Introduction: Parts and Crafts LED Lightsaber
Parts and Crafts is a community hackerspace in Somerville Massachusetts. We build stuff with kids! If you like this project, check out our project and kit development Kickstarter where you can sign up to get kits or just support our work and project development and documentation.
This is a simple LED-lit DIY lightsaber -- it is made of PVC and polycarbonate tubing, and uses a magnet and a reed switch to switch the LEDs off and on. It's pretty easy to make, reasonably robust, and looks great!
Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.
Step 1: What You Need
If you get your kit from us, you will have the following prepared materials. Notes on how to prepare them yourself are in the next steps.
The Handle + Blade
1) An 8" long piece of 3/4" diameter schedule 40 PVC pipe with two 1.5" long cuts at right angles to each other made on one of the ends. -- http://www.homedepot.com/p/JM-eagle-3-4-in-x-10-ft...
2) A 1.5" long piece of 1" diameter schedule 40 PVC pipe with a cut made through one side. -- http://www.homedepot.com/p/1-in-x-10-ft-PVC-Schedu...
3) A 3/4" piece of 1" diameter schedule 40 PVC pipe with a cut made through one side and a 3/8" hole drilled into the other side. -- http://www.homedepot.com/p/1-in-x-10-ft-PVC-Schedu...
4) A 1.25" piece of 1/2" diameter schedule 40 PVC pipe with a cut made through one side. -- http://www.homedepot.com/p/1-2-in-x-10-ft-600-PSI-...
5) A 3/4" PVC end-cap -- http://www.homedepot.com/p/DURA-3-4-in-Schedule-40...
6) A 22" long 5/8" outer diameter, 1/2" inner diameter polycarbonate tube, with one end closed. -- http://www.usplastic.com/catalog/item.aspx?itemid=...
1) 2 AA batteries -- https://smile.amazon.com/AmazonBasics-Performance-...
2) A 2xAA battery holder -- 4.25" long and 3/4" wide, this battery pack fits inside the 3/4" PVC. The wire leads are 6" long and we have attached female quick-disconnect terminals to the ends. -- http://www.mouser.com/search/ProductDetail.aspx?R=...
3) A reed switch plus a 4" length of wire. We have soldered the wire to one side of the reed switch, and attached a female quick disconnect terminal to the other end of this wire, as well as a male quick-disconnect terminal on the other side of the reed switch. -- http://www.mouser.com/search/ProductDetail.aspx?R=...
4) A strand of LEDs soldered in parallel -- 22 inches long with 1 LED per inch. We order these in bulk from a distributor in China who makes toy LED swords. The easiest way to get one of these strands without ordering 1000 of them is to purchase a cheap LED sword and take it apart. The least wasteful way is to solder them all together yourself. http://smile.amazon.com/Fun-Central-X552-Light-Sab... or http://smile.amazon.com/Chanzon-100pcs-Emitting-Gr...
5) A 1/4" translucent diffusing tube to hold the LED strand. We get this along with the LED strands from China. If you take apart an LED sword you'll find one of these. Otherwise a bunch of drinking straws will do in a pinch.
Step 2: Prepping the Kit: Cut PVC to Length
What to Use?
In order to cut PVC to length, we use a ratcheting PVC pipe cutter, like this one -- https://smile.amazon.com/Cobra-Products-PST002-Ratcheting-Cutter/dp/B000HSAPR8/
You can also use almost any kind of hand saw. This combination mitre box and saw is entirely adequate -- https://smile.amazon.com/Stanley-20-600-Clamping-Mitre-Box/dp/B00002X232/ -- and using a mitre box will probably be helpful.
In order to make other cuts, you will probably need to use a saw of some kind. PVC is quite soft and relatively easy to cut, so almost any hand (or power) saw will do, as long as you are reasonably careful and can effectively clamp your work. We use a band saw to make these cuts in our woodshop.
Cut your PVC to length
You will need to cut out of schedule 40 PVC pipe:
1x8" length of 3/4" diameter PVC
1x1.5" length of 1" diameter PVC
1x 3/4" length of 1" diameter PVC
1x 1.25" length of 1/2" diameter PVC
Step 3: Prepping the Kit: Cut Slots in PVC
What to use?
You can cut slots in the PVC pipe with either a handsaw of almost any kind or a ratcheting PVC pipe cutter. You can also use a variety of power tools, with appropriate precautions.
What to cut?
You will need to to these lateral slots in both of your 1.25" PVC lengths as well as in your 1/2" PVC length.
Why do we make these cuts?
The goal of these cuts is to allow us to pull the PVC lengths apart slightly so that the 1.25" diameter lengths can fit around the 3/4" diameter handle and so that the 1/2" diameter PVC can fit around the polycarbonate tube blade.
Step 4: Prepping the Kit: Cut Slots in End of Handle
What to Cut?
Using a saw, you will want to cut 2 slots into the top of the lightsaber handle, about 1.5" deep, 90" rotated from each other. This will divide the top of the handle into 4 approximately equal-sized sections that can fold in or out.
By cutting these two slits into the handle, we can pull apart and expand the top section of the handle to allow the polycarbonate tube blade with the 1/2" PVC collar to fit snugly inside, as shown in the image above.
Step 5: Prepping the Kit: Drill Hole to Make Magnet-Holder
What Should I Use?
For this step you can use almost any kind of drill. PVC pipe is quite soft and easy to drill into.
Where to Drill?
Drill a 5/8" holeinto the1.25" long length of 3/4" diameter PVC. Drill the whole so that it is opposite the slot on the other side.
This hole will allow you to put the 5/8" neodymium magnet inside, and will turn this piece into a magnet holder that can slide up and down the handle of the lightsaber. By moving the magnet up and down the handle of our lightsaber, we will turn the reed switch, which controls the LEDs, off and on.
Step 6: Prepping the Kit: Pry Apart the Slotted PVC Collars
What Am I Doing?
In order to have the slotted PVC collars fit easily around the pieces we want them around, we will need to pull them apart a bit more. By further separating the collars and enlarging the slots we can more easily fit them around the PVC handle and polycarbonate blade.
What Should I Use?
This can be done with two pairs of pliers and a lot of force, but it's a lot easier if you heat the PVC pipe first.
We heat the PVC pipe with a heat gun in our shop because it's a bit faster, but you can actually just use a hairdryer on high heat. The hairdryer won't get the pipe hot enough to melt (which is good!), but it will soften it enough to bend it more easily.
We use a heat gun like this -- https://smile.amazon.com/Wagner-0503008-HT1000-200...
But you can use pretty much any cheap hairdryer, like this: https://smile.amazon.com/Conair-1875-Watt-Hair-Dry...
Even at the relatively low temperatures of a hair dryer, you should still only heat plastic with adequate ventilation. Outdoors, or somewhere with a lot of air flow. And of course remember that things that you've heated up are hot! Always use pliers to handle hot things.
Step 7: Prepping the Kit: Close End of Polycarbonate Blade
What Am I Doing?
We want to prevent the plastic diffusive tube from coming out of the front of the lightsaber when you swing it, and also to make sure that the front of the blade doesn't have any sharp edges that could accidentally hurt someone in a duel.
What Should I Use?
To do this, we use a heat gun to melt and fold closed the top of the polycarbonate tube. You could also do a number of other things -- sand the sharp edges down and then tape off the end, or fill it with hot-glue, for instance.But we find that we can get it to look pretty good by folding it in with the heat gun.
It's hard to describe exactly how to do this -- you want to keep the tube moving while you are heating it, so it heats evenly. Once it's hot enough to bend, you can use a pair of pliers to pinch the front shut, and then fold the two sides over in on themselves. If you mess it up you can always cut the part you ruined off the end and try again.
Remember, heat guns are hot and melting plastic is poisonous. Use adequate ventilation and be careful not to burn yourself.
Step 8: Prepping the Kit: Prep the Electronics
What Am I Doing?
For our kit, we have prepared all of the electronics components by attaching quick-disconnect terminals to them so that people without soldering irons can easily put the kits together.
If you are building the project yourself, your best bet is to solder the connections together. If you don't want to do that, you can crimp on quick disconnect terminals like we have, or you can simply wrap the wires together tightly to hold them steady.
How To Attach Wires Without Soldering
There are lots of different ways to connect wires without soldering -- a full explanation of how to do that is beyond the scope of this instructable. But a simple technique for twisting wires together can be found here.
If you are going to use quick-disconnect terminals, a short and good guide for crimping them can be found here. Though we recommend using a ratcheting wire crimper like this one -- https://smile.amazon.com/Titan-Tools-11477-Ratcheting-Terminal/dp/B0069TRKJ0
We use 22-180 guage, .250" width, 0.032" thickness "red" terminals from McMaster-Carr. You can order them here.
What To Attach
If you are using quick-disconnects, and you want your kit to agree with our instructions, you will want to attach the following:
2x Male terminals on the 2 ends of the LED strand
1x Male terminal on one end of the reed switch
2x Female terminals on the positive and negative leads on the battery pack
1x Female terminal attached to an approximately 4" length of wire, with the other end connected to the reed switch
Step 9: Building the Kit: Put the Batteries in the Battery Pack
What to Do
The first thing we need to do is to put the batteries in the battery pack.
Make sure to put the batteries in the correct way -- with the flat (-) sides up towards the spring and the black wire.
Our LED strand needs about 3 volts to light up, so we use a battery pack which holds 2 1.5 volt AA batteries together in series.
Step 10: Building the Kit: Test the LED Strand
What To Do
Your LED strand has 2 terminals. Your battery pack has 2 terminals. Very gently and loosely connect the LED terminals to the battery pack terminals. If the LEDs light up when both connections are made, then you have the correct orientation. If they do not, try the other way.
LEDs are light-emitting diodes. This means that they only allow electrical current to flow through them in one direction.
You can also tell which side of the LED strand is the positive side by looking closely at the individual LEDs. LEDs will have two small pieces of metal inside of them connected to the two leads. The positive lead will generally be a longer leg on the outside connected to a smaller piece of metal on the inside, and vice-versa for the negative lead.
When you are testing, make sure that the metal parts of the separate connections don't accidentally touch -- if they do, you will cause a short circuit, the LEDs will not turn on, and the whole thing will begin to heat up.
If you can't get the LEDs to light up, no matter which side you make the connections on, check the following:
1) Make sure your batteries are in correctly
2) Check for a short-circuit. The whole circuit basically has two sides -- power and ground. The red wire + positive leg of each LED make up one side. The black wire + the negative leg of each LED make up the other. If any part of the positive side of the circuit is touching any part of the negative side, you will have a short circuit. Make sure no LED legs are crossing in the strand, and that the terminals are separate from each other.
Step 11: Building the Kit: Attach the Reed Switch
How The Switch Works
Now your lightsaber should be lit up. This is great! But we don't want it to always be on. In order to control whether the circuit is off or on, we will use a special switch called a reed switch.
A reed switch is a magnetically controlled switch. It consists of two pieces of magnetic conductive material separated by an infinitesimal distance inside of a sealed chamber. When near a magnetic field, these pieces of material get pulled into contact with each other, connecting the two ends of the reed switch (and completing the circuit.)
What To Do
You should have a complete circuit with the red wire from your battery pack connected to the positive leg of the LED strand, and the black wire of your battery pack connected to the negative leg.
You will need to disconnect one of these connections. It doesn't matter which one, but the photographs in the instructions have us disconnecting the black wire, so it's easiest if you do that as well.
Once you've disconnected this wire, you'll have two free terminals, one male, one female, to attach the reed switch to. You want to attach the reed switch between these two terminals, so that the wire connected to the reed switch is attached to the LED strand and the other side of the reed switch is connected to the battery pack.
Step 12: Building the Kit: Test Your Circuit
The Final Circuit
This is a complete circuit, with a switch in the middle. If everything is behaving correctly, you should be able to turn the LEDs on by holding your magnet near the reed switch.
Your circuit should have one of the wires from the battery pack attached to your reed switch. There should be another length of wire coming from the other side of the reed switch and attaching to the LED strand. And the other side of the LED strand should be attached back to the battery pack.
If it doesn't work, try moving the magnet around the reed switch -- it might work better or worse from certain angles and distances.
If it still doesn't work, try taking the reed switch out and just reconnecting the LEDs straight to the battery pack. If this causes the LEDs to light up, plug the reed switch back in (careful to avoid short-circuits) and try again. If you do this a few times and it definitely doesn't work, then you probably have a broken reed switch and will need to replace it.
Otherwise the most likely culprits are the same as they were before -- misplaced batteries or a short circuit. Check for both of these problems. Remember that if your project doesn't work and starts to heat up significantly you almost certainly have a short circuit. If so, you should remove power immediately before searching for the short.
Step 13: Building the Kit: Affix Reed Switch to Battery Pack
Protecting the Reed Switch
The reed switch is a somewhat fragile part, and we want to make sure it isn't damaged inside the handle of our lightsaber when we swing it around. The best way to do this is to attach it to the battery pack. We do this with electrical tape, or a tiny bit of hot glue.
The reed switch consists of a black plastic enclosure with two metal leads coming off of each side. The battery pack has 2 wire holders molded into it -- small clips on the back side which can be used to guide the wires.
Where to Attach
You will want to attach the reed switch so that the metal lead attached to the wire (which is attached to the LED strand) is placed inside the wire holder nearest the LEDs. It will not fit snugly, but you can line up the plastic enclosure so that it touches the wire holder.
Tape It Down
Once you've positioned the reed switch, you will want to tape it down. Tape it in two spots -- around the point where the wire and the reed switch lead are soldered together, and around the middle. If it feels lose, feel free to tape it on the other side as well.
We have three goals here. We want to cover up the small amounts of exposed metal in the connections to prevent short-circuits. We want to anchor the reed switch in two places to the battery pack so that it can't rotate or be easily bent or twisted inside of the lightsaber handle. And we want to make sure that the leads of the reed switch are up against the back of the battery holder so they cannot be bent.
Bending the reed switch leads is the easiest way to break the reed switch.
Step 14: Building the Kit: Prepare Blade to Fit in Handle
Assembling the Blade
The polycarbonate tube will be the "blade" of the lightsaber. The LED strand, inside of a smaller, diffusive plastic tube, will fit inside the polycarbonate tubing. The bottom of the polycarbonate tube will fit into the 3/4" diameter PVC handle.
The problem is that the polycarbonate tubing is too small to fit snugly into the PVC. In order to have it snugly held in the handle, we will attach a short length of 1/2" diameter PVC around the bottom of the blade to increase its diameter.
What To Do
The further problem here is that the 1/2" PVC is not large enough to fit around the polycarbonate tubing. We have cut a slot in the 1/2" PVC which allows you to pull the pipe apart and fit it snugly around the polycarbonate.
This might be a little bit tricky, but you can do it, and once you do you will want to align the bottom of the polycarbonate tube with the bottom of the PVC so that they are flush.
Step 15: Building the Kit: Slide Magnet Holder Onto Handle
Assembling the Handle
The handle of the lightsaber will consist of the 8" length of 3/4" diameter PVC with two 1" diameter PVC collars slipped around it
The larger collar will function as a clamp to hold the blade in place.
The Magnet Holder
The second, smaller of these collars has a hole drilled in it. This is the magnet-holder and slider. This will fit on the handle and be able to slide up and down freely. By moving the slider up and down we will move the magnet around the handle. The proximity of the magnet to the reed switch on the battery pack inside of the handle will determine whether the lightsaber is off or on.
What To Do
It is significantly easier to put these collars on from the top side of the handle with the slits cut into it, because you can fold these slits inward to fit the collars around it. Because of this, we will put the collars on first before we insert the blade.
Start by sliding the magnet holder onto the handle and then most of the way down.
Step 16: Building the Kit: Slide Larger 1" Collar Onto Handle
What To Do
Next you'll slide the larger 1" diameter PVC length down the handle. This larger length will function as a clamp to hold the polycarbonate blade in place.
Step 17: Building the Kit: Insert Blade Into Handle
Connect the Blade
Now you can insert the polycarbonate tube blade into the PVC handle. The slits which separate the top of the PVC handle can be pushed or pried open so that you can fit the collar into the handle.
Push the blade+collar down into the handle so that the collar on the blade is at least flush with, and possibly a tiny bit below, the top of the handle.
Step 18: Building the Kit: Secure Blade in Handle
Now you can slide the larger PVC collar up to the top of the handle so that it covers the joint between the handle and the blade and clamps it down firmly.
Slide the magnet holder up to the top as well.
Step 19: Building the Kit: Tape the Circuit
Now that we've built the circuit and the handle, it's time to combine them! But first, before we do that, we need to prepare the circuit by covering up all of our exposed metal connections with a little bit of vinyl electrical tape. This will prevent the connections from accidentally touching each other and causing a short-circuit when we insert the circuit into the handle.
Where to Tape?
The two connections that you will need to tape up are the quick disconnect terminals where the LED strand attaches to the battery pack and reed switch.
Step 20: Building the Kit: Combine Circuit and Body
Insert the Blade into the Handle
Now we need to slide the whole circuit into the lightsaber body through the bottom of the handle.
When you are sliding the battery pack into the handle, be careful with reed switch -- it should fit in snugly without you having to use too much force.
Push the battery pack in as far as it can easily go.
If you find that the red insulation on the quick disconnect terminal extends too far from the body of the battery pack to fit into the handle, you can gently smoosh it a bit, using your fingers or a pair of pliers. You should not need to smoosh it very much at all.
Step 21: Building the Kit: Cap the Handle
Loose Battery Pack?
The battery pack should fit in quite snugly. Even so, you might find that it can move around slightly inside the handle. This will move the reed switch around and make it harder for you to know where the magnet needs to be to turn the lightsaber on.
What To Do
In order to prevent the battery pack and reed switch from sliding down the handle, you can fill the space at the bottom of the handle with a few pieces of ripped and crumpled-up paper.
After you do this, put the PVC endcap on the bottom to close the handle.
Step 22: Building the Kit: Calibrate Your Magnet Slider
This next step is a bit fiddly -- be patient and you can make it work!
How It Works
We now have the circuit of our lightsaber safe and snug inside the body. We have a sliding magnet-holder that we can rotate and slide up and down the handle.
Place Magnet in Holder
The next step is to insert the magnet into the hole in the magnet-holder and figure out a good spot for it to live.
Because of very small irregularities in the size of the magnets and the holes we've drilled, sometimes your magnet will fit perfectly snugly into the hole in the magnet holder. Sometimes it will want to fall out. If it wants to fall out, you can hold it in place with a small piece of tape.
Find the On/Off Spot
Once the magnet is in the holder, you will want to slowly slide and rotate the magnet holder up and down the handle. You will find a bunch of spots where it turns on and off. You will want to find a spot where it is on, but turns off with a rotation or a very small amount of up and down movement. This is where the magnet holder is going to sit on the handle.
Step 23: Building the Kit: Tape the Handle
This next step is entirely optional, but we find it to be an easy and pretty nice looking way to limit the area of motion of the slider.
Find the "Off" Spot
Now that the lightsaber is on and can be turned off with a very small motion, slide the magnet holder ever so slightly up or down the handle so that the lights turn off.
Tape the Handle
Using a bit of electrical tape, wrap the handle so that the slider cannot move any further in that direction.
If you slid the slider up the handle to turn the blade off, wrap from the top of the slider to the collar around the blade. If you slid the slider down the handle, wrap from the bottom of the slider to the endcap.
Find the "On" Spot
Now slide the slider back so that the blade is on again. Wrap the other section of the handle in tape.
You should have a small area bracketed in black electrical tape where the magnet holder can slide up and down to easily turn the lightsaber off and on.
Step 24: Build a Kit: Test Your Lightsaber
You should be able to turn the lightsaber off and on by twisting the handle slightly. Awesome!
Step 25: Building the Kit: Sand the Blade
You're pretty much done!
What To Do
There's one more optional step you can do that we think looks quite nice. The blade of your lightsaber is a length of clear polycarbonate tube. Inside of the tube you can see the inner tube and the LED strand, and it's relatively apparent that the blade consists of a number of discrete LEDs.
In order to mask this, and make the blade look more like a continuous light, you can sand the outside of the polycarbonate tube. By sanding the tube you create lots of tiny scratches and abrasions that reflect the light in lots of different directions when it hits the edge. This makes the tube translucent instead of transparent and diffuses the light from the LEDs more evenly.
See the photos for a comparison.