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25Jul/120

Why did I wait so long to toast my boards?

PCB Toaster OvenI've recently redesigned my Retro WiFi Radio project to include some "extra" functionality and the design requirements required some tiny spacing of the components in addition to some tiny SMD parts. While I'm all for hand soldering SMD when needed, I wasn't looking forward to attempting this board build by hand...I really needed to look for a better, faster and more reliable way to solder SMD boards. I'd read articles from Adafruit and some other sites about utilizing electric skillets to re-flow boards but I've also read plenty that say it's not the ideal way to re-flow. I even went  as far as to "Watch" some eBay listings for a few cheap Chinese re-flow ovens. I knew folks had been having lots of luck using a PID controller and a toaster oven and after reading reviews about those cheap Chinese re-flow ovens, I figured my $50 investment in a toaster oven from wally world would be the safest gamble. I knew I wanted a toaster with no digital controls (easier to hack up, I suspected) and dual top and bottom heating elements. I also had read some good reports using toaster ovens with a fan which supposedly prevented hot/cold spots in the oven. I found a Black and Decker at Wal-Mart for about $40 that fit the bill perfectly so I made the plunge, I sure hope it would reach high enough temps fast enough to hold a good re-flow profile.... The first test for the toaster before tearing it apart was to ensure it'd get hot enough without any modifications.

My particular oven has both a "Baking" and "Toasting" settings with the difference being the "Baking" setting enables the convection fan. I tested the oven in both settings to ensure it'd easily exceed the required 250C my lead-free profile would require for re-flow. It didn't take any time at all for the toaster to exceed my temperature requirements in both settings. Looks like I got myself a champ here folks! Given the fact that I had already purchased an appropriate solid state relay for a different project and I had a spare Arduino laying around, I knew I could quickly throw together a PID controller and test the toaster's ability to hold a profile. I used a sketch from these great folks (which they use for their Arduino re-flow shield) and an LCD display I had laying about. I had a working PID controller in about 45 minutes. So far, this project was looking like it was going to be super easy! Why hadn't I done this before? Using my Fluke meter (with temp probe), I manually charted the temperatures of 3 re-flow runs and while not as accurate as an industrial re-flow oven, I think it'll do just fine. My first few boards worked perfectly and I must say, it's WAY faster and easier than soldering by hand! Bring on those 0603 resistors now!  

Update:

Not one to leave good enough alone, I decided there were a few easy things I could do to improve the responsiveness of the toaster and help it follow my profile more accurately. Here's what I did to the toaster to "improve" it and the results. 1. Added reflective "flue tape" to the inside of the toaster's internal metal walls (back wall and bottom with ceramic fill inside cavity) as well as the glass front door (minus the "peep" window). 2. Filled internal voids with ceramic fiber insulation wool. Got some cheap from eBay

Unaltered Toaster:

Time to 250C (Toast Setting): 3:41.3 Time to 250C (Bake Setting): 6:46.9

"Improved" Toaster:

Time to 250C (Toast Setting): 2:25.8 Time to 250C (Bake Setting): 3:53.6

19Jul/100

Tasty Home Medicine

Today, I decided I would try my hand at a simple Irish home remedy that turned into a popular soft drink. GINGER ALE! Ginger ale was used some time ago to treat anything that ailed you but now thanks to John McLaughlin, it's more commonly associated with a refreshing soft drink.

Ginger has long been used to help settle upset stomachs and ease nausea, it's these proposed properties that really made me want to give it a try. My wife has been suffering from nausea quite badly lately and I thought this would be a fantastic solution (if it works). It's all natural and quite easy to make.

Here's my recipe for Ginger Soda:
• 2 Cups Fresh cut ginger (slice into about 1/8 inch slices)
• 2 Cups filtered water
• 2 Cups white sugar
• 1 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
• 2 tsp Dry Ginger Powder (not required but adds to the zippyness)

Combine the ginger, sugar and water and heat until simmering. You'll simmer the mix until the liquid has reduced to about 1/2. It'll be syrupy in consistency. Add the vanilla and dry ginger powder and stir well. Remove from heat and strain mixture. Let the syrup cool to room temperature and then add about 3 tablespoons syrup to 16 ounces soda water (this will vary on individual tastes), stir well and enjoy! If you want, you can add a bit of fresh Mint and a squeeze of lime to zest it up a bit!

But WAIT! Don't throw away that ginger! It will make a fantastic treat and here's how. Take the cooked ginger from the recipe above and mix it well with 1 cup white sugar. Make sure each slice is liberally coated with sugar.  Place the coated ginger slices on a cookie tray evenly spaced out and put in a preheated oven at 225F. Let them dry for about 3 hours in the oven, they should be dry but still chewy! Yum-O!

Ginger slices ready to simmer.

Ginger slices ready to simmer.
Ginger ready to go!

Ginger ready to go!

Candy ginger ready to dry

Candy ginger ready to dry

Candied Ginger

Candied Ginger

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24Jun/100

1938 RCA 96T Radio

I finally received my vintage radio today. I had purchased it as a "non-working" radio and really only wanted the wood case for one of my other projects which I will talk about later when I get it completed. Anyhow, I couldn't resist looking through all the amazing components and it wasn't long before I started wondering how such a fantastically built radio could be broken... The tubes looked good and it wasn't until I pulled them out to clean them up that I noticed a loose wire which was easily fixed. Well, after an hour and half, I've got the old radio working! I never planned on refurbishing it, now I am thinking twice. It's an all-American, beautiful piece of history and I almost feel drawn to bringing her back to her full potential....more to come....

23Jun/100

Paracord Dog Collars

Man's best friend is a saying that couldn't be any truer than it is in my house! Recently, Rox, the monarch of our pack had bladder surgery to remove some stones. Poor guy has had a rough time recovering so I thought I'd try to cheer him up with a new paracord dog collar. These collars, also known as Solomon's bars have been on my learning radar for some time now and I could learn how to make these while cheering up my boy Rox, let's do it!

I actually made two and should finish up the last tomorrow. Can't leave out the other dogs after all..I've attached a few pictures at the bottom of this post of the finished product, solid blue and a two-tone, which I really liked!

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6Dec/090

A Borax Snowflake?

Borax Snowflake

 

My wife found a fantastic article on Craftzine showing how to make a neat borax snowfake. She took some of my pipe cleaners and made a small snowflake which will soak in the borax solution overnight, the end result being a very faintly blue snowflake! Cool huh?

Directions:     3 tbsp Borax per 1 cup boiling water. 1 drop blue food coloring per cup of water. 

Borax Snowflake Soaking

Borax Snowflake

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30Sep/090

ATTINY13A Automated Dog Stairs

ATTINY13A Motion Dectector Dog Stairs 

So I finally got my next shipment of PCB boards from BatchPCB.com. The boards were perfect, not one mfg issue (I suspect this is mostly thanks to what I learned from SparkFun.com). It's fantastically rewarding to see your ideas come to life, I posted here originally about the Arduino controlled dog stairs I had built but I wasn't satisfied. I wanted to free up the Arduino, it's not what a development board is for anyhow. I have since crossed the hurdle of building my own code in C using AVRStudio. I decided upon the ATTINY13A chip because it was small and really had just enough functionality to make this project work as I had wanted it to. The Arduino was overkill; an ATMEGA328 is WAY overkill for this project. I've learned so much about AVR programming I can't even believe how far I've come. I've posted the AVR source code, high resolution pictures and the eagle files so you can build your own. I figure I've got no more than $10 invested in this not including the stairs!

ATTINY13A Dog Stairs

And here are the boards I got from BatchPCB.com the other day.

BatchPCB.com Boards

Images and AVR Code
Title: AVRDogStairsSmall (699 clicks)
Caption: Images and AVR Code
Filename: avrdogstairssmall.zip
Size: 220 KB

Images and AVR Code
Title: AVRDogStairsSmall (699 clicks)
Caption: Images and AVR Code
Filename: avrdogstairssmall.zip
Size: 220 KB

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