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Monday, June 4, 2018

Not Woodworking: Gameboy Zero


It's about time we talk about some retro gaming here. At Benchcrafted we appreciate a lot of the older ways of doing .. just about everything, and that includes video games! Nothing beats the look and feel of the classics and there's no better way to revive that than with a Gameboy running on a Raspberry Pi.


This type of build is known as a 'Gameboy Zero' because of its use of the Raspberry Pi Zero, a computer less than half the size of a credit card. You can run a full Linux operating system on this thing, but they are very popular as retro console emulating devices.

Along with the Raspberry Pi, we'll be using Kite's Super AIO (all-in-one) board. It's perfectly designed to fit inside an original Gameboy case to allow button input, display driver, speaker plus headphone amp, and much more. It ties the whole build together and makes for a much cleaner result, opposed to the alternative of incorporating multiple boards and tying them all together yourself. We don't want this thing to look like Ian Holm at the end of Alien on the inside.

Notice the bottom right corner of the Raspberry Pi has been trimmed

The first step in the process is to solder the RPi to the AIO board. In order to do so, the RPi must be trimmed. I used a small Japanese saw, but a dremel would get the job done just as well. PCBs like this are mostly made of fiberglass sandwiched between a thin layer of copper so they're pretty easy to cut through. This notch allows the RPi to rest in a convenient spot while allowing the relocated SD card slot on the AIO to line up perfectly with the slot on the Game Boy case that was original used for the display's contrast wheel, something we'll no longer need with our new backlit LCD. 


The first points to solder are for the USB port where the RPi gets power and the SD card port so it can be relocated. I first dabbed on a little solder to each of the pads on the RPi, then lined them up with the corresponding holes on the AIO board. By sticking the pointed tip of my iron through the holes in the AIO, I'm able to heat the solder on the RPi pads. The solder naturally wants to flow onto a heat conducting surface which, in this case, is the rings of copper around the holes in the AIO, linking the two boards. After adding a little more solder to each hole for a domed finish, we can move on to soldering the first four of the forty GPIO (general purpose input/output) pins that allow the AIO board to communicate with the RPi for audio, video, and button input. 


Both the RPi and AIO board have through holes for the GPIO pins so in order to solder them together kapton tape is first placed over the holes on the AIO. Unlike electrical tape, kapton tape can take very high temps so it's great for applications where it may be exposed to hot solder. 


When the GPIO pins are placed in the holes in the RPi, they are stopped by the kapton tape on the other side making it very easy to solder. 

The GPIO pins are soldered to the RPi first

After the GPIO pins are soldered on the RPi side, the whole assembly can be flipped over and soldered from the other side. At this point it's a good idea to boot up and test our work before we go any further. By plugging our power cord and micro-SD card into the AIO board, we can confirm that all our solder points made a good connection. 


Loaded onto the SD card is Kite's custom image of RetroPie. RetroPie is a Linux based operating system designed for Raspberry Pi that offers an easy to use interface for displaying and running all your game roms with its included emulators that'll run anything from Atari 2600 games all the way through to Playstation Portable and everything in between. Our image is set to test mode so we can check that everything is working properly and sure enough we get all green lights, besides WIFI (which we don't have on this unit) or the rest of the GPIO pins. 

With testing out of the way, the rest of the GPIO pins can be soldered.

With all of the pins soldered, we can now plug in the display included with the Super AIO kit. This is a 320x240 resolution display, plenty for the low resolution of the retro games we'll be playing. The ribbon cable from the display gets plugged into the front of the AIO, just in time for another test. 




In the video above I have the daughter board that also comes with the AIO kit plugged in. It mounts in the case to give you volume control, a full size USB port, power switch, and a mode button (for controlling screen brightness and other basic functions). I also have a small speaker plugged in to test audio. Everything seems to work perfectly so we can move on to mounting the screen.


Our new color LCD is quite a bit larger than the original Game Boy's monochrome display so the case will need some modification to accommodate it. Firstly, all of the posts surrounding the display area need to be removed. I used a dremel to remove the bulk of the material. It works great as long as you take your time as to not heat up the plastic too much which can cause clumping. 


With the display window cut, I also took this time to drill the holes for the two extra face buttons. The AIO board has through holes so you can easily mark where you need to drill to line up with the button pads on the board. I used a step drill bit to drill the two holes. A step drill bit is great for plastic because it doesn't pull like a twist bit and won't mar up the surface like a forstner might. You can also use the next step after you've achieved your diameter to get a bit of a chamfer. After drilling the holes I wanted to see if I could give them a bit of a fillet with the dremel but I just ended up making it worse. Without close inspection though they look pretty good! 


The posts we removed earlier are necessary to close the thing up properly so instead of cutting them off and gluing them back on the the back of the new LCD, I 3D printed this adapter (designed by HoolyHoo) that not only holds the LCD in place perfectly while conveniently replacing the screw posts on the back, but it also adds the button wells we'll need for our two extra face buttons. 

You'll notice the bracket has brass inserts in each of the posts. These small, knurled nuts get inserted to the pre-existing holes in the bracket by applying some pressure from a hot soldering iron. Once inserted, they aren't going anywhere. 


I held the screen in place inside the bracket with some double-sided tape. Since the two parts of the case are held together primarily by this bracket, I wanted to be sure the bracket itself wouldn't come loose so on top of a little hot glue in the corners, I also used some ABS plastic filament for 3D printing to "weld" the bracket to the case using a soldering iron. That should hold better than any glue. 


It's now time to place our brand new, glass lens from Hand Held Legend. This lens fits great in the pre-existing recess of the case while perfectly framing the larger LCD screen. It's also clearer than the original, plastic lens and will be less prone to scratching. The pre-applied adhesive makes it easy to install, as long as you take your time to remove every speck of dust from the LCD beforehand.

Despite my best efforts - and I'm very particular about this sort of thing - I couldn't eradicate every tiny molecule of contaminate. After placing the lens I found a piece of dust and a small piece of plastic shaving from the case roaming inside that are now sandwiched in there for eternity. It's mostly only noticeable in bright light, but it'll haunt me forever.

Clearing out the battery compartment to accommodate a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack
The battery is held in place with a little hot glue


Perhaps the trickiest part of a Game Boy Zero build is figuring out how to mount the rear buttons. These buttons are necessary if you want to play a lot of SNES, Genesis, or Game Boy Advance games, just to name a few. Many other builds I've seen online use a lot of hot glue to hold small tactile button switches in place but I wanted to do something cleaner with the same squishy button feel of the face buttons. I decided to design a bracket that would not only hold the rear buttons in place but at the same time offer a structure for the power switch, mode button, and cartridge slot to mount on.

I started by drilling the holes for the buttons in a location that didn't interfere with anything else inside while still being ergonomic in use. I designed the bracket around those new holes and the existing structure of the case.



     

After designing in Fusion 360 and printing, we have a final product that works perfectly! That is, after three failed parts that didn't quite fit, but that's inevitable when you're designing for 3D printing because of expanding and contracting plastic that never comes out with the exact specs you designed it for.

Failed parts


I cut down a piece of perfboard to mount the squishy type micro switches that will be actuated by the Game Boy buttons mounted inside the bracket. 


To mount the PCB for the buttons I inserted more brass inserts into the bracket and sanded down the surface for a flush finish. 

After soldering, the rear buttons are ready to go!


You can see here how the rear buttons will pop out the back of the case as well as how a standard Game Boy cartridge slots onto the tongue in the back of the bracket. Obviously the system can't actually read the cartridge, but I figured if I had the extra space I might as well allow the insertion of real cartridges for a more authentic look. 


Here's the bracket inserted into the case with the mode and power switch inserted. They're held in place with just a little hot glue but the bracket itself offers the actual support so they won't go anywhere. It's all held in the case via the four screw holes on the face of the bracket that line up with four existing screw posts that were originally used for a bracket that held the cartridge in. 

The rear buttons almost look original and they work great!

The speaker gets soldered and held in place with a little hot glue


It's finally time to join both the front and back. Once everything is plugged in you can see that it's actually fairly tidy, thanks to Kite's Super AIO board. The whole thing is held together with six screws: four in the front display bracket via our brass inserts and two towards the bottom into existing posts that line up with holes in the battery bay. 



The display appears washed out in the video above but in person it's actually quite nice!


This was a really fun project to undertake as someone who has very basic knowledge of electronics and only ametuer soldering skills. The best part is figuring out problems on your own, such as the rear bracket. 

There are easier and cheaper ways to emulate and play these old consoles on the go. Any Android phone can do it with very little effort, but even if you use a proper controller with a smartphone you're still introducing a lot of lag and lose any semblance of that classic feel. 

If you're interested in building one of your own, a really good resource is Sudomod.com. They have guides, a marketplace for sellers to offer their Game Boy Zero parts and components, and extensive forums. It's also where you can find Kite's Super AIO boards. Kite only produces these in limited batches so you'll have to wait until he puts pre-orders up if you want to get yourself one. His latest iteration uses the new Raspberry Pi Compute Module which, instead of all the soldering we had to do on our Raspberry Pi Zero model, is as simple as plugging in a stick of RAM.

John Abraham, BC Dungeon Master

Monday, May 21, 2018

Mark's Roubo By Hand


Here is my finished bench and I am very happy with it! I’m pretty new at this and don’t own a power jointer or planer - so - I had plenty of hand planing to complete this. At the end of the day, I’m thankful because I am very comfortable with four squaring large pieces as well as flattening a large top with only hand tools. I used 2 x 12 SYP construction lumber. I tried to end up with primarily rift sawn lumber to avoid the large “cathedral grain” flat sawn boards and no knots. I did pretty well with this except for the sliding deadman. That was my last part and I was out of lumber...LOL
 
My first project on my bench was the gap stop. Oh what a blessing it is to use such a fine bench. I didn’t even know what I was missing.
 
Thanks John and Jameel - I appreciate your products. I hope to make many fine pieces of furniture for my family and friends. And also make plenty of memories next to my new bench. Love it!!!!
 
Mark Ortiz


 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Classic Workbenches In Stock


We try our best to keep our Classic Workbenches in stock at all times. Right now is one of those times. 

$2600 gets you one of the finest benches available anywhere, outfitted with our Classic Leg Vise, Crucible Holdfast and Planing Stop. 

Made to fine furniture standards from rock maple and delivered in the white, so you can apply the finish of your choice (many craftsmen prefer no finish, thus "in the white".)

You can order the bench directly through the website, or if you prefer contact us directly at info@benchcrafted.com for a shipping quote. 



Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Canada wins again

We're happy to add another brick and mortar store to our list of Mag-Blok dealers.  They should have stock within a week or so.

AI & OM not only have a fantastic selection of kitchen knives but lots of other edged tools also.  They also host sharpening classes.  So if you are anywhere near Vancouver stop in and check them out.







Saturday, January 13, 2018

Classic Workbenches In Stock


Just a friendly reminder, since this is a rather new product, that we now have complete Classic Workbenches in stock and ready to ship. Barring any serious supply delays, we now have Classics "on the shelf" at all times. So there is, theoretically, no lead time.

This bench is built exactly to our Classic Workbench Plans (available here) and completely assembled, ready to work. The bench is delivered "in the white" which means you can use it as is, or apply a finish of your choice (sparingly please, this isn't period furniture!)

Price is $2600, and that includes one Crucible Holdfast, which we also now sell ala carte.




Monday, December 18, 2017

Ripoff


We'll keep this brief, since it benefits no one to rant, especially this time of year when we should be more focused on counting our blessings and giving to others in need. Nevertheless, we feel the need to say something. Being mutts ourselves, and the progeny of a diverse mix of immigrants, we can't be xenophobes without also being hypocrites. We make no bones about our outlook. We are thrilled to have anyone, from any culture purchase and enjoy our products. In the past few decades, Asia in general, and particularly China have developed a bad rap for ripping off products. But there are guilty parties on every side. 

Anyone who knows us, knows how deep we are into what we do. We don't simply make products to make a dollar. We make stuff we want in our own shop, stuff that works sweetly, then make "extras" for all our fellow woodworking enthusiasts. That's our "business model" in one sentence. So when someone takes your idea and turns it into a strictly commercial enterprise, made solely for the purpose of making money, it leaves an extremely bad taste in our mouths. Those who say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery miss the point that flattery by definition is insincere praise used to further one's own interests. 

But we promised to keep this brief. 

To the people at the China-based Riverside Tree Woodworking Club and those at "T. Deer" you seem to have the skills and means, we encourage you to develop your own products and designs to add value and diversity to the woodworking world. 

To our customers in China and Asia, you can purchase our products through our official Chinese dealer Harvey Works http://www.harveyworks.cn/

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Spotlight Series: FARLEY AND LOETSCHER MANUFACTURING COMPANY


This is the first in what we hope will be a series of interesting posts on various topics related to woodworking or handcrafts.



FARLEY AND LOETSCHER MANUFACTURING COMPANY. Once the largest mill working plant in the world! Dubuque, Iowa.



Farley and Loetscher began humbly on January 1, 1875 when Christian LOETSCHER, a twenty-five-year-old Swiss immigrant, opened a mill working business.

One of many expansions of the company occurred in 1882 at a cost of between $25,000 and $30,000. The saw mill was removed and that part of the business abandoned. The plans called for the buildings to extend from 8th to 7th streets. The warehouse would be on 7th street and join the business office which was to be moved to the corner of 7th street and an alley. At that time, the company's business had grown to such a degree that local lumberyards could not supply enough lumber. The problem was solved when Farley & Loetscher contracted for one million board feet of lumber from sites in Wisconsin.



Loetscher pioneered the use of west coast white pine lumber in 1900 as the company branched out to markets around St. Louis, Missouri; Chicago, Illinois; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Des Moines, Iowa. In 1903 capitalization of the company was increased to $400,000 through the sale of bonds. Farley & Loetscher then invested a small amount in McCloud River Lumber Company of California. This company was then contracted for an annual production of ten million board feet of ponderosa lumber.



Experimentation was being done by the millwork companies at this time. As the pine forests of Michigan were depleted, some millworks along the Mississippi experimented with spruce. This was discontinued when large millworks introduced ponderosa pine which was not rot resistant and needed treating. After being kiln dried, it was seasoned. Southern pine was rejected because of its high moisture content.

In 1905 the company announced the construction of a solid block of buildings in Dubuque. The firm asked the city council to vacate the alley running through the block bounded by Jackson, Washington, Seventh and Eighth streets. It also asked for the right to lay track and switch to the right of the proposed new building. Business was slowing by 1908 and Farley & Loetscher only kept the California sawmill crews busy for seven or eight months. Once the lumbermen who owned the trees in California opened their own mills, the Farley & Loetscher mills were sold with most of the employees returning to Dubuque.



In 1910 records indicated that the company annually produced 500,000 windows and 300,000 doors. In addition the company manufactured frames, mouldings, blinds, stairwork and interior finish. Between 1,200 and 1,500 carloads of lumber were used annually. The company owned and operated its own electric light company and maintained a crew of electricians to care for it and the telephone systems used in the plant. Nothing went to waste. Wooden shavings were advertised for those interested in horse bedding.



By 1927, when the company was led by J. A. Loetscher, Christian's son, the firm occupied buildings covering twenty-three acres. The company also maintained subsidiary companies. Loetscher and Burch Manufacturing Company operated in Des Moines. Another subsidiary was Roberts Sash and Door Company of Chicago.

The company in 1930 was an employer of between eight hundred and nine hundred people. The seven company buildings covered five city blocks. Each of the buildings, except for three warehouses, were connected by bridges that crossed over the streets.



One of the structures was the largest building in Dubuque until the development of the JOHN DEERE DUBUQUE WORKS. In 1904 Christian Loetscher attended the St. Louis Exposition and bought forty huge timbers, each 13 by 11 inches and up to sixty feet in length, when the exhibition buildings were being dismantled. These were shipped back to Dubuque and used in the construction of a building described as "the largest lumber shed in the world." Thirty-two timbers were placed around the perimeter of the cupola while eight were spaced at intervals along the center of the building. In 1930 this building easily stored 6 million feet of lumber.

Years before recycling became known, Farley and Loetscher gathered waste chunks of wood and all the sawdust. This was transported to the roof of one of the buildings to a funnel-shaped named "the hog." There the material was ground to fine dust which was carried to the basement. Specially designed boilers received the dust from a moving track. When burned this dust provided all the heat for the buildings.

The company's electricity was generated by a dynamo within the plant. Unlike some companies of the time, however, there was no commissary so nearby businesses benefited from the purchases of food.



A plastics division was added to the company's line in the early 1930s. This produced laminated plastics for decorative and industrial uses and once occupied three acres of floor space. (23) A newspaper article of 1930 especially praised a new product "Formica" which resisted heat, cold and water.

In 1942 the company qualified for an "Honor Flag." Issued by the Treasury Department, the flag was issued on the basis of a company's employees participating in buying United States War Savings Bonds. More than 1,100 employees were purchasing bonds through payroll deduction according to Dubuque County War Bond Committee representatives.

The end of WORLD WAR II meant that the production of doors, windows, and other supplies that had gone to the military simply shifted to civilian use. There was no need to replace equipment or retrain employees. The only problem was the need in 1944 to hire four hundred more employees due to the demand for products. In addition to new homes, surveys nationwide indicated that 34% of homeowners were planning renovations. FARLITE, a plastic sold to the government for use in signal corps radio equipment and table tops, would be provided for civilian use.

Farley & Loetscher products include the main staircase of the DUBUQUE COUNTY COURTHOUSE; display cases for the ROSHEK DEPARTMENT STORE; millwork for the U. S. Navy torpedo boat Ericsson and Revenue Cutter Windom; the interior of the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.; and the outer doors of the main chambers of the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D. C.

In addition to being the first millwork in the city to utilize ponderosa pine and recycle byproducts including sawdust, Farley & Loetscher was the first factory in the city to have electric lighting and the first to be equipped with an automatic sprinkling system. Around 1903, the company was the first in the city to install a telephone switchboard.


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Vintage stickers


This is our first run of a planned several set series of vintage themed stickers.  Some of you may recognize at least one of these from a set of cards we issued years ago as a promotion for one of the wood shows we exhibited at.  We had mostly forgotten about those neat cards were it not for seeing a set at our brother from another mother's house, Narayan Nayar.

So here they are, the first set of three.  These are reprints from 19th and early 20th century cigarette cards, once included with a pack of cigs to stiffen the pack and provide a little amusement.  We had considered including a stick of pink gum too but alas no one does those anymore.

These should be ready to ship on our website Thursday morning.  Price will be $6.00 for all three.  Get a set, stick em' on your tool chest or anywhere you want to add some character.  2"x4".

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Judgement Day Has Arrived, we welcome our robot overlords....

Well, long in the tooth is an understatement here lately.

Judging, not so much by our friends and patrons, from whom we still get the occasional kudos for our website, but by the mellifluous and subtly patronizing emails we receive in the dozens per week from all those fans from far away lands that so generously offer their expertise, time and energy,  for a small fee of course, to pointing out how beautiful and effective our website is while at the same time, in the kindest manner, how crappy, how antiquated, how 1999 it is.  Like Lloyd Christmas we're tired of our website eking it's way through life, we want to see it flourish and grow.

So we've been working on the new site for the last year.  All of the text has been pored over, some of it rewritten by our resident wordsmith.  Some of the principle photography, no idea what that means but it sounds good, has been re-shot, and the entire look and structure of the site has been properly coded.  We used real code this time finagled by a real person who has put in a lot of time bolstered and fueled by uncountable Jack's pepperoni pizzas.

The site now looks all grown up but we hope, not too flash.  The links all work, we think, the days of telling customers "you're looking at a cached version.....no no, add an l on the end of htm......you can't get to that page from there, that link is wrong, go to this website then hit crtl f5 and it will take you to another website that holds the older version which will redirect you to one of our vendors, their site has the correct link back to our website......"  We have a proper cart, something we introduced earlier this year but is now even better, and an account login if you choose.  We've added a static header that remains in it's proper place without some kind of incremental shift in the wrong direction every time you click on a link because the previous Webmaster was way closer to a Dungeon Master than a real coder (actually most previous DMs are probably pretty good webmasters,......not this one he's way closer to the attributes of a Barbarian than a magic user, hits points high, intelligence points not so much).  The home page has one of those fancy rotating carousel image things that's mostly annoying but we've kept it toned down a bit.  We've added an About page that still doesn't say much but should satisfy anyone who still thinks we're a family of hicks making an odd vise here or there while sitting on the divan watching our stories and suckin' on ribs....hey wait a minute.....

So thanks to the crew at Benchcrafted that allowed me to finally upgrade to Windows 10 for fear that ditching Windows 7 would have rendered my copy of Dreamweaver 4 inoperable, the most shocking bit being that the copyright on the splash screen is 1997-2000!.  So yes, I guess we have been coding like it's 1999.  I hope I never again have to code a single line or think about cascading somebody's style sheet, or render a layer and convert it to a table.

Now if the robot overlords could just do our bookwork.....

And in the vein of getting current........just like Signor Roberto we would like to say "the rent stay lika before!" but unfortunately it can't.  We only really raised prices 1 time in 10 years!  There have been a couple small adjustments in those years but the current M series Tail Vise is only $10 more than it was 6 years ago or more, and that was an off the shelf handwheel not the current custom cast unit.  The Glide M is only $100 more than it was 6 years ago, again with an off the shelf wheel........but it now includes a Crisscross which is $100 so it hasn't actually risen in price at all, and that after adding a custom wheel and 3x knobs.  Mag-bloks have only gone up $3 & $5 respectively.......ever!  So expect some increases in the next few weeks across the board mostly.  We had wanted to get the increases in before we launched the new site but it will just have to happen in spurts sometime between now and January.  Don't get too worrisome though, the increases for the most part will be small.

Launch should be Friday Dec. 1.

Next up:  the blog is getting a face lift too, but that won't happen for a few more days yet.