This has been an idea that's been sitting in my head for a while now. I enjoy skiing, and enjoy designing different, often whimsical projects. However, this quickly evolved from "make something glow" to a somewhat useful idea.
Here, skiing at dawn and dusk (night skiing) can be one of the coolest things one can do - why not make it glow? The idea of flying through the dark, glowing, seemed like a good one, so I ordered some components, and built my glowing ski poles. I considered using glow in the dark paint, and in a future iteration, I might.
However, EL wire seemed like the best choice. Despite it's reliance on battery power, it was crazy cheap, came in a multitude of colors, and most importantly, bright. It was a fairly easy build, but if I were to win the "Make it Glow!" contest, I'd be able to make this much, much better.
Step 1: EL Wire Basics
For a great guide, hit up the ubiquitous Adafruit, but I'll summarize for the lazy.
- EL wire generates no heat; it's cold to the touch.
- EL wire requires a driver/inverter that can provide 60-120VAC RMS
- Higher frequency/voltage results in a brighter wire
- Running the wire brighter will lead to a reduced lifetime
- EL wire is capacitive, and cannot be PWM'ed
- The more wire you connect to an inverter, the more 'loaded' it is and the dimmer it will be
- The capacitance 'load' of the EL is required to stabilize the inverter so never run the inverter without at least 1 foot of EL attached!
Step 2: Tools & Materials
Something like this is pretty easy to make. You can improve it as much as you'd like. I only needed a couple of components.
- Ski Pole(s)
- EL Wire Controller
- EL Wire
- Electrical Tape
- 2x AA batteries
- Multimeter (optional)
I already owned a pair of ski poles, and purchased the EL wire from a shop on ebay - I got 5 meters of the stuff, plus a controller, for around $6 total, shipped. If you shop around, you could do even better. I had to supply two AA batteries, but that's pretty trival. The multimeter isn't at all necessary for this project, but I liked checking out the cheapie board in the controller.
Step 3: Testing It Now, to Avoid Problems Later.
Before we wrap ~15 feet of EL wire around a ski pole, it's a good idea to test it out.
To do so, pop open your inverter and insert the batteries. Click the button, the red led should pop on, and you may hear a barely audible whine. Mine seems to be right around 2 khz. It's actually because the cheapsie little inverter needs to boost 3V (two 1.5V AA batteries in series) to 100V AC. I measured mine at about 101 V AC, although your results may vary.
Connect your EL wire, it should glow. If it doesn't work, double check your stuff ( polarity, good batteries, etc).
If it still doesn't work, message your seller. I've bought quite a few components from ebay, and all the sellers have been very easy to work with. They care about their ratings, and will work with you to keep them. Easy peasy, right?
Step 4: Wrapping the Wire
This is a rather simple, yet time consuming step. Here, begin to wrap the EL wire around your pole. I chose to do a simple, tight wrap, but you can wrap it any which way you'd like, as long as it's secure.
To start, I secured the beginning of my EL wire with a bit of black electrical tape, and continued to wrap from there. It took around 15 minutes to finish.
If you hand more wire, or several poles, I'd insert the tip of the ski pole into a drill, tighten the chuck, and feed the EL wire onto the pole. Of course, please be careful.
Step 5: Finishing the Wrap
After I finished wrapping the main portion, I closed it off with a wrap of clear scotch tape, then a wrap of black electrical tape.This ensures the EL wire won't come loose flying down the slopes.
I then wrapped the remaining 50cm or so of wire around the rest of the pole, spacing it roughly evenly.
Finally, I wrapped the end of the EL wire with scotch tape several times. Packing tape could also be used.
Step 6: Inverter Placement
Pick an ergonomic spot for your hand. I have fairly large hands, so the bulkiness wasn't really an issue. I wrapped the inverter in black electrical tape, taking care to make sure it's snug on the handle. Also, I covered the LED, as I found it annoying. I've placed mine so it's easy to click the button on and off.
However if the bulkiness bothers you, you might consider drilling out the handle, and placing the inverter inside. If I had access to a 3D printer, I'd redesign the hand to include the inverter, batteries, and grip in a much more ergonomic and compact package.
If you do design a handle, shoot me an email and I'd be happy to include it.
Step 7: Finished!
This image was taken under some 60W bulbs - It's reasonably bright, but can't realistically compete with the sun. It's fairly unobtrusive when it's off, making it perfect for a full day of skiing, and I think it looks pretty cool. On a side note, it's important to consider two things when building this - the sun and water. Being in the sun won't do wonders for EL wire, and may decrease its life. This depends on what voltage it's being driven at, how long it's out for, etc. Higher voltage will produce a brighter light, but decrease the wire's lifespan. On the other hand, water and electronics obviously do not mix. Do your best to keep from submerging the inverter, and if you do, take care to seal it with silicone or something similar. Thanks, and have fun and be safe!
Step 8: Potential Improvements
There's a vast number of ways I could improve this design. Removing the rather clunky inverter and encasing it in the handle would be a good start that could solve the waterproofing problem. An 18650 Li-Ion could be substituted into the handle, with appropriate charge circuitry, to vastly improve the already pretty good battery life. Doing that would mean redesigning the inverter to deal with a different voltage, a doable task. However, a redesign would provide better flexibility in component layout, in order to deal with the odd form factor a ski pole presents. I'm a high schooler, and would greatly appreciate feedback. Vote! Thanks!
Bonus pics of the inverter