Upcycled Musical Instruments Workshop

Hey, folks!  Join Jen Fox and me for our Upcycled Musical Instruments Workshop this Saturday at 1450 Ocean! We’ll be bringing along some of our own inventions, including geometric string instruments, motorized pan pipes, and a spinning noisemaker. You can bring your own materials, maybe a big box for a string bass, or keys for a chimes mobile, or you can help me build a giant multi-material marimba from a recycled trellis. Whatever your inspiration, we will help you make it a reality.

 

Upcycled Musical Instruments

Saturday, Sepember 20th, 1:00 – 2:30pm

1450 Ocean Ave. – Camera Obscura Santa Monica

Cost: $10

Register here!  Pre-registration guarantees you a spot and makes the musical muses happy.

 

String thing Pan pipes


Music, that universal medium! We’re lucky in that there are innumerable ways to create music using diverse, non-traditional materials. Let’s explore sound and basic design principles to build a personalized instrument from recycled materials – come away with a set of wind chimes, a children’s toy, and/or the confidence to teach others how to upcycle! 

Please bring 1-2 items traditionally considered “trash” out of which to build an instrument – we’ll also bring some starter materials. Things to consider when choosing your materials: most instruments need a hollow area to resonate from, chimes require suspension, many wind instruments use reeds, etc. Consider the components and design of existing instruments to help direct your materials search. Suggested materials: packaging, cardboard boxes (intact), glass bottles, jars, metal scraps or other metallic objects, paper/plastic/styrofoam cups and plates, string/yarn/twine/rope, straws, etc. We will facilitate the process, provide supplementary materials and examples of recycled instruments. Let’s tinker! Mostly we’ll be using hot glue guns, drills and other non-intimidating tools, and we’ll help you use anything you’re unfamiliar with.

Bobble Head Bot Papertoy

Thanks to everyone who came out and made papertoys with me at our LA Makerspace booth at Kickstarter LA Film Fest last night!

 

Bobblehead BotsBobblehead Bots

 

If you didn’t get to join us, you can still make one! Just print the pattern, cut on the solid lines, fold on the dotted lines, and follow the instruction photos below, using glue or tape to attach the tabs. Then decorate and make it your own!

 

bobble-bot bobblebot assemble 1 bobblebot assemble 2
bobblebot assemble 3 bobblebot assemble 4 bobblebot assemble 5

Papertoys at Kickstarter Film Festival

Hey, folks! If you’re heading out to the Kickstarter Film Festival tonight, September 12th, come on by the LA Makerspace booth and make some neat bobble head paper toys with me! They’re blank templates, so you can design them however you like. Here’s my lady bot.

Bobble Bot

Jen Fox will also be at the booth, making upcycled robots, as well as some other folks doing 3d printing, and stop motion animation. Fun!

Brush Bot Tinker Day at the Camera Obscura Building

Last Saturday, the fabulous Jen Fox and I had a Tinker Day at 1450 Ocean (the Camera Obscura building) in Santa Monica.  We used inexpensive and recycled materials to make brush bots.  Dollar store electric toothbrushes are a great source for materials, as they include a motor, battery, and other reusable bits.

 

Camera Obscura Building Setup

 

Check out a video of our fun!

 

 

Jen cut off the head from her toothbrush (and a couple others), and created a bristle bot built around a balloon and housing from a solar lawn light.  Balance was precarious at times, but when it fell, we discovered that it was good at breakdancing too.

 

Balloon Brush Bot

 

My brushbot was built on a spoon from Yogurtland, and stood on three golf tees.  I tried to keep it as minimal as possible otherwise – motor, battery, and wires.  For a switch, I stretched the wires out into arms and hooked them together when I wanted it to run.  And, of course, the bot requested eyes.  I couldn’t bring myself to refuse.

 

Brush BotBuilding the Brush Bot

 

We also created a couple bots made from bamboo skewers, one of which included a 3d printed mechanism to give the movement a little more wobble (see the video above).

 

As we decided to forgo pre-made battery packs and switches, there was a lot of experimentation of how to effectively hook up and control power to our bots.  We have used electrical tape to secure wires to a battery in the past; this time we tried using hot glue, metal pieces left over from the toothbrushes, coins, and balloons.  Keep an eye out for my upcoming Instructable detailing our different approaches.

 

Battery Connection

Latest: Hair Stick, Sofa Foot Box, and 3D Printed Monster

Lots of making recently.  My Dremel tinkering continues, in the form of a two-pronged hair stick (which works pretty well, and doesn’t pull on my hair as much as a regular hair tie), and a wooden box made from the repurposed foot of a sofa.

 

The hair stick was a straightforward process, a matter of drawing the desired shape on the top, and on the side, and then using the dremel tools (and scroll saw to start with) to carve it down to the desired shape.  I used some wenge wood, which is nicely solid (less likely to snap) and pretty.  It also smells really nice, incidentally, but I plan to lacquer the thing.  You’ll see in the sofa foot box, I got into a bit of marquetry, and am considering doing a little decoration on the wide end of this hair stick.  The color of it disappears a bit in my dark blond hair; putting a finish on and adding some patterned details should help.

 

Hair pin cut Hairpin w flowers Hairpin side Hairpin in hair

 

The full process of making my Repurposed Sofa Foot Box (with Bonus Marquetry) can be found on Instructables.  It’s pretty fun, and a good project for getting accustomed to the dremel Multi-Max.  It’s mostly made from used parts, except for the hinges.  Had I time, I would have made wooden hinges for it, from that same lovely wenge.  Wooden hinges and associated Instructable, future project.

 

Box fin back side Box fin redback

 

3D printing is something I haven’t done much since last year at the Exploratory on the Replicator 2.  Lately, I’ve been playing with 123D Design (lots of other software options out there to explore too), and recently put together this little monster based on a papercut I did a while back on hitRECord.  It’s largely an extrusion of a 2D image (exported from Illustrator to .svg and imported to 123D Design – in case you were wondering how to do that), with some adjustments to the edges, and holes for articulated arms.  There’s a bit of an overhang issue at those cut out spots, but it’s small enough and loose enough as to not cause a major problem.  I’ll probably come up with a different solution for the next version, especially as it’d be nice to have the limbs extend further into the body, which will require larger holes.  I attached the limbs with wire, curled at either end.  Another option would be to use a piece of filament and melt it at either end to hold the joints in place.  I shall experiment and let you know.

 

Monster printing Monster on bed monster on tiptoe

  

Instructables bot

Next on my plate is designing a 3d printed bot with a crank and various other mechanisms. I might make it look like the Instructables robot, cuz that thing is cute and looks like it should be moving.

The Hexachord – Part 3

The Hexachord, Part 1

The Hexachord, Part 2Hexachord full

 

Hard deadlines are good in many ways.  I’ve been involved enough with this project to spend all my “free time” on it, but when I set the deadline to have a working version done by Maker Faire, it really lit a fire under me.  Regular Crashspace meetings to show my progress kept me accountable, lots of checklists kept me on task, and limited time available to use the woodworking tools made me organize very efficiently.  

 

It is endlessly frustrating to find that you have a couple hours free at home and the tool you need is at the hacker space and unavailable.  So I scheduled my home work time as prep for working at Crashspace.  Need to cut something at the space?  Spend time at home calculating, measuring, and marking so that you can jump right into it when you get those couple hours at the band saw.  Want to use the drill press?  Leave it for the end of your time at the space, so if you need to leave early, you can still use a hand drill at home.  Cut all necessary pieces for the hinges quickly, and then assemble them later.  

 

And make sure to set aside a little time to socialize.

 

I designed my Hexachord to have removable parts.  The hinges are bolted on, so a sound chamber can be easily replaced or removed for transport.  The face with the motor and pick arm is held securely with removable pegs, so that I can change the face to one that has multiple pick arms for playing more than one sound chamber at once.

 

Stained sound chambers Face close pegs Face back

 

The motor was salvaged from a video cassette rewinder.  It came with a convenient belt and wheel, to which I attached the plectrum arm base – a hand-cut wooden gear I’d made a couple months before and was dying to use.  My original thought was to drill into the gear at an angle and secure the arm into that, but it wound up being more feasible to build a structure from bamboo sticks that would support the position of the arm.  For one thing, it was easier to adjust, and for another, I just plain like building with bamboo skewers.

 

The knobs were stained to match their associated sound chambers, and all were placed on the same side so that the Hexachord could be played by one person standing in the same place.  Each converted their rotary motion to the yoke mechanisms placed behind each sound chamber.

 

Knobs Mechanism
Mechanism in Mechanism out

 

I unveiled the completed Hexachord at Maker Faire as planned, it was well-received, and I got to drive home with the lovely view of an Editor’s Choice ribbon hanging from my rear view mirror.

 

Finishing touches Me and the Hexachord Editor's Choice

 

Here are the promised videos: one of my interview at Maker Faire, and one of the finished Hexachord in a quieter environment!

 

 

 

 

Wooden Rag Doll Instructable

Ragbot sit1

 

If you’ve followed any of my recent posts, you’ll notice that I’ve been doing a lot of woodworking lately.  One result of that is having a ton of scraps, plain blocks, dowel pieces, and random shapes that never made their way into finished projects.  Crashspace was host to an Instructables and Dremel “July Build Night,” and in the spirit of reuse and repurposing, I decided to use the tools we were provided to create a wooden rag doll (or rag bot, as it were).

Take a look at the detailed (and featured!) instructable about how I created my Wooden Rag Doll Robot (especially the articulated joints and magnetic hand).

The Hexachord – Part 2

The Hexachord, Part 1

The Hexachord, Part 3

 

The Frame:

 

My Hexachord is built on a hexagonal frame, which I assembled with both glue and screws, cuz a heavy, three-foot-tall instrument is not something you want falling apart on you.  Two frames are held six inches apart to allow room for the mechanisms that control the sound chambers, and an additional structure extends to hold the sound chambers.

 

Frame schematics Partial frame Full hex frame

 

 

I have learned just how much precision wood joinery requires (for the record: invest in good measuring tools).  I have also discovered that CrashSpace members are all in love with the laser cutter (I know I will be too when I finally get around to using it), and everyone tells me how much easier it would be if I used it to make my mechanisms, or my sound chamber pieces, or… my lunch or something.  In some ways, I’m sure it would, but sometimes I just want to get in there and use my hands.  (Except for lunch.  I’m a lousy cook.)

 

The Mechanisms:

 

The hinges, like most everything else with the hexachord, are made of wood.  There are two different kinds, a basic butt hinge, and a ball/socket hinge.  I could have used pre-made metal butt hinges, but a) they would have stood out like a sore thumb amongst the lovely wood, and b) I am a glutton for punishment.  The kind of ball and socket hinges I wanted would have been a bit harder to acquire pre-made, so I set about making my own custom ones.

 

 

Ball socket joint

 

 I used a scroll saw and drill press (two tools very frequently used in this project) to build the socket in multiple layers.  The bottom and top layer have holes slightly smaller than the ball to give it an approximation of a complete socket.  In the end it doesn’t need more than a few points of contact, and having the socket in contact over the whole ball would have applied a lot more friction than I wanted.  The center is made of a square the same size as the top and bottom pieces, but with a hole a bit larger than the ball.  I ultimately cut it into four pieces and used only two as spacers on opposite corners.  The bottom piece was glued to the sound chamber, and the inside corner pieces were glued to that.  The top piece I connected with screws in case I needed to remove/replace the sound chamber from the rest of the instrument.  It’s a complicated thing; I like to leave myself the ability to repair.

 

There are nicely formed wooden spheres you can get, but finding just the right size wound up being more of a hassle than these wooden beads I tracked down at Michaels.  I used a dremel to widen one hole to the right size for the dowel, and voila!  A lovely, polished ball for the socket.  The whole construction works rather well.

 

(Note: when using a power tool to widen an existing hole, don’t hold it with a finger over the other opening.  Ow.)


 

 The butt hinge was easier, as there are folks who have done very fine tutorials (this one is gorgeous).  If you drill the holes before cutting the side pieces, it’s much easier to get the pieces to line up properly.  I bolted the cut pieces together, and then glued the flat side of the small ones to another block.  Good, strong wood glue is important in something like this.  I like Titebond.  In future versions, I will probably use a glue more suited to musical instruments for the sound chambers, but it did the job pretty well here.

 

Wooden butt hinge sketch1

 

Wooden butt hinge sketch2

 

Wooden butt hinge

 

 Finally, there was the matter of making use of these hinges.  I wanted to be able to control the position of each sound chamber from the same side.  No dancing around to make it work (though that could be fun too).  As rotary motion is pretty easy to translate over long distances, I decided on using a knob for each sound chamber that connected to a scotch yoke mechanism.  It’s very efficient for converting rotary motion to linear.  There’s a disc and pegs, and ultimately several other smaller discs to hold stuff in place.  It can get wriggly if you don’t take charge.

 

 

Scotch yoke sketch

Scotch yoke wood

 

 

And those are the mechanisms.  I expect I’ll make full Instructables for the construction of each sooner or later.  Next time, the chaos of assembly, an interview, and videos!

 

 

 

 

 

The Hexachord – Part 1

As a Maker-in-Residence at the Intel Experience Store, I spent a whole lot of time playing around with motors, and you might recall that one of the projects I developed over the course of my time there was a motorized noisemaker.  In February, I started thinking more about rotary instruments, and about how there aren’t nearly enough of them.  Enter the Hexachord.

 

Building an instrument you’ve designed, particularly when you haven’t designed a full, complicated one before makes for a lot of modifications as you go.  As I love tinkering, that worked great for me.

 

The Hexachord is a six-chambered string instrument with a spinning plectrum arm in the center that plucks each resonating chamber as it turns.  Each chamber is mounted on a hinge, so that it can be maneuvered in or out of the way of the plectrum arm.  This version’s spinning arm is powered by a motor from an old VCR.

 

Chamber sketch side Chamber sketch top

 

As you might imagine, a new instrument this complicated is a difficult thing to get other people to understand while it’s still in the planning stages.  I had a rough idea in my mind from the beginning, of course, and I think it helped me develop it each time I tried to explain what it would look like and how it would work.

 

Getting it out of my head, (very) rough prototyping:

 

The first prototype was small, less than a foot across (to compare – the final version is over three feet tall), and made from cardboard, duct tape, rubber bands, and dollar store wooden skewers.  It’s not so much made to last; it has since fallen to pieces.  Cuz, y’know, duct tape.

 

Rough prototype rough prototype above

 

(The prototype in these pictures doesn’t include the plectrum arm, and is lying on its back, though it’s intended to be on its side with all the sound chambers facing forward.  So you can, like, hear it.)

 

The shape of the sound chambers was an early question.  I’d love to have been able to make them somewhat lute-shaped, as the prototype shows, which may pop up in a future version.  For this one, as I didn’t have access to a bending iron, I stuck to straight lines.  They both sounded decent, as far as wimpy cardboard resonating chambers using rubber bands as strings go.  The shape that resembled a balalaika won, for sound, for practicality, and for the aesthetic.  You’ll notice with my projects that the aesthetics are integral from the get go.  It’s just how my brain works.

 

prototype sound chambers

 Part 2, coming soon – building the frame and mechanisms!