In Donald Bell’s latest Maker Update video, he looks at acoustic levitation, an Arduino made by Sony, a new kit by Anouk Wipprecht, self-centering drill bits, and a turning old monitors into a video wall. See show notes here.
From the video transcript:
For this week’s Cool Tools review we’re going to take a look at this self-centering drill bit set from Bosch. Great for makers and DIY home repairs. I wish I’d bought these years ago. This set cost me around $23, and if you want the same one, clicking the Amazon link in the show notes helps to support my videos and the Cool Tools blog.
If you’ve ever tried to attach some pre-drilled piece of hardware to something — a hinge, a latch, a coat hook — you’re probably familiar with the challenge of placing the hardware, marking where the holes need to be, and then carefully drilling. But if your pilot holes are just a little off — even in just one hole, the whole placement of the hardware will shift. It bugs the crap out of me.
A self-centering drill bit makes this process foolproof. The bit has a spring-loaded collar that sits into the hardware you’re attaching and keeps the drill bit dead-center. So long as your hardware doesn’t shift, the holes will be perfectly center.
This set from Bosch comes with three common bit sizes — a #6, #8 and #10. They’re also a quick change design that can just drop into an impact driver, making it easy to drill and screw with the same tool.
I will say that if you’re only using this occasionally, you could spend less and just get the smallest size. That will give you a centered pilot hole that you can expand with any regular drill bit. That said, for bigger projects, having the right size bit keeps you from having to drill the same hole twice.
Azure App Service for Linux is a pretty neat offering from Azure. You get all of the DevOps features you want (A/B Testing, Hosted Application, Tiered Support, Button-click scaling, lots of templates and more!) without the headache of managing VM’s.
9 years ago, I wrote a quacky little website called “Duckiehunt“. Unfortunately, I didn’t pay the tech debt and things kept breaking until it was abandoned. I’m now using Duckiehunt as a learning ground for Azure’s services and alternatives.
Azure App Service for Linux was the perfect fit. However, back in 2008 SSL wasn’t as ubiquitous. Now, it’s a badge of shame to NOT have it. Azure does offer an App Service Certificate, but I’d like to find a cheaper/more open solution.
Enter Let’sEncrypt from Mozilla and the EFF. If you don’t know, EFF are the unsung heroes of the internet. They fight tirelessly to support your freedom and rights on the internet. Mozilla and EFF offer Let’sEncrypt as a free way to encrypt websites via CertBot. Now I’ll dig into the technical details behind encrypting an App Service for Linux with Let’sEncrypt.
Step #1: Get CertBot
Because I’m on OSX, I was able to run: brew install certbot. For the full range of options, CertBot’s webpage has what you need.
Step #2: Create Cert locally
Before CertBot can create the certificate for you, it must first validate you own the domain. It will prompt you for a few questions, and then ask you to create a file on the webhost and add content to that file for validation.
Thankfully, Azure App Service for Linux provides a terminal access to your container so you can make these modifications yourself.
➜ sudo certbot certonly -d duckiehunt.com –manual
Create a file containing just this data:
%RANDOM STRING 1%
And make it available on your web server at this URL:
At this point, the validation is in place and it’s time to continue with Chatbot by pressing “Enter”.
Waiting for verification…
Cleaning up challenges
– Congratulations! Your certificate and chain have been saved at:
Your key file has been saved at:
Your cert will expire on 2017-11-12. To obtain a new or tweaked
version of this certificate in the future, simply run certbot
again. To non-interactively renew *all* of your certificates, run
– If you like Certbot, please consider supporting our work by:
Donating to ISRG / Let’s Encrypt: https://letsencrypt.org/donate
Donating to EFF: https://eff.org/donate-le
Huzzah! I’ve now got a certificate. Time to upload.
Let’s face it — the design of most home foundries leaves something to be desired. Most foundries are great at melting metal, but when it comes to pouring the melt, awkward handling can easily lead to horrific results. That’s why we appreciate the thought that went into this electric melting pot foundry.
Sure, electric foundries lack some of the sex-appeal of gas- or even charcoal-fueled foundries, but by eschewing the open flames and shooting sparks, [Turbo Conquering Mega Eagle] was able to integrate the crucible into the foundry body and create what looks for all the world like a Thermos bottle for molten aluminum.
The body is a decapitated fire extinguisher, while the crucible appears to just be a length of steel pipe. An electric stove heating element is wrapped around the crucible, PID control of which is taken care of by an external controller and solid state relay. Insulated with Pearlite and provided with a handle, pours are now as safe as making a nice cup of 1200° tea.
You’ll perhaps recall that [Turbo Conquering Mega Eagle] has a thing for electric foundries, although we have to say the fit and finish of the current work far exceeds his previous quick-and-dirty build using an old electric stove.
Temperature-controlled soldering irons can be cheap, lightweight, and good. Pick any two of those attributes when you choose an iron, because you’ll never have all three. You might believe that this adage represents a cast-iron rule, no iron could possibly combine all three to make a lightweight high-performance tool that won’t break the bank! And until fairly recently you’d have had a point, but perhaps there is now a contender that could achieve that impossible feat.
The Miniware TS100 is a relatively inexpensive temperature-controlled soldering iron from China that has made a stealthy entry to the market, and which some online commentators claim to be the equal of far more expensive professional-grade irons. We parted with just below £50 (around $60) to place an order for a TS100, and waited for it to arrive so we could see what all the fuss was about.
The iron arrived well-packaged in a smart cardboard container that was well up to the task of protecting it through international air mail. Nestled in foam were the iron handle, a single combined element and bit, and an envelope containing a short instruction leaflet and a click-seal bag with an Allen key and a spare screw to secure the bit. There was no power supply, you supply your own 12 to 24 V DC to power it.
The handle is a plastic wand containing the temperature control electronics about 100 mm (4″) long, and similar in girth to a chunky fountain pen. At its rear is a barrel socket for the DC supply alongside a micro-USB socket for firmware and configuration, on its top are a small OLED display and a couple of buttons, and at its front is a receptacle for the element unit. Meanwhile the element unit is about 105 mm (3.15″) long, with an exposed length to the end of the bit of about 70 mm (2.75″).
Assembling the iron is simple enough, the element slots into the receptacle and an Allen screw is tightened to hold it in place. The whole assembled unit weighs 30 g, or a shade over an ounce, and has a balance point almost at its centre.
We hadn’t ordered a power supply with our TS100, but you will doubtless be able to buy one if you don’t have one of the right power level and polarity to hand. We used a 19.5 V netbook supply which was far more than capable of delivering the 40 W the instruction leaflet claims for the iron at 19 V. Maximum power is given as 65 W when supplied with 24 V, while minimum is 17 W with 12 V.
In the hand, the iron is light and easy on the fingers. On its own it is similar in weight and feel to holding a fountain pen, and it is easy to see where comparisons with more expensive irons from the likes of Weller come from. However the iron itself is not the whole story, because your choice of power supply and in particular its lead will make a huge difference to how it feels in practice. The Weller will come fitted with an extra-flexible silicone lead probably designed to work at higher temperatures, by comparison the lead on a cheap power supply is likely to be a stiffer and cheaper affair. Our netbook supply had a right-angled plug, and though it wasn’t a nice flexible silicone cable it turned out not to be a significant burden once it was ensured to be out of range of the hot end.
Heating up, the TS100 may not be as quick as some irons, but it’s no slouch. It’s quoted as 15 seconds to 300 Celsius at 19 volts in its instruction leaflet, and our iron certainly didn’t disappoint. Setting the temperature is a simple case of using the buttons to move the temperature up and down on the OLED display, and once it remains at a particular temperature it stores that setting in its non-volatile memory.
To test the iron we assembled a little radio kit, a surface mount design intended for first-time surface mount solderers and thus using fairly substantial 1206 components and SOICs rather than SOPs or smaller integrated circuits. We found the iron perfectly easy to use, but with one caveat: the stock bit is a pencil tip, type “B2” that is fine for the larger surface mount devices but which would in our opinion probably be a little unwieldy for anything smaller than an 0805. Fortunately there is a large range of other bits of all shapes and sizes for the iron, including one with a finer point that surface-mount wizards may want to look at.
One of the features of the TS100 is that its firmware can be easily upgraded over USB, and to that end it is easy to download the latest version and install it. Simply hold down one of the buttons on live USB plug-in to enter firmware upgrade mode, and when it appears as a drive on the computer into which you’ve plugged it, copy the firmware file to the drive and it upgrades itself.
Unfortunately, in our case the curse of the firmware upgrade struck us, and after downloading and unpacking the file we were unable to make our iron accept it. We can confirm that the process failed for us on Ubuntu, Windows, and MacOS computers, so maybe it just wasn’t our lucky day. Fortunately the TS100 is not one of those devices that is easily bricked by a failed firmware upgrade, so we were simply presented with an error file rather than a dead iron. A soldering iron is in essence a hardware device not a software one, and the shipped firmware version is fine for soldering, so that’s what we’re reviewing.
It’s worth pointing out here that the TS100 firmware is billed as open-source, and that the code and schematics are available from the link above. We say billed as open-source though, because while the code is officially freely available it does not seem to be accompanied by any form of open-source licence. This may be of more concern to software libre purists than many readers, but still, it is worth mentioning.
We’re told that the latest versions of the firmware provide adjustment of the iron parameters other than temperature through a menu system on the device itself, but on our model the older firmware requires the editing of a text file that appears in a drive when you plug the iron’s USB port into a computer without holding a button down to enter firmware upgrade mode. In the file you can find settings for the different temperatures and timings, and adjust them to your taste.
The Bottom Line
After having the TS100 for a few weeks, what’s our verdict? Is it a good iron, does it give those expensive irons a run for their money, and would we recommend that you consider one?
It’s important to consider the soldering iron market as a whole when answering those questions. If you spend a four-figure sum on a soldering station, you will find yourself with an iron that is lighter than the TS100, it will have a shorter reach, a quicker warm-up time, better software control, more available bits, in fact it will beat the TS100 in every way possible. You’ll be using that soldering station hard every day for a decade, and it will still deliver the goods.
If however you spend a low three-figure sum on a soldering station from a quality manufacturer, you’ll get something closer. It’ll probably have a similar choice of bits and a nice extra-flexible silicone cable, and it will probably last longer, but in soldering terms it will be a surprisingly similar experience. Even having to spend a few more dollars on a power supply, a decent soldering station in this range will still cost you over twice as much as the TS100.
At the same price range or lower as the TS100 it’s likely that soldering stations will start to decrease in quality, be from anonymous manufacturers with no replacement bit support, and not have quite such a good user experience. Perhaps an all-in-one iron for a similar price such as the Antex TCS50 we reviewed earlier in the year is a better comparison, and at this point we start to see how the TS100 is redefining this sector. The Antex is a good iron for everyday soldering, it is the same weight as the TS100 and has the same reach. It’s mains-powered and comes with an extra-flexible silicone cable, but when you compare the irons side-by-side it becomes obvious that the Antex is being left behind. Its handle is huge by comparison, and its temperature control is limited to a very basic up/down setting with no configurability.
So if you are a high-end professional user looking for an iron to work with every day, the TS100 is probably not a choice that will displace your top-of-the-range model. But if you are a regular solderer or serious electronics hobbyist who is looking for the best bang for buck, you should definitely consider one as an alternative to a low-end soldering station. And if you are buying at the bottom of the temperature-controlled iron food chain then you should really give the TS100 a serious look. Returning to our point at the start of this review, it’s cheap, lightweight, and certainly good enough.
Meanwhile if you manufacture soldering irons, this one will probably have you worried. We look forward to seeing what the models produced to compete with it have to offer.
The Miniware TS100 soldering iron, along with associated bits and power supplies, can be found online from all the usual vendors of Chinese electronics.
For anyone who has owned a boombox or an old(er) cassette player, the digital age volume controls feel incredibly awkward. Keep pressing buttons to get the volume just right can get tiresome real quick. The volume knob just makes sense and in a simple project, [Jeremy S Cook] brings us the Custom Computer Volume Control Knob.
The build employs an Adafruit Trinket board coupled with a rotary encoder and a push button as described by the designers themselves. We reached out to [Jeremy S Cook] to enquire about the build and it turns out his version uses an MDF enclosure as well as an MDF knob. A larger PCB has the encoder and button solder on with the Trinket board connecting to them via multi strand wires. An Acrylic sheet cut to the size serves as the top cover and completes the build.
The button serves as a play/pause button and can come in handy. Since the device enumerates as an HMI device, it should work with almost any OS. It could easily be extended to work with Android Tablets or even iPads. Check out the video below for a demonstration and if you like the idea of custom input devices, check out this DIY shortcut Keyboard.