Just in time for Hanukkah, this is a "circles of colors" pie tin menorah: a DIY holiday decoration powered by the wildly fun GE G-35 iTwinkle color changing LED lights. The menorah is a companion project to my pie tin Christmas tree Instructable, using all of the same ideas. But instead of one white star, the menorah has nine candle flames. Managing these flickering flames is the Deluxe Electronic LED Menorah Kit from EvilMadScientist.com. What results is a dazzling and colorful 2-in-1 light show that can dance with the music of your choice. The GE iTwinkle lights are iPhone or (or Android) Bluetooth controlled with a color wheel and various pre-programmed light shows, so give your kids the "steering" wheel to have loads of fun with this festive menorah. Although the menorah is intended as an outside decoration, it's so much fun, you just might want to keep a spare inside!
Be sure to check out the YouTube video (above) to see the Pie Tin Menorah in full color/sound animation..
GE iTwinkle G35 Lights* (36 count)
Deluxe Electronic Breadboard Menorah Kit (EvilMadScientist.com)
9 x 9-inch Pie Tins (Hefty or Reynolds E-Z Foil Pie Pan)
2 x 10-inch Pie Tins (Hefty or Reynolds E-Z Foil Pie Pan)
8 x 5-inch Pot Pie Tins (Handi-Foil Corp) (at Wegman's)
4x4-ft Pegboard Base (and blue spray paint)
9 Piranha 5-mm White square LED's (Amazon.com)
9 Ambient Light Sensors 5-mm (Radio Shack)
Radio Shack supplies (555 Timer IC, Intercom wire, PCBoard)
Drill with 1" Spade bit
X-Acto knife or equivalent
Black electrical tape
Double-stick foam tape
Yellow Sharpie Marker
Silicon Conformal Coating
- Any of the GE G35 color changing lights strings may be used (25,36, or 50-count)
- Please refer to my Pie Tin Christmas tree Instructable as a reference
Step 1: Prepare Pie Tins
The menorah structure comprises 9x9-inch pie tins with 2x10-inch pie tins for artistic effect.
The menorah flames are represented by 5-inch pot pie tins. These are shaped by hand to look a little more like candle flames. For these flame pie tins, the 1-inch hole is positioned little below top dead center.
Finally we have the major center flame, called the shamash or lighting candle. Use your imagination to create your own unique shamash by cutting up round pie tins, and using foil duct tape to re-shape like a flame. I wish I could say that no pie tins were harmed during the creation of this project, but it would not be true!
Using an X-Acto knife or equivalent, put a 1-inch diameter hole in the center of each pie tin. It turns out that a $1-dollar U.S. coin (about 1-inch in diameter) can be used as a cutting guide.
Step 2: Purchase GE G35 ITwinkle (or Color Effects) Lights
This project is based on the GE iTwinkle 36-count color changing light string. Lowes has been selling these for $69. See the website iTwinkleLight.com for more information. The iTwinkle lights are controlled by Bluetooth (via iPhone, iPad, or Android). If you do not have a smart phone, you can also use the GE G35 Color Effects light strings (25 or 50 count).
This project uses a total of 20 lights out of the 36 available lights on the iTwinkle string. The spirit of this project is to use the pre-programmed GE light shows "out-of-box" without any software re-programming (which some advanced users are doing).
Selection of the optimum 20 lights to use is part of the "secret" to this project (see wiring diagram later).
Also appended is a suggested wiring diagram for the 25-count GE Color Effects light string. In general, I am pleased with the 25-count GE string light show in the earlier 12-pie tin Christmas tree project, but the 36-light iTwinkle string is absolutely fantastic for the menorah's 20-pie tin light show.
Step 3: Construct Menorah-Shaped Base Board
For this project, the GE lights and pie tins will be mounted on a base board shaped like a menorah made from a 4x4-ft sheet of peg board.
As shown in the layout guide provided above, the 9-inch and 10-inch pie tins are spaced horizontally on 9-in centers, and each row is centered 9-inches above the next row (the larger 10-inch pie tins are shown above in yellow). There is one exception to the 9-inch spacing rule: the bottom pie tin (10-inch size) is spaced at 10-inches. Interestingly, the GE light spacing is apparently slightly over 10-inches, allowing just enough slack for this 10-inch spacing.
The central upper 10-inch pie tin (below the central shamash lighter flame) overlaps slightly the adjacent 9-inch pie tins for artistic effect. The rims of the adjacent 9-inch pie tins must be very slightly trimmed to allow this overlap to appear natural.
The candle flames (eight 5-inch pie tins) are centered at 8-inches above the larger pie tins below. they are spaced 5-inches apart horizontally on each side.
The central lighter candle (the shamash) is centered 2-inch above the smaller candle flames and 6-inches away horizontally.
The project requires a total of 20x1-inch holes for the GE bulbs, with 11 holes for the menorah and 9 holes representing candle flames. These holes are easily drilled with a 1-inch spade bit in a drill.
Consideration must also be given to a method for hanging or mounting the tree. One approach is to hang the menorah from a thin rope. In this approach, a small wood block can be secured to the rear of the base board to provide a place to mount an eye hook for attaching the rope.
Finally, you will probably want to paint the wood base with blue spray paint for waterproofing and Hanukkah holiday tradition.
Step 4: Remove the Clear Plastic Bulbs From the GE Lights
IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE:
From this point forward, this project does involve some dis-assembly and hacking of the GE lights. There is some potential for breakage and general electronics wiring safety issues. Therefore, if you are constructing this project, proceed at your own risk. The pie tin Christmas tree and Hanukkah menorah have been running well so far in my house.
As before, the next step is to remove all of the clear plastics bulbs from the 36 lights.
The GE bulbs are not designed with an easy screw fitting (to disassemble). So this is where the hacking begins. I have previously described the technique for using a DIY bulb extraction tool made out of peg board (see photos above and also see the Pie Tin Christmas Tree Instructable).
My bulb extraction technique has been improved to prevent any damage to the bulbs or fixtures, as follows: first twist each bulb a little while holding the green base, to loosen the bulbs a little bit. Then using a toothpick, put a very tiny drop of baby oil (e.g.; Johnson's) in the crevice between the green base and the clear bulb. Again twist the bulb and you will feel the lubrication has made it easier to twist the bulb. Now use the bulb extraction tool, and I found the bulbs snapped out quite easily. Now wipe the bulb base to remove any excess oil. DO NOT SUBSTITUTE for the baby oil unless you know what you are doing chemically, because the clear bulbs appear to be made out of polystyrene which is attacked by some solvents.
When you get the hang of it, remove all of the bulbs. Remember that you can practice on the 16 bulb positions that are not used in the menorah display.
Note: A totally "non-destructive" alternative option is to re-shape the 1-inch holes in the menorah base just like the special slots in bulb extraction tool. This would allow inserting the GE light fixtures in the base board without taking the bulbs apart at all. The pie tins would be cut with a little flap to allow inserting over the bulbs. Foil duct tape would then be used to tape down the flap. This might be a preferred option for future pie tin projects, but the current project is still based on the idea of removing the bulbs.
Step 5: Add an LED to the 9 Bulbs Representing Candle Flames
The pie tin Christmas Instructable shows how to make an animated white star for the top of the tree. The star consists of a GE bulb hacked with a new gizmo tentatively called a "GE Light Thief". The GE light thief is a light-activated LED placed inside the clear GE bulbs. This is possible because the clear GE bulbs are completely empty, being lit from below by tiny surface mounted RGB LEDs, protected by a clear plastic "lens" cover. The GE bulbs by design also contain two small "weep" holes, which provide a way to get lead wires inside the bulbs.
The pie tin menorah relies much more heavily on this "light thief" idea, since we have nine preferably yellow candle flames to manage during the eight days of Hanukkah.
To achieve desired brightness in yellow color, I decided to use 5-mm square Piranha white LEDs. The LEDs were colored yellow by hand, by several coatings of yellow Sharpie pen and silicon conformal coating fluid. These LEDs are available from Amazon.com at low cost (50 count for under $10).
As shown, the light thief consists of a simple LED/ambient light sensor "sandwich" on a small round PC board. The small round PCBoard is available from Radio Shack, but for this quantity, I ended up cutting out my own small round PCBoard from larger PCboards. The 5-mm Ambient Light Sensors are from Radio Shack.
As shown above, the completed assembly is small enough to fit inside the clear GE bulbs, and is secured to the clear lens in the base of the GE light by three layers of "donut"-shaped double-sided foam tape. The "donut" hole allows the light from the GE RGB LED's to hit the ambient light sensor, to activate the light thief's yellow LED.
The desired effect is that the menorah flames will fade and brighten in coordination with the GE iTwinkle light show as it fades and brightens. Secondarily, the ambient light sensor increases resistance in the circuit to preserve battery life and help prevent the yellow LED's from burning too brightly. Additional resistance is provided in the control circuit to be discussed next.
The other desired effect is that the "light thiefs" dim - but do not eliminate - the normal RGB colored light show coming from the GE lights. As such the modified bulbs are capable of double duty, essentially allowing two light shows at the same time.
The completed light thief assembly's metal wire/solder joints should be coated with silicon conformal coating for weather proofing considerations.
We end up with nine LED-modified GE bulbs each with lead wires looking for power and logic control.
Step 6: Prepare Menorah Controller Breadboard
To manage the nine menorah flames, I decided to use the Deluxe LED Menorah available from the EvilMadScientist.com website. Of course the candles are lit up in the correct traditional order: the center shamash flame is lit first, the right-most candle is lit for Day-1, each successive day is added to the left and lit from left to right. The low cost kit (approx. $15) comes in regular or breadboard style. Both styles are pictured above.
The pie tin menorah uses the breadboard style. It's basically a pre-programmed (open access) ATiny2313 chip. Pressing the push button advances the menorah manually to the next day (lights another candle flame). Also turning off the power advances the menorah one day. Holding down the push button for about 2-secs gives the user four styles of candle light:
- Flickering light - dim
- Flickering light- bright
- Steady light - dim
- Steady light - bright
I have inserted a 555 Timer on a 20-second on/off 50/50% cycle to create a menorah light show, advancing one day every 20-secs or so. My timer circuit is a low power 555 IC from Radio Shack with 1M and 1K ohm resistors, and a 22uF capacitor.
I am powering with 4xAA batteries in a battery holder from Radio Shack. My design criterion for safety is that the light thief LED's must be cold - no heat generated. Therefore I am recommending each candle flame should have a 200-ohm resistor in the LED circuit (9x200 ohms resistors). Use of the flickering function, 555 Timer and ambient light sensor dimming all keep the light thief LEDs cool because the LEDs never shine full-out.
Note that the ambient light sensors seem to provide >500 ohms resistance even in the brightest condition on the GE bulbs (steady white color).
Interestingly, the power output from the ATiny2313 chip appears to be tiny pulses (PWM). Thus the LED menorah flames never dim completely even when the GE iTwinkle light show dims completely. Thus we have everlasting candle flames (assuming the user replaces the batteries!).
Step 7: Assemble the Lights on the Menorah Base
A wiring diagram is provided above for the iTwinkle lights 36-count string.
The unused bulb-less light fixtures can be covered over with black electrical tape at this point.
Next assemble the lights in the menorah base board as follows: first place the bulb base though the hole in the pie tin, then through the hole in the board, and then snap the bulb back into the appropriate socket on the GE light string.
At this point, you may find a loose fit of the lights, because space available in the the bulb fixture is a bit wider than the 1/4-inch peg board. To take up this slack, cardboard spacers can be used behind the board to give the lights a tighter fit. For waterproofing, cover the cardboard spacers with duck tape, or alternatively cut the spacers out of corrugated plastic "cardboard" sheets (e.g.; available from HomeDepot).
OK now plug it in and give the menorah test drive on your smart phone device. Better yet, let your kids or grandkids have the iPhone. They will have blast changing this lively menorah's colors!