Introduction: Laser-powered Light Saber

Picture of Laser-powered Light Saber

Ever since I saw Star Wars as a small boy I wanted to build a light saber. Decades later, I've crossed it off my bucket list. This instructable will show you how to make your very own laser sword/light saber using a laser array, an electronic cigarette, a couple of fans, a switch, and a 3D printed enclosure. It's mostly harmless and looks amazing, especially at night. Unlike the usual bright-lights-in-a-tube light saber, this one can be plunged into things, blazes dynamically and has the weightless blade you expect from a real light saber.

Step 1: Concept

Picture of Concept

The idea is a simple one, and was born when I cycled home one frosty night. While waiting for the lights I exhaled right down the axis of my 2000 lumen LED bike light, and a brilliant white beam lanced across the road. By the time I'd got home I'd hatched a plan to make a laser sword. The principal idea was that if I focused some laser beams as a plume of vapor dispersed, the light output would be roughly stable up to the focal point, beyond which both the beams and the smoke would BOTH be dispersing rapidly and therefore vanish, giving the beam a realistically finite length. I was an Artist in Residence at Autodesk's amazing Pier 9 workshop in the Fall of 2016, so what better chance to realize a childhood dream?

The trickiest thing I soon found was going to be focusing the lasers and producing fog reliably. My first prototype used dry ice and laser pointers (first photo), and while it proved the concept to be sound, the beams were all over the place (second photo) and the dry ice was awkward and short-lived. Soon after I arrived at Pier 9 I prototyped a 3D printed laser array (3rd photo) and hooked it up to a mains-powered fog machine (the kind you have at parties) and this looked pretty cool, even outside and without it being dark (animation above).

After a ton of online shopping research into small, battery-powered commercial fog machines ($800! Are you kidding me! And not even that small) I gave up and designed my own using a small fan, a 3D printed enclosure and an electronic cigarette. That problem being solved, I then designed a 3D printed array of 12 lasers that could be focused on a single point using set screws. It took a ton of testing and more prototypes than I have ever made for anything (except perhaps my 3D periodic table).

Step 2: Caution!

Picture of Caution!

This device focuses 12 laser beams and produces fog using a powerful electronic cigarette. It is NOT a child's toy. If you make one, use with caution and consideration: do not point the plume of fog or the lasers at someone's face. I don't recommend making one using more powerful lasers than the ones I employed. They're plenty bright enough. I deliberately did not focus the lasers very finely - you get basically the same effect without having all 12 converging at a particular point in space.

Step 3: Materials

Picture of Materials

You will need to purchase the following parts. If you want to use different versions, you will probably have to redesign the 3D printed parts (see next step) to suit.

- 12 red laser modules
- 2 40 mm square 5V fans
- lipstick-sized battery charger
- electronic cigarette
- fog fluid
- switch
- 24 set-screws

Step 4: 3D Parts

Picture of 3D Parts

I used Fusion360 to do all the 3D design. I'm a novice to solid modelling: Fusion360 is the only program I've ever used, but it made everything I wanted to do pretty easy (take jon-a-tron's 3D printing class if you want to learn more). Especially useful was the Create > Pattern > Circular Pattern tool, because it made duplicating the laser mounts trivial. The rest of it was a lot of careful measuring with calipers. The final design was the result of many iterations: prototypes had various problems, mostly with airflow, layout, hand feel and allowing room for wiring. Doubtless there is still room for improvement - if you'd like to tinker with the file yourself, it is publicly available. All I ask is that you share your tweaks back here again. If you're interested in the design process, play the screencast below to see how the design evolved (skip to 15 seconds for the start; my editing didn't seem to take).

3D print both attached parts using whatever color and material you like. I used a Stratasys Fortus to print in black ASA and in white polycarbonate. The prints are very strong, rigid and durable. The Fortus prints model and support in different materials, which means I had the luxury of not having to worry about supports because I knew they would be trivial to remove afterwards. Consider tweaking the design if you're not so lucky. E6000 bonds 3D prints together very strongly (another jon-a-tron tip), so slicing the print up into more parts (I use MeshMixer for this sort of task) then gluing them back together may be better than trying to print and removing the supports later.

Step 5: Mount Lasers

Picture of Mount Lasers

This part requires patience and some soldering skills. This probably shouldn't be your first electronics project - start with something simpler first, like the instructables Electronics Class.

1. strengthen the connections with heat-shrink tubing.

2. screw in all 24 set screws into the holes.

3. place laser module in housing and tighten the screws to the point they are JUST touching the laser module. Repeat 12 times.

4. Wire all the red wires together. I did this by soldering together 4 groups of 3 wires in each quadrant, then joined two of these together, then paired them all up. Protect all connections with heat-shrink tubing.

5. Wire all the blue wires together, as for the red wires above.

Step 6: Switch

Picture of Switch

Attach three wires to the switch according to the wiring diagram (note it says 12 V, but it works fine with 5 V). I chose to have the LED on only when the laser sword is on. Thread the wires through the three holes in the side of the casing, and press fit the switch in place.

Step 7: Power

Picture of Power

I used a small rechargeable battery designed for recharging phones. This device puts out 5 V at up to 2 A, so has plenty of capacity for this application. Strip a USB plug and solder two wires to it. Plug the USB in and thread the wires through the gap at the end of the battery insert; press-fit the battery into place. It can be recharged while attached to the lasword, so hot glue it in place if you like.

Note that the rechargeable battery has a flashlight on the end. I didn't notice this when I bought it, but I retained its functionality by making a cut-out for the lens. It can be operated by pressing the on switch twice. Handy for when you need to refill the fog machine and it's dark!

Step 8: Fans

Picture of Fans

Thread the wires for the fans through the appropriate holes. Glue (or screw) the fans into their enclosures, taking care to get them the right way around (the cage is on the side that the air gets blown out of).

Step 9: Glue

Picture of Glue

I used E6000 and left the two parts to stick together overnight, held together with rubber bands.

Step 10: Final Wiring

Picture of Final Wiring

Connect the red battery wire to the green switch wire. Connect all the remaining red wires together, and connect to the red switch wire (I did this by sequentially adding wires together, two or three at a time, and reinforcing each wire with thin copper scavenged from scrap wire. I used a chisel tip on the soldering iron to get the whole thing hot). Connect all the black and blue wires together (blue from lasers and switch, black from fans). Reinforce all joints with heat-shrink tubing.

Test as you go along. Once everything is working as it should, tape all the wires down securely. I used electrical tape then some black gaffer tape.

Step 11: Align Lasers

Picture of Align Lasers

This step requires some patience. You're trying to get all 12 lasers to point at the same spot, about 3' (1 m) away from the laser array. Use a 0.05" Allen key and a thin-bladed screwdriver. Don't overdo the tightening! The laser pivots on a triangular wedge of plastic, and the laser and the wedge can both be crushed. Use the screwdriver to ensure the laser is straight, then align along the diameter using the set screws.

Step 12: Fog Machine

Picture of Fog Machine

The heart of the laser sword is a portable battery powered fog machine. I made a proof-of-principle prototype of this before forging ahead with the final version. Basically, all you need is a small fan to blow (or suck) air through an electronic cigarette mounted in a 3D printed enclosure. However, for the laser sword, I didn't need a fine stream - I wanted a wide column - so I put the fan on top of the mouthpiece and guided the fog through 12 holes, one for each laser. I also wanted a more forceful stream, so I used two fans: one to blow into the electronic cigarette, one to draw the fog out. The electronic cigarette just press-fits into the enclosure. It is controlled with its own mechanism: you switch it on (by pressing five times in quick succession), then hold down the button for up to 10 seconds to generate a plume of fog. Set the power to higher wattage for more voluminous fog. I generally set mine to about 25-30 W (out of a maximum of 80 W).

Step 13: Fire It Up

The laser sword requires a particular sequence to operate, and so is child-safe.

1. Press the battery button once. The blue light will come on.

2. Press the large silver button once. The red LED will light up and the fans and lasers will switch on.

3. Rapidly press the electronic cigarette button five times.

You're ready to go! When you want the beams to become visible (the 12 laser dots will always be visible if you're pointing them at anything other than the sky, of course), press the big button on the electronic cigarette. Predictably, it is most effective in the dark and when it is relatively still (especially inside), but even when windy the "blazing dagger" effect is cool. Below is the laser sword ignited in a strong breeze.

For more video of it in action, see Donald Bell's Maker Project Lab footage, and this instagram video from Dat Phan. Both were taken at the final Artist in Residence showcase at Pier 9 in December 2016.

If you make your own, post a photo and I'll send you a free premium membership to instructables.com.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Taylor for Fusion 360 expertise, Jon for 3D printing tips, Scott for electronics advice, and Blue for photography help.

Comments

EveW10 (author)2017-06-19

Could you not run the LED lights off of the same power as your Vape Mod? You can easily get them to run at the 5V needed for them, and then you'd only have one button to press.

makendo (author)EveW102017-06-19

No doubt; the ecig has a ton of battery capacity. But I'm a novice when it comes to things electronic and I felt that the less I tinkered with the off-the-shelf stuff the better. It would definitely be slicker.

JackB155 made it! (author)2017-05-06

Well I finished it! Really cool. Much thanks to makendo. Here's some notes for other makers:


  • Contracted with a local 3D Hubs member to
    print the enclosure. Came out great.

  • Replaced the EasyAcc charger, which is no
    longer available, with a Jackery Mini Premium 3350mAh Portable Charger (Amazon).
    Square form factor fits well but sticks out a bit. Secured with double sided tape. No flashlight
    though!

  • In my print, a 5/8” (16mm) Ulincos Latching Pushbutton Switch fit much better than the
    19mm.

  • I
    wanted to use connectors on the laser diode and fan wires which complicated the
    wiring. After much thrashing ending up using Dupont male and female connectors
    covered with shrink-wrap. You can see some of the details of the wiring harness
    in the pictures.

  • Wrapped
    the laser diodes in shrink-wrap tubing. Made them easier to handle and I think
    adjust. Still required a lot of tinkering.

  • It
    should go without saying but test the fit of all parts before you assemble. I’m
    still trying to get the mouthpiece end of the e-cig through the inner hole in
    the print.

  • Finally, one of
    the neat things about the eLeaf e-cig (as resold by Totally Wicked) is that you
    can replace the custom logo on the LED panel. I designed one using the Jedi
    symbol and loaded it in. Check out the picture. Logo is available if anyone is
    interested.
makendo (author)JackB1552017-05-08

This is awesome! Very neat job on the wiring, mine was much more haphazard. Very happy to see someone has taken it on. Got any photos of it in action?

JackB155 (author)2017-04-29

Getting close. Got my electronic cigarette today. A lot more complicated than I expected. What is the mode I should use? There seems to be VW/Bypass/Smart/VT/TCR. Any suggestions?

JackB155 (author)2017-04-07

The EasyAcc charger doesn't seem to be available from Amazon anymore and I can't find another that has the same form factor (to fit into the print). Anyone know of any alternate sources?

ThomasN31 (author)JackB1552017-04-10

Could you get one from aliexpress or ebay or something?

JackB155 (author)ThomasN312017-04-11

Unfortunately not available from either of these suppliers either. I also contacted EasyAcc and they said it has been discontinued.

makendo (author)JackB1552017-04-09

Argh that is annoying! I will have to do some redesign for a newer version. If anyone else does so before I get around to it, please share the file and I will update the instructable.

JackB155 (author)makendo2017-04-09

The options seem to be a round cross-section (which might create a softer outside feel but harder to fit in the print) or a square one (which might fit the existing print better). I'll probably try the square one for now. Thanks.

MasonH18 (author)2017-04-07

Amazing!

How did you make the beam not go all the way up?

makendo (author)MasonH182017-04-09

it goes as far as the fog

JackB155 (author)2017-03-28

Sorry about the newbie question, but is the body printed vertically or horizontally? What is the height/length? Just wondering about size limitations on the printer.

ThomasN31 (author)JackB1552017-04-05

It's about seven inches tall, three wide, and another three the other way. I would print horizontally, but that generates a lot of supports that need to be knocked out and sanded. If you can, print it vertically, but sideways is fine if you have sandpaper or something.

North Shore Kid (author)2017-03-19

So, you're sith?

makendo (author)North Shore Kid2017-03-19

no, Canadian

SherryWong (author)makendo2017-03-23

Canadians are also known to deal in absolutes. They're just very apologetic about it.

makendo (author)SherryWong2017-03-24

yes, sorry to not be more specific

ThomasN31 (author)2017-03-23

Step 1/2 complete! Design is complete and ready for to-scale print. Massive thanks to my super-awesome teacher for letting me use one of the school's 3D printers! My first print was too large, so I printed this small one as a trinket/artifact thing, and I found a flaw. Best to get things while the're small, eh? Get it?

I'll have the to-scale design printed first thing tomorrow, and hopefully I'll have the full thing ready for hardware installation!

makendo (author)ThomasN312017-03-24

Nice. Good luck with the full-size build

Brian996 (author)2017-03-20

You should call this saber the Darth Vapor.

makendo (author)Brian9962017-03-20

or the light vaper

rainingfiction (author)2017-03-17

AAHHH THAT'S SO COOL

SherylinRM (author)2017-03-17

I knew one day someone would get it done right :)

Wow, just wow :)

alexandrmalov (author)2017-03-16

Wow!!! :)

Mousepotato01 (author)2017-03-14

Use thin fiber oprtics type acrylic rod with a mirror at the end to stop the beam or some form of impenatrable material to make them stop at 1 point even if the acrylic rod was the focal point to stop them.

goopybombs (author)2017-03-14

wont happen =-)

goopybombs (author)2017-03-14

looks rly cool im going to try making a better one

Laral (author)2017-03-13

This is the best attempt at making a realistic light saber so far. Great job.

makendo (author)Laral2017-03-13

Thanks!

throbscottle (author)2017-03-13

Wow, just wow!

I wonder if you had a slight diverging lens on each beam if it would make them "disappear" more effectively beyond the point where they cross. Possibly would also produce a more "solid" effect.

FYI, normal laser pointers are class 1 I believe, less than 1mW. The 5mW ones you are using are class 3a and aren't intended to be used in a pointer kind of way. There are a few guides to the classifications but this one is pretty clear:

https://ehs.research.uiowa.edu/laser-classification

makendo (author)throbscottle2017-03-13

Quite possibly - they can be defocused so that might work. I'd be surprised if they were actually 5 mW, though - they're bright, but no more so than standard laser pointers. A 5 mW laser makes it hard to look at the dot, and these aren't at that level of brightness. I take the advertised rating with a hefty grain of salt.

shall7 (author)2017-03-12

Given that light waves of opposite waveform will cancel out I wonder if this was made with enough precision and some magic electronics to control the wave form if you could get opposing beams to cancel each other out at the tip, creating a real laser sword.

rundmcarlson (author)shall72017-03-12

They would cancel at the tip but past the tip they would still continue on. It would be near impossible to get them to interfere at the tip and all distances past the tip, but not from the base to the tip.

Laral (author)rundmcarlson2017-03-13

I agree. Even if you could get them all in phase—a near impossible task, and arrange for half the beams to be 180º out of phase with the other half at the point of convergence, the beams would cancel at that point only and still continue on.

BikeHacker (author)2017-03-13

I really like this version of a light saber. I've never seen anything quite as neat as this. Does the wick on the ecig burn if it is left on for a long time?

makendo (author)BikeHacker2017-03-13

Thanks. No - the ecig has a safety cut-out at 10 seconds. So you need to release and hold again. Good idea to keep an eye on fluid levels though - you don't want to dry-run it.

BikeHacker (author)makendo2017-03-13

Cool. I might make one!

mikeasaurus (author)2017-03-13

Take your weapon. Strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey towards the dark side will be complete!

makendo (author)mikeasaurus2017-03-13

falling for that one I am not

Random Gadget Hacks (author)2017-03-13

Awesome but do you think you could make one powerful laser.

and then what? not being able to turn it on cause you would set your home on fire every single time?

Advising Elf (author)2017-03-13

Gosh! Wowee! Jeepers! Golly-willikers!

Reminiscent of Fluke Starbucker's light saber (but way cooler).

A virtual cookie to anyone who cam identify what I'm talking about without Googling it.

cdavenport (author)2017-03-12

BTW, your instructions do not list part #s for the fan and laser modules. Can you provide those, please? Just makes it easier to compare. Thank you!

makendo (author)cdavenport2017-03-12

Fan link added. Thanks for letting me know it was missing.

makendo (author)cdavenport2017-03-12

I did miss the fan, but the laser modules are there. Buy 2 packs of 10 - I found quite a few (20%?) to be duds. I will update the fan later today.

NikyN2 (author)2017-03-12

so good that I took the time to log in and comment.

I really have to try this one day...

makendo (author)NikyN22017-03-12

Thanks, you should! Not too expensive if you have 3D printing capability.

jeff.turnage.5 (author)2017-03-12

What struck me in the video was the flame-like appearance of the beams in the fog. I envisioned a rotation aperture after the fan, perhaps air driven, to rotate the stream of fog and direct it outward along the proximal few cm of each beam. Combine this with an appropriate rapid fire sound effect. The idea being an effect like a laser minigun.

makendo (author)jeff.turnage.52017-03-12

you should make that jeff! Sounds cool.

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Bio: Analog maker dabbling in digital manufacture
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