Category Archives: Craft

LeChuck from Monkey Island cross-stitch with animated LEDs driven by an ATtiny

After acquiring some aida and a set of fairly cheap embroidery silks, I decided to try my hand at cross-stitch. As with a lot of craft related activities cross-stitch and embroidery are having a resurgence. The fact that cross-stitch is essentially the first form of pixel-art makes it perfect for rendering old-school 8bit/16bit graphics. Heading over to the Sprite Database I found the sprite for LeChuck from Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge.

Nearly finished LeChuck cross-stitch + frame, button and electronics

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Fimo dinosaurs

I’ve been having a little Fimo renaissance lately. Partly due to using some Fimo for the nightlights I’ve made, but also from seeing some of the other wonderful things people like Joo Joo have made.

I saw a little guide on making photo stands out of plastic toy dinosaurs and magnets and thought that I could do the same using Fimo. I ordered some tiny magnets online, that had a 300g pull – enough to be quite strong, but not so strong they’d cause any injuries! I also got hold of a few more varieties of Fimo and set to work:

The complete set of fimo magnet dinosaurs

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Making a musical Robot Santa ornament using an ATtiny 85

William tests robot santa

In what is threatening to become a tradition, I made a Christmas ornament again this year. Last year I just made simple tree ornaments using sculpey and fimo.

This year things got a bit more involved, as I decided to make a musical model of the Robot Santa from Futurama. It was a good thing I started working on it in November, as it took quite a few evenings to get it all finished.

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Arduino powered, temperature sensing, RGB LED nightlight

About a year ago I started on a project to make a temperature controlled nightlight. I was inspired by seeing these lovely LED lamps styled as mushrooms growing out of pieces of wood. Those mushrooms were made out of glass, which was somewhat beyond my skills. However I then saw some had used translucent sculpey to make mushroom nightlights on instructables. So with that discovery it seemed like it would be rather simple to do…

The first job was to solder up a three colour (RGB) LED (a super bright one from oomlout):

Wires + RGB LED ready for coating in Fimo

I then covered the LED in translucent Fimo:

RGB LED and wires covered in Fimo

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Making a chair for a two year old

About a year ago I made a table for William’s birthday. This year I decided to make him a chair to go with the table.

I learnt quite a bit making the table and that coupled with a few other projects (a raised bed and a small phone stand amongst others) meant that I was much more confident with my woodworking skills this time round.

When making the table the wood for the legs was maybe a bit thin for an amateur like myself and meant I had to use screws to hold everything together. This time I chose something a bit thicker, which would make creating “proper” joints much easier.

Pieces cut for chair

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Making a table for a one year old

So William is a year old now and to celebrate that fact I decided to make him a table. Now given that my last piece of woodwork was a doorbell, hastily constructed using a coping saw on the doorstep of the previous house, this could have gone badly. Luckily it went pretty well. The table I’ve made has slightly wonky legs, but it’s otherwise sturdy and stable.

Next time I make something like this I’m going to try to do it better (of course). In particular I think I shall try and make some proper mortise and tenon joints, as they’ll help to keep things squarer. I opted to use dowels to pin the legs together, which meant the legs could move around too much before the glue set.

Table legs/frame

I then had to also add in some braces to the legs, which I fixed using brass screws to provide extra rigidity and strength. One good thing I did learn at this stage though, was that a tenon saw and a mitre block are a wonderful combination! Without them the legs would have been even wonkier.

Once the leg frame was made, next step was the table top. For this I leaned heavily on this guide to building a simple sturdy wooden table on the make blog. Sadly I didn’t have some of the tools used there (e.g. a router) so again made use of dowels to join the separate pieces of the table top together. This got easier once I also invested in a jig to help hold the drill bits steady and at 90°.

Drilling holes for dowels

Drilling holes for dowels

One half of table top with dowels in place

With a fair bit of clamping and strapping the table top came together pretty well. Though there were some small cracks left between the pieces in a couple of spots.

Table top clamped and strapped while gluing

At this point I could then test out the table a bit.

Trying out the table top on frame

The top was a little bit wonky. This was in large part to my poor choice of timber – I failed to check the timber was itself straight. Never the less I soldiered on and clamped the table down after applying some water to one side. After trimming the edges and sanding the table the wonkieness was less evident and things started looking much better.

Rounded corners and sanded down top

Next more holes were drilled and dowels inserted to pin the top to the frame. Then after the application of a whole load of glue more clamping occurred.

Clamping top to legs while gluing

Clamping top to legs while gluing

This final clamping to the table top really helped to reduce the curve of the table top further.

I then applied some wood filler to the cracks in the table top and also sealed off the join between the leg frame and the table top. Then after that was all dried and sanded down a coat of clear indoor varnish was applied to the legs and underside.

Starting to varnish the table

At this point Heather and I decided it would be nice to add some pictures to the table. So we broke out the paints. Heather painted one of William’s pirate toys and I painted an octopus/kraken that was on some of his pyjamas.

Painting a pirate

Pirate colors filled in

Pirate painted on table

Colors painted for octopus

The kraken awakes!

Pirate and kraken on table top

Pirate and kraken on table top

After that the top was varnished as well. We finished doing all of this just the night before William’s actual birthday. I had started with a couple of months ahead, but it always takes longer than you think.

I’m very happy with the final outcome. It was very satisfying making something semi-sizable with my hands. I’m also starting to acquire some better tools and a few more skills, so hopefully future projects will go even better.

The main thing though is that William seems to like the table.

William with the finished table

“Ultimate” Arduino Doorbell – part 1 (Hardware)

After a first couple of small Arduino projects I felt the need to make something a bit more useful and permanent.

I had seen Roo Reynolds talking about hacking his doorbell to get it onto Twitter and as our doorbell is a bit rubbish I thought this seemed like a good project. His hack only updated Twitter, so there was no direct physical sign that the doorbell had been rung. Given that our current doorbell is pretty rubbish anyway (it should ring, but just makes a rattling sound), I decided to start off with the physical/audible side of things and then later move on to pushing notifications out to laptops on the local network or beyond…

I’ve been documenting my progress on Flickr now for a while.

Take apart wireless doorbell

Following Roo’s approach, I picked up a cheap wireless doorbell from Tesco for about £9 and took it apart:

I was able to verify that I could turn an LED on/off with the doorbell at this stage, so I knew I could use that as a signal in the Arduino. Using a multimeter also let me figure out some more details about the voltage and current used to power the speaker:

Testing wireless doorbell with multi-meter

This was about 3.1 V and 75mA output. That’s a few milliamps more than the Arduino can tolerate, so I knew I had to make sure I put a resistor (22KOhm) in between the doorbell and the Arduino. The doorbell would also need to draw power from the Arduino, but luckily the Arduino has a separate 3V output, so that wasn’t an issue.

Testing connecting Arduino to doorbell

From there I verified that when the doorbell was activated I could read a drop in voltage from the wire on the doorbell labelled “SPI”. At this point I had the input for my Arduino.

Servos and prototypes

The next step was to provide some sort of audible output. Originally I had thought about just adding a buzzer, but fancied something a bit more old-fashioned. I figured it’d be good fun if the nice 21st century tech of the Arduino used some rather more ancient technology to create sound – a bell.

Using a micro servo from Oomlout I created a couple of prototypes.

I made a pretty simple circuit to hook up the servo, doorbell and arduino:

The first prototype used some lego and a bell from a Christmas ornament:

This worked, but the servo was probably louder than the bell!

Next I got hold of a small brass bell from a music shop. Luckily the top unscrewed and would let me easily attached it to a piece of lego. So another prototype was created using the small brass bell:

Prototype doorbell with brass bell

This worked much better!

The bell is about 100g in weight, which isn’t massive, but when it’s flung around the lego prototype would tend to move too. Not so good when this will live on the kitchen window sill. So I’d need something sturdier for the finished version.

A little soldering

As well as trying out a better bell I also made the circuit for the bell and servo more permanent, by soldering everything up on a piece of stripboard. I also used a few headers, so most of the circuit would plug into the Arduino – like a rudimentary shield. The wire to the pin controlling the servo, was left to be plugged in separately. I hadn’t soldered anything since school, so I ended up swearing quite a bit trying to do this. For me it was probably the trickiest part of the whole exercise, but it did work in the end. Just glad I had a multi-meter with a continuity mode to find the short-circuits – a knife worked well to clear up some of those.

Stripboard soldering

Full soldered doorbell + arduino


I next turned to my (t)rusty woodwork skills to create a sturdier version. First off some pieces of wood to mount the Arduino, doorbell circuit and servo:

Arduino and doorbell mounted on wood block

Servo mounted in wooden block

Next came the base and first part of the bell moving arm:

Then I added the top piece of the arm as well as the picture wire to make the bell swing properly:

Closeup of bell innards

At this point everything worked as expected:

Tidying up

After the sawing and sanding was finished there was still some general tidying up to do.

Once I’d taped down the servo wire and antena wire with electrical tape I needed to deal with the movement of the whole piece when the arm swings out. First I got hold of some Sugru and made some small rubberised feet to prevent the bell sliding around:

Sugru rubber feet on bell

The next task was to add a counter weight so the bell wouldn’t tip over. For this I made two piles of fifteen pennies, which I wrapped in electrical tape and taped to the ledge on the reverse side from the Arduino:

Counter weights on back/front of doorbell

Eventually these will be covered up and will probably actually make up part of the internal structure of the outer decoration. This should also mean they’ll end up being attached better. For now though electrical tape has proved sufficient.

One final tweak involved inserting some small nylon washers either side of the arm:

Washer and tidier wire

This was done to help make the movement of the arm more consistent and slightly smoother. Previously I was finding that the arm would shift position slightly, which sometimes caused problems for the servo.


With the hardware finished I then set about actually getting it all up and running as our real doorbell. So imagine my horror when upon placing the doorbell on our kitchen window sill and connecting the power everything went haywire and the arm just constantly moved! After some tweaking of the code and kitchen-side debugging I realised that I really should make use of the Arduino’s internal pullup resistors for the doorbell pin. Up until that point I had left it “floating”. When powered by the USB this rarely drifted to zero, so I thought it was working fine. However on mains power it regularly dropped quite low, making the Arduino think the button had been pressed, triggering the servo. Configured the pullup resistor and tweaking the activation threshold (as it was now higher than zero) sorted out this problem perfectly:


So we now have a slightly Heath Robinson doorbell. It works better that our old one. There’s also plenty of scope for making it do more too. In fact phase two will be mostly about connecting the doorbell to my Chumby to get it communicating with the local network.

Check out my doorbell git repository on github for the code, as well as a fritzing circuit file.

How to sew a felt horse

I’ve clearly picked up the making felt toys bug. For Christmas this year I ended up making a pair of felt horses for two of my cousin’s children:

A pair of felt horses

I thought I’d have a go at writing up the instructions for how I did this – complete with template for making your own:

How to sew a felt horse

It’s pretty easy really. As long as you can sew some backstitch you should be able to make this easily. If not then it might not be the worst first project to try either!

Two Months of Felt Creations

It’s been a busy two months for me. I’ll soon be getting married and there’s been quite a lot to do. A while back I finished the invites for the wedding (which involved hand-stamped wrapping paper):

Wedding Invites

From there I moved on to creating a pair of robins to sit on top of the wedding cake:

Finished Robin Cake Toppers Robins One finished, one robin nearly finished

The robins are made out of felt and stuffed using bits of cut-up cotton sheet (as that was all I had to hand at the time – hence also the green cotton). The legs are simply silver wire stitched into place inside, with the red-breast covering up the extra stitches needed. The eyes are just small black beads (from Beads Unlimited in Brighton, as was the silver wire).

I felt they turned out really well, so seeing as they didn’t take too long (a couple of hours each) we decided it’d be nice to make more felt creatures (following an autumn theme) for table centrepieces. Initially we planned on one creature per table, then two and so with some extra help from my bride-to-be we ended up with twenty eight felt hedgehogs:

Hedgehogs with conkers Hedgehogs boxed and waiting Hedgehogs in production Felt Hedgehog in progress

Again the hedgehogs were made of felt. This time they were stuffed with wadding which made things easier. The spines were glued on as “fringed” bits of felt, with a special widows-peak shaped piece for the head. This time the eyes and nose were just small bits of black felt, glued in place – so as to be marginally more child-friendly. Each hedgehog body consists of three pieces of felt – two sides and a smaller bottom piece. The bottom piece makes them stand fairly levelly and also gives them a more rounded look.

Somewhere during this time I’ve also had several friends children’s first birthdays to contend with. So seeing as I was in a felt creature production mood I turned my hand to three felt toys:

Finished Felt Max (from Where the wild things are) Felt Spaceman Purple Felt Monster

I realised the other day that all thirty three of these were made during a roughly two month period – meaning one felt creation every two days! Not a bad rate of productivity I guess.