Ask Hackaday: What Tools Do You Really Need For A Life On The Road?

From Jenny List on Hackaday:

Ask Hackaday: What Tools Do You Really Need To Live On The Road

Into the pack goes an all-important packet of ginger biscuits, two laptops and their associated wiring, a hefty battery booster pack, and my folding headphones. I’m set for writing, but why two laptops? For years I’ve worked with a powerful semi-paving-slab of a laptop in the office and a super-light Chromebook on the road, and when fate puts me in this position I find myself lumbered with both of them. Lesson learned: should you do this by choice rather than necessity make sure to pick a single  laptop with both portability and power.

Nota Bene: Dont't forget this set in the future! Junkyardsparkle, CC0.
Nota Bene: Dont’t forget this set in the future! Junkyardsparkle, CC0.

At the start of my nomadic existence I carried a soldering iron and a multimeter, screwdrivers and tweezers. I was set for whatever hardware the world would bring me, but somehow what I imagined never came. Another lesson learned: common tools are likely to already be wherever you might need them, in a hackerspace or at the bench of your technically inclined friends. Why carry what you can easily borrow, instead the art lies in selecting the uncommon tools that may not be to hand. And there’s the rub, for you only discover what those are when you don’t have them to hand. So far aside from the driver set I’ve found myself wanting a tape measure when I couldn’t borrow one and missing my Vernier caliper, and while there’s no way I’ll subject my Mitutoyo to my pack there’s definitely a cheap instrument on my shopping list. Meanwhile I’ve hung on to the screwdriver set and left the soldering iron in my storage unit.

Before too long I’ll no doubt be settled again somewhere, but along the way I have parked up in a lot of field entrances on country roads, seen more motorway service stations and fast food drive-thru lanes than I’d care to, learned a few things about life, about other people, about myself, and about which tools are indispensable but surprisingly uncommon. Which of you have had a similar experience, and what were the tools you found yourself needing on the road? Can we arrive at the truly indispensable kit of tools for the wandering hardware hacker, rather than the stuff we think we’ll need? Our comments section is as always open.

Ask Hackaday: What Tools Do You Really Need For A Life On The Road?

Portable Ham Antenna Uses SMD Capacitors

From Al Williams on Hackaday:

Portable Ham Antenna Uses SMD Capacitors

[K6ARK] likes to operate portable, so he puts together very lightweight antennas. One of his latest uses tiny toroids and SMD capacitors to form trap elements. You can see  the construction of it in the video below.

You usually think of toroid winding as something you do when building transmitters or receivers, especially small ones like these. We presume the antenna is best for QRP (low power) operation since the tiny core would saturate pretty quickly at higher power. Exactly how much power you should pass through an FT50-43 core depends on the exact application, but we’ve seen numbers around 5 watts.

Portable Ham Antenna Uses SMD Capacitors

Announcement of the 2021 Open Hardware Summit

From the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA):

The 2021 Open Hardware summit will be held online again, Friday April 9, 2021. Just like this year, the summit will be livestreamed, but ticket holders will have access to additional interactive portions of the summit like meet-and-greets, workshops, and sponsor booths.

Find details, including ticket and sponsorship information at

Announcement of the 2021 Open Hardware Summit

Magnifying on the Cheap

If there is one thing we’ve learned during several years of running the Hackaday SMD soldering challenge it is this: Most people need magnification to do good soldering at a tiny scale. The problem is, like most tools, you can buy something as cheap as a $5 binocular headset or you can spend $1,000 or more on a serious microscope. What’s in between? [Noel] looks at some affordable options in a recent video that you can see below.

[Noel] started out with a cheap “helping hand” that has a simple little magnifying glass attached to it. The major criterion was to find something that would have no delay so he could solder under magnification. While it is possible to work under a scope with a little lag in the display, it is frustrating and there are better options.

Magnifying on the Cheap — Hackaday
Magnifying on the Cheap

Soldering Kit for Doctor Who Fans

From Ken Olsen of Maker’s Box on Tindie:

Soldering Kit for Doctor Who Fans

Show off your Doctor Who cred with a DIY badge you can solder yourself. Powered by an Attiny85, lights and sounds like an 8-bit TARDIS. CR2032 Battery not included.

Kit Contains:

Soldering Kit for Doctor Who Fans

Robotics Club Teaches Soldering

From Al Williams on the Hackaday blog:

Robotics Club Teaches Soldering

Oregon State University must be a pretty good place to go to school if you want to hack on robots. Their robotics club, which looks active and impressive, has a multi-part video series on how to solder surface mount components that is worth watching. [Anthony] is the team lead for their Mars Rover team and he does the job with some pretty standard-looking tools.

The soldering station in use is a sub-$100 Aoyue with both a regular iron and hot air. There’s also a cheap USB microscope that looks like it has a screen, but is covered in blue tape to hold it to an optical microscope. So no exotic tools that you’d need a university affiliation to match.

Even if you’ve done a lot of SMD soldering, you can always pick up new tips and tricks. There’s lots of flux, of course, and careful alignment before you secure the component down. We know the feeling of leaving a bad solder joint long enough to go secure the other pads and then cleaning it up at the end.

Robotics Club Teaches Soldering

Retro CPC Dongle

A followup post about the Retro CPC dongle on the Intelligent Toasters blog:

Retro CPC Dongle – Part 47

The programming daughter-board for the CPC2 is on its way, most likely making its slow way through the USPS. Rather than wait a few more weeks for the board to arrive, I thought I’d share the 3D render for the board.

Building this board was an exciting new development in the project as the board was designed using KiCad. Transitioning to KiCad from DesignSpark was not a decision undertaken lightly. The proprietary nature of DesignSpark, coupled with the forced upgrades and continual re-registration process convinced me to give KiCad a go. After a few hours of learning the new work-flow and learning the huge number of short-cut keys, and I was building boards like a pro.

The models for the components I used were either available from the Mouser web site, or were created at my request by the wonderful folks at SamacSys. While I did trial the process of creating new components and footprints, this was unnecessary as everything I needed was provided for me.

Retro CPC Dongle

nuboard: KiCad in virtual reality

I meet a group of university students at the KiCad developer day before FOSDEM 2020. They were developing an interesting capstone project called nuboard to do PCB design with KiCad in virtual reality:

For more information, visit their git repositories:


nuboard, a next-generation virtual reality Godot frontend for PCB editing in KiCad

kicad fork

KiCad fork featuring nuboard, a VR-assisted PCB design review tool.

nuboard: KiCad in virtual reality

New Hackaday Contest: Say Goodbye to 2020

From Hackaday:

New Contest: Say Goodbye To 2020

Every year you find yourself wanting to build an awesome hack to show off on New Year’s Eve, but like all hackers, you procrastinate and it’s a rush job, if it happens at all. But considering the hot mess of a year 2020 has been, let’s all plan ahead and give 2020 the boot by building the things that make us happy.

The Goodbye 2020! contest kicked off this morning: build something that ushers in the new year in a fun and creative way. Maybe it’s a robot that tears off the pages of a daily desk calendar of 2020, shredding one for each of the last 365 minutes of the year. Build a video countdown device that works with any HDMI screen, or a dedicated LED display — perhaps in hat, glasses, or sweater form factor? There’s unlimited room for creativity here, so don’t forget to show us video of it to get the full effect.

Top three finishers will win a $500, $250, or $100 shopping spree from Digi-Key electronics who are sponsoring the Goodbye 2020! contest. Start your project page on right now and use the “Submit project to…” drop-down box on the left sidebar to enter it into the contest. We’ll be keeping an eye out for awesome entries from now until the end of December.

New Hackaday Contest: Say Goodbye to 2020