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Down Draft Paint Box

Normally when I need to paint something I’ll take it outside, use a drop cloth or a cardboard box or both.  But lately with the wind and the bugs it’s next to impossible to paint anything and make it nice.  My wife facing these same issues asked me to do something about it.

My other big issue is over spray.  I can’t stand to have paint on the driveway or on the garage floor. I’m not obsessive compulsive about dirt, heck my desk is a mess, but paint is (almost) forever.

So, I looked around for a fan and found an old 8 inch brushless, that burned out after a minute.  I was ticked, so I went to the depot store for a large painting drop cloth.  On the way I got it in my head to create a downdraft paint booth similar to what professional car painters user.

I turned around and went home without buying a thing.  I pulled everything I needed from my scrap bin and started working, without ever drawing a plan.  I would build a half box, sitting on a box holding a box fan and an air filter.  First the part that the painted piece would sit on.


Then another part that the fan could pull air through.  As this was the scrap bin nothing was the right size, but this was more of an experiment so I didn’t hesitate to cobble it together.


Then I broke the tip for the glue, so I make a …nozzle.  yeah, that thing.


Wait…  are those nails?  yeah, I don’t have a lot of clamps so I tacked it to my table.


Then cut out some more parts.  Ran out of 1×2, so cut down some 3/4 inch plywood into the necessary strips.  I was on a roll and nothing was stopping me now. (notice all the sawdust – my number one product)


So a little glue on the tight spots, and nails everywhere else. Since I don’t have a lot of clamps I used weights.  They were dusty.


After some assembly (I should get a GoPro for this), it was finished. I took two 2×6 boards and cut them down to make  2 L shapes.  This  stand would allow air to exit the back.  The reason I didn’t build this into the box itself was I needed it small enough to fit under a table.


So install fan, install filter,  power it up and grab some paint and give it a test run.


Then checked the paper I placed underneath to check how effective it was working.  Not a bit of paint.


So after multiple paint jobs I pull the filter to see how bad it is.


I think I spent less then 4 hours on this project, not including drying time and while it is not one of my nicest projects, its very useful.  And while I can now paint in the garage, the fumes are still present, so I keep the door up.



HexaDomes Part II

So a small interruption to the build when I started ‘Making Sunshine’ but now, I’m back on track.  I did the lighting test, but never took pictures…. but it looked good with no gaps in light coverage.  Now that I have the spacing worked out I laid out my design and cut it on FamiLAB’s CNC router table.


Once off the table I used a little sandpaper on the edges as the router left some lines.  Got several comments about TIE fighters while working on this.


Next I put on a coat of paint and sanded smooth.  I repeated this twice and then after a final coat of flat while I sanded with 600 grit.  This gave a nice smooth non reflective surface that would glow rather than have a shiny reflective surface.


I cut sever different holes for mounting, one set, 19 inches apart and the other set 16 inches apart.  The first set of holes were so I could hang it from a server rack.  The second set are for when I hang this on the living room wall.

But before I put it all together I’ve got 117 NeoPixels to cut


and some wire


and solder back together.


Then its just a matter of attaching the lights to the individual standoffs



Until I finally have a pile of them


well, 702 solder joint later I can start assembly.




Now to solder the  wires on the back. Wait, why is nothing lit up? Okay, some bad wiring., but now I’m only getting partial lighting


Arghh!  NeoPixels are static sensitive and I ended up blowing out about 12.  Funny thing, the blown ones worked but didn’t transmit to the next (somewhat confusing). That’s why I’m wearing this very fashionable anti-static strap 😉

e-static strap

okay so here are some shots of the backing



Now it’s time to attach the styrene facing.  What’s weird is how much this looks like a rendered picture.


When I decided to take this to Maker Faire Orlando, I was filling out the forms and got to thinking no matter how cool this looks, it wouldn’t be fun.  So decided to make it interactive and  worked with fellow Familab member Iggy coming up with an interactive art project.  Originally I wanted to make games, but by the time we got everything together there just wasn’t time.  After a failed attempt to make Nintendo pistols work I decided to go with Wii-nunchucks. I also wanted to give the person the ability to select the color they were going to use.  So off the Arduino Mega I attached two Wii-nunchucks, 2 neopixel stripts, 6 slide resistors and two Wii-nunchucks.

To host all these parts I put together two ‘control stations’. I started with some acrylic cutting a place for the 3 slide resistors and a panel for the display light. Warning: When paper backed acrylic gets old the glue holding breaks down and makes it difficult to remove, so I only removed the half on the visible side 🙂


Here I have it sitting on the heater we use for bending acrylic.  That contraption of wood is the jig that I created to bend the acrylic.  Learned several lessons on this bend.  If you put in individual ribs when you bend the acrylic over them you get little dips in your acrylic.  Next time I’ll build a better jig.


I didn’t take to many pictures of this process and I was running short on time, but here is a picture of the finished faceplate with the slide resistors installed.


To keep i modular I used RJ45 Jacks to attach everything together using a standard Quad RJ45 outlet in the back of the power station


And final assembly


I’m a hardware and electronics guy, with a dash of programming. When I was 1 week out from Maker Faire I was still not finished and had not even started on the programming.  I started talking to Iggy, he offered to help and ended up doing all the programming. We went back and forth on the way it would work tossing different ideas out when one of us came up with something unique and in the end we ended up with this.

Before we go too much further, I never saw a way to use two Wii-nunchucks on the same arduino.  Iggy figured that out and here’s a link to his block where he discusses it.


Then it was off to Maker Fair Orlando where kids played


grand kids played with their grandmother


A robot played


and I finally got to play it with my son.



While he saw the different parts and light test patterns, all the final construction and programming was at my hackerspace, so when he arrived at the Maker Faire he finally got to see what it was all about.

Special thanks to Iggy for making this possible!



Making Sunshine

Making sunshine

So it’s nothing new when I interrupt one project for another, but this time was a bit different. My friend Brooks over at Sunshine Labs asked me to make her a sign for her new business. She didn’t give me specifications or her ideas, just make me a sign. I couldn’t just do an ordinary sign, not for Brooks who had not one but two dresses with NeoPixels. So I took a look at her logo,


and thought… it needs to stand out more and have lights (but not NeoPixels, not this time). So a bit of quick work with a laser cutter with 4 different acrylics. Some translucent white, some very thin black and some neon-orange & blue. The neon blue went behind the black as a drop shadow. The orange was heated and bent, mainly to see how well it does edge lit.


So the initial test looked good, the orange shined and the blue accent was subtle. Now on to the hardest part, bending acrylic in multiple stages to create a 3d representation of her logo. Here is a shot where I have made the first bend and I’m now heating the second  area to bend.  The odd notch in the wood I have laying on top is so I can see the acrylic.  It changes optically when it gets hot enough.


After 5 tries and lots of scrap, I finally got one perfect.  A helpful hint if you are ever working on a project bending acrylic.  Don’t have a fan on nearby, it takes much longer to heat and it heats unevenly.


What may not be obvious in this picture is that the logo is not just a bend in a straight piece of acrylic. It was cut so that it would have a forced perspective. The reason for the perspective cut and all the little divots in the ends is for LEDs to be inserted for edge lighting the acrylic. So even when standing directly in front of the sign you will see the edge lighting.

Here is the patter I used to cut the piece.  At each point that it angles is where I bent the acrylic.


Here is a shot of how the LEDs are to be mounted.  I didn’t use blue tape in the final piece. I used heat shrink tubing and some electrical tape as I wanted this light isolated from the rest of the sign.

LED Light Test
Doing the letters was a bit of a pain, but blue tape to the rescue. After aligning each letter with it’s blue drop shadow I taped them together then use acrylic cement. I despise the bottles they give you as they leak (the cheap one I had anyway). So I used insulin syringes to apply the cement.


I couldn’t find a frame, so I decided to make one instead. I ended up cutting two pieces from MDF and gluing them together. I needed the depth for the light to disperse from the LED back lights to the white acrylic, otherwise you see each individual led shining through.


Next was mounting the led back lighting. But first some math, to evenly space all the led strips so that there was uniform brightness (that sheet of paper on the left are all my calculations). I shouldn’t have bothered. The strip lighting I picked up online and it was insanely bright. Ended up cutting the voltage down and then adding a filter screen to get it to where it didn’t overpower the logo effect.


The LED light strip had glue on backing that was incredible stuff. When I removed one piece it destroyed part of the dry erase board I used for the background. So quickly line it up and solder it in….


and test the lights


Back to the logo for a second. The idea behind having LEDs in the logo with the edge lighting was for a specific effect. A slow churning of light, like the sun. Never fully off, but constantly moving.   To this end I used a Texas Instrument TLC5940 connected to a Arduino Pro Mini. The program was simple.

1. Randomly pick one of the 8 LEDS, if it’s off turn it on, if it’s on turn it off.

2. When turning and LED on or off,  change the brightness from 100 to 4095 (or reversed) over 2 seconds.

I kept a base value of 100 so the LEDs never fully turned off.

Little more wiring and…


A little more assembly…

and a final light test


Every project I work on usually includes something new, either learning a new tool or using a new material. So every project there is always a learning curve. On this project, I had originally planned to have the blue shadows of the letters light up as part of the animation. I did some testing and it looked good, but I tested late at night with the lights dim, so when I turned it all on for a pre-assembly test the lights were non existent, washed out. When I lowered the intensity of the white back light, the white acrylic glowed blue (not what I wanted). So in the end I removed the blue LEDS and left the blue as an accent piece. The sign looks good and quite a few people have told me the pictures do not do it justice, but I still wish I could have done the animation of the letters. In hindsight I should have used blue mirrored acrylic, this would have focused the light in the blue area and not let it ‘escape’ into the white acrylic.

Here is the sign with it’s molten movements

I don’t track time working on projects very well. Usually I just find my first file and check the date stamp, nevermind that all my projects start on paper.  This was not a one weekend project and took me far longer to do than I intended. My first file has a date of April and I didn’t deliver this until August, but that’s cause I’m a busy guy.