Didgeridoo Mouthpiece ReDo

Recently, I’ve had a chance to  take another go at making didgeridoo mouthpieces. A friend gave me her candle making gear, which included a bunch of wax from candles, and an electric hot pot. The hot pot is great, because you don’t have to keep replacing the hot water of the double boiler to maintain the molten wax.  Above, you can see the new video, with a demonstration of the techniques for applying the wax to the mouthpiece. 

Check out the process over on Make: Projects!

There are photos of this project.

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Solar Experimentation

Solar cells convert light into electricity. Sunlight works really well with these photovoltaic cells, but other types of light work also. Halogen and Incandescent light works better than Fluorescent light with solar cells.

Older solar cells were often polycrystalline, and the surface of those were usually blue. The newer ones don’t have the same visual texture, and have higher output. Usually, the darker surface of the cells is an indicator of higher amperage output from the cells. Solar panels can be wired in series to increase voltage, or wired in parallel to increase amperage.

Solar Cells

The garden lights have an interesting circuit. When you buy them in the store, they may turn on their LED when light hits the solar cells as they did for me. After you pull the tab out, and connect the battery to the circuit, they only light the LED when the solar cell is in the dark. Inside the housing of the walkway lantern is a small circuit board between the solar cell and the battery. This circuit keeps the LED from using up the electricity from the solar cell during the day, and when the input voltage falls below a threshold, the electricity stored in the battery is sent out to do the work of lighting the LED. It may be that the circuit has a voltage booster, since the 1.2 volts of a rechargeable battery is probably not enough to make an LED shine.

There are photos of this project.

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Hello VinylCutter

Recently, the tool fairy brought me a consumer grade vinyl cutter.A feature that attracted me to this model is that it can cut paper. Making intricate cuts in paper is much easier with a tool like this, and much less expensive than with a laser cutter. The Silhouette Cameo is an interesting machine. It’s extremely affordable, and probably best for light personal use. As a classroom tool, it might not be durable enough. It definitely isn’t made for commercial use, but there appear to be plenty of things you can do with it.

One of the traditional first projects that computer programmers do with a new language is to write a Hello World program. This is the easiest way to use the program and prove that everything is working. In this initial vinyl cutter project, I made several Hello World stickers, which can be weeded in a few different ways.

Hello VinylCutter

The vinyl cutter acts a lot like a printer, in terms of computer hardware. It is a CNC tool, and cuts by moving a knife blade along three axes: Z is the blade moving up and down, Y is the material being rolled in and out of the machine, and X is the carriage moving side to side.

Beyond the super basic Hello World vinyl you see here, there are some really amazing things you can make with this tool. You can cut pictures that you have drawn, photos that you have shot, make custom signs, make your own silkscreen stencils for T-shirts, and create circuit boards with the vinyl stickers.

There are photos of this project.


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Makey Makey Arrow Controller

The Makey Makey controller is a lot of fun to use, since it allows you to create your own computer input devices out of the things you have available nearby. You plug the Makey Makey into the USB port on your computer, which sees it as a keyboard and a mouse. There are many things that you can create with this amazing tool. When I was showing it to a friend recently, I set it up so that when he took a drink from his cup, the computer would think that he clicked the mouse button, which sent a tweet. You can do a lot with the Makey Makey.

Makey Makey ArrowsIn this project, I made a few arrow controllers out of a file folder, some 3″x5″ cards, craft sticks and aluminum tape. The first idea I had turned out not to work as good as I originally thought it would, so I tried it again (a couple of times).  It would be fun to create a game controller that is themed on the games a player might enjoy, or to make one that uses all of the controls built into the Makey Makey.

Working with this controller in combination with writing computer programs would also open up a lot of really amazing options.

There are photos of this project.

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TapeTricity Cards

At Maker Faire, I had a chance to make TapeTricity Cards with a few hundred people.

TapeTricity is quite possibly the simplest way to introduce electricity to people. THere were kids as young as three or four who made their own working circuits (the younger ones got some parental help). This project was fun, because people got a chance to make a drawing, which they then picked out some places for LEDs. Next, they built a simple circuit out of tape, batteries and LEDs. It is a fairly quick project, and costs about a quarter per person.

TapeTricity Treehopper

Tamara from Brown Paper Tickets along with Windell and Lenore of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories were helpful in supporting this workshop.

There are photos of this project.

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10 Dollar Stomp Rocket Launcher

Stomp rockets are a great way to introduce flight, pneumatics, and energy transfer through hands-on learning. Paper rockets are very easy to make, and use “virtually free” materials. This will help encourage multiple iterations and exploration of rocket design. You should be able to focus on the important aspects of building and redesigning the rockets. The rockets themselves are very inexpensive, and there are lots of options for their redesign.

I spent a few hours exploring the various supply options at a big box building supply store.
Without knowing exactly what I would end up with, I brought a good collection of supplies to a local space to work it out. In the video above, you can see some of what worked, and a few things that might be good to avoid in building your own stomp rocket launcher.

10 Dollar Stomp Rocket Launcher

During an evening session, I built several launchers of a few different designs. Each of the designs is simpler than the one shown in the Instructable that I referenced.

The teachers’ shopping list has notes about which materials and tools are best for this project: Printable Shopping List

There are photos of this project. There are notes in the captions of the pictures, which may be helpful during the shopping and build sessions of the project.

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BrushBots and CupBots

Recently, I helped out at the local library makerspace on a workshop for teens. We started with the BrushBots kit and project from Maker Shed. We used the BrushBots Party Pack, and then built CupBots with supplies that I had prepared beforehand. As we were getting started, many of the group set up accounts on the DIY.org website.

The PHILS is an after school group that has been meeting at the library for a while, starting out as a philosophy discussion group. They are now exploring and demonstrating their philosophy with lots of hands-on learning. This week, they started building things that use electricity. Check out Ellen’s blog post on the workshop.

Working on a whiteboard was a good strategy. This provided a flat surface to work, and having it on the floor suited the teens well. As it turned out, this also provided a good place to share information about the project. As they were working, I was able to draw the schematic diagrams of the various circuits they were building on the whiteboard, which they could see without having to look away from their projects. I also brought along a small whiteboard on a stand, which seems to be a tray for eating and working. We tried making a little hockey rink, drawing goals and a center line. Several students made cardboard sticks to try out the game play of BrushBot Hockey. The trickiest part seemed to be stripping the wires without cutting them all the way through. There was a little trouble with some of the double stick tape getting dusty from the rug and not holding onto the brush or battery, but there was extra tape to be had by cutting some of the pieces from the kit into smaller pieces.

As we were winding down from using the kit, I revealed the supplies for the CupBots. Earlier, I had soldered two wires to each motor, which made it easier to build the motor circuit. We used just a few supplies for each the BrushBot and CupBot project, and the tools were pretty simple as well. The CupBots have the same circuit, but larger components. Instead of shrink-wrapped batteries, they use AA packs, and a DC motor with a bit of hot melt glue stick on the shaft to provide the rotation. The teens built them very quickly after a brief demonstration, and went on to modify them in some festive and creative ways. After they had them running, I gave out some LEDs, which they incorporated into the circuit. This altered the speed of the motor, which brought us back to the white board to explore what influence the LED was having on the motor. One of the guys found that he could hold onto the glue, causing the cup to spin in front of his mouth. This caused an effect similar to older models of electric organs that used a Leslie Speaker. Other options that were explored included varying the amount of glue stick on the motor, changing the direction of the electricity flow, attaching pens to the cups, and modifying the cups. At the end of the workshop, everybody was able to take their projects home for further exploration.

BrushBots Party Pack from Maker Shed
White boards: a larger one and a small one
Plastic cups, enough for each participant
dc hobby motors with wires soldered to the terminals, enough for each participant
AA battery packs, enough for each participant
AA batteries, two for each participant
Glue stick for hot melt glue gun, about 1/5th of a stick for each participant

Wire cutters: a smaller pair, and a bigger pair suitable for cutting the toothbrush handles
Wire strippers: a regular pair of wire strippers, and a pair with a very small opening for the tiny wires of the motor and battery pack

There are photos of this project.

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Replacing a Smartphone Screen

When my phone slipped out of my pocket and landed on brick, the shiny touch screen shattered instantly. In a second, it gained new textures. I got sad. I got even sadder when I remembered that I had rejected the broken screen coverage offered by my carrier.

Eventually, I realized that it wasn’t the end of the world to break the screen on a phone, for a few reasons:

  • The screen replacement coverage seems to have a deductible, of perhaps $100 (Since I didn’t have the coverage, I didn’t look into it too carefully)
  • Taking the phone to a store and having it done would cost about $100, and would take a day or two for it to be returned.
  • Buying a replacement screen online is possible, at a fraction of the replacement service cost.
  • Replacing the screen yourself is possible, at a cost of $0, plus the relatively small cost of the screen and a few tools.

What I chose to do was buy the screen, and replace it myself. Though I had heard of people doing it, I had never had a broken screen. This is only the third phone I’ve owned, and the other ones never fell in just the right way.

There are many guides available to repair lots of the popular phones available. Ifixit and Instructables are good places to start. You can find videos explaining how to remove your screen, how to break it, how to disassemble your phone and much more. Although this video explains how to disassemble the rest of the phone, but not the screen, it was very informative. If you are wondering about the wonders of Gorilla Glass, check this longer video for an explanation and some festive experimentation.

Safety glasses, hair dryer, Circuit City gift card, screen replacement tool kit including: plastic pry tools, guitar pick, screw driver, work gloves,
Replacement screen, rubbing alcohol to clean the screen, packing tape
Plan on spending at least an hour to do this project for the first time.
Remove the phone’s battery.
Wear your safety glasses! This process will cause the glass to crack and shatter more. You don’t want these parts in your eyes. When you are done, clean the area with a vacuum or wet cloth to remove glass shards.
Put a circle of tape on the back of the phone to hold it to a sheet of cardboard to keep it in place.
Using the hair dryer, heat up the adhesive holding the screen to the phone
When the adhesive is soft, pry the screen up and off the phone. You may find that some of the tools work better than others. I found that after most of the screen was off, I needed the longer Circuit City gift card to get the center of the screen to release.

When all of the glass is removed, clean the digitizer with a micro fiber cloth and some rubbing alcohol or lens cleaner.
Replace the screen, placing the buttons back in place as needed. Each phone model is a bit different, so yours may not even have the two buttons mine did.
When you have everything back together, put the battery back in, turn it on, and enjoy your reborn phone.

There are photos of this project.

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4 Drawer Resistor Storage

Storing resistors can be a little bit of a pain. If you just drop them all in the same bin, you won’t be able to find the correct value when you need it. Many electronics benches dedicate a lot of space to storing each resistor value in its own drawer. This can be a challenge if you only have a few of a particular value, or if you need to add to the system after the drawers have been ordered.

I’ve been using a simple drawer system for storing resistors, and this has worked for me over at least a decade of experimenting in several different spaces. You don’t even need to know what the color codes mean to use this system, provided you label the drawers and have a multimeter handy, nice for people with less experience with electricity experimenting. I keep a color code chart nearby for reference. There are also some good online resistor color code calculators that can be pulled up on a nearby computer, tablet or phone.

Here’s how simply store a bunch of resistors:
Set up the drawers in a regular parts bin rack, sorted by the third band, the multiplier. Use one drawer, or a half drawer for each color: Black, Brown, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Violet, White, Gray. This will use 10 drawers, but chances are very good that you won’t need to store any White or Gray third band resistors. Almost all of the resistors I use come from the brown and red drawers, and a few each from the black and orange drawers. When I see what the value of the resistor the circuit calls for, I head for the 100’s drawer, or 1,000’s drawer. I almost never need anything from the high value drawers.

Over the years, I’ve seen and inherited parts bins with every drawer labeled for a single value resistor. This can take up dozens of drawers in a rack. It also makes returning the resistors a pain, because you have to figure out the value of every single resistor you want to put away. I guess that makes it a good exercise in learning to read the codes, but it is certainly not a very quick process for people who don’t have the resistor color chart memorized. When I get enough resistors that I’m in a mood to put them away, I just grab a handful, and sort by the third band. It goes pretty quick. I can put a fistful of resistors away in a few minutes.

Finding the resistor you need is fairly easy as well. If you know you need a 470 ohm resistor, you go to the brown bin, or x10 Next, you look inside the bin for the yellow and violet bands. There probably won’t be much else that is even close, since there is a lot of 470 out there, and not much that doesn’t combine the yellow/4 with any other number. Pretty much the only 400 range resistor (yellow first and brown third) will be the 470.

This system allows you to allocate just 8 drawers, and most likely only use half of them for most of what the average maker would build. If you find that you have a lot of a certain value resistor, it may make sense to give that collection of resistors its own drawer. It is easy to scale this storage system up and down for individual supply systems or classrooms. I believe it is especially effective in a group environment, since it is easy to store and retrieve the resistors. When you retrieve them, you will also reinforce the meaning of the color bands by looking up the specifics at that time, if you need to.

There are photos of this project system.

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Grocery Feedbag

At horse barns, they use a lot of these bags of feed. They have a nice picture on them, and seem to be made of sturdy material. I took one bag to do some experimenting with, and it appears that these can be turned into an excellent, reusable grocery bag.

The first sewing machine I tried had some issues, it was clunking and not sewing effectively. When the needle snapped, I set it aside, along with the project. This second sewing machine turned up a few days later, and worked very effectively for this project.

Making a grocery bag out of this ‘plastic burlap’ material was pretty easy, and took a bit more than an hour. The design of the bag includes a square, flat bottom. Sewing this panel on was fairly challenging. It would probably be much easier to turn the material inside out, and sew the bottom in one straight line. The bag wouldn’t sit flat on the floor as easily as it does now, but the bag would be much simpler to sew.

Bags like this would be good to use as a fundraiser, and people who are interested in horses would find lots of uses for such a sturdy bag.

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