In this activity, you’ll be harnessing the power of the force, learning a little bit about light and how to manipulate it, and creating paper circuits as you build your own handmade lightsaber. The lightsabers will be created in four separate parts, and at the final step of the project, we will discuss how to bring them all together into a complete lightsaber.
- Lightsaber Handle Template Pieces (instructions here)
- LED Lights (Red, Green & Blue work best)
- CR2032 Coin Cell Batteries
- Acetate Sheets (.005mm)
- Copper Tape
- Electrical Tape
- Transparent Tape
- Red and Black Stranded Core Wire (8.5-9” pieces with ends stripped)
- 220 (Fine Grit) Sandpaper (cut into small squares)
- Hot Glue Gun & Hot Glue Sticks
Step One: Creating the Lightsaber Tube
To start, let’s think a bit about how light moves through space. Light is made up of tiny, super fast moving particles called photons that react differently to different materials. If a material is completely see-through, like the acetate sheet we’re using for this project, photons are going to pass right through it. This material is transparent. For this project, we’re going to be manipulating the ways these photons move through the acetate in order to give our lightsabers their glow.
Using the small sandpaper square, rough up one side of the acetate sheet. Rub the sandpaper in all directors, scratching up the acetate and turning it white. What happens when you hold the acetate up to the light now? The material is now translucent. Some light can pass through, but some light gets blocked.
Roll the sanded acetate up into a tube, and use transparent tape to seal the edge. Now, if we were to shine a light into the tube, some light can escape but some get blocked by the translucent acetate, bouncing around inside the tube creating an exciting effect.
Step Two: Building the LED Module
Now we’re going to put a little force into our lightsabers, and add the light source that’s going to illuminate our tubes. For this, we’re going to be using an LED light, and the red and black wires and a coin cell battery to create a circuit. A circuit can be thought of as the path that electricity travels on to get from a power source (like the battery) into the components and devices that we need to turn on. In this case, we’re going to be guiding the electricity through our LED, turning on the light and illuminating our lightsaber.
Circuits will always have a positive, and a negative end, and when you connect the two ends together, electricity can freely move through the circuit. If this loop is broken or connected incorrectly, electricity will not flow successfully. When making your lightsaber, you will want to keep track of these two sides of the circuit and make sure you’re always creating
To create the LED module, start by looking at the LED and finding the longer of the two legs. This is the positive leg of the LED. Fold the long, positive leg of your LED up and out to the side. Take the red wire (the color red is always associated with the positive side of a circuit) and wrap the stripped end around the folded positive leg of the LED. Start wrapping at the base of the LED leg so you end up with a bit of extra LED leg that does not have wire wrapped around it.
Using a small plier, bend that extra bit of leg backward over the wrapped wire and squeeze it down, crimping the wire into place. Repeat this process on the other (negative) leg of the LED.
You should now have two wires, a red and a black, wrapped around the legs of your LED. Test out your circuit by finding the positive side of your battery (it should have a large + sign on it) and touch the red wire to it. Touch the black wire to the opposite side of the battery to close your circuit. If your light does not turn on when you close the circuit, check your connections to the LED legs, and make sure they’re secure and on the correct side.
To complete the LED module, slide the colored part of your LED through the center hole in “Piece 1 – Handle Top Disc” from the handle templates, and tape the legs down to the bottom side of the disc.
Step Three: Paper Circuit Battery Pack:
In order to keep the battery accessible so that it can be more easily changed once it runs out, and to help control the wiring in our lightsaber, we’re going to create a battery pack that will attach to the bottom of our project.
To do this, you will need your battery from step two, as well as “Piece 2: Battery Pack” from the lightsaber templates. We will be using this disc to layout a paper circuit. When making the LED module, wires were used as the path on which our electricity traveled in our circuit. In this step, we will be using another conductive material to help move our electricity from place to place: copper tape.
Copper tape is a thin piece of metal with one adhesive side that can be used to lay out flat circuits along a piece of paper. It is a very exciting material and a great way to explore how simple circuitry. It is important to remember to measure your pieces of copper tape before cutting and sticking, as once you’ve stuck a piece onto paper, it is very difficult to peel and re-stick it.
To make your battery pack, start by locating the yellow rectangle on the template labeled with a “-” sign. This is the negative side of your circuit. Measure and stick down a piece of copper tape that covers that line.
Lay your battery negative side down on top of this piece of copper tape.
It should be within the green circle. Measure and lay another piece of copper down along the second yellow rectangle. As this is for the positive side of your circuit, it should go on top of (rather than underneath) the battery onto its positive side.
Use a piece of transparent tape or electrical tape to secure the battery down onto the disc. You will want to make sure it is being tightly pressed against the disc, ensuring a secure connection between the battery and the copper tape below it. Make sure you don’t cover the small holes (noted in red on the templates) when you cover the battery. You will need these as part of the final step.
When viewed from the side, your paper circuit would like something like this:
Download this paper circuit diagram here.
Step Four: Making the Handle:
This last of the four lightsaber pieces is pretty straightforward to make but very important. In this step, you will create the handle that will contain the wiring setup for your lightsaber, and allow you to hold your saber and wield the force (only for good of course).
To make the handle, take “Piece 3: Main Handle” from the templates document, and roll it into a tube along the short end making sure the ends are nicely lined up. You should end up with a tube that has about the same diameter as the tube you created in step one and should be 6″ from top to bottom. Seal the handle’s edge with transparent tape, and you’re done!
You’ve now created the four main components of your lightsaber!
Step Five: Bringing it All Together
Now that all four parts of your lightsaber are complete, you’ll need to bring them all together.
You will start by attaching your lightsaber tube to your LED module. Using the dotted blue line as a guide, place a circle of hot glue around the LED poking through the top of your LED module. The dotted blue circle may not be the exact size of your tube, so make sure to measure your own tube size and glue accordingly. The blue lines are just for guidance.
Once the glue attaching the tube to the LED module has dried, flip these connected pieces over and make another circle of glue (similar in size to the one you just made on top of the LED module) on the bottom of the disc and use this circle to attach the handle to the led module. Your wires should go down through the tube and poke out the bottom.
To complete your lightsaber, you will need to attach the battery pack to the bottom of the handle and run your wires to the battery. To do this, grab the wires that are currently poking out the bottom of the handle tube, and feed them through the small holes in the battery pack disc (red wire on the side of the circuit marked “+”, black wire on the side marked “-“). The battery should be facing downwards.
Once the wires have been fed through the holes, run a circle of hot glue around the wires on the backside of the disc, and connect to the bottom of your handle.
Using small pieces of copper tape, secure your positive and negative wires down to their respective copper tape pads. Once everything is connected, your lightsaber should be glowing brightly.
If your lightsaber is not working, the most common thing to check is the connection between your battery and the bottom of the lightsaber. Often, the battery has not been pressed tightly enough against the copper tape underneath it, leading to a loose, disconnected circuit. Optionally, you can leave this connection a bit loose, and use the battery on the bottom as a kind of button to turn your lightsaber on and off.
May the force be with all of you Jedi out there as you create your brand new lightsabers! Be sure to share your creations with us by tagging @nysci on Instagram and Twitter.
Special thanks to our Maker Space resident Cesar Villar, for the amazing photos featured in this post.