[Ben Krasnow]’s Take On DIY Air Bearings

We’ve got to admit that watching [Ben Krasnow]’s new video on air bearings is tough. We found our eyes constantly checking the spherical air bearing in the foreground, which for the first eight minutes of the video just kept going. It was strangely hypnotic, and made it hard to concentrate on all the other cool stuff [Ben] was up to.

If the topic of air bearings seems familiar, it might be because we recently reported on DIY air bearings made from used EDM electrodes. [Ben] saw that too, and dusted off his old air bearing project. Literally, as it turns out, because the graphite blocks whose porosity and softness make them the perfect material for air bearings also makes for a dusty workshop. We’d recommend breathing protection of some sort while machining graphite. In addition to simple puck bearings, [Ben] came up with more complicated designs, including the aforementioned spherical bearing. He used the steel ball itself as a precision tool to grind the graphite out, first by coating it with abrasive and then by cutting grooves in it to act like a file. A cylindrical bearing was also cut, this time with sandpaper glued directly to the ground steel rod that would seat in the bearing.

[Ben]’s other innovation is vacuum preloading, where he applies both vacuum and pressure to the bearing plenum. The vacuum provides the force needed to capture the moving element while the pressure bears the load. It’s a careful balancing act, but it works well enough to capture the large steel ball and keep it turning effortlessly.

We really liked [Ben]’s take on air bearings, especially his thoughts on creating fully enclosed cylindrical bearings. Those could be useful for low-friction linear drives, and we look forward to seeing more on those.

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[Ben Krasnow] Builds A Mass Spectrometer

One of the features that made Scientific American magazine great was a column called “The Amateur Scientist.” Every month, readers were treated to experiments that could be done at home, or some scientific apparatus that could be built on the cheap. Luckily, [Ben Krasnow]’s fans remember the series and urged him to tackle a build from it: a DIY mass spectrometer. (Video, embedded below the break.)

[Ben] just released the video below showing early experiments with a copper tube contraption that was five months in the making; it turns out that analytical particle physics isn’t as easy as it sounds. The idea behind mas spectrometry is to ionize a sample, accelerate the ions as they pass through a magnetic field, and measure the deflection of the particles as a function of their mass-to-charge ratio. But as [Ben] discovered, the details of turning a simple principle into a working instrument are extremely non-trivial.

His rig uses filaments extracted from carefully crushed incandescent lamps to ionize samples of potassium iodide chloride; applied to the filament and dried, the salt solution is ionized when the filament is heated. The stream of ions is accelerated by a high-voltage field and streamed through a narrow slit formed by two razor blades. A detector sits orthogonal to the emitter across a powerful magnetic field, with a high-gain trans-impedance amplifier connected. With old analog meters and big variacs, the whole thing has a great mad scientist vibe to it that reminds us a bit of his one-component interferometer setup.

[Ben]’s data from the potassium sample agreed with expected results, and the instrument is almost sensitive enough to discern the difference between two different isotopes of potassium. He promises upgrades to the mass spec in the future, including perhaps laser ionization of the samples. We’re looking forward to that.

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Syringes Become Rockets In This Flying Build

Syringes have all kinds of useful applications in the workshop, from injecting fluids to helping pick up tiny components. There’s always room for a bit of levity however, and [Tom Stanton] decided to have a play with some syringe rocket builds.

The basic idea involves blocking the end of a syringe, and then pull the plunger to create a vacuum in the tube. When released, the plunger will rush forward from the atmospheric pressure counteracting the vacuum, hitting the end of the tube and launching the syringe forward.

[Tom]’s initial attempts with small syringes were fun, but larger builds struggled with breakages, sealing issues, and excessive weight. Some more luck was had with a vacuum cannon build, which was able to launch a projectile to a decent height, albeit without a lot of stability. [Tom] wrapped things up by designing a small 3D printed launcher that fits 10mm syringes and lets you shoot them around the workshop with abandon.

It’s fun to see the concept explored in detail, with [Tom] doing a great job of explaining the basic physics behind the phenomenon. If you’re hungry for more, consider using syringes as basic hydraulic actuators for model builds. Video after the break.

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The World’s Smallest Vacuum In An Altoids Tin

There’s been a lot of Altoids tin hacks over the years, but a vacuum cleaner in a tin is something new. In [Toby Bateson]’s first project on Hackaday, he used simple household items to create a functioning vacuum cleaner to use for sucking crumbs out of your keyboard or paper punch holes off your desk.

The vacuum features a retractable suction tube, a low-profile switch, and a bagless waste collection system (the waste is stored and discarded out from the tin itself). A brushed motor and impeller provide the airflow. A scrap of a beer can mounted on the shaft is used for an impeller blade, and two bolts with a thin metal sheet between them are made into a switch (the instructions recommend you finish your drink before using the scrap metal). A sponge is used for filtering the dirt from the motor while a hole is cut out of the top of the tin to provide airflow.

[Bateson] is looking to put his name in the world record book for the world’s smallest vacuum tube, as he recently created an even smaller vacuum in a 1cc tube.

“Oh dear, I’ve spilled something on my desk, whatever am I going to do? Luckily, I have my vacuum cleaner in an Altoids tin…”

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Control The Suck With This Manual Vacuum Pick-And-Place Tool

The tapes that surface-mount devices come in may be optimized for automated pick and place, but woe betide those who try to dig components out manually. No matter what size package, the well on the tape seems to be just a wee bit too small to allow tweezers to grip it, so you end up picking the thing up edgewise or worse, pinching too tight and launching the tiny thing into The Void. We hope you ordered extra.

Such circumstances are why vacuum handlers were invented, but useful as they are for picking and placing SMDs, they aren’t perfect. [Steve Gardener]’s sub-optimal experience with such tools led him to build this custom vacuum pick-and-place tool. It’s based on an off-the-shelf Weller unit, of which only the handpiece remains. A bigger, more powerful vacuum pump is joined in a custom enclosure by a PCB with a PIC18F13K22 microcontroller, a power supply, a solenoid to control the vacuum, and a relay to switch the pump. A footswitch starts the pump and closes the vacuum vent; letting off the pedal opens the vent to drop the part, while the pump keeps running for a variable time. This lets him rapidly work through a series of parts without having to build vacuum back up between picks. The video below shows the build and the tool in action.

We love the idea of this tool, and the polished look is pretty slick too. If manual pick-and-place isn’t for you, though, maybe converting a 3D-printer into an automated PnP is something to check out.

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A Cyclonic Vacuum Cleaner On A Hacker’s Budget

Have you ever seen a product in the store and been shocked at what the manufacturer was trying to charge for it? Since you’re reading Hackaday, we can safely assume the answer to that question; building a homebrew version of some commercial product for a fraction of its retail price is practically a rite of passage around these parts. So it’s fitting that for his entry into the 2019 Hackaday Prize, [Madaeon] submitted the “DIYson”, an open source version of a popular high-end vacuum made by a British company who’s name you can surely guess.

As [Madaeon] explains on the project’s Hackaday.io page, the idea behind “cyclonic” vacuums is not particularly complex. Essentially, with a powerful enough blower and carefully designed chamber, the incoming air will spin around so fast that dust is pulled out by centrifugal force. The trick is getting it working on a small enough scale to be a handheld device. Especially given the energy requirements for the blower motor.

Luckily for the modern hacker, we’re living in the “Golden Age” of DIY. With a 3D printer you can produce plastic components with complex geometry, and thanks to a resurgence in remote controlled aircraft, powerful motors and high capacity lithium-ion batteries are easily obtainable. Powered by what’s essentially the hardware that would go into an electric ducted fan plane, the total cost of all the electronics for the DIYson comes in right around $60 USD. Even with a roll of printer filament added to the mix, you’re still comfortably at half the cost of the “name brand” alternative.

With some refinements, [Madaeon] hopes that this open source dust-buster will be a staple of labs and hackerspaces all over the world. Judging by the performance his early prototype shows in the video after the break, we know we wouldn’t mind having one.

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This Air Compressor Sucks

Vacuum is something most people learn about as children, when they’re first tasked with chores around the home. The humble vacuum cleaner is a useful home appliance and a great way to lose an eye as an inquisitive child. When it comes to common workshop tasks though, they can be a bit of a let down. When you need to pull some serious vacuum, you might wanna turn to something a little more serious – like this converted air compressor.

The build starts with a cheap off-the-shelf tyre inflator. These can be had for under $20 from the right places. They’re prone to overheating if used at too high a duty cycle, but with care they can last just long enough to be useful. The hack consists of fitting a hose barb connection over the intake of the pump, to allow air to be sucked out of whatever you’re trying to pull vacuum on. This is achieved with some hardware store parts and a healthy dose of JB-Weld. It’s then a simple matter of removing the valve adapter on the tyre inflator’s outlet so it can flow freely.

You might also consider adding a check valve, but overall this remains a cheap and easy way to get an electric vacuum pump for your workshop up and running. If that’s not quite your jam, you can always go down the handpump route instead.