Crimping ain’t easy!

When I build personal projects, I like things to be modular. You never know when the LCD you just wired up could be grabbed and used in another project… and wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to desolder/cut wires just to re-position something tightly stuffed inside of your project enclosure? This probably explains why I end up making so many wiring harnesses and consequently crimping wires.

In the past, I used a pair of pliers and a soldering iron to connect these crimps to whatever wire I happened to be using at the time. This worked, but it was tedious and the outcome could have looked better. Why wouldn’t I use a pair of crimp pliers might you ask? Well, when I searched for crimp tools in the past, such as the ones recommended for JST XH crimps, they were priced close to $500! Absurd!

Thankfully, a few weeks ago I stumbled across and purchased a pair of less expensive Universal Crimp Pliers sold by I Heart Engineering

I think some of the folks at the hacker space still think I am a crazy for raving about these things as much as I have, but I just can’t get over how having the right tool for the job simplifies things. They let me crimp things easier (no more cursing as the crimp flies across the room), make stronger crimps (I hadn’t realized how critical it was to crimp the wire jacket until using these), and crimp way faster than before.

In particular, they are a HUGE help when you have to crimp lots of things at once. In my case, I needed them to assemble cables I include in SX2 Mini mill tachometer kits I put together. I was rather concerned about the time it would take me to crimp all of those connectors, but with the right tool it turned out to be a breeze.


Thanks to Bill from I Heart Engineering, we now have a pair of these crimp pliers for the space too! If you ever need to use them, swing on by!






Hacking a SX2 Mini mill

SX2/CN2 tachometer kit in action
SX2/CN2 tachometer kit in action

I picked up a SX2 Mini mill recently via Little Machine Shop (They call it the HiTorque Mini Mill 3900). When I received it, I noticed there was a port for a digital tachometer readout on the side of it. I though this might be useful, but felt 125$+ for it was a little excessive for what it was. Atop of this, they were out of stock.

I ended up reverse engineering the protocol, building some less expensive kits, and documented how exactly I figured out the protocol. Along the way, I also discovered how to make the mill run in reverse!

If you wondered how a reverse-engineering problem like this is approached or what tools are used, this could be an interesting read:

Robot Fest 2011

Last weekend we displayed our projects at Robot Fest 2011. In our photos, you may notice a few new things on display. This is because in 2010 Robot Fest also became Mid Atlantic Mini Maker Faire. Unfortunately we spent most of the day behind our table and we were not able to capture everything at the event. If you have photos of the event to share with us please e-mail them to

Combat Robots Workshop

I took my son to the Combat Robots Workshop at the National Electronics Museum in Linthicum, MD. The workshop was hosted by the PennBots Robot Club of Pennsylvania. The rules of the game were demonstrated to us at the arena and then it was our turn. For the low price of $25 we were given an RC toy to hack and a bunch of parts to pick through.  The biggest challenge was reducing the weight of the robot to the Ant Class (1lb).  The other classes were Flea (150 grams) and Beetle (3lbs).

I have to say that my 7 year old son made me very proud today when he cleanly pushed another bot into the pits while it was being controlled by an adult.  See him in action in the video below.  After the competition, we stuck all the robots into the arena for one last melee. Since there were only two frequencies being used it made for a really interesting match.