So as you might have guessed this project is very awesome and cheap. It's also very flexible, and if you have the know how, you can make this into one crazy project.
So what exactly is an Easter Tree? To be honest I don't know. My mother has been making them and putting them around the house ever since I was a small child. It's more or less a branch with eggs hanging off of it. Maybe some candy. I thought that this year I would spice things up by making her an LED Easter Tree.
It's an easy project that you can do with kids. If you make a nice version there is no reason you can't save this and use it for many years to come.
For a simple analogue version the total cost is only $10-15 and requires only basic soldering skills. It takes between 1-2 hours to put together, which does include the boiling and dying time. It took me less than an hour.
If you want to go crazy and use AVR, Arduino, or fun IC the sky is the limit for the price.
Step 1: What You Need
I've divided this into several parts depending on which version you're going to make. The supplies are highly flexible and most you can buy from a trip to the $1 Store. Don't go to Radio Shack.
$1 Store Supplies (AKA generic supplies.)
Easter Bucket or Pot
Fake Colored Grass
LEDs - More on that later
Egg Supplies (Pick which is best for you)
Magnet Wire - The thinner the better
LEDs - More on that later
AC to DC Wall Wart (Salvage one from an old appliance. $2 otherwise.)
Tools/ Generic Supplies
White Spray Paint
AVR? Arduino? Whaaaaa?
If you know what any of this means you probably already know what you need.
If you're an analogue junkie you could always use a 555 timer circuit to make the LED pulse at different adjustable speeds. I'll explain more later, but it's a very simple process, and the circuit costs all of $0.50 to make. A very easy way to do fun things with the lights and avoid any kind of programing.
Step 2: Pick an Egg
In this project I'm going to use real eggs. If you're worried that your cat will eat them or your kids will destroy them you can also use plastic eggs for the same effect.
I'm also not going to dye my eggs, instead allowing the LEDs to provide the color. If you only have white LEDs around you can easily use dye to give them a different color.
Dying is a good idea if you have the time and or motivation. This way they're colorful even during the day time.
If you've got some kids around (or a spare Eggbot) you can draw on the eggs first to give them a more festive look. Stickers are also completely acceptable.
Again how you set this up is entirely up to you.
Step 3: Finding and Picking LEDs
If you're a DIY person, you probably have LEDs around. If so, awesome! Skip this part, go get a cup of hot tea and a bagel, then come back. We'll still be here.
What ever you do, don't go to Radio Shack. Don't. We can get LEDs cheaper almost anywhere else.
If you want to do a bunch of projects, go to ebay and buy 100 of them for $10. Diffused works best for this project, but we can also diffuse clear LEDS ourselves. Several sites such as Electronic Goldmine and AllElectronics have some good deals on LEDs, especially if you get a variety pack. The fun part about ordering is you can pick your colors, or even get LEDs that change colors on their own.
If you're only going to do this one project, or don't want to wait two weeks for stuff to show up from China, you can get them at the $1 store. Oh yes. The $1 Store is your source of all that is good in the world.
While walking around my $1 Store I noticed that they sell a lot of stuff with LEDs. Flashlights, book lights, fake candles. We can easily salvage the LEDs from any of these.
For instance I bought a 3 Pack of these LED Candles for $1. Inside each is a flickering LED, a battery, and a switch. I also saw LED flashlights and book lights that contain several white LEDs. I've even bought solar garden lights from the $1Store, which also have a nice LED in them. See what you can find.
So if you have a choice, get some diffused LEDs. Otherwise we can take LEDs from most anywhere and diffuse them later. The same thing with colors. Colored is probably better, but we can always dye our eggs.
You're also going to need resistors, but that depends entirely on how strong your power supply is and what kind of LEDs you're using. Use this LED Calculator to help determine which resistor is right for you. (White, Blue, Color changing LEDs are usually between 3 - 3.6 V. Red, yellow, and orange are usually between 2.4 - 2.8 V.)
Step 4: Simple Circuit
Unless you go the AVR route, our circuit is going to be very simple.
Below is a circuit diagram of what we're going to be doing. Super simple. Only we're going to be doing it a bunch of times.
For those of you who are not visual learners, I shall explain.
1) We use our wall wart to bring power into the base of our tree.
2) We hook up the positive line to our switch.
3) From the switch we run magnet wires to our LEDs up the tree and the branches.
4) We attach a resistor to the end of the wire before the LED.
5) We hook the resistor to the positive (long) leg of the LED.
6) We run another length of magnet wire from the negative (short) leg of the LED down along the tree.
7) Connect all the negative wires to the negative end of our power cord.
The number of wires, LEDs, and resistors all depends on how big you want to make this project. I used 6 eggs, and thus had heaps of wires.
(And yes, you can use a common negative wire running along the tree to save space, but that requires more soldering.
Step 5: Prepair the Tree!!!!
Go outside and find a big stick with branches. Nothing fancy, this is a stick we're talking about. You should really find one that had numerous branches. We can always break them off later.
I bought this tin bucket ($1 Store), though you can use anything you want. Flower pots or big tin cans would work, plus you can always paint or draw on them. The container should be something that you can drill into (though this is optional).
Drill a couple of holes in the base of your bucket or pot. We need one for power and one for our switch. The sizes really depend on how big your wire is and how big your switch is.
You don't need to do this now, but eventually you'll need to secure your branch to the bottom of your bucket or pot. The approach I took is using a foam base ($1 store) as well as a bunch of those glass rocks (also $1 store). The size of your branch really depends on how much counter weight or securing you plan on doing.
Now some of you may be thinking "Hey why don't we spray paint it now!" Stop those crazy thoughts! If we're going to spray paint it, we're going to do that at the end for some very good reasons...
Step 6: Drain the Eggs
I choose to use real eggs for my project. They work quite well because they let light through their shell, but also diffuse the light. This way you end up with a glowing egg effect.
If you're going to paint, dye, or decorate the eggs you need to do that before draining them. Just don't break any because that would be messy.
Using a pencil, pen, or nail poke a hole in one end of the egg. Pick either the top or the bottom, not both. We want to drain the egg so that we're just left with the shell. If you want to speed up this process you can poke a very very very small hole in the opposite end of the egg to blow through. Yes, you may wish to blow on your egg. No puns intended.
If you don't wish to go through all the pain and grossness of regular eggs, just use plastic ones. All you need to do is drill a hole in the top.
Step 7: Wire Things Up
Usually you're going to have to cut the end off your wall wart to get to the wires. As you can see below my wall wart tells me which side is positive and negative.
At this time I'm also going to cut all my magnet wire. I need two wires for each LED. You'll want to cut them extra long because we're going to wrap them around the stick. We're also going to need a few extra inches at the end so we can use the wire to hold our egg in the air.
As you can see I've cut a whole bunch wire lengths; two for each of my 6 LEDs. Half I'm using for positive wires, and half I'm using for negative wires.
One good idea is to cut one long length and test it out on your branch, then cut the others. Wire is cheap, but there is no need to waste it.
Step 8: Solder the Wires
WARNING!Be sure you string your wall wart wire into your base before doing the soldering. Otherwise you'll have to cut some wires and you'll probably lose a bunch of time, and then get angry, and then bash your project into a thousand pieces, and then your daughter will come home at just that moment and see what you've done and start to cry, and then you'll blame it on her mother's drinking, and next thing you know your daughter is a stripper who has dreams of running her own dance studio for young girls even though no one takes her seriously. All of that will happen if you don't string your wall wart wire into your base before soldering. You have no one to blame but yourself.
Towards the end of your wall wart tie a knot in the wire. The knot should be bigger than your wire hole. This will keep your wall wart from pulling on the circuitry.
Solder the positive wire from your wall wart to the switch.
***Magnet wire has a coating on it that usually burns off when soldering. If you're worried, use a scissors or knife to scrape away some of it.
Take all your positive wires and solder them to the switch. (I choose to run a small wire from the switch to the ends of the wires, as I have quite a few.)
Now run the wires up your tree. You want them to tight against the body of the tree. Make sure we have several inches of extra wire on the end to suspend our egg on.
At the end of each wire solder on a resistor. (If you've not calculated which kind you need, go do so now)
Solder the long leg of your LED to that resistor.
Take one of your six negative wires and solder it onto the short led of the LED.
Run that wire along the body of your tree and down to the base.
Now wire up every LED.
Lastly, solder all the negative wire ends to the negative wire of the wall wart.
We're now done wiring. Feel free to test it out. That wasn't so tough, was it?
Step 9: Attach the Eggs
Hopefully your eggs have all drained out and dried by now. You really don't want to do this next part with wet eggs.
All we have to do to get the LED into the egg is stick it in the hole, then secure it with glue. I prefer hot glue (melt glue), but any glue will do.
You should also be sure to put some glue between the positive and negative legs of your LEDs. This way they won't accidentally touch and cause a short. (You can also use shrink tubing or spacers.)
If you're using clear LEDs and want to diffuse them you can do that now. Diffusing helps spread out the light and create a more even glow.
You have two options.
1) Use sandpaper and scratch them up a whole bunch. (Annoying)
2) Cover them with hot glue. (Much easier.)
You can easily test out both on the same tree. It's all up to you.
Step 10: Final Touches
Now that your tree is all wired up and working, and you have your eggs on, we should probably finish up. It is almost dinner time.
I choose to use white floral wrap to wrap up my branch. This covers the wire and makes it look Eastery. You could also use spray paint, paper, or fabric. Whatever you have around really.
You can also spray paint at this time if you really want to. This would coat the branch and the wires with paint making it look nice.
For the base I choose to use a bunch of glass rock things I got at the $1 Store and then cover those with fake Easter grass. You could just use real rocks if you don't wish to spend the $1.
So that's about it. You'll notice in the video below that some of my LEDs are blinking, flickering, or changing color. I used several different types of LEDs to show you what you could use. In the second tree I made I used diffused colored LEDs, nothing special.
Step 11: Enjoy
As you can see I made two different versions. One version I used different silly LEDs and egg types. The second version I used just plain white eggs with colored LEDs on the inside for color. I also gave the second one a white mummy wrap to make it look very cute.
So that's about it. It's a rather simple project that looks nice. Plus you can save it next year. Maybe even fancy it up and bring it out for Christmas. Shoot, put little pumpkins over the LEDs and you could even bring it out for Halloween.
Below is a video of the second tree using only diffused LEDs.
If you want to get super fancy you can use an Ardunio to make the LEDs do fun things.
Or if you're an analogue junkie you might want to go to the next page...
Step 12: Analogue 2.0
If you wanted to you could use a 555 time chip to get your LEDs to pulse or flash. These are very simple to do and you can honestly just free form them or use a small prototyping board. Also the setup costs about 50 cents worth of parts and requires no programing.
You could use one 555 circuit to run several LEDs, or use a couple 555 circuits to get different LEDs to pulse at different speeds.
Below is a simple 555 pulsing circuit that I built. I even hooked up a variable resistor to show how you can speed up or slow down the pulse. You could easily have a nob on your tree base that controls the speed of the pulse. Anywhere from "crazy rave" speed, to "slow as snail mail" speed.
If you want to see a whole bunch of 555 timer circuits, try out this website. It has a lot of useful information.
There is also this simple webpage with over 50 555 circuits you can use.