Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Tool Tuesday - Stud Clamps

I've written about stud clamps before, both here and in Hackspace magazine, but, due to their usefullness, they need a Tool Tuesday post of there own. 

The stud clamp allows you to work on bolts or threaded items whilst holding them securely without damaging the thread. Or they can be used to aid removal of threaded studs from assemblies. Essentially they are a piece of material with holes drilled and tapped to receive bolts or threaded bar of the corresponding thread type. They are then carefully cut, either by hacksaw or a slitting saw in a mill and this creates the clamp. Thread your target material in and pinch the clamp shut in a vice or using some other type of clamp, mole grips or a G clamp for example, and your work is held super securely for you to work on. 

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Tool Tuesday - Budget EMT Shears

I've become a big fan of cheap EMT shear type scissors. They are widely available and there are super affordable versions if you steer away from the more "tacticool" versions. As a pair of beater scissors they are great and will cut a wide variety of materials. I often use them to trim the edges of cured fibreglass layups etc and they really are tough. Just make sure you don't take them from a first aid kit you may rely on! 

Sunday, 12 September 2021

Apply Heat Transfer Vinyl to Tricky Objects

I know, I squandered that career in modelling I was destined for... I like playing with different materials on the vinyl cutter and I've used HTV or Heat Transfer Vinyl a little bit, but usually limited to flat smooth fabric items. At home I've used the domestic iron to apply designs to bags and tee shirts and at the Ffiws makerspace where I work sometimes we have a larger flat plate heat press. However I wanted to experiment with HTV on more awkward surfaces, i.e this baseball cap. I'd seen crafters in the US using smaller irons specifically designed for HTV but I couldn't find them in the UK or running at 240V rather than 110V.  However, another area that uses these irons are aero modellers building lightweight planes which have a heat shrunk covering applied to wings made from balsa ribs and spars. I ordered one to have a play with for less than £20.   

There are commercial hat presses for sale or heat presses with replaceable elements in different shapes for different objects and these obviously apply heat and pressure uniformly and make HTV hats trivial to create. However for small batches the iron works well. After cutting the HTV on the vinyl cutter and weeding (removing the parts of the vinyl that aren't part of the design) I stuck the HTV and the heatproof backing onto the cap in the correct position. Note that if you want to have a go at this you want to find a 5 panel baseball cap rather than a 6 panel baseball cap as a 6 panel has a seam vertically down the front of the cap. The curvature of the hat makes it almost impossible to stick the HTV backing down too, more because of the thickness of the backing rather than the stickiness. You also want to curve the HTV/Backing to conform to the hat rather than making the hat panel flat as that would then crinkle when the hat returns to it's normal state. I used extra kapton tape (heat resistant tape) to hold the HTV panel in place, but neither the tape or the backing adheres that well, it's only when you tack the first part of the design with the iron you can feel assured it won't move.  

My original plan was to stuff the hat with an old towel to try and keep the hat firmly in shape, however I realised that it was easier to cover one hand with 3 layers of the towel and push into the back of the design with one hand and then hit it with the mini iron using the other hand. I set the iron to roughly 160C and applied the iron to each section of the design for around 15 seconds. I made a slight error on the first attempt as I hadn't noticed a bit of kapton was stuck under and lifting an edge of the design, so I opted to cut the black HTV ring around the yellow design and add that as a second layer to cover the slight error! One thing I noticed is that due to the curvature of the cap the HTV backing kind of self releases when the HTV is stuck which is very useful and means you automatically peal the backing whilst it's still hot. I'm pretty pleased with the results and the iron is great and will be useful for this as well as other model making activities. 

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Tool Tuesday - RS Pro Flat Nose Pliers

It's pretty fair to say I love all types of pliers as tools. I have a few sets of more expensive pliers but the majority of my collection are pretty cheap and cheerful. One type that I use a lot are flat nose pliers, a sort of thin nosed pliers where the jaws bend away from the grip. The RS Pro flat nose pliers are a reasonable set of smaller ones for not too much money. They are small enough to often be used as a slightly more forceful set of tweezers and I often use them to place small nuts and fasteners where my fingers are too big to fit. I I had one small gripe it's that they aren't particularly precise in closing and the jaws don't align perfectly as you would find in higher quality tools. However they are great for many tasks and are perfect for one of my favourite little hacks, if you place a rubber band around the handles you can use them as a small low pressure clamp holder that's capable of holding the work slightly off the bench. Super handy for soldering, clamping small glued items or I've even used this to create temporary test stands for tiny motors. 

Monday, 6 September 2021

MTV Robot at PiWars!

I LOVE it so much when people make use of something I've shared or written about and I feel really pleased that Calderdale college elected to build their PiWars entry robot based on the opensource MTV Robot platform that I designed and wrote about in Hackspace magazine back in issue 37. The MTV robot is built around a really cheap tracked chassis that can be bought online and a stack of 3D printed parts you can add yourself. 

For those of you who don't know PiWars is a brilliant robotics competition that anyone can enter and your robot has to compete in numerous different fun challenges. It's a really lovely community and even if you don't enter it's a fun group to watch to get interesting ideas for robotic projects! 

The Calderdale college team made numerous changes and add ons to the MTV platform and the team came 5th overall in a beginners class of 15 entries and they even came first in one event "up the garden path" which was a challenge where you had to control the robot with voice commands. Superb stuff! Read more about the excellent Calderdale team/experience on this great blogpost and grab the free PDF of Hackspace magazine 37 to get the links and info for the MTV design files. 

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Tool Tuesday - The Digital Multi Meter


The Digital Multi Meter or DMM is never far away from my hand and gets a lot of use. I was recently reminded of how it also can make some aspects of electronics more accessible. DMM come in fantastic variety of  flavours and models and are available from around £5 through tow hundreds of pounds. They have heaps of uses and capabilities, measuring voltages, current, resistance, checking capacitors, and much more. I tend to use two functions of mine massively, checking DC voltage level is a popular task and also checking continuity ( a mode where if there is a connection between the probes it will beep) is so useful to check if something is connected. 

Many DMM will check resistance but with some you need to know the order of magnitude you expect the resistance to be. These are selected using the rotary switch. Some DMM are "auto ranging" and as such will switch the units detected to the correct one for the measurement. So when checking a resistor that is 10,000 ohms it will detect and switch to give the value in kilo ohms. I ran a soldering workshop recently and I always give a short example of using the colour codes on a resistor to decode its value. However one of the participants was red green colourblind and would struggle to decode the band colours. Not a problem with an auto ranging DMM! The list of features on a basic multimeter is impressive but the list of all possible features in endless. Whilst for regular mains work I would want to spend more on a quality known brand, it's fair to say that for low voltage work electronics hobby stuff really good auto ranging DMM can be found for less than £20. A useful addition to any bench.

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Tool Tuesday - The Breaker Bar


This week I've been swapping some wheels around on my old VW Caddy Mk2, well actually on two Caddy's, my one on the road, and my off road spares donor vehicle! It's common for tyre companies or garages to fit wheels using a compressed air impact driver and as such wheel nuts can be pretty heavily over torqued and difficult to undo. The answer is the humble but incredibly useful breaker bar. A breaker bar is a long oversize bar with a socket fitting at one end so it can receive a socket wrench. They are usually none ratcheting as socket wrench ratchets aren't often capable of very high torque. My breaker bar has a 1/2" socket wrench fitting and it lives in my van with a 17mm socket on it at all times as that is the size of my wheel nuts. I also carry a 19mm and a 21mm socket with it in case I can offer help to anyone changing a wheel as these are the other two common wheel nut sizes.

They work very well and definitely make life easier than trying to use the shorter lower quality tools that are often bundled with a a small spider jack in many vehicles.