A look at a Crystal Oscillator Frequency Counter Tester

1A few weeks ago, I had a few crystal oscillators that weren’t working properly so I bought this crystal oscillator tester kit from eBay. It was sort of an impulse buy because I can test oscillators in a test circuit so I didn’t really need this. It’s been a while since I’ve purchased a kit like this so I was excited anyway. The last time I put together a circuit board kit like this was back in my first semester of college!

You can pick up your own here. (Just search the name of it on your country’s eBay if you’re not in Canada.)2The parts were packaged well. Not a single bent component lead.3I admire every circuit board I come across more these days with my work that I do on my own circuit boards. One thing I enjoyed about this board were the wide diameter pads which made it really easy to solder. The board is nice and thick (thicker than 1.6mm I think), and it measures in at 8 x 5.4cm.4After putting this together, it makes me want to start making boards larger than what I’ve been doing so far, which has been bounded by 5x5cm because it’s cheaper to get made than anything bigger. I put in a 9v battery clip instead of the included barrel jack because I never use those.

5Like I said, the soldering was enjoyable because of the size of the pads. I always try to make the pads on my boards as large as possible but it’s usually too tight for space or I’m scared it’s going to come out wrong…
6It works! I tested it with a few good 16MHz oscillators and it’s pretty close, either on the dot or 15.999 as in the image. I also tested that broken oscillator and it jumps around to weird frequencies from 0 to 16MHz.

I hope you enjoyed the look at this kit!

Here they are…

IMG_0001smAfter my little update post yesterday, the WS2812B LEDs decided to show up today. Despite taking longer than other packages from China usually do, I will say it was packaged well. It came in a properly-sized envelope and the LEDs themselves were in an antistatic bag (the first I’ve seen from any Chinese eBay seller) wrapped with bubble wrap. I’m impressed because I usually see things come from China in the smallest possible envelopes with things wrapped in plastic wrap. Anyways, let’s take a look at the LEDs themselves.IMG_0002smThese modules are a lot smaller than I was expecting (I’ve never used WS2812B LEDs before). I found them kind of tricky to solder cleanly.

Yesterday after I made that post, I started designing a single LED module similar to these but they have through hole pads to make the wire connections or add headers. After struggling to make solder connections on these look good, I’m still inclined on doing my own WS2812B boards to make it more convenient to solder a chain of them together.

To be fair, though, a smaller gauge wire may have helped here.

IMG_0003smI was up and running minutes after soldering them together, thanks to Adafruit’s NeoPixel library and the newest Arduino IDE that makes it so easy to install through the library manager. These LEDs are very bright and they produce colors that look better than the “dumb” RGB LEDs I’ve been using so far with the Light Show and other projects. I’m sold on going forward with these LEDs in my projects, even with the higher cost. I’ll need to familiarize myself with the library more before I can actually start adding them into projects.

Where are my LEDs?

I haven’t done any work on the old Light Show for a while because I’ve been waiting for some WS2812B LED modules from an eBay seller in China. It’s been so long that I’m thinking of just making my own WS2812B modules. I was hesitant about doing that in the first place since I’ve never used these LEDs before, but, besides the cost, there’s not many reasons why I shouldn’t try. I can get the WS2812B LEDs and capacitors from a local (well, within the province) supplier and the PCBs take about two weeks to manufacture and get here if I pay for fast shipping…

Thanks to the popularity of these LEDs, it’s not hard to find the resources I need. I’d like to try other PCB layouts in addition to the simple single LED board. I think this could turn out to be a really fun project! I will have more to share on this when I get a little more of it completed.

While we’re still on the topic of the Light Show, a few other parts came in for some upgrades. I purchased 5 more pumps which look better than the original pumps. My intention was to have them as spares to replace any of the pumps that don’t perform well, but now I’m considering expanding the number of fountains. The main challenge with that is finding or building a larger pool since the current container is too small for that. I also got some new mosfets in so I can redo the circuit for the pumps. I’ll have to decide how many pumps I’m going to be working with before I get to that…

As a side note, a new PCB design of mine should be here by the end of the week so stay tuned for that as well!

A push to get you working out of the box.

As you may know, I’ve been running a store on Tindie since early this year. I was experimenting with surface mount components when I started the store and pretty much all of my PCB designs started to include them. They save space but are more difficult to work with and use more resources (primarily flux, and time). Because it’s a lot for me to handle, I offer kits so people could assemble the board themselves, though I’d imagine some people are scared off by the surface mount components in the kits.

I know there are many skilled people browsing Tindie who are capable of putting it together, but I also want to attract beginners and casual hobbyists to my boards and get them working almost out of the box. I say almost because, even if the boards are assembled, they have to solder headers (or wires) to the board.

With all that said, I have a few things to share about my Tindie store.

The first thing is that, with the exception of the LED bar and the boards that don’t come with any components, I am working to assemble as many boards as I can. Currently, all of the boards that can come assembled have assembled boards in stock. Eventually, I’d like to phase out unassembled kits where I can but it won’t always be possible, especially when products are freshly restocked.

But that’s what I’ve been able to do with the Attiny85 Programmer & Breakout Board.

IMG_0001The current stock of Attiny85 boards is now all assembled. I’m also including headers as part of this product, since the board is designed to slot perfectly on the power rails and prototyping area on an 830-breadboard. I’m planning on getting a small stock of Attiny85’s which people can throw in their order for an additional cost.

The other news is that I’ve put in another order for PCBs. One of the PCBs ordered is the old 74HC595 Shift Register Board. I am considering starting selling them in packs of two or three, with somewhat of a bulk discount compared to the current price of one. They’re meant to be chained together, after all.

The other PCB coming soon is for a new product. I’ve dubbed it the LCD Helper, which is a board you solder onto an LCD and makes it easier to get started with. It has a potentiometer for contrast, as well as a breakout of the pins you actually use. I’ll have more details when they come in.

That’s it for now. Thanks for visiting the blog! On another note, I just got in the new water pumps but am still waiting for those WS2812 LED modules for the light show. There’s a new World of Color coming out this Friday that will probably inspire me to get back to work on the light show project!

Adventures with surface mount soldering (and store updates)

IMG_0001Finishing up a soldering session with a pile of PCBs is so satisfying!

Over the past little while, I’ve been working on getting new products in my Tindie store, while learning new things and hitting a few speed bumps along the way.

Adventures in Surface Mount Soldering

When I started assembling the ATmega328p Breakouts that use surface mount components, I was excited to gain some experience working with SMT components. The first time I was exposed to surface mount soldering was back in my first semester of college where we used flux, solder paste, and a toaster oven to assemble some SMT kits. Hand soldering my ATmega boards, I realized quickly that it would be impractical for me to assemble every single one. To date, I’ve sold about half assembled and half as unassembled kits. In my time assembling all of those boards, I’ve picked up a few lessons.

My first lesson is that you’re screwed without flux, at least if you want decent looking joints. My method is to get the component on with any amount of solder, then throw some flux on it and hit it with the iron. It lets the solder flow again and makes a cleaner joint than if you were relying on the flux in the solder.

My second lesson is to use rubbing alcohol to clean up the flux residue, specifically 100% (or as close as you can) alcohol. I accidentally picked up rubbing alcohol that’s only 70% and it’s doing a poor job compared to when I was using something like 95% earlier. Still, with some aggressive wiping, and sometimes even rinsing the board with water, I can still get the boards looking clean.

My final lesson is to never go smaller than the size 0805. The capacitors I’m using on those ATmega328p Breakouts are 0603 and they’re the hardest components to put on. Of course there had to be two of them. In my new NCP1117 voltage regulator boards, I’m using 0805 capacitors and they were a lot easier to put on.

What’s New?

So after all that about surface mount soldering, I decided to go back to the basics with the ATmega328p Breakout Board and reintroduce one with just through-hole components. The ATmega328p Breakout Board BASIC is much like the original one I was using before I ever opened my Tindie store. I hope with less components and only through-hole components, the kit option will be more appealing to people. It’s also easier for me to put together too so I can get more assembled boards up quicker than I ever could with the original, which is now dubbed as the PRO version.

I also put up a couple of SMT breakouts, 0805 and SOT-223.

I’m working on a couple new board designs, and I’m also thinking of putting up some components I don’t need for sale. Stay tuned!

Updating the regulator

I don’t have a bench power supply so I rely on wall plugs that already regulate the voltage level, sometimes combining it with a regulator circuit/IC to drop it even further. In the beginning, I used to whip up a classic 7805 circuit on a breadboard. These days, I’ve been using a low drop out regulator circuit on a custom PCB. I’ve been using my AMS1117 regulator board for a long time now in projects and prototype testing on a regular basis. It’s clunky and one of my first PCB projects ever. It’s about time it got an update.

IMG_0001It’s been a design I was sitting on for a while. It uses all surface mount components, which I picked up in my last Digikey order and had laying around for a while.

IMG_0002Instead of the AMS1117 regulator, the new board uses an NCP1117 regulator, although the actual IC says RBK117 for some reason. My initial test impressed me as I got a perfect 5.00v on my multimeter. The AMS1117 regulator would usually measure to be +-20mV from 5v. It may end up varying with age but in any case I’m happy that it works. I dropped the 3.3v regulator since I never really used it, except for in the ESP8266 project.

I’m very excited to start using this smaller, neater looking board regularly. I still have a bunch of those bulking AMS1117 boards so I’m not really sure what to do with them now…

Out in the open (Open-source stuff)

My ATmega328p Breakout Board is now open-source! You can get the Eagle files on GitHub.

I will be throwing up more of my PCB designs on GitHub soon too.

I just wanted to leave a quick note that a new through-hole version of the ATmega328p Breakout Board is coming out very soon on Tindie (parts for it will be here next week!). My hope is that this version will be more accommodating to the majority because I know there are those who don’t like surface-mount soldering.