Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Project Codename: Tears, Sweat, and Blood

The wall turning to reveal the mystery....

I have a secret codename for my most recent project, Mystery of the Secluded Monastery. I call it Project Tears, Sweat, and Blood.

Tears - for the tears of joy that were shed when it was finally completed. Don't recall exactly when I "broke ground" on this project, but it was on the workbench for probably over 8 months.

Sweat - b'cuz during those summer months, the ol' Dungeon Workshop got pretty toasty. Yep, pretty toasty indeed.

Blood - there was a slight disagreement with my disc sander. As you can see, the sander won...

Yes, this hurt incase you weren't sure.

I hope that doesn't gross anyone out too much. No more gnarly pictures, I promise. Anyway, moving on... There are quite a few items that were modified/built for this project, so I'll start with a video of a quick teardown of the whole set-up then show each section in a bit more detail with some better pictures (crank up the volume to hear the narration):

That's the first time I've ever made a video like that, so I hope it made sense. I probably could have zoomed in some more, but there will be some close-up shots in each section.

Here's a list of each piece/section that's covered (with some pictures and a brief write-up on each):

A) Flickering Torch Pieces
B) Custom Walls (rotating and height conversion pieces)
C) Stained Glass Windows
D) The Dais
E) Rotating Floor Mechanism and Remote Control
F) Electronics for Computer and Braziers
G) Demon and Robot Miniatures

NOTE - This is a really long blog with a lot of pictures. Just letting you know.

DISCLAIMER - This information is for entertainment purposes only. Power tools, soldering equipment and electricity can be dangerous. Any attempt to follow the information here is done at your own risk. Be smart. Don't sand off the top of your freakin' thumb! Allrightythen. Let's get started....

A) Flickering Torch Pieces

Ok, I was a bit surprised that there was more interest in the torch pieces than the actual rotating wall or lights on the computer piece. Understandably as the torches would be a lot more useful in generic setups and therefore drew more interest, but the wall and computer were - by far - much more challenging to get working. Regardless, I'll try to give a bit more detail when describing this section.

I carefully drilled a hole in the bottom of a wall piece. Go about half way up into the wall section. Be sure to go slowly and frequently back the drill bit out of the hole to clear out the cuttings! It's possible the drill bit can get stuck easier than you think and might possibly break off inside the wall. Try to determine where this hole ended and then drill another hole through the front of the piece so that the two holes meet each other. The wires from the torch's LED (see below) will go in here to the bottom.

Drill a hole on the bottom centre (be sure to drill slowly).

The torch itself is made out of a square toothpick (cut to the proper length). With a tiny Dremel cutting bit, I cut a trough along its length for the wires of the LED light to go. The yellow LED light is one of the smallest that's available (and yet still be realistically useable - size 0402). I soldered 30 gauge wire to the LED then placed it in the cut out trough of the toothpick (with the LED barely protruding out of one end). I glued the wires in place, filled the gap with putty, and then painted the "torch" a dark brown. In hindsight, it probably would have looked better if the toothpick was round and tapered at the handle (more like a real torch). For the silver sconce, my wife had an old bead kit with many decorative pieces. I used one that was cylindrical and cut it in half (at a slight angle) so when it's placed against the wall, the torch sits at an upward angle.

Drill a hole in the wall to meet with the first hole (on the bottom).
Here, the toothpick is inserted to test the fit (LED is not installed yet). 

Three items here: the toothpick with the channel partially cut (for the LED wire), the decorative hardware (cut at an angle), and the tiny 0402 LED soldered to two strands of 30 gauge wire.

Using a bigger bit on the Dremel tool, I cut out a small cavity in the bottom of the wall piece so that it connects with the first hole that was drilled. The purpose of this cavity is to house the circuit board from a flameless LED candle (used to make the torch flicker). The circuit board inside the candle is fairly big and therefore it needs to be trimmed down as small as possible. Also, the existing LED on the candle needs to be de-soldered from the circuit board. The wires from the small LED in the toothpick will be soldered there instead. LED's are polarized, so if you solder it on and it doesn't work, then try reversing the wires before crying, pulling out your hair, or throwing a hissy fit.

Two circuit boards from flameless candles. I cut away the excess circuit board on the right one so it can fit
in a hole I drilled in the base of the wall piece.

Next, insert the torch (with the sconce decoration) into the hole in the wall (running the wires through to the bottom), glue it in place and let it set. Solder the wires from the LED on the torch to the circuit board that's inside the bottom cavity. For power, I soldered a small connector on the circuit board where the batteries used to go and plug it into a 5-volt wall adapter*. Once all the wires are connected, glue the circuit board in place then fill in the hole with putty, trying to match the Dwarven Forge stone look on the backside.

(*Note - I made these torch pieces a long time ago but now I make them with small watch batteries so they're a lot more portable and look much better without all the messy power wires.)

Back view showing the connector for the power (with the re-sculpted stones around it).

For the flame on the end of the torch, I simply plopped a small dollop of Water Effects (a product by Woodland Scenics) on the end and shaped it to look flamey (if that's a word). It takes a while to dry, but when it does, it dries clear and then the flickering light from the LED can then shine through it!

Unlit torch.

Lit torch.

My pretties!!!!

B) Custom Walls (rotating and height conversion pieces)

In the video, I said that the walls were made out of putty, but I realized afterwards that that wasn't right. The master walls were made out of Das Putty and balsa wood. I made a mold of them so they could be reproduced in resin. For the height conversion pieces, I simply attached them to existing DF wall pieces (with glue and pins) then filled in any gaps with putty. The paint match isn't that great, but it'll suffice. It'll be good to get the new Pokorny Paint Colours so that the paint job on future projects will (hopefully) match a lot better.

Custom walls made from putty & balsa wood, molded, then cast in resin.

The finished height conversion pieces.

C) Stained Glass Windows

I started by making a "double high" wall piece using two wall pieces. Cut the floor part off of one and sand the jagged bottom so it’s flat and level. Drill holes in the pieces so alignment pins can be installed (for strength after final assembly). 

Double high wall piece before being cut for the window.

The window frames were constructed by bending 18 gauge solid wire into an upside down “U” shape and then the middle pieces were bent to the proper shape and soldered on. 

Window frame without the "glass"

Using a Dremel tool, cut out the middle of the walls in the rough shape of the windows. Cut the hole a bit larger than the window frame.

I painted the window frames black at first, but it kept peeling off.

The next step was to put the "glass" in each opening of the wire frame using some meltable plastic beads (meant for sun catchers). I made a jig to hold the frame flat and then filled each window section with a different colour bead. Heat it in the oven so the plastic beads melt and fill the window opening. I had to keep adding more coloured beads and re-heat it a few times before the plastic filled in completely.

The frame secured to a jig with the colored beads (before heating).

Testing for a good fit. Note the alignment pins on the top of the bottom wall piece.

Once cooled, install the window in the opening in the wall and add putty to fill in any gaps. Paint the new putty to match the colour of the Dwarven Forge. Once everything fits well and is painted, install the top section and glue it in place.


For the most part, I really like how these turned out except that when the plastic began to cool down, some small hairline cracks began to show. Nothing too horrible though.

D) The Dais

I don't have many pictures of this part of the project. Basically, it's just cutting some 6"x6" DF floor pieces into 1" wide strips with a power saw, then reconstructing them without the middle part (the second tier is a bit smaller). The two "frames" are glued together and touched up with putty and paint where needed.

Two level dais.

The underside of the dais.

E) Rotating Floor Mechanism and Remote Control

Ok, this part was quite a challenge. After spending a while thinking about how to get the floor to rotate, I decided that the raised dais method (as shown in the last section) would be the best design because then all of the hardware and electronics can be hidden underneath. I cut out the circular section from a 6X6 floor piece using a hole saw, trimmed down the square part to 4X4 using a power saw, then mounted it on a piece of thick copper circuit board with some standoffs.

Some Lego pieces (for the gear box) and a 10:1 motor were mounted on the copper board so that the vertical shaft (used to make the wall turn) was positioned in the exact centre of the base. Getting the circular floor piece centred inside the platform opening (so they wouldn’t rub against each other) took a lot of tweaking. This section was very time consuming, as many very precise measurements and cuts were needed to get everything to work smoothly.

Bottom piece, motor and Lego gearbox. 

The circular floor removed from the platform, showing the motor and Lego gears.

I'll speed things up here (otherwise this already obnoxiously long blog will be both ridiculously AND obnoxiously long). The circuitry detail probably won't be needed so I'll just do an overview. 

I added some electronics to make the wall rotate when a button on a transmitter is pressed. The circuits under the floor piece included reed switches that determined where the wall stopped rotating when a magnet (that was attached to the underside of the rotating piece) came near them.

The rotating base assembly including the motor, gears and electronics.

The guts beneath the floor. RF receiver (green board), motor and Lego gears (top left and centre),
and motor driver circuitry at the top. Reed switch is above the green board.

The circuit boards for the transmitter and receiver were purchased from eBay. Using some leftover pieces from the wall part, I made a small case for the transmitter board and battery. They have a pretty good range, so you can trigger the wall to start rotating from a fair distance away.

RF wireless transmitter circuit boards inside a homemade case (before being painted).

F) Electronics for Computer and Braziers

This section was by far the hardest part of the whole project. From the get go, I wasn't even sure if getting the LED lights inside the computer and getting the electronics inside the wall would even be possible.

I began by drilling out the backside of the Dwarven Forge computer piece, but that quickly turned into a disaster. The material was too brittle and when I tried to drill out the tiny buttons for the LED's on the panel, the top of the piece fell apart. So I made a mold of the piece and cast a copy in resin. The drilling went much better on this piece.

The resin copy of the bottom of computer piece before being modified for LED's (unpainted and without the back part)

The same piece with the holes for the LED's drilled out.  The wire shown has an LED that's about to be installed.

The next step was to basically install an LED & wire combo into each hole that was drilled out (easier said than done). Then reinsert the whole piece back into the mold and re-pour resin into the opening where the LED’s went to help secure them in place. As you can see from the picture below, this was done once for the left set of LED's and once for the right set.

The same piece with LED's installed. Notice the left side has already been re-sealed with more resin.

To add the back part, the piece was again inserted in the mold and more resin was poured in. I drilled out the area for the computer "screen" and decided to install a clear (green tinted) lens and add some LED's mounted on a small homemade circuit board. It was meant to look like a pulse signal from an old school oscilloscope, but that concept didn't come across very well in the videos. Something to do with the frame rate of the camera not syncing up correctly with the LED's flash rate. Anyway, in person it looks correct, just not in the video.

The computer "screen" and LED circuit board (LED's lined up like a sine wave pulse).

The computer piece with the back, before the screen components are installed.

After all the LED's were installed and secured, the piece was painted to look like an original Dwarven Forge computer piece. For the buttons on the panel, I used the mold again and cast them in clear resin, but tinted them a little to match the colour of the buttons on the original.

Computer piece showing LED wiring. The coloured resin buttons still need to be added.

Close up showing some of the resin buttons on the right side.

All those wires have to go *somewhere*, right? The fun was just beginning! For the futuristic looking side of the rotating wall, I hacked apart some old memory SIMMS, restructured, and glued them together so they were the same size as the rotating wall piece. I put the electronics (that make the LED's flash) in between these two sections.

Memory SIMM cards, cut and glued to fit the size of the wall. The gap at the bottom is for the wires from the LED's.

The backside of the computer wall showing the "dead-bugged" IC's.

All those wires!!!! AUGH!!!

Close up showing the completed wiring for the LED's

I must have checked the wiring for this thing about a BILLION times before sealing the two wall pieces together. Unfortunately, once it was sealed, one LED on the screen display crapped out. Even though it's really not that noticeable, I was still kind of annoyed about it.

After sealing the walls together with silicone and putty, I made a small platform (for the demon idol to sit on) out of a couple of the small Dwarven Forge pedestals. For the braziers, a small trinket (a bird cage for a charm bracelet) was cut into quarters and the flames were made using clear silicon. I painted them orange, red, and yellow and glued an LED (with the flickering candle circuit) at the bottom of the brazier so the light would shine through the silicone. They were wired to the power connector at the bottom at the wall (see pictures below) before the walls were sealed together.

"Birdcage" trinkets from a craft store, cut in quarters for the wall braziers.

The braziers with LED's and the flames (made out of silicone then painted).

The (almost) completed computer side. The power for all the LED's comes in through the pins shown at the bottom.

Completed stone side. LED's for the braziers are wired between the walls to the power connector at the bottom.

The two wall pieces being glued together. Putty was used to cover the seam.

G) Demon and Robot Miniatures

I bought the demon idol while visiting Paris a while ago. To make the eyes light up, I simply drilled two small holes where the eyes were and installed tiny red LED's. The wires came out at the base of the neck and ran down the back to a connector on the bottom. There is a matching socket on the top of the small pedestal that supplied the power (from inside the wall).

The small, 8-pinned "worker" robot miniatures were simply some old IC's with the lettering sanded off. I wanted to have an old school, futuristic look for the setup (if that makes sense). The larger robot (with the pulsating brain inside the jar) was quite challenging to make.

After drilling out the underside of an old memory IC using a Dremel tool, I put a watch battery inside and connected it to a fading 555 IC timing circuit. I wanted the brain to "throb or pulse", not just blink on and off. The circuit was made using very small components so that it would fit inside the hole.

The underside of an old IC that I drilled out. The electronics and battery went inside here.

Close up of the battery and tiny 555 surface mount IC inside the hole on the bottom of the "robot" IC.

For the top part of the robot, I took a regular flashlight light bulb and cut the glass dome off using a diamond cutter bit on my Dremel tool. This was quite delicate work. A few bulbs were sacrificed before one came off without breaking. Using some clay, I shaped a small "brain" looking thing and made a mold of it then cast a copy using clear resin (tinted pink actually for a fleshy brain look). Before the resin hardened, I inserted a small pink LED so that when powered up, the light would shine through.

Cutting the glass off of a lightbulb (without it breaking) was harder than it sounds.

Picture of my the clay brain.

I put the resin brain/LED combo inside the glass dome, carefully filled it with green tinted water, and then sealed up the bottom with a piece of clear plastic and glue. The wires for the LED came out through a small hole that was drilled in the bottom plastic. The torso and arms were some circuit board connectors that were painted silver and the hands/blades were bought from a miniatures company. I drilled a small hole in the top of the IC so the wires for the brains’ LED could go through to connect to the 555 pulsing circuitry in the bottom. I glued the torso to the top of the IC.

Magnets were added in the blades and arms so they could be easily swapped out if desired. The whole thing ended up being very front end heavy and barely sits up. Luckily, it doesn't tip over normally, but it's pretty darn close!

The top part of the robot - the torso and the "brain under glass". Note the wires for the brains' LED coming out of the centre torso.

The completed robot. I snapped this picture when the brain was lit up.

Well, that's it. Piece of cake, no? Hope you enjoyed and found some inspiration.

1 comment:

  1. This is amazing, Bob. Seriously. I can barely believe this. You da man.