I went for interior LED highlighting again this year, a) because I wanted the Death Star look inhabited, and b) because sometimes I just don't know when to stop.
Somewhere on the ornament I always write Thing name, a short message, and year of manufacture. I do it at the end, after all pics are taken so they can be added to their collection of one-of-a-kind ornaments. They are also named so there is no bickering over whose is whose or which is which, because boys will be boys and we like to keep the peace.
- 100mm Clear Acrylic ornaments (sourced from http://factorydirectcraft.com/catalog/products/1302_1039-10569-100mm_clear_acrylic_fillable_ball_ornament.html) They are a nice heavy grade, and come in two halves that snap together which would also create the perfect Equator on the Death Star. They were $1.99 each.
- Drill press with hole cutter bit (there are probably more refined options out there, but go with what you have available)
- 400 grit wet/dry sandpaper
- Rubbing Alcohol (to clean surfaces prior to painting)
- Epoxy putty (the other mans-best-friend)
- Lumps of clay (to keep the globes from rolling about during construction)
- Painters masking tape
- Xacto knife
- Straight Edge ruler
- Spray paint (I used Testors flat aircraft light and dark gray for models from Michaels), plus some darker flat gray primer I already had lying around)
- LED tealights/small flashlights to
- Old phone cable (for harvesting thin black wire)
- Soldering iron, solder
- Additional supplies from Radioshack: White LEDs, small grommets, small electronics board with straight through holes, etc. Just don't get distracted by all the other shiny in there :)
Let's get started...
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Step 1: Cut Out the Superlaser Dish
1. To cut out the dish, I used a drill press with a cut-out drill bit. Not sure of the size, probably around 1 1/4"...I just sort of eyeballed it with the drillbits I had.
2. Set the orb onto something stable - I used a lump of pottery clay. You will need to hold the orb with a vice-like grip to keep it steady during drilling, and also hold it shut so that the two halves don't pop open and ruin everything.
3. Drill the pilot hole, and then keep going to cut out the disc. Use a slower drill speed to minimize friction-melting the acrylic, but there will always be melted burrs to remove
4. Take the disc plug out of the drill bit, and then clean up the edges - I used a box-cutter knife and then sanded with 150 grit until they were smooth.
5. Under running water, sand both halves and disc, inside and out, with the 400 grit paper. Sanding privides some 'tooth' for the epoxy putty and primer so that they stick, and on thie inside the sanding will help diffuse the white LED light when we put it in later.
Step 2: Secure the Superlaser Dish
1. Prepare to bond...place the hemisphere so that the cut-out hole is on the flat surface (use a sheet of paper or something disposable underneath, because the epoxy putty will stick to it). Hold the hemisphere in place. I used modeling clay. Make sure it is seated and won't move easily.
2. Place the disk in the hole and center it (flat on the surface, so it is concave on the outside). Although unpictured, I also cut out a couple of cardboard 'washers', that were directly under the disk, and raised it enough to account for small gap and maintain dish contour.
3. Mix you up some putty. You can get it anywhere...epoxy putty has two components that you mix (knead) together until the color is uniform charcoal/grey. Roll out into a cylinder and then press it around the circle (while securing the dish with a finger), and make sure it's worked into the gap and is bonded to everything. Use a small bit of putty, rolled into a ball, and press into the pilot hole in the middle - just enough to produce a small bulge of the other side. You can't see the other side, so just use your best judgement.
4. The putty hardens pretty quickly, so you can then gently turn it over and peel/tear off scrap paper backing. Use a sharp knife to carve off the rough edges so the dish contour goes smoothly all the way to the edge. The putty will be hard, but still easy to sculpt.
5. Once cured, sand down the dish area, finishing with 400 grit paper under running water.
6. since painting is next, it's now time to cutoff the hanging tabs - I used a fine toothed saw, and sand smooth.
Step 3: Paint the Death Star
1. Apply a thin band of painters tape around the main trench (equator)...we dont want to paint this bit.
2. Wet a cloth with the alcohol and wipe over the whole exterior surface to thoroughly clean it. Clean the surface often, between coats and throught the process.
3. Spray primer onto the globe. This may take multiple light passes...you don't want drippage. I set the globes on small rings of clay to keep them steady and rotated as necessary between coats.
4. Next, spray the entire globe with the base (lightest grey) coat(s) of paint. Allow to fully dry.
5. Now the fun begins - apply strips of tape to the globe for all the light parts. They will be varying widths, a couple of circles for top and bottom and I also cut a few curved pieces when the straight pieces were bunching up too much. I looked up pictures of the Death Star for guidance...there are many out there.
6. Now spray the darker grey over the entire globe and let dry.
7. A satisfying step....peel off all the tape and you should have a good lookin' Death Star.
You could stop here by just hanging it up. Or stay with me for the lighting phase...
Step 4: The Lighting
Okay, so I wanted to give the Death Star the lived-in look, as in the movie. Like a city at night from far away - I think there were about 1.5 million Imperial forces living on the death star.
The overall idea was to have an LED at the inside top, shining directly down, and have a mirror on the bottom to diffuse the light all around. This light would then twinkle through around the trench and anywhere else where we scratch off the paint.
I looked everywhere for some type of housing but couldn't find anything, so had to improvise. Ended up using a small piece of board, and soldered the LED to it
1.Get a small board (from Radioshack $1.29), and cut off a small piece about 1/2" square.
2. Strip the thin black wire from an old phone cable. Could have gone with the yellow/red/blue ones, but didn't think Darth would approve. Cut a pair about 8" long and strip the ends. Feed the end of each through the small piece of board and wind around the stems of the LED. Keep them far enough apart to be able to solder to the board.
3. Solder the wire-wrapped legs to the board. Now wrap a small piece of tape around the wire attached to the + leg of the LED...just so you know which is which.
4. Feed the wires through the hole in the top of the globe and secure it using a small coil of epoxy putty and press into place. You want the LED pointing as straight up/vertical as possible.
5. Now secure a mirror/diffuser to the bottom of the globe with the epoxy putty. Again, as much as possible have it centered and pointing straight up so it will be aligned with the LED pointing down. I harvested mine from old LED light casings (I have a box of old flashlights etc). You can probably find them online, I didn't look because I had what I needed.
6. Now it's time to hack an LED tealight. I looked around for other small things that would work better, but couldn't find anything I liked...basically all I needed was a small enclosure that housed the batteries and a switch. So - open up the tealight to expose the LED contacts. Remove the batteries first, then remove the LED and wires with a hot soldering iron.
Remove the 'flame' from the top of the tealight lid, and put in a small grommet (to prevent fraying the wires), and feed the lid through the wires before soldering the ends. Or you will have to remove and re-solder when you realize you forgot this step :)
Now solder on the ends of the black wires to the tealight - maintaining polarity (hence the taped wire indicating the + end). Replace batteries and test to make sure it works. Now you can slide up the lid, and before snapping it back on, glue the wires to the grommet on the inside (hot glue or other) so that when hung, it won't pull on the soldered ends.
Step 5: Finishing Touches
We're almost there...just a few finishing touches.
1. This is fun: start scratching off the paint to let the light through. I used the Xacto knife like a pen, and scratched tiny lines and dots. Do it in a dark place with the LED on so you see immediate effect, and just work around the globe. It doesn't take long - you quickly get the hang of it. Usually just a few scratches in the same spot got me the right amount of light peeking through.
2. There was too much light coming from the main trench (equator), so I glued a strip of black card to the inside, with holes poked through with an awl. Just make sure to line up the holes with the unpainted strip. Dab spots of hot glue around the circle.
Snap the halves back together and you're done.
3. To disguise the tealight a bit, I covered it with black (you're welcome, Darth) electrical tape, and it's totally not noticeable when hung on the tree, because the wires are long enough to keep it away from the Death Star. This was the laziest fix....a cool one would be to turn the tealight into a tie fighter or x-wing or something...
And there you have it: some rockin' Death Star ornaments.