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This build was inspired by our love of all things sci fi… especially Star Wars… (Stay tuned, Tron fans. We’re coming for you soon.)
There are few things more awesome than building your own lightsaber, leveling you up from Padawan to Jedi. I felt like this build was also uniquely suited to showing off the awesomeness that comes with the Explorer Uno template and its ability to be redesigned/reshaped to fit into tight spaces like our lightsaber hilt.
We built this saber on a budget, spending less than $50 and focusing on components that are readily available. We got the blade from Ultra Sabers — go check them out. They build highly reflective tubes to help pull the light down your blade. The hilt itself is a combination of PCB fittings and electrical tape spray painted silver. For the light, we used a single neopixel LED because we wanted to keep it simple and power efficient on the battery side. (More on how we made it brighter below.)
Before we get started, there are a lot of (non sponsored/this is not an ad) shout outs that need to happen. The first being Ultra Sabers. They are the right price, and after attempting to build our own clone of their product, we can say they are definitely the best option for saber blades. Second: The MVP on this build, Bantam Tools and their Desktop PCB Milling Machine. Nothing is greater than designing and spinning up an Arduino clone in under an hour from your desk. If you haven’t heard of them and are building as much as we are, go check them out. They rock our Chewbacca socks off.
And finally, a sneak peak at 2020. We realized that the Explorer Uno is super cool but doesn’t cut it for space-sensitive projects. Keep your eyes peeled, ears to the floor and head on a swivel because the Explorer Uno Slim template is coming soon. We’ve restricted ourselves to the dimensions of a stick of gum. It’s going to be rad.
We built the hilt with two PVC fittings and a 1.5-inch PVC pipe. I encourage you to go to your local hardware store and take a look at all the fittings — there are so many different options you can use to truly make your saber your own. We went with a basic fit, but you can definitely dress it up a bit more. The main need is that 1.5-inch diameter PVC long enough to contain your Explorer Slim, LED, controls, and 9V battery.
Once you have the fittings picked out, think about where you want to put the fade on/off button and potentiometer for changing the color, and drill holes to mount them.
We started off by prototyping the lightsaber on a breadboard with an Arduino Uno.
But given the size of the prototype, we really couldn't fit it within the hilt we wanted to use. So we hopped into Patchr and used the Explorer Uno Arduino clone template to help slim things down to fit the confines of the lightsaber. Check out the diagram below on how everything is put together:
The button is pretty simple and was built on a secondary PCB to mount it higher than the main board. This was designed to help it fit into the hole we drilled on the hilt.
The potentiometer is connected by three wires to the main board. We did this so we would have a more flexibility when installing the board into the hilt.
The LED has its own PCB that extends out at a right angle from the main board. We bought a $5 flashlight from Home Depot and stole its reflector cone to help reflect a directional beam within the saber blade. It ended up working out surprisingly well.
We installed an on/off switch in the bottom of the hilt. You can put this anywhere, but we decided to place it down there to conceal it.
Because we are just powering the Explorer Uno Slim and a single RGBW LED, we don’t need a crazy amount of amps, so we used a 9V to get the 5V we need to keep consistent brightness on the saber blade.3. The Software
The software is pretty simple. The potentiometer is mapped to seven steps and cycles through predefined colors, which can be switched to whatever colors you desire on the RGB spectrum by altering the code from the link below. The button fades on with the starting color — in this case green — and fades out with the color you have selected.
Disclaimer: the software is still a work in progress and can definitely be built off of, I’d love your suggestions on how we can make it better.
I've attached the Arduino IDE file below.Next Steps
Alright Padawan, the moment you’ve been waiting for — let’s turn it on, give it a swing, and feel the power in your hand. Welcome to the Jedi Order! With you, we are now more powerful than ever before. From one hardware Jedi to another… May the F=m*a be with you.
One last thing… What do you call five Siths piled on top of a lightsaber? A Sith-kebab. …Annnnd I’m out. Happy building!
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Attached are the gerber files for the PCBs.