Prepping for Maker Faire 2015

Maker Faire Bay Area is just a week away! I am so excited, and sooo busy.


Last year for Maker Faire, I showed my first Hexachord, a 3-foot-tall six-chambered rotary instrument. This year, I’ll be showing both the original and a new version. It’s a single-chambered design with six necks radiating from the center, and played by six servos hooked up to an Arduino Uno. Have a look at all of the in-progress pictures here and stop by the CRASHspace booth in the Expo Hall to see the completed instrument!


Hexachord interior assembled

Hexachord top  New Hexachord Necks


I will also be running workshops at the FlipBooKit booth in the Maker Shed, so come on by. There will be a sneak peek of my new ‘How to Make a Custom Animation’ video playing in the shed along with the original assembly one. Here’s the finished animation from my demo!



See you there!

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!





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!