Solar Powered Light-Up Terrarium

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Introduction: Solar Powered Light-Up Terrarium

About: Technology Should Be Chic. Tech-Crafter, Maker, Educator, Designer of TechnoChic DIY Tech-Craft Kits

Q: What do you get when you cross a nightlight with a scrapbook?

A: A Solar-Powered Light-Up Terrarium!

I upcycled a broken set of solar-powered garden lights to create this mini terrarium scene. It depicts the cabin that my boyfriend and I rented last year and is a memento of our trip. The roof and trees are made from the pine cones that we picked up on that trip too! When night falls, the cabin lights up, the fireflies start flashing, and the fire flickers!

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Supplies

Where I got my supplies:

Other:

  • Pine Cones (from the woods)
  • Cardboard
  • Dried Coffee (for dirt)
  • Floral moss (to fill the bottom) from the Dollar store.

Step 1: Harvest the Circuit Board

My solar-powered fairy lights were adorable while they lasted - they would charge all day in the sun and then light up for an hour or two when it got dark. After a few years of being outside, the lights rusted and stopped working, but the solar panel case remained in-tact.

I kept the panel and case "in case" I wanted to use it for another project - and this is it!

The circuit board inside uses the solar cell to charge two rechargeable batteries and when the solar cell isn't receiving light (for example, when It gets dark) it switches to using the collected charge in the battery to power the fairy lights.

If you want to make a project like this but don't have my exact model, don't worry! This is a common circuit found in many solar-powered lights for the garden. They charge all day and light up at night - I've even seen similar lights at the dollar store, so look out for the opportunity to pick one up for cheap and see what's inside!

Step 2: Modify the Circuit

I swapped out some parts to make it more suitable for my project:

  • I removed the circuit board from the case.
  • I replaced the solar panel with a round solar panel for aesthetics (it will hide behind the moon!)
  • I replaced the battery holder with a new battery holder so that it would fit better in the terrarium
  • I soldered a 6-pin connector to the wires that used to be connected to the positive and negative wires on the old fairy lights. 3 of the wires go to power and 3 go to ground so now I have 3 connections to this part of the circuit.

Step 3: Making the Cabin

I used cardboard and wooden cardstock to create the cabin, and colored the wood with Furniture Markers that are typically used to cover scratches in wood furniture. Then, I used my X-Acto knife to scratch away at the wood to give it a weathered look. You can see this step in more detail in the video linked earlier in this tutorial. :)

Step 4: Don't Forget to Measure...

*** I had to be careful with my measurements to be sure I could get the cabin into the terrarium once it was built!

Step 5: Making a Roof

I cut the petals off of the pinecones and used hot glue to completely cover the cardboard roof. The inner part of the pine cone looks like a tiny tree with all the petals cut off, so I painted them green and used them!

Step 6: Make the Tiny Adirondack Chairs

I used double-tack mounting film between two layers of wooden cardstock to make it double-sided and a bit thicker. I looked for inspiration in life-sized Adirondack chairs and cut out tiny shapes from the wood.

Step 7: Keep It Simple

Instead of cutting individual boards, I made the back and the seat out of one piece of wood and used scissors to cut slits in it to look like it was made of several pieces.

Step 8: Making a Tiny Fire

To make a tiny fire that looks like it's flickering, I used two fairly lights that were pre-programmed to flicker and two red fairy lights. I added a resistor to the red fairy lights so that the group would turn on together. This produced a very red/yellow and flickery flame!

I cut a ring from the same double-sided cardstock that I used for the chairs and colored the outside black and the inside brown. I used a piece of clear plastic to make a small cone shape that would fit over the LEDs, and added some hot glue on top to make a fire pit and bed for the fire.

Step 9: Make Tiny Fire Wood

I cut some sticks from cardboard to make firewood and added some clear acetate flames (although not too many - I thought too many looked a bit cheesy!)

Step 10: Set the Scene

I laid out all the pieces to play with how I wanted the final scene to look. I cut a new piece of cardboard to act as the base and made sure it would be able to fold to fit into the terrarium. I colored it with a brown marker to make it more natural-looking (although I will be covering it later).

Step 11: Add Some Details

I drew some fireflies to glue to the blinking fairy lights and a silhouette of us to glue into the window to be illuminated from behind.

Step 12: Putting It All Together

  • I added two 10mm white LEDs to the circuit to place inside the cabin.
  • I plugged in the power and ground from the 10mm LEDs, the fire fairy lights, and the firefly fairy lights and tested that all turned on when the solar panel was covered.

Step 13: Taking It All Apart (Temporarily)

I disassembled the circuit to make it easier to add to the terrarium. I placed the circuit board and battery in a small bag to keep them together.

Step 14: Building the Scene!

I added one element at a time to build the scene inside the glass terrarium:

  • I added the moss to the bottom
  • Then the circuit laid inside the moss
  • I attached the solar panel to a print-out of the moon and glued it inside the glass with clear mounting tape
  • I folded the base piece of cardboard in half to place it on top, and connected all the wires.
  • I added the cabin
  • Then the Trees
  • Then the coffee that I sprinkled around as dirt
  • Next, I positioned the fireflies where I wanted them
  • I added the Adirondack Chairs and fire pit on top.

Step 15: Night Time!

And I was done! When night comes (or when I cover the solar panel) I now have a lovely little light show that reminds me of our amazing trip!

Thanks for reading!

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    7 Comments

    0
    Gee-Whiz
    Gee-Whiz

    7 months ago

    Amazing and cute’

    0
    AnandM54
    AnandM54

    11 months ago

    Wow.... Amazing Terrarium!!! Superb!!

    0
    TechnoChic
    TechnoChic

    Reply 11 months ago

    Thank you! <3!

    0
    luklev
    luklev

    11 months ago

    When I first saw those silhouettes, I thought they were aliens :D
    Definitely a lot of work, but the result is great. Thanks for sharing!

    0
    TechnoChic
    TechnoChic

    Reply 11 months ago

    Haha I totally think so too- they are very “E.T.”! The silhouettes were the last thing I did -- I rushed thru them and I wish I didn't. :p

    If I could change one thing, I would spend more time designing the shape of the silhouettes AND their placement- too much light is leaking around the sides because they aren't close enough to the window plastic. It does look more “human” in person (the camera gets overexposed by the light in that area) but the overall shape could be better.

    I was thinking the silhouettes would be a small detail that you would notice only after looking at the terrarium for a while, but after I built it I realized that window was a main focal point!

    Doh! Well, creative projects are all about learning, so maybe this story is helpful to the next person making a backlit silhouette!

    Thanks for the kind words! :D

    1
    littlebadwren
    littlebadwren

    11 months ago

    This is SO imaginative and so fun to look at! Magical!

    0
    TechnoChic
    TechnoChic

    Reply 11 months ago

    Thanks so much! :)