I've always had a love for LED lights and specifically - LED light fixtures. I had been working with some electrical wiring around the house and had a spare section of wire left over. I folded up the bare wire and was considering different reasons to keep it for future projects. At the same moment, the idea for a copper tree with LED lighting came to mind and this project was born!
Step 1: Gather Your Supplies!
1. The base can be made out of anything. I happened to have a piece of scrap aluminum that worked as a base. It's nice and heavy and worked well. Any piece of wood would work well too!
2. 28 AWG enameled wire. You could go thicker or thinner if you wanted. Thicker would be a bit easier to work with but would take up a lot of space near the base of the tree. You can also go thinner but the wire starts to get fragile when you're working with it.
3. Your primary wire simply needs to be sturdy. I used some 14 gauge wire from a 14-2 spool of "building wire", used for home electrical work, that I had laying around. A 10' section works great and yield 3 - 10' pieces of wire after you remove the insulation.
4. LEDs - For this build, I used 3mm UV LEDs that were around 395 - 405nm. I picked up clear LEDs lenses but would recommend diffused (opaque) or "flat top" styles instead.
5. Misc. - Heatshrink and solder
6. A (or multiple) resistor(s)
Step 2: Building the Trunk and Limbs
To build the trunk, grab one section of bare wire.
1. Fold it multiple times until it is 6 - 10" inches long.
2. Stick the bundle of wire in some vice grips and solder one side of it. It will make a nice bundle of wire for the trunk.
3. On the side you didn't solder, cut the wire at the bends.
4. Randomly bend down each wire to create a tree. Do it the same way you would setting up a fake Christmas tree.
5. Take each limb and bend it, put kinks in it, make it random. Feel free to twist up and knot the trunk of the tree. The more you do this, the better it looks.
6. Cut the limbs so that the wire tapers up towards the top and resembles more of a tree's shape.
7. Adding additional limbs will bring a lot of density to the tree's canopy. To do this, cut 5" sections of wire and solder them to the limbs you created earlier.
8. Add as many pieces as you like. The tree I built has 29 limbs on it.
Step 3: Time to Add the Lights!!
Prep the LEDs
1. Take out as many LEDs as you have limbs on the tree.
2. Cut the anode (positive) side fairly short. 4mm will work well.
3. Cut the cathode (negative) side twice as long as the anode. 8mm works well
Now prep your wire.
1. The enamel coating can be a bit of a pain to get off of the wire. I used a razor blade to scrape off the coating. I've seen other people use sand paper. If you have a good idea, toss it into the comments below.
2. After you've removed about 4mm of the coating from the wire, tin it with solder.
3. Solder the wire to the anode lead (the one you cut shorter) to the LED
4. Solder the cathode (the one you cut longer) to the limb of each branch.
Wrap the limbs.
1. When you setup each LED, leave an excessive amount of enameled wire on each LED. You'll need this to wrap the branches with.
2. Tightly wrap the enameled wire down each limb of the tree, and then down the trunk.
3. I alternated which directions the wire was wrapped as it came down the trunk.
4. In addition, when you wrap the limbs and get close to the trunk, it looks kind of neat to jump to a few other limbs and add some bulk to the areas the limbs depart from the trunk.
Step 4: Time for Power!
The entire tree trunk and limbs will be supplied with negative/ground from our power source.
Each LED will be powered via the enameled wire.
At this point, you can get creative with your setup but this is how I did it.
1. Drill a decent size hole into a block of aluminum that will serve as a base.
2. Stick the tree trunk into the hole.
3. From the opposite side, I pounded in a couple small nails to make for a tight fit and to secure the trunk to the base.
4. A couple felt feet were added to the base to make way for the ground wire and to keep the aluminum from scratching things.
5. Solder the ground wire to the trunk or anywhere on your metal base.
6. All of the enameled wires should be gathered at the base and cut to the same length.
7. Scrape off the enamel coating and solder the bunch together.
Since I was using a 5v USB power supply to run the tree, I had to do a bit of math to find a decent resistor for the LEDs. The LEDs I used were designed to run at 3 volts with a 20 mA forward current. This makes them very bright. I used an online LED calculator to find the required resistor using 3 volts and a 5 mA forward current for the LED. The ideal resistor is 470 ohms, one for each LED. Each LED should technically have it's own resistor but I didn't think it would look as good so I figured out what resistor would be required to run the whole parallel array.
The math worked out as 1/((1/470)*29) = 16.4 ohms. I preferred these LEDs to be a bit dimmer so I settled for an 18 ohm resistor.
The math simplified 1 / ( (1/ OhmsPerLED) * TotalNumberOfLeds) = Ohm value of required resistor.
Solder that resistor on the end of your bundle of enameled wire.
Cut the end off of a USB cable and solder the center wire (or whatever ever wire you have that is positive) to the other end of the resistor.
Solder the shielding (or negative) wire to the wire that ground the tree trunk.
You can now power up the Tree!!
While working, be generous with the shrink wrap. These wires will flex a couple of times but will break if not handled gently.
Step 5: The Final Product
Now that your tree is lit up you can spend a moment to adjust the limbs and LEDs to get better lighting.
You may find yourself adjusting the resistor value a bit to make the tree brighter or dimmer.
Enjoy and share your builds here!!
Lucky Cat was added for fun. I actually lit the little guy up with a red laser from across my work bench. I geek out over dumb stuff sometimes >:-D