Saturday, 26 February 2011

Tachometer kit construction project

As mentioned previously I bought myself a small electronics kit tachometer only to find that it was all surface mount components.

The supplier ikalogic send me some more tips on construction.

There were several recommendations to use a temperature controlled iron but my 23W Antex XS soldering iron has never caused problems in the last 25 years. The modern equivalent gives you an extra couple of watts but I'm sure that would make little difference. As with any such project you need to be careful not to overheat the components and board. I've been soldering since I was about 8 so am fairly confident in these things.

Tools for manually soldering SMD

As well as my regular tools, a couple that I'd not normally need are the scalpel and magnifying glass. The scalpel is essential for getting the components out of their tiny packages but I also used it for positioning the items. Perhaps something like a metal work scriber might have worked well. I just used the magnifying glass to check the results afterwards rather than using it whilst soldering. The "good lighting" recommended by all is a double edged sword as it shines off the solder and can make inspection with the magnifier a little difficult.

The kit is very professionally packaged with all the components clearly labelled in separate bags. The assembly instructions are clear and brief. The LCD sub assembly comes pre-made and the crystal and micro-controller are already soldered onto the main board.

I tinned all the pads on the board and used the desolder braid to ensure that they were flat not spiky or domed.

First resistors soldered

The first components I put on were the resistors, no real problems with those. These resistors are numbered rather than having colour codes so make sure you don't take them out of their separate packets before you are ready.

Surface Mounted Capacitors

The capacitors were even smaller (and have no labelling), these took me a couple of attempts to get in position correctly and flush to the board. I thought the transistors would cause a problem but held in place with the scapel I just gave each leg and quick prod with the soldering iron and the solder melted locking them into place. The button that activates the tacho was not so easy and it took me a couple of attempts, there's a little notch in the board and you should align the button to that. Having looked at the schematic, the button has 4 legs for just for support as it's a single pole, single throw switch.

Side one complete

There's only a couple of components on the back, the LED cathode is indicated with green dots. As per old-school LEDs this is the large piece of metal in the package, i.e. left in the picture below.


The IR sensor is as challenging as the button on side one, I put a little more solder onto the pads and then heated the legs as I'd done with the transistors and that seemed to work.

First power on

Lastly the power connector, I went with the provided 3 AA cell battery holder but will be swapping this with a 4 cell one so I can get it running reliably on rechargables (another handy tip from the Ikalogic team).

I pressed the button and wiggled my finger back and forth. Not a particularly scientific test but it does produce different counts for different speeds of finger wiggling. Next step is to workshop proof it and get it to measure some real rotation.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Micro Engines

Thanks to Stationary Engine Magazine, I've found out that some researchers at Birmingham University have been making tiny petrol engines to form power packs for portable electric devices or power micro vehicles and robots.

"General hydrocarbon fuels have an energy density over 100 times more than current batteries. Microengines are designed to convert the chemical energy of hydrocarbon fuels either to mechanical energy to drive microdevices, such as micro air vehicles and microrobots, or to electric energy by driving a micropower generator to produce electricity. The micropower plant can be used to power portable electronic devices, such as notebook computers, PDA and mobile phones"

The microengine research at Birmingham started in 1999 and the first phase of the project was funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council. The scientists have worked on issues such as the fabrication process, ensuring high precision, handling the high temperatures using ceramic meterials and determining the minimum size for a combustion chamber.

They have produced a few engine designs including a single piston reciprocating engine and a micro Wankel engine. They have also made advancements in UV-lithography which could be useful for lots of different types of Microelectromechanical systems.

SEM images of a micro nickel gear
electroformed on a KMPR mould. The KMPR is
completely removed after demoulding - Univerity of Birmingham

Other Universities are doing similar research and Berkley has also been working on a MEMS rotary IC engine and also a mini engine which could generate up to 100W.


Birmingham University Micro Engineering
Engineering and Physical Science Research Council
Ultrathick SU-8 fabrication for microreciprocating engines
KMPR photoresist for fabrication of thick microstructures

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Metalcraft - Metal forming tools

J and C R Wood are the Hull based makers of the Metalcraft range of metal forming tools which includes:
  • Punch & Shears
  • Riveting/Bending/Rolling Tools
  • Strip Worker - Five Tools in One
  • Scroll Formers
  • Twisters
  • and workshop packages
Barry Wood is a current partner and son of the one of original founders Clifford Wood who established the company in 1950 and has shared with us the history of the company.

J & C.R.Wood, the company behind Metalcraft tools, began life as jobbing engineering business and was formed by Cliff Wood in 1950.

Prior to this, Cliff had left school at 15 and trained as a draughtsman for Priestman’s, a local designer and manufacturer of excavators. Ever keen to broaden his knowledge he studied engineering at night school which brought into contact with other local engineering firms where he gained a greater appreciation of manufacturing skills and equipment.

An early Priestman excavator owned by Adrian Patterson of Vintage Excavator Trust from

In 1950 having decided to get married, he felt that it was also a great time to pursue his ambition of working for himself and decided to set up his own engineering business operating from the garage at the rear of his father’s house in Anlaby Common on the outskirts of Hull. With a lathe, a milling machine and a gas profile cutting machine, he picked up a fair bit of jobbing work for local firms such as Deans & Light Alloys of Beverley. At that time, Deans were manufacturing many components for door mechanisms on buses and trains but also bomb carriages for the RAF. So Cliff managed to pick up a lot of the profile cutting work because as an inventor and engineer he found a way to adapt his single burner profile cutter to have more burners on and cut multiple components in the time most other businesses cut one.

Shortly, after establishing the business, he was joined by his brother Jeffrey who was a butcher by trade, but in the post war years had found business difficult just as Cliff’s was getting busy. And so the brothers decided to became business partners and J & C R Wood was formed!

Cliff and Jeff worked all the hours god sent keeping up with demand but also handling scores of new enquires from all manner of customers for projects large and small. Other work included work for the local clientele from the sharpening of lawnmowers and shears through to the making of wrought iron gates for those people who had sacrificed their metal gates and fences to the war effort.

Because of demand Cliff developed his own scroll making jigs and benders to help keep up with demand. At this point, they also employed their first apprentice – a young man straight from school by the name of Alf Simpson who was to become Cliff’s understudy and right hand man on the engineering side, whilst, Jeff worked with Cliff on developing the business and finding new customers.

Cliff with a bending tool, photo Barry Wood

By the end of the 1950’s, the garage had been extended to accommodate more people and handle more work. Having made many gates and fences using his tried and trusted jigs and benders, Cliff was intrigued by the growing trend towards DIY and wondered how he might seize on this potential opportunity. He then thought that perhaps he could develop a very simple set of tools that would allow people to make small decorative items for the home out of light gauge wire. Thus the first Wirecraft set was born and it comprised a single scroll forming jig, which also incorporated a simple wire cutter/guillotine, plus a separate soldering iron to enable you to solder your wirework together into finished projects.

These early sets started to sell well to the public, schools, and to charities for the re-habilitation of the disabled including ex-servicemen injured during the war.

From these humble beginnings, and throughout the 1960’s Cliff continued to develop the tools to work with flat steel strip and invented additional scroll formers, as well as a bending tool, which could also roll curves and join metalwork together with cold rivets instead of soldering. These new developments suddenly unlocked new markets including new export markets in the USA and Europe.

Wirecraft kit photo from Bill Jones of

As a consequence, the garage where the business had started kept getting extended to house more machines and a larger workforce, until the mid 1970’s s when it reached the bottom of the garden! The “garage/works” then got integrated to their father’s house which, was gradually turned into offices when their father passed away.

At the end of the 1970’s, Cliff’s eldest son, Ian joined the family business as a Production Engineering graduate and whilst business plateaued in the 1980’s as the problems of recession, inflation and industrial strife affected the business.

In 1989, Jeffrey retired from the partnership, leaving Cliff as the sole owner of the business. At the same time, Cliff’s youngest son Barry joined the business having graduated as a Control Systems Engineer and worked for British Aerospace for several years.

With an injection of new blood, Ian and Barry modernised the company and became partners with Cliff in 1993. Business developed significantly in conjunction with their main European distributor. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the new markets of Eastern Europe beckoned and this ultimately, developed into markets in the Far East & China, Central & Southern America and latterly throughout Africa.

Up until Cliff’s retirement on 2000, Cliff , Ian and Alf Simpson continued to work on the development of new and bigger Metalcraft tools.

Unfortunately, Jeff passed way in 1996 and Cliff in 2005, but not before they both saw the company finally outgrow the old garage & house to a purpose built factory with modern plant and equipment dedicated to manufacturing Metalcraft tools as well as offering other products and services.

Today, Metalcraft tools are sold throughout the world and are proving as popular as ever in the UK following our major re-launch in 2009. Whether it is to the hobbyist, the DIY’ers, to education, training and re-habilitation or the commercial sector Metalcraft’s appeal is as strong as ever. Whilst we may have outgrown “grandpa’s garage” and then taken over most of “grandpa’s garden” the company re-located 15 years ago to its present location - a 20,000 sq.ft factory & office complex and now employs 30 full time staff. Nevertheless, we remain proud of our origins, which is why we keep the J & C R Wood name, and are proud to say we are still a British manufacturer.

We have a very loyal workforce and even though he has passed retirement age, Alf Simpson remains with the company today, helping us to develop the next generation of Metalcraft tools. As Alan Ross, says we are still at heart those “people who wore grey overalls with three pencils in their top left pocket” except our overalls are blue or white. Yes, the drawing boards have been replaced by CAD workstations but the draughtsman and engineering mentality are still as strong as they were in Cliff & Jeff’s day.

I'd like to thank Barry for sharing this excellent history with us and Alan Ross who's enthusiasm over the metal craft tools lead me to J & C R Wood in the first place.


Words and Cliff Wood photo from Barry Wood of J and C R Wood.
Wirecraft kit photo from Bill Jones of
Priestman tractor owned by Adrian Patterson of Vintage Excavator Trust photo from

See also

The Stoneferry Pubs

Portable tools in Popular Science 1984
Hull History Centre
Old Photos of Hull
Old Postcards of Hull

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Surface Mounted Devices

I recently purchased an electronic kit to make a tachometer, with the aim to measure the speed of my lathe and drill. Given that I've only got a mini sized lathe and it's fixed speed there's no real reason to do this other than curiousity and that I fancied making up a kit as I've not done that for some time.

What I forgot to read in the small print was that the components were surface mounted. Luckily the board came with the most challenging component the IC already attached to the board.

A search on google and a shout out on twitter gained me all the resources I need to complete the task.

Paul Anderson pointed me at some great tutorials at Sparkfun.

John Honniball's tips were "As with all surface-mount, use good lighting, fit a fine soldering iron tip and use magnification".

I also found the following video via curious inventor and the chaps at piclist had plenty of comments on the topic of smds.

Another rev-counter kit I made up many years ago for my Dad is this 4 digit timing module from Quasar electronics. That's a good alternative if you don't want the challenge of a surface mount kit.

Watch this space, hopefully there will shortly be a blog about how I did this successfully...

Workshop Practice Series