Ho Ho Lights

My Husband and I wanted to put up some kind of Christmas decorations in our apartment windows over looking the city. After talking about it for a while, I decided to make lighted letters saying, “HO HO HO” …but since we only have two pairs of windows, it would have to just be, “HO HO”.

In the wee hours on Black Friday, we got the materials: 4 sheets of wood, 4 boxes of 100 count LED lights, and extension cords. After sketching out the design…

…and cutting out the letters…

…it was time to drill the 400 holes and hot glue all the lights in place.

It only took a weekend to make and hang these and I think the end result is well worth it.


LegoLamp follow-up

There are some issues . . .

It’s not going so well . . .

In a previous post, I outlined the plan for constructing the LegoLamp.  It was good theory, but not really workable.  This post will be a “what I learned,” rather than “look at what I built.”  The picture tells the story.

Legos are rectilinear, the cylinder is not.  Which means the contact between them is a line.  That’s not a lot of gluing surface.  Ideally, I would have cut the brick-end to match the curve of the cylinder.  But Lego are hollow.  Removing that much material would have removed the end of the brick.  I counted on the relatively thick hot-glue adhesive to smoosh, expanding the area of the joint.

The laser-cut template has very tight tolerances.  This was deliberate.  Making the template tight allowed it to serve, in theory, as a substrate for the next layer of bricks.  The tight fit to the current layer of bricks would hold the template perpendicular to the cylinder.

In the background, you can see the hot-glue gun has been retired.  There is a yellow, plastic-razor-holder next to it.  Hot glue was not the proper adhesive for this job.   I installed, removed, and scraped, 3 layers of bricks — twice — before abandoning the hot glue.  The template is so tight, it leaves no room for adhesive.  The glue gets scraped-off and smeared onto the cylinder as the brick is fit.  After the first layer, placing a brick is not merely a matter of fitting it into the template.  The template must be aligned with the lower layer of bricks so that the new brick will snap onto the one beneath it.  The glue is not-so-hot by the time the template is properly aligned and the brick is inserted.  The resulting joint is weak.

I switched to two-part epoxy, to gain a longer working time.  In short, it still wasn’t sufficient.  Five minutes was long enough to place the persnickety first brick of a row, plus 3 more.  Then the epoxy became unworkable, and I had to dispense more.  I wasted a lot of epoxy.  Adding insult to injury, the working time was 5 minutes but the minimum set time was 20.  That means 30 minutes per layer.  Sixteen layers is 8 hours of gluing.  That’s too long.  And, the epoxy had the same smearing and small-contact-surface issues as the hot glue.  Some of the epoxy joints are no stronger than the hot-glue joints (i.e., they fall apart if touched).

The template works as a substrate for the next layer of bricks.  But the etched outline is not sufficient to accurately place that next layer.  When the template is rotated & raised to lock onto the 2nd layer, it doesn’t fit.  The bricks are not placed within the tolerance of the template.  I can’t use the template to support the new layer as the glue sets.  Without that support, the bricks tend to fall out of parallel as the adhesive sets.  This makes the next layer even more difficult to place, stresses the lower layer’s joint in the process, and results in collapses like the one in the photo.  I created support structures from other pieces of Lego.  These work for the initial layers.  But they add to the difficulty of placing a brick.  They can’t be used after the first 5 layers, because there’s no space for them.

Clearly, it’s time to back away from the project and rethink it.



  • Clear acrylic tube, 3″ O.D.
  • 4×2 LEGO bricks, 6 per layer
  • Ceiling-mount shade holder (like this one)
  • Hot glue or specialty adhesive (e.g., Weld-On #1802)
  • Template material (flat, at least 6″ square, 5/16″ thick)

Initial considerations:

3″ O.D./2.75″ I.D. tube is appropriate for a ceiling-mount shade holder.  That greatly simplifies the wiring and allows a standard bulb to be used.  Incandescent bulbs get much hotter than CFL bulbs.  Airflow around the bulb is likely to be restricted.  Cooler bulb is better.  Distorted or discolored acrylic is not pretty.

Acrylic tube is not the only option.  Transparent PVC and polycarbonate are also viable.

Spacing between “vanes” is important.  Because the light-source is inside the bricks, they will cast dramatic shadows and restrict the amount of light projecting into the room.  The 3 screws attaching the tube to the shade holder require equidistant holes.  Space must be left for them.

A child may not understand the difference between decor and toy.  A ceiling mount places it out of reach.  The 3-screw attachment should be easily adaptable to other mounts, should they be desired later.

Template illustration

Each brick hinges on the corner nub of the brick below & behind it.  Thus each one is half a brick ahead of the one below & behind it.  Brick edges are straight, so the ends will only touch the tube at their centers.  A triangle, formed by the center of the tube and the centers of connected bricks, has a vertex of 12° (see illustration).

Use a template to ensure the bricks are glued in the correct orientation and spacing around the tube.  The template has brick-shaped holes for already-attached bricks, and indicator-lines showing where the next brick should be placed.

Correct thickness of template




The thickness & rigidity of the template material are important.  In this illustration, the template rests on the red layer of bricks, is held in the correct orientation by the yellow bricks, and supports the new, green, bricks while the glue sets.  If the template is too thin, the leading edge of the new bricks will drop.  Instead of stair-stepping up the side of the tube, the “vanes” will droop and level-off.  If the template isn’t rigid (say, cardboard), it will flex under the new bricks with the same result.  (I used sheet acrylic.)

The correct thickness of the template is equal to the distance from the bottom of the new layer of bricks to the top of the nubs on which it rests.  Note that this is not the same as the thickness of a brick!  It’s the thickness of a brick, minus the height of its nubs, then minus the height of the nubs on which the template rests.  7/16″-1/16″-1/16″=5/16″.


The Tube:  How long should it be?  As long as you want.  In my case, I noticed that 6 inches is an even multiple of the brick-height (3/8″ per brick * 16 bricks = 6″).  So my tube is 6 1/2″ long.  The extra half-inch is to accommodate the nubs on the topmost layer of bricks and provide clearance for the shade-holder.  I cut the tubing on a table saw.  The technique recommended by the manufacturer is to raise the saw blade to just above the thickness of the tubing, then rotate the tubing, in place, on the blade.  In my case, I used a cross-cut sled to ensure the cut was perpendicular all the way around the tubing.

The LEGOs:  16 bricks per “vane” * 6 vanes = 96 bricks.  I decided to use equal numbers of each color, so I needed 24 bricks each of red, yellow, green, and blue.  I purchased used bricks and a large LEGO plate in an on-line marketplace.

Don’t cut the red ones!

Because each brick must rotate 12° relative to the brick on which it sits, 3 of the 4 nubs must be removed from one side of each brick.  Important: Decide which way your bricks will rotate before you remove the nubs, and remove the same 3 nubs from each brick!  In the illustration, the red nubs are closest to the tube.  Do not cut those!  Those are the pivots for the bricks that will attach to them.  If you want the bricks to spiral clockwise up the tube, remove the blue nubs.  If you want counter-clockwise, remove the green nubs.  Note: you don’t need to remove the nubs from the top-most 6 bricks.  In fact, it will probably look better (from the ceiling, anyway :~) if you don’t.

My set-up for removing the nubs







I used a rotary tool, fixed in a stand, to remove the nubs.  I used a standard cut-off disc.  I adjusted the height of the tool so that the bottom of the disc was at the bottom of the nubs.  I used a big, green LEGO plate to hold the bricks in place, while I cut them.  The plate allowed me to keep my fingers well-away from the spinning blade, but still manipulate the brick being cut.  I left a gap between the pivot end of one brick and the next brick.  This made it easier to avoid accidentally removing the pivot nubs.  (Note: molten plastic is hot.)  After cutting, the bricks required some touch-up work with a knife, to remove the plastic still attached to the edges.  Also, the nubs are discs that sit atop holes in the brick.  Removing the nub reveals the hole.

Laser-Cut template

The Template:I found some scrap acrylic of the correct thickness. Shane was kind enough to redraw my template sketch as a vector, and show me how to use the Makerspace’s laser-cutter (Thanks, Shane!).  We cut the template in multiple passes.  The first pass included the outline for the “next-up” brick.  Subsequent passes did not.  That produced the desired through-cut with adjacent guidelines.

Template test-fit






This image shows the template, a short length of tube, and a pair of test bricks (3 nubs have been removed from the red brick).  Notice how the template aligns the red brick, and how the guidelines show correct placement of the blue brick.  Note: The template is resting on the table, not on a lower layer of bricks.  That’s why the blue brick doesn’t rest on the template.)

That’s as far as I’ve gotten.  I’ll post again when the project is completed.

Moar Power!


Power? We always need more power! Many months back Joel had an old computer power supply that he modified to use as a cheapo bench power supply. Sure, it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles (and adjust-ability) of a real bench power supply, but since we hate to waste, and love to recycle, it’s a good use of an old power supply.

I learned a lot about power supplies last month when I destroyed the one I use(d) with my RepRap, and in the process I ended up harvesting a few PSUs from old computers we had in the server room at work. I ended up using one of them to build my own project power supply with 5 volt and 12 volt outputs. I grabbed a pair of resistors from the component library to put a load on the supply, and drilled four holes in the case to mount a few posts I got at Radio Shack. I’ve now got plenty of power to power all sorts of powerful projects!


Here you can see it powering up an LED ring light that requires 12 volts. I can also use it to run a small fan when soldering components. The uses for such a power supply are endless! (Well, within the supplied voltage and current anyway.)


A microtome is a device for slicing very thin cross-sections of stuff, in order to view them under a microscope.  Commercial ones are available, but they cost upwards of $50.  There is a classic DIY solution, but it involves a piece of old technology — a wooden spool for thread.  Outside of antique stores, those aren’t common.  Plastic ones tend to be hollow, meaning there’s no guide surface for the razor blade; and the razor is likely to shave the plastic instead of slide across it.  Gluing a washer to the plastic spool would address both of those problems.  But there is very little gluing surface on the end of a hollow plastic spool.



Lacking a wooden spool, I cut a cube off the end of some scrap 2×2 and bored a slightly-oversize hole through it.  Using Gorilla Glue, I attached a flanged nut and a flat washer to opposite ends of the hole.  Before the glue set, I used the bolt to center and clamp them over the hole.  Gorilla Glue expands 30% as it sets.  To avoid permanently gluing the bolt into the body, I carefully removed it after a few minutes.  You can see glue in the threads adjacent to the bolt, in the image at right.  A few minutes with a wire brush cleaned the bolt threads.






Lastly, I flattened and polished the washer on a lapping plate.  The edge of the washer-hole was rough, and glue had expanded out of the hole and onto the surface.

The nut & bolt are 1/4 x 20.  One complete turn is 1/20″.  So a quarter-turn should be 0.0125″ thin.  That, and a fresh razor blade, should make slices thin-enough for a microscope.

MegaMax Lives!

The video shows the last few layers of the calibration cube “printing” at 414% speed (according to my LCD display).

The Bucketworks 3D printing meet-up on 8/12 paid off big-time!  Gary Kramlich helped me debug a problem that was preventing me from flashing the firmware on the controller board for the MegaMax 3D printer.  After a few tweaks I was able to get it moving.

Magic Mirror Theater Prop

My sister is a Theater Manager at the Patel Conservatory in Tampa, FL.  About two weeks ago she texted me and asked if I could make her a prop she needed for an upcoming production.  “How keen would you be on making me a mirror for “Beauty and The Beast,” she said.  “They want a mirror that lights up and sparkles like the one from the movie.” Even with limited experience just tinkering around, I knew I could do something fairly easily, so I agreed and got to work.

I combined two different circuits (a 555 timer to flash and a RC circuit to fade) and built a wooden frame with acrylic plates for the front and back.  The wood and plastic were CNC-milled, then sanded and painted before the electronics were installed and glued into place.

The result was a fairly decent-looking, shiny, light-up hand mirror with a small thumb button on the right side that flashes 16 bright green LEDs when pressed.  It all runs off a single 9-volt battery and the back can be unscrewed to replace it should it ever die.

Total build time from start to finish was probably close to 15 hours over the course of one week.  The play was Thursday, July 19th and from what I’ve heard, it was a great success.  I’ll add pictures from the performance if I get some.

Casting Furnace Update

Despite summer vacation and other obligations, work continues to progress on the Casting Furnace.  In the past few weeks Bret has pinched the end of a metal brake line tube used to feed the furnace diesel fuel and installed a needle valve to better control the fuel flow rate.

Brant has been milling and machining parts for a mechanism that will both lift the lid and turn it out of the way when someone steps on a foot pedal.  The next steps will be to finish the foot pedal, weld it to the rig, and secure the lid to the top of of the lifting post.  Bret also plans to improve the casting tongs so they are more easy to use.

For more information, see the project wiki page: http://wiki.milwaukeemakerspace.org/projects/casting_furnace

Android Blue or iOS Purple? Update on the OOMA project

The Object Of My Affection Lamp   I thought I would jump in and blog on my current progress at the Makerspace with a lamp called OOMA, or The Object Of My Affection. It’s a lamp that is shaped like a GPS Navigation pin that rotates to always points toward the one you love… as long as they allow you access to their Google Latitude account :). I am finalizing hardware designs and now moving into writing the software and how it talks to the Internet.

Initially I would have waived it off as using WiFi, or Ethernet, but work on another project (Marco) has illuminated several obstacles over multiple use cases (configuring Wi-Fi, closed networks, IP addresses); instead I think the approach will be to opt over USB (via Arduino Leonardo). I figure, if people will load up a coffee cup heater or foam missile launcher to USB, than there is no issue with port scarcity.

It’s not a lamp without light, and at some point OOMA will light up in either Android Blue, or iPhone Purple. Lighting the lamp will, however, have to relegated to a v.2 build, due to some complexity in the diffusion of light in such a cramped space. Additionally, I’d like to investigate EL panels to light it up.

Finally, I am coming up on the decision to be a DIY offering, or to design it to be marketable – do I build as a one off and just offer the blueprints to others or build an end-to-end consumer solution complete with potentially an NFC tag to tap and pair a user and their lamp.

MegaMax 3D Printer

MegaMax 3D Printer

MegaMax 3D printer based on MendelMax but bigger and minus plastic parts.

This is my on-going project at the Milwaukee Makerspace.  It is a 3D extruded plastic printer with about 1 cuft build envelope.  I want to print life-size human skulls (among other things) from CT scan data.  The printer is made mostly from salvaged parts and materials so the cost has been very low.  When it’s finished it will have a heated 12″x12″ bed (13″x13″ if I can find an aluminum plate that big) and dual extruder so it can print in two colors.

I have learned a lot on this project- some things that work and others that don’t work so well, and how to use a milling machine to drill holes precisely and square the ends of the 8020 extrusion pieces used to build up the frame of the machine.

I could not have done any of this without access to the people, materials, and tools at Milwaukee Makerspace.  Every time I go there to do some work on this project someone says something that gives me new ideas for improvements to the design.   I frequently find materials and parts left for me on the machine’s cart by other members who know what I’m trying to do.  If you have a project idea find your local Makerspace and get busy- there is nothing that will get your creative juices flowing like being around a bunch of people with similar interests and different skills and experience!