeal to me personally. Being able to pick an object up off the bed of your printer and immediately put it to use with little to no additional work is about as close as we can get to Star Trek style replicators. It’s a great demonstration to show off the utility of your 3D printer, but more importantly, having immediate access to some of these tools and gadgets might get you out of a jam one day.

With that in mind, I thought we’d do things a little differently for this installment of Printed It. Rather than focusing on a single 3D model, we’ll be taking a look at a handful of prints which you can put to practical work immediately. I started by selecting models based on the idea that they should be useful to the average electronic hobbyist in some way or another, and relatively quick to print. Each one was then printed and evaluated to determine its real-world utility. Not all made the grade.

Each model presented here is well designed, easy to print, and most critically, legitimately useful. I can confidently say that each one has entered into my standard “bag of tricks” in some capacity, and I’m willing to bet a few will find their way into yours as well.

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Simple Mechanism Gives Support for SMT Assembly

With the fine work needed for surface-mount technology, most of the job entails overcoming the limits of the human body. Eyes more than a couple of decades old need help to see what’s going on, and fingers that are fine for manipulating relatively large objects need mechanical assistance to grasp tiny SMT components. But where it can really fall apart is when you get the shakes, those involuntary tiny muscle movements that we rarely notice in the real world, but wreak havoc as we try to place components on a PCB.

To fight the shakes, you can do one of two things: remove the human, or improve the human. Unable to justify a pick and place robot for the former, [Tom] opted to build a quick hand support for surface-mount work, and the results are impressive considering it’s built entirely of scrap. It’s just a three-piece arm with standard butt hinges for joints; mounted so the hinge pins are perpendicular to the work surface and fitted with a horizontal hand rest, it constrains movement to a plane above the PCB. A hole in the hand rest for a small vacuum tip allows [Tom] to pick up a part and place it on the board — he reports that the tackiness of the solder paste is enough to remove the SMD from the tip. The video below shows it in action with decent results, but we wonder if an acrylic hand rest might provide better visibility.

Not ready for your own pick and place? That’s understandable; not every shop needs that scale of production. But we think this is a great idea for making SMT approachable to a wider audience.

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Tweezing Diodes

Surface mount diodes are simple enough — all you need to do is make sure you have the anode and cathode in the right order when you place them on the pad when you solder them. These SMD diodes come in industry-standard packages, but do you think there’s an industry-standard way of marking the cathode? Nope, not by a long shot. To solve the problem of figuring out which way the electrons go through his LEDs, [Jesus] built a simple pair of LED tweezers.

The purpose of these tweezers is to figure out which way is up on a LED. To do this, [Jesus] picked up a pair of multimeter and power supply compatible SMD test clips that are sufficiently tweezy. These tweezers come with red and black wires coming out the back, but cutting those leads off, peeling back the insulation and adding a CR2032 battery holder and 220Ω resistor turns these tweezers from a probe into an electrified poker.

To figure out what the arcane symbols on the bottom of an SMD diode mean, all [Jesus] has to do is touch each side of the pair of tweezers to one of the contacts on a LED. If it lights up, it’s that way around. If it doesn’t light up, the battery is dead, or the diode is backwards. It’s a great project, especially since these SMD test clip tweezer things can be had from the usual online retailers for just a few bucks. We would recommend a switch and marking which tweeze is ground, though.

Ask Hackaday: Helping Hands

[ProtoG] sent us in this video (also below) where he demonstrates the use of machinist’s dial-gauge indicator arms as helping hands. I’ll admit that I got so jealous that I ordered a pair. I wouldn’t say that I need more tools to hold things in place, but I certainly want them. The rapid coarse placement combined with fine adjustment looks so sweet. Using them as scope-probe holders is brilliant.

Our own helping hands, purchased for $5 from a surplus shop, have seen nearly twenty years of use now. About ten years ago, I heat-shrinked and plasti-dipped the jaws, and since then they do less damage to cable insulation. The clips kept coming loose, but that was fixed with a little epoxy. I never used the magnifying glass, and by removing it I bought some more sliding room for the jaws, which was an easy win. The base has a “non-slip” coating of Shoe-Goo that keeps it in place on the desk. Cork might be classier.

For bigger holding, there’s always the desk vise, though I’ll admit that I mostly use it for holding PCBs while soldering, and that a better solution for that particular task wouldn’t hurt. [Mike Szczys] tells me that the Stickvise seen here is a handy thing to have on the bench. It started on and we still carry it in the store.

For grabbing the fiddly little things, nothing beats a pair of hemostats and a range of tweezers. Hemostats in the desk vise make a great ad hoc holder. Good sharp tweezers pay for themselves with the first removed splinter, or placing SMT parts.

So, Hackaday, what do you use for holding things? What do you hold your PCBs with while soldering? What do you use to hold down SMD parts? What’s your third hand, or twenty-third? Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: Helping Hands”

[Dave’s] Not Just a Member of the Air Club for Tweezers

We are always surprised how much useful hacking gear is in the typical craft store. You just have to think outside the box. Need a hot air gun? Think embossing tool. A soldering iron? Check the stained glass section. Magnification gear? Sewing department.

We’ve figured out that people who deal with beads use lots of fine tools and have great storage boxes. But [Dave] found out they also use vacuum pickup tweezers. He had been shopping for a set and found that one with all the features he wanted (foot pedal, adjustable air flow, and standard tips) would run about $1000.

By picking up a pump used for bead makers and adding some components, he put together a good-looking system for about $200. You can see a video of the device, below, and there are several other videos detailing the construction.

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Magical Blinky Capacitive Sensing Tweezers

Electronic tweezers – the kind that can test the voltage between two contacts, the resistance of an SMD resistor, or the capacitance of a circuit – are very cool and very useful if somewhat expensive. We’ve seen commercial versions of these smart tweezers, hacks to make them more useful, and homebrew versions that still work very well. All of these versions are pretty large, as far as tweezers go. [kodera2t]’s version of electronic tweezers submitted for this year’s Hackaday Prize goes in the other direction: it’s the smallest set of electronic tweezers that’s still useful.

[kodera]’s electronic sensing tweezers only measure capacitors, and for good reason: chip caps usually don’t have values printed on them. These tweezers don’t print out the value of a cap on a display, either. Instead, these tweezers just flash an LED if the value of the cap is above 0.1uF. It’s simple, but surprisingly useful for most soldering jobs.

The circuit for this pair of magical tweezers is about as simple as if can get, with all the smarts contained in a very small ATtiny10. The PCB [kodera] designed is smaller than the coin cell battery, and with the help of some copper tape and possibly an insulator, this device can be mounted to any pair of tweezers. It’s a simple tool, yes, but that’s the beauty of it, and makes for a great entry into the Hackaday Prize

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Hackaday Links: Sunday, June 30th, 2013


The race is on to squeeze cycles out of an 8MHz AVR chip in order to better drive the WS2811 LED protocol.

[Asher] doesn’t want to buy charcoal aquarium filters if he can just build them himself. He filled a couple of plastic drink bottles with charcoal, cut slots in the sides, and hooked them up to his pump system. A gallery of his work is available after the break.

Is the best way to make microscopic sized batteries to 3d print them? Harvard researchers think so. [Thanks Jonathan and Itay]

The Ouya gaming console is now available for the general public. [Hunter Davis] reports that the Retrode works with Ouya out-of-the-box. If you don’t remember hearing about it, Retrode reads your original cartridge ROMs for use with emulators.

Making a cluster computer out of 300 Raspberry Pi boards sounds like a nightmare. Organization is the key to this project.

Hackaday alum [Jeremy Cook] is working on an animatronic cigar box. Here he’s demonstrating it’s ability to listen for voice commands.

A Kelvin clips is a type of crocodile clip that has the two jaws insulated from each other. [Kaushlesh] came up with a way to turn them into tweezer probes.

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