Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I Got Spinners Dawg!

I am an engineer. By profession, by hobby and therefore, by passion. And being an engineer requires me to browse through PDFs several pages long, or plow through code confusing enough to make your eyes pop out. I may do this just to look cool, but all the same, I have to do it. Using a mouse scroll wheel with its annoying ‘click’ makes my index finger sore pretty quick. So then I switch to my middle finger. And pretty soon I find that I can’t give someone the bird.

Griffin’s $40 PowerMate

Now the simple solution would be to buy myself a jog wheel / spinner. Give the jog wheel a slight twist and its momentum would keep it gliding over pages and pages of the boring PDF. But I’m an engineer. So I decided to build myself one (obviously the phrase “Why buy a cow when milk is so cheap” does not apply to engineers).

The inspiration for the build was not really ‘direct’. I never really got down to building one until I watched one of Dave’s excellent teardown videos. I was actually googling how VCR heads have a helical scan and then opened up a myriad other links, this instructable being one of them.

Osgeld has done a pretty fine job with his jog wheel

I had torn down a VCR about a year ago and mined it for parts, so I already had the basic stuff at hand. I also had an old USB mouse picked up from a dorm trash can. The tactile buttons had gone bust, but the chip itself was pretty useable.

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The crusty old VCR head. Oxidized and rusted

Some more googling led me to these tutorials:

Disassembly of the head was was relatively easy. I’m just going to explain it through pictures.

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A brushless motor drives the head assembly

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The magnetic pickups are clearly visible in the image on the right

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The rotary transofrmer

[Digression - the pickups feed the signal to the coils of a rotary transformer. The transformer helps couple a signal across two rotating elements without the use of mechanical elements like slip rings. I’ve never seen a rotary transformer before, so this was the most interesting part of the teardown. The transformer ‘core’ was glued down. A blast of hot air from my heat gun helped dislodge it.]

My mouse chip was an all-in-one solution with the USB comms, the optical sensor, and the click/scroll encoders integrated onto one chip. This is good since I was able to make my circuitry compact. Some mice (mouses?) distribute USB and sensor duties across two separate chips. The particular chip that I used was the A1198. Googling for the chip’s pinout or datasheet proved useless. So I used a multimeter to reverse engineer the PCB. An MSPaint pinout is below; hopefully someone else will find it useful.

Vreg gives out approx 3.3v All V should be connected to Vreg. Resistors pulldown the quadrature inputs Q0, Q1 to Q_pulldwn. If a mechanical encoder is used, then the common pin of the quadrature encoder should go to Vusb. Xtal is a 12MHz ceramic resonator.

The pin spacing for the chip was a bit odd. Luckily the pins weren’t staggered like you find on some sensors. I had some 2mm pitch veroboard, which, after wiggling the pins a tad, worked just fine. I used the ceramic oscillator from the original mouse, and sprinkled a few SMD capacitors which I had scavenged from old electronics.

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Left: IC pins splayed out
Right: I drilled a small hole for the aperture of the optical sensor to sit in

The original mouse used a mechanical quadrature encoder for the scroll wheel. I converted this into an optical encoder by using some cheap IR LEDs and phototransistors. The resistor-phototransistor-combo’s output swung from 0.1v to 3.3v. I found that I didn’t even need to use a comparator on the sensor output since the signal was fairly ‘clean’. The encoder wheel was designed and printed using shimniok’s Wheel Encoder Generator.

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Left: The first sensor board I made used one IR LED and two phototransistors ground flat. This didn’t work well at all – very poor resolving power.
Centre: On the second board I used
SG-105 photoreflective sensors. They’re tiny and low profile compared to my earlier sensors.
Right: The back of the SG-105 board. SMD resistors used to bias the opto-elements; 220ohm on the LEDs, 470kohm from the phototransistor collector to

For the base I used a Canon lens holder given to me by a photographer friend. A little bit of drilling here and there made it an excellent base.

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A Cannon lens cover was used as the base.

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Left: The completely soldered ‘mouse’ board was stuck with some double sided foam tape in the Canon lens holder.
Right: The sensor board was fixed using a screw and a spacer. The USB cable was secured with a dot of hot glue.

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Testing the sensors with the help of my third hand and a DSO. The signal is typical of a quadrature encoder and is quite clean, as you can see in the trace.

Overall I’m really happy with the way this jog/spinner wheel has turned out. No more sore fingers, and zipping over pages in a PDF, or lines of code, or through frames of a movie has become easy and super fun! Infact I’ve used it extensively while editing this very document :-) One possible addition at a later date would be to add a push button at the bottom of the shaft so that the whole spinner can be ‘pushed-to-click’.


Edit: I’ve uploaded a video to Youtube

Jog Wheel


  1. That's an awesome idea. I never thought I needed one (mainly because I've never heard of anything like that), but since I have the parts, I may give it a go. Thanks for posting!

    1. Haha, yeah, I find that I don't really 'need' a lot of stuff, until I actually buy it for myself :-P

      Let me know how yours turns out.


  2. oh man, i wanna see a video.
    I bet the action is awesome.

    1. Here's the video :-)

  3. A question about the chip from a painfully noob-ish individual: Which pins correspond to the x and y tracking of the mouse?

  4. Rohit-
    I'm writing a piece for a small VHS culture zine here in New York. I'd like to ask you a couple of interview questions about your VHS jogger wheel if you got a moment.
    Michael Lee Nirenberg

  5. I asked on the video you posted, but I'll ask here too. I just stumbled on your build a few days ago and plan to make my own but can't tell where some of the wires go from the photos you posted. Do you happen to have a schematic of the wiring anywhere (a pencil drawing would work)?