Introduction: Nasa Control Panel for Kids

I built this for my sister in law that runs a day care. She saw my lager one I built almost three years ago for a company maker faire and really liked it so I built this one for her for a Christmas present.

Link to my other project here:

Very straight forward design, hopefully it will hold up to kids using it in a daycare.

Plywood base and fiber board top. Panels laser cut on my eBay laser cutter.

Two arduinos involved, one connected to an encoder with a small screen and another driving 5 LEDs in a flashing pattern based on which button is pushed.

Whole thing spray painted.

Step 1: Parts

From my previous project, I over bought most of the buttons, lights, LEDs. At the time I didn't know how much of what I would be using so I figured over the next decade I would probably find a use for them. This project used up some of my remaining inventory!

All of these lights/switches/Arduinos came from Amazon, AliExpress or eBay. All from China with many different vendors selling the same thing - sometimes and HUGE price differences. Pays to be a smart shopper.

Step 2: Tools

Other than the normal tools you might have - Hammer, screws, screw driver, drill. I used a table saw for cutting out the base and top.

To cut out the holes in the top I used a Dremel with a cut off wheel (more about that in a separate step). Make sure you order extra mandrels and cutoff wheels. It doesn't take much to shear the screw on the mandrel. I order like a dozen of them on Amazon and broke about 4 of them just cutting out the holes for the panel.

The tool many folks may not have is a 40W laser cutter. We call it the 'eBay laser cutter' since they are all over eBay. $400.00 but the sticky part is you need some decent software to run it. The stuff that comes with it is useless. I use a combination of Rhino and CorelDRAW that has a driver available from the seller to drive the cutter.

Step 3: Design

This can be the most fun part - at first. Trying to be creative coming up with a bunch of individual panels can get old after the 3rd or 4th one.

So I figured out how big the over panel was going to be - criteria - had to fit on a table top.

So basically I laid out what I had available with lights, led, switches, etc. and decide on how many individual panels I wanted to do - came up with about 6-8 all of them kept within 4" by 4" overall.

Decided how many of them would be powered by arduinos - I had two laying around so two it was.

Then I started designing in both Rhino and CorelDRAW the actual panel. If not using a laser cutter, MS paint, ruler, pencil and paper will work just fine.

Step 4: Cutting the Panels

The eBay laser cutter comes with some very useless software - I'm warning you now! - so its basically useless out of the box for doing what I'm doing here.

I used birch plywood made for laser cutters to make the little panels themselves.

How to make the laser cutter work for you -

Buy one that understand P-code and use a cad program that will generate P-Code - a project in and of itself.

Alternative #2 - Most of the cutters come with a FOB that works with a add-in in CorelDRAW. So buy a subscription to CorelDRAW (over $200.00) then go through the very very tedious process of learning CorelDRAW then how it interacts with the laser cutter.

Alternative #3 - draw them by hand or a drawing program and hand cut them. This works, and depending on the panel it might just be round holes you are drilling out.

There are other ways, I've just listed a few I know of.

Step 5: Paint the Panels

Easy enough.

I like to spray the panel with shellac first as a sealer. I think it covers over the wood so that when you paint it, you are painting on the shellac and not having it soak into the wood. YMMV.

Step 6: Assembly of Individual Panels!

If you don't know how to solder, you will after this project ;-)

Low wattage or variable (better) soldering iron works here. Since all of these lights are LEDs you can use smaller wire. (cheaper and easier to work with).

Techniques for wiring up - Do each single panel then test. Leave two wires for + and - one each a little longer so they can be connected to the over all +/-

Check each wire to make sure it sticks to what you solder it too. Cold solder joints or soldering on a non clean connection will just fall off later and cause trouble.

Remember that if a light has a LED, + and - need to be connected the correct way or the light won't light.

Step 7: Layout of the Overall Panel/Panel Creation

This is by far the most tedious part of the project.

So what I do is lay the panels out on the kitchen table and see how they are going to work together.

We knew we were going to have a couple of stickers on the panel so we left room for those.

You can cut a piece of cardboard that represents the size of the panel (or tape a square with masking tape on the kitchen table) as a boundary when doing the layout.

and do the layout.

Then what I do - HIGHLY recommended - is - I go back to your cad program and determine what size hole in the overall panel I need to cut. If you look at the last three images you can see the squares around the lights and switches. THIS is what I need to cut out on the overall panel. I don't drill holes for individual lights or switches.

The image on the right represents the hole I need to cut so that all of the components on the panel will drop into the panel.


I print each of these out and masking tape them to the overall panel (first picture)

There I can see the 4 holes I need to drill to mount each panel.


I can see EXACTLY the material I need to remove so the panel fits.

You are going to have a LOT of work making all of the cuts, drilling the holes and fitting each of the panels into the overall panel. SO - pick a material that isn't going to break before you finish your work.

MEASURE TWICE, CUT ONCE. you make a bad cut on the panel and it's going to look bad. You pick a weak material and it will break in half on you before you are done.

I probably spent close to 6-8 hours updating all the drawings, cutting them out on paper, taping the paper to the panel, drilling the holes, and cutting out the material.

For cutting I HIGHLY recommend using a Dremel with a cutoff wheel - see the tools section.

Step 8: Set the Individual Panels Into the Overall Panel

Paint the overall panel first.

Screw/bolt in the individual panels

Depending on your thinking you are going to have to wire each panel to +/- probably 12V.

You can see in the 4th picture I use a buss type connector (see picture) Easiest way to connect multiple + and - wires together. Cost more but provide for a much better overall design. Does cost a little more.

I put the connector on the PANEL so that I would only need two wires from the panel to the power supply. If you put the connecter in the box and not the panel you will have two wires from each panel that have to be long enough to reach the connector when you remove the panel. Do it the first way if you can :-)

Step 9: Build the Box for the Panel

I used some 1/2 plywood I had in the garage. Did the drawing in Rhino, then drew it out on the wood and took it to the table saw.

I stapled & glued the box together and spray painted it black.

Step 10: Final Testing

I used a 12v power supply mounted in the box - I think it was from a old laptop or something. 12v power supplies are all over Amazon/eBay/AliExpress for under 20 bucks.

Make sure your solder connections are good -

Make sure any connections - knobs on the panel are tight. If you have rotary knobs or pots make sure the nuts are tight. If you have knobs make sure they are screwed on tight.

Do anything you need to do so you don't have to unscrew the top and fiddle with something later on.

I screwed the overall panel into the box after I spent a couple of hours playing with it and making sure it can run for a long period of time.

Good luck!

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