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HELP! Electronic sequencer for vintage door chime. Answered

Seeking any manner of help in making an electronic sequencer for a multi-note doorbell. I restore old door chimes and one particular model from the 1940's-1950's has an electromechanical linear distributor that works as the chime sequencer. It has a limited life expectancy- long since expired- and it defies repair. You can see details of this device by looking up patent number 2245443. The task to be done though is just like that of any more common chime sequencer that uses a rotary distributor. The idea is to replace the electromechanical mess with modern electronics to time the power sequence to three or four 16v or 24v solenoids. Looking for any help… guidance, advice, moral support... but mostly hoping to find someone who can design and build a few of these, as I am largely clueless about electronic design.

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Ex-Rittenhouse (author)westfw2007-02-11

I found this thread courtesy of Knock, who knew I'd be interested to see any progress he was making on repairing these beasts. I love antiques myself...though I don't own many besides my Studebaker. My story: My in-laws had an old Rittenhouse that started acting-up. Original equipment from a 1947 home. My extensive Googling found Knock's site. He provided quite a bit of free repair advice, as well as recommending a place I eventually bought a replacement chime. I ended-up giving my Rittenhouse to him, rather than trashing it or trying to make a buck (or two) on eBay. I really hope he finds a way to get these working again. I believe it's a labor of love and I'd like to know that he found a way to restore them. Cheers from Silicon Valley

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JonasClark (author)2007-01-31

I'm a collector of vintage chimes. I'm glad I spotted this discussion, as I've got Rittenhouse chimes with dashpots in them. There are two kinds of dashpots out there: The first has a metal shell crimped (like a metal radio tube) to a plastic base, in which are the electrical contacts and a brass screw. The screw is an oil port, to add more oil. If I open one and pour in more oil, it'll run right out. Why? The oil inside turns to grease and blocks everything. If you uncrimp one of these and take it apart, the grease can be cleaned out... but unless you can find someone to make from scratch a new spring to custom shape, there is no way to recondition them. None. The second type is sealed. That's right, the shell is attached to the plastic base with a fine seam. No crimps, no sign of glue, no nothing. The only way to open it, were I crazy enough to try, is to saw it apart. I have a catalog from Liberty Chimes, which also usedx a dashpot. Their ad copy states "Sealed mechanism will never need service" Yes, they were not meant to be opened and repaired. Buzznerd, if you think Knock, coming from a standpoint of repair-to-resell, is just being harsh by saying he dislikes these, take it from a collector: I don't want to resell them, I want them to function so I can display them as working chimes, and compared to the more common electromechanical motor-driven sequencers, this design is awful. The mechanical sequencers can be easily opened for mechanical repairs. If you, Buzznerd, can make a dashpot work, I'd like you to show us both how it's done. If you can prove to me that I can make my dashpot chimes go again using the original dashpots, please do. If you prove us wrong, I'll pay you the premium price you set, to repair mine. Oh, by the way... tell me that Knock's restoration prices are high, then go see what new chimes cost compared to how they sound. The only long-tube types out there are the NuTone-Broan ones, which have a tinny buzz due to the cheap tubing used for the chimes and the strikers having a tendency to linger against the chimes. These cost around $350. Or, for $400, you can buy that new monstrosity (I forget the brand - Honeywell?) I see at Home Depot, which has three full-length fake, plastic, chimes, and a recorded electronic tune which sounds like what it is. Knock's chimes aren't for everyone. For those who just want something that announces visitors and looks good under the quick glance most people will give it, the new store-bought stuff is fine. If you're doing a quality restoration of an antique home, you might go to Rejuvenation Co. for exact reproductions of antique light fixtures. As no exact reproductions of vintage chimes exist, Knock is your next best option. Same if you're restoring the vintage home you just bought and you want to keep it as original as possible - you'd send the light fixtures to a specialist who knows what he's doing, thus you'd pay the appropriate price. There is only one person out there who has decided to make a business out of restoring chimes, and if you go to him, you'll pay the appropriate price. True, you could do it yourself, and you're welcome to, but if your plan is for everything to be "professionally restored", Knock is the guy who does that. He has, however, given me very helpful suggestions on doing minor repairs myself.

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buzznerd (author)2007-01-30

Knock, are you serious about sending me a unit to try to repair?

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knock (author)buzznerd2007-01-30

If you can help your input would be graciously welcomed. If you can find a way to fix dashpots and care to share it, that info will go on my site to help others, just as is my intent with all other DYI info on my site. Heck- if you succeed and want to become the dashpot repair go-to guy, that works for me too. I'm just looking for a solution. But I'll tell you, aside from my own efforts which I think were pretty thorough (and while I'm a dunce with electronics, I'm a decent mechanic) I consulted with an old timer who worked at Rittenhouse in his youth and did chime repair on the side. His opinion was that it was hopeless. I have also talked to my ace clock repair contact who will take on anything including stuff that nobody else will touch. He was optimistic too until he looked at the patent and then concurred: hopeless, pointless to try. I am almost certain that the cause of the problem is a tired return spring. Assuming you would be able to get the assembly apart gracefully and back together again, and reset the adjustable oil flow meter to suit the viscosity of whatever oil you use, and reseal it so that oil leakage could be guaranteed not to never occur, the challenge would be to either recondition or replace the spring. Replacement does not seem to be in the cards as it is very specialized with unique tails on both ends. Shimming the spring to preload it a bit to compensate for its tiredness was my best effort, but that was not effective, probably because of the nature of the way a spring works, plus it changed the overall travel of the swiper, which the mechanism can't tolerate. Should also mention that it is fairly easy to get it to operate at a super fast cadence, but getting it to run with reasonable timing- like all four signal outputs evenly timed on the half second- elusive! Consider these items, review the patent so you can see what's going on, and then if you honestly think there is hope, I'll send one to you. I promise not to laugh and point if you decline.

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westfw (author)2007-01-29

For the record, I have no objections to expensive antiques or expensive electronics consultants, as long as everyone understands the situation. The sort of bad feelings that are possible when one person's free advice is used for another person's profit is the sort of thing that disrupts the free exchange of information (ala Instructables, or otherwise.) To my mind, electronics and antique restoral are rather similar; those unfamiliar with them have little concept of how many hours need to be spent to acheive apparently tiny accomplishments. The miracle of mass-production has blinded them... Knock: "we" need to know how important the physical size constraints are. And, for instance, what stops one from replacing the troublesome dashpot with an easier-to-find and easier-to-fix clockwork mechanism? Why do you need/want electronics?

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knock (author)westfw2007-01-29

The actual vintage device measures 3-1/2" hi x 1-5/8' x 1" thick. In some models that's all the room there is... In other remodels there is lots of room available. I measure space in one of the larger ones at 6" x 3-1/2" and 1-1/4". I was not aware of a new mechanical sequencer I could use, but I guess that would be fine. I made the leap to electronics thinking that it would be the natural progression- the smallest, lowest cost, no moving parts to wear out equivalent that would also offer the added advantage of programmability over the original inflexible electro-mechanical design. Maybe I have it wrong, but for what its worth, electronic control is the way the industry went; for a brief period between all- mechanical and all-electronic chimes, there were a few hybrid mechanical chimes with electronic control. Anyway, if you think there is a compelling case for a new mechanical timer, I'm open to that as a possibility. Can you point me in the right direction to find and study one?

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westfw (author)knock2007-01-29

No, I was just assuming that other sequencers (vintage or otherwise) were more commonly available in working condition, and they would have all the voltage translation issues of a microcontroller based solution. If not, then... not.

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knock (author)westfw2007-01-29

Good thought, but it doesn't work that way. All old motored chimes are pretty rare and precious. I wouldn't want to sacrifice one for another. The Ritts with dashpots are certainly no more valuable that others, in fact given the current state of no viable repair strategy, they have marginal value- except to those people who have them and want to save a family relic or an original feature of their vintage homes. A few weeks ago someone proposed to me that surplus Telechron timers should be available somewhere for cheap and useful for this purpose... "should" and "somewhere" being the operative terms.

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westfw (author)2007-01-22

Hmm. Something like Serial Relay Controller with Inputs is probably very close to what you need (and only $50, although not in stock.) It appears to have a socketed microcontroller that provides the "Serial control" function, and you could replace that with a similar micro containing your own specialized chime-sequencing firmware. This would considerably simplify the design effort, I think.

I'm finding it really annoying how difficult it is to use modern electronics on a "system" that is fundamentally 8-24VAC based...

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photozz (author)westfw2007-01-23

Yep. That is actually almost exactly the beast. Where he is getting into problems is that the board supplied there may not be small enough to retrofit into existing housings. I was going to use a picaxe 18x and some beefy trasisitors to drive the coils, or small relays if necessary. As far as the AC, I was going to bleed off some current and convert to DC through a 7805 to run the control side. I priced the whole thing at around $18 or so for parts. Maybe an hour for construction. I like the idea of leaving it with the Picaxe firmware, as the editor makes it simple enough for just about anyone to change or setup the timing on the pins.

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westfw (author)photozz2007-01-25

Aha. SparkFun has this board with documentation and no PIC installed, for $34. I would think a PICAxe would drop in (depending on whether it can control ALL the IO pins or dedicates some to particular functions.) They also seem to have a Vesion for Atmel AVR

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photozz (author)westfw2007-01-25

Cool. appears to be the same board. I'm debating the wisdom of using mechanical relays though. Going with a small SSR would eliminate any chance of a mechanical failure, not to mention simplify the circuit quite a bit. I like these boards, but they might be a little over-engineered for the project.

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westfw (author)photozz2007-01-25

A lot of SSRs don't seem to be spec'ed down to the relatively low voltages of a doorbell circuit, and they're rather expensive for "solenoid level" currents. And it's a DOORBELL; operated a couple times a day, perhaps, with a failure mode that is unlikely to be "exciting." (although... fusing the solenoid supply might be good.)

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photozz (author)westfw2007-01-25

I was thinking something more like these:

http://cgi.ebay.com/5-NEW-OMRON-G3MB-202PEG-4-SOLID-STATE-RELAYS-2-AMP-NEW_W0QQitemZ120077378464QQihZ002QQcategoryZ36332QQrdZ1QQcmdZViewItem

I can drive them right from the controller. They should be able to switch the solenoids just fine. they are quite small as well. At $11 for 5, they are cheap enough to consider.

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westfw (author)photozz2007-01-26

According to the datasheet, the relay you mention is rated for output voltages from 100 to 240VAC. I can't think of a good reason that they wouldn't work at lower voltages, given what I think the internal circuits look like, but it makes me nervous.
List price is over $4 each (from Newark); which is slight better off than I am; the relays I've been using for similar projects are 'found", and I haven't seen a relay for sale with the same pinout anywhere...

(is "knock" still paying attention?)

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knock (author)westfw2007-01-29

Yes WESTFW, still listening. I really appreciate input of all participants and especially your efforts to keep the discussion going. I can see that I am probably going to need to have someone construct this for me… and to satisfy the concerns of anyone who may care, my intention is to pay for that, because, you know, some portion of this hobby of mine is a commercial endeavor, modest as it may be. Anyone who is uncomfortable with helping on the planning phase should exit the discussion. Not so thrilled with the comments about my ethics. For anyone else who cares so much about my business, I give away several hours a week of free personalized advice to anyone who asks me for it, in addition to the many pages of free advice content on my site which has taken me hundreds of hours to compile and present. I do it because I enjoy the topic and because I honestly like to help people in this one small way. Let's at least be honest about THAT. I also make a small amount of money from a couple dozen customers a year who have lots more money than time.

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westfw (author)knock2007-01-29

PS: I think you ethics are fine. You made less effort to hide your commercial identity than a lot of people; It was trivial to connect you with knockdoorbells.com, and that site is nicely straightforward, and even has prices posted.

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buzznerd (author)knock2007-01-29

Right Knock. Buy low, sell high. We're familliar with dealers. I checked out your pages. You are offering at least as much opinion as fact. For somebody with as much professed love for the electro-mechanical as you claim, your disdain for telechron, patina and provenance is particularly curious. Those Rittenhouse dashpots can, and should be restored. You apparently just don't like the design. Similar oil-bath mechanical timing devices were employed on washing machines and toasters in the 30s, 40s and 50s.

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knock (author)buzznerd2007-01-29

Thanks for your opinion, Buzz. If you are serious about it and promise to give it a shot I will send you a Ritt dashpot and you can show me how easy it is to fix. Or better yet, you can buy one low on eBay and make a pot of money polishing it up. Oh-- and hey, you can then launch our own website and cash in on the big bucks that are in vintage chime repair, sales and free advice... I mean free opinions. You can send me your address off line if you prefer not to make you self known here.

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buzznerd (author)2007-01-23

Troublesome attitude Knock. You want people to pay for YOUR expertise at $50 an hour or several hundred for polishing an antique while seeking free help from others? Yours is a commercial venture. At least be honest about that!

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photozz (author)buzznerd2007-01-23

I don't believe he ever said he was not willing to pay for help, nore has he complained about anything anyone has said in this forum. I can understand the confusion as westfw and I have different ideas about time/compensation, but it's not Knocks attitude.

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westfw (author)2007-01-19

OK, so I created a collobration

Design Custom Electronics for a Customer

Where "we" can talk about the hypothetical design, hopefully demonstrating the steps necessary and/or useful when doing this sort of thing (professionally or otherwise) and making the whole thing into an educational adventure on several different levels. The colloboration is open to Knock, as well as Electronics and "the uC" group.

I found Knock's photos of the device to be replaced. That's TINY. By the time we're done with isolating a microcontroller from the harsh world that electromechanical systems breeze right through, I don't know that it's possible to implement a replacement within a similar volume, even with modern electronics. Is it a "design requirement" that it fit in similar space?

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westfw (author)2007-01-18

Conceptually, it's not hard. A solenoid coil is a lot like a relay or motor winding, so there's plenty of "literature" on how to drive such a thing from a microprocessor output. A mid-sized darlington transistor should work fine if the solenoids operate off of DC. Triacs or relays if they're AC. I can envision some sort of 4-track chime-recording software that runs on a PC and downloads data to the eeprom present on many microcontrollers these days (say, 100 bytes would trivially give you two 10-second sequences with 1/10 s resolution for each of two trigger inputs. Fully polytonic and chord capable, if the power supply is...) All the harware expense is likely to be tied up in details like making sure the micro's power supply is well isolated from the solenoid noise, providing appropriate connectors, matching the existing mechanical controller in hookup style, and so on. It is, IMO, and "interesting" project, and one with a good chance of being pretty educational to both parties involved in the development effort. And separately so for the manufacturing effort...

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photozz (author)2007-01-17

To put it succinctly, I can *probably* do this with a picaxe controller and some relays. about 20-30$ for each unit, assembled. They can be easily programed and timing changed as necessary. Does the door bell have a constant voltage source?

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westfw (author)photozz2007-01-18

> about 20-30$ for each unit,

That's "parts cost", right? about $6 each for picaxe chip, PCB, and some relays plus a few extra parts like your 5V regulator and terminal blocks. But not paying for your time (either design time or construction time), or making anything in the way of profit? Yeah, that sounds about right. Are you volunteering to make a half dozen at that price for someone in a market that seems able to charge $900 for the completed refurbished chime?

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photozz (author)westfw2007-01-18

yep. call me a socialist. . ;)

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westfw (author)2007-01-17

Are you http://www.knockdoorbells.com/ ? Those are some pretty (and expensive!) chimes. Are you willing to pay $75-100 each for a "programmable chime controller" and commit to 5 or more? Are UL or other safety certifications required, or does the low-voltage bell transformer get you out of that?

There's a significant difference between "guidance" and a turnkey device ready for a commercial doorchime enterprise to drop into old chimes. It SHOULD be doable with a relatively simple microcontroller and some driver transistors or relays, but it'll be complicated by size constaints and such.

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knock (author)westfw2007-01-18

Yes, hip to the difference- that's why I said that I welcome all manner of help. I just thought that as I enjoy giving people free advice about the topic that I have a passionate interest in, I might find people here who feel the same way. Anyone who feels otherwise is welcome to ignore my call.

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