A Better Night Disc

Introduction: A Better Night Disc

In my town Ultimate Frisbee is a pretty big deal.  In the spring, the people who play, generally meet on the weekends and a few times after school.  In the summer, its almost every day.  Last year, we noticed however that the best time, and for a lot of people the most convenient time, is to play after the sun goes down; the fields are clear, there is no wind (usually) and especially in the summer, its a lot cooler.  With street lights lit near by the benefits come full circle, giving the effect of "playing under the lights" that many of us did in our childhood sports.  However there is one problem, the Frisbee is damn hard to see.  This is where this project started.

Anyone who has been to their local sporting goods store will immediately point out that there are commercial light up Frisbee out there.  I know this and have known this, however I and many others who play night Frisbee usually reject them. Here's why:

1) They tend to be quite heavy.  A UPA  approved Frisbee weights 175 grams.  Now, its not that bad if its over by a little, but a lot of the commercial light up Frisbee use AA batteries for many series of LEDs.  The big bulge of the battery compartment uses more plastic and the many LEDs it powers adds even more.  On top of that, many of them include extra circuitry to make their LEDs flash, which in flight, at least for me, is useless because if the Frisbee is spinning fast enough, all you see is a glowing line anyway.

2) They aren't very aerodynamic or well built.  Frisbees use the same technology as airplane wings, they are rounded over, and the action of them spinning through the air creates low pressure above high pressure and thus lift.  Some of the commercial light up Frisbee I have seen seem to be less Frisbee and more circle. Some don't have a rounded leading edge and instead put a rubber cushion, to prevent the user of hurting their hand when catching their already heavy discs.  Others don't integrate their wiring very well.  Its like a Frisbee with an add on, and there are spider like plastic bulges that flow out of a central battery bulb.  This, if you are unaware of how flying works, creates a lot of unnecessary drag, and frankly also makes it very difficult to throw, and you constantly jam your fingers, or get them caught on something.  On top of all this, most of them glue their parts on.  This creates an unbalanced Frisbee, and some can even get so bad as to turn over mid flight.  Its even worse when they aren't large enough in diameter either to sustain flight to begin with.  

3) They're just novelties.  The companies that make these Frisbee are no professionals.  Its like buying a toy plastic golf club, its great when your 7, but when you're serious about what you're doing, it just becomes useless.  The companies know this, and know that their products are not geared to people who play Frisbee regularly.  Their great for a 4th of July activity before the fireworks begin, but after that, just stick to an actual Frisbee.  

But light up frisbees are not the only type of night time Frisbee.  Many companies like Discraft (the Frisbee maker of choice, and in my opinion, the best) make glow in the dark Frisbee for this specific reason, to try and extend the sport into the night. They're well made, have just as good characteristics of a normal Frisbee, but they don't really work. Here's why:

1) The glow in the dark phosphor just isn't bright enough to make it usable.  It may stay bright enough if you hold it under a lamp for half an hour, but its decay rate is fairly fast and you may get 5 minutes out of it tops, then it just becomes a normal Frisbee again.  

The best option overall would be a Frisbee that corrects all of the problems of both Frisbee types. This Instructible is then how I managed to to just that, buy combining the benefits of both. And for all around 15 dollars or so.  

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Step 1: Theory and Materials

The Theory:

The commercial frisbees do a good job of lighting up every detail necessary to properly see and catch a disc in the dark.  However they overload them with LEDs and circuitry, and tend to not fly well.  The glow in the dark frisbees seem to be the opposite, not enough light, but better flight stability.  My approach ended up combining the best qualities of both, but it did not start there.  Originally I wanted a frisbee that lit up, but had just as good flight as a normal frisbee. I had devised a technique in my head of melting the wires into the plastic an UltraStar, then flushing it out, making a light up frisbee that was hopefully better.  I looked around my house and I found an old, beat up glow in the dark frisbee I bought a few years back.  Instantly I realized the potential of this, If I laced a glow in the dark frisbee with white LEDs, I could take advantage of its glowing properties, thus reducing the need for a stronger battery and more LEDs, as excess light would be soaked, and emitted by the frisbee in other areas. This would also reduce weight and would take less time install into my frisbee.  The final product then doesn't look like a normal light up frisbee, but rather a glowing green disc with flashing white lights (as it spins).


- An old beat up glow in the dark frisbee , preferably an UltraStar by Discraft.  If you don't have an old one, you could buy a new one online. They sell them pretty cheep on Amazon: here   I prefer UltraStars due to their balance, and general high quality to other brands like Wham-O.  Other avid frisbee players usually agree.

-A variable temperature soldering iron , this is a must, mainly because plastic burns at a higher temperature.  My soldering iron goes as low as 300 degrees, even lower than the range to melt the plastic, up to about 1500 degrees.

-Two super-bright white LEDs .  Try to find the highest light output to the lowest used current.  Mine were 8000 mcd (mili-candela) at at max of 25 ma (miliamps)  I got them at RadioShack.

-A CR2032Battery Holder and Battery .  Mine is the clip kind, this helps because it resists it falling out. The CR2032 coin cell was chosen because its the most common, and has a good enough energy rating of around 220 mha, which should let the frisbee last a while on two LEDs.  I looked into a rechargeable battery from sparkfun here but it just didn't seem worth the expense in the end.

-A Small Switch .  Again purchased at RadioShack

-Enameled magnet wire.  This is a must too, the thinner the better, and the easier it is to melt in the plastic.  I had some lying around so I can't say what gauge it is, but just make sure it can be rough handled a bit and not break.

-A breadboard and wires . Optional, but it really helps making sure everything works in the end

-Handy Hands . Makes everything easier

-Sharpie and Straightedge.   Make sure the sharpie is fine tip, it just makes everything easier that way.

-JB Weld .  Really any type of epoxy will do.  This is just what I had

-Clear Packing Tape .  To smooth things out with the epoxy.

-Sandpaper. Because you can never avoid sanding things like wires and glue

Step 2: Set Things Up

Before we begin this project, you should take the time to make sure all your componets work.  Its such a simple circuit that sometimes you can just jump strait into the project thinking you know what your doing, but come to find out that your switch is broken or something.   Try to think of ways to conserve wire.  The more wire you use, the heavier the frisbee will be, and the more work in the end you will have to do.

For me, I decided to put both LEDs in parallel without resistors to save weight (and because the battery shouldn't be powerful enough to burn anything out since its basically an LED throwie attached to a frisbee with a switch).  As you'll see later, this made it easier to fit most of the soldering connections near the battery in the center of the frisbee. 

*As you may note in the pictures, one LED is actually dimmer than the other.  I'm not sure why this is, but it retains that dimness even when the other LED is removed.  I think Radio Shack just sold me a bad LED since these pictures were taken the same day I purchased them

Step 3: Mount the Battery Holder

This is probably the most important step.  The battery holder is the most important part of the frisbee, not only does it power the LEDs, but its also the heaviest component.  If placed incorrectly, your frisbee may not fly strait, or not fly well.  If not installed correctly, it may fall off mid flight.  

To begin, you need to find the center of the frisbee, I used to "X" method of measuring the diameter and marking the radius (half way) in two different ways.  You can also just use the little bump that is usually a product of the fabrication process of making a frisbee (you can even see it in the photo) but measuring is a good way of checking.

Next, we need to modify the battery holder.  My battery holder was made to be put on a perfboard or PCB, based on the fact there are two small wire leads on the bottom and small pillars to hold the holder above the board.  We will take advantage of these pillars when gluing and positioning the holder, however the leads need to be modified.  This is the step by step process on how the whole process is done:

-Snip off the leads, and file them down.  We will be making new leads later.

-Place the battery holder on the center of the frisbee. (For me, there was a small hole in my batter holder that made this easier) and begin plan out where the rest of your components and wires may go to get a sense of where to proceed.  As you can see in the pictures I decided to place the switch directly opposite the positive lead (the clip).  By the end, the switch moved from parallel to the clip  to perpendicular to the clip (you will see this in later pictures), however positioning is irrelevant at this point.  What you really need to know is where your negative terminal is going.  The battery holder basically sandwiches the coin cell.  Since we clipped off the leads, we need a new path for the negative terminal.  So, we need to modify the holder and solder on a new lead.  My holder had a hole in the bottom, which lead direct access to the negative terminal, and made for an easy soldering point.  However I needed to melt out a pathway for the new wire so that the holder could still sit flush.  What you really need to know by laying out all your components is to know where that lead will be going so you can properly melt a hole for the wire. Mark where everything is going. If you're confused, just follow along with the pictures and I promise you will understand.

- Draw out the space the wire is going to fit in.

-Heat up your soldering iron to about 400-500 degrees Fahrenheit.  If you don't know what temperature your plastic melts at, heat up and test a little at a time until you find a point you are comfortable with, and doesn't smoke. 

-Melt the trench your wire is going to pass through with your soldering iron.  Make sure to check it depth with an spare wire now and again to make sure its deep enough.  Note: when you melt plastic by pushing on it, it makes a ridge above the trench and initial plane of the bottom of the holder.  You are going to want to smooth with the iron it out to make it sit flush later, and it can easily be done with a little practice.  If you really can't do it by melting it, just use sandpaper or a file, but i don't like this method as it takes longer.

-Now since you have your soldering iron heated up, score the bottom of the holder to roughen it up a bit as seen in the picture.  This will make the epoxy stick better later when we glue it down.  Remember you are making an item that will be used (sometimes very roughly) so you don't want to take any precaution when making it.  Take your time when doing everything and it will come out how you want in the end, and will take longer to break.

-With the holder modified to the point you want it, scrape the plastic off the tip (this is easier to do when the tip isn't hot) and heat it up to a higher temperature.

-Strip the enamel off a wire and solder it onto the bottom of the holder.

-If you want, you can also solder a lead on the positive terminal (I did this) but it will eventually be removed at the end.  It is very helpful when you are testing the LEDs in later steps.

Now, its time to modify the frisbee to accept our holder, and make it more flush, and more compact.  I did this by taking advantage of those little pillars on the bottom of the holder. I melted holes for them to fit in, in the frisbee.  This allowed for a better/ stronger and more flush fit against the frisbee.  It also meant I didn't have to melt down more of the battery holder, which would have been more difficult. Here's a step by step:

-Place your holder in your original marked spot on the frisbee, and now, instead of tracing around it, try to fit the marker under it and mark where the pillars are.  You can use a ruler to measure from the edge like how I did, to see how big your holes have to be, or you can just go with the flow. I used all three methods here, and since all the holes are going to be filled with epoxy later, all you really need is a flush fit.

-Begin to melt the frisbee with your soldering iron.  From my experience the frisbee tended to melt at a lower temperature, but yours may differ.  I suggest however finding a gash in your frisbee somewhere and taking the same method of slowly increasing your soldering iron to see at what temperature it melts at. 

-There is no proper way to tell how to melt the holes in the frisbee. I took the "puncture method" on this where I just stuck the tip through, but there are other ways.  Just take your time and make sure it fits flush at the end.  As you can see in the pictures mine looked VERY messy afterward, but it was fine in the end.  At this point, if you find you have an excess of plastic, you can use your soldering iron to "scoop" it off and place it up on something for later use (it may come in handy) I'll get into more into how to do this in the next step, because thats where its needed.  You may also want to smooth over your work, just so you don't have to worry about it later.

Step 4: Mount the LEDs

From here on out it is fairly straightforward. In this step we will be mounting the LED's. It requires no glue if done correctly, but I encourage you to keep some on hand unless you really screw up.  And if you found out in the last step that you are really bad at melting plastic with your soldering iron, practice on some old lego's or something by melting different shapes until you get a feel for it.  This step can only be done once, or else you may need a new frisbee. 
Anyway, on to the good stuff, like I said this is pretty straightforward, we will be melting holes on opposite ends of the frisbee, then sealing them with the plastic you removed, making it still "feel" like a normal frisbee.  So:

-First mark two opposite points on the frisbee with a ruler, directly perpendicular to your battery clip holder.  This is where your LEDs are going.  Although I didn't do this, I highly recommend that you mark where the top and the bottom of the LED will be going, this way you make sure that they are directly opposite from each other.

-Modify the LED leads.  Basically this just means soldering thin (and make sure you make it long) magnet wire as close to the bottom of the LED as possible and snipping off the excess.  It will be sunk in the plastic later so make it compact.  Don't forget to sand off the enamel.

-Take your modified LEDs and place them where they will be sunk into the leading edge of the frisbee, and mark them off with a sharpie.  Note, the LED is going to be places horizontally into the frisbee, meaning the leads are also going to be sunk into the plastic, so mark that space too.

-Heat of your soldering iron and go to town.  I recommend using the "scoop" method of digging out the hole for the LED.  This is because we will be using the excess plastic later, and (as you can see in the pictures) can be easily stacked next to the hole.  Plus, the leading edge is too deep to go strait through with your tip, at least in the beginning.  This will, and should, take you a long time.  The benefit of using a small soldering tip head is that you can make the LED fit very securely in its hole. The "scoop" method is done exactly how it sounds, just push a lot of plastic into one area, and lift it out of the hole.  Then take the ball of plastic on your soldering iron and just place it somewhere else.  You can place it on the frisbee, like I did, or you can get a small piece of scrap wood and wipe the plastic off on that.  The plastic can be peeled or melted off for later use.  

-Once the LED fits flush, begin to seal it in there.  The way I did this was I cratered the top of the hole, basically taking the sharp edges of the hole and folding them inward, so I was left with two dimples on either side of the frisbee and the LED in the center.  I then took the rest of the plastic and melted it into those dimples.  Whats great about using a soldering iron is that you can re-melt the leading edge if you spend enough time on it.  My frisbee, at least from the front, doesn't even look like it was melted. 

-Now test your LED to make sure you didn't accidentally short something out.  I did, but it turned out to not be prominent until I finished everything, threw it and it turned off.  Turns out the slight shock of the frisbee in motion was enough to push the leads close enough to touching.  So don't be afraid to hit your work a little. If it doesn't stand up, it won't in a normal game, so you're going to have to go back on your work.

-Repeat for the other LED, on the other side.  Make sure the other LED points in the other direction.  So, if you follow circle of the frisbee with your finger with, the top of one implanted LED should lead to the bottom of the next one which should lead to the bottom of the first one.


Step 5: Sink the Wires

This is a fairly simple step, but takes a while to complete also.  From the last step, you should have basically 4 wires sticking out of your frisbee. The point of this step is coalesce them to the center of the frisbee.  But, like the LEDs, we're not going to use glue and add extra weight.  SO:

-First determine which wires of your LED are positive or negative, and if you want to, mark them.  The frisbee, based on how you place the battery holder, will have a positive and negative side, so to speak.  You want the positive leads to go strait to the positive terminal on the battery, and the negative wires to go strait to the switch/ negative side.  YOU DON'T WANT THEM TO CROSS. Having the wires cross will cause unnecessary bumps that will make the frisbee less aerodynamic.  
-If your put your LED in backwards, and your wires cross, make sure you melt the cross into the leading edge, right near the LED, this way, you can melt the wire in deeper, and smooth over the bump.  

-Now, line up your wires, you don't want to make more modifications to your frisbee than needed. 

-Melt a trench in the frisbee.  The trench will follow down from were your LED is sitting in the plastic, all the way to where your battery holder will be.  Make it deeper than you may think.  When you push down on the plastic with the hot tip of the soldering iron, it will bubble upwards on the side.  You will be removing this in the next step:

-Fold the plastic on the side of the trench over the wires.  Use extra plastic if needed that you may have left over.  I didn't need to use glue for this, but I came close to using up all the plastic I had lying around.  If your enamel is shinny, this will be an indicator that tells you if you covered the wire correctly or not.  

-Smooth over your folds the best you can, it won't be perfect, but it should be mostly flat

-Repeat for both sides and check to see if both LEDs are working.  The enamel shouldn't melt in this process, but you want to prevent shorts the best you can. 

Step 6: Check Your Work

Now, I add this step in, because when i was mounting my LEDs, one of the LED's leads were pushed too close together and created a short.  It flickered a little from the wires moving around too much in the plastic.  and sometimes it wouldn't even light up.  It went away for most of the project, but it was really annoying finishing the frisbee, then having it not work, and having to melt out my LEDs so I could find the short.  So this Step is simply to take a step back, look at your connections, recheck your switch and wires, and make sure everything is working (and even can take a little shock / assault) so that you don't have to do it later.  Everything from now on out will just be glue, and you can't remove epoxy so easily, so make sure everything works.

Step 7: Glue Down the Battery Holder

this is fairly simple, we're just going to glue down the battery holder.

-First line everything up, make sure you know where everything is going, where there is going to be glue, and where there shouldn't.  Test fit the battery holder,  and make sure its as flush as you want it.  If not, don't be afraid to go back and smooth things over or take it to some sandpaper.  

-Roughen up the spot under the battery.  Glue sticks to things better if its rougher.  so take a sharp edge or some scissors and score the center of the frisbee, where the battery will be going.  

-Get some tape, and cover the holes on the top of the frisbee to prevent the glue flush with the frisbee.  For me, it didn't work as well as I hoped, but it still worked.  Maybe my tape was just bad, it wasn't that sticky, but everything is going to be sanded down later anyway.

- Mix some JB-Weld. It doesn't have to be JB-Weld, but thats the epoxy I bought for the project, and it has high strength, so I thought it wouldn't rip off as easily during a game.

-Fill in the holes first. You should almost be pushing the holder into glue, rather than fitting it in a hole. 

-Cover the bottom of the holder, and the surface on the frisbee, then push the two together.  

-Place something heavy on it, and let it dry. If your ambitious, you can wait until the glue sets, but for me, I did this after school before I went to bed, so it was easy to just let it over night.

Step 8: Finall Wiring and Mounting the Switch

This is your last true step, but it requires a lot of detailed work.  It should however be quite self explanatory.  

-First, imbed the wires up to the side of the battery holder.  You should be pretty good at it by now.

-Take the positive leads for the LEDs and imbed them up to the positive terminal of the battery holder.  For me this was the top clip.  After you're done with this, you can finally clip off the majority of your excess wire.

-Sand down the enamel on your wire, wrap it around the leads of the terminal, and solder.  This is fairly straightforward.  If you have any excess wire you can clip it off afterwards.  Make sure your solder joint is fairly strong.  This means that you sanded your wires well and soldered your joints at a high enough temperature.  It should be pretty easy, you're not going to be destroying any components or anything.


-First, I test soldered all the wired together (both negative leads of the LEDs together, to the switch and the switch to the negative terminal of the battery holder, which was modified in an earlier step). This was basically a final check of how everything could be put together, but really its not necessary.  

-What you really need to do is draw out where everything is going.  For me, I decided that the two negative leads of the LEDs would make a little bubble above the switch, and be soldered like a "T" together so that only one wire would need to be soldered to the switch.  The negative lead would pass next to one of the LEDs wires and loop around to the other lead of the switch.  This made everything compact and pretty easy to embed later.  Tracing your components is better than just free-handing with this step, that way everything is to size.  After you have everything drawn, cut the wires to size.  

-Strip the enamel, and solder the LEDs negative leads together.  Make sure it follows the lines on where your wires should go

-Strip more enamel and solder the wires to the switch. At this point, you can put the battery in and make sure everything works by flipping the switch back and forth.  Everything should work correctly.

-If you need to, melt a hole for the switch.  My switch had multiple leads on it, for other connections and other purposes not worth mentioning, so I needed to melt a hole for it.  This worked the same way as melting the holes for the battery.  

-Embed the wires into the plastic.  This should be more delicate than everything you've done previously, you don't want anything to be screwed up.

-Mix up some glue. First, glue the switch down,  fill in the hole and cover the hole with tape as described previously.  Because a lot of wires ended here, I also put glue where the wires split, where the wires came out of the plastic or on soldering joints.  I also put glue on the sides of the switch to keep it from getting ripped off.  Be conservative so you don't add too much weight, but be liberal for protection.  You don't want anything getting ripped out later.  

-Let everything dry and RELAX you're finally done with the hard stuff.

Step 9: Tidy Everything Up

This step is fairly simple, Peal off the tape on the top of your frisbee, and sand down all raised edges of the glue.  Have your finger trace everything you melted, if there is a raised edge, smooth it out, if there is an uncovered wire, cover it, and if you thing you might need a little more glue, mix up a bit.  Basically try to be as concise as possible.  This frisbee is going to be rough handled, crashed into the earth in all directions and have to stand up to impacts into walls and hands.  It would be really annoying if you were in the middle of a game and a wire rips out, or if your frisbee always banked to the right because it wasn't aerodynamic enough.  

But if you're finally content with your work THEN YOUR DONE.  Enjoy

I quite enjoy how the frisbee came out.  I've used it a few times and so far I've gotten rave reviews of how you don't notice the extra weight/ light or even the flight pattern.  It works fairly well in the dark, even under street lamps, and extraordinarily well in pitch black environments (but then its hard to see who you're throwing it to).  I have, however had the battery pop out of the holder once when it came in contact with a wall head on, but I've thrown it across fields without trouble.  Because of that though, I would suggest putting a small piece of tape over the battery to keep it from moving before going out.  I don't know how long the battery will last, but I've had it a while now, and I'm still on the one I bought for the project.  If you're really worried about it, they do make rechargeable CR2032 for use in computers so you don't have to keep buying new batteries, but its not worth it in my opinion, just but a lot of cheep ones on Amazon if you're going to play a lot.  

But anyway, thats it! This Is my first Instructible, so thank you for reading, and get out there and play some frisbee!

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    2 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Hey, mine has 5 LEDs in colors. Check it out. It flies nice too!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Mate, I was about to embark on such a project, and am very glad I came across your instructable, It will save my frisbee from a trial and error rampage. And I will be so stoked that I can still take it out after 4pm when it gets dark.