Introduction: Introducing ... DEATH-A-CORN!
Before I go into describing how to go about making your very own DEATH-A-CORN (TM) (or less flashily, Acorn-o-lantern, Jack-a-corn, Acornikin, etc.), I would like to direct your gaze to the somber piece just below the first image, a work I call “Still Life with Pumpkin, and Betrayal.” The day before I composed this shot, I took the following picture, in which you will see the happy feet of one of the Green children; the owner of these is busily picking out a pumpkin from a South Eastern U.S. "farm" not-to-be-named here. 24 hours later, and already rot has begun to break through the lie that was its once-firm and gleaming orange surface. The culprits? The sugars in its own watery heart, that rendered it so delectable to various and sundry micro-organisms.
Rather than wallow in despair, or curse the darkness, I chose to light a candle – of RIGHTEOUS WRATH! Faust-like, I repaired to my secret laboratory, nursing a wounded ego, and an indomitable will-to-power. For days I neither ate, nor drank, nor slept, but instead, worked out the details of my plan. After nearly a week of solitude, I emerged, emaciated, weary, but victorious …
Feel my wrath, oh shoddy-pumpkin-vending farm! Behold, the DEATH-A-CORN (TM)!
By the way, I've entered this in the Halloween Decor, Pumpkin and Make it Glow contests, so if you really want to show the bastards on the "pumpkin farms" what you think of their treachery, vote for me!
Later: YAY! I'm a Finalist in the Pumpkin Challenge! Thank you to everyone who voted for me!
Step 1: Preparations and Warnings!
To make your own DEATH-A-CORN (TM), you’ll need the following supplies:
An acorn – the more innocuous looking the better
An LED – of a color to inspire fear (generally a 3 volt type)
Two alkaline button cells (LR44 or equivalent) – to power the fear
A 10-ohm resistor – to protect the fear from power spikes (sort of optional)
A paper clip
A short piece of metal, roughly 1” X 1/3” – I used a piece of metal from a torn hanging file folder
Super glue (AKA Crazy Glue, AKA Gorilla Glue, AKA Loctite Professional, AKA Endurastick (I made that one up), AKA whatever late 1950s, Cyanoacrylate-based technology is being foisted upon us as “all new”)
Blister pack with flat sides (generally PET/PETE plastic) - the base or lid of a plastic cup will also work
A piece of paper (preferably white, or white-ish)
Something round made of either metal or glass (a glass ornament or an incandescent light bulb (NOT A CFL!!!! Sweet mother of God, please don’t!) both work)
You will also need the following tools:
Something sharp (I used one of the blades of a pair of scissors)
Something narrow and pointy (I used a sharpened paperclip)
A small file (you could feasibly use a rotary tool (kind of overkill), or a craft knife (kind of dangerous))
A soldering iron and electrical solder (lead-free)
Tin snips (kind of optional)
Not many. It’s an acorn. Um, don’t swallow it, or give it to anyone who might swallow it or anything inside it (small children plus button cells = bad). Also, if you’re severely allergic to tree pollen, you might want to give this one a miss. Let’s see, what else … if you’ve never soldered anything before, solder is hot when you heat it up (over 430 degrees F), which means the soldering iron is even hotter. Scissors and pointy metal pieces are sharp, and will cut you if you provoke them. Crazy glue is generally non-toxic, but will stick to your skin like nobody’s business. Nail polish remover will sort it out pretty quickly, unless it’s joined your fingertip and your eyelid in the bonds of eternal … um … bondage(?), which actually happened to my friend’s dad. He had his wife cut him free by inserting a single-edged razor blade between the skin of his finger and his eyelid. They got divorced shortly thereafter, which was really the best-case scenario, all things considered. DON’T DO WHAT HE DID! CALL A DOCTOR, DOOFUS.
Step 2: Selecting a Suitable Acorn
Your ideal acorn will be non-rotten, and not too tiny. Get as close to an inch in diameter as you can. The one pictured here is 7/8” in diameter. You will also need an acorn lid, or hat, or whatever. Wikipedia says it’s a “cupule” but I think they made that up. No self-respecting lexophile would inflict that word on another human’s ears. Anyway, here’s the fun part, if the lid is no longer attached to the acorn, which is almost invariably the case, you get to dig a hole in the top of the acorn. This is a very stupid thing to do, and people will look down on you if they see you do it, so do it in private.
After you cut yourself with the scissors, and scrape through the dark brown leathery top, you will reach a lighter color substance that unkind people call the “meat.” It is not meat. It is nut-stuff, which means it comes from a plant, and therefore cannot be meat. You can either throw it out, or (if you are not allergic) make coffee out of it, as this enterprising young person did.
Once you’ve removed the nut stuff, you will reach a fluffy, furry layer, which I call nut-pith, and which Wikipedia insists is actual “testa,” which only further undermines their standing as a bastion of knowledge, and confirms my belief that they are all really just a bunch of 13-year-old boys in someone’s Mom’s basement. Seriously, Niko Bellic gets his own entry, while a certain sodium potassium aluminium silicate mineral that – literally – inspired one of the classics of detective literature is reduced to being a mere stub.
Let us speak no more of this.
Suffice it to say that the furry stuff is wretched, and awful, and you’ll just scrape it away to the best of your ability with the understanding that it will be plaguing you from this point forward. I used the twisted facial tissue technique to remove most of it.
Step 3: Design a Menacing Face
Here’s the face that I drew. Yours will probably not look as good. I’ve been designing jack-o-lantern faces for years, so when I moved on to DEATH-A-CORNS(TM), the progression was very natural. Still, all you can do is your best, and I will try my best not to laugh at your results.
Now, you will need to transfer your design onto the acorn. You will probably fail at this as well, so use pencil, so you can hide your missteps.
Step 4: Transfer Menace to Acorn!
Step 5: Carve Out Menace!
I used a sharpened paper clip that I shall henceforth refer to as a DEATH-A-CORN (TM) Eye-Shiv, or DaCES, for short. Take your DaCES and make perforations along the halting, inferior lines you drew. While you do this, please be aware that your acorn is not made of iron. Do not simply push your DaCES into the acorn; you need to rotate it, sort of like a drill. In fact, if you have a tiny drill bit handy, you could use that. Outline the eyes, nose and mouth. At some point the perforated pieces will start to fall into the now-hollow acorn. This is good. This is what they should do, and I knew that they would. With a little more help, all the work will be done. You need just one more tool, and I know just the one: your tiny file!
With your file, pippin (AKA apple seed file) is ideal, but flat or triangular will also work, clean up the edges and make any modifications to your design, with the understandings that a) you can always take more off, but you can’t put it back on, and b) it will still not be as terrifying as mine is.
Step 6: Delivering the “Package” – Part One: the Button Cell Holder!
Those who have gone before us have stopped here. You now have what is known as a Jack-a-Corn. It is adorable, I’m sure. If you are satisfied with “adorable” you can stop here too. The rest of us will try to hold our derisive laughter until you leave.
Have they gone? Good.
What we are about to do has never been done before. We are about to “hack” our Jack-a-Corn and insert “electronics” into the hollow space, making what is known to the demi-monde as an e-corn. Because I cannot guarantee that this is legal in your State or Province, the rest of what we do must be done in absolute secrecy. Close the door. Dim the lights such that your ability to carry out my orders – to the letter – is not compromised, but that unwonted attention is not attracted. Perhaps turn on some Zepplin or Clipse or whatever gets you in the right frame of mind. I suppose Ke$ha will do. I wouldn't know. Perhaps the song where she slaughters Unicorns amidst the dirty glitter will work.
On to it! Our button cell holder is comprised of three pieces: Clip One, the insulator tab, and Clip Two.
Clip One: Bend your paperclip into a C-shape, with the legs no more than ½” (12.7 mm) long, and the middle section as close to 3/8ths of an inch (or 1 cm) high as you can get it. Try to make the angles 90 degrees each. Using a file or sharp piece of metal, cut a grove in the top of the acorn lid bout as deep as the paperclip’s diameter. Holding Clip One upright in the groove, squeeze a small amount of glue along the entire length of the groove/leg junction. Hold it steady for 30 seconds. Now, carefully peel the skin you didn’t realize was touching glue off the piece you glued it to. Try not to scream, but if you must scream, do it in such a way that it will sound simultaneously tortured and ecstatic to those outside your lair. If you can end it with a hiccupping giggle, that’s generally the most effective “dismount” from your shriek of agony. Promise yourself you’ll be more careful from now on.
Insulator Tab: While the first glue is reaching a full cure, cut a circular piece of PET plastic that is at least as wide as the lower leg of clip one, and certainly not less than 11.5 mm in diameter (the size of our cells). This will serve as our insulator tab. Glue this to the bottom of the acorn lid, over Clip One. This will take longer to cure, and using a large binder clip or other clamp is a good idea.
Clip Two: Bend your appropriately-sized piece of metal at a 90 degree angle, and cut it to size, such that one leg is 3/8” (1 cm), and the other is not more than ½” (12.7 mm). Do NOT glue this to the plastic on clip one. To do so is to invite despair into your home. I will explain why: your soldering iron is a miserably hot instrument, and while the paper clip in Clip One is rather thin and will heat up quickly and radiate heat quickly, the thicker piece of metal for Clip Two will not. You will spend more time with the soldering iron touching clip two than clip one, and more heat will be transferred to the cyanoacrylate glue attaching it to the acorn lid. This causes the glue to get “all types of f-ed up” and the whole thing will fall apart on you – or so I hear.
Step 7: Delivering the “Package” – Part Two: Soldering!
I’m not going to go into great detail regarding how to solder for two reasons: a) this subject is covered in exhaustive (and excellent) detail elsewhere on this site and on the web, and 2) I’m not very good at it. I’ve reached a point now where cold joints (instances where the solder does not fully adhere to the metal) are fairly rare, but the final results are not “pretty” in the classical sense.
Here are my tips:
- Use an alligator clip or other piece of metal (temporarily) attached to piece you are soldering, in between the would-be joint and the component itself. This will help to radiate heat (hopefully) before it reaches and fries your little electronic friend.
- Heat the metal, not the solder. It’s very tempting to melt the solder or to otherwise, “help it along.” Don’t do that. You will absolutely make a cold joint if you do. It will not conduct electricity reliably, and it will not make a strong mechanical connection between the pieces you’re trying to join.
That’s it for my recommendations. Now, on to the fun stuff:
You will need to solder a resistor to your LED. (Most sources tell you to solder it to the longer leg of the LED, but it really is just convention. Putting a resistor anywhere in the circuit will protect your LED.) Because the voltage of the battery pack is just a bit above the minimum voltage of the LED, you’ll need a resistor of somewhere between 10-20 ohms, and which can handle 1/8th of a Watt of power. In other words a “why bother” resistor. And you don’t “have” to use one at all. Using one will make your LED dimmer, and it costs more money. Most LEDs in the 3 volt range can tolerate up to 3.8 volts, so your battery pack is in the safe zone. However, the *current* the pack can provide can easily destroy an LED, and if the internal resistance of the pack goes down, or the power spikes for any reason, you will have to dismantle the whole thing and re-solder a brand new LED, which would be wasteful and irritating, so just use a resistor.
Next, solder the resistor/LED pair to Clip Two. The longer leg of the resistor needs to be connected to Clip Two, no matter the leg to which you attach the resistor. Why? Because of the shape of the cells. Button cells have “positive” base and sides and a little negative island floating in the middle, sort of like Great Britain. Because of the shape of the clip, if you have the negative side touching the bottom of the clip (i.e. facing down), the sides could come in contact with the side of the clip, and you would have a short circuit, causing the battery to heat up, possibly leak or even cause a fire (only a slight possibility of this, I think). To continue with our European metaphor, it would be like building a footbridge between England and France. It’s just a bad idea, and will cause no end of misery.
Helpful tip: because this piece of metal is wide, place your iron on the side opposite to the one to which you are applying the solder. Also, slightly notching the metal will give you something to wrap the wire around, so you don’t have that sliding around while you’re trying to apply your 430+ degree F heat source.
You now have a little electronic daisy chain similar to what is shown in the picture – ta da!
Now, go you, and do unto the negative (shorter) leg of the LED that which thou didst to the positive, and connect it to the upper end of Clip One.
If you have a multi-meter, test resistance of the different legs of the circuit. Place the probes on either side of your joins and set the meter to Ω (Ohm). For the side without the resistor, you should get about an ohm of resistance. For the side with the resistor, you should get no more than an ohm or so above the nominal resistance value for the resistor you used (most resistors are designed to provide resistance within a predefined percentage above or below the rated value – generally 5%). If your resistance reading is much higher than that, or if the meter reading swings wildly between values, you probably have a bad join.
Everything check out? Yay! Trim off the excess component wire.
Now, glue Clip Two to the plastic base on the acorn lid.
Step 8: Delivering the “Package” – Part Three: Insulating!
Some folks will insist that this step should have occurred prior to the soldering, and that shrink tubing should be used. Those folks can just leave now. They’re not my friends anymore.
Those who arestill my friends will use electrical tape, or even scotch tape to wrap the wires, and ensure that there are no shorts. One place to look out for is the upper bend of Clip One, which could come into contact with both the positive and negative sides of the battery, which would, again, be bad (c.f. trans-Channel footbridge above).
The last little bit of insulation is actually around the battery pack itself. Wrap your tape of choice (I prefer scotch tape here) around the cells while they are stacked together. You need to make sure that both cells are in contact with each other after the tape is applied. It’s very easy to create a slight gap between them in the process.
The easiest way to check that your circuit works is also the most satisfying – insert your battery pack into the clip and … it works! Yay!
Step 9: Optional Step: Diffuser
This is not strictly necessary, but it helps even out the glow of the bulb as well as hide all your tiny components.
First you need to bend some paper. You can do this by getting some copy paper nice and wet (warm water is helpful), and then - gently - mold it over your round shape. I used a Christmas ornament, but a dead incandescent light bulb will work too. Again, please don't use CFLs, even the kind with bulbs over the curly bits. They have up to 5 mg of mercury, and the thought of that bursting in your oven is making me sad.
Which brings us to the oven bit. Put your mold and paper into the oven (set to about 200 degrees F/90 degrees C), or set it out in the sun. Once the paper dries, cut a small curved piece out, that will fit inside the acorn. Slide it carefully inside. You may use a bit of white glue if you like.
Step 10: Delivering the “Package” – Part Four: Delivery!
Okay, now this bit is arguably the most fiddly. Chances are you've made the hole in the top of the acorn too small – which is exactly right. To quote me: you can always take more off, but you can’t put it back on. Hold the acorn-lid/electronics-unit up to the hole in the acorn, and mark where material needs to be removed. Again, a file is the way to go here. Also, if you can remove more from the back of the acorn, you’ll run less risk of breaking it, as it will be the stronger side.
Did you manage to get the electronics in? Is the LED still glowing? Awesome! I wonder how long that battery pack will last? What we really need is some kind of a switch…
Step 11: Cut the Lights!
So, DEATH-A-CORNS (TM) are really small. Do you want to try and go shopping for a switch that’ll fit? One that won’t rival the size of the acorn itself? Blech.
So here’s my hack: a non-conducting plastic strip! Just like the ones they use in the solar lights at the dollar store - the ones that you have to pull out so that the lights will work! Isn't that genius!?! Go ahead, say it: “Dude, you are a total freaking genius!” There, doesn't that feel good!
So now, go cut a little strip out of the blister pack. I cut it so that one side was at an angle - sort of wedge-shaped. It doesn't need to be huge – it just needs to fit between the contact on Clip Two and the contact on the battery pack. Insert it! Blip! Out goes the light!
Step 12: No More Fall Down!
Last step! With another paperclip, make a small loop. About half an inch in diameter. Wrapping the wire around a Sharpie should do it. It may also be helpful to sand the base of the acorn a bit flatter. Don't go nuts. Just take off the point thing. Now glue the ring to the base of the acorn. After about 15 seconds it’ll be pretty much set, but you’ll want to wait for a full cure. Let it dry on a piece of waxed paper.
All dry now?
Congratulations! You made a DEATH-A-CORN(TM)!
Step 13: DEATH-A-CORN (TM) FAQs
This is not a comprehensive list, and I'll add other notes as they occur to me. If you feel you've caught an error (unlikely), or have a helpful technique I might have omitted (absurdly unlikely), please feel free to comment below!
Q) Dude, why don’t you just use a lithium button cell? They’re already three volts, and take up less space.
A) You can if you like. However, the lithium cells with a diameter likely to fit inside of an acorn top are the CR927 and the CR1025, both of which cost quite a bit more than the LR44, are less readily available (LR44s are a staple at the dollar store), and are more dangerous if ingested by a little person. Finally, the LR44s each have several times the rated mAh capacity of their lithium counterparts. If those aren’t concerns for you, then, go for it!
Q) Why don’t you use a joule thief instead of a second battery?
A) If you can fit a hand-wound toroid, wire and transistor in the same space as the second LR44, then that sounds like the way to go!
Q) Why don’t you harvest radio wave energy to power it like the iFind did.
A) Ummm …
Q) What about over unity devices?
A) Well …
Q) My grandfather tried to make this and now he’s sterile! You are a terrible person!
A) That's not a question. However, what I am hearing you say is that I should have published this 40 years ago. I agree. For that, I apologize.
First Prize in the
Participated in the
Halloween Decor Contest
Participated in the
Make it Glow!