This last Sunday, for our first Castlemakers Kids meeting of the year eight kids (and a few adults) learned about the electronic circuit called the “Joule Thief.” It’s a fun circuit that has gained some popularity in hacker circles, yet a lot of people don’t know about. Two factors make it a good kids project: The simplicity of the circuit and you don’t need to understand the electronics behind it. For inquiring minds it can challenging because it’s not immediately obvious how it works.
The name is based on getting extra energy (joules) out of dead batteries. Or at least batteries that most people think are dead. The circuit, with only 4 components, can use as little as .5 volts from a single dead cell AA battery and boost it up over 3 volts – more than enough to light up a white or blue LED. Even a brand new 1.5 volt AA battery won’t do that! For the more technically minded it’s a simple blocking oscillator (IMHO not an Armstrong since there’s no capacitor) that pulses higher voltage using a inductor, resistor, and a transistor.
There are lots of different ways to make the circuit, which turned out to be part of the fun. We tore apart computer power supplies to get the toroid coils, but also experimented using parts from burned out Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs too. We found out the CFL parts worked great & possibly how we’ll do it in the future – although it can be tough to wind the toroid from some of the newer CFL bulbs. One future experiment – the Joule Thief circuit can charge dead rechargeable batteries, another great way to get energy out of supposedly dead batteries!
Our December class was something new for many of us, learning about electronic/vinyl cutters. There are several different brands available; we were given a desktop Cricut and there’s some local expertise so that’s what we used! But the basics apply to all of them. The Cricut Explore we have in the Makerspace will cuts and draw using different color pens on a variety of different thickness material including paper, foil, vinyl, cardboard, fabric iron-on, magnets, and even emboss leather.
Laurie Hardwick, who has several Cricut machines, taught the class & did a fabulous job. After showing some great examples, she then covered the design software. With a 2 hour time limit folks chose to modify existing designs, but it is possible to import images into the software (and perhaps a later class). It was amazing how such a professional looking product could be made in such a short time!
Several folks wanted to come back and try more. Our machine is available for anyone to use during open shop times or even by special arrangements. Castlemakers also offered to host a meetup for Cricut or Silhouette users, just get in touch with one of us. Last year we had one girl come in and create letters for her 4H project, it certainly makes it easier that using stencils or cutting out your own!
Earlier this month we had our 2nd annual ‘build a mini-golf hole’ competition, which was held at new location at the Makerspace downtown. Well, sort of… too many holes to have it inside, so we lined them up on Franklin Street sidewalk in front of the Makerspace the first Friday of November. And what perfect weather it was for playing a round!
Always love to see creative mini-golf holes and this year’s build was no exception. The guidelines are on our Putt Putnam County webpage, but the basic idea is simple: get together a group of folks and build a hole. We provide materials, create/add you to a team & mentors if you need it, plus a time/place to play when done. And of course those cute little pencils and a scorecard.
This year there were a few more family built holes, but it was a mix of different team entries. Of the eight holes there, a personal favorite was Antigravity – you can view a video here of this creative hole in action. This year there were a lot more moving part entries, a category we added this year. Under the Sea’s motion was impressive (and it’s assembly/disassembly capability) and the steam punk look of Time Turner’s entry turned out even better than the builder’s thought.
Our goal next year is having an earlier completion date at a First Friday event downtown and more community organization built holes. Start coming up with your ideas now; you don’t need to be involved in Castlemakers to participate & have fun!
Thanks to all the participants that built holes, mentors that coached the younger teams, and everyone that came out Friday evening to enjoy the fun. And to Headley Hardware for donating some of the project materials.
Join us this Friday, 11/3, from 5:30-7:30 pm for our 2nd Annual Putt Putnam County competition. We’ll have the mini-golf holes outside the Makerspace on the Franklin Street sidewalks. Try your skill at these home-built miniature golf holes and vote on your favorites. Pre-competition intelligence is indicating there is a lot more motion designed into this year’s holes…
And of course our monthly CoderDojo is Saturday 11/4 from 1-4 pm at the Makerspace where youth are always invited to learn more about computer coding from professional programs and other kids!
If you walked by the Makerspace this summer and looked in the window, you may have noticed a very large model rocket. It was the first stage of a creation that Nick Adams, who taught our ‘build a model rocket’ class, built last year and launched. Several people have stuck their head in since it left and asked us where the rocket went. The short answer is he prepping it for an even higher/faster launch this Labor Day weekend in Kansas.
Earlier this year Nick asked if we could make something that would plug the air intake holes, the kind of project we love! When you go supersonic a flat surfaces creates even more turbulence, so for his upcoming flight he wanted a more streamlined version. Plugging 4 intake holes on the side of the rocket would help.
We initially fabricated a plug out of foam, using a hot wire cutter at the Makerspace, then scanned the piece so it could be 3D printed. Creating the styrofoam piece was easy, scanning… well the Makerbot Replicator we have wasn’t quite up to the task initially. Learned that covering the foam with masking tape helps (the foam color and irregular surface created problems), but it was still less than a satisfactory design.
Then one of our younger makers, Ephraim, helped by creating by creating a quick model in Autodesk’s Inventor. That design came closer, but we missed measuring a few key dimensions like the chamfer where the plug goes into the rocket. We finally ended up redrawing with Fusion 360, which turned out to be the best solution. Although the program has a steep learning curve, it allowed us to make several more design changes quickly & easily to get the 4 pieces printed out last month.
This weekend Nick’s letting Castlemakers take the rocket to show off at Makevention in Bloomington, Indiana – an annual celebration of making things. Located at the Monroe County Convention Center, it’s open to the public and a great event! Stop by and see the assembled 12.5 foot tall rocket and also stay tuned to Nick’s YouTube channel. I’m sure he’ll have a video of the launch posted not long after the launch on August 30th!
As Castlemakers moves from a youth oriented makergroup to an all ages Makerspace, we’re not neglecting our roots – offering kids interesting hands-on STEAM activities. Last month, for on one of our ‘un-making’ events, we used weed whackers to expose kids to internal combustion engines. It seems like small 2-cycle engines are a throw-away commodity anymore, so after collecting 8-10 weed whackers (and one lawnmower engine) we had everyone tear them apart to see what’s inside.
Tear down days are always popular, and surprisingly the girls outnumbered the boys for this one. With everyone being warned in advance to wear old clothes we threw down several pieces of plywood and cardboard out back, put a bunch of tools out to help, then let them go at it with some occasional supervision & suggestions.
These single cylinder engines seem to be the perfect size for kids. We began by removing the pulley and clutch off the engine. After explaining how the piston pulls fuel into the cylinder, you can explain how an engine is a controlled fuel explosion. Centrifugal clutches & carburetors were another whole discussion. After piston removal everyone seemed fascinated by how the crankshaft/rod converts the linear piston motion into rotation. A few of the piston/rod/crankshaft mechanisms were saved (although several went home), it’s a good tie into the paper mechatronics we did last year.
Special thanks to Doug Salter, a 25+ year mechanic at Ryder Truck, who donated at least half of the weed whackers and also helped by coaching the kids on disassembly and how the parts inside worked. And another nod to Jerry Hecko, our makerspace automotive repair shop neighbor, who gave us the 4 cycle lawnmower engine for comparison and often has the right tool when we don’t have one.
One of our main goals as a non-profit is providing educational opportunities to the community. Like our Learning to Solder class in May and our upcoming Introduction to 3D Printing Design July 8th (2-4 pm at the makerspace).
In May participants built an LED Chaser (or Larson Scanner), to get first hand experience soldering electronic components, LEDs, and an integrated circuit on a circuit board. Thanks to George Edenfield of Putnam County Auxiliary Communications (local Amateur Radio group) for leading the class.
For the Intro to 3D Printing Design class, we did a prototype class last December when we had kids design & print holiday ornaments. Everyone had fun and we learned that too many people trying to print 3D parts at once can take a long time! We’ve added 2 more 3D printers in the makerspace, more laptops, and changed to a quickly printing basic design that offers more learning.
In the upcoming class (for both old and young) you’ll be designing a custom ring to fit your finger and adding an adornment on top. It’s a great way to learn the basics in Tinkercad and prints in 4-5 minutes per ring depending how elaborate you get. Special thanks to the Maker Lab at Chicago Public Library for the idea – like almost all makerspaces they willingly exchange information and share ideas to help the maker movement!
We’ve had so much going on lately that blog posting fell off the list. But with so much recent news to tell, we’ll start with a few shorter posts on events and recently made items that folks stopping by the Makerspace have expressed interest in.
One of the most exciting things – we received 10 new Chromebooks from the Techpoint Foundation for Youth. As our monthly CoderDojo has grown, we’ve been looking for ways to have more computers available for kids that aren’t able to bring a laptop to learn more about coding at the meetings. This wonderful gift allows us to have pre-configured Chromebooks for kids to use.
Saturday July 1st from 1-4 pm will be our next monthly CoderDojo meeting of the free coding club for youth ages 7-17. We’ll have programmers there to help, or if you’d like to help the kids learning programming please stop by also!
And if you like coding, the inaugural CoderDojo Indiana Hackathon will be in Indianapolis Saturday July 22nd from 9:30-4:30 pm. Anyone can enter & we’ve already got one local team entry going.
If you’ve been following our blog, you might think Castlemakers is a just a kids focused nonprofit. That’s definitely how we started, but our mission is broader than that – providing and encouraging scientific and creative skills (i.e. STEM or STEAM) by creating opportunities for all. Much of our first two years has been providing youth-oriented opportunities, which is now being called Castlemakers Kids, but with our new makerspace downtown we can expand to all ages.
One way we’re doing that is offering community classes to allow people to learn, try, and build or make things that they may not have experiences with. Certainly software and some of the new digital fabrication tools like electronic cutters, 3D printers, and single board computers(i.e. Arduino & Raspberry Pi). But also how to use more traditional tools and then combining them with electronics/soldering, sewing/crafting (clothing with sensors/electronics are popular), woodworking, and fabrication. Watch for our first community class at the makerspace to be offered in soldering and electronics in March.
A third way, using our physical makerspace, is a community location where people can share ideas, have access to tools and equipment, and create things. A place that will spur creativity and innovation in our community. Some of this is outlined on our what we offer page. You can also stop by and see for yourself, perhaps even build something if you’d like, by coming by sometime during one of our ‘open shop’ times where some of the people involved in Castlemakers can help you with a project or just explain/show you what we have. Better yet, get involved and participate – no experience is necessary and you’ll help our community grow!
December has been a busy month at the makerspace, kicking off with an open house as part of the Main Street Greencastle’s First Friday event. We had a great crowd, several estimated over 100 people, most of us were too busy explaining things & showing off things to count during the 2 hour event. Well, it actually went well beyond that – some folks couldn’t seem to get enough and we were there more than an hour after things were supposed to end.
Our regular monthly events, the Castlemakers CoderDojo & the 3DPO (3D Printer Owner’s) Meetup, also were interesting – always enjoy getting new faces at the CoderDojo and the 3DPO Meetup. 3DPO topic this month was a show and tell of a good and bad 3D prints. The self closing iris box (printed for the Open House) everyone found interesting, but it was the 3D printed Imperial Walker that quickly became the main topic. Rather amazing project that was done at Area 30, literally over a hundred hours of print time & more than 30 pieces that were eventually assembled into something that could walk(sort of). For the ‘bad’ prints… well everyone learned and tried to diagnose what went wrong on the failures. One common theme, many of the failed/bad pieces were part of the good ones – reinforcing the mantra practice makes ‘better’ & it takes some 3D printing failures to get really good parts.
For our last Castlemakers Kids meeting of 2016 we used Tinkercad, an online 3D drawing program, to create holiday ornaments. Then we printed them out for the kids to take home! This was also a test for an intro to 3D printing class that Castlemakers will be offering in 2017. Right now we don’t have enough computer equipment to do that, but hopefully donations and grants will get us there next year. You can read about some of our additional plans for 2017 on our what we offer webpage.