From the mailbag: Choosing a soldering iron

Iron

Michael wrote in with a great question:

I currently have a cheapo soldering iron from radio shack. It’s great for making speaker wire and stuff like that. I am concerned that dealing with these delicate boards if it is the right tool. Do you guys have a certain one that you might recommend? If I accidentally break a board I’d like it to be for something cooler than I used a bad soldering iron.

The iron that you use makes a big difference in how long it will take you to build a kit. Using an ultra-low-end soldering iron can make it take much longer to assemble a kit, and will make mistakes easier to make.

Our favorite soldering irons are made by Metcal, but they start at a few hundred dollars, so they aren’t practical for everyone. If you’re lucky enough to live near an electronics surplus shop, they sometimes have used medium-high end workhorses like our backup and travel soldering iron shown above. Replacement parts are available for these, and they last nearly forever.

For a relatively inexpensive, but still reliable soldering iron for electronics, we recommend the WLC100 by Weller, which is about $40 new. Whatever one you end up getting, we recommend one of this design— a “pencil shape” soldering iron (not gun!) with a reasonably fine point tip, and a base that holds the iron and a wet sponge.

Happy soldering!

Open Source Pumpkin PCB

The Great Pumpkin PCB on a pumpkin!

Eric over at Low Voltage Labs has posted up his design for a simple PCB ideal for putting an LED into a pumpkin. This is very much like our simple LED pumpkin project but in a neat, reusable format. And it makes a mighty cute little jack-o-lantern all on its own.

KiCAD - pumpkin PCB layout

He has made it available as a kit with PCB, switch, resistor, battery holder and the same candle flicker LEDs which we love so much. Unfortunately, the kit is currently sold out. Hopefully he’ll make more, if not in time for this Halloween, then at least for next year.

Lady Ada Lovelace Day

OHS 2012

For Lady Ada Lovelace Day, we would like to celebrate an area of success for women in science and technology: the open source hardware community. This vibrant community has many strong women it holds up as role models. The newly formed Open Source Hardware Association is well represented with board members Alicia Gibb (president), Danese CooperCatarina Mota, and Wendy Seltzer. In addition, the Open Hardware Summit has been organized by women from the start: Alicia Gibb and Ayah Bdeir in 2010 and 2011, followed by Catarina Mota and Dustyn Roberts this year.

The 2012 lineup of speakers included women from all over the world and from an amazing variety of disciplines, including Leah Buechley, Ayah Bdeir, Shannon Doesmagen and Liz Barry, Katherine Moriwaki, Louisa Campbell, Liza Stark, Sylvia Todd, Erin Kennedy, Myriam Ayass, Amanda Wozniak, Meg Pirrung, Valérie Lamontagne, and Hannah Perner-Wilson.

In addition to the speakers, there were even more women presenting posters and demos, including Amelia Marzec, Cindy Harnett, Gabrialla Levine, Jennifer Jacobs, Joanna Cheung, Tesia Kosmalski, Analisa Russo and Jennifer Lewis, Margarita Benitez, Maki Komuro, and Sophi Kravitz.

All of these presenters build on the past two years of excellent content at the summit, and we look forward to the inspiring speakers of years to come.

Photo of OSHWA board members Windell Oskay, Nathan Seidle, Wendy Seltzer, Alicia Gibb and Catarina Mota at the 2012 Open Hardware Summit by Jacob Gibb.

Art Controller for Aquaponics

Control box

Logan wrote in to let us know how he is using our Art Controllers for his aquaponics project:

The system has two 140 gallon fish tanks and three 4×8 grow beds filled with grow stones. The beds water flow control is metered with Arduinos with data from Adafruit flow sensors on each bed. The important part is the bed water control, that is controlled by Art Controllers. We have almost 100 fat Talipia fish to fertilize the plants. The room is red because of all the high power LED grow lights.

grow beds under red light

The grow beds fill until a float switch trips the Art Controller that then opens a big 24 V solenoid valve draining the grow beds to a sump that pumps the cleaned water back to the fish tanks. The controller lets me program how long the beds stay drained so the plant roots get some O2 and not rot.

Thanks for sharing your project and pictures, Logan!

Vector engraved stipples

Laser-etched Hoan Bridge

Over at rasterweb, Pete has been playing with StippleGen2 to create artwork with the laser engraver at the Milwaukee Makerspace.

Laser-etched Hoan Bridge

StippleGen’s output consists of lots of tiny overlapping circles and this piece was made by using vector engraving, where the laser traces out each circle individually. In some places, the lasered marks overlap many times, leading to a new and unusual surface texture. In the closeup above you can see the ridges and valleys formed by the overlapped engraved areas. Go check out his article for the rest of the story about the project!

Klein Bottle Openers

Klein Bottle Opener by Bathsheba Grossman

This is one of the coolest things that you can actually buy. It is a Klein Bottle Opener by Bathsheba Grossman.  It is made in the shape of a Klein Bottle, a 3D representation of a single sided shape.  And it opens bottles. It’s a 3D printed stainless steel sculpture that fits nicely in the hand, giving you just the right kind of leverage; an absolute pleasure to use.

Klein Bottle Opener

But— and this is where we were caught off guard— there’s a second great, yet completely independent, kind of Klein bottle opener out there: the Beverage Tool by Klein Tools. Klein tools is quite truly (as they say), “the #1 choice among professional tradesmen.”

We happened upon this gem at Hand-Eye Supply, the Core77 store, while visiting Portland, Oregon.  As far as we can tell, it was there because they like well-made tools, including those from Klein, not because they like mathematics.

Klein Bottle Opener

The tool has convenient “Tip-Ident” mark in the shape of a bottle cap so you can quickly find it among other tools.

And now, dear reader, you know where to get a complete set of Klein bottle openers.

Coming soon: Visual diffs for 3D models

Cube Hero Screenshot

After reading our post on Improving open source hardware: Visual diffs, Wil wrote in to to tell us about Cube Hero:

I have a demo up of visual diffs for 3D printable models. Here you can see a specific model, and … you can see diffs as I changed the model.

We’re excited to see new tools for collaboration like this being developed. Besides visual diffs, the project aims to provide visual versioning, 3D object sharing, and bill of materials integration. Cube Hero is looking for interested possible users, so go check it out–they’re accepting signups for updates and launch invitations.