posts tagged with the keyword ‘art’



This year my “big” project for Maker Faire Milwaukee was a Giant LED Cube. In this post I’ll talk about designing it, and in a follow up post I’ll talk about building it.

I should mention that the idea for this started maybe three years ago. I think it was during a meeting for Maker Faire at Milwaukee Makerspace and I tossed out the idea of building a giant light sculpture using light bulbs. Lance and Chris talked about it a bit and Tom started looking up parts on Alibaba. Nothing came of it that year, and I sort of forgot about it for a while. In fact, I really didn’t think about it again until after we completed the DecaLight last year. Once the two dimensional relay controlled light bulb thing was done I thought going three dimensional would be a good idea.

I modeled the cube in OpenSCAD, and then animated it just for fun. I figured out how many pieces of each PVC joint I would need, and while I originally thought a 20′ cube would be a good idea, after some initial tests (and the unavailability of 10′ PVC pipe) I ended up going with a 10′ cube so the 5′ PVC pipe I could get would work.

I picked up Jordan Bunker’s book PVC and Pipe Engineer: Put Together Cool, Easy, Maker-Friendly Stuff last year and then ended up learning about FORMUFIT which allows you to build furniture using PVC pipe. I had a plan!


Here’s the first sketch of the Giant LED Cube. By now I had decided that I would use LED light bulbs and standard household lamp sockets. The nice thing about using such common parts is that they are very cheap. I found these Black Bakelite Fixture Socket with Terminals and ordered some so I could test the fit. It was close enough that it would work, and I just needed to make a small adapter. Well, at least 27 small adapters.


I designed and 3D printed over 30 of these using clear ABS, which is remarkably close to being white, and since you wouldn’t really see them, I was fine with the close match. I cranked these out so I’d be ready when they were needed. Like many parts of this project, they are just press fit into place. The entire thing was designed to be easily assembled and disassembled for making transport and storage an simple affair.


I had the basic design of the cube figured out, so I decided to work on the controller. Since we’d have 27 LED light bulbs I decided to use an Arduino Mega, which had plenty of I/O pins, along with two 16 channel relay boards. LED light bulbs are pretty lower power (compared to incandescent bulbs, anyway) so even though they’re 110 volts AC, 27 bulbs all on at the same time probably pulled less than 6 amps.

The image above represents my first attempt at layout out the controller, which I eventually abandoned. The screw terminals ended up not being a good idea. I would be pretty busy running Maker Faire so I assumed that I could find helpers able to strip wire, put them into the screw terminals, and get it all right. After attempting this myself on a small scale I decided that it needed to be even simpler, and clear enough that almost anyone could do the setup. So I scrapped the screw terminals. Around this time I also decided that running all of the power cords inside the PVC was going to be tedious and difficult, so with the decision to just run the cords on the outside (at least for this installation) I decided to just use standard household plugs. This would allow nearly anyone to just match up some numbers and plug things in. Simple wins!

The design process for the Giant LED Cube wasn’t too difficult. Doing this like this (designing, specifying parts, building, etc.) is pretty much my day job. The wiring was definitely tedious, and required at least one unexpected hour-long troubleshooting session due to a bad connection. I had a lot of help with the wiring of the lights from Adrian, and a lot of help with initial assembly from Becky. Without their help things would have taken me a lot longer. (Thank You!)

I think I’ve spewed enough about this project for one post (which I wanted to get out last month!) so I’ll end it here and get working on Part II ASAP.



I came across this DIY Printmaking Press from the Open Press Project and since I’ve always been a fan of printmaking I thought I should 3D print a printing press on my 3D printer so I could print paper on a 3D printed printing press.


The (3D) printing went well, and all the pieces turned out good. I did add support to the rollers, to ensure they’d print well without sags. The one piece that is weird is the roller pin, which seems too small. It falls out a lot and doesn’t fit tight in the roller or the roller wrench. I may design a new one that fits snug.


I also did not have any 5mm bolts of the right length, so I used 6-32″ bolts. I’ll have to glue in the nuts so they don’t fall out, but that’s pretty minor. I’d also consider using hex head bolts and 3D printing little knobs to put on the heads so you can adjust the pressure without needing a screwdriver.


I did not have any press blankets, so I used some foam rubber sheets I had on hand. It seems to work okay. I may ask my printmaking friends for some scrap blankets.


For my first printing plate I grabbed a vector image of Makey and laser etched it using 3mm Baltic Birch. (Sidenote: LightBurn is awesome.) I did not seal the wood as I was anxious to make some prints!


This is a small press, and my plate was 57.5mm x 65mm. This might be a good press for making business cards or maybe printing stickers. The nice thing is that since it is so small, it’s portable, and you can make a lot of tiny prints for pretty cheap.



This was a fun little project and I’m guessing the cost of making this printing press was maybe a few dollars worth of filament and hardware. The press blanket is probably the more difficult thing to get cheap, though perhaps an alternative like some thick felt (or layered up thin felt) could be used.

Happy Printing!



When last you saw my cast bolt it was made from plaster and an ABS 3D print which served as a mold. It sort of worked. As mentioned, it was more “art object” than “functional thing” and that was what I was going for…

Well, I made another ABS mold from the first experiment and even though I had worked with a flexible filament mold I thought I would give the ABS version one more try, this time with concrete instead of plaster.


I really liked the way this one turned out. Yes, I had to destroy the mold again, and in the process the part got damaged and broken, and then I pulled out the hot glue gun and put it back together, and now I like it even more!


It’s one of those situations where things go wrong so you just do something and it turns out (possibly) better than you thought it would. I joked that this was the modern maker equivalent to Kintsugi, using hot glue instead of gold.









I really like how it has this feel of being an ancient relic. In a strange twist of fate, I was at first annoyed with all the tiny pebbles in the concrete, so much so that I made a sifter to remove them, but now I’m thinking up a list of things I can mix into the concrete besides pebbles (and, probably pebbles too.)



BuzzBuzz is a device that makes noise and light using electricity (somewhere around 40,000 volts, approximately.) There are five “high voltage generators” connected to buttons that when pressed cause them to create a spark with a loud “ZAP!” and then continue to make noise (and light) while the button is held down.


BuzzBuzz was heavily inspired by something Mario the Maker created. I had one of the high-voltage generators for a while and was planning to do something with it. I had an idea for a project and had started on it, but once I saw this thing I altered my plans.


The size of BuzzBuzz was somewhat dictated by the size of materials I had on hand, or could easily get at no cost. The top piece of clear acrylic is from a bulk buy at Midland Plastics where many of the members of Milwaukee Makerspace shop for scrap pieces. Since I had that piece of clear acrylic, it pretty much determined the size of the top of the enclosure.


For the walls of the enclosure I grabbed some 16mm thick plywood from the scrap bins at Milwaukee Makerspace. There’s a local tool & die company that donates these pieces to us. They are long and skinny and always have these weird laser cut marking on them, because they use them for calibrating their lasers. I wanted to see if I could cut through the 16mm plywood with the 130 watt laser cutter I have access to. Indeed, it could! At 4mm per second, which is probably the slowest we should cut at. The cuts were not the greatest, but it was more a matter of “Hmmm, will this even work!?” than anything else.


You’ll also notice the hexagonal holes on the sides. Those are “sound holes” since my first assembly demonstrated that the box fully closed up was too quiet, so I decided to add holes that the sound could spill out of. It also adds a nice look, and if you associate the “Buzz” in the name with bees, and notice the holes are hexagonal, well, it all fits.

I mounted the AA batteries on the outside so that you can easily see the power source (it’s interesting that 40,000 volts AC can be produced by just 4.5 volts DC) and so that I can easily change batteries without opening the thing. There are two battery packs because one tended to drain too quickly. I may add an AC adapter in the future so that I can convert AC to DC to AC.

(One more fun fact: The battery holders were one of the most problematic parts of this project. I wasted more time trying to get these cheap battery holders to work. The spacing and springs kept making it so the batteries did not make good contact. I started with a 5-pack of battery holders and trashed two of them just trying to modify them to work. Luckily I got two of them working well enough.)


I designed and 3D printed the parts that hold down the high-voltage generators and also allow for bolts to be inserted to carry the electricity. (The design of these parts was inspired by the structures that hold overhead power lines.) The bolts can be screwed in or out to adjust the gap, which gives different results for the zap. I started with the narrowest gap and then did the widest gap, and then calculated the three distances in-between. (For the widest gap, you don’t want to go too wide, because if it can’t properly spark, it’ll burn out the unit.)


As you may know, I design 3D objects with OpenSCAD. Once I had my object completed, I did a projection to get what it would look like from a top view. This is the 3D version of that.


I then render it into a 2D version I can export as an SVG file. This allowed me to easily do the layout needed for the laser cut parts.


Here’s a top view. The reddish parts will be cut from the top clear acrylic panel and hold the buttons as well as an old SparkFun key switch I had in my parts bin. The grey pieces are for the bottom part of the enclosure which hold the high-voltage generators and the mounts. I ended up printing a full-scale paper version and using it as a template to mark the holes that needed to be drilled. It did not have to be prefect, so close enough was fine.


For the construction, there are some screws on the bottom to hold the bottom pieces to the two side pieces, and then the front and rear panels can slide into place and get held in by just one screw on each side. This is not the most elegant, but I realized somewhere along the build process that I did not have a good way to complete assembly or take it apart. This is what I came up with, and it worked well.


I used two contrasting stains, for a light and dark look, which I think matched the burned laser cut edges, and allowed for making the inside of the enclosure dark so the zappers could light up the inside.


If you’re wondering why there are two rows of buttons, I really liked the symmetry, but I also wanted something I could use when displaying at a table, so that if you’re behind the table talking to someone, you can demo it and press the buttons on your side, and they can try it with the buttons on their side. (In the museum exhibits business we try to make things that are not single used components, so that more than one person can engage with a thing at a time.)


While this was a bit of a rush to get done by Bay View Gallery Night, and like most projects, there are things I maybe would have done differently (or at least in a different order) I’m really pleased with how it turned out. I also brought it to Milwaukee Makerspace to show off and got a lot of positive feedback.

Here’s a video showing operation of the BuzzBuzz. It was difficult to capture on file (well, solid state memory) exactly what it looks like, so this is an approximation. You’ll probably want to see it in person to appreciate the full power of this battlestation device.





It’s been an interesting six years… Back in 2012 I was just a lowly member of Milwaukee Makerspace who stopped by Kenilworth Open Studios to check out what was happening there, and mainly to meet Frankie Flood.


I remember running into Mike Massie at Kenilworth, and he said he had stopped to talk to Frankie on the third floor, so I went to find him. I’m gonna straight up say I was really excited to meet him, but what threw me off was how excited he was to meet me! It was weird, but totally awesome, and we hit it off right away. It’s safe to say becoming friends with Frankie on that day changed my life. (I’m sure many of his former students would probably say the same.)


A few months later we started the Milwaukee 3D Printing Meetup and later on I somehow got him involved with the e-NABLE project, then I left my job to attend grad school and work with him, then left grad school, then taught at UWM, then Frankie left, and I left, but Kenilworth is still an awesome place to visit each April.


This year I saw co-workers, and former students, and friends, Sometimes people were all three of those. I saw the work of people I really don’t hang out with much, but follow online every day, and much of it was inspiring, and got me excited about art, and design, and making. (More excited than usual!)


Kenilworth (and UWM) will always hold a special place in my heart. I really would not be where I am in my life right now without it, and I’m thankful for that. Also, there’s really nothing that compares to seeing former students doing amazing work and being excited about it. My time teaching at UWM was brief, but I enjoyed every minute of it, and hope I had a positive impact on the students I interacted with.




I look forward to attending Kenilworth Open Studios next year, and for many years to come.

« Older Entries |

buy the button:

Buy The Button