Improbably Cheap Pocket Welder Gets An ESP32 Makeover

If you move in certain shady circles, you may have noticed the crop of improbably cheap “pocket welders” popping up on the market these days. They’re all variations on a theme, most with wildly optimistic specs minimal accessories of the lowest possible quality. But their tiny size and matching price make them irresistible to the would-be welder, as well as attractive to hardware hackers.

With a 220-V outlet in the garage waiting to be filled and well-knowing the risks, [Mr. RC-Cam] purchased one of these diminutive welding machines. Its shortcomings were immediately apparent, and a complete rework of the welder was undertaken. After addressing safety issues like the lack of a ground connection, [Mr. RC-Cam] added a color-matched 3D-printed hood to house a fancy new LCD touchscreen display. Backing that up is an ESP32 with Bluetooth, which supports remote control via a key fob. He also added a current sense board that uses the welder’s current shunt to measure welding current. Expediently calibrated using a waffle iron and a milli-ohmmeter, the sensor showed that the 200A max advertised for the welder was more like 100A. He tried adding some big electrolytics to fix the current issues, but no dice. With a decent stinger and ground clamp, the modified welder is good enough for his needs, and much was learned in the process. We call that a hacking win.

As an aside, [This Old Tony] recently did a review on a similar welder if you want more details on the internals. We also covered the conversion of a buzz-box to a TIG welder recently, should that be more your style.

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Is A Cheap Inverter Welder Worth It?

We’ve all seen cheap welders for sale from the usual online sources, small inverter stick welders for a very tempting price. But are they any good? When my local supermarket had one in its offers aisle, I took the plunge and placed it in my cart alongside the usual week’s supply of Marmite. That was some time around the start of the year.

Does Your Supermarket Sell Welders?

My Workzone welder from the supermarket.
My Workzone welder from the supermarket.

What I’d bought from my local Aldi was a Workzone WWIW-80, an 80 A unit that had cost me somewhere just over £60 (about $75), and came with welding leads and a rather poor quality face shield. The German discount supermarket chains specialise in periodic offers on all kinds of interesting things, so a very similar unit has also been for sale with a Parkside brand from their competitor Lidl. These small inverter welders are fairly generic, so they can be found with a variety of brands and specifications at a lower price online if you don’t mind forgoing the generous Aldi 3 year guarantee. The cheapest I’ve seen was about £35, or $44, but that price included only the inverter, without welding leads.

As a working blacksmith my dad has had a high-quality inverter welder since the 1990s, so my frame of reference is based upon that. He tried one of the first tiny inverters when they originally came to market in the last decade, but it couldn’t take the demands of a professional welder and packed up. I thus didn’t have high expectations of this unit, but I needed one of my own and for the price it was worth the punt. I’ve used it for occasional general purpose heavy welding tasks, repairing bits of farm machinery and fittings, and rebuilding some steps on a narrowboat in 7 mm plate. It’s acquitted itself well in those tasks, in that I am not a skilled welder and my work isn’t the tidiest, but it’s allowed me to do a satisfactory job.

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The March Toward A DIY Metal 3D Printer

[Hyna] has spent seven years working with electron microscopes and five years with 3D printers. Now the goal is to combine expertise from both realms into a metal 3D printer based on electron-beam melting (EBM). The concept is something of an all-in-one device that combines traits of an electron beam welder, an FDM 3D printer, and an electron microscope. While under high vacuum, an electron beam will be used to fuse metal (either a wire or a powder) to build up objects layer by layer. That end goal is still in the future, but [Hyna] has made significant progress on the vacuum chamber and the high voltage system.

The device is built around a structure made of 80/20 extruded aluminum framing. The main platform showcases an electron gun, encased within a glass jar that is further encased within a metal mesh to prevent the glass from spreading too far in the event of an implosion.

The design of the home-brewed high-voltage power supply involves an isolation transformer (designed to 60kV), using a half-bridge topology to prevent high leakage inductance. The transformer is connected to a buck converter for filament heating and a step up. The mains of the system are also connected to a voltage converter, which can be current-fed or voltage-fed to operate as either an electron beam welder or scanning electron microscope (SEM). During operation, the power supply connects to a 24V input and delivers the beam through a Wehnelt cylinder, an electrode opposite an anode that focuses and controls the electron beam. The entire system is currently being driven by an FPGA and STM32.

The vacuum enclosure itself is quite far along. [Hyna] milled a board with two outputs for a solid state relay (SSR) to a 230V pre-vacuum pump and a 230V pre-vacuum pump valve, two outputs for vent valves, and inputs from a Piranni gauge and a Cold Cathode Gauge, as well as a port for a TMP controller. After demoing the project at Maker Faire Prague, [Hyna] went back and milled a mold for a silicone gasket, a better vacuum seal for the electron beam.

While we’ve heard a lot about different metal 3D printing methods, this is the first time we’ve seen an EBM project outside of industry. And this may be the first to attempt to combine three separate uses for an HV electron beam into the same build.

Welding Robot Takes On A Hot, Dirty, Dangerous Job

They used to say that robots would take over the jobs too dirty or dangerous for humans. That is exactly what [Joel Sullivan] had in mind when he created this welding robot. [Joel] designed the robot for the OSB industry. No, that’s not a new operating system, it’s short for Oriented Strand Board. An engineered lumber, OSB is made of strands (or chips) of wood. It’s similar to plywood but doesn’t require large thin sheets of lumber. To make a panel of OSB, a 5-inch thick matt of wood chips is mixed with glue and compressed down to 5/16″ at 7500 PSI and 400° F.

The presses used to make OSB are a massively parallel operation. 20 or more boards can be pressed at once. Thy press is also a prime area for damage. A nut or bolt hidden in the wood will dig into the press, causing a dent which will show up on every sheet which passes through that section. The only way to fix the press is to shut it down, partially dismantle it, and fill the void in with a welder. [Joel’s] robot eliminates most of the downtime by performing the welding on a still hot, still assembled press.

The robot looks like it was inspired by BattleBots, which is fitting as the environment it works in is more like a battleground. It’s a low, wide machine. In the front are two articulated arms, one with a welder, and one with a die grinder. The welder fills any voids in the press platen, and the die grinder grinds the fresh welds flat.  An intel NUC controls things, with plenty of motor drives, power supplies, and relays on board.

[Joel’s] bot is tethered, with umbilicals for argon, electricity and compressed air. Air travels through channels throughout the chassis and keeps the robot cool on the hot press. Everything is designed for high temperatures, even the wheels. [Joel] tried several types of rubber, but eventually settled on solid aluminum wheels. The ‘bot doesn’t move very fast, so there is plenty of traction. Some tiny stepper motors drive the wheels. When it’s time to weld, pneumatic outriggers lock the robot in place inside the narrow press.

Cameras with digital crosshairs allow the operator to control everything through a web interface. Once all the parameters are set up, the operator clicks go and sparks fly as the robot begins welding.

If you’re into seriously strong robots, check out trackbot, or this remote-controlled snow blower!

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The Un-Economy Of Building Your Own Spot Welder

If there’s one thing that brings hackers together, it’s the ability to build something for less money than it takes to buy it. It’s an exercise [Great Scott Gadgets] put to the test because he was playing around with some 18650 lithium cells, and had a huge need to put some tabs on batteries. This can be done by soldering, but to do it right you should really use a spot welder. Here’s the rub: you can buy a spot welder for about $250, and you can build one for a little less. So, the question: should [Great Scott] build or buy a spot welder? This wouldn’t be worth reading if he started off with an eBay order.

[Great Scott] designed this spot welder around a half-dozen supercaps, all securely held together with Kapton tape. This goes through a set of MOSFETs, and everything is controlled through an Arduino, a rotary encoder, and a dirt-cheap OLED display. It’s a simple enough circuit but a bit too much for perfboard, so [Great Scott] laid out a PCB and got a few boards for under $40. A bit of solder and some debugging later, and theoretically a spot welder was created.

After all that work, how did the spot welder work? Well, it didn’t. A slight misstep in the schematic meant this board didn’t have reference ground on the MOSFETs, so all this work was for naught. Of course, the only thing required to fix this board was a second board spin, as [Great Scott] probably bought more parts than necessary because that’s what smart people do. Still, he decided to cut his losses and shelve the project.

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Can You 3D Print An Axe?

3D printers hit the scene in a big way in the last decade, and thanks to the constant improvements that we’ve seen since then you can now get a decent one, assembled or as a kit, for a reasonable price. The one major drawback is that almost all of these printers are limited to printing in plastic, which has its obvious limitations. Printing in metal seems like the next logical step, and a group from Michigan Tech has created something that is accessible to most of us. Spoiler: they used plastic and metal printing to print a functioning axe.

Untill now, most metal printers have used a process like laser sintering to achieve the desired effect. This group uses a much more common tool: a MIG welder. MIG welders work by passing a wire through the welding handle, which would normally used as the filler material for the weld. If you use the wire for laying down material rather than for welding specifically, you can build up material on a surface in essentially the same way that a printer that prints plastic would.

From there, all that’s needed is to attach the MIG welder to a CNC machine and get to printing. The team has produced some great results so far, including some metal braces and farm implements, so hopefully their work leads to another revolution in 3D printing for the masses. We think it’s high time.

Welding Batteries With Batteries

Welding equipment is always expensive and bulky, right? Heavens no! [Jaromir Sukuba] is making a welder for battery tabs which can fit in a pocket and gets its power from a coin cell. It may be expensive to power compared to a mains welder, but for the sake of portability this is quite the hack. Not only that, but it uses 555 timers in the charging circuit.

His entry for the 2017 Coin Cell Challenge saps every bit of power from a coin cell and stores it up in a 100F supercapacitor bank. All that stored energy takes a long time to get into the supercapacitors but it comes out in a flash. In fact, it can take 12 hours to fully charge. For the convenience of size, we have to trade the convenience of speed. This should be a strong contestant for the Supernova and Heavy Lifting categories.

We see a quick demonstration of a successfully welded tab which shows that using coin cells to weld metal to coin cells is equally ironic and apropos. Other welders on Hackaday feature a quicker way to control your battery tab welding, safety-rich spot welding, or just go off the rails completely and use an arc welder to make a coil gun.