Thin Coatings Require An Impressive Collection Of Equipment And Know-How

Let’s be honest — not too many of us have a need to deposit nanometer-thick films onto substrates in a controlled manner. But if you do find yourself in such a situation, you could do worse than following [Jeroen Vleggaar]’s lead as he builds out a physical vapor deposition apparatus to do just that.

Thankfully, [Jeroen] has particular expertise in this area, and is willing to share it. PVD is used to apply an exceedingly thin layer of metal or organic material to a substrate — think lens coatings or mirror silvering, as well as semiconductor manufacturing. The method involves heating the coating material in a vacuum such that it vaporizes and accumulates on a substrate in a controlled fashion. Sounds simple, but the equipment and know-how needed to actually accomplish it are daunting. [Jeroen]’s shopping list included high-current power supplies to heat the coating material, turbomolecular pumps to evacuate the coating chamber, and instruments to monitor the conditions inside the chamber. Most of the chamber itself was homemade, a gutsy move for a novice TIG welder. Highlights from the build are in the video below, which also shows the PVD setup coating a glass disc with a thin layer of silver.

This build is chock full of nice details; we especially liked the technique of monitoring deposition progress by measuring the frequency change of an oscillator connected to a crystal inside the chamber as it accumulates costing material. We’re not sure where [Jeroen] is going with this, but we suspect it has something to do with some hints he dropped while talking about his experiments with optical logic gates. We’re looking forward to seeing if that’s true.

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Reviving Old Recipe For Faraday Wax Keeps Vacuum Experiments Going

Science today seems to be dominated by big budgets and exotics supplies and materials, the likes of which the home gamer has trouble procuring. But back in the day, science was once done very much by the seats of the pants, using whatever was available for the job. And as it turns out, some of the materials the old-timers used are actually still pretty useful.

An example of this is a homemade version of “Faraday Wax”, which [ChristofferB] is using for his high vacuum experiments. As you can imagine, getting a tight seal on fittings is critical to maintaining a vacuum, a job that’s usually left to expensive synthetic epoxy compounds. Realizing that a lot of scientific progress was made well before these compounds were commercially available, [ChristofferB] trolled through old scientific literature to find out how it used to be done.

This led to a recipe for “Faraday Wax”, first described by the great scientist himself in 1827. The ingredients seem a little archaic, but are actually pretty easy to source. Beeswax is easy to come by; the primary ingredient, “colophony”, is really just rosin, pretty much the same kind used as solder flux; and “Venetian red” is a natural pigment made from clay and iron oxide that can be had from art suppliers. Melted and blended together, [ChristofferB] poured it out onto wax paper to make thin strips that are easily melted onto joints in vacuum systems, and reports are that the stuff works well, even down to 10-7 mbar.

We love this one — it’s the perfect example of the hacker credo, which has been driving progress for centuries. It also reminds us of some of the work by [Simplifier], who looks for similar old-time recipes to push his work in DIY semiconductors and backyard inductors forward.

[David Gustafik] dropped us the tip on this one. Thanks!

A Trip Down The Vacuum Clamping Rabbit Hole

We all know how easy it is to fall down the rabbit hole,  something that turns a seemingly simple job into an accidental journey of experimentation and discovery. And perhaps nobody is more prone to rabbit-holing than [Matthias Wandel], at least judging by his recent foray into quantitating different techniques for vacuum clamping in the woodshop. (Video, embedded below.)

To understand where this all came from, you’ll have to dial back to [Matthias]’s first video, where he was just trying to make a simple corkboard. In an effort to get even pressure over the whole surface of the board, he came up with a shop-expedient vacuum clamp, made from a sheet of thick plastic, some scraps of wood and clamps, and a couple of vacuums. With the workpiece sandwiched between a smooth, flat table and the plastic sheet, he was able to suck the air out and apply a tremendous amount of force to the corkboard.

The comments to the first video led to the one linked below, wherein [Matthias] aimed to explore some of the criticisms of his approach. Using a quartet of BMP280 pressure sensor breakout boards and a Raspberry Pi, he was able to nicely chart the pressure inside his clamping jig. He found that not only did the sensors make it easy to find and fix leaks, they also proved that adding a porous layer between the workpiece and the vacuum bag wouldn’t likely improve clamping. He was also able to show which of his collection of vacuums worked best — unsurprisingly, the Miele sucked the hardest, although he found that it wasn’t suitable for continuous clamping duty.

We can see a lot of uses for a jig like this, and we really like it when trips down the rabbit hole yield such interesting results. Especially quantitative results; remember [Matthias]’s exploration of basement humidity?

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Steam Engine Replica From LEGO

If engineering choices a hundred years ago had been only slightly different, we could have ended up in a world full of steam engines rather than internal combustion engines. For now, though, steam engines are limited to a few niche applications and, of course, models built by enthusiasts. This one for example is built entirely in LEGO as a scale replica of a steam engine originally produced in 1907.

The model is based on a 2500 horsepower triple-expansion four-cylinder engine that was actually in use during the first half of the 20th century. Since the model is built using nothing but LEGO (and a few rubber bands) it operates using a vacuum rather than with working steam, but the principle is essentially the same. It also includes Corliss valves, a technology from c.1850 that used rotating valves and improved steam engine efficiency dramatically for the time.

This build is an impressive recreation of the original machine, and can even run at extremely slow speeds thanks to a working valve on the top,  allowing its operation to be viewed in detail. Maximum speed is about 80 rpm, very close to the original machine’s 68 rpm operational speed. If you’d prefer your steam engines to have real-world applications, though, make sure to check out this steam-powered lawnmower.

Thanks to [Hari] for the tip!

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Bad Idea For Desoldering Actually Might Be Pretty Smart

This video on building a DIY desoldering iron says it all right up front: this is stupid and dangerous, and you shouldn’t do it. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work, or that it doesn’t have potential to be turned into something else.

The story begins, as it often does these days, on the pages of Amazon as [AnotherMaker] shopped for a real desoldering setup. Despite a case of sticker shock, he took the plunge on a nice Hakko vacuum desolderer, but as is also often the case, it failed to arrive. Rather than accept defeat, [AnotherMaker] purchased a cheap-o soldering iron and a brass tee fitting for small-bore tubing that would chuck nicely into the spot where the stock tip once lived, giving him a way to both melt solder and move air.

Unfortunately, rather than applying a vacuum, he chose to blast 100 PSI compressed air through the tip, which certainly moves a lot of solder, perhaps at the cost of burns and eye injuries. The potential for accidental short circuits is pretty high too, but c’mon — it’s not like we all haven’t flicked or dropped a board to desolder something. Is this really much different?

As fraught with peril as this method may be, [AnotherMaker] is onto something here. Perhaps adding a 3D-printed venturi generator could turn that blast of air into a vacuum. Or maybe a vacuum pump for a manual pick-and-place would do the trick too.

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Vacuum Dragster Uses Syringes For Propulsion

Atmospheric pressure is all around us, and capable of providing a great deal of force when used properly. As Otto Von Guericke demonstrated with his Magdeburg hemispheres over 350 years ago, simply removing air from a chamber to create a vacuum can have astounding results. More recently, [Tom Stanton] has used vacuum to power a small 3D-printed dragster.

In the dragster build, a typical plunger syringe is plugged at the end, and the plunger pulled back. Atmospheric pressure acts against the vacuum, wanting to push the plunger back towards its original position. To make use of this, a string is attached to the plunger, causing it to turn a gear as it moves forward, driving the rear wheels through a belt drive. With the correct gear ratio on the belt drive, the dragster is capable of spinning its tires and shooting forwards at a quick pace.

The work is a great follow on from [Tom]’s earlier vacuum experiments, using syringes as small rockets.  It reminds us of the classic CO2 dragsters from high school competitions, and would be a great project for any science class. Video after the break.

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A Robotic Stylist For Your Lockdown Lengthened Locks

It’s perhaps easy to think that despite the rapid acceleration of technology that there are certain jobs that will never be automated out of existence. Generally the job said to be robot-proof is the one held by the person making the proclamation, we notice. But certainly the job of cutting and styling people’s hair could never be done by a robot, right?

We wouldn’t bet the farm on it, although judging by [Shane Wighton]’s quarantine haircut robot, it’ll be a while before the stylists of the world will be on the dole. Said to have sprung from the need to trim his boyishly long hair, the contraption is an object lesson recreating the subtle manual skills a stylist brings to every head they work on — there’s a reason it takes 1,500 hours or more of training to get a license, after all. [Shane] discovered this early, and realized that exactly replicating the manual dexterity of human hands was a non-starter. His cutting head uses a vacuum to stand the hair upright, 3D-printed fingers to grip a small bundle of hair, and servo-driven scissors to cut it to length. The angle of attack of the scissors can be adjusted through multiple axes, and the entire thing rotates on a hell-no-I’m-not-putting-my-head-in-that-thing mechanism.

To his great credit, [Shane] braved the machine as customer zero, after only a few non-conclusive life-safety tests with a dummy head and wig. We won’t spoil the ending, but suffice it to say that the thing actually worked with no bloodshed and only minimal damage to [Shane]’s style. The long-suffering [Mrs. Wighton], however, was not convinced to take a test drive.

In all seriousness, kudos to [Shane] for attacking such a complex problem. We love what he’s doing with his builds, like his basketball catcher and his robo-golf club, and we’re looking forward to more.

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