Sunday, December 14, 2014

Small Scale Aluminum Casting/Smelting

Pictured below: Aluminum is smelted in order to reform it into a desired object by casting.
The process:
And the fruit of our labor:
[by ed]

Using our CNC machine to fabricate a sign

Our D.I.Y. CNC machine gives us the capability of cutting and etching wood and vinyl. 
Below is a sign that we created using plywood. The possibilities do not stop here. Everything from from furniture to artistic decals can be created with a crash course in proper operation.
When it is possible, Make it!
[by ed]

Former RC Car becomes Robot

When playing with RC cars no longer has it's thrill...make a robot! Member Thad shows his latest creation.
[by ed]

Space Saving Air Hose/Reel

An innovative approach to saving space, given a ceiling with mounts. Our air compressor hose is mounted on a reel and can be extended or retracted as needed.
Above: Up close view of hose/reel
[by ed]

Extreme Gaming spanning Three Monitors

HackRVA member Jonathan reveals that it is possible to play computer games that span across three individual standard Dell brand monitors.
[by ed]

Laser Cutter/Engraver Water Cooling System

HackRVA member Brian has finished assembling a water cooling system for our laser cutter and etcher. Nearing completion, this project will enable members to mark designs in wood. 

The cost savings of building our own system is almost as invaluable as the knowledge gained in the process.
[by ed]

Friday, December 12, 2014

Making the most of your space: A sofa for the future

A deceivingly normal looking couch...

 ...Becomes a  hinged table with stow-able components:

And finally...As a bonus feature: sensory deprivation chamber/presentation booth:

Innovate the ordinary

[by ed]

HackRVA member Bill creates Dr. Who fan art

Above is a hand drawn artistic representation of the villains and protagonists from the Dr. Who Sci-Fi series which was created by our member Bill here at HackRVA. 

A cross section view of the inside of the Tardis reveals the complexity and infinite curiosity of the Dr. Who franchise.

[by ed]

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Tool Cart Derby - "ROLL OUT!!!"

by Aaron

So HackRVA is re-thinking the way we work in the FabLab. Specifically, we're putting many of our larger tools on carts for easy use and storage. All these tools being mobile means being able to position them where you want when you want. And it means more room for work space and building up a temporary bench or work surface for larger projects.

Above are, from left to right, chop-saw, drill press, planer, and band saw, each on it's own workstation cart.  Below the same, with the mobile table-saw/router combo in the foreground.

And just to add something non-sequitur, the new Electronics Test / Production Bench in the Tech Lab is pictured at the bottom.

BadgeBuild 2015 - Production Equipment

by Aaron

With Jonathon leading the way, we've been getting "hardware production ready" for BadgeBuild 2015 with a goal of "RIDICULOUSLY EARLY" by building new equipment. Seen above is a homebrew etching device that both agitates and heats the board etching solution.

Jonathon made this with a motor and a see-saw like mechanical setup. It slowly rocks the fluid back and forth while the griddle heats it up. Last year we were doing this by hand, so a big improvement to have it automated.

And below is a disemboweled laminator to help with the toner transfer process. With these tools, and more to come, including getting the small CNC tool to do machine through-hole and board de-paneling, we're hoping to make a more consistent and faster board manufacturing process.

We're getting started early on the hardware, so we can nail it down, giving our software team plenty of time to make this "The Year of Software" for the 2015 badge, where we hope to fully build out the coolness in the bits portion of the badge and spend less time on the atoms. Any coders in our collective are welcome to get in touch to build an app or game or driver for the new badge!

Longest of Boards

by Aaron

I was making something else, I forget what. Probably a workshop table or something. Anyway, I had some wood left over and decided to make a 46 inch long board. This is three sheets of plywood glued together with the grain turned different directions for strength and the edges routed down with the table router.

At least one ollie has been performed, and Arthur said it rides smooth but turns like an aircraft carrier. Maybe I got carried away in the longness, but I was imagining majestic smooth rides with plenty of space for relaxing. I also think it looks like a fence picket with wheels screwed on, but no, it was actually crafted in a skateboard like manor despite the looks.

This is my second skateboard project, and an improvement on my 2x6 ultra-kick flip hunk. The next one I'd like to steam shape and/or use a press to introduce some curvature.

See below for Shelly and I routing the board edges (face-shield overkill?) and "ALL THE CLAMPS" gluing where we purposely used all the clamps in the space for the fun of clamping... which yes... is fun!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Want Bookshelf - Got Hackerspace, Don't Need IKEA

A couple of our members who haven't been able to come around HackRVA for awhile we're having lunch and discussing their need for a bookcase. At first they considered making the trek up to the NOVA IKEA, but then were like, "What, no, we can make it ourselves, lets go to hack".

After finishing lunch, they moseyed over to a big-box for wood and hardware, then they came to HackRVA during what happened to be a Saturday hackathon. They had plenty of help with tools and lots of admirers. By the end of the day, a lovely bookcase was created.

We even loaded up the finished product in the car together to see it on it's way home. It came a pile of materials and left something awesome.

 I was blown away by the quickness!

One Saturday at HackRVA and they have a piece of furnurture that looks beautiful and they'll always remember building together. Forget gnarly I-95 trips to IKEA, make it at HackRVA!

More pics below after the break:

Megaldon Tooth Casting

I've been wanting to get into mold making and casting for at least a year. I just wasn't sure how to get started. I finally took the plunge with this kit from

I did this at last weeks HackRVA Saturday hackathon, which happened to be the "Make your Spirit Animal" event held by WoHack.

I wasn't sure what to cast, or what to make my spirit animal... then I remembered my "meg" tooth. Therefore my "spirit animal" or as what spectators rephrased as my "power beast" became the Megalodon. And I cast the tooth right up. is a go-to site for learning how to cast things.  They have tons of how-to videos. For me it was almost overwhelming. I finally settled on the starter kit linked above.

My lessons learned where:
1) Mix in a bigger container. When you put the rubber silicone mold material together, you have to stir slow and methodical. You also have to get it to blend completely, leaving a pure purple from the pink and blue compounds combined. I lazily tried to mix them in a narrow container and left some material not mixed. The mold turned out fine, but I would have done better with a large container.

2) The plastic casting material sets up fairly quick, and gets hot. Nothing went wrong there, but if I'd walked away from it, my solution would have solidified before I had a chance to pour. And like I said, it gets pretty hot. Don't be surprised.

The cast came out great. So detailed that I could see the grain of the tooth's enamel decay.

For more pics, check out after the break. Looking forward to more mold making and casting experiments at HackRVA.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Learn to Solder badges for RVA MakerFest

We knew we wanted to teach people how to solder at RVA MakerFest.  Estimates put the need at anywhere from 20 to 300 badges.  We looked at various kits, but without knowing how many people we’d be teaching, they were simply too expensive, too complex, or not available in the needed quantity. 
As the date drew closer, we still hadn't found a suitable board to use for teaching people how to solder.  At (what seemed like) the last minute, we decided to design our own badge.  Once the board was designed, there wasn't really time for a prototype run, so we crossed our fingers and ordered the full batch of PCBs from ITead.
It’s a very simple schematic, and the board can be soldered in less than 10 minutes, even without any prior soldering experience. 
The circuit is about as simple as it can get, simply 2 LEDs in parallel with a battery.  The current limiting resistors are omitted due to voltage drop and the internal resistance of the battery.  We used blinking red LEDs due to the low forward voltage drop, but the blinking RGB LEDs can also work in this design and would probably last longer.
The schematic and board layout were created in Eagle CAD, and Itead provides a CAM job to create the gerbers.  The most difficult step was creating the silk screen image.  I followed a tutorial on Instructables called Adding Customer Graphics to EAGLE PCB Layouts.  It took a few minutes of playing with the bitmap import settings to get it to look right.  

Placing the order was straight forward following the instructions provided on the product page (although the process has now changed to upload on their site).  These boards were ordered on a 1.2mm red PCB with 1 oz. copper.  Although they offer very low prices compared to local houses, shipping nearly doubled the cost!  Overall, Itead was an excellent choice for such a simple board.

I didn't consider the additional thickness from electroplating the through holes, so the pin didn't quite fit.  It was possible to force it in with a pair of pliers, but it wasn't always successful, and just wouldn't work at the event.  I ended up manually drilling each board with a 1/16 inch bit. 
The pads for LEDs were also a bit small for beginners.  They should have been enlarged a bit to make things easier.  
The stainless steel pins are a real pain to solder.  Maybe they should be glued or something else next time. The pins had a large (12mm) head.  Headless pins would be a better choice.  We’ll get started a bit earlier next year, and I hope to try a interesting board outline.

Of course, since there wasn't a prototype run, there were a few issues. 
  • The pin didn't fit.
  • Pads were very small.
  • The pin was very difficult to solder to the board.
I didn't consider the additional thickness from electroplating the through holes, so the pin didn't quite fit.  It was possible to force it in with a pair of pliers, but it wasn't always successful, and just wouldn't work at the event.  I ended up manually drilling each board with a 1/16 inch bit. 

The pads for LEDs were also a bit small for beginners.  They should have been enlarged a bit to make things easier.  

The stainless steel pins are a real pain to solder.  Maybe they should be glued or something else next time. The pins had a large (12mm) head.  Headless pins would be a better choice.  We’ll get started a bit earlier next year, and I hope to try a interesting board outline.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Hovercraft Micro H-shaped Quadcopter (MHQ) build.

Hey guys, JM again! I have a new project, I'm building the Hovercraft MHQ. This project is super cool for several reasons, first this is my first drone, second it is my first RC project period and third the entire chasis is 3d printed from ABS plastic on our Makerbot Replicator. I will be doing a video series following the different steps in the build and will be filming the portion regarding the 3d printing this coming weekend. For now heres a link to the Photo Album!

What is a quadcopter? A quadcopter is an aircraft that uses rotor wings (like a helicopter) to generate lift and thrust. A helicopter has one main rotor that produces both lift and thrust for the entire airframe while the second, smaller, rotor in the rear counteracts the torque generated by the main rotor and also allows for yaw or rudder right and left to steer flight. A quadcopter utilizes multiple rotors, four specifically, to do the same thing. The benefits of having four main rotors developing lift and thrust as opposed to one main rotor is stability! Torque is counteracted by spinning the rotors in opposite directions. Two spin clockwise and 2 spin counterclockwise. The drone pilot operates a radio transmitter with two sticks that correspond to yaw, pitch, roll and throttle. The radiosignal is transmitted to a receiver onboard the drone, the receiver passes the information to the flight controller or (FCS) the FCS has several extremely important functions. The flight controller has an array of sensors, including gyroscopes and a barometer in the case of the Tau Labs Sparky FCS that is being used for this project. Assuming the radio is set to some amount of throttle but otherwise the sticks are in a neutral position the FCS will adjust, in real time, the RPM of each individual motor so that the drone hovers as if it were sitting on top of a tripod. The FCS accomplishes this by sending signals to four Electronic Speed Controllers or ESCs that are each individually attached to a motor. The ESC acts as a flood gate holding back the considerable amount of current in the battery pack. As the ESC receives signals from the FCS it either gives or limits current to the attached motor increasing or decreasing RPM and thus lift. When a stick is moved out of its neutral position to make an adjustment in either pitch, yaw or roll or some combination of the 3 the FCS does some math and creates a difference between the RPM of the four motors. If the pilot wants more roll the difference is across the long axis of the aircraft, if the pilot wants pitch then the difference is along the short axis etc etc. To generate thrust to move forward the aircraft pitches forward, so that instead of lift being directed perpendicular to the ground it is directed at an angle. Costs for small quadcopter drones can vary greatly. The Hovership MHQ as I have it set up will have quite a few neat features including return to home RTH capabilities and waypoint to waypoint GPS navigation, also altitude hold and loiter mode. Additionally the drone will be fitted with FPV or first person video equipment so that it can be flown over long distances by camera. A downside to this build is that battery capacity being what it is flight time will range from 8-20 mins on one battery. Cost for this build to get it off the ground will be approx $300, with the addition of the FPV equipment it will likely be closer to $500-$700. Most of the equipment is modular and interchangeable so that it can be repurposed for other projects later.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

DIY Audio

Hi my name's JM, I'm a recent member of HackRVA. Since joining I've been working on some guitar effects pedal clones from You can see my build picture updates on our Flickr, here's the direct link to the album:

I've started with a ProCo Rat clone, its a simple op-amp based distortion pedal with three settings for volume, distortion and filter. I selected this pedal mainly because there was an instructable ( that had some comments on off-board setups with wiring shown. In the pipe I have a couple other distortion pedals I'd like to try my hand at, at Tonepad there are schematics for the Ampeg Scrambler and the Marshall GUVNOR. Down the road I'd really like to build a flanger, however, the designs for phasers and flangers that I've found all involve multiple IC's with complex boards.

So why make all of the pedals to begin with? Well my brother is a great guitarist. I'm nearly 30 and decided to revisit some life goals. One of the things I've always wanted to do but never stuck with was start a band. The kit I'm building at HackRVA will hopefully turn into the gear that we gig with. Looking ahead a little we have plans to start writing songs and practicing in about six months or so. Between now and then I'm doing daily metronome practice to hone in my metal picking skills (alternate picking, chugging, etc). I'll keep updating the flickr album and the project blog here with project milestones. The component orders to populate the boards are in the mail. Everything that I need to have a functioning pedal should be here in about a week. Assembly will take place sometime next week on the Rat. There are still some components I need to pick up / salvage, for instance a stomp-switch, however I think I can just jump the switch to make sure the circuit works as it should. Keep an eye out in about two weeks or so for a video (hopefully) showing a working distortion pedal. Once the team at the shop finishes the laser cutter project also look for some cool under-lit case designs, either in acrylic or baltic birch ply.

I wanted to start small because I don't have much of a background in electronics. I'm a nurse, although while I was in school I spent some time as an engineering student and took a couple basic circuits courses. I remember at the time wanting to get into some DIY audio, tube amplifiers and the like but I quickly realized I couldn't make that interest a reality. Mainly because of a lack of money and expertise. I feel like these two environmental factors are a large reason why many people choose to sit on the couch and watch Netflix instead of getting out there and making something. Luckily thats where HackRVA came in to the equation. At Hack I had immediate access to all of the tools needed to etch the boards, as well as fabricate the box (coming in the next several weeks). Eventually I'll even be able to add some cool embellishments (laser cutting on the case-work for instance). Materials costs are low, and all of the specialized tools are right here. At Hack you also have access to expertise. It was difficult sourcing the components to populate the boards. Mouser and DigiKey can be overwhelming places. Its nice to have access to a Makerspace where you can pull someone aside and have them help you dial in your parts list. The more you talk to people and read into the blogs and build logs the more you find interesting new avenues to explore, for instance I just ran accross Dustin's APC build tonight, and am looking forward to making one in the future.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Table Saw Sled - Cut like a pro

by Aaron

We built a table saw sled. This makes for easy and square cutting. Also cut multiples in a stack or make jigs for complicated cuts.

See the new dust collection system in action too.

First Welding Project - Welding Cart

by Aaron

We got right into a first project with the recently donated Lincoln Wire Feed Welder. We took an existing stand, reconfigured some TV mounting rack with cut-off disks, and then welded it all together.

The welding cart will serve as a sturdy home for the welder and all it's peripherals.
More pics here.

Forget Boring Baby Names - Arduino Based Baby Name Generator

by Aaron

Michael produced this humorous baby name generator for friends expecting. He started with an Arduino to prototype then used tools at HackRVA to build a custom board. Snazzy!

Check out complete build details and story on his blog here.

Friday, March 7, 2014