Introduction: Spinning EL Wire Techno Vortex Thingee

About: Hi! I'm a general-purpose maker geek, living in Seattle. Interests include beer brewing, robotics and woodworking. I like to go camping in the desert. I enjoy hiking to hot springs. I'm learning how to sail…

I've been playing with EL wire a lot lately. I was inspired by guerroloco's EL Wire Eye Candy instructable (, specifically the "Happy accident" described in step 6. Specifically, I was curious about what sort of visual effects I could get out of combining spinning with EL wire strobe effects.

I was pleased. I can best describe the effect as a ghostly colorful vortex. It's very pretty & trippy, and meshes well with other techno effects.

This instructable describes my first prototype. While still crude, it's effective enough that I've made three duplicates so far, and plan to deploy as many as I can make at the upcoming Critical Massive festival, which is the Seattle-area Burning Man community "regional burn". I'll likely also bring a variant of this to Burning Man itself.

My camera works pretty poorly in low light, so the in-action pictures and video barely do it justice. It's most fun when viewed from below; we've spent far too much time already lying on the basement floor gazing up at the pretty swirl.

OK, on to the instructions.

Step 1: A Peek at the Goal

First, I'm going to to show you the end result. It's fairy simple: a wooden "fan blade" attached to a small motor, and a pair of EL wire strands powered by a techno strobe dangling off each end. This is attached to the ceiling. When the EL wire driver is set to strobe, the motor is turned off, and the lights are turned off, the party begins.

The blade is attached to the motor using a collet, and the motor is secured to the ceiling using a hose clamp, as shown in the second picture.

There's a thousand ways to accomplish this task, and by no means am I claiming that this is the best way. It was, however, what I could quickly accomplish using what I happened to have lying around.

Step 2: Making the Blade

The blade is made out of a size, and with holes drilled to accommodate the collet that connects the blade to the motor shaft and to hold the EL wire. For material I used some leftover slats from wooden venetian blinds. They're thin, light, and strong, and I have a stack of them handy.

First I cut one to length, about 18 inches long, using a chop saw.

Then I marked the center, and drilled a 3/8 inch diameter hole to fit the collet. Finally, I drilled a 2.5mm hole along the centerline about an inch from each of the blade ends, through which I'll pass through the EL wire.

Step 3: Set Up the EL Wire

There are plenty of instructions out on the net about how to solder up EL wire. Rather than duplicate them here, I'll just direct you to some of them here:

(Full disclosure: is my online store where I sell EL wire, drivers and accessories.  Check it out!)

For this project, I used two 5 foot strands of standard EL wire, which is 2.3mm. The bright wire, which is 2.5mm is actually just a little too stiff to get the desired effect. I soldered pigtails onto the ends of the wire, connected them to a Y-connector, and connected that to a TechnoStrobe driver.

Step 4: Assembling the Components Onto the Motor

I used a small gearmotor that I had lying around from a previous project to spin the blade. This is a DC motor with a gearbox, and when connected to 9 volts the shaft rotates about once per second, or roughly 60 RPM. A slow spin like this gives the effect I was looking for, so this satisfied my needs.

I soldered a female barrel connector to the end that matched a 9 volt wallwart I had lying around.

The collet was originally designed to hold a model plan propeller onto a gas motor, so it should have no problem holding a blade spinning so slowly in this project.

Using the collet and a few washers as spacers, I attached the blade to the motor, and tightened it all together with a 9mm wrench. Next, I threaded the EL wire through the holes and let them dangle down.

Finally, as a way to mount the whole thing to the ceiling joists, I strapped the motor to a small block of wood using a hose clamp.

Step 5:

The last step was to attach the whole affair to the ceiling joists. I picked a spot where I had about three feet of clearance all the way to the floor around the whole thing, and screwed it in.

The driver just dangles straight down the center. For a prototype this is fine, although in a "production" model I'd probably figure out some way to afix the driver to the blade in as balanced a fashion as possible.

Turn the driver onto strobe, turn on the power, and turn out the lights...

Step 6: Watch the Swirly!

OK, the pictures do not give any justice to this. My camera is pretty poor in low light. I'll try to get some better pictures, but if you imagine something significantly brighter than what's in the pictures, you should get the idea.

Step 7: Future Work

This is just a start; there's lots more that can be explored. Things I wish to try in the next few weeks:

1) adding multiple stands to the blade. Right now there's one strand on each end. I think that three along each half of the blade will look really good, and will also be pretty much at the limit of the driver. That means I can afix a driver to each half of the blade, each driving three five-foot strands.

2) afix the driver to the blades. Right now it's just fine to have it swirling about, but when I make things more complicated, that just won't do. I'll probably just ziptie them and call it good. One driver on each half of the blade should keep it balanced enough.

3) More blades. Again, this will really help to fill in the arc and complete the effect.