Introduction: Solar Powered Creepy Garden Gnomes!
Have you ever looked over at your garden gnome and thought "You know what this gnome needs? I think it needs to be even creepier" ?
Well then today is your lucky day! Because if you read through this instructable I will teach you how to seriously increase the creepiness of your garden gnome. Using a hacked solar light and some red LEDs, I will teach you how to make your very own red-eyed garden gnome!
Taking a little inspiration from Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, I made my first creepy gnome years ago, and it is probably the most robust thing I have ever built, out lasting all of my other solar lights, so I decided to make another two, to protect my garden from I don't know what, and to photograph them for an instructable along the way.
For this project, you will need:
- 1x solar stake light
- Some wire (I used 22 awg solid core hookup wire, but just about anything should work, as long as you can thread it through the gnome)
- 1x garden gnome (I got mine from the dollar store. If you get a plastic one, it is easier to work with, but I've also used the ceramic ones)
- 2x red LEDs (or more, if you need more eyes)
- Soldering supplies (a soldering iron and some solder)
- 5 minute epoxy (not a lot, one of those two-piston tubes will be more then enough for three gnomes)
- Heat shrink tube (a few pieces on the thinner side, and two on the thicker side)
Step 1: Dremel Time
For the first step, you will need to pull out your dremel. Or become an expert, super precise driller, because we need to make space for the LEDs.
I recommend you use a hollow garden gnome, because it requires less drilling. Most garden gnomes are hollow, so this shouldn't be an issue.
To start, if your garden gnome is hollow, drill out a large-ish hole on the bottom, about the size of a dime. Mine were a bit smaller, but the bigger the hole the easier your life will be in upcoming steps. This is a good opportunity to investigate the material your garden gnome is made from, and practice drilling through it in a location that doesn't particularly matter before moving on to the eyes. Once you have a reasonably sized hole you are going to want to carve a channel for the wires. I carved the channel to the edge of bottom, in the approximate area where I want the solar panel to be. This will allow your garden gnome to sit flat.
Now for the most important part - drilling out the eyes. You want to be careful during this step, as if your dremel skips around you may take a chunk off of your gnomes nose, and that wouldn't be pretty, so take it slow, and drill a hole big enough for the led to fit through. If the gnome is hollow, just drill until you are on the inside of the gnome. If it isn't hollow, you are going to have to drill right through to the back of the gnome's head, so that the wires can be run behind the gnome. It isn't ideal, but it is the best I could come up with, because I didn't want to be drilling channels through the gnome to pass wires through. I felt that would be a bit of a mess.
Make sure to wear proper safety equipment while doing this! You don't know what these gnomes are made from, so make sure you wear a face mask, and always wear safety glasses while using a dremel.
Step 2: Threading the Gnome
This is probably the hardest part of the entire project. It definitely took the longest, and was way more challenging on the gnome which I decided needed four LEDs.
In this step we are going to be threading wires through the gnome, so that you can use them to wire up the gnome later. This isn't too hard, but definitely time consuming, and a little frustrating. Don't worry if you don't get it the first time, it took me many tries per wire.
I ended up doing this by pushing the strand of wire into the gnome through its eyes, and then pulling it out of the bottom with a pair of needle nose pliers. It sounds easy, but isn't. Continue doing this, two times per LED, for my gnome I wanted two LEDs, so I had to use 4 wires. Make sure to tape down the wires after you get them through, because the last thing you want is to accidentally pull them back out!
If your gnome isn't hollow, this step is easy, just run the wires out the back of its head and glue them along its back. I sealed them in epoxy last time which I think helped them last longer, as they are outside the gnome and exposed to the elements.
Step 3: Creepy LED Eye Insertion
This part looks more complicated, but is in reality much easier then the last step. For this step you just need to strip the wires coming out of the gnomes eye, and solder the LED in place. Make sure the wires are the same length, it makes shoving them into the gnomes head easier. I found it best to snip the LED's lead down pretty short so that there wasn't much space between the LED and the insulation, shortening the amount of wire that needs to be shoved into the gnomes head.
Don't worry about which wire you solder the cathode and anode of the LED to, we'll sort that out in a future step.
An important step is to make sure the LED's legs are isolated, because if they touch you will have an unfortunate short circuit on your hands. To do this I simply put a piece of electrical tape in between the legs, and then wrapped it around, wrapping the legs together, but with a piece of tape in between them to keep them from touching. I tried to use some heat shrink tubing, as you can see in the first two images, but it didn't work. I found the wires too short, as once I had finished soldering, the tube was too close, and ended up shrinking before I could move it over the solder joint. But if you can get it to work, go for it!
Once you are done, simply push the led into the eye socket you drilled out, not all the way, as you still want to be able to see it, but make sure it is in enough to look like an eye. We will return later and seal it with epoxy, so don't worry if it feels loose.
Step 4: Wire Management
Now flip your gnome over, because it's time to think about circuits! We want to wire the LEDs up in parallel, so they are as bright as can be. This is important because it determines what we do next.
To start, trim and strip all the wire coming out of the bottom of the gnome. You are then going to want to use a battery or a power supply to determine which of the two wires in each pair is the negative wire. Do this by touching the leads to opposite ends of the battery, or a power supply. If the LEDs light up, then take the wire connected to the negative side of the battery, and mark it. Do this with both pairs of wire. If the LED doesn't light up, flip the wires around. This should solve your problem, because LEDs are polarized. If it doesn't, well then you made a mistake in one of the previous steps, and you may have a short, or a broken LED, or it just isn't soldered properly, so you'll have to go back and double check everything.
Once you have all the wires marked, solder together all the negative ones, and all the positive ones. You can then solder a single wire onto the lump of positive wires, and lump of negative wires, and then cover the whole ordeal in heat shrink tube to protect it.
Finally, double check everything works by connecting the wires to a battery or power supply, if all the LEDs light up, you are good to go! If they don't, well you got a problem.
Step 5: Solar Hacking
Instead of making our own solar light charging circuit, which would cost a dollar or two, we can save some time and use a pre-made one that comes in a cheap solar light that costs the same, if not less.
To do this simply remove the top from your solar stake, all the good stuff is in there, so you can discard the stake, or keep it for a future project (I am going to come up with something, and share it when I do, because pretty soon I'm going to have a lot of them if I keep making my own solar lights, and wasting plastic is bad).
Once you have the top off, undo a few screws, and open it up, you should be able to take a little PCB right out, and you should see an LED soldered onto it, remove the LED, and solder two wires in it's place. I used a little heat shrink tubing to keep things from shorting. Then, put the board back in place, running the wires through the hole the LED came out of, and close the solar light back up, screwing everything back together.
Congratulations! You have successfully hacked your solar light. You're a hacker! Now to put it to use...
Step 6: Solar-ification
The next step is quite simple, just solder the wires you put into the solar light to the ones coming out of your gnome. Make sure you get the positive and negative leads of the solar light lined up with the positive and negative leads of the gnome. You will know when you do this correctly, because the gnome will light up.
Remember! This is a solar light, so it will only light up if it doesn't detect any light, so make sure it is on, and the solar panel is covered. If it doesn't light up and both of those conditions are met, something went wrong along the way, you'll have to go back and figure it out.
Again, I used a bit of heat shrink tubing to make sure nothing shorted, and to hold the solder joints together.
Step 7: Glue'm Up
Now you should have a fully functioning gnome! It will just be a little, well, floppy, and insecure. So it is time to glue! I used a bit of two part, 5 minute epoxy from the dollar store, though you can use anything similar. Just make sure it is clear. I mixed up a bit, and applied it to the LEDs, making sure to cover the eyes completely, so that they don't fall out, and so that there is no space for water to get in. I then flipped it over and filled the hole in the bottom, and glued the wires into the channel we had carved out with the dremel.
The important part is attaching the solar panel and circuit. to do this I taped it where I wanted it, and applied epoxy around it to stick it in place. I then pushed the wires down, where I wanted them, and epoxied them as well.
The goal in this step is to glue everything together, and seal everything up so it will survive when left outside. If you do this well it will last a really long time!
Be sure to work fast! If you are using 5 minute epoxy like me, the whole thing will set in, well, 5 minutes. so either work really quickly or in batches, mixing only a little at a time.
Step 8: Success!
Once the epoxy, or other glue is set, remove the tape, and ta-da! Your creepy garden gnome is complete. It is ready to be placed in your garden, and terrify everyone who walks passed. Who knows, maybe it will even scare the squirrels away!
Thank you for reading my instructable through to the end, if you enjoyed it, please like it! If you have any suggestions or questions, feel free to ask in the comments below, and if you make it, please be sure to let me know how it goes!
Also, if you really enjoyed this instructable, and think it is award worthy, please vote for me in the Backyard Contest!