Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Solar powered fairy lights

Yes, I'm going through a solar powered phase right now. I'll have used up the parts I bought from soon enough & will have to move onto pastures new.

My lovely lady suggested it'd be nice to have some twinkling fairy lights in the kitchen; ideally, ones that didn't need to be plugged in to the mains. The simplest solution would have been to use a battery pack, but our kitchen gets a fair bit of light &, like I said, I'm in a solar powered gadgetry phase right now...

My ebay habit has brought me some colour changing LEDs (before I knew exactly what they did). These look like normal LEDs (two leads) but cycle through a few colours over the course of 15 seconds or so. I figured these would be perfect for the project, so I dug out 4 working ones (using the LED tester I posted about previously).

There are very few components for this (if you count the solar-panel/charger as a single component): 1 solar charging circuit, 4 colour changing LEDs, an Altoids tin, some wire and I used a couple of neodymium magnets to secure the tin onto the curtain rail in our kitchen.

The first thing to do is to cut the LED leads from the solar-charging circuit, this is where we'll attach the wires for our own lights. I also cut down the plastic 'pins' which hold the circuit board in place; this was to make the assembly fit nicer in the tin (and as an excuse for me to try out some new cutting disks for the Proxxon).

I then cut two strands of wire (about 1 1/2' each of red and black), marked where I wanted to place the LEDs/lights on the wires and striped away the insulation around these points. I ended up melting the insulation away with a soldering iron and then using a knife to scrape off the excess plastic. There must be a much better way of doing it.

Soldering the LEDs onto the wires was a little awkward, especially since I cut the LED leads down to about 1/3 cm to keep them close the the wires. I'm glad I decided to only put on 4 for this prototype! Hmmm... thinking about it now, I should have left the leads on and bent them around the other wires to hold them in place whilst soldering them, doh!

After soldering the LEDs, I drilled a couple of small holes in the Altoids tin, threaded in the two wires and soldered them onto the solar charging unit.
Slide everything into place and there we go:

My better half has been making lots of playdough for some lovely projects (see: Dinosaur Island and playdough rain table) as a result, we've used up a lot of food colouring. It turns out the bottles make quite good LED diffusers. The picture below shows the Fairy Lights in front of our kitchen window. I used two magnets to make the tin secure (the magnets are on the inside of the tin). I also ended up taking the lid off the tin and securing the solar panels in-place with a couple of elastic bands.

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