This instructable will show you how to build a spaceship control panel prop for young kids from inexpensive, readily-available materials. The interactive light-up panel adds a little excitement to those cardboard "spaceships" that seem to appear after you buy some large appliance.
Qty-2 8x10 Plexi Sheet (0.093" thick) (Available at HW stores for <$2
Qty-3ft 1x2 Pine (preferrably the higher grade that has square edges, this makes the frame look
better than if you use the more common rounded-edge 1x2's)
Qty-9 Single-pole (SPST) toggle switches
Qty-16 Red/Green flashing LEDs
Qty-4 Automotive (12v) paddle switches
(mine were lighted, but that's not really necessary)
Qty-8 12V LED Panel lights
Qty-1 LM7805 voltage regulator
Qty-8 390ohm 1/4watt resistors
Qty-1 9V battery clip
Aluminum Duct Sealing Tape
solder + Soldering iron (15-30w)
Step 1: Build the Frame
The supporting frame is built out of 1x2s and 1 1/2" screws. (Yes, the carpenters among you can cringe and wish I'd built a better-looking frame. Not to worry, this all gets covered up with aluminum tape, so these corners won't show). Note that frame is size just a tiny bit larger than the 8x10 plexi sheet itself.
Step 2: Lay Out the Panel
I just used Powerpoint to lay out the switch locations and provide a more high-tech background for the light. Suitable function labels for the switches on our intrepid explorer's spaceship were also added. The alien text used below the NASA logo is "Vorlon" in case you don't have a Klingon font handy...
I measured each switch and light to ensure that I had the right diameter circle for each one, and sized the circles in powerpoint accordingly. Don't forget to include the crosshairs on each circle. These are a lifesaver when you're trying to align your drill bit properly, and it makes the resulting display look a lot nicer. REMEMBER to do a test-placement on the plexi while it is ON THE FRAME. You don't want the switches to bump up against the frame when you go to mount it.
Once you have the overlay done the way you like, print this out on some translucent adhesive-backed paper. On my panel I printed it out and attached the sheet on the "front" side of the Plexi. If I had to do it over again I would reverse the layout and text and attach the sheet on the BACK of the Plexi. This would make the panel shinier, and prevent little fingers (and big ones) from tearing the sheet while you're drilling the holes and installing the switches. Its also hardier in regular use.
Now is also a good time to pre-drill the mounting holes in the 4 corners.
Step 3: Install Switches and LEDs/Lights
Once you have the holes drilled, insert the switches and Lights into their respective holes. The 12V switches and lights are threaded and come with a collar that allows you to screw them onto the panel easily and firmly. Same goes for the switches on the LED array (the 8 red switches in the picture below).
I bought LED panel mounts to keep the LEDs in place. An LED panel mount is a 2-part ring that you insert into the hole from the front side before inserting the LED in the back. A retaining ring then slides onto the assembly from the back, locking the whole thing in place. (Sounds good, eh?) In practice, it was very hard to get the retaining rings on because the Plexi is thicker than most (metal) panels.
Step 4: Wiring It Up
Once you have the Panel lights and switches physically installed, it's time to start wiring things up.
One trick that can save you a LOT of time (and wire) is to bend the leads on the LEDs so that they
connect to their neighbor (to the right for the positive terminal, and to the neighbor below for the negative terminal). Be VERY careful not to let these vertical and horizontal wires touching, or you'll short out the LEDs. This probably won't kill the LED, but it will keep them from working.
Similar to the LED grid, you can save some wiring time on the top "control/status lights"
(top section) by threading a single wire (stripped) through the holes in the lamps' leads, and THEN soldering each lead to the 9V or Gnd wires all at once. (See the pictures of the back of the unit)
Step 5: Attach the Panel to the Frame
(Sorry - no pictures for this step, but its pretty straightforward if you've pre-drilled the holes
in the 4 corners).
After you've wired (and tested) the panel, it can be simply screwed on to the wooden frame.
EXTRA- For a more high-tech look, you can cover the wooden frame with Aluminum duct tape. The material is pretty forgiving (you can always add another layer to cover up mistakes) and it dramatically improves the appearance.
I've also added another sheet of plexi to the back to protect the wiring from little hands while leaving the inner workings visible. In fact it looks just as good from the back as from the front!
Step 6: Finished Panel
The finished panel and the action video!