Introduction: Splash-Pod: the Personal Water Park
The record Texas heat wave of 2011 sent me reeling back into my childhood filled with memories of escaping the heat with home-made water toys. In an effort to create similar memories for my daughter, friends, and family, I set on an adventure to create a unique water toy for all to enjoy.
Members of Instructables, I present to you; Splash-Pod: The Personal Water Park.
Inspiration, planning, procurement, construction and thoughts.
Or... how a simple idea can lead to hair-loss, sleeplessness and borderline obsession.
My daughter loves the water. No, to be more accurate, she loves getting wet. Splashing, dunking, squirting, spraying and puddle-stomping are all highly regarded activities in her little world. We first discovered this when she was 8 months old and would refuse to get out of the bath until the water was cold; she was too busy playing. My wife and I happened to see a "water-activity table" toy from one of the major toy companies on sale at Target last Summer. It was basically a plastic table with a few spinning wheels and some empty cups. She suggested that it would be a great toy for our mer-baby. Being the tinkerer that I am, I immediately thought - I could build something far better. And so I offered this idea to the better half: Why spend $80 on a plastic table that just sits there when I could build a table that's 50 times more interactive and fun at half the cost.Let this go down as mistake #1.
She agreed and we passed on the toy. The idea was planted in my brain and one year later we have the final result, which I've named Splash-Pod: The Personal Water Park. I hope that you enjoy the Instructable as much as I had writing it (nervous laughter). Well, I hope, at least, that you can make it through this giant write-up.
I have three goals for this instructable. They are:
- Provide a detailed, step-by-step guide on how anyone with very little skill or experience with PVC, Wood-working and electronics could build a similar setup.
- Describe the project timeline and cover the many hurdles that I ran
throughover to make this a reality.
- Lessons learned - the moral of the story is...
Please feel free to ask any questions as I will do my very best to stick around to quickly answer them.
Step 1: Project Inspiration.
My muse came from multiple sources, some of them obvious and others fairly obscure. Many of you have seen the commercial water-activity tables for sale at Toys R Us or Target. We've all seen the images of joyful tots cooling off in the spray of a busted fire hydrant, and most of us remember running through sprinklers on a hot summer day. It is now a common sight for public fountains to have jets of water intended for child activity. Even major water parks often have interactive toys such as tipping buckets, fire hoses and rain showers for the smaller kids. Then there is the simple joy of spraying a garden hose all over the yard. All of these are incredibly fun activities that I wanted to incorporate into this toy - somehow.
I just needed a platform; the foundation of the project. This problem ran through my head for months as I tried out various ideas. Common wood construction methods availble to the layman (me) were too ugly and welded steel would be too heavy and also really freaking ugly.
Enter Popular Mechanics June 2011 issue; specifically the article titled "How to Build a Marble Top Coffee Table." The article introduced me to the wonderful world of t-slot extruded aluminum, and was pointed at the massive product inventory at 80/20. I knew right away that I had the solution for my 'water-table' (as it was then known). From this point forward, everything began to fall into place.
Step 2: The Plan
The concept is incredibly simple and any electronics nut would find this overly simplistic in design. But that's also the beauty of it and this simplicity greatly aids in the troubleshooting process. more on that later
Water pressure is provided by the tap, by way of a garden hose. It is then diverted into four equal paths which are stopped by a solenoid valve. The solenoid valve is controlled by a simple momentary 12v push-button switch, which the child will press to activate the water functions. Each path is independently controlled by an individual button and all four valves can be opened simultaneously by pressing all four buttons. Past each valve, water is diverted to the actual output devices, whether they are water jets, modular toys or other outputs. The majority of the output water will be contained within a vessel with a drain at the bottom for easy removal. Each of the four main paths will have optional accessory outputs onto which modular toys can be attached. Electrical power is provided with an enclosed battery so that the whole unit is completely portable (and much safer than using household AC). That's the whole plan in a single paragraph. Now to make it a reality.
This whole project can be divided into two separate components: structure and function. Everything is either part of the chassis, or related to what makes it tick. So I will separate the two parts lists accordingly. Later in the project you will see additional parts lists for individual modular 'toys' that were added to the base. The following pair of lists are for the water-box itself.
- T-Slot extruded alumninum for the frame. I used 80/20 inc, and they were incredibly friendly and a joy to work with.
- 4x 24" 80/20 T Slot Aluminum Extrusion 15 S 1502 (vertical legs)
- 4x 36" 80/20 T Slot Aluminum Extrusion 15 S 1517 (lower horizontal bars)
- 4x 36" 80/20 T Slot Aluminum Extrusion 15 S 1534 (upper horizontal bars)
- 8x Inside to Inside Hidden Corner Connector 8mm (item 33450)
- 8x 80/20 T Slot Aluminum Corner Gusset 15 S
- 16x 8020 T Slot Hardware Economy T Nut 15 S
- Wood paneling, all sourced from Home Depot (henceforth, "HD").
- 4x Side panels made from 1/8" birch plywood cut to 37" x 25" <<<<<<<<<<<<<< get measurements again...
- 1x Tottom panel made from 1/8" birch plywood, cut to 37" square.
- 1x Top panel made from 3/4" birch plywood (cabinet grade), cut to 39" square.
- 1x Behren's 35-gallon galvonized wash tub (Amazon)
- 4x 5/16" threaded wheel casters (HD)
- Kitchen & Bath caulk (HD)
- Outdoor rated caulk (HD)
- 1 Gallon of Kilz Premium Outdoor primer (HD)
- 1 Quart of oil-based enamel in Disney shade, "Buzz Lightyear Blue" (HD)
- 1 Quart of high-gloss varnish (HD)
- 4x 3" 5/16" bolts with fender washers
The electronic bits
- 4x 12v 1/2" Plastic Nylon Solenoid Valve (ebay link)
- Arcade parts. All ordered from the kind people at Tornado Terry's, a wonderful family arcade in Keller, TX. Also an expert arcade repair guy who is all sorts of helpful at solving strange requests like, "waterproofing arcade buttons."
- 4x Suzo-Happ arcade pushbuttons in Red, Yellow, Blue & Green with swiches.
- 5x Suzo-Happ pushbutton protectors (bought an extra, just in case)
- 1x 12v lead-acid battery rated for 7Ah (Fry's Electronics)
- Plastic container large enough to hold the battery (dollar general)
- 1x in-line glass fuse-holder and box of 2A fuses (O'Reilly's Auto parts)
- 2x spools of 25' 18g stranded cable in red & black
- Heat-shrink tubing
The plumbing bits - all from Home Depot unless otherwise specified.
- 3x 8' sections of 1/2" PVC pipe
- 4x four-way 1/4" air-line manifolds (ebay)
- 4x 1/2" to 1/4" bushings
- 4x 3/8" to 3/8" 2" nipples
- Lots and lots of PVC fittings
- Lots and lots of copper and nylon barbed fittings (both of these fittings are covered in the plumbing guides)
- 2x Single-Barbed Tube Fitting Adapter for 1/8" Tube ID X 1/4" NPT Male Pipe, Packs of 10 (McMaster.com)
- Approximately 40ft of 1/8" tubing (medical surplus)
- 2x 20ft coils of 1/4" ID tubing
- 1x 10ft coil of 1/2" ID tubing
- 1x 2ft section of 2" PVC pipe
- 1x floor drain kit, output to 2" PVC pipe
Step 3: Getting Started With the Structure
Sourcing the materials.
I mentioned in the previous section that this project is best split into 2 separate categories: structure and function. This is how I will be splitting the construction walk-through as each category require different tools and techniques. Everything comes together at the end and I mean this quite literally; the functional components tie in with the structural pieces within a very tight margin.
The first category that I will tackle is the structure. This is the foundation on which the entire toy is based. It has to have strength as well as stability. Without a strong platform, I couldn't build a water toy that can support the weight of a couple of toddlers, running water, PVC & copper plumbing, a 12v battery and all of the toys and accessories that I had in mind. The 'mobile water-park' concept also focused on mobility and transportability. This required a stable foundation that wouldn't shake loose or break down from use. It has to withstand the shaking, kicking and punching that little kids are known to dish out. It needed to be attractive, or else no kid would want anything to do with it. I know I wouldn't have crawled into a gigantic metal death-tub that sprayed jets of water at my face when I was 3 years old. But a shiny blue water-toy? Sign me up! Finally, I wanted this thing to last. The frame, the body and the paint all need to stand up to the various forms of abuse that the sun, water and children can cause.
With these requirements in mind, I knew that the T-Slot extruded aluminum beams that I found online would be a perfect solution for the chassis. The box itself would be made up of birch plywood, with 3/4" thick plywood used for the weight-baring top and 1/8" thick used for the sides and bottom. For transportability, heavy-duty casters would be threaded into the bottom of the legs.
First things first - ordering the aluminum from 80/20. My plan called for a 'box with legs' that was 36" wide and deep and 24" high. The 4 legs are ordered with a 5/16" tap on both ends. This provides a place to attach the top bolts with which the top panel will be secured. The other end is where the caster wheels will be installed. One of my favorite ideas with the extruded aluminum was the use of panels inserted into the T-channels. If you look at the 'built with 80/20 stuff' portfolio on their website, you will see a lot of examples of panels being used in areas such as office furniture, modular furniture and much more. This seemed like a great system that I could use to enclose the 'guts' of my project and protect it from the world.
So I called up 80/20 and spoke with a product design specialist. We worked through a few questions and came up with the following design: 4x 1502 for the legs, cut at 24" and tapped on both ends with a 5/16" tap. This is a square-end extrusion with two t-slots on perpendicular sides. 4x 1517, cut at 36" for the lower arms. These are round-end extrusions also with two t-slots on perpendicular sides. 4x 1534, cut at 36" for the upper arms. This is a flat extrusion with only a single t-slot. This would help bear the weight of the top panel and tub. To attach all of the arms, we added hidden slot connectors for the bottom arms and heavy duty corner gussets for the upper arms.
The people at 80/20 are incredibly helpful and I'd love to send business their way so here's one more plug: http://www.8020.net/ . And, no... just for the record, none of the companies that I'm plugging have any vested interest in me or this project. I just thought I'd say thanks for the great customer service =).
Next, I need to acquire the wood panels. For the 1/8" birch, I needed four panels that were 37" by 24" and a single panel that was 37" square. For the 3/4" birch, I needed a single 39" square panel. To purchase these, I need to purchase 3x 48" square 1/8" panels and a single 8x4' cabinet-grade 3/4" birch plywood panel. I got all of these at Home Depot and had them do the cuts. I will say right now that I spent a lot of time at Home Depot. Ah, I feel a rant coming on.
Let me repeat this. I SPENT A LOT OF TIME AT HOME DEPOT.
It might seem silly but I'm wanting to type this out a third time. I won't do that, but I will explain. My biggest regret on this whole project was the absolutely ridiculous amount of time that I spent driving to, shopping and staring at the PVC at Home Depot. If I could tally the total amount of hours that I put into this project, I would have to say that 50% of them involved Home Depot or Lowes somehow. And this should be expounded by stating that this was time wasted. This is the number one lesson that I would hope to instill on anyone attempting to follow this guide: proper planning prevents poor performance. Holy crap, this was not the case for me. It's nice that I live a few miles away from my local HD but this didn't help after my 50+ trips. The entire project was a giant experiment, right? So, I had to constantly tinker with ideas to make things work or solve a problem. As soon as I fixed one problem, I ran into another that required an additional trip to HD. I must have told my wife 10 times, "There, that's it... I'm FINALLY done. I now know for a FACT that I have every last component purchased." Thirty minutes later... grrrrr... I quickly grew to hate the place.
However, I guarantee that I would not have been able to build this thing if it wasn't for the great assistance from all of the dudes in orange aprons from my many, many visits. Several of the guys there knew all about my project and REALLY helped to solve all sorts of problems for me. From day one up until two days before I filmed the closing video, I kept going back and got excellent help from the friendly staff at Home Depot. And, local plug - 95% of this was at my local Flower Mound Home Depot, store #6572. Thanks guys!
Okay, rant mostly over. I mention all of this because:
(a) I owe a lot of thanks to Home Depot and really appreciate all of the help that they provided
(b) I really never want to go back inside a home improvement store for the rest of my life
(c) despite (a) I still have to throw them under the bus about their horribly inaccurate plywood cutting abilities
(D) all of the above
While D is the correct answer, C is getting us back on topic. My artist older brother is great with wood-working and I leaned on him for a lot of questions. When I got home with my wood panels I quickly discovered how badly 'not-squre' these panels were. I emailed my brother and he responded, "Oh poor Mikey, didn't you know that having Home Depot or Lowes cut your wood is the equivalent of having a two year old with dull, rusty scissors cut your nose hair? If the yokels at HD are within 6" of what I asked them to cut I'm impressed." Ouch. lesson learned #2
To be fair, they were only about 1/8" to 1/4" off on every single panel. Still, I needed this stuff to be pretty perfect.
Anyway, I've already spent money on these panels so I need to do my best to correct it. The shipment from 80/20 has arrived and I have my mangled wood from HD. And now we can move on.
Step 4: Cutting & Trimming the Plywood
There are three different sections that we're cutting for the plywood. The side panels and bottom panel are cropped at the corners for style, as well as function. The hidden joints I chose for the chassis sit inside the same channels that the wood panels occupy. This means that I would need to make room for these by cutting an ugly notch in the wood, or by doing something more tasteful like a cropped corner. The size that I went with for the crop just happened to be the exact size of my cheap 45° drafting square. This made for a nice template which I used for all of the cuts on the 1/8" plywood.
All of the pieces came from Home Depot slightly off size and I had to trim very small amounts off of the sides in order to make them square. I don't own a table saw so I had to make do with my circular saw. Cutting 1/8" to 1/16" off of a 1/8" thick plywood with a 1/8" thick saw blade without a rip fence wasn't very easy. I thank my older brother for tips on setting up my saw to make this possible. Lopping the corners offf of the pieces was much easier. I simply drew on the template and chopped it off with the circular saw. All edges were then sanded smooth with 80 & 120 grit sandpaper.
The top panel also needed to be shaved down to exact measurements. After I had a near-perfect 39" square, I needed to cut the hole in the middle. I wanted 5" of border around each side of the tub for strength and to provide a stable surface for the external accessory connectors. This meant an internal circle of 29" cut into the very center of the square. To draw this out, I simply drilled two holes 14.5" apart inside a thin piece of wood and used this as my compass. One hole was placed in the middle of my panel around which I rotated the compass, drawing the circle. Next, I drilled a pilot hole near the internal edge of the circle so I could fit my jigsaw blade into the panel. I then carefully cut out the circle, supporting both the panel and the cutout as I sawed. The cutout was trimmed up and sanded to complete the cut.
Finally, the panels needed to have their holes drilled for the 4 buttons and 2 accessory connectors. All of these were drilled with a spade bit. The buttons used a 3/4" bit and the accessory holes required a 1/2" bit for the pipe. Each hole was slightly bored out with a rotary rasp.
Step 5: Painting the Wood
I went with a single color for the project, choosing "Buzz Lightyear Blue" from the Disney color collection at Home Depot.
The first step is to prime the surface with a heavy duty outdoor-rated primer. I chose Kilz Premium for it's superior commercials and excellent labeling. It also had prime product placement on the shelves at Home Depot which really influenced my decision. Sarcasm aside, apparently this stuff is really good so go with it. I put two coats of primer on all of the side panels and three coats on the top panel. To keep things somewhat smooth, I did a light sanding with 200 grit paper between coats. The final coat was sanded with 400 grit.
I let the primer dry overnight before continuing with the enamel. Again, the sides received two coats of paint and the top got three. We were planning on repainting the patio in a couple of weeks so I didn't bother with drop cloths. But I would suggest using these in most environments. One thing to note - oil based enamel takes forever to dry. It holds up very well against the sun and water but it really needs to set for a month. I didn't want to wait that long so I just dealt with the occasional paint spot on my hands/clothing.
The final step was to apply the varnish. I wanted this to be as glossy as possible so I bought a quart of high gloss spar urethane from Minwax. The same process was repeated - two coats on the sides and three on the top.
This whole painting process took a little less than a week due to drying time between all of the coats.
Step 6: Assembling the Frame
Assembling the 80/20 15-series components couldn't be any easier. They describe their product as the "Erector set for grown-ups" and I totally agree. You Instructables people need to check out their catalog because you'll get so many ideas for projects. As soon as I made my first connection, I was hooked. I later called up my product design specialist at 80/20 and told him about this and he laughed, saying, "Yeah, it's kind of addictive isn't it?"
Anyway, building with this thing is different than most metal fabrication you'll find. It really is like using an erector set or Kinex. The one thing that's common with all construction techniques is the need to accurately measure. Past that, it's just tightening down some hex screws and assembling the pieces into place.
Once the pieces are in place, I was able to do a couple of dry fits with my panels. This thing was starting to come together. I incorrectly assumed that the hardest work was behind me. It's just a few bits of electronics & light plumbing now, right?
Step 7: Getting Started With the Functions
As with the parts list, I'm going to split this section into two sub-sections. Electrical and plumbing. I'm hoping that this is the best way to write this up and that there will not be any confusion here. We will start with the electrical.
This circuit is very simple. We control a solenoid valve by pressing a momentary switch in the form of an arcade button. There are four buttons and everything operates on 12vdc. Everything shares a common ground.
I ordered the buttons, switches and protective covers from Tornado Terry's in Keller, TX. The covers were pretty simple to install, after I got the hang of it. It simply slides over one end and then you stretch it over the rest. It provides a really nice waterproof seal for all of the electrical & mechanical components underneath it. I didn't even have to caulk the outside. To install the buttons into the wood panel, simply insert them into the 3/4" holes we previously drilled and tighten with the plastic nut. This should be tightened pretty well to ensure there is a good seal with the button cover. The switch installs by attaching the small connector nubs from the bottom of the button into the switch itself and then swinging it into the upper nubs.
When I first received the shipment of my solenoid valves, I wanted to test this out to see how my daughter would react. I built a really quick test 'cannon' out of a few PVC parts and the solenoid valve. We sat on our front steps and shot the water off a few times into my recently cleared flower bed. I really just wanted to see how much interest she would have in controlling water with a little button. See for yourself:
She loved it! At this point I knew that I was onto something special. I was even more fired up to get this thing completed. Also, she's wearing her big sister shirt here because she was very proud of her 6-day old baby sister.
Step 8: Building the Water Circuit
The operation of a solenoid valve is very simple - power it on and it opens. Inside the solenoid is an electromagnet which sucks the valve stem into a chamber. It is pulling against a mechanical spring so that by default (un-powered) it wants to close the valve. This way, under no power, the valve stays shut. This works great for the toy because the kids can walk up to the various buttons and open individual valves to activate certain functions inside the tub.
I designed this using 1/2" PVC because I wanted something permanent and leak free. It needed to be able to withstand both the high pressure coming from the tap as well as rapid pressure changes from kids repeatedly tapping buttons. I didn't think that flexible hose would work for all of this. I also made the mistake by thinking that PVC was cheap. I incorrectly assumed that since these little fittings were only $0.39-0.89 each, it wouldn't be that bad. Little did I realize just how many of those cheap components I would end up buying. Regardless, PVC was a solid choice in the end.
Throughout this guide, I will try to document most of the steps in the pictures as well as describe an overview here in the text.
There are plenty of guides online and on Instructables about working with PVC so I won't spend an inordinate amount of time on this. The simple explanation is to plan out your project loosely, then dry fit all of the components to the fittings. When you make the cuts, measure an additional 0.5-0.75" for the slip fittings. Prime the ends of the PVC with the purple PVC primer and then apply a fair amount of PVC cement onto both the male end of the pipe and the female fitting. Quickly insert the fittings with a fair amount of pressure while giving it a quarter turn to ensure proper coverage and provide a good seal.
- Lay out the project path in line with your chosen route.
- My path follows this flowchart shown in picture #1.
- PVC cement is best joined with a 90° turn as you are pressing the pieces together. Because of this turn, we want to ensure that we are only joining the straight pieces to start and not combining too many bends.
- Begin the PVC cement with the straight pieces. Join any pieces that do not require any combination of bends.
- Straight to Elbow - join these pairs now, but do not join two elbows to a straight yet.
- Straight to Tee - join these pairs, but do not join any other bend to the straight yet.
- I joined all of the straight pieces first so that I can correctly line up the combination of bends to face the same direction and be as close to the same plane as possible.
- Two elbows on a single straight, for example: two vertical elbows on a straight pipe. Both vertical arms need to be pointing the same direction without much variance. To properly set this, we use a previously cemented straight-to-elbow from the last step and attach a second elbow. Attach the elbow 90° rotated away from the end location and rotate in as it sets. It might help to practice this with a dry run before setting with the cement.
- To ensure I got all of the fittings pointing in the same direction, I laid this flat on a flat piece of granite remnant I had from a counter-top installation. As soon as I rotated the second fitting into place, I placed it flat against the work surface and made certain that it was in line with the first fitting. This would work on any of the connections in my plan, including the tee-fittings like these:
- (apparently the Instructables viewer doesn't like special ASCII characters. I had a nifty pipe drawing here)
- so instead, I'll just describe...
- Elbow pointing up ->>> straight pipe ->>> elbow pointing down
- Tee fitting ----> straight pipe -----> Elbow pointing down
- all of these have to end up facing the same direction.
- (apparently the Instructables viewer doesn't like special ASCII characters. I had a nifty pipe drawing here)
- All of the solenoids are connected with pipe thread and join the slip joint with a special slip to FPT fitting. These go on last because they are straight connections (can't mess them up) and are thicker than the bend fittings. Putting them on earlier could mess up the angles.
- All areas where I use any threaded pipes require Teflon plumbers tape to properly seal the pipe connections and provide a watertight seal.
- To apply the Teflon plumbers tape, tear off a length of Teflon tape that is approximately four times the diameter of the threaded pipe. For 1/2" pipe thread, cut off a 2" strip of Teflon tape.
- Wrap the tape around the threads, pulling tightly and wrapping in a clockwise motion. Ensure that all threads are covered.
- To save time (and my sanity), I did almost all of my pipe thread taping in one batch. This took about an hour but definitely helped speed things along when it came time to use those threaded pipes.
- On my path diagram, the solenoid opens up into another Tee fitting, which splits into 4 fixed jets and a single high-volume accessory connector. This requires a Tee fitting that has 3 threaded pipe threads, one for the solenoid and two for the two outputs.
- The first output is the accessory connector, which is attached with a 1/2" tube. I used a copper 1/2" MPT to barbed fitting inserted into the first FPT fitting in the Tee fitting. This was now ready to hook up to the output connector.
- The second output goes to the manifold for the water jets.
- To reduce the 1/2" FPT do 1/4" fittings, I used a 1/2" to 1/4" bushing.
- Next, a 1/4" to 1/4" nipple connects the bushing to the 4-output manifold.
- The manifold can now accept the fittings for the water jets, depending on the requirements for the given channel. The 'red' channel, for example, used three 1/8" barbed fittings for micro jets and a single 1/4" fitting for a larger jet.
- It was much easier to build this manifold assembly before attaching it to the final pipe. Spinning the whole assembly with all of the fittings was more difficult.
- On all four channels, I pre-assembled all of the post-solenoid connections to the Tee before threading the Tee onto the solenoid valve.
- There are four accessory connectors: two inside the tub and two outside. Both pair are held in place with a similar concept. I tightly sandwiched a pair of FPT to slip connectors together with the chassis material (metal tub for inside, 3/4" wood panel for the outside) in the middle.
- The interior side of the accessory connector attaches to the circuit with another copper 1/2" MPT to 1/2" barbed fitting. The external side of the accessory connector now awaits the modular toys, or the accessory plugs.
- The input pipe has to be connected through the small hole in the bottom panel. I did this with a simple bend and placed the pipe fairly close to the ground to prevent breakage in case someone stepped on it.
- After the entire structure is assembled, we can secure the assembly to the floor of the bottom panel. I used 1" electrical tie-down straps and wood screws and this worked out very well.
That should do it for the water circuit.
Step 9: Building the Electrical Circuit.
The area under the tub (inside the 'box') might get a little bit wet from errant spray but it won't be drenched like above (direct splashes) and below the chassis (from the drain). The electronics need to have decent protection against water because it is still possible that a short could occur. The battery is enclosed inside a plastic container and I have a 2 amp fuse on the positive side. If all four solenoids are pressed at the same time, 1.6Amps should be drawn. The only way the fuse should blow is if some other load is introduced, like a ground short. The solenoid valves are in the most direct area for getting stray water, so insulated electrical contacts were used here. All solder joints were sealed up with heat shrink and electric tape and the positive and negative lines were kept far away from each other. All of these precautions were taken to ensure that a short would not occur.
I might have gone overboard with all of that because after 2 hours of leak testing, and random play there was hardly a single drop of water inside the box. Still, better safe than sorry.
Since all of the components run on 12v, the positive lines are run in parallel and share a common ground. The circuit for each button is the same:
(-) Battery (+) -> Fuse -> Breakout bundle ->
Push-button switch -> Solenoid (-) back to battery
Push-button switch -> Solenoid (-) back to battery
Push-button switch -> Solenoid (-) back to battery
Push-button switch -> Solenoid (-) back to battery
It's all very simple. Once the lines are measured out and cut, the connectors can be crimped to the ends and hooked up to the components. Testing is easy enough, press the button and you should hear the solenoid valve open up. Now we know it works.
The battery is good for 7.2 amp hours which means I have enough juice, in a perfect world, to last for about 10 hours. That's if all four buttons were held down, all at the same time, for ten hours straight. That's not going to happen very often. So we should have plenty of power all Summer long.
Step 10: Preparing the Tub.
The 35-gallon galvanized tub is where all the action occurs. It sits inside the giant hole that we cut into the top (in section 4).
Inside the tub we'll have a variety of permanent toys, including:
- Seven 1/8" micro jets. These shoot the furthest with the most pressure. I aimed four of them to cross the tub in a North vs South (green button) and East vs West (yellow button) path. The other three shoot out up into the air, either from the basin floor or from the walls.
- Five 1/4" large jets. These shoot with more volume and really get the interior wet.
- One 1/4" hose. This is just another 1/4" jet but with 3 feet of slack attached. The hose allows kids in the tub to spray other kids (or, in my case - parents) far outside the normal range of fire. This proved to be one of the most popular toys in the system. Kids of all ages loved having their own weapon!
- One short articulated 'snake' with a high-volume nozzle on the end.
- One long articulated 'snake' with a flat-fan nozzle on the end.
- Both of the snakes are components for water-cooled CNC mills and I thought that these would make excellent toys in my project. I was right, this was one of the most used toys in the whole arsenal.
- One exterior ring filled with misting holes and micro jets. This surrounds the entire rim of the tub and fills the whole area with spray. It was especially hard to get this on video because of the amount of water this produced. You had to stand pretty far back.
Each button has a different set of functions and corresponding water jets. I didn't want there to be a localized feel to the jets, so that hitting the green button in the back-right corner of the tub activates jets in the back-right, and the top-left button activates jets & toys in the top-left. I wanted each button to activate components in all areas of the tub so that there's never a dull moment; never a dry spot. To ensure that this was possible, I have to plan out the jets & lines properly.
Here is the plan, based on the functions above:
Top Right (Yellow): 2x 1/8" wall jets, in crossfire. 1x 1/4" floor jet, angled upwards to shoot out of tub. 1x 1/4" "short snake."
Top Left (Blue): 1x 1/8" wall jet, angled high. 1x 1/4" wall jet, angled down. 1x 1/4" floor jet, shoot straight up. 1x 1/4" rim-mounted ring
Bottom Right (Red): 1x 1/8" wall jet. 1x 1/8" floor jet, shoot angle at wall. 1x 1/4" "fire hose." 1x 1/4" "long snake"
Bottom Left (Green): 2x 1/8" wall jets, mounted high in crossfire. 1x 1/4" floor jet, shoot straight up. 1x 1/4" wall jet, shoot straight across.
That covers all 16 as described in the previous menu. Now I need to make sure that each of these items are spread across the tub. Since each button covers four components, this was easy enough. I divided the tub into four equal quadrants and ensured that each color had one line going to each quadrant, following the guidelines I described (crossfire, aim high, etc). I started with the 1/8" holes and moved onto the 1/4" holes. Each hole was finished with a quick de-burring using my metal file. The last two holes that were required were the 1/2" holes needed by the internal accessory connectors.
The final step is to cut the hole in the floor for the drain and install the drain assembly. I actually bought a smaller drain setup but screwed up on the first hole so had to get a second one. Word to the wise - tin snips are a poor way to
Now we are ready to start filling this with our tubing.
Step 11: Creating a Squid
- 1/2" ID tubing - 6'
- 1/4" ID tubing - 20'
- 1/8" ID tubing - 20'
- Worm-drive hose clamps suitable for 1/2" ID tubing
- Worm-drive hose clamps suitable for 1/4" ID tubing
- Two-part plumber's epoxy putty
- Outdoor-rated caulk
- 2x 1/4" FPT to 1/4" barbed fittings
- 1x 1/8" to 1/4" bushing
- 2x 1/4" washers
- 1/4" tee fitting
When you attach the tubing, please be sure to leave more slack than you think will be required. At least 50% more. I did this on ALMOST all of the jets, but those that were left just long enough to reach the manifold seriously hurt me in the final steps. If I had just given myself another foot of slack the final installation would have been much much easier. You will see how cramped things get in later steps and it really stunk having to work with such small margins. This is definitely one of the bigger mistakes I made on this project.
As we talked about in the last step, most of the holes drilled are for the jets. There are a few holes that were drilled for other fixed components and each of these require some thought. The 'fire hose' component was nothing more than a standard jet with 3' of slack inside the tub. Easy enough.
Each of the snakes connect using a threaded fitting and this needs to somehow hook up to a 1/4" tube. The solution is a FPT to barbed fitting. The long snake uses a 1/4" threaded fitting so this was easy, HD sells a convenient 1/4" FPT to 1/4" barbed fitting that was perfect for this. The snake plugs into the female end and the tubing hooks into the barbed end. I was able to securely fasten this union to the tub wall by using a washer. The washer presses into the wall on one side as the copper fitting pulls tight on the other. The short snake uses a 1/8" fitting, and HD didn't sell a 1/8" FPT to 1/4" barbed fitting so I had to use a 1/8" to 1/4" bushing to convert the 1/4" to 1/4" fitting. Now we have our snakes finished.
The ring at the top of the tub receives its water through a 1/4" tee-fitting. The two arms of the tee connect a single loop of 1/4" tubing which was cut to the exact circumference of the tub. The water comes into the tee and then goes out into the ring. 1/16" holes were drilled into the loop for the micro jets and I pressed a thumbtack throughout the ring to create 'misters'. The effect was really nice. This feature completely saturates the inside of the tub because it sprays in all directions.
Mounting the ring to the top was... interesting. My first idea was to use JB Weld because it basically bonds anything. This seemed to work at the start but it did not hold up after a few days. I really wanted this ring to work so I thought up a 'threaded' solution that worked well. I drilled 3/32" holes every few inches around the top of the tub and threaded some coated 28g copper wire through it. This securely fastened the loop to the tub and worked out very well. I was successful in using JB Weld to hold the tee fitting to the wall.
By the time this step is finished, you should have the weirdest looking tub ever. Sixteen tubes will be protruding from warty cones and draping down the sides and bottom. Hopefully you've left enough slack to move onto the critical next step.
Step 12: Bringing It All Together.
Things are about to get really tight. If you left yourself sufficient slack on the jets it won't be as bad for you as it was for me. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The very first thing that you need to do before completing the tub is to finish the four sides. Since the top panel rests above all four sides and the top horizontal rails, all sides must be complete before we can continue. Up until now we had all sorts of freedom to work on the plumbing and tubes because the sides weren't in the way. With the sides assembled, our room to move is very effectively diminished. It gets much worse with the top on.
The top sides use gusset joints for additional support. These are best assembled all at once so that you can move around the sides and install the top rails with the joints ready to go. Each joint consists of five parts: two bolts, two t-slot nuts and one gusset. Assemble these by placing one bolt through the gusset hole. Loosely attach one of the nuts to the bolt, leaving plenty of room for movement. Repeat the process with the next hole. These nuts will slide into the top rails as well as the vertical legs. Slide a gusset joint onto the rails, one on each end. After all four rails are completed, we're ready to install the wood.
Insert a wood panel into a t-slot channel on both sides and press it down until it hits the bottom. The wood might have warped a little bit from the paint so you may need to press it in or out to make it line up with the bottom slot. Press it down until the wood is properly seated into three channels. Now we can install the top rail. On one side, slide the gusset joint all the way over until it is at the end of the rail with the vertical nut facing down. Press the nut into the vertical channel but don't drop it in all the way yet. Continue on the other side so that both joints are properly sitting inside the channels. Now, press down on the rail and fit its channel over the top of the wood panel. Ensure that it is flush with the two vertical legs before tightening all of the bolts. There isn't much room here so tightening the bolts will be time consuming without a ratcheting hex wrench. After all four bolts are tight and the rails are flush with the legs, this side is complete. Rotate around to the next side and repeat the process.
Now we have finally completed the chassis! Strong and sturdy - just what we need. Take a step back and admire the work but don't waste too much time because there's a lot of annoying work left.
With the plumbing all assembled and secure in the frame below, we move on to the tub connections. The problem is, we have no more room to work. The tub sits inside the top panel and the panel on top of the now enclosed box. This makes it very difficult to reach underneath and make all of the tubing connections. I found that almost all of my connections could be made by rotating the top 45 degrees so that 4 corners are opened up. You can also raise the top panel slightly to give a little extra room. All of this depends on how much slack you left yourself on the tubing. I had a good amount on 14 of my 16 tubes so I saved those last short connections to the very end. Carefully reach into the exposed openings and connect the ends of the jet tubes to the proper barbed fittings which are on the end of the manifolds. I found that the 1/8" barbs properly held the tubing without any difficulty. The 1/4" barbs occasionally blew the tubing off, so I made sure to clamp the tubes with a worm-drive clamp. The 1/2" accessory joints DEFINITELY need a clamp as these blow off with even a single jet. We don't want there to be much water spray underneath the tub.
Work your way around and connect all of the tubes. Finish the connections by hooking up the buttons to their respective valves. One positive goes to the valve and the negative goes to the negative line. These should be waiting for you, as described at the end of step 9. When everything is complete, rotate the top back into place. We are now ready for the last round of leak testing. First, press each button and listen for a faint click coming from the solenoid valves. Go ahead and hook up your garden hose to the fitting underneath the chassis.
Lift the top of one side so that you can take a peak inside. Turn on the hose and look for any new leaks from the main plumbing assembly. Check to see that the solenoids hold properly without any leaks. Passing those full-pressure tests, move on to the button tests. Press one button and ensure that all the proper jets fire. Check below to see if any tubes are loosened off their barbs or need to be reset. If you clamped the 1/4" and 1/2" barbs there shouldn't be any tubes that fly off. Proceed with the rest of the buttons and follow the above tests. Past this, we're pretty home free.
Now onto the modular toys.
Step 13: Modular Toys
All of the external connectors use a standard 1/2" FPT connection so that any 1/2" MPT component can easily connect.
The first toy that I knew I wanted was a simple shower head. This was a toy that's basically pre-built, you just have to change the gender. Most of the other toys were equally easy and I'll detail them now.
Shower Head Toy (x2)
- 2x PVC shower heads
- 2x1/2" MPT nylon nipples
- Teflon plumber's tape
Tape up both sides of the nipple and then thread one end into the FPT end of the shower head. We can now install the shower head into any of our accessory connectors.
Expanding Rubber Glove
- 1 yellow rubber kitchen glove.
- 1 1/2" barbed to 1/2" MPT fitting, nylon.
- 1 hose clamp
- Teflon plumber's tape.
First, bunch up the rubber glove's opening and stuff it through the hose clamp. Next, shove the barbed connector into the opening. Tighten the clamp around the barbed fitting. Apply plumber's tape on the threaded end. Snip a small opening on the end of each finger for spray and pressure relief. We can now install this into any of the accessory connectors.
Rubber hose misting squid
- 1 drip-irrigation 6 output vertical manifold
- 4' of surgical rubber tubing, 1/8" ID
- 8 misting nozzle heads for drip-irrigation systems.
- 1 6" length of 1/2" to 1/2" flexible sprinkler neck
- Plumber's tape.
This is another toy that's basically pre-built. Simply cut off six lengths of the surgical tube and install them into the manifold. Next, install the 360 degree misting nozzles into the other ends of the tubing. Apply plumber's tape onto both ends of the flexible sprinkler neck. Install one end into the pipe fitting of the manifold. The other end will plug into any of the accessory connectors.
- 1x 1/2" MPT to 1/2" barbed fitting.
- Plumber's tape.
This is clearly the easiest 'toy' to create. Simply wrap the threaded end with plumber's tape and you're done. Now if the kids want to have an easy place to fill up water balloons, plug this into one of the component connectors and water will shoot out of it into your water balloons when the proper button is pressed.
Vertical 'rain stick' and ring toss
- 8" 1/2" PVC pipe
- 1 1/2" PVC end cap
- 1 1/2" Slip to 1/2" MPT adapter.
- Plumber's tape
- 5/32" Drill bit
Assemble the three components and seal them with PVC cement. Next, drill holes all over the stick to create spray nozzles. You can use larger and smaller drill bits if you want to have variety. I found it easier to just drill like crazy all over the sticks. Apply plumber's tape onto the threaded end. This can now be installed into any of the accessory connectors. If mounted on the outside, it makes a great target for a ring toss.
The next 'toy' was the most ambitious and it all started with a simple idea.
Step 14: External Accessory Chassis
This whole concept came towards the end when I was describing some of my planned toys to a friend of mine. One of the proposed toys was a tipping bucket feature like they have at most major water parks. I knew that I could get the physics of the tipping bucket right, but I was not sure about the method for suspending the contraption above the kids. He and I brainstormed on this for a little while and came up with a pretty nice solution. This last piece is a completely self-contained toy which happens to fit perfectly on top of the splash-pod. This toy expands the accessory connectors by four, depending on how it is hooked up. All output connections are 1/2" FPT, just like the standard accessory connectors. This means that any of my toys can plug into this toy, and I have even more room for upgrades.
As soon as I came up with the basic form for the chassis, I realized that this could do a lot more than just the tipping buckets. I had an earlier idea for a pinwheel toy and this was a perfect opportunity to create it.
I went with hose pipe thread for the input for two reasons. First, the free-spinning hose pipe thread connector allows me to connect a hose to the external accessory connectors without any trouble. If I went with a standard 1/2" female pipe thread instead, I'd have a problem with counter-spinning a hose with dual 1/2" MPT ends. If you hooked up the chassis on one end, you would have to spin the hose the opposite direction in order to hook it up on the other. A free-spinning connector resolves this conflict. I hook up the input hose to an external accessory connection and then the other end goes into the external chassis. This easily connects because the free-spinning connector threads right onto it. The second reason is even cooler - by using hose pipe thread, this toy will work completely independent of the splash-pod. If the kids want to use this as a quick water toy, all I have to do is hook up a hose. And again, all of my current (and future) toys will plug right in.
And... to get the ultimate in wet fun, I can run a SECOND water hose into the top assembly while the splash pod receives its own input. The top will then be 'always on' but holy crap it's a lot of water this way.
Picture #2 shows a simple MSPaint drawing of the assembly. Standard PVC construction techniques were used here so I won't go over that again. The dimensions are basically whatever the top surface of your water toy will be. Since mine is a 39" square toy, each of the 'grip arms' that straddle the side must be properly spaced. This was easily figured out by doing a quick dry-fit before I made any cuts.
When this assembly receives water pressure, the entire setup fills up with water. This is why I used valves on the middle arms and plugs inside the grip arms. This forces water to go exactly where I want it. If I'm using the arms which hold the tipping water bucket, I'll cut off the flow of the water and these middle arms become structural components, not water features.
Step 15: Water Wheel Toy for the EAC
The external accessory chassis provides tons of opportunities for new and exciting water toys. The first two that I had in mind were both simple to make and they each make a great effect. The first one to cover is the water-wheel. When I was first brainstorming with my wife on various toys that I could put into the pod, we spent a lot of time looking through the beach toys at Target or Toys R Us. I knew that the sand wheel would be something fun if I had the wheels spinning under a spray of water but I wasn't sure how to accomplish this.
The EAC makes this really easy. All I have to do is build a pair of removable grippers which will hold a steel rod between them, and mount this into the middle arms of the EAC. With the valves turned off, these will not receive any water pressure. They are just there to hold the toy. I then thread the wheels onto the rod and keep them separate somehow. Ensure that the spray properly covers the wheels and they should spin.
- Gripper arms:
- 2x 1/2" PVC end caps
- 2x 4" sections of PVC pipe
- 2x MPT to slip fittings
- Pinwheels salvaged from a sand toy (Target)
- 1/8" steel rod (HD)
I build the gripper arms using a MPT to slip fitting, connected to a 3.5" section of pipe and capped with a PVC end cap. The end cap has a 1/8" hold drilled into the middle. This hole is whee the steel rod will fit.
The sand toy was pretty easy to disassemble. Once I had the four pinwheels removed, I had to enlarge the center holes to accommodate the steel rod. I used a 9/32" drill bit to enlarge the holes. Next, I made a kebob with the wheels and half-inch sections of leftover surgical tubing. Two pieces of tubing per wheel, so that I could properly space the wheels underneath the spray. I also made sure to swap the rotation directions of the toys so that the wheels will spin in opposite directions.
To finish the build, simply install one of the grippers into the middle-arms of the EAC, insert one end of the steel rod into it, mount the second gripper and then insert the second end into it. Turn on the spray so that you can adjust the position of the wheels. It works great and is a nice visual treat.
Step 16: Tipping Buckets
This is the grande finale toy that was much easier than I thought it would be. My original idea was to have a single giant bucket (1+ gallon) slowly fill up and then drench my daughter, but my wife put the brakes on that. She argued that it would scare my daughter so much that she would never want to get inside the toy again. So we went with a much smaller bucket and I doubled up on them. By having two buckets fill up, the splashes come more frequently and randomly and they aren't nearly as violent. But the main thing that this bought me was weight reduction. I designed the tipping buckets first and built the EAC around the finished design. If I had to support a gallon of water and all of the motion from a swinging bucket, the EAC would have been much bulkier. It might have not worked at all.
So onto the design. I picked up a pair of 1.5 qt buckets at Garden Ridge, which is a craft and hobby store down here in the South. They had these in all sorts of colors and sizes. Everything else was purchased from Home Depot.
- 2x 1.5 Quart buckets in blue (Garden Ridge)
- 2x 1/2" x 2.5" bolt
- 2x 1/2" nut
- 2x heavy plate electrical washer (package of 5)
- 4x 1/8" spring clip, J-style speed nut
Here I am, testing this out:
But I'm getting ahead of myself. First we have to weigh down the buckets. You can't have too much weight, or the water won't properly tip over the buckets. Too little and you could either have buckets that tip over too quickly or don't right themselves after tipping. I found some great heavy washers in the electrical section at Home Depot that did the job perfectly. To create this counter weight, start by drilling a 1/2" hole directly in the center of the bucket. Place two washers directly on top of this hole and then slide the bolt through them. Now slide the remaining three washers onto the bottom of the bolt and cap it off with the nut. We now have a properly weighted bucket.
Next, create the pivot point in the buckets. Measure about a quarter height up the bucket and make a mark. On the same spot across the other side, mark the same spot. Now drill a hole into each side with a larger bit than the 1/8" steel rod. We want it to spin pretty freely inside the hole. A 5/32 or 3/16 would work great. Now thread the steel rod into the holes. Now run to the sink and give this a test like I did in the above video. It should fill up, dump out and reset in a similar manner.
Repeat the weight & pivot process on the second bucket.
Now we have to secure the buckets in place using the J clips. Mount the assembly inside the gripper arms you built for the pinwheels. Now position the buckets so that they are directly underneath the spigots of the EAC. Mark the sides of the steel rod with a crayon so that you know where to place the J-clips. Now remove the bucket assmebly from the EAC and remove the rod from the buckets. Slide the internal pair of J-clips onto the rod into place where you marked. Now put the buckets back in place. Finish by sliding the outer pair of J-clips onto the ends of the buckets. Leave a little bit of a gap so that the buckets are not securely held in place by the clips. We just want them to stay within range of the spigots but still spin freely.
Now mount the assembly back into the EAC and fire it up. Here I am testing the whole thing out:
That's a great toy to add some excitement to the splash-pod!
Step 17: Final Thoughts
Well, I don't know where to begin. This was a monster project. I tried to write this up as best I could to come off as if it was a very organized and well-thought out project plan. This was absolutely not the case. I had an idea and a budget... and a really understanding wife. The budget was more than doubled and the idea was expanded so far beyond what I initially expected. The whole thing was just supposed to be a little tub with jets, right? When did tipping buckets and fire hoses become necessary? And, oh man, if you all knew the ideas that I had to scrap because of time and budget reasons. Left to my own devices, this would have blown out of control.
This project became far too important to me and it definitely caused a lot of stress. I mentioned my hatred for Home Depot earlier and I feel I should spend a little more time on this since it's specifically caused by poor project planning. Nearly every time I went into that store I received great customer service and occasionally some outstanding ideas for problems I was experiencing with my designs. My problem was that I couldn't stop with one trip. In fact, from the day that I received my 80/20 components, I made 52 trips to Lowes or Home Depot. That's in an 8-week period. This is the reason why I have to take a break from home improvement warehouses. We aren't even doing any gardening around our home because that would require a trip to either store. I just can't bring myself to go back in there. Proper planning could have avoided this.
I definitely got in over my head here. Several weeks ago, my wife asked me if I would do this over again if I knew then what I know now. My answer is yes, but only because I wouldn't make the same mistakes. There was a LOT of wasted material, probably over $150 in scrap. I initially went with pressure-treated lumber for the top panel, but pressure-treated lumber is CRAP and it was a terrible choice. My original buttons were in no way water-proof and all of my efforts to make them weather resistant totally failed. Then there is the giant bag of PVC and copper fittings that I'm left with. Maybe I'll make a sculpture someday. Who knows? The point is that this was not thought out. I had my idea and I was going to make it happen one way or another. The results are fantastic. People say that the Starfield Ceiling is way better in person than the video shows. I feel the same with the Splash-Pod. Everyone laughs and loves the effect; it is MUCH wetter than the videos make it seem. My entire yard is completely drenched after a few minutes of play. It is a great toy. But this was work.
My biggest piece of advice for anyone attempting a project like this is to fully plan every factor and answer every question before starting. I didn't do this and I knew it. I ordered the tub and the aluminum before I even knew how I was going to mount it. My wife came up with the hole in the wood panel idea. I asked 80/20 to tap the ends before I even knew if I could get casters in the size they were tapping. Most glaring (and still unsolved) is the fact that my battery will eventually run out of juice and I didn't design a recharging system (I'm planning on taking it out and topping it off every year). I knew I had all of these issues to overcome but I just assumed that I would solve them as I went. Holy crap, do not do this. Do not go forward with a plan unless every loose end is covered; every question is answered.
I have to spend a whole paragraph to cover my wife's contributions to this project. She is really responsible for 50% of the design here because of her ability to think outside of the box. She doesn't have any background in engineering or mechanical design like me, but she follows along incredibly well. Every single time I ran into a problem with plumbing, structure, mechanics or toys I could bounce ideas off of her and she nearly always came up with the solution you see here. The fire hose - hers. Cross-fire jets - hers. Tub mounting system (hole in top) - hers. Water-balloon filler - hers. This toy would not exist in any form if I didn't have her support. So for that, I thank you. And I'll thank her for my two daughters who don't know to thank her yet.
This was definitely a family effort. My dad was a huge help by answering tons of design questions on electronics and plumbing ideas, from the very beginning. My older brother Paul helped me out with questions on wood-working and paint. My older sister Molly helped by creating the overview video on page 1. My baby sister Erin helped me with this guide. And my mom fostered my early love for water that carried over into my own children. Thanks to all of you =)
Anyway... I think that's it. I wish that I could show you all this thing in person because it's so much more fun that way. Stay tuned because I'm definitely adding more toys and accessories to it as time goes on and I have tons of more project ideas for my growing family. I hope you enjoyed the Instructable.
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