Introduction: Steampunk Electronics LED Experimenter's Board

Recently discovered in an abandoned warehouse is an LED Experimenter's board. I think it was the practical module for a bigger learning system. It may be an ancestor of the Adafruit Learning System and forerunner of Adafruit Circuit Playground videos.

The steampunk style of the unit seems to date this module back to the Golden Age of Electronics Exploration. This one is specifically to learn about basic circuits and lighting up an LED. You can refer to the modern day Adafruit Learning System to see tutorials from basic electronics to complex advanced projects. Somewhere after the industrialized age, with the proliferation of Gameboys and Tomagotchis, basic electronics experimenter's kits like this fell out of fashion and thus, the decline and retreat of youth interest in STEM related subjects. Liketh not.

Step 1: Step Outside the Box...

Electronics is a small part of science. And science is big.

The whole point of this project is really just to inspire you to think up ways of making science and engineering interesting. Steampunk, although looking at the way things turned out, maybe more cyberpunky, is one aesthetic that piques one's curiosity. Since I only had what I had to work with... it evokes the wonders and challenges of tinkering and kitbashing. Plug it in. See if it works. Watch out for sparks and explosions. Step back and try again.

This was all done with papier mache. I'm sure you could really do a bang-up job with real wood and machined brass but I am -cheap-... wait, frugal.

The actual electronic parts I had lying around from other projects. OK, the knife switches were purchased at the demise of Radio Snacks.

The rest of the project was using basic crafting supplies from other projects, and a bit of paracord of course. Cloth covered wires were all the rage and cause of fire hazards.

Step 2: Apply Glue Sparingly...

The general idea of papier mache is to build a substructure out of anything you've got. Skin it with pieces of newspaper soaked in a glue/water solution. Let dry overnight and you should have a rigid shell with details molded into your object.

After you have the basic shape all dried and rigid, you can add other textural details.

I cut strips of cardboard and punched holes in it. When applied to a surface and painted, it will look like steel banding.

You can stack the cut out dots and glue them for height. When painted they look like screws or rivets.

Other details were made with 3D gelled fabric paint. It comes in a needle-tip applicator bottle so you essentially draw your design. When dried and painted over, you will have a detail that looks molded in or cast with your object.

You can duplicate the same effect with a hot glue gun but with hot glue you get all those stringy tails and is more difficult to apply accurately.

When painting, always prime your pieces. Paint doesn't like to stick to glossy surfaces and raw cardboard soaks up a lot of your expensive paint. Buy a big bottle of black and white paint in whatever medium you like to use, in this case, acrylic for easy water cleanup, so you have enough for a light, dark, or gray-mix for an undercoat.

I had a bottle of antique gold and a copper metallic acrylic paint. You will need several coats to cover evenly and to bring out that real metal look. You can even dry brush with a tiny dab of paint to give it metallic highlights.

You can experiment with color washes if you want to add a weathered or aged patina to your objects.

Step 3: Bits and Pieces...

Since I wanted to have binding posts of some sort, I had a box of brass screws to use. A piece of scrap MDF wainscoting serves as the baseplate for the electrical wiring. The lines embossed into the panel add to the textural look. The metallic paints sure do make it look like a metal plate.

I had made up some labels that I wanted to be stickers on the project. They were printed out on a color laser printer. I had soaked the paper in a cup of tea and coffee to age the paper. You need a really incredibly strong brew of either to really darken the paper. I then used mod podge to apply the labels. You can just coat under and over with regular white glue.

I had a few dollar store salt and pepper shaker bottles which will serve as the bulbs for my LEDs. Fitted holes were made in the cardboard to accomodate the bottles in an upside down position.

I didn't have any spare gears to use and cutting a few out of cardboard would be tedious. I think the steampunk overall effect is still achieved. If the thought of functionality is there, the form of gears would have been out of place.

Step 4: Embedded Electronics...

I guess I could have went back to using Edison's charred filaments but there is no shame in using a few modern day components in your build. You just have to disguise or camouflage it well to fit the theme. Using online LED calculators, I was able to figure out I needed a 150 ohm resistor for my circuits.

I had to make them appear bigger and look old fashioned so I soldered on some extension leads. I bulked them up with by wrapping and taping around the resistor. I cut some paracord and removed the inside fibers. The sheath is used as the fabric covering for the wire. I then wrapped the entire bundle with some black self-fusing silicone tape used for plumbing repairs. It looks like an old wibbly wobbly timey wimey resistor, I guess.

I didn't have a battery holder that fit inside my cardboard battery case that I had made so I just took the core battery pack out of my flashlight. It has 3 AAA batteries and I just taped the wires to the end connector tabs on the battery holder.

Step 5: I See the Light...

There are real LEDs in each of the bulbs.

The last bulb contains a red, green, and blue LED together to simulate an RGB LED.

I stuffed in a little bit of fiberfill to help diffuse the LEDs. You could also frost the glass with paint, etch, sandblast or cover with paper/plastic.

Since the circuits switch on red, green, or blue individually, we can observe what happens when the colors are mixed in the RGB bulb.

Step 6: Magical Mystery Tour...

Continually test your circuit

You can visually check the flow of your circuit to make sure it is correct. No lights? Rember that LEDs only work when the positive is connected to the anode or + terminal. The ground must be connected at the cathode or - terminal.

It is a good idea to have a 3V coin cell to test out your LEDs to determine polarity.

When I first started wiring up this board, I had all the switches connected on the bottom row. I forgot these were double throw switches so I had to move all the common connections to the center contacts.

RGB LEDs are essentially three separate color Red, Green and Blue LEDs in one single package. If we can control each of those elements separately and make each glow more or less bright, we can mix the visible light to any color we want. So that begs the question... How do you go about getting some potentiometers in the mix?

It's not how but when...

Go and make your own experimenter's board. And steampunk it!

Oh, Messrs Heath and Kitt just sent a cable announcing they have the missing documentation for this board but reserve the right to publish it. Messr Fritzing declared he was working on something that would help.

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