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(February 2011 - November 2012)
DIY Printed Circuit Board Manufacturing
Ask Fran: Introduction to the Commodore 64 (C-64) Computer
Ask Fran: Build Your Own Microscope!
Fran's Favorite Toy In History: Mr. Wizard's Experiments In Electronics, 1972
Soviet Vacuum Fluorescent Display Project
Nixie Counter Project
You can make a radio!
The Frantone Fretboard
New Grommet Press Project
The Rotary Puch and Grommet Press Explained
Every printed circuit board that ever went into a Frantone product after 1999 was hand made by myself. That is a lot of circuit boards! There are so many tutorials about how to make "do it yourself" PCB's, and any of them might be fine for prototyping a simple design or one off board, but imagine how hard it would be to mass manufacture dozens of different PCB designs to the tightest possible tolerances for an entire product line for a decade, all by hand? Well, so far as I am aware, I am the only one in the boutique effects world crazy enough to have tried it - and really done it. And this is how....
I always prototyped my designs
on a regular perf breadboard, and rendered the schematics and circuit layout
in Protel. Circuit Auto-Routing? I think not. All of
my circuit board layouts and trace routing was done manually, using templates
I made in Protel to establish the proper spacing and tolerances for the
pads, traces, and lead spacing. But to extract the design from Protel
meant that I had to print out the PCB file to paper, and to make my optical
plates to expose sets of PCB's meant that I had to scan the rendered paper
artwork at 4x scale, then arrange multiples of the artwork with proper
scaling corrections in a photo program to render photographic plates that
I would use to UV expose positive resist 4X6 inch bare copper FR4 boards.
In the later years as technology improved I switched to a thermal transfer
process to transfer resist to the bare copper in a converted heat press.
For etching I used a special
ventilated workstation that I also used as my silk screening table.
There I would set up my etching tank that contained an air bubbler system
that I made with an aquarium pump and a submerged aquarium heater that
would circulate and heat a solution of sodium persulphate to 120°f.
Ventilation and a chemical respirator are necessary to work with this stuff
because of the outgassing of sulfuric acid during the etching process,
which is quite harmful to breathe. I could etch up to five 4X6" FR4
plates at one time, and 10-20 plates would make a typical manufacturing
run, yielding between 40-100 individual effect PCB's.
Depth control was necessary
to insure that when the bit plunged through the bottom of the stack into
the drill recess that it stopped short of hitting the bottom of the hole.
If the bit were to bottom out - like when I would forget to set it - the
bit would shatter, creating a big problem with carbide fragments embedded
in the boards.
After the PCB's were drilled
I stored them in plastic zip bags to prevent any patina from forming on
the copper. I also wore nitrile gloves whenever handling the bare
copper boards to keep my prints off as well. The next stop was the
filling station, where I had a board assembly flip-jig in which I could
place any number of boards to fill, flip over, and solder simultaneously.
A hold down pad on the top kept components in place while soldering.
So, why did I do it this way when anyone can outsource PCB manufacturing and get great results? Well, mostly because it was cheaper and I could make changes at any time - which often happened when a component would change size, or a revision of the circuit was required. It was also part of the philosophy of complete vertical integration that I established for Frantone in 1999. I machined, painted, and silk screened every case in house - and every PCB was also designed, etched, drilled, and filled by hand. I wanted every Frantone pedal to be exactly what it was said to be: Completely Made By Hand, With Love. :)
In this video I show some of the basic starting skills you need to configure the look of your C-64, how to access data on tape and floppy disc, maintenance for tape drives, and some simple codes to get things going. Consider this C-64 for newborns. No opcodes, stack, or registers in this so if you already know what I am talking about this video will be pretty lame :).
Favorite Toy In History:
Mr. Wizard's Experiments In Electronics
Another cool project in the
works is a converter for Soviet Vacuum Fluorescent Displays like this one
on my bench:
Here is a handy schematic
for my USSR-VFD power supply which you can customize for any VFD display
by changing the R1 and R2 values on each LM317 voltage regulator to get
the desired output you require for the filament and grid supplies.
I used a 115v/24v center tapped 2amp transformer, and keep in mind that
these tubes do draw some current so best to give a good 100ma of overhead
in the supply for each tube you want to drive. This supply has a
1.5v regulated filament supply, but if you are using multiple tubes you
can also stack the filaments in series to divide a higher combined supply
voltage (example: 5X 1.2v in series = 6v supply)
This is the start of a side project I have been doing in my spare time, in my new and still coming together science lab. I wanted to create a universal 4-bit controlled nixie display driver that could be used as a module for any application. Here I have breadboarded an automatic counting circuit with a clock, and also a separate high voltage board for the nixie display that I have hooked up to a manual rotary switch for demonstration. The ultimate goal is to reduce this down to a single condensed board.
I leave out some details in this brief video demonstration, but I will post the schematics and technical data for the project when I get it all together.
Update: Phase 2!
This is a 'foxhole radio' that I made years ago for an R. Lee Ermey challenge in 2003 to show that in fact you can make a radio receiver from common stuff - that is, so long as you have a crystal earset lying around. The razor should be blued for greatest diode effect but they do not make blued razors anymore, so I substituted a modern hardened steel blade. The graphite pencil point acts as the anode and you move it around the the razor to find the point of contact where the diode is detecting the best. You tune the circuit by adjusting a wire which you tie to earth ground to contact on the coil, where the insulation has been shaved away - presumably by the razor before you put it in your now fully functional radio!
When I worked at an AM radio station in my 20's the bathroom was almost right under the broadcast antenna tower, so I made a modern tuned diode detector with a tiny speaker that I hung on the wall in there, and it played the station out loud 24/7 with no electricity. Just the power of the rectified radio waves - which was at a strength of about 10 volts per cubic foot in the bathroom - and a good earth ground on the cold water pipe was sufficient. There is also the story of the oven in a trailer park that played country music near another radio transmitter I worked at that was local legend..... and true! Tuned resonance at work.
Despite being very busy in the corset world I still strive for new innovations in guitar gear - the latest being The Frantone Fretboard! I made this special recessed flat contour fretboard with a new type of scalloping technique I developed for one of my own guitars. This new fretboard has allowed me to play guitar every day after a two year hiatus from playing due to arthritis. Considering how much a difference this has made for myself I wonder what it can do for other players who are not at all limited as I am.
Part one of making the Frantone Fretboard. The audio is bad in this video due to the noise canceling feature of my old webcam. But you can see what I am doing.
I recently completed my second kick press project. I bought a used industrial sewing table which I customized to mount my hand press to it, then constructed the foot pedal with the necessary leverage to amplify the force of the hand press from 10:1 to 18:1. This new kick press delivers 650lbs of force to the die with just 36lbs of pressure on the pedal, and all completely hands free.
I then wanted to make this kick press more than just a grommet press, so I designed a series of practical die sets for other press operations that I do frequently. I contacted my good friend Bud Mohrman at TAPE Inc. to make the dies for me, and fortunately he is one of the last hard core machinists that can cut dies directly from high strength tool steel.
I made some initial sketches
from my mental images to better visualize the manufacturing tolerances
for these dies.....
I then made a series of mechanical drawings that contained my calculations for tolerance and proper contouring, finish, and measurements for each die. Mechanical drafting is a specific language which communicates the design concept in a way that another person can manufacture the part to exact proportions and have the parts interact with proper tolerances. The Machinist will not make judgment calls, it is up to the designer to be very clear on all parameters. If the designer makes a mistake or miscalculation then the part will either not fit, or not function as needed. These drawings were made with a requested manufacturing tolerance of ±.005 inches. No computers here, I do everything in pencil on paper at my drafting table....
The results were very good, and Bud did a magnificent job. There were a few small tweaks, and the dies work great, as expected. Here are the actual dies....
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