Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Tools’ Category


12V LED Bench Lighting

Over the course of a couple of years we’ve managed to toss almost every incandescent light, along with all those CFL landfill mistakes and switch to LED lighting. Which has its own pros and cons.

My work bench area used to have nine (9) 50W Halogen MR16’s on the ceiling and while it did provide some decent lighting, it was also equivalent to a Kenner Easy Bake Oven. I’d swapped out the Halo’s for some 6 watt LED lights a couple years back so I was getting not blinding but acceptable lighting without the heat.

But as anyone with a work bench knows, having acceptable lighting is one thing. Having it where you need it and enough of it is quite another.

With my work bench, I’m almost always between the lights on the ceiling above me and whatever it is I’m trying desperately to see. When I was younger I swear I could see in the dark. Now I just know when it’s dark.

I’ve looked at all kinds of lighting, even installed an LED strip under a shelf above my bench. It helped but not quite as much as I’d have liked.

Wandering around Thingiverse I came across someone who’d printed his own lights.

Thingiverse 12V LED Lighting

They looked like they might do the job so…I downloaded the design and had a look at it in Tinkercad. His LED lights must be significantly longer than mine (mine are almost the same dimensions as a 50W Halogen bulb) so I suspect they are the bulbs that won’t fit in a Halogen 50W housing. Mine will.

My LED’s are 4W, 12VDC MR16’s. Rightly 450 lumens at a metre. Gotta watch those LED specs sometimes because the ones off eBay can be, well, anywhere on the map. Not to mention colour temperature. I normally look for ones in the 3100K range for colour temp since that feels the most pleasing to my eyes. 2600 to 2800K appears yellow, and 5000 to 6000K+ is almost blueish white.

I printed out the globe part it is very well designed. Printed out nicely. Next I had to make the arm fit my self because his were designed for 18mm shelving. Mine are standard 3/4″ pine. I printed one arm and immediately didn’t like it. Way too flexible with the weight of the bulb on the end, so I added some gussets to it and reprinted. Great.

IMG 0882

The clamps that go on the shelf aren’t screwed down or anything so I made sure one of my bench power supplies was parked on top of it. There’s a ring that holds the LED bulb in place and I was wondering how hot it might get (4 watt bulbs can run 50C when on) but after leaving it on, no big deal. The globe is ventilated well enough that any heat just goes up.

LED Bulb

If you look at the LED you’ll see its a single cell, well not really, it’s what they call a COB (Chip On Board) LED. These are the best types to use in my opinion. Lots of times you’ll see individual LED’s, and I’ll tell you have some of those and they run HOT. COB are much more efficient and tend to give you a wider dispersion of light. Usually in the 45 to 65 degree angle range as opposed to the others than are focused in the 18 to 25 degree range.

To power these, you need a 12VDC power supply approx 500ma per bulb. I use a 12VDC 2A switching power adapter. One of the billions you can find on eBay. If you’re thinking you need to watch the polarity on the DC adapter, nah. Doesn’t matter what is positive or negative on the leads. Just plug them in to DC. They must have a bridge rectifier inside to handle this but I’ve never taken one apart yet.

I set my LUX meter that I built on my bench with only the ceiling LED’s on. Lux measures 210. And you can see the heavy shadows in the photo.

IMG 0886

Then I powered up the two LED lights and remeasured the LUX. Distance from LED shelf to bench is 29″.

IMG 0887

While the shadows are still there in the photo, mainly because the lighting is directly overhead, my hand is lit up much better and the LUX has jumped from 210 to 735. In brightness that’s a huge increase!

I was fortunate enough to have a shelf just above the bench to attach these LED’s to. Ultimately it sure is nice to have the additional light.

To turn the LEDs on and off, I use one of those 433Mz learning remote controls and a simple key fob type transmitter. These things are about $5 on eBay. Easy to program.

12V remote


Closet Renovation

At some point in time, about 20 years ago I built some closet organizers. No doubt at a time when my wood working abilities were at a level that was lower than my demolition abilities.

I seem to recall I sort of knew how to dado a board, apply glue and plenty of nails in the hopes that things would magically stay together. More because of the nails than any faith I had in glue. When I removed the old closet, this proved that fact beyond a doubt.

So at the onset, we had this odd duck shaped reach-in, walk-in closet in the master bedroom. The reach in side looked like this:

Old Left

The walk-in side looked like this:

Old Right

Considering the years ago that I made them, I found it remarkable that they never had budged an inch. I built them “California Closet” style so they didn’t touch the floor. Literally boxes hanging on walls. Cause that looks normal. Well, twenty years ago any way.

When Carol and I started to take them off the walls, well, I think the reason they never budged is because I must have gotten a special on joint caulking because it ripped the drywall off with the cabinet. And this is the least damage picture. Ugh.

Old removal

Swell. First order of business was to replace the ceiling “light” (dare I call it that), a dingy looking “golden glass” globe with what looked like a yellow bug light in it. The bulb is that old. I swear a single firefly gave off more light. I think I could measure the light output in “LUMEN”. As in a single lumen.

We found a six foot track light, flexible so we could bend the thing to go where we wanted it. It held 6 GU10 bulbs, and designed for Halogen 50 watt ones. Any one who has ever stood under a halogen will recognize the familiar heat rash on the top of their head from those, not to mention that they don’t venture into the realm of energy efficient.

I have a bunch of GU10 LED bulbs here so we pressed those into service. I used the “daylight” ones (5000K) not the 2700K (yellow like an incandescent) or 3100K like a Halogen. Nope, bright white. Actually looks nice.

The electrical who wired the house, apart from not wanting to put lights where he was paid to put lights, managed to get even with me by installing the light switch inside the closet. You know, cause you walk into a dark room to turn on a light don’t you? Yeah, not so much. I just flipped the junction box around to move it to an outside wall. Easy. Should have did that years ago.

Light switch

Then it was off to Home Depot to get some wood. I wanted to use real wood, you know the stuff that came from a real tree? Not the stuff that was made from the sawdust of said tree, mixed with glue and who knows what and pressed into flat boards. Carol didn’t want to spend time “finishing” the boards so…I caved. She picked the boards and we loaded up the van. With 21 of them (97″ x 15.25″ x 5/8″).

This is some of the left over pieces because we were going to build more more cabinets than we ended up doing.

Wood pile

We measured about 80 times and came to the conclusion that we couldn’t make the full depth of 15.25″. Our old “cabinets” (were made of sparse density fibreboard) were 11″ deep so we decided on 13″ for depth. I was going to have a fun time shoving 21 boards through a 10″ Bosch portable table saw.

For accuracy, I decided to see what my Festool track saw would do.

Board trimming

Couple years back I started with one Festool. I have most of them now. Yes, they are stupid expensive. No argument from me at all on that note. They are also the nicest power tools I’ve ever used. Dust collection is amazing, and there’s no “finishing” cuts, your first cut is your finishing cut. I stuck two tracks I had together and clamped them on the planks and in a few seconds I had the board at proper width. I used a measuring bar from another Festool product to duplicate my setup with each board. I may just never use the table saw again.

Even with Festool’s fabulous dust collection, when I finished the boards I did notice a fog of dust drifting around the garage. The MDF I was cutting is dusty stuff for sure but it was nowhere near as porous as the MDF was 20 years back.

When Carol and I laid out the basic blueprint for the cabinets we were going to make each one a custom size so it would maximize the space it fit in. Now I say basic blueprint, 80% of the blueprint is in my head with a few measurements on paper for good measure (was that a pun?). Thus I don’t do isometric drawings or detailed blueprints, I see all that in my head. Just the way I do it. Probably been a software programmer too long…

After tossing ideas around for a day we both came to the conclusion that the best way to maximize anything was to make them all the same side. So interchangeable. Shelves, rods, whatever. I wasn’t going to put backs on the cabinets so the only requirement was a “semi” fixed middle shelf to hold the sides together.

If you look at closet organizers or wardrobes you’ll see an abundance of holes to make them adjustable. That’s what we decided as well. Now imagine taking a hand drill and drilling 600+ holes in a series of boards that will line up perfectly when you assemble the boards into carcases (shells of the cabinet). Yeah. Recipe for failure.

One word popped into mind. Festool. Turns out Festool has what they call an LR32 “system”. You can look up all about the 32mm system but essentially every kitchen or cabinet in Canada has used it for a long, long time. With good reason. It’s interchangeable. Of course, the Festool offering is silly expensive and it requires you use their plunge router as well, but I already have and love the 1010 router. So…in for a penny.

Sides LR32

The router goes on a “32mm holey” guide rail and you need a brad 5mm bit. It takes about 40 seconds to do 50″ of board with holes. The LR32 comes with guide attachments so it will match up front and back holes. Lots of YouTube videos on this system and apart from drilling a LOT of holes, I would not waste my time doing it any other way. I don’t care what it cost. When I assembled my boards into cabinets every shelf sat absolutely perfectly flat. Nice.

To assemble the cabinet in the old days I would have cut a dado. Which would give me a bit of a joint because of the butt end of the horizontal board pressing against the vertical board. Or I could have made a couple of half lap joints for maximum glue area. Least that’s what I used to do. Few years back I started using a biscuit joiner for these MDF covered projects. Worked okay.

Which lead me to a Festool rig called a Domino. It creates a floating tenon. Dead on simple to use, accurate as heck and uses beech wood tenons (called domino’s). So that’s what I did. In the photo here you see me cutting the domino into one board, I then lay it flat and cut it into the other board so it mates perfectly. There are guide stops on the tool for a reference cut and it’s a joy to use.

If you only ever buy one Festool, my advice is to get the DF500 Domino cutter. You’ll use your old biscuit joiner for a door stop. And yes, the DF500 is not cheap. To which I will say you get what you pay for.

Festool domino

After assembling the first cabinet Carol and I lugged it up and installed it.

First piece

There’s a hidden board at the top that attaches to the wall studs with a screw to stop the cabinet from moving around and there’s a 3″ kick on the bottom with shims to keep it slightly tilted back. The shelf in the middle is attached with L brackets to the sides so, four 5mm screws and it’s off or move it to where you want it.

We both couldn’t wait to get the second piece built, really because we had clothes strewn all over the place during this build. So together another one went and Carol loaded them up.

Second piece

Since then, she’s changed the lower section of the inner most one to all shelves. Ah the beauty of interchangeable stuff…

Next it was over to my side (I get the walk in side; not sure why)…we put in the three cabinets.

Over half shelves

We had originally intended to put in a small 18″ unit between the two racks just behind Carol but after doing some testing with layouts, we decided against that. This is what we ended up with in the final configuration.

Right side loaded

Lots of space, scads of empty shelves and a job that is very rewarding to us. Plus, if we don’t like it, change it. Now that’s what makes it really worth while.

On the off chance you’ve wandered off and checked out the price of the Festool line, and managed to pick your jaw up off the floor, I will agree they demand a premium dollar. Just like a USA made guitar or a luxury automobile for that matter. I’ve owned top of the line Craftsman, Black & Decker, DeWalt, Makita, Bosch, Hitachi and Delta. And I can’t name one of them that will out perform any of my Festools. In much the same way as I can’t name any one of my guitars that will out perform my USA made Fender or Gibson. Simply no contest in my mind.

If there’s a stumbling block to Festool, other than the price, it’s the new ways you’ll end up learning to do things you used to do. Like my track saw vs a table saw. But do those things a few times and you’ll soon be doing them as if you’d always done them that way.

Yep, I’m a Festool fan and glad of it. On the slight down side, when things do screw up, sadly I can’t blame the tool…


MIDI Mate – Arduino

After writing iFCB, iVamp and a number of other MIDI programs, I came to the conclusion that I needed something to assist me in debugging MIDI commands.

Granted a lot of that can be done on a computer, but when you need to do it where the computer isn’t, you either need a laptop or you can pretty much forget it.

I started searching for stand alone MIDI tools and found references to tools like this a Studiomaster MA 36.


But it was the more elaborate Elm Video Technologies version that tweaked me to pressing an Arduino into the job.


While I could have purchased a whole kit from MIDI Kits, I already have enough Arduino boards around to use. Plus just knowing that a CC, PC or NOTE was transferred really isn’t enough information. I need to know the values. Thus, LED’s don’t work. A display of some kind is required.

Ultimately I decided that I didn’t want a two line LCD display. True they work, but they are kind of limited as to how much information they can display. I’d recently purchased some 1.8″ TFT displays off eBay that used Adafruit’s 7735 library. These displays use SPI and work great.

I built the MIDI interface using the schematic I found on MIDI Kits.

IMG 4691

The TFT display shows the received portion on the top and the “send” portion that I can edit on the bottom:

IMG 4692

The display is in HEX or decimal and I use a lowly Arduino UNO for the whole project. The sketch is roughly 27K so there’s a little bit left for expansion. I use a rotary encoder for editing and it’s the most finicky portion of the project. I have to use the software polling for the rotary because of the Software Serial library I use for the MIDI interface. It works, but definitely not as smooth as using interrupts to decode it.

I’d ordered some plastic cases, water proof as it turned out so I used one for my MIDI Mate:

IMG 4694

I supply power to the board via the external DC power jack or the USB jack if I’m using it by a computer. Works well in either case.

IMG 4700

Since I deal with SYSEX a good amount of the time, I always wanted a SYSEX display. MIDI Mate automatically changes the display to SYSEX when a message is received.

IMG 4702

If you notice the bottom of the display you can see “Sonarcana LLC”. I included all the current MIDI manufacturer ID’s so I know who the SYSEX message belongs to. Unless it’s a universal message, in which case:

IMG 4703

Obviously the TFT display doesn’t allow me to display the full name of some of the companies so I had to abbreviate where required. Still, it does provide some useful information (as well as the hex offset of the data for debugging messages).

Presently there are some design limits. First, the SYSEX for the Arduino library is limited to 255 bytes, unless you change the buffer size. The UNO only has 2K of ram so changing it probably isn’t a good thing to do. If I was using a MEGA then it would be different as they have 8K of RAM.

Secondly, I only display first 64 bytes of the SYSEX message. I was going to allow a “page” through the SYSEX in 64 byte blocks but noticed that the majority of my messages were fairly small. This I can still change though if required.

Lastly, I’m toying with the idea of adding an EEPROM to the I2C bus so I can save the SYSEX coming in, and then send it out after I look at it. I don’t have a specific requirement for that at the moment, but it’s an option I might put in.

In closing, I have built tools in the past that have been useful but I discarded shortly after their intended use. I find the more I use my MIDI Mate, the more I want to use it. It’s just a very nice, portable, MIDI debugging tool. I can emulate an FCB1010 easily, or whatever I need. Where it’s something that MIDI Mate doesn’t do, it’s just a matter of adding to the Arduino sketch.



As a new Festool convert, I tend to jump at the chance to try out some of the new tools I get. The recent acquisition was the Domino joiner.

I’ve owned a biscuit joiner for quite a while and used it a lot over the years. But in spite of the fact that it’s supposed to help align things, I found it only marginal at that and really those little pressed sawdust biscuits have never proven themselves to be pillars of strength.

I needed a new shelf for the work shop so I chose a fairly simple design but I decided to make all the joints with the Festool Domino joiner.

But before I get to the Domino joiner, I got to use my new Carvex jigsaw. The Carvex replaced my Bosch jig saw. And after comparing the two, I can to the conclusion, you can’t compare them. Not even close to the same class. At any rate, I used the jig saw with the attachment to round the ends of the shelf.

IMG 4570

Then I used my Festool router and put a sculpted edge on the shelf.

IMG 4572

The router is VERY impressive. Of course the one I was previously using was a Sears Craftsman that was about 20+ years old. It did have electronic speed control but the worst positioning adjustment ever. Again no comparison in tools.

IMG 4573

Since this was going above my work bench, I routed out a channel for the LED strip lighting I was going to put in it, and I cut the Dominos at the same time. The fastest job was making all the Domino cuts. It’s an amazing tool.

IMG 4576

I finished the shelf with some Polycrylic Gloss (nice stuff).

IMG 4582

So far, the most awkward Festool to use that I have is the track saw. Seems I always want the scrap piece to be on the wrong side of the track when I cut. And it’s not really all that ideal for working with small pieces. Probably a knack I haven’t developed yet.


Under The Microscope

I’m doing more SMD work (that’s using very small surface mounted electronic parts) and checking my work, even with a headset magnifier is difficult. I’d purchased a “budget” USB microscope from fleaBay last year but apparently you don’t get a lot of quality for $12. Surprise…

I’d read that the 5mp cameras with a 50-500x magnification and controllable LED lighting are the best way to view your stuff, so, I ordered a USB microscope:

USB Microscope

Of course when it showed up, the first of note was the total lack of Mac support. There was a MINI CDROM for Windows though and I did manage to install that in VMWare Fusion under WinXP to make sure the thing worked. The software is sort of “iffy” though with a non-intuitive interface. But then I find my Windows application tend to look cartoonish and sport functions they don’t explain. Anywhere, including the “Help” menu. Begs the question of why put in a Help menu in the first place.

For the Mac, there are some software choices, none of which I could find that take advantage of the two push buttons on the microscope. Namely SNAP and ZOOM. I was sort of disappointed until, I realized that when you’re hitting those buttons at a high magnification, you shake things. A lot. Thus, they are really kind of useless.

I found that the Macs PhotoBooth and Quicktime could use the “USB Camera” so all wasn’t lost after all. The third party software for the Mac didn’t really appear to have a lot of options I’d use any way.

While this microscope had good clarity and ample zoom, it also had a problem. A flickering set of LED ring lights inside. There is a POT on the cable that allows you to adjust the brightness, hopefully to get a better photo or image. If I wiggled the cable where it went into the microscope head, the lights would flash on and off. Like an intermittent connection. Not good.

I naturally contacted the eBay seller who offered me $5 to buzz off. Or ship it back at my expense (about half of what I paid for the scope). Eventually we settled on a higher amount and I thought I’d just build my own LED lighting for it.

This thought lasted an entire afternoon. Indeed. It bugged me. So, rather than leave things alone, I ripped it apart to see what the problem was.

I started by taking apart the pot that controlled the LED brightness. Not much to it.

IMG 4559

Getting the main unit apart. I got the silver ring off first (it’s around the unit by the Snap switch in the first image). Once I got that off, the end with the cable in it is sort of glue welded and it was easy to pry off the cable end.

IMG 4560

There was a metal clip that looked like it was trying to cut the cable in half that I removed. You can see the indentation in the cable. I used a zip tie to replace it. When I wriggled those wires the LED’s would flash. I thought it might be the main board or something so I started to look inside:

IMG 4562

I thought Behringer was the only company that used glue to hold little pieces in place. Nope. The blue and yellow wires are from the POT. I checked as best as I could for a bad connection but couldn’t find one.

It was when I started to look closely at the pot, I found the Blue wire was a cold solder joint. I resoldered both connections anyway and now it works just fine.

I put it all back together, used the Handyman’s Secret Weapon to hold the cap on (duct tape).

Previously I said that using the buttons on the unit are pointless because you shake too much (or I do). The best way to do it is to set it up on it’s El Cheapo stand, prefocus it, then slide a printed circuit board underneath the lens and don’t touch the microscope at all. The Mac Quicktime application works better than the PhotoBooth one. In PhotoBooth images are flipped and reversed.

My advice if you get one of these, see if you can find one with a VERY sturdy stand. I’m going to make a stand for mine out of wood. That will hold it very steady. And really that’s about all you need. It actually works quite well and the LED’s brightness control is very handy.


Rigol DS1052E Upgrade

It was about three years back when I watched Dave Jones from EEVBlog do a rant on an oscilloscope. I’d been thinking of one of those DSO Nano scopes. Dave was driving in his car and doing the scope rant (episode #86) and I guess it struck home because I didn’t buy one. Why? Cause Dave said they were junk.

Dave’s a sharp cookie, much brighter than I’d ever hope to be with electronics, so I was smart enough to avoid those DSO scopes. But I still wanted a scope. I then started looking through some of Daves older posts and found #37 where he talked about a Rigol 1052E.

So I bought one. It’s a great scope, decent software, LOUD fan. And. It. Drives. Me. Nuts.

Then early last year (2012) I found EEVBlog #70. Turn your DS1052E (50Mhz) into a DS1102E (100Mhz). It was all done in software. Turns out the folks at Rigol use pretty much the same motherboard and just apply a software patch to change the model that the scope thinks it is. At that time it needed a Windows computer (it’s all Macs here), some patch files and you could brick the scope if you’re not careful.

I passed on this at the time.

About a month ago, I needed a 100Mhz scope. Wouldn’t you know it.

So back I went and found a huge forum with a LOT of messages about everything from guys who bricked their scopes to guys who it worked perfectly for. Someone even write a special patch that worked via USB so you didn’t have to use a RS232 terminal to do it. I’d installed Windows XP in VMWare’s Fusion on my workbench Mac so…in for a penny…

I read everything I could find first. And there’s some good information on the steps to do it right. I only wanted to do it once. Right. I read, re-read and downloaded all the patches, made sure I understood the order and away I went. Took me about half an hour. And it worked perfectly. No issues at all.

My DS1052E is now a DS1102E. I did the tasks I had to get done with the scope and then…I noticed that I still HATED the fan noise. There’s some amazing products coming out of Asia, simple quiet fans are not one of them. So back to the forums I headed and low and behold, I found a LOT of guys hated that fan. So they swapped them out. Plus did a little work inside the DS1052E to ensure longer life…(heatsink on the 7905 reg).

I found the service manual for the DS1052E and read about how to take it apart. Four screws and some tugging and it comes apart. The screws are on the bottom and under the handle at the top. Typical torx.

IMG 4196

The hardest part is getting the side off that the AC plug is on. The service manual suggests applying FORCE to get it off. I couldn’t find any photos of what it looks like, so here it is.

IMG 4199

You can see the piece laying on the top. That piece is the root of all evil. The case is fit into it rather snugly. The guys I read about were taking the mounting screws out of the AC socket, which then falls inside the power supply. Not a good thing to do in my opinion.

So I did some prying and yanking, as the manual suggests and it actually does come off. When I reassembled mine I left off that little piece. As I see it, it’s purely aesthetic any way.

The fan, well, there’s the hard part. The factory mounted fan is a “GLOFN GFA06015H12H”. That is a 60x60mm running at 5500rpm @12V DC. According to the manufacturers website it has an air flow of 34.2m3/h at 36.5dBA of annoying noise. To save you the effort of conversion, that’s 20.12 CFM. But it sounds like it’s 2000CFM.

IMG 4206

I seen others trying to shoe horn in 80mm fans, fans with reducers, grills cut out and re-drilled, grills enlarged and so on. Some of it not too pretty either.

I wanted to stay with a 60mm fan, but quiet was the order. I checked every company I could find and apparently small quiet fans are hard to find or make, or something. I stumbled across a post who said they used a 60mm Xilence fan that they got from Germany on eBay. So that’s where I started looking and I found one:

Xilence 60mm case fan:


  • Size: 60 x 60 x 12mm
  • Hole-Distance(Diagonal): approx. 66mm
  • Voltage: 12V(7V-13.2V)
  • Fan-Performance: 2100 RPM / 29,7 CFM
  • Bearing Type: Xilence Hydro/Fluid Bearing
  • Noise Level: 22dB
  • Plug: 3-Pin Molex Connector(Mainboard)

So not only more quiet, but better flow rate too. Bonus. Best $13 CDN I spent in a while.

Before I carry on with the fan and other fix, these are the shots of the insides of the DS1052E power supply.

IMG 4200

Then the left side where the fan is:

IMG 4201

More than just a few guys who’ve done the fan mod have commented on the fact that the 7905 gets hot so the fan helps keep it cool. On the left bottom corner of the photo here you can see the 7905 just standing in a field of capacitors.

The original fan and 7905:

IMG 4202

I had some heat sinks that I use for MOSFETs so I cut one of those down to fit, then I changed the fan. Note it’s a three wire fan I put in, but you only connect the Vcc to it, the blue wire is for the RPM sensor. I just taped it up and left it off. I didn’t leave the heat sink sloped over, I moved to a more upright position so the sink wouldn’t touch the capacitors or the ribbon cable.

New fan heat sink:

IMG 4205

I have to say the scope works amazingly well, rise times are far faster for traces, and the fan is now, finally, at, last, quiet. Ah.. tis heaven.


TrendNet – Repurposed

Some time ago when I built my iPatch, I’d picked up a clearance item at a local electronics shop. Mainly because I wanted the box it came in. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it was a steel box and it wasn’t going to be easy to turn into an iPatch.

Thus is got dumped into my junk box and sat there for more than a year. Since I’ve been doing a lot of work with Arduino’s and LED’s (mostly 12V strings), I use my 10A bench supply to test run stuff. Which is fine because I can limit the current with the supply. However once tested, using the bench supply seems a little overkill.

Thus I decided I needed a simple 5/12V power supply just for powering stuff that I’ve fully tested. Out came the Trendnet 16 port ethernet switch.


I removed all the parts inside (no idea if it even worked). I then sourced some switching power supplies (5V 4A), (12V 2A), some LED panel meters and away the project went.

Cutting the steel I used a nibbler and I have to say I have a much stronger grip now than when I started. It’s TOUGH to nibble that steel…

IMG 3449

The large connector on the left in the photo is a four port USB backplane connector. I just drilled some holes in it to mount it and this is where the 5V comes from for the Arduino. And I can have four Arduino’s running at the same time.


I used a couple of 90 degree 2.54 headers on to a piece of perf board to connect the sockets from the connectors. Works fine.

For the 12VDC connectors, I used banana jacks.

IMG 3451

So when it was all said and done and powered up…I have a 1U rack unit with lots of plug in places for Arduino’s and a 12V supply for “external” items like LED’s (strip lighting). I didn’t wire the grounds together so they are completely separate supplies.

I was going to put in an AMMETER for the 12V supply and I had the panel meter ready to go in but I didn’t realize that it required a separate Vcc for the meter.

The two voltmeters run off the same supply as they are measuring, but the ammeter leaked out some smoke when I connected it up that way. Course, in electronics, that’s how you learn sometimes. So if you’re looking for a panel ammeter on eBay (or where ever), check to make sure that it can run off the same supply as it is measuring. Or your’s will leak smoke too….


New Power Supply Day…

I’ve been using a 30V 5A DC variable power supply from Circuit Specialists for over a year now. While it works quite well, it’s a rebranded “whatever”…


I connected up a 4.5A @ 12V load to it and the internal heatsink, which is nothing more than a flat piece of 3/16″ aluminum plate gets VERY hot. There’s a few token slots cut in the plate and they have the worlds noisiest fan inside the thing that is not temperature controlled, it just runs flat out. Worst than a vacuum cleaner. Ugh.

Since I need about 5 amps for a lot of my 12V testing and this little supply is getting stressed about it, it was time to go shopping for something that was built better (?) and could handle higher amperage.

In all my searching, you simply keep coming across similar units that I am sure are rebranded whatevers from Asia. Some had temperature controlled fans, but most, just ran the fan flat out all the time. Of course they said it was 51dbA, but I think that was measured from a nearby building. Mine was rated at 51dba and according to my DB meter it wasn’t even in the ballpark.

I happened across a few sites that showed guys opening up a Mastech power supply, either to fix it or show what was inside. What I noticed fan. Big heatsinks on the back. So I started to dig deeper and I emailed for more details. I settled on a HY3010D. That’s a linear supply, massive transformer, easy to fix if it goes south because it uses standard parts.

MasTech 3010D

You don’t get any leads with it, which is kind of odd and although it was packed well, someone managed to bash the fins on the heat sinks on the back. I was told there was a temperature controlled fan inside. So…like Dave from the EEVBlog says, “Don’t turn it on, take it apppaarrttt.” So I did.

You can see from the photo, there’s a control board, a relay board, display board in the front and … no fan. Zero. Nada.

HY3010D No Fan

This unit is almost twice the width of my original supply so my bench needed some rearranging to fit it in. I’t a linear supply so there are a lot of taps and relays on the transformer. The idea is that the voltage is done in steps so the transistors don’t have to dissipate all the “extra” over voltage. Keeps things cooler. I like it.

I checked the boards and the soldering and while not exactly stellar, it’s better than some I’ve seen. The wiring is quite neat. Controls operate nice and smooth in either voltage limit or current limiting mode.

Speaking standard parts, how many of these have you seen from the old days..2N3055’s…four of them. Yep. That’s 10 amps worth…


The control board looks kind of like a power resistor orgy. I’m guessing that’s the cheapest way to do it. It’s also not mounted all that great with only two screws holding the board. I think they could have done this a little better.


Any way, at the end of the day, it does the job, it’s QUIET!!!! We’ll have to wait and see what it’s lifespan is…


Spray Booth update

I was spraying up a stomp box today, shot the main colour and that was okay. Later on I tried spraying the clear coat. Man was that hard. Even with all the LED’s I added, there were shadows in the front…

Before front light

As anyone can see the front edge, like the one I’d be spraying, is in the dark. If you’ve done spray painting at all you know you need light to see the “wet” paint… So I added a set of LED’s that are removable in the front…

After front light

I put some velcro on the wood so I wouldn’t bump it, wired in a short jumper and connectors and it makes a HUGE difference. Now, if I’d done that BEFORE I got the run in the clear coat…


DCA55 – Analyser

Every now and then there’s a big of test gear that comes along that is simply, for lack of a better expression, drool worthy…

As I designing and building some stomp box pedals, I was trying to match up transistors according to gain (hFE) or B-E voltages or whatever. Plus I was looking for lower gain transistors in some cases or higher in others. Just looking at a heap of them in the parts bin doesn’t really tell you much.

Of course the manufacturers specs are always around, and low and behold, some of the parts even are within spec. Some aren’t. Then there’s others that don’t have any numbers or house numbers on them and you wonder what the heck they are. Sure with a multimeter you can figure it out…but I happened across a Peak Atlas DCA55 Semiconductor Component Analyser. Now with a name like that, it HAS to be good…

I checked the reviews and educated myself to it’s pros and cons. The only con I could find was if you were testing 40 year old Germanium transistors with hFE around 10-15 the tester was going to have a fit. Usually saying that it’s either a faulty device or unknown. Since that’s unlikely to occur for me, I ordered one from the UK company that makes them. Because there’s nowhere else that seems to have them. Cost is about $100.

Comes in a nice little box, 12V battery, about the same size as a point and shoot digital camera. Yep. Small. Three leads to connect to “whatever”, two switches to test with and that’s it.

What will it test? Diodes, diode networks, LED’s, Bicolor LEDS, Bipolar transistors (BJT), Enhancement mode MosFET’s, depletion mode MOSFETS, JFETS, SCR’s and TRIACS. Covers the majority of the stuff in my parts bins…

So the first thing I did was plug a common cathode tricolour LED on the leads. Any leads by the way, it will tell which ones are which. Yes, I know mine is a tricolour but this was a test.

BiColor LED Test.JPG

Don’t know what leads do what? Click the scroll button on the DCA55…The RED lead is the cathode. Now if you’re thinking it MISSED the green lead, it didn’t it tells you the details about EACH led it found, so I was only checking the one in the photo.

Next up, grab a transistor and plug the leads on (TIP122)


But what leads are what? EASY!

Tip 122 Lead ID.jpg

What about GAIN (2N2904; spec says 40-120 for hFE):

Transistor hFE.JPG

The DCA55 comes with a well written 25 page PRINTED manual and the thing is a piece of cake to use. A one year warranty, and a COMPLETE listing of all the test parameters the DCA is using to give you the results.

So like I said, this is one drool worthy piece of kit. Money well spent as far as I am concerned…


El Sleezo LCR Meter

It goes without saying that if you need an LCR meter you should buy a good one. If you’re an engineer or electronics designer you probably have a top notch unit with a calibration sheet, and, you’re hardly the type that is going to get anything useful out of this post at all…except maybe a chuckle…

For the unwashed electronics masses, of which I am one, we simply need something that can get the job done.

Enter the El Sleezo line of meters, tools, parts, or whatever. They all come from the same place (offshore; but you knew that). The quality test on El Sleezo stuff is generally performed at the speed of light. I concluded that because no one in their right mind is going to reach onto the assembly line that travels at Mach 5 and risk life and limb to grab one of these “whatevers” for testing. Nope, testing was done during the design phase. Returns and DOA’s bad Karma.

My eyes, along with other parts of my anatomy, which we won’t cover, aren’t what they used to be. Reading little capacitors to determine what value they once were or might have been, assuming there are some numbers still to be seen, is just too difficult. So I needed a capacitor meter. There. I said it. Notice I didn’t say I needed a good one.

I didn’t need an L or R meter (inductance or resistance). I can read resistors without problems. I rarely work with inductors except for those few times when I forget the mains are live and volunteer to “induct”. At which point I do resemble an inductor. I choke, coil and react. Sometimes all al the same time. Truly amazing.

eBay has a LOT of LCR meters. Some of the local electronics shops carry the same “value” meters at a premium price. And of course theres some good stuff around. Unfortunately you’d have to miss a mortgage payment to afford it..but still..

For brands, there’s Vichy, CA-4070L, MasTech, Extech, and so on. Lots to pick from. For $30-$50 you get one of the low cost units and The Vichy DM4070 I got cost $30 (free shipping!)..

I honestly didn’t expect much, just something that if I blew it up or broke it, it wouldn’t break the bank.

Vichy DM4070.jpg

It arrived in a multimeter box, which confused me until I realized that they are recycling boxes “over there”. So that’s not a bad thing. I got the required cute little manual that compretely x-sprains opa-ration of un it. Yea, you want a chuckle, try reading the translations. For example, the one that I found in the “diaper policy” section:

“The Function stated for this User Manual cannot be reason of special usage.”

Or better yet:

“The content of this manual is regarded as correct, error or omits. Please contact with factory.”

That one should set off some alarm bells some place…

You get couple of leads, no 9V battery, the manual and meter. Have to say that the digits in the meter are HUGE. I could almost use them for our house address out front. There’s a zero adjust pot for the leads stray capacitance. On the lower scales it’s a little touchy but it works. The meter has blade sockets so you can just shove in a cap. Okay, these were may out of some old soda pop can but they work. For now.

I tried turning it on. Found that I had to hold down the button because it wouldn’t latch. Who wants to have a half functioning piece of doodoo any way. So I took it apart (credit EEVBlog for that tag line).

Vichy PCB.jpg

Notice that mine is water marked, or something. Maybe a repair for a bad connection. Hummmm. Around the power switch too. Turns out there was nothing wrong with the PCB at all.

If you look at the photo below, you see the power switch on the left under the display. That’s nothing but a chunk of plastic attached to a pushbutton switch. And after looking at it, I see the plastic had a piece of flashing on one side that hindered its movement. Couple of seconds with a nail file and plastic is nice and smoothy…

Vichy Inside.jpg

I put it back together, stuck a battery on it and tried the switch a LOT. Works perfect every time. Checked a bunch of caps with it and yep, it works. Not sure I’d want to shove a charged up electrolytic capacitor into it since it doesn’t look to me like there’s much in the way of input protection on this meter. Well, other than the PCB foil traces…

And as you can see the blade sockets for the caps are well, ah, stellar isn’t the word I’d use to describe them. The rotary switch is one of those wiper jobs that after a lot of use will sand through the PCB traces and render the meter fit only as landfill.

For intermittent use it’ll probably last a while. Or not. Maybe they need to add a tag line like this to the manual:

Life expectancy of unit is subject to change without notice.


Spray Painting

Finally got all the bits and pieces for the airbrush and compressor so it was time to paint up a box (the LED Tester I was making). Since I was going to have black lettering on the box, the best colour for the box was going to be white. Of course, for me, white has to be one of the hardest colours to paint just because it’s tough to see the build up.

That was hardly going to stop me though…so here’s some sample shots of me “in action”…That’s a Badger 200NH with a 1/4oz side cup. I think a standard box will take about an ounce so I could have used one of the 2oz bottles. So I had to refill the side cup quite often (use pipettes to do it!)…


A little close up of it…


And completed:

Airbrush Bottom Done.JPG

No mist came out of the box, the filters grabbed it nicely. The turntable made it easy to spin the job and paint it all the way around. The LED’s on the top helped me to see the wetness of the paint because, as I said, white for me is a tough colour to paint…

All in all, the spray booth is a complete success.

There are some additional things needed. One is a proper cleaning bottle:

Airbrush Cleaning Bottle.jpg

With this you put some water into the airbrush, then spray it into this large glass container. No mist comes out (it’s filtered) and the water based paint stays in the bottle for easy clean up. Ihave one on order so it will help in the future.


LED Tester Completed

So after shooting some paint with the new airbrush, sticking on my labels, adding the circuits to the inside, the LED Tester lives…actually works quite well.

LED Tester Inside.jpg

Lotsa room in there…standard stomp box enclosure…

Just plug in the LED to the top connect, select the current range, hit the TEST button. I like simple.

LED Tester Top View.JPG

Led Test Schematic

Finally found a piece of software that allows me to at least do some basic drawing of a schematic. The software is called Fritzing.

This is not a review of the software, just my personal impression of it.

I think it’s designed for taking a circuit that you’d build on a strip style board, which creates a schematic (of sorts) from what you lay down. From there you can create a PCB and save it as a Gerber plot. A high percentage of the examples of it in use show it coupled with the Arduino devices. I suspect that’s a lot of it’s background and judging from the lack of “core” components you can work with on a schematic, it seems to bare that out.

When I design circuitry, I don’t normally work on anything overly complex, I start with a schematic. From that point, I can almost always turn that into a PCB by hand without too much work. When you do it this way with Fritzing, you get some interesting results because that’s not the way it was designed. But then I’m old school too. I was designing PCB’s before there was software to design PCB’s and “auto routing”….

So here’s what I managed to “draw” in Fritzing. First off, you’ll see that I have switches S3 thru S8. Actually in my circuit that’s a rotary switch. But there’s no rotary switch in Fritzing. Matter of fact in Fritzing the “input” section is pretty skimpy. DPDT? Nope. Pushbutton? Nope. And on it goes. While you have the option of defining your own parts, one look at the multiple steps required to do this and it pretty much cures you of that idea.

Which is not to say that Fritzing isn’t useful, it’s remarkably good at what it does. However, if you’re schematic based like me, you’ll find it lacking in a lot of areas. So keep in mind that it’s free.

LED Constant Current Tester.jpg

Ages ago (we’re taking in the early 90’s) I used a piece of software called “Circuit Maker” from Microcode Engineering for my Macintosh systems. Not only could you draw a work schematic but you could “run” your schematic and put scope points on it to watch logic signals change. Of course resistors or capacitors didn’t affect the circuitry for “simulation” it was just logic gates. But you could set propagation for those gates. I built a lot of digital circuits in those days with that little program. I still miss it.

Eventually, Microcode dropped the Apple Mac support and continued to develop for Windows. I think they’re up to version 5 now.

After that I ended up using Canvas from Deneba Software and I had an electronics symbol library that I could draw schematics with. It wasn’t bad either. Course if you started to move parts around the wires came apart pretty quick because there weren’t any real points. Then Deneba got tired of Canvas and flogged it off to ACDC who didn’t give a squirt about the Mac clients. The software was let lapse and one of my most used drawing programs went the way of the DODO bird. If Lion would run Rosetta I’d still be using Canvas 8. But in another Apple’s infinite bouts of “we know what you want more than you do”, Rosetta is gone.

Finally I used OmniGraffle and its electronic symbols to draw schematics. And it worked, but I never seemed to get really comfortable with it to continue using it.

Softwares nature is to be a good revenue generating machine and if it’s not, it’s dead pretty fast. There’s scant few hobbyists like myself that program for fun and little to no profit. Unlike many, money has rarely ever been a motivator for what I do. Regardless of what it is. I write software that I need. Turns out other people seem to need it too, but writing for profit is something I only did once, a long time ago and I never did it again.

Any way, I’d love to see something like Circuit Maker for the Mac again….hey, I can dream can’t I?

So then, probably like a million others, my schematics are drawn on the back of a coffee stained napkin in an all night donut shop…


Spray Both…er..Booth

Having an airbrush means you get to atomize paint in to tiny droplets and spread the rainbow of acrylic around the…well.. pretty much everywhere within a ten foot circle of where you’re spraying. Which may not exactly make you popular with your better half.

Having looked at the outlines of past projects on my garage floor for several years now, I knew I was going to need some sort of containment area. Googling spray booths on the net brought up anything from a transport container that had be converted for spraying to people who obviously don’t recycle much cardboard because they got a lot of it to make into oh..say a Campbell soup spray booth…

In either case, they tend to be big, vented (with some sort of extraction fan) and anything but compact or portable. By chance I happened on Paasche’s web site and found a small fold up spray booth. And of course, with a little more searching a knock off of the same.

Essentially it’s a folder up box, smaller than a Fender 1963 Spring Reverb Tank (everyone should know that size)…and it unfolds. There’s a couple of filters inside that look like they came out of someones furnace and an exhaust fan that looks like a power supply fan.

Spray Inside.JPG
The little 7″ turn table is moveable and stores inside when the rig is folder up. Takes seconds to unfold and put together.

SprayBooth Sideview.JPG
There’s a retractable cord for the power for the fan and when you fold it all up, it’s small and portable.
Of course, one of the problems with these things is lighting. Even if the box is made out of translucent plastic you get the shadows (not the UK instro band)…so I took some of my LED strip lighting and modified the lid.. The bottom right corner is a power jack that takes a 12VDC adapter (like you’d use on a guitar stomp box).

Inside the wiring is pretty simple since it’s just LED strip lights:
So we have a BEFORE (with room lights on, the spots were aimed down inside so it’s probably better lighted than a standard room):
And AFTER with LED (and the camera really wants to cut down on the light because it’s picking up the LED’s brightness so it’s brighter than the image shows.
Any way, the idea is that you can see the reflection of the paint as you’re working. Next step will be to try it out and see if it really helps. Of course if the LED’s are covered in paint the light is going to get darker. Yep. But you don’t normally spray UP at the lid where the lights are and the fan is hopefully taking all the spray to the filter. In any event, I have lots of strips left so I can replace them easy enough.
For a size reference of the inside, that’s a Blade SR120 helicopter. About a foot of rotor span. Here’s another size impression.
Maybe not the be all, but ti should help contain the “rainbow”…

Compressor Part Deux…

The bits and pieces for the airbrush to compressor have been not only a challenge but a bit of a test of patience as well. None of the local suppliers carry the required adapters so it’s online dealers or eBay to source out the pieces needed.

Of course, the pieces tend to be in abroad and the expression “Slow Boat From China” tends be bluntly painful when dealing with overseas shipping. Things do arrive, but it can be anywhere from two to six weeks.

The hose is standard 1/4″, the airbrush is .5mm.

airbrush fittings

Nope, definitely need an adapter…or a LOT of duct tape…



Apart from the fact it’s been a LONG time since I wrote in the blog, cause I’m too busy to write every day, my new goal is to turn over a new leaf and get back into it. We’ll see how long that lasts…

I’m slowly getting back into some of the hobbies I had a lot of years ago and one them requires that I do some painting…airbrush style, not HPLV nor rattle cans. So the first thing is a source of … yep … air…

Senco PC1010

I first seen one of these compressors in use when we had our living room mantle custom installed. I couldn’t get over how light, small and quiet it was. I asked the installer a lot of questions about it and eventually found out that it’s next to impossible to get in our area. Lots of distributors carry Senco, none of them carry this little guy and none would bring it in. So I ended up ordering it up from the US and having it shipped here. Even with shipping, it was a lot cheaper than my big twin tank Hitachi or my other pancake compressor.


However, there’s only one quick connect on it, and airbrushes need a moisture trap inline for obvious reasons…

Airbrushes need a max of about .6 CFM, the Senco can pump out .7 @ 90PSI. Thus it’s a perfect airbrush fit.

Senco Modification

I ordered the moisture trap from eBay ($12) quality isn’t too bad, but I didn’t expect much so I wasn’t disappointed. Then it was out to local Princess Auto to find a manifold, some piping and a few other pieces.

After an hour or so later, my compressor now looks like this:


I can still use the standard quick connect for my brad gun or finish nailer, but the airbrush is on it’s own outlet. The moisture trap fits a little snug between the compressor head and the tank, but it does fit.

Senco_Moisture Trap.jpg

In hindsight if I’d have been thinking, I’d have got another 2 way manifold to allow me to connect up the brad and finish nail guns at the same time. If I tried to add one now, the pipe would have to come out since it’s in the way, then put in the splitter and then re-assemble the thing. The only time I use both guns is when I’m doing crown molding so I’ll just put up with it…

At this point I’m still waiting on the airbrush hose and the adapter fittings that will connect the hose to the tank. Amazingly enough, they actually sell quick disconnects for airbrushes.

Compressor Performance…

Should you be curious as to how the compressor works with a finish or brad nailer…

Milwaukee 15 gauge finish nailer – 6 nails.
Bostitch brad nailer – 16 brads
Rigid Pin Nailer – lots…friggin lots.
Milwaukee Framing Nail (clipped head) – 1.5 Yep. One point five….

For charging the tank, about 2 1/2 minutes. When it’s time to top up the tank, about 40 seconds. I’ve ran 75 feet of air line from the garage into the house but there’s some pressure drop in that length of air line. I normally run a 20 or 25 footer and that’s the way it should be used.

The other unusual attribute about this compressor is that it only draws 4 AMPS. Use long extension cords, don’t overload circuits, it’s a wonderful thing…


Power Source: Electric
Max Amp: 4 amps @ 115V
Horsepower: 1 hp. (peak) .5 hp. (running)
Pump: Oil-less
SCFM: 90 psi: 0.7
Pump Up-Time: 0-120 psi: 128 seconds
Recovery Time: 90-120 psi: 35 seconds
Max Pressure: 125 psi
Tank Capacity: 1 gallon
Tool Weight: 20 lbs.
Height: 13″
Length: 14″
Width: 10″