Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Glowing Treasure Chest

We have all seen movies and TV show where someone opens a treasure chest and the treasure inside is so shiny that the container is glowing as soon as it is opened. I thought that this would make a great effect for Christmas presents. So I made a small treasure chest with a built-in light that turns on when it is opened. The lights are activated by a normally open momentary switch. This is the same kind of switch that controls the light in your refrigerator. It turns on a set of battery powered LED lights.

I also show how to add a sound recorder module so that the chests also plays sound effects when it is opened.

Detailed written instructions at Instructables: http://www.instructables.com/id/Glowing-Treasure-Chest/

Monday, December 9, 2013

Light Up Christmas Present

After you put Christmas lights on your tree, your house and your lawn ornaments, you might wonder if there is anything else that you can put lights on. Well, why not put lights on the presents as well. It sounds like a fun idea, but no one wants their present to be tethered to the wall with a power cord. So I figured out an easy way to power a set of lights wirelessly with an inductive charger.

In this project, I teach you how to make a wireless light up Christmas present.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Introduction to Chainmail

For centuries chainmail protected soldiers on the battlefield from stabbing and slashing injuries. The basic design is so effective that it is still used today by some butchers, wood carvers and shark divers.

But chainmail can do more than just protect you from sharp objects. It can also protect you from high voltage electricity. Many people who work with Tesla coils use chainmail as a kind of wearable faraday cage. A great example of this is the band ArcAttack. They use solid state Tesla coils to play music. The performers on stage are able to safely get struck by lightning from the Tesla coils because the metal suits redirect the electricity around their bodies (But don’t try that at home!).

Chainmail is also commonly used as a decorative element. The simple elegance of interwoven rings makes it ideal for jewelry making.

In this project, I give you a basic introduction to the art of making chainmail.

For detailed instructions check out the Instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/Chainmail-1/

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Articulated Camera Stand

A tripod is the most common way to stabilize a camera. But there are a few situations where a regular tripod is very impractical. Most cameras can’t get very close to the surface that they stand on. It is also difficult to get pictures straight down without getting the tripod’s legs in the shot. There are also a lot of areas where you just can’t set up a regular tripod such as under the hood of a car. So to solve these problems, you can use an articulated camera stand.

In this project, I show you how to make a small table top articulated camera stand from a desk lamp and a few piece of scrap wood. This lets you get pictures from any height and just about any angle. Its a great tool for documenting your DIY projects.

Instructions for this project can be found at: http://www.instructables.com/id/Articulated-Camera-Stand/

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Laser Tripwire Alarm

No security system is complete without lasers. We have all seen movies where the main character has to get past a high tech security system and there is always a room full of lasers somewhere.

So in this project, I show you how to build a laser tripwire alarm.  All you need is a cheap laser point, a couple of mirrors, and a few dollars of electrical parts. With this you can cover an entire house with an array of light beams. If any one of them is crossed it sets off your alarm. And unlike in the movies, these lasers are practically invisible.

This system is fast and easy to set up and it is battery powered. So you can set it up anywhere. You can make this a standalone alarm or it can be integrated into a larger DIY security system.

Instructions at: http://www.instructables.com/id/Laser-Tripwire-Alarm/

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Magnetic Tool Hanger

In most workshops space is limited. So you need to find a way to utilize every bit of space that you can. One area that is often overlooked is the space underneath shelves and cabinets. But this can actually be a great place to store small tools. All you need is a few magnets and some sheet metal.

In this project, I show you how to make simple magnetic mounting brackets that you can use to hang small metal hand tools such as screw drivers and pliers. You can small brackets with a single magnet or you can make long mounting strips with multiple magnets. Hanging your tool keeps them easily accessible and frees up some of your valuable horizontal space

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Automatic Camera Shutter Switch

There are a lot of times when you want to photograph something but you can’t be there with the camera. If you want to take aerial photographs with a pole or a kite, you need a way to control the camera without being up in the air yourself. In this project I demonstrate a variety of ways that you can remotely or automatically control a camera.

If your camera has a shutter switch terminal, then you can directly control the focus and shutter with an external circuit such as a microcontroller. If your camera doesn’t have a shutter switch terminal, then you can either add connections to the shutter button or you can use a servo to press the button for you.

There are a lot of possible applications for an automatically controlled camera. You can make time lapse videos. You can set it up as part of a security system. You can set it up in a haunted house to get pictures of people getting scared by your automated special effects. Use your imagination.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How to Automate a Haunted House with a Motion Sensor

When working with special effects, the most important part is timing. So for this Halloween, I am doing a series of projects that use simple DIY sensors to help you automate your Halloween setup. So far we have covered pressure plates and proximity sensors. This week, I am going to show you how to use motion sensors to activate your special effects.

There are a lot of small motion sensor modules that will connect directly to your microcontroller. These output a HIGH signal whenever they detect motion. You can read this with a digitalRead function and then have your microcontroller activate any number of special effects. You can either use a commercial shield or make your own.

If you want to activate AC devices you can also modify a motion sensor that is already designed to work with AC. In this project, I took motion-activated security light and I turned it into a motion-activated AC outlet.

There are a lot of ways that you can use a motion sensor to help you automate your Halloween setup. Then after Halloween, you can use it to automate your house.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How to Automate a Haunted House with a DIY Proximity Sensor

When working with automated special effects, the most important part is making sure that they are well timed. For live events such as a haunted house, the best way to get the timing right is to use sensors to detect where your guests are and when they reach various locations. So for this Halloween, I am doing a series of projects that demonstrate different sensors that can be used to automate a haunted house.

Last week I showed how to use a pressure plate switch to activate special effects. This week, I am going to show you how to make a simple proximity sensor. This is basically just an infrared LED and a phototransistor. When a person stands near the sensor, some of the light from the LED is reflected back to the detector. The output signal of the detector can be monitored by an Arduino and used to activate special effects when the person is close enough.

Instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/Use-a-DIY-Proximity-Sensor-to-Automate-Your-Haunte/

Monday, October 7, 2013

How to Automate a Haunted House with a DIY Pressure Plate Switch

One of the best parts of a haunted house is the automated special effects. To make sure that the effects are well timed, you need sensors to detect where your guests are in the haunted house. Over the next few weeks I am going to show you a variety of simple sensors that you can use to automate your Halloween setup.

This week I am going to show you how to make a simple DIY pressure plate switch. This is just a pressure sensitive switch that is activated when someone steps on it. A sensor like this is really useful for effects that require someone to be in a specific location.  I also give several examples of ways that you can use it to activate special effects in a haunted house.

Instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/Use-a-DIY-Pressure-Plate-Switch-to-Automate-Your-H/

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Pepper's Ghost Illusion

Pepper’s Ghost is a special effects technique for creating transparent ghostly images. This technique has been a staple of theaters and haunted houses since John Pepper popularized it in the 1800′s. It works by reflecting an image of the ghost off of a sheet of plexiglass. The plexiglass is set at a 45 degree angle in front of the audience. At this angle the background remains clearly visible, but it also reflects a partial image of the ghost that is located off to one side.

This special effect is especially impressive because it can be performed live and it does require any computers or special equipment. All you need to incorporate this effect into your Halloween setup is a large sheet of plexiglass. I’ll this video I’ll show show you how to make your own.

Instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/The-Peppers-Ghost-Illusion/

Friday, September 27, 2013

Motion Tracking Skull for Halloween

Interactive Halloween props are always fun. So in this project I designed a simple motion tracking system that will make your Halloween props turn to look at people and follow their movements as they walk by.

To do this, I mounted a servo to the bottom of a foam skull. Then I set up an array of light sensors  in front of it. When a person walks in front of it, the light sensors will detect the person’s shadow. An Arduino then calculates where they are standing and turns a servo to face them. When they move, the system adjust and turns the skull to face their new position. You can set this up on a shelf or fence where people will be walking by. It stays still until someone is right next to it. You can surprise a lot of people simply because they aren’t expecting it to move.

Instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/Halloween-Props-That-Turn-to-Look-at-You-as-you-Wa/

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Haunted TV Prank

Halloween is just around the corner. So it’s time to start building projects to scare and prank your friends. I decided to start off this year by making a haunted TV. In this project I show you how to use a cheap pair of walkie talkies to make strange and eerie sounds come from your TV. One walkie talkie is hidden inside the TV. When you speak into the other walkie talkie, your voice will appear to come from the TV.

You could pretend that it is a ghost. You could pretend that the TV is intercepting signals from aliens. Or you could make it appear that they TV is bugged and you are being watched by big brother with a SWAT team closing in. Use your imagination and have fun.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Remote Tripwire Alarm

A tripwire is one of the most basic ways to set up a simple security system. You run a line across a pathway. Then when someone walks through the line, it activates an alarm. This kind of system is easy to set up and is fairly effective. But there is always room for improvement.

The most inconvenient thing about a classic tripwire alarm is that it requires you to run a physical line from the tripwire to the alarm. This makes it difficult to set up a system where the alarm is far away or inside a building. To get around this problem, I designed a simple remote alarm system that uses a small radio transmitter to activate the alarm wirelessly. So in this project, I am going to show you how to make a simple remote tripwire alarm.

Instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/Remote-Tripwire-Alarm/

Thursday, September 5, 2013

How to Transplant an RFID Chip

RFID (radio-frequency identification) systems are all around us. They help us get through toll booths faster. They help stores keep track of inventory. They are even in a lot of toys.

But there is no reason why the RFID chips need to stay in their original housing. In this project, I am going to show you how to transplant a RFID chip into a different housing to make it more convenient or at least more fun use. You can make an RFID reactive wallet, multi-tool, or cell phone case. My favorite was a RFID magic wand. That way you could open your office door with a magic wand. The only limit is your imagination.

Instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Transplant-RFID-Chips/

Giant Cardboard Dinosaur Puzzle

A few weeks ago I purchased some small 3D wood puzzles to build with my son. Among them was a pteranodon. I thought that it was a really fun model, but it was too small. So I scanned the pieces and blew them up about 500%. Then I cut the pieces out of cardboard to be lighter. The result was a giant pteranodon puzzle. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Arduino Controlled Solar Fountain

A fountain can make a nice decorative fixture for your garden. But it isn’t always easy to run a power cord out to where you want it. So I decided to run it on solar power. The system is controlled by an Arduino. This allows you to save energy by programming when the fountain will be turned on. You can set up a timer so that it only turns on at certain times of the day. You can add a light sensor so that it will only turn on when the sun is shining. Or you can use the Arduino to monitor the battery’s voltage so that the fountain can turn itself off if the battery gets too low. You can program the fountain to react to a wide variety of conditions. You can do this for improved efficiency or just for fun.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

DIY Sunrise Alarm Clock

There is nothing that is more annoying than the beep of an alarm clock. So I designed a simple DIY "sunrise alarm clock" This uses light to wake you up. At the set time, an LED lamp gradually turns on over several minutes. This is less of a shock than the sudden blare of a typical alarm.

Instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/Sunrise-Alarm-Clock-1/

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

DIY Finger Printing with Super Glue

You may have heard that you can use super glue to develop finger prints. It's actually really easy, and you can do it with things that you probably already have lying around your house. This tutorial shows you how to develop fingerprints using the "Super glue fuming method." So put on you lab coat and start the CSI music.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

How to make a digital picture Magic 8 Ball

The classic Magic 8 Ball is an amusing toy for speculating about life's many questions. But it lacks versatility. So I removed the standard 20 side fortune die and replaced it with a digital picture keychain. Now instead of 20 responses, you have can have 60. It also allows you to change them whenever you want.

Instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/Digital-Magic-8-Ball/

DIY Glove Box

glove box is a piece of equipment that lets you perform work on a subject while keeping it in isolation. A glove box is most commonly used to protect operators working with hazardous materials, but it can also be used to protect sensitive materials from the outside atmosphere.

In this project, I am going to show you how to make a DIY glove box. Since different applications require different degrees of isolation, inthis project I am going to demonstrate a variety of design features and how to implement them. You can then choose which features you want to use in your glove box.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Secret Candlestick Switch

No feature in a home captures the imagination like a secret compartment or secret passage. But no secret compartment is complete without a secret way to open it.
In this project, I share several ways that you can use a simple hanging candlestick (or anything else) to access a hidden compartment. There are a lot of ways that you can do this. You can use a candlestick to open physical latches and activate electrical circuits. The only limitation is your imagination. So use this as an excuse to have some fun and build a secret compartment in your house.

Instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/Secret-Candlestick-Switch/

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Custom Soda Cooler

The heat of summer is upon us. So to help beat the heat, today I am going to show you how you can make your own custom soda cooler. As an example I decided to make a cooler that perfectly fits a pack of soda. That way you can take the whole pack out of the fridge, put it directly into your cooler and go.

There are a lot of different styles of cooler. But they all have some common features. First off, there must have a layer of insulating material to keep the drinks cold. Then on both sides of the insulating material you need a layer of waterproof material to keep it sealed. Then you need a method of attaching all the layers together. Lastly, you need a way of opening and closing the cooler. There are a lot of ways to make a cooler. So go make your own.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Pocket-Size Power Supply

I am a big fan of garage sales, flea markets, and thrift stores. They are great places to find used parts and materials for your next project. But one problem that I often run into is not being able to test battery powered electronics to see if they work. Because there are so many different combinations of batteries that are used in portable electronics, it isn't really practical to carry around batteries for testing. One device may need 6 AA's and another may require 4 D's. So I came up with this simple pocket-sized variable power supply. It can plug into either a 9V battery or a 12V battery pack. You can then adjust the output voltage to match the device that you want to test and attach the output wires to the end terminals on the device's battery connectors. This lets you power the device long enough to see if it works.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

USB Deaddrops

What is a USB dead drop? ‘Dead Drops’ is an anonymous, offline, peer to peer file-sharing network in public space. This network is made up of USB drives that are embedded in walls, buildings and other public places. Anyone is free to access, download, and upload. It is very similar to geocaching but with data. The first USB dead drop network of five locations was created by Berlin-based artist Aram Bartholl in 2010. Since then, there have been over 1,000 dead drop locations that have been registered at deaddrops.com (Including one outside the Instructables office.) For a walk through of how to set up a standard USB dead drop, check out this instructable by user frenzy.

Up until now, this has been mostly restricted to urban locations. In this instructable, I am going to attempt to expand this project beyond city limits by showing everyone how to embed USB drives in natural fixtures such as trees and rocks.

Instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/Create-a-USB-Dead-Drop-in-Nature/

Monday, June 17, 2013

Video Game Controller Hack

Everyone loves video games. But it can be difficult to enjoy certain games if you are injured or disabled and don’t have the manual dexterity needed to execute fast button combos. Fortunately, we can use an Arduino to do it for us. The Arduino can send signals to the controller that simulate the buttons being pressed. This lets you pre-program commands that can be activated by a single button. This kind of mod could be used to help more gamers enjoy combo heavy games.

Instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/Hack-a-Video-Game-Controller-with-an-Arduino-for-G/

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

3D Photography

3D photography or stereoscopic photography is the art of capturing and displaying two slightly offset photographs to create three dimensional images.

The 3D effect works because of a principle called stereopsis. Each eye is in a different location, and as a result, it sees a slightly different image. The difference between these images is what lets us perceive depth. This effect can be replicated with photography by taking two pictures of the subject that are offset by the same distance as your pupils (about 2.5 inches or 63 mm). The two images are then viewed so that each eye sees only the corresponding picture. Your brain puts the two images together just as it does for normal vision and you perceive a single three dimensional image.

Instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/3D-Stereoscopic-Photography/

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

How to Convert Battery Powered Electronics to Run on AC Power

We use a lot of battery power electronics. And they go through a lot of batteries. But some of them don't necessarily need to be powered by batteries. If your electronics tend to stay in the same general area, then there is no reason why they couldn't be powered by AC. This would let you save a lot of batteries and money. Here is how to do it.

Instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/Convert-Battery-Powered-Electronics-to-Run-on-AC/

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Multi-Book Secret Storage Compartment

You are probably already familiar with the classic "Secret Book Compartment" project. You can find variations of this project all over the internet. The basic concept is simple. You hollow out a large book and you use the cutout space to hide stuff. But what if you want to hide something that is larger than all of your books. Well, you can hide larger objects by combining multiple books into one large multi-book container. It's a fun way to reuse those old reference books that you never read.

Instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/Multi-Book-Secret-Storage-Compartment/

Monday, May 20, 2013

Swiss Army Key Ring

Most people have to keep track of at least a few keys. The easiest way to do that is to just keep them all on one key ring. But the more keys that you have, the more they fan out on the ring. If you have a lot of keys, then your key ring can get pretty bulky and impractical to carry in your pocket. Here is an alternate design for holding and organizing your keys that is a little more efficient.

The design of this key holder is very similar in construction to a Swiss Army Knife. The keys are arranged on two parallel bars. Each key can be rotated into the handle for compact storage and rotated back out for use. So here is how to make a Swiss Army Key Ring.

Instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/Swiss-Army-Key-Ring/

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Magnetic Magic Wand Toy

Do you know a kid that likes to pretend that they are a wizard or a fairy princess? How would you like to give them a toy wand that can turn on/off electronic devices like magic? You may even be able to teach them a thing or two about electronics in the process.

In this project, I show you how you can make magnetic switches that can be used to activate a circuit just like a regular momentary switch. This lets you add magnets and magnet sensitive switches to toys so that they can interact with each other

Instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/Magic-Wand-that-can-turn-Electrical-Appliances-On-/

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

How to Get Emergency Power from a Phone Line

What do you do if the power is out but you need to charge your cellphone to make an emergency phone call (or play Angry Birds). Don't worry there are plenty of power sources all around you that you can tap into. One of them is phone line. Even when in a blackout, there is still electricity in the phone line. This is because the phone company has their own independent backup power system. All you need to tap this power is a simple voltage regulator. Here is how to set it up.

Monday, April 29, 2013

How to Make a Custom Operation Game

Operation is a game that lets you test your hand-eye coordination by removing ailment tokens from a carton patient. The difficult part is that you can't touch the sides of each slot. Since its original release in 1965, there have been a lot of custom versions of this game. There are versions for Star Wars, Iron Man, Toy Story and Sponge Bob. The simple design of the game makes it very versatile and easy to adapt. In this project, I show you how to make your own custom version of the game.

You can get the detailed step by step instructions for this project here.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Wind Activated Garden Lights

This is my first project that I made for Make Magazine's new DIY Hacks & How Tos YouTube series.

We are all familiar with garden fixtures like wind chimes and solar path lights. In this project, Jason Poel Smith combines these two elements and teaches you how to make wind-activated hanging lights. These DIY garden decorations light up and flicker like fireflies whenever the wind blows. The stronger the wind, the more active they are. 

Like any decoration, it don't need to be confined to a garden or back yard. They can also light up the edge of your roof or your porch. You can even bring them in doors and set them across from your A/C vent.
Complete step by step instructions instructions for this build can be found at: http://www.instructables.com/id/Wind-Activated-Garden-Lights

My New Series on Make Magazine's YouTube Channel

Yesterday, Make Magazine launched my new video series on their YouTube channel. I am producing a new project every week and they are hosting it on their YouTube channel and blog. Here is the launching blog post. http://blog.makezine.com/2013/04/22/introducing-diy-hacks-and-how-tos-a-video-series-with-jason-poel-smith/

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Two Part Magnetic Stapler

At one point or another, you have probably been frustrated by the limitations of a standard office stapler. They can only staple 3.5 inches into a page. So if you are working on a large or oddly shaped project, then you are usually stuck trying to staple into carpet or a piece of cardboard and then bending the teeth of the stapler down by hand. I think that a better option would be to make a stapler that can be separated into two parts, placed on opposite sides of a paper and aligned with magnets. Here is a simple example of how this could be done.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cooking with Power Tools Article

My "Cooking with Power Tool" project has been featured in a "Hack Your Kitchen" article on
M e n s h e a l t h . c o m . It is tab 4/22 on the slide show. It is also being publish in the written magazine.

Monday, February 11, 2013

How to Make a Shirt Folding Board out of Cardboard and Duct Tape

Nobody likes folding clothes. So to try to minimize the time that it takes, I designed a simple folding board out of cardboard and duct tape. It works just as well as the commercial version but was essentially free to make.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

How to Automate Your Coffee Maker

The only thing that is better than a fresh cup of coffee is having it already made for you when you wake up. To get that, all you need is a cheap Christmas light timer. Just set up the coffee maker with fresh grounds and water, turn it on and plug it into the timer. Then just set the timer for when you want to wake up in the morning. The timer will automatically turn on your coffee maker and brew a fresh pot.

How to Make a Two Color Pen

If you do a lot of editing, then you probably have a number of different color pens rolling around your desk. Here is a really simple mod that can cut that number in half. Just take two ball point pens apart, trim the ink reservoirs and put both heads on a single barrel. Then you have a single two color pen.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

How to Make Banana Oxidation Art/ How to Tattoo a Banana

A while back, I came across a video by Phil Hansen that showed how to use a needle to draw on the skin of a banana. So I thought that I would try it out. I thought that they turned out pretty good. In the end I made a tutorial to share with the internet.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How to make impromptu camera stabilizers

Shaky footage can really ruin an otherwise great video. In the film industry, one way that they prevent camera shake is with camera stabilizer systems like the Steadicam and the Fig Rig. Unfortunately most amateur film makers don't have access to this kind of professional equipment. But you can use the operating principles behind these systems to make simple DIY camera stabilizers. While these homemade systems are not as good as the professional gear, they are significantly better than simple hand held shooting. Another advantage is that they much more affordable. Professional stabilizers can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars, whereas a DIY stabilizer will at most cost you a few dollars.

I show two simple examples. One uses a standard tripod and the other uses just a piece of 2x4 and a bolt. There are any number of things that you can use. Just follow these principles:
1: Adding weight to the camera increases its inertia and dampens shaking.
2: Spacing out the hand grips reduces the effect of random hand movements/

For step by step instructions for this project, check out my Instructables page: http://www.instructables.com/id/How-To-Make-an-Impromptu-Camera-Stabilizer/