Thursday, May 4, 2017

Bigger on the inside

Daughter: I want a superhero party.
Dad: So, like Superman.
Dad: Superman uses a phone booth
Dad: Dr. Who has a cool phone booth.
Dad: I'll build a Tardis.
Daughter: Who is Dr. Who and what does it have to do with superheroes?
Dad: Shhhh. Let daddy work.

I really had no good reason to build a Tardis, except, well, to have a Tardis in the house. The kids did need some place to suit up into their superhero costume, which included a mask and a cape we made. In all honestly, I know they could have just gone behind a curtain, but who passes up an opportunity to build a Tardis?

Having a huge refrigerator box really helped as a skeleton for the project. I wish I could say that I planned the whole thing, but I really just started slapping scrap wood onto the box until it started to look like something. The wood strapping was the cheapest thing I could find at Home Depot, I always keep some around, though in this case I had to stock up again.

I knew from the beginning that I'd have to assemble it in the garage and move it into the house at some time. So, I took some extra steps to make sure two corners could open and the other two could collapse, which let me then fold the box flat-ish to get it through doorways. It was like having a bigger space fit into a smaller size, i.e. it was bigger on the inside than the outside...

Getting cheap paint was much easier than I thought. I was able to talk to the guy working at the paint counter to mix in some blue into a "clearance/returned" can. I wasn't able to guarantee a "Dr. Who blue", but for only a few bucks I was able to get a high quality paint that did turn out pretty close to perfect.

Side story: While I was working on the Tardis, the wife was off sewing capes, creating a bunting banner made out of old comics and creating a city backdrop to stand in front of for pictures. I was very impressed and it made for a great themed birthday.

Stick 'em up

After every birthday party for my kids, we say, "Wow, we did too much and we'll never do that again." That's not from the typical craziness that exist at every kid birthday party, it's from whatever we ended up making. We always seem to make something for each party. In this case, the kid in question was getting old enough that we didn't need a "theme" and the kids were going to have lots of energy. We had been to the MakerFaire earlier in the year and picked up some marshmallow shooters. We knew other kids would have fun using them, and we liked the idea of the kid making something themselves. 

We had a bit of a moral dilemma sending home kids with what are essentially guns. We've avoided them in our house otherwise up to this point, but we realize that most kids, especially little boys, already have some toy gun. In this case, they'll have made it themselves and end product is yummy. Would parents potentially hate us? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I essentially copied the design from what we got at MakerFaire and made an assembly line. Stops clamped on the saw really helped cranking out cuts.

It took me much longer than I would have thought to cut all the pieces. The mess from cutting that much PVC with a chop saw was very annoying. I was covered in little electro-statically charged pieces of plastic for what felt like days. (This was my motivation to get a Shop-Vac to hook up to the saw for future projects.)

We packaged them up in little baggies. It was then up to each attendee to assemble them. We didn't provide any directions except for an example model. Most kids got it, and it was great seeing them help each other.

I had the birthday girl assemble the baggies and make targets for target practice. It was pointless though, because the kids (obvious in retrospect) just shot at each other.

We also had the kids personalize their shooters.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Halloween and Chill

If there ever was a Maker's holiday, it'd be Halloween. It's the one holiday where making something is preferred over buying from the store. There's also a wealth of items that can be made, from costumes to decorations and even candies. 

As a family, we try to make one new thing each Halloween. Something we can re-use year to year. In 2014, we wanted to add some atmosphere and smoke sounded fun. The making of smoke is a solved problem, and most easily done by buying a smoke machine on Amazon. The problem is that the smoke (or fog if you want to call it that) goes everywhere. It looked more like a 1st Alarm fire and I expected the fire department to show up any moment the first time I tried it. A little googling and I was able to learn that this was a solvable problem but expensive. Makers to the rescue!

TL;DR Here's what the final product produced:

Luckily the basic idea of thickening smoke is well documented, and the basic idea is to make it cold. Duh. Passing the fog over ice (or dry ice if you're being fancy) is the simplest solution. I'm not sure I'm being economical or efficient or just plain cheap, but it made sense to use what I had around, and in this case I had a cooler from an old roommate. Here are the materials I used:

The plan was to create a two holes and hope that the pressure from the smoke machine would push the smoke through the cooler. I hadn't actually made a hole this big before so I had to buy an Arbor and Hole Saw. This in the category of "things that are hard to google for until you know what it's called."

Another "known unknown" was what would happen as the ice settles. My worry was that the ice would move around and prevent the flow of smoke. I was pretty quick to think that I needed something to prop up the ice away from the inlets, but it wasn't obvious how I would do it until I roamed Home Depot for a little while. The answer was paint tray screens. They have plenty of air flow, are structurally reinforced and are cheap. Even better was that they were coincidentally exactly the same width of my cooler. To prevent them from slipping around and to make good contact, I had to bend them. Putting a board down where I wanted the bend produced really clean bends.

Clearly smoke is mean to take up a lot of volume, but I can't exactly use a foot wide tube. My compromise was to use standard 4" PVC tubing. One obscure blog hinted that for the smoke machine to work, it needed air near the nozzle. The idea of opening up the area around the nozzle was completely contrary to what I was trying to accomplish. I took a gamble and put some screening near the nozzle that I could constrict the airflow later if I had to. It can't actually guide the smoke, but luckily the smoke shot out with enough pressure that I never got back-pressure out this screening.

Everything came together really easily and I didn't use any PVC glue for the pipes or anything to attach the paint screens, it just all fit tightly. Though some smoke did leak out the lid of the cooler, but it was an acceptable amount. The smoke was definitely thicker and contained, but it was concentrated in a specific area. I did what anyone would do when they have 10 feet of 4" PVC tube laying around and a 4" Hole. With a few outlet holes, it distributed the smoke really well.

I was pretty happy with the final product, and we've used it for last few Halloweens.