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Thread: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

  1. #1

    Default Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]


    Update #1
    (2011-03-24): These are now available for sale! Check out my sales thread for more details: http://www.candlepowerforums.com/vb/...ator-LED-rings


    Introduction


    This is going to be a long post, so how about I start with a little introduction? This is my very first post in Custom/Modified, and indeed, my very first flashlight modification. I'm a sysadmin by trade, which is a fancy way of saying I never took Electrical Engineering and I know almost nothing about the field. The reason I'm telling you this? Some of the things you're about to see will probably have you burying your face in your palm. Heck, some of the later pictures might have you chucking your cookies! Maybe finish eating before you continue reading. Go ahead, I'll wait.

    Alright, let's continue.

    I have a confession to make: I love my Surefire A2 Aviator. Well, it's more of a love-hate relationship, really. I love everything about the light except... the LED tint.

    See, I've got an A2-HA-WH and on low, white Nichia's just give me a serious case of the blues. Fact of the matter is, everyone I show the light to says:
    Oh neat, so it's got a blue low mode and a white high mode?


    Now everyone who owns an A2 is probably aware that there are/were 3 big projects intended to enhance this marvelous little light:

    1. FiveMega's Strion Socket
    2. Atomic Chicken's Aviatrix
    3. Koala's Onion Rings

    Of those, only 1 and 3 are still available for purchase. I've already got my Strion kit (amazing little thing, I highly recommend it ) but I've been on Koalas waitlist for an Onion ring for 4-5 months now. When I woke up one morning with the brilliant idea to start this project, Koala had been MIA for a very long time. Exactly 1 day after I started the project, Koala reappeared and posted that he had completed his move and would be starting production any time now.

    Figures. Anyways, I was already knee deep in internet tutorials, so I figured I'd see it through. And without any further ado, I present my custom Aviator ring!

    (Do I need a name for it? Everyone else has a name for their LED ring. Maybe the EHviator ring? Nah, that's cheesy.)

    Project Plan

    • Objective: replace the stock Nichia white LED's in my A2-HA-WH with warm white ones that are approximately the same CCT as the incandescent bulb (~3300k) WITHOUT modding the existing LED ring
    • Deliverable: a drop-in LED ring that will fit the SF A2 allowing me to switch LED's without modifying the factory LED ring
    • Timeline: 5 weeknights and a Saturday
    • Budget: Ugh, I'd prefer not to talk about how much this cost. Knowledge and experience are priceless though, right?


    Part 1: Planning

    Meet our patient:



    For those who've never changed the bulb, this is what it looks like when you remove it:


    For those who've never removed the LED ring, this is what it looks like. NOTE: the screws have a very small amount of thread locker on them. I found the best way to remove them was to use a tiny eyeglass screwdriver, press down hard, and use a series of very short, quick and aggressive twists. This was enough to break the adhesive, at which point they came out easily.


    Anything that falls in the bezel is going to be a SERIOUS pain to remove. Protect the head of your light and keep the screws handy with a ZipLoc bag and an elastic band.


    The stock LED ring. This is the last time you'll see such amazing soldering.



    If you're new to electronics (or really rusty like I am), brush up on Ohm's law. You're going to need it to figure out what resistors to use. I mocked up my circuit on a breadboard and then tested it with a multimeter to confirm that the values were what I calculated.


    My warm/neutral LED's hadn't arrived yet, but blue LED's have the same forward voltage as white (white LED's are blue LED's with yellow phosphor added) so I ran 3 of them in the circuit.



    The A2's not very forgiving in it's measurements. My method for getting screw-hole measurements was pretty archaic, but it worked well enough.



    With some measurements in-hand, I downloaded EAGLE and set to work creating a schematic. After 2 hours of frustration, I gave up on trying to make a curved trace and fired up Illustrator instead. Much better.

    Part 2: Etching

    The circuit diagram took way longer than expected. I won't bore you with the details, but by the time I was done, I felt like I needed a quart of Hagen Daas and a blankie.

    Protip: Don't ever try to run a page from TIME Magazine through a laser printer's manual feed slot without first gluing/taping it to a regular sheet of printer paper. Don't ask.


    Shiny!


    You know the movies, where there's a montage and some music, and suddenly the protagonist is ripped and trained in Kung-Fu? That doesn't happen in real-life. Getting the pattern you're looking at took me SEVEN tries. That doesn't seem like a lot until you realize every single screw-up means you're out on the patio in Canadian winter (-10 Celcius), with a Zebralight H501W strapped to your forehead (it gets dark at 16:30), furiously scrubbing your piece of copper with Acetone strong enough to strip the paint off your car. Anyways, on the 7th try I finally got the hang of how long/hard to iron the pattern, resulting in some (mostly) crisp traces.


    As with the toner transfer, I didn't snap any pictures of the actual etching process. I was too busy rocking a container of acid back and forth, hoping that the process completes before my feet freeze. Despite wearing chemical-resistant gloves and being extra careful not to spill, I woke up the following morning to find the cuticle on my left index finger covered in a white/green crust. The nail didn't fall off, thankfully.


    I could have jumped for joy when I held the board up to a light and saw that the traces on the back actually aligned with the front.



    Part 3: Drilling

    I learned after the fact that when designing your circuit diagram, you want to leave a little empty hole in the middle of any pad you'll be drilling. This guides your drill bit and prevents it from skittering frantically across the surface until it finally bites into the copper 0.5mm off-target. Duly noted.

    The DremelPress. It works pretty well actually!


    The screw holes lined up fairly well actually.


    And they're the right size too.


    Little known fact: Canadians require Tim Hortons coffee every 24 hours or bad things happen. Think Gremlins.


    LED's fit ok too, this is starting to look good!


    I won't lie, I was pretty darn proud of myself when I stepped back and looked at these.


    Two words: dust mask. Buy a proper one and wear it. It won't save you from the horrible smell of burning PCB, but it might save your lungs.


    Time for a little test-fit.


    The screws complete the circuit back to the negative terminal of the battery. In the delivered Surefire LED ring, the PCB is bored such that the screws sit flush. Surefires also filled this bored area with some kind of conductive paint. Im using Nickel paint - it dries faster than anything I've ever seen. From wet to dry in 8 seconds. Work fast.



    Part 4: Soldering

    ATTENTION: Remember earlier when I told you I was a sysadmin and not an EE? Keep that in mind while viewing these pictures. I've soldered maybe a dozen times in my life and some of these components are damn small! By the third ring I figured out a method that worked for me and things went faster and smoother.

    I went with 100ohm SMR's because:
    a) they'd drive my warm white LED's at 33ma which is exactly what I wanted
    b) Surefire uses 100ohm resistors on their red A2-HA-RD (which overdrives them a little, but I'm ok with that)


    Trimming the LED's (5mm leads seemed to work ok)


    Koala recommends that you trim the skirt on your LED's. He's right - they don't fit in the bezel properly with the skirt on. His method of a drill + metal file didn't work very well for me, so I ended up chopping the skirts off with the scissors on my LM Micra.


    Now things are really starting to look familiar.


    The brass seemed really flexible when it was 12 inches long. When I trimmed it down to 9mm, it suddenly became really inflexible. After almost taking my finger off with the tin-snips trying to get a nice curve, I dropped the idea and went with straight contacts.


    I'm not particularly proud of this soldering job, but I think with practice I'll get better. The brass is easily 10-20x as thick as the copper traces and it heats differently. Not only that, it retains heat, which means after removing the solder and the iron, the spring would simply slump against the PCB and THEN the solder would harden. Nothing worth doing was ever easy.


    Using what I learned from the first ring (which got deep red LED's) I did the second one (which got yellow-green LED's).


    PHEW, the end is in sight! Here we have the stock white ring, and my yellow/green and red rings. If you're wondering why I soldered 3 rings worth of resistors and only 2 of LED's, my warm whites are still in the mail. They should arrive this week.


    Time for the moment of truth! Adding the Strion bulb:


    Took a week and a lot of patience, but there's nothing more satisfying than pushing that button and seeing your creation spring to life.




    Part 5: What's Next?

    If you've stayed with me this long, I thank you! Hopefully my banter wasn't too annoying and the pictures were interesting. What's next for this project? Well, right now, my plans are to take a little break and relax. This project took 3 hours a night Mon-Fri plus 10 hours on Saturday to complete, so it's safe to say I'm pretty burned out at this point. I learned a lot doing it though, and most importantly, I enjoyed it!

    With Koala returning to production on the Onion Rings, I don't know if I'll try to expand and refine my design. What I've made here doesn't hold a torch to his creation and it was never meant to. I just wanted warm white LED's without sacrificing the LED ring that came with my light. After I take a little breather (and after my LED's arrive) I'll probably work on finishing the remainder of the rings that were etched. I can't be the only one out there who dislikes the angry-blue Nichias.

    Thanks for reading and happy modding!
    Last edited by calipsoii; 03-24-2011 at 10:43 AM.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    Update #1

    My first batch of warm white LED's showed up and I had a chance to create a couple rings out of them. For reference, the two LED's are:

    1. SuperBrightLED's RL5-WW15030: 15000mcd, 4000k CCT, 30 deg.
    2. SuperBrightLED's RL5-7035: 7000mcd, 2940k CCT, 35 deg.

    So without further ado, I'll let the pictures do the talking!

    The LEDS

    Stock Nichia cool white


    4000k warm white


    2940k warm white



    Beamshots

    This isn't actually a white wall, it's concrete. The colors are a little bit exaggerated - there is less yellow in the 2940k and a little less green in the 4000k.

    Stock Nichia cool white


    4000k warm white


    2940k warm white



    Basement Beamshots

    You'll have to excuse the mess - the basement needs a bit of tidying up. How about we just say it adds visual interest? The camera wobbles a little between shots, but you get the idea.

    Stock Nichia cool white


    4000k warm white


    2940k warm white



    Color Rendering

    I wasn't expecting much in terms of CRI for these 5mm LED's, but the 2940k pleasantly surprised me with how bold it made colors stand out. I snapped a couple shots to illustrate what I mean.

    Incandescent (control shot)


    Stock Nichia cool white


    4000k warm white


    2940k warm white



    Conclusions

    My thoughts on the two LED's that arrived:

    • 4000k: I find this a bit too cold for 4000k. I have 4500k LED lights warmer than this. It lacks any blue (which is good) but the corona is a bit green. The LED reminds me of almost exactly of the stock Nichia's if you just stripped the angry blue out.
    • 2940k: This LED emits a pleasing, soft flood that is easy on the eyes. I do, however, find the light to be very yellow (so much so that I wondered at first if they shipped me a light yellow LED). While it really makes reds pop, it's hard to ignore the fact that it casts objects you know are white as a pallid yellow.

    Overall, both are an improvement over the stock cool white Nichia's, but they're just not quite what I'm looking for. I have an order placed for a couple warm whites from a different company, so we'll see what they look like when they arrive.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    Update #2

    I mentioned in the first update that I had a couple other warm white LED's on order from a different company. They've now arrived and I've had a chance to make some rings out of them. For reference, the two LED's are:

    1. LEDSupply L1-0-WW5TH15-1: 22000mcd, ~3400k, 15 deg.
    2. LEDSupply L1-0-WW5TH50-1: 4700mcd, ~3400k, 50 deg.

    While the first LED (the 15 degree one) is rated at 22000mcd, it doesn't appear to even come close to that in output. Even when driven at 30mA, this LED is dimmer than the 4000k neutral white one I tested in Update #1, which is rated at 15,500mcd.

    I spoke to a sales representative at LEDSupply about this and he confirmed that the 15 degree LED is the Nichia NSPL500DS. This is good and bad news:

    • The good: I've been trying to find a supplier of these LED's who will ship within North America for a long time
    • The bad: It doesn't appear to be outputting what the spec sheets say it's supposed to.

    Upon closer examination of the datasheet for this emitter, 22000mcd is only typical from the highest bin (rank V). From there it goes down all the way to 11,000 (rank T). I would guess that the LED's I received are from one of the lower bins.

    Enough chatter though, let's fire these babies up and see what they can do!

    Color Rendering

    Incan


    Stock Nichia cool white


    Nichia warm white


    The results are amazing. The first time I fired this thing up, it caught me completely off guard - I've never seen a 5mm put out a beam like this. Colors are crisp and true, the beam is pleasing and not harsh on the eyes. When dropping down from incan into LED, the tint shift is almost unnoticeable - if I didn't know better I'd say that the incan bulb just went into Low mode. Pleased with the color rendering results, I snapped a few more pictures.

    Ceiling Beamshots

    These beamshots do a good job of pointing out the difference in output between these LED's and the stock ones. While the quality of the illumination is better, quantity suffers. Truth be told, I'm ok with it - if I wanted to light something up far away, I'd pop the incan on.

    Incandescent


    Stock Nichia cool white


    Nichia warm white



    MORE Ceiling Beamshots!

    Incandescent


    Stock Nichia cool white


    Nichia warm white



    Cardboard Beamshots

    While playing around, I noticed that the warm white Nichia's really shine when illuminating browns/reds.

    Incandescent


    Stock Nichia cool white


    Nichia warm white



    Plant!

    Finally, a couple shots of a little potted plant. Of all the pictures I took, these ones best illustrate the difference between the cool white and warm white LED's for me.

    Incandescent


    Stock Nichia cool white


    Nichia warm white


    Comparison .gif



    Conclusions

    You've probably noticed that I only took beamshots of the 15 degree LED's. I did create a 50 degree ring as well, but wasn't happy with the result. I believe the 50 degree LED's are also Nichia's, but the tint just isn't as nice and the flood isn't as handy as you might think. It reminds me more of the yellow LED's I tested in Update #1.

    As for the 15 degree LED's?

    The only way I could be happier with the NSPL500DS Nichia's that arrived is if they were top bin. I've been happily EDC'ing my Aviator ever since I put these LED's in - they're just that good. All that's left now is to find a supplier who carries the top bin models and I'm all set.

    Thanks for reading!

  4. #4
    Flashaholic afraidofdark's Avatar
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    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    Amazing build thread, and wonderful play-by-play of your planning, testing, and photos of results

    Thanks for an excellent read!
    "That's why I come here, to be part of that and to learn, and because I can't afford a real midlife crisis, you know with sports cars and boats." -- peskyphotons 2007

  5. #5

    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    Quote Originally Posted by afraidofdark View Post
    Amazing build thread, and wonderful play-by-play of your planning, testing, and photos of results

    Thanks for an excellent read!
    Thanks for the kind words afraidofdark! I tried to make it the kind of build thread I enjoy reading myself, one with lots of pictures and technical details. Glad you enjoyed it!

  6. #6

    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    Update #3

    There was some interest in the yellow/green LED ring I created in the original post, so I've decided to go ahead and create a couple more rings and take a few pictures. For reference, the Y/G LED's I'm using are:

    1. NTE30037 5mm water-clear Y/G: 2500mcd, 575nm, 12 deg.

    I know there is a small group of diehard CPF'ers who love their yellow/green LED's, but I'll come out and admit that I don't understand the fascination. The beam is certainly an interesting swirl of colors, but output is incredibly low and color rendering is non-existent. That being said, there are very few lights in existence sporting Y/G LED's and they're not getting any less rare. Maybe getting a few of these rings out into circulation would be a good thing.


    Beamshots

    For anyone who's never tried to photograph the beam on a yellow/green LED (as I hadn't before tonight), my advice would be this: don't. I have no idea what goes on at the 575nm wavelength, but my digital camera REALLY didn't like it. Every single picture came out green until I discovered that setting the camera at the correct distance from the beam and doing a White Balance Evaluation produced a semi-accurate picture. Even after figuring out how to get a decent pic of the tint, I could NOT get the camera to focus on the beam - it simply wouldn't. After turning the overhead fluorescent back on with the new white balance, everything went bright purple. Definitely some strange things afoot here.

    Like I said, the beam is an interesting swirl of colors, mainly green with some brown


    It's also extremely dim, you really need night adjusted eyes before you can see anything with it. I did notice that it doesn't seem to blow your nightvision, however!
    Left: Nichia warm white
    Right: Yellow/Green


    This was taken with the warm white Nichia's using standard exposure settings


    I had to use the evaluative white balance trick and leave the shutter open for 13 whole seconds just to get this shot. Despite all that, the picture is quite accurate to what my eyes saw.



    Conclusion
    Not a lot of pictures this time around, primarily because it's so hard to get a good shot of the light these LED's put out. I think these might be an acquired taste, because despite all the good things I've heard about the A2-HA-YG, I don't foresee myself packing an Aviator around with these babies in it anytime soon.

    Until next time!

  7. #7
    Flashaholic Machete God's Avatar
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    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    It appears that you've managed to match the tint of the LEDs exactly to the incan bulb, good job there!

    I'm not an EE nor an experienced electronics hobbyist by far, but I laughed out loud when I saw the picture of your first attempt to solder the brass contacts and read the accompanying description of the spring falling down before the solder could harden!

    Anyway, that was a great read, with plenty of well-taken and descriptive pictures to boot. Thanks for sharing!

  8. #8

    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    Update #4

    I mentioned in my sales thread that I had several LED's on order, including deep red and UV. This evening I had a chance to create a ring with the UV LED's in it. For reference, these LED's are:

    1. Nichia NSPU510CS: 6800µW, 15 degree, 375nm

    A note: these aren't cheap. They're over $3 PER emitter, so I was keeping my fingers crossed during ordering that they're good. Now that they're here, I can safely say: they're good.

    These emitters are no joke. I tried my absolute hardest to avoid observing both the emitted and reflected light. Despite that, it's 20 minutes after taking pictures and my eyes still ache. Due to the nature of UV light even though you only see a very dimly lit purple circle, it's actually extremely bright and your eyes are being damaged looking at it. These come with a very significant warning label and it's something to take seriously - you wouldn't stare into a tanning bed, don't stare into these.

    Beamshots

    Let's start with a shot down the business end:


    To answer the question "How far do they throw?" the answer is "Pretty far". Long after you stop being able to see the visible light, objects are still fluorescing. The furnace in these pictures was about 5 feet away.




    375nm is a good UV wavelength. It's perfect for curing Norland (something I intend to use this ring for) and it will display a lot of details that higher wavelength (read: cheaper) UV LED's won't.

    Inova X5 UV


    Surefire A2 /w Nichia 375nm


    Conclusion
    Overall, I'm quite happy with these LED's. They're a little bit specialized: perfect for curing Norland or checking the carpet for dog stains (at which they also excel) but not something I'd want to pack around in my Aviator every day.

    Coming up next: 50 degree deep reds. I hope they're as good as I'm thinking they are.

  9. #9
    Flashaholic* sween1911's Avatar
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    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    This thread is absolutely amazing. Very impressed!!! I'm currently trading into an A2 and have been looking at what can be done to the it to ensure it's longevity in the long run. I have a habit of falling in love with trailing edge technology, and I want to make sure my A2 is still a viable light for awhile.

    Thanks for sharing this labor of love with us! Looking forward to seeing what else you come up with!
    Dean Venture: "I'll get the flashlights!"
    Hank Venture: "And I'll get the astronaut Ice Cream!"

  10. #10

    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    Just wanted to say awesome work and thanks for documenting; very cool!!!

  11. #11

    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    Nice work! Any tests with the LEDs and norland any time soon? Ive been considering putting together a light with some UV LEDs for curing NOA, but I was unsure of the output requirements. I use a CFL black light currently for the final curing, but it'd be a lot easier to have a flashlight for tacking stuff in place initally. I was looking at a ledengin single die (5w input, ~150mW out iirc) LED but if these work, that may be vast overkill.

  12. #12
    Flashaholic
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    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    Your build thread is interesting to read, and your warm white ring looks great! When I finally have an A2, I'll be interested in one of your rings.


  13. #13

    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    Update #5

    Well, I finally ran out of homemade PCB's, so it was time to make some more. After the pain of trying to align the front with the back (which didn't work all that well last time) I decided maybe it was time to try something new.

    I learned Eagle.

    It has a learning curve that's sort of like hitting a brick wall every night for a week straight. It's the only software program I've ever seen where the "Wire" tool doesn't draw wires, it draws lines. Software for engineers, by engineers.

    Anyways, after poring over tutorials one Friday evening and sipping a few cold beverages, it finally clicked and I was on my way. The fruits of my labors:


    Of course, it was only AFTER spending over a hundred dollars at a fab house that I realized they only etched on 0.062" board. The A2 requires 0.03125". Anything thicker and the stock MA02 bulb defocuses (Fivemega's Strion kit is unaffected). Expensive mistake. Placed another order, this time on the right thickness PCB, so now I'm waiting on them to arrive.

    What DID arrive is my box full of tiny electrical components (and I do mean tiny):



    Since I had some time this evening, I figured I'd sit down and test the voltage regulator. A voltage regulator (for anyone who doesn't know - as I didn't a few weeks ago) is a device that takes a range of input voltages and outputs a single constant voltage. The excess voltage is dumped either as heat or as current into the ground. This is important because the microprocessor you see above accepts 5.5V max, far less than the 8.4V max that rechargeables could dump through it. My weapon of choice:

    1. Microchip Technology's MCP1703T-5002E/CB: 2.7V - 16V input, 5V output, 250ma max current, 625mv dropout

    I gave myself a bit of scare when I started to wonder what would happen when the batteries could no longer supply 5V. Would it flicker and die? Would I be limiting myself only to rechargeables? It was time to find out.

    Soldering wires onto this thing is a serious pain


    First test: whether it'll drop the nominal 7.4V off a pair of IMR16340's down to 5V


    Looking good! Now, I grabbed a pair of "dead" SF123A primaries. Admittedly, they're not "dead-dead", they're just low enough that they set off the low-voltage warnings on all my lights so I can't use them. Their voltage under load is 4.8V, so less than the 5V output of my regulator. Moment of truth!


    Success! While I couldn't find it in the datasheet, it would appear the regulator WILL output less than 5V, essentially dropping it out of regulation down into direct-drive. The forward voltage of the warm white LED is 3.2V which means if your power source can't supply that, it won't light. The closest thing I could find to 3.2V was a single IMR16340.


    Let's see if our regulator will pass that 3.9V through to the LED?


    So there you have it! No need to sweat - when the CR123A's drop below 5V output, the LED's will continue to light. This little regulator will work juuuust fine.

    Should be about 2 weeks until the PCB's show up, at which point I hope to have some more interesting pictures to upload.

    Until then, cheers!

  14. #14

    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    Update #6

    Hoo boy, this thread has been gathering dust now for a while, hasn't it? Time to brush the cobwebs off!

    To quickly bring you up to speed: I've been making single-mode rings for a couple months now and have gotten quite good at it. In between batches of them, I've been working on a multi-mode version, powered by a microcontroller. These multi-mode rings are now at the point where they're ready to be beta-tested prior to going up for sale. There are just a few little things left to work out.

    The ATTiny13A datasheet recommends soldering the center pad of the microcontroller to the PCB to help anchor it. So far I've had very little luck. The pad is hidden away under the uC and I can't hit it with a soldering iron.


    Which leads us to the only logical conclusion. Why use a flyswapper when you can use a sledgehammer?


    After applying a little solder to each of the pads on the PCB, I applied a little flux to the bottom of each of the components and stuck them in place. Some of the resistors are a little crooked but that's ok - the surface tension of the liquid solder should straighten them out.


    Bake at 230°C for no longer than 6 minutes!


    Well, that's what I thought, anyway. It turns out that the reflow profile for actual reflow solder doesn't apply to solder you've already applied by hand. The vast majority of the solder had liquified by 100°C but I was unsure if it needed more time and/or heat. Who was I to question a datasheet I found on the internet? I pressed on.

    No, your eyes aren't deceiving you, that PCB is starting to brown at the edges. About 12 seconds later, it started to smoke and I frantically unplugged it.


    After letting the whole thing cool down for a bit, it was time to inspect the damage.


    All told, it wasn't so bad! Some of the solder boiled and the flux charred, but the circuit still works just fine. Even better, the microcontroller's hidden center pad had firmly affixed itself to the board and all 10 pins neatly reflowed!


    So what's next? Well, this charred little ring is currently being tested to make sure the firmware doesn't have any bugs. After that, I'll probably experiment with the time/temperature on the oven to see if I can hit the sweet spot where it neatly reflows but doesn't scorch.

    Until next time!

  15. #15

    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    Update #7

    While whipping up a batch of A2 rings this evening, I decided to photograph the process and document it here. A lot of photos perhaps, but hopefully it'll give you an idea of the process (and all the care and attention) that goes into making one of these. Enjoy!

    ----------------

    To save a ton of money, I chose not to have the factory cut the PCB's into their familiar ring shape, so they delivered them in big sheets like this:


    The sheets are v-scored so that they easily snap into little 1" squares


    I start by taking the edges off the squares with a set of tin snips


    It takes 16 cuts on each ring to knock off the excess PCB, leaving it looking pretty ragged



    Safety first for this next step!


    Not only does it look bad, but these likely won't fit in the A2 head so they need smoothed down


    You want to take precautions to avoid inhaling the dust that comes off them


    My trusty Zebralight H501W helps illuminate the excess that needs sanded off


    Much better!


    A little rubbing alcohol removes any oils and dust



    Firing up my trusty Weller. Always wet your sponge!


    After making hundreds of these little bridges, I'm getting pretty good at eyeballing the measurements. The metal comes from the excess I trim off each LED leg.



    The SMD components come in little machine-feedable blister tapes - these are the voltage regulators


    It's cheapest to buy 1000 resistors at a time. Needless to say, I have lots.



    This is my pinky finger - this stuff is tiny! An illuminated magnifying glass does a good job preventing eyestrain though!



    Time to attach the SMD stuff




    The LED's need a bit of work before they can be attached. These are ultraviolet ones.


    Mark, trim and check the results



    The skirts need trimmed off the LED's, so a few minutes with a Leatherman Micra fixes that little problem


    This might look low-tech, but after making enough of them, you get really good at mounting the LED's straight and true



    A quick check to confirm it's all good...


    ... and it's onwards to finish the other two


    The brass gets marked with a Sharpie so I know where to cut it with the tin snips:



    Using a pair of needlenose pliers and some regular pliers, the straight springs get bent into shape




    A quick check to make sure the curve profile is how I want it...


    ... then they go under the iron to get tinned. This helps the brass heat up incredibly fast so that I don't scorch the PCB trying to attach them


    The first spring goes down and its joint gets checked




    And now the other two!



    This ring is now officially complete, but it still needs tested. As mentioned, it's a UV ring, so these stylish shades come out!


    Everything is looking good!


    Now to mount it in my tester A2 and take it for a spin


    The camera photographs UV as a blue light for some reason



    Now a quick check that the incan beam profile looks right and isn't defocused or anything


    That's it! One UV single mode ring, good to go!


    Thanks for reading along, hope you enjoyed the pictures!

  16. #16
    Super Moderator
    DM51's Avatar
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    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    Excellent! Superb attention to detail!
    Resistance is futile...

  17. #17
    Flashaholic* ^Gurthang's Avatar
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    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    If you made a video of your work it could be on "How its Made" program... excellent work.
    ^G When I reply, threads die....

  18. #18
    Flashaholic* milkyspit's Avatar
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    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    Very nice photo essay on creation of these little guys! I like some of the jigs you made for particular tasks. It's something I find myself doing quite a lot these days... and even an old(er) dog like me can learn some new tricks! Excellent. Simply excellent. Thanks for sharing!
    --Scott

  19. #19
    Flashaholic*
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    Default

    I love seeing your work. My eyes hurt just thinking about how small that stuff is and how hard to see to work with. Keep up the good work. Hope you still plan on programing for a three color multimode ring someday as that's my dream for this light.
    My Lights: EDC; Surefire E2T-MV Tactician, ZLSC53, Preon
    Duty; Streamlight Stinger, Nitecore SRT, E2D-LED

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    Excellent! I will be ordering one of these very soon. I just need to figure what color combo I want.
    Your videos and build logs are very cool indeed.

  21. #21
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    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    Have you received any feedback from designers of the Surefire A2 Aviator?

    I think they should be impressed with the improvements you have made.

    Maybe at the Shotshow they can provide you with refreshments"

    Great work!

  22. #22

    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    Update #8

    It's been mentioned in the sales thread, but I ordered a bunch of 5mm Cree LED's in the hopes of finding a nice neutral one. They weren't originally intended for this A2 ring project, but there are a couple CPF'ers who would prefer a middle ground offering, somewhere between SF's angry blue and Nichia's (admittedly very warm) warm white, so I decided to whip up a ring and see how they perform.

    The LED's


    1. Cree C513A-MSN-CW0Y0511: 8200mcd, 4600-5600k, 55deg, 75CRI


    I ordered 100 and the tints I received varied wildly from a rather sickly yellow to almost cool white. I separated them as best I could into 3 groups - warmer, neutral, cooler.



    The neutral ring was built from the best-looking LED's in the neutral group. So basically, out of 100 LED's, this was built with the 3 I thought were the nicest. Keep that in mind.


    Since they're 55 degree flood LED's, they work well in the OP reflector of the A2 and put out a very smooth, very WIDE beam. The blue A2 is using the stock SF ring.



    The boxes have become somewhat of a tradition for my beamshots, so let's get them out of the way. See what I'm talking about when I say floody?

    Cool White -- Neutral White -- Warm White




    The warm white Nichia's do indeed have a bit of a blue hotspot that increases with distance. My camera amplifies it and it's nowhere near as prominent to my eyes. I like that they have a tiny bit of blue - it seems to help immensely with rendering color on blue/green objects.

    Cool -- Neutral -- Warm




    The neutrals definitely don't reach very far, but they put out a lot of light up close




    Cool -- Neutral -- Warm




    This was my best attempt to photograph the transition as the light drops down from incan into LED. I don't have a white wall anywhere in my house so the ceiling will have to suffice.

    Cool White



    Neutral White



    Warm White




    The Verdict

    Pros
    - very bright, probably as bright as the stock white ones (with more flood and less throw)
    - not a hint of blue anywhere in the beam
    - very smooth, wide beam
    - the A2 reflector does a great job smoothing out any artifacts in the beam
    - they mesh well with the incan bulb; dropping down out of high isn't unpleasant like it is with the stock white ones

    Cons
    - the light emitted is a very "dead" light (for lack of a better word... light grey); it's devoid of any color so it simply illuminates an area without really putting any feeling into it
    - the tint lottery is in full effect; this ring was made with the best emitters of the bunch - the rest aren't as pretty.
    - color rendering is pretty pallid - it makes me look like I have zombie hands

    It's tough to make up my mind about these LED's. I'm personally a warm white guy so it doesn't feel right to be using an A2 that has "grey" secondary LED's. That said, it's hard to argue that they don't put out any blue at any distance and they have a very smooth and floody beam. I certainly think these would do the trick for someone who doesn't like warm white, but wants to drop the blue from their stock white ring.

    Until next time!

    Update (2012-01-24)

    I carried this neutral white A2 around with me for a full week and I have to say now that the LED's have quickly grown on me. They put out a literal wall-of-light that's very smooth and has a nice neutral tint. Up close, they do pretty well with colors, though that drops off at a distance. Some comparison shots:

    McGizmo High CRI Haiku (92CRI @ 5000k)


    Nichia GS cool white (6700k)


    Cree NW (5000k)


    Nichia Warm White (~3300k)


    The 5000k temperature is a little cooler than the 3300k of the incan bulb, but if you don't mind a bit of a color difference when dropping down out of High, they're an excellent choice.
    Last edited by calipsoii; 01-24-2012 at 11:17 PM.

  23. #23
    Enlightened Luciaro's Avatar
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    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    I have read only now..
    I follow step by step your post..
    Awesome project.
    thank you for sharing us your precious time.
    Peace and Love in the World



  24. #24
    Flashaholic* jamesmtl514's Avatar
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    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    Excellent thread. I wanted to PM you this question, but I feel it's one others may ask.
    Can you mod the A2L secondary LEDs to UV?
    My lightsWTB: Surefire: New/Used/Rare. Currently looking for everything Crosshairs + D2. Interesting trades available.Everybody, just send your lights directly to James - he'll end up with them anyhow, lol. -Kestrel

  25. #25

    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    Quote Originally Posted by jamesmtl514 View Post
    Excellent thread. I wanted to PM you this question, but I feel it's one others may ask.
    Can you mod the A2L secondary LEDs to UV?
    Afraid not jamesmtl514.

  26. #26
    Flashaholic* jamesmtl514's Avatar
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    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    Thanks for taking the time to answer.
    much appreciated!
    My lightsWTB: Surefire: New/Used/Rare. Currently looking for everything Crosshairs + D2. Interesting trades available.Everybody, just send your lights directly to James - he'll end up with them anyhow, lol. -Kestrel

  27. #27
    Flashaholic StudFreeman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    I know you must be wicked busy with Project Lamplighter at the moment but what happened to most of these pics?

  28. #28

    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    SF, those images were from over three years ago.
    Have torch, will travel.

  29. #29

    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    Hi StudFreeman!

    No one was more disappointed than I to learn Imageshack apparently stops hosting images after 2-3 years. Not much of a build log without pictures! I've since switched to hosting them all off my own domain so I know they won't suddenly disappear. I have all the original pictures for this thread but figuring out the order they were in and getting every post edited is a job for a lazy Sunday sometime way in the future.

  30. #30
    Flashaholic* kosPap's Avatar
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    Default Re: Build Log: Surefire A2 Aviator replacement LED ring [pic heavy]

    I have the thread saved in a zip file.
    Shouls i upload it in my mediafire account?

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