Introduction: Mechanical Wave Driver for Chladni Plate

Picture of Mechanical Wave Driver for Chladni Plate

I volunteered to help a friends child with her science fair which we decided to do on sound. After seeing the chladni plate displays on YouTube I thought this would be a great display for the project. I assumed you could drive the plate with just a simple speaker but the lower frequences just bounced the salt right off while the higher had to be unbearable loud to even get the salt to move. Overall a regular speaker produced limited results for the loudness you had to deal with.
A lot of people use a piezo but I found this to be to small to produce a good effect. I ran across a website Cymatics which had a link to a wave driver you could buy and after looking it over I realized it was just a modified speaker which could be easily made for cheap. This is my first instructable.

Step 1: Materials and Tools and Misc

Materials I used:
A discarded 8" speaker with its coil intact
small sink strainer
cardboard (an old cereal box)
heavy canvas (optional)
8-32 X 6" threaded rod (1)
3/8 X .171 X 1 Nylon spacer (1)
1/4" plexiglass
8-32 Insert Lock Nuts (4)
Standoffs (4)
Metals spacers (4)
8-32 screws (8)
9 1/2" X 9 1/2" metal plate (cut from old VCR casing)

Safety Goggles
Nut driver
Hot-glue Gun
Razor Blade
Sabre Saw with Sheet Metal Blade

This project involves cutting metal and plexiglass with a sabre saw, which can be dangerous.
Plexiglass is not easy to work with at this thickness. It cracks, shatters, and melts. You might want to use wood or metal instead of plexiglass.

Step 2: The Old Speaker

Picture of The Old Speaker

I started with an old speaker I found in the trash about two years ago. The cone was blown out and torn but the coil and wires were still intact. You may be able to use the stiff fabric used to support the coil. I decided to go with cardboard hoping it would give more support and a broader range of frequencies. I cut away all the old paper, cut the braided wires attached to the terminals, cut away the stiff fabric used to support the coil, and pulled the coil up out of the slot it fits in Be careful not to tear the little wires connecting the coil to braided wire going to the terminals. Leave a small ring of paper around the coil form.
Measure the bottom inside of the speaker. Use this measurement to cut a circle of cardboard out the same diameter as the lip running around bottom inside of speaker. Center the coil form on the circle of cardboard and trace around with pencil. Then use a razor blade to cut out inside circle. I also cut out a circle of canvas to sit on top of cardboard. which is really not needed but looks better. You should have a cardboard doughnut now.
There should be a lip with some paper still attached around the coil form. Insert the coil into the canvas and the cardboard and then push them flush against the lip of the coil form. Hot glue into place. Then set the coil form with attached cardboard back into slot. Check to make sure coil does not bind in slot, it should move with a bit of pressure. The cardboard sits on lip of speaker frame. Hot glue outside of circle onto frame.

Step 3: Support Frame and Plexiglass

Picture of Support Frame and Plexiglass

The support frame and plexiglass provides a slot for the vibrating rod to ride in. I used 4 standoffs with 4 metal spacers to mount a plexiglass circle about 4" above top of speaker. Metal or wood are easier to cut though. WAIT to drill the outside mounting holes on plexiglass.
Flip the speaker over face down on the plexiglass and trace around with marker. My speaker had mounting holes around the outer edge so I used those to mark out the center of the circle. Just mark holes then use a ruler to draw X through circle connecting the hole marks.
A sabre saw with a metal cutting blade cuts plexiglass easy enough the only problem is melt-back. As soon as you cut past a place it melts back together! So cut around your circle leaving a groove of melted plexi. Then fill this groove with metal cutting oil and go back around very slowly adding oil when necessary. (If anyone has found an easier way please tell me!)
Drill a 3/8" hole in exact center of plexiglass disc. I used a bolt to chuck the disc in a drill and then clamped the drill using it as mini lathe to grind/sand down the plexi edges smooth.

Step 4: Vibrating Rod

Picture of Vibrating Rod

Back to the coil form. I used a sink strainer as the support cone for the rod. It fit perfecty on top of the lip of the coil. Pull the little knob in the middle of the strainer out with a pair of pliers while trying not to bend up the strainer. Use the hole left to insert your threaded rod. You only want the very bottom of the rod inside the strainer. Attach the rod with a lock nut on each side of strainer. Use vise grips to hold rod in place. Make sure the threaded rod is setting straight up/down. Should look like little bell.
Now place strainer on top of coil form in speaker. Make sure the metal is not shorting speaker wires. Use hot glue to level out and then hot glue into place.

Step 5: Mounting Plexiglass, Testing

Picture of Mounting Plexiglass, Testing

Place a 3/8 X .171 X 1" nylon spacer in the hole in the middle of the plexiglass. Mine holds just fine with compression but you may need to use a little superglue. With the standoffs and spacers mounted on the outer rim of speaker, gently place the plexiglass disc over the threaded rod. It should slide comfortably over in the nylon spacer. Make sure the rod is sitting straight! Press gently down on the cardboard to make sure the rod can move thru the nylon guide. Mark your screw holes on the disc above the standoffs then remove to drill out. I would drill one hole at a time then put the disc back on to be sure of alignment. After all holes are drilled, screw plexiglass into place. Put just a small dab of oil where rod slides thru nylon guide.
Now would be a good time to test on a Function Generator with an amplifier. I use an old 30W amp but will probably make a smaller one for the science fair.
The rod should vibrate freely in the guide.

Step 6: Chladni Plate

Picture of Chladni Plate

For the vibrating plate I used an old VCR housing. Just measure out the dimensions and cut with a sabre saw. Find the center by drawing line through oppisate corners and drill hole to fit rod. Holding the rod gently in place, use locking nuts on top and bottom of plate to mount on rod. Be careful not to let rod turn and pull strainer off coil!
Most people use salt or sand to create the different figures. I have found that frequencies between 800 to 2000 hz work really well. Go slow on the dial to find the sweet spots and you will have to play with amplitude a bit to, but its not that hard.
This picture is just below 1000 hz.


iooner made it! (author)2015-07-28

Cheap edit /o/

amyasdfghjkl (author)2014-06-03

Do I have to use the nylon spacer? And could I use a thinner plexi-glass?

Alekxos (author)2013-06-09

I tried building this configuration for a high school physics project. The design works well, but after about 20-30 seconds of repetitive motion, the wave driver's magnetic coil stops working. The failure usually occurs at a frequency around 300Hz, even on low amplitudes. The first speaker produced a strong smell of burning metal when it burned out around 900Hz. So far, I have burned out three speakers. What am I doing wrong, and is there any way to ensure that this does not happen again if I build another one?


Misac-kun (author)Alekxos2014-03-08

You probably put too much weight on the voice coil. A lighter build should solve the problem, like a lighter metal plate or a lighter rod.

Alektorophobia (author)2012-10-21

Great instructable! Has helped me out a ton! Im looking to get a wide range of patterns from different frequencies, what size speaker would you recommend to bet the broadest range? also can you suggest an amp wattage for this too? Thanks!!!

gabstar (author)2008-03-04

if i have a new speaker... do i still need to cut everything and leave it like this? Sorry if the question is stupid.... but i need to ask....

cesar harada (author)gabstar2012-08-01

Nope, you don't !

I made this instructables just for that purpose : You can make a vibrating MEMBRANE (not a plate) so you don't need to destroy your speaker, and you can use a less powerful speaker and amplifier. You will get Chladni figures at lower frequencies and you can always re-use your nice new speaker later on :)

mathiastang (author)2011-11-28

Would it be possible to connect something like a digital drumpad?

pocketspy (author)2010-11-12

So I made one of these, and using a frequency generator I got from work, I decided to do some experimenting on different materials. I got some from a local creek that is known for it's gold. It took me awhile, but I can now separate the gold dust from the normal sand. I held a magnet over the plate to remove any iron particles. After two days of playing around I managed to get maybe a tenth of an ounce out of 5lbs of sand. But it works.

matthewvenn (author)2010-04-20

 nice instructable thanks, I just made my own nice and quick!

papacito23 (author)2009-11-14

Where I can find the generator of functions?

chriskarr (author)papacito232009-11-23

In my AlgebraII (2) class, we have quite a number of functions generated for our disposal. Isn't being in an advanced math class great?

kmpres (author)2009-11-11

Nice instructible.  Kinda wish I'd thought of it when I was in school. 

FYI, re-entering Edit mode and briefly accessing each step would restore the formatting in your text. This has happened to me a few times.

stasterisk (author)2008-01-24
Here's a way easier/more fun way to do the demonstration:

astro boy (author)stasterisk2009-11-10

 yeah ive done the same thing but its quieter and if you can have it just as loud from your computer or something you should play a sine wave between 120 hertz and 60 hertz nice job i used crusted powder instead and its the same was that your kid sining along lol cool

Thank you for the comment but this hardly the same thing! Chladni Plates work by the plate resonating at different frequencies setting up the standing waves which produce the patterns in the sand or salt. This video appears to be cornstarch and water on top of a normal speaker protected by saran wrap. This will never produce the same effect.

bansheekilla64 (author)2009-06-03

could you use a subwoofer speaker for this? instead of a big regular speaker?

astro boy (author)bansheekilla642009-11-10

 it might work but wouldn't be effective as subs are meant for low frequencies so it might be better with a regular speaker

bob_dobbs (author)2009-09-20

Thank you for posting this! This looks like an excellent project. It seems like the best alternative to buying a wave driver. I am in the process of acquiring the necessary materials for the project, however i was unable to buy all the necessary materials because i need the specific measurements of the parts ( i was able to find the threaded rod, insert lock nuts, sink strainer, and nylon spacer). I would be most sincerely appreciative if you could please provide the specifics for the materials used. Thank you. Best regards.

pocketspy (author)2009-06-26

My question is, if you can find the proper freq. for gold to vibrate into the center of a circular plate, would it be possible to build a chladni device to separate gold dust from the soil it is in? I was thinking of building a portable device that could save me alot of time instead of panning. Someone let me know if this sounds plausible.

Tommyhzy (author)pocketspy2009-07-11

Actually use a magnet to remove all the magnetic materials from the gold, such as iron, copper, etc. Oh and if you do that, put a piece of paper or something between the magnet and the dust, or that pesky metal dust will be hugging your magnet forever! (Gold isn't magnetic so it won't be attracted to the magnet)

alessiof76 (author)2009-06-11

I also wanted to do this project but you were faster and more talented than I! nice work!

evga (author)2009-02-18

How is the speaker powered and what are the alligator clips connected to. I plan to use an amplifier and a notebook computer using a software called tTone Generator 4.0 Thanks in Advanced

maiyahi1 (author)2008-04-25

thank you for the instructions. I saw a youtube video too and thought I would make one. but I didn't know how until I found this. its for my science fair. I just want to know what the plexiglass for? I didn't use it but it still worked OK. it didn't look as nice as your but it still worked. just wondering.

The plexiglass was used as a support for the rod to pass through. It helps stabilize the top plate but should not prevent the rod from vibrating freely.

psychofish25 (author)2008-04-20

i'm doing this for my schools science fair and ive run into some problems 1. my image isnt coming out right. is it because my metal isnt flat enough? is my aluminum thick enough? is it because i didnt support the central beam? 2. its too loud. if i cut away the fabric of the speaker will that muffle it? what if i just cover the speaker in foam?

1. Your metal isn't flat? How thick is your aluminum? Not supporting the central beam may cause problems if your plate is not centered on the beam causing an imbalance which may set off irregular vibrations. 2. Yes cutting away the paper inside the speaker will take away most of the sound and this is most likely what is causing the problem. The plate is being vibrated at more than one place by the sound waves coming off the cone then bouncing of the plate. Vibration at one point on the plate is crucial to the shapes being formed.

rickharris (author)2007-09-23

Hi, When we cut acrylic at school (plexiglass) we put a strip of masking tape on the top surface and mark the cutting line on that - When you cut through the masking tape for some reason the acrylic will not melt back together - and this is with a thin fret saw blade.

jongscx (author)rickharris2007-09-24

well, when you cut acrylic and it melts, you're doing something wrong anyway, either the blade is the wrong type or it's going too fast... or both.

crapflinger (author)2007-04-10

that's pretty nifty much did the child DO...and how much did they think of?

Andrew546 (author)crapflinger2007-04-10

Yeah, looks cool, and its a good instructable, but when i was little i always hated the kids whose parents did all the work for them at a science fair. And you can ALWAYS tell. This one won't we hard to recognize as an adult-made project. I'd like to know if the child was involved in the research you say you did. this would have been a perfect learning opportunity.

Well yes we have thought of that. The fact that I made the wave driver will be posted on her backboard as per the rules of the science fair. She is being taught how to use the device along with the basic idea behind why it works. She will be the one running the function generator that day to bring up the different patterns. She will still be doing her own report and learning the material to give answers to the judges. That is the most important part really. This is only a third grade project so a parent/ friend participation is expected and the idea is to get kids interested for the more challenging science fairs in the years to come. At this age parents should be helping out more with the project to help spurn more of an interest in science. I guess we could have gone with the old two can telephone routine (we probably will have one sitting there anyway which she has made.) But I wanted something that would keep her interested in the project as well as the judges :)

bah..i typed up some long stuff and it didnt post.. i'm not trying to insinuate cheating...i'm sure with a project of this scale that you're teaching the child alot...i'm glad to see that she will be doing the report and research etc...i think my main questions where: did she actually help with any of the construction process? maybe a little wiring or sanding? and who came up with the idea? i may be biased on the parental help deal in science fairs (i know it's expected)...probably because in third grade i made an AWESOME steam engine from scrap parts my grandpa had in his shop and wrote a 12-13 page report about the history of steam power and the mechanics behind it etc.. only to get second place to some rich kid who's parents did his entire project...from the displa (a crappy diarama of a nuclear power plant) to the 4 page report that was written to look like a 3rd grader wrote it

HamO (author)2007-04-10

Excellent instructable, great pix. Well done. Thanks for sharing.

T3h_Muffinator (author)2007-04-10

Yeah man, Wild!

Tool Using Animal (author)2007-04-10

That's pretty darned cool.

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