In this instructable i will make a red mood light out of stuff i had using things i found around the house.
After a particularly long, awkward night entertaining company i found myself in need of a low wattage light source of the romantic inclination. Without one i found myself in the dark and was reminded of Woody Allen's character In Annie Hall.
" Hang in there for a second. I got a
little-little artifact. A little erotic
artifact, that-that I brought up from the
city, which I think, uh, is gonna be perfect. "
The artifact in question was a red light bulb, I think i can do better. Lets get started
Step 1: Make a Base
I found a chunk of sign foam and cut it into a square. Sign foam is a high density urethane foam thats light, easy to work with, waterproof, unaffected by moisture and non conductive. I always find scraps around my house, as should you.
I used a small hacksaw to rough out the shape and 80 grit sandpaper to smooth out the edges. I went with a more organic shape because i didn't want to take the time to get all the edges square. im lazy that way.
Step 2: Making Holes
Next i marked up twenty five spots on the foam where i wanted the leds to go. I happened to have 25 diffused red 5mm blinking leds left over from making throwies. I wish i had red/blue or reg/green flashing 5mm leds for style, but all red makes up for it in pure machismo.
I made sure to lay out the 5x5 grid pattern in no particular order because i knew id never be able to properly line everything up without measuring. And measuring was imposable since i sanded off all the straight edges. So i just picked 4 spots and eyeballed the middle points till i had 25 dots marked out.
Cheap 5mm chinese leds are just a little smaller then my cheap 13/64 drill bits from harbor freight. So i used that drill bit to bore a hole at each dot. Not wanting to put holes in my patio furniture i used an old box as a base. I tried to drill straight up and down, but some of the holes are at odd angles. Meh
Now most of the LED housing fits into the hole, but the flange at the base of the diode body keeps it from going all the way in. Using a piece of scrap foam and a 1/4 inch bit i test the depth before counter sinking all 25 holes. Id hate to ruin this one now that ive spent so much time on it.
Finding the depth acceptable i mark it with electrical tape and proceed to countersink all 25 holes so the leds just barely peek out when installed. I like the look of proper led mounts, but for projects like this the cost is just to high for that "professional" look. Check ebay for prices, in bulk good mounts are rather reasonable.
After blowing all the dust out its time for a quick test fit to make sure all the LED's seat properly; then its on to painting.
Step 3: Painting
Painting is easy, i just make it look hard.
Raw sign foam is porous stuff and just sucks up paint while the panel parts paint beautifully. First its two coats of black primer, then 2 coats of red enamel. Then colour sanding and another coat of red. Finally for that "wet look" i hit it up with a coat of clear acrylic. The clear takes forever to dry and 2 hrs later i left a bunch of fingerprints in it. This required ANOTHER coat of clear and an over night cure just to be safe. The end result is candy apple red on top with a slightly less shiny effect on the sides. Since i only plan on turning it on when the other lights are off, this is of little consequence.
While im waiting for the paint to dry, i decided to test out the leds.
Step 4: LED Burn in Testing
This is a video:
In theory everything about this is wrong, the voltage is to high and there isn't enough current from the transformer. If i remember highschool physics correctly this should rip a hole in space/time within the first 5 minutes. Sadly, after 2 hrs the leds are only slightly warm.
Step 5: Soldering
Next i cut some 20g uninsulated soft copper wire into sections long enough to connect all the legs in one row. I just laid the wire next to the positive leads and added a drop of solder to make them stick. Copper wire loves being a support in my electronics projects as its easy to work with and takes solder easily. I soldered all the positive legs together in one row, then all the negative ones, making sure to leave a little extra wire hanging off the side. I checked each row as i finished to make sure (one last time) that there were no bad LEDs. I actually found one that got heat damaged from the soldering and needed to be replaced. Its a lot easier to do this now then later, so check often. That extra bit of copper off the end is used to connect all the rows so the 25 LEDs are essentially all connected to the power supply directly.
Some people would call this parallel, i would call those people nerds. Normally im all about wiring LED's in series, but because these are >blinking< diodes they need to be treated differently. If you add anything after the blinking led in series, that extra component will only get power when the blinking LED is on. I have used this to my advantage in other projects, using the blinking led as a cheap/easy timer, but here i wanted each light to blink independent of all the others. So parallel is a must.
At some point i clipped the barrel plug off the wall wart and stripped the insulation off the wires. These bare ends i now solder to the leds. Because the diodes are all in parallel i could solder these power lines anywhere and the unit would function. After plugging it in to the wall everything worked great.
Heres a video:
The last thing to do is clip all those unsightly legs from the back and put it someplace where a red light is needed.
Step 6: Final Thoughts
The really cool part of working with lots of blinking leds is the realization that none of them work on the same timer. Low quality standards during manufacture means slight differences in each led, no two are alike. Put three together and they chase each other endlessly one way then the other. Add more and other patterns seem to emerge and fade away all by them selfs. This means sudo random effects can be accomplished without complicated micro controllers or programing skills. Impress your friends, people inherently want to believe order is present where none exists.
*EDIT* Feb 27
By popular demand i took some extra photos of the finished product.
And an extra video:
Eat your heart out kids.
*edit* July 21
Existence is random.
Has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long.
No meaning save what we choose to impose.