The Detonator

It’s The Detonator! What is The Detonator you ask? Well, for Maker Faire Milwaukee we build a fire poofer, which is a device that shoots flames into the air. Workmate John McGeen started the poofer build and we finished it up at Milwaukee Makerpace. Along the way we experimented with a torch, candles, and grill igniters, until Dan the Blacksmith finally added a pilot line and some steel wool.

Fire Poofer

The Detonator went through a few revisions, but I’ll walk through the construction of it for this blog post. We brainstormed a few different ideas to trigger the poofer, but in the end I went with something simple than I knew would work reliably for the entire weekend. (And it did!)

Laser Cut Parts

I started by using MakerCase to design a box I could laser cut. I used 3mm black acrylic because I have a lot of it, and I made the box the size that worked with the acrylic I had. The image shows the acrylic (gray parts) and one piece of 1/4″ wood (which is tan in the image.) The wood piece went on the inside, right under the top acrylic with the hole for the button.

The Detonator Guts

Since I wanted The Detonator to withstand being pressed, slammed, and pounded on by hundreds of people over the course of two days, I also built a wooden box that fit inside the acrylic box. This added strength and weight to it.


I didn’t just want a plain black box, so I added some bright yellow vinyl to it. I cut the vinyl with a Silhouette Cameo. The image above shows how I determined wrapping the vinyl around the edges.

The Detonator - Vinyl

Here are the vinyl pieces I cut. I added cut outlines around the pieces so I’d be able to line it up correctly. It worked pretty well. (I didn’t take time to measure or mark things, but that would be a recommendation.)

The Detonator - Illustration

Above is my final “pretty” illustration of The Detonator. Below is a very black photo of The Detonator. I’m fairly pleased with how it turned out, especially since it was a rush job to build it.

The Detonator

The Detonator Connectors

There are four connector posts, but only two got used in the end. I originally had just the two in the center, but ended up splitting them and adding extra posts so I could split power between 12 volts (well, 18 volts, sort of) for the solenoid, and 4.5 volts for the grill igniters. We ended up ditching the grill igniters, so in the end I only needed one pair of connectors. Oh well!

The Detonator Guts

Here’s the inside! There’s a Pololu A-Star 32U4 Micro mounted on an Adafruit Perma-Proto Half-sized Breadboard PCB with some screw terminal connectors, which is connected to a relay board. The board I used had four relays, but since we didn’t use the grill igniters I could have used a two relay board. (Also, relay boards are super-cheap on ebay.) There’s also a relay controlling a beeper that beeps a countdown. (See the video below.)

Overall The Detonator was a quick build. and there’s a few things that could have been a bit more polished. For instance, I cracked the acrylic a bit when I drilled more holes for the connection posts. In an ideal world I would have laser cut a new piece, but I didn’t have time. I also could have made the code a bit simpler after removal of the batteries for the grill igniters, but hey… The Detonator turned out good for a quick fire poofer controller!

Power Racing Series - Detroit 2015

This is no time to relax! It’s time to see the photos from The Power Racing Series event at Maker Faire Detroit, which happened back in July, that I’m posting in October. Better late than not at all!

Want more? You can see the whole album on Flickr, and scroll down for a video!

Power Racing Series - Detroit 2015

Power Racing Series - Detroit 2015

Power Racing Series - Detroit 2015

Power Racing Series - Detroit 2015

Power Racing Series - Detroit 2015

Power Racing Series - Detroit 2015

Oh, there’s also a video, because Jim finally got around to editing my footage. I shot the DSLR stuff from the ground, and others got the aerial stuff. I also managed about a half dozen GoPro cameras during the event.

X11_ssh_tunnelling by Tene~commonswiki

When I first started using *nix-based operating systems I played with xeyes, which is a “follow the mouse X demo” and a very simple program. (Really, it’s not fancy, but 25 years ago, it was sort of neat.)

A few days before Maker Faire Milwaukee Vishal and I were brainstorming ideas for something done in Processing to show with a projector, and I suggested xeyes because it was silly and simple and we hadn’t slept much.

I figured there was a Processing version out there, and our old pal Alex has one at Tinkerlog. I grabbed it and started hacking. Someone mentioned putting the old Milwaukee Makerspace logo in place and putting the eyes on it. (It may have been me, I honestly don’t remember, again… not much sleep.)

Then Lexie showed up and I ran the demo and she suggested there should be a fly for the cursor. In my tired state I thought this was a great idea, and then checked on how cursors work in Processing (yes, you can use an image) and then I found a fly on and added it.


Now we had something that let you move the mouse around and the fly would move and the eyes would follow it. I sent Vishal the code and he had a trackpad he thought about using with it… But then he said it would be cool if it just moved around on its own. I didn’t have time to write the code, so Vishal asked if I had a Teensy on me, and since I always do, I gave it to him. He then wrote code to make the Teensy act as a mouse and randomly move around the screen.

We hacked this all together pretty quickly, and it was fun, and not super-impressive, but we liked it. Oh, I also made a Processing.js version you can try. (It’s an early test version before I added the fly.)


A few days after Maker Faire I got an email from Bryan Cera about running Processing on the Raspberry Pi, which we had been discussing. He got it working, so I finally circled back around to give it a try. Well, it worked, and I got this mms-xeyes thing running as a full-on application.

This is pretty awesome. I mean, the cursor is a little weird, and disappears when you do not move the mouse (but reappears when you do move it) but overall it does work, and I’m pretty pleased with it. I’ve got a few ideas that involve Raspberry Pi computers running Processing sketches, so yeah… overall, this is good.

Pen Holder

If you remember reading about my Turndrawble, the turntable-based drawing machine, you may remember that I use Fine Point Sharpies with it. The last time I used it in public I just had the pens in a jar, which is not ideal.

The original design was going to have the pen holder built in, but I changed things and decided against that, so I needed something else, and this is it.

If you want to see this thing in person, and make some art with it, I’ll be at the Hidden River Art Festival at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts on September 19th & 20th, 2015.


The wood pieces are cut from 1/4″ Baltic Birch plywood. The blue parts are set to cut before the black parts. You usually want to cut the insides of things first. (Often this leads to many colors if you nest objects.) Not all laser cutter software requires you to do this manually. Some software is smart enough to always cut the inside objects first.


I also cut some rectangular acrylic panels to go on the inside. Two red, and two black, to match the Turndrawble acrylic colors used.

Pen Holder

I glued the wood pieces together with wood glue, sanded them, and did a stain and polyurethane coat. (Next time it would be better to sand everything completely before assembly. The sanding removed some of the burned wood look, which I wanted to preserve.

Pen Holder

The acrylic pieces fit nice and snug, but just to be safe I put a few small dabs of hot glue on the before putting them in place. There’s also four rubber feet on the bottom to prevent sliding around on the table.

Pen Holder

Pen Holder

(You can read more about this thing on the Turndrawble project page..)

HDPE Sheet

My most recent HDPE adventure did not turn out well. While I got a nice sized sheet, I managed to slice my finger open and wasn’t sure why, until I investigated more closely…

HDPE, now with glass!

If you can see those shiny pieces, those are pieces of glass. But since I’m personally cutting up all the HDPE scraps and putting them in the oven, where did this glass come from?

Glass, damaged...

Oh yeah, I put it in the oven in a glass baking pan. The HDPE actually tore some layers from the bottom of the pan when I was removing it! The HDPE doesn’t exactly fall out of the pan, and requires some coaxing to come out. I typically pry it out with a screwdriver, then pull it out. (I wear gloves the entire time, as that stuff is HOT!)

Obviously the glass baking pan isn’t ideal for this. I’ve gone back to using the smaller glass loaf pan. I’m hoping the smaller surface area will help prevent this from happening again.

Baked to Hell!

The glass pan is pretty beat anyway, and with pieces missing from the bottom, I guess I’ll just scrap it. (Unless someone wants to melt it down!)

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