Lightsabers! Use the Force and become a Jedi .... or a Sith!
You can now build your own!
This project is now part of Parts and Crafts' Monthly Make-It: a new kickstarter launched in October 2016 for builders and makers to get a project kit shipped to them every month from Parts and Crafts
Kits available at the Parts and Crafts Store!
This project comes from Parts and Crafts, developed from 2008 - 2011. Parts and Crafts is a creative community & summer camp for children to learn in an environment in which they are freely able to choose what they are doing. Parts and Crafts grew out of a camp I started in 2006 called Camp Kaleidoscope, which I directed through 2008.
The lightsaber kit was conceived of at Camp Kaleidoscope in 2008, and has since gone through several revisions by Parts and Crafts. We've tried it out in several public workshops, where children as young as 6 or 7, as well as parents and adults, have tried and generally loved the project. The project serves as both a reasonable introduction to electronics -- as it requires no prior knowledge -- as well as a fun way to explore making electronic props for costumes (especially for Halloween!)
And for those interested, here's a blog post from 2008 when I was running Camp Kaleidoscope, telling a few stories I saw around kids making lightsabers and what I saw them learning in the process.
Step 1: Tools & Materials
-soldering set-up (you can probably get by without this, but it'll make the electronics section way easier.)
- 1.25" diameter PVC or larger, roughly 8 - 12 inches (any length that's comfortable.)
- push on push off button, or switch
- battery pack (between 2 - 4 AA batteries)
- silver spray paint
- bike inner tubes
- small motor (for making vibrations in the handle, and thus the awesome lightsaber sound effects!)
- polycarbonate tube. The outer diameter should be at least .75" and less than the inner diameter of the handle. Should be roughly 2.5 ft. long, scaled to size of future Jedi.
- 25 to 35 LEDs of desired color
- solid wire (22 gauge).
Total length = length of handle + length of blade + 3 inches
Notes on using different materials:
There are lots of different materials that can make this project work!
For handles, any tubular material of the right length and comfortable thickness will work. One padawan at camp used a handle from a scooter and it worked great. We also figured that tennis racket handles could work, and that we could make handles out of clay if we needed to, but we never tried these out.
For blades, opaque is better than clear because the light
must be diffused. So, basically any long, light, and stiff material that allows light through would work well for a blade.
Step 2: Handle Construction
Steps 2 and 3 aren't necessary, but are really cool:
2) Lay down paper or cardboard, and spray paint handle desired color (this can be done later too. You can always experiment with black spray paint and stencils!)
3) Cut inner tubes into cylinders of desired length, and squeeze over handle to make the grips. A padawan made himself a belt and holder out of inner tube too (by wrapping it and tieing it around his waist.)
Step 3: Making a Slot for the Battery Pack
1) The Jedi must decide where he/she wishes to place the button/switch. Drill a hole there to fit the button/switch snugly.
2) Cut slot in bottom of handle for battery pack if desired:
FOR SMALL SLITS:
-use PVC cutter to cut where the end of the slit will be.
-then simply use PVC cutter to cut the slit itself.
FOR LARGE SLITS (longer than PVC cutter blade)
-use PVC cutter to cut where the end of the slit will be.
-use hack-saw to cut sides of slit itself in a long straight line.
Step 4: Blade Construction
1) Forge a blade to the correct length: ~2.5ft or so depending on the height of the jedi. (use a
hack-saw to cut the polycarbonate)
2) The blade has to be made translucent if it is
not already. Any method that causes light to diffuse will
work for this step. Here are two ways to do this.
1. Sandpaper method: Sandpaper the blade in a lengthwise
direction until the surface is nearly white
and you cannot see into the blade itself.
2. Tissue paper method: Do the next step, step 3 first. Neatly wrap one layer of white (or any color will
probably work actually) tissue paper around the blade. Tape in place. Then, cover the entire
blade with clear packing tape to hold it in place.:
(back to blade construction!)
3) Chose one end to be the tip. Take the other end, and measure .25 inches
from the bottom. Then, neatly wrap duct tape around and around the blade starting at this .25 inch mark until the blade at this point becomes thick enough to wedge into the handle such that it wont wiggle or fall out.
4. Find a stiff piece of wire or wood that can be cut to the exact outer diameter of the blade. It
needs to be long enough to not fall though, but short enough that it doesn't protrude and
become a sharp section. You want to be able to tie your string of LEDs -- made in the next step -- securely to this cross-bar to keep it from sliding down the blade. One for the bottom should serve the same purpose. This is optional but helps the performance and
durability of the lightsaber.
Ideally, a reflective tip and bottom could be
fashioned that has a hole to tie to in the center (see pics for a diagram.)
5. Tape tin-foil as neatly as possible to the tip. This will reflect the end light back down the blade. If you plan to tie in your LED string, wait until its attached to this bar before
taping the foil over the end of the blade.
Step 5: Making the LED String
1) Strip both wires fully, so there's no insulation left.
2) Start with one stripped wire, and attach the positive side of the LED to the top of the wire as a base. You can identify the positive side by seeing which of the two metal legs is longer -- the longer leg is the positive side. See pictures for clarification.
3) Continue down the wire, attaching LEDs by their positive side to the stripped wire. Each subsequent LED should sit about where its neighbor's tail ends.
4) After desired length is reached, do the same thing with the negative side so it looks like the
5) Use pliers as necessary to crimp the ends onto the wire.
6) If there's a single short circuits, the blade won't light! (!!!!!!!!)
Make sure there are no short circuits between the long wires. A short will happen if the positive wire touches the negative wire -- so if the two wires ever cross-over and touch, there will be a short circuit and the blade won't light.
7) If you made a crossbar/tip for the string of LEDS, attach the top of the string to it. Lower the string through the blade, and attach the bottom. Adding a reflective bottom helps the light stay inside the
blade as well.
Step 6: Electronics
Materials you'll need:
- motor (optional):
If you do use a motor: Wrap a piece of wire or carefully hot-glue a nut onto the motor shaft in such a way that its as off-balance as possible. Thatll make it vibrate more, making a better sound effect. Also, if the motor is too small to fit snugly into the handle, wrap duct tape around it until it does.
-wires: switch and motor wires must be long enough to reach from your components
mounting location to 3 inches out the bottom of the handle to allow room for attaching or soldering them.
-battery pack (these wires dont have to be long,
just long enough to attach your connections to)
1) Make sure the button works with your hole, you want enough clearance for leads and wires (see pic.)
2) Solder your wires to the button/switch and thread through hole (see pic.) If you don't have a soldering set-up, you may be able to wrap the exposed end of the wire around each lead of the buttong and tape it down. I think soldering would work best here.
3) Attach your blade (by jamming it on) such that the wires from the LED string protrude out
the bottom of the saber handle.
4) All loads need to be soldered in parallel across the battery pack with the switch in between.
In how we did it, red wire is for the positive end and white wire is for the negative end. Traditionally, black wire symbolizes negative/ground. Keep that in mind here!
-solder a weak resistor (~10ohms) to the white terminal of the motor (this gives more power to the
LEDs.) Which terminal is white on the motor is arbitrary -- either one is fine, we just need to keep track.
-Solder the white wire of the switch to the red wire of the battery pack.
-Solder the red terminal of the motor and the red of the LEDs to
the red of the switch.
-solder all the white wires to the white of the battery pack
5) Carefully insert everything into the handle so it fits snugly and so that the motors shaft its
hitting against anything inside. You may have to be skillful in arranging the wires around the
inside of the handle to make it all fit without jamming.
Step 7: Try It Out! See If It Works!
If nothing lights, check the LED string for shorts. That's the most likely problem.
If the motor shaft is touching anything, it won't work.
Have fun with it! Tell me if you make a lightsaber!