Laser Spirograph

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About: My name is Randy and I am a Community Manager in these here parts. In a previous life I had founded and run the Instructables Design Studio (RIP) @ Autodesk's Pier 9 Technology Center. I'm also the author ...

Break out your Pink Floyd albums, because it is time for you to have your own personal laser show. In fact, it cannot be stressed enough just how much "awesome" you are getting out of such an easy to build device. Watching the patterns spiral out of this little box onto a large wall is much more mesmerizing than it really has any right to be. Most people of the people form whom I demonstrated this for have agreed that they could probably watch the laser patterns dance all day without getting board. I can only imagine how your cat might respond. There is only one way for you to find out! You're going to have to build one.

Step 1: Go Get Stuff

You will need:

- (x4) Paint storage cups
- (x3) 1" round mirrors
- Project Enclosure (7x5x3") (Model: 270-1807 | Catalog #: 270-1807)
- (x3) 1.5-3VDC Metal Gear Motor (Model: 273-258 | Catalog #: 273-258)
- (x3) 25-Ohm 3-Watt Rheostat (Model: 271-265 | Catalog #: 271-265)
- Pen-Style Laser Pointer (No model information available | Catalog #: 63-1064)
- DPDT Submini Toggle Switch (Model: 275-614 | Catalog #: 275-614)
- Enclosed 2 "AA" Battery Holder (Model: 270-408 | Catalog #: 270-408)
- 2 "AAA" Battery Holder (Model: 270-398 | Catalog #: 270-398)
- (x3) Hexagonal Control Knob with Aluminum Insert (Model: 274-415 | Catalog #: 274-415)
- Enercell® "AA" Alkaline Batteries (4-Pack) (Model: AA-4PK | Catalog #: 23-849)
- Enercell® "AAA" Alkaline Batteries (4-Pack) (Model: AAA 4-PK | Catalog #: 23-850)
- Assorted short zip ties

Step 2: Mark

Lay a motor flat on top of one of the paint storage cup lide. Make two marks on each side of the motor.

Repeat for the remaining two pairs of motors and cups.

Step 3: Drill

Drill through all of the marks that you have just made with a 1/8" drill bit.

Step 4: Zip Tie

Using the holes that you have just drilled, firmly zip tie the motors to the paint cup lids such that the gears stick out over the edge of the cup.

Step 5: Attach Mirrors

Hot glue the mirrors to the center of each of the motor's gear. Try to center the mirror, but don't worry about getting it completely perfect. It is these minor imperfections that will later help form the spirograph's unique display.

Step 6: Attach Wires

Solder a red wire to the terminal of the motor labeled "+" and black wire to the terminal labeled "-".

Step 7: Insert

Hot glue the motors into the center of the case such that two are side by side and one is opposite and centered between them. Basically, the laser will later need to bounce between them in a zig-zag. That said, it helps to have this entire arrangement turned at a slight angle within the case.

Step 8: Take Apart

Using two pair of pliers, gently twist and wobble the silver laser diode head (and board) free from the laser pen's black casing.

Step 9: Wires

Cut 6" of red wire. Expose 1" of this wire and wrap it around the gold ring on the laser diode assembly's body and solder the ring closed to make contact

Carefully solder a 6" black wire to the right terminal of a small surface mount component (assuming the two surface mount transistors are pointing up) on the side of the board opposite the switch to bypass having to press the switch to activate the laser.

Step 10: Pots

Solder 6" red wires the right terminal lug of the 25 ohm rheostat potentiometers.

Solder the red motor wires to the center terminals of each potentiometer, such that it is one motor to one potentiometer.

Step 11: Switch

Solder a red wire from either of the battery holders to one of the center pins on the switch. Solder the other red wire from the other battery holder to the adjacent pin.

Next, solder the three free red wires from the potentiometers to one of the outer pins adjacent to the red wire from the AA battery holder.

Finally, solder the red wire from the laser adjacent to the red wires from the potentiometers.

Step 12: Ground Wires

Solder the black wire from the laser to the black wire from the AAA battery holder.

Solder the black wires from the motors to the black wire from the AA battery holder.

Step 13: Cut

Saw away a 2" - 3" section of the case where you are expecting the red laser to pass through after it bounces off the final mirror.

Step 14: Drill

On one side of the lid, make three equally space marks at 1.25", 2.5" and 3.75".

Drill through these marks with a 3/8" drill bit.

Consider making secondary 1/8" holes for the potentiometer mounting tab roughly 3/16" to the left of each hole. These will allow the potentiometer to lay flat and keep it from spinning once mounted in the case.

Step 15: Mount

Insert your potentiometers into the case and firmly secure them in place with their mounting nut.

Step 16: Batteries

Insert batteries into the battery holder. You should now be able to turn everything on and off using the switch.

Step 17: Switch

Drill a 1/4" hole on the side of the case where you expect your potentiometers to be (ideally opposite from where you sawed away a section of the case).

Mount the power switch into this hole.

Step 18: Position and Glue

Hot glue the laser the top of the remaining paint storage cup.

Position it inside the case such that is will bounce off all three mirrors and then pass through the section of the casing that you have cut away.

Once you are happy with its position, glue the cup in place inside the casing.

Step 19: Fine Tune

Stick your hand or a piece of paper in front of the hole in the side of the case. Swivel the motors and the laser until the image appears centered.

If it is hitting the side walls of the case, you may want to consider widening the hole.

Step 20: Clean It Up

Zip ties all of the wires neatly together so that when you close the case they won't be going all over the place and can't interfere with the motors spinning or the laser beam shining.

Secure the battery holders inside of the case.

Step 21: Case Closed

Put the lid onto the case and secure it in place with the mounting screws.

Step 22: Finishing Touch

Affix your pointer knobs to the potentiometers.

3 People Made This Project!

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49 Discussions

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SympanS

1 year ago

Hello, first of all interesting project!

Secondly.. What is I use a 9V battery(or 2) instead of the AAA?

Then is there any problem or difference if I use 20 Kohm pots? This is only because I have them available so I can spend less :))

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randofoSympanS

Reply 1 year ago

Yes. Motors are rated at different voltages. 1 AAA battery is equal to 1.5V. When you put two in series it is equal to 3V.

A 9V battery is triple that amount. Two 9V batteries is 18V, which is way too much.

Besides, 9V batteries give you a higher voltage (which is not what you want in this case), but A-series batteries typically provide more current over time.

A 20K (20,000) ohm pot won't work. Anything more than 20-30 ohms will not work.

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jordomaller

4 years ago

is there a way to private chat on instructables I have a few questions

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djmelvinvelkaddalek

Reply 4 years ago

hi. in an old laser printer you will.find a hexagonal mirrored motor. point a laser pen on it and you have your scanning effect.

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elkaddalekdjmelvinv

Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

I found you can also make the same effect using a small spinning cube with glued hobby mirrors on it :)

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djmelvinvdjmelvinv

Reply 4 years ago

oh by the way donot used the laser from the printer itself it has also dangerous.infrared radiation. but about the motor type on the internet 'laserprinter mirror motor' and then images. you will fimd plenty of diy projects.

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charlie-lee-rhee

4 years ago

my box vibrates like hell. what do i do? i alreadt lifted the motor a bit, and put softeners around everything...

I work at Radioshack and I am reluctant to use one of our laser pointers for this project because I know I could find something better somewhere else. However I don't need anything expensive and I want to be sure it will work for this project. Does anyone have any suggestions for a good green or blue laser to use in this project? Model number or SKU would be nice, thanks.

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shaddoty

5 years ago on Introduction

Im working on a sound activated version by replacing one of the motors with a speaker and hooking it up to a microphone and an amplifier.

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mguima

6 years ago on Step 2

when I saw the paint storage cup I started wondering about how it would be used. Even a block of wood could be used for the same function.

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randofomguima

Reply 6 years ago on Step 2

The nice thing about using the cup is that the lids rotate and this allows for fine-tuned positioning of mirror alignment.

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ananda1

6 years ago on Introduction

How would one integrate a spirograph into a party SAFELY? Would you aim it at the air, a wall, the ground? Lawyers are expensive.

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randofoananda1

Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

I'm not a lawyer. I can't answer this question. ...but - perhaps - if you have to ask someone this question, you shouldn't do it.

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Wamafibglop

6 years ago on Introduction

The DPDT toggle switch I have, has two "on" settings I think. One for one load one for the other. Is it possible to use this in this circuit? This is the switch I got: http://www.toolking.com/gardner-bender-gsw-16-heavy-duty-toggle-switch?CAWELAID=1410642058

4 replies
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Wamafibgloprandofo

Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

Awesome! Thank you so much for such a prompt response! I'll post results when I finish.

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Nicapizza

6 years ago on Step 9

Just in case,what if the laser does not have a transistor there?