How I Learned to Stop Worrying and make a LightPainting Lightsaber

In an attempt to increase my badassery level, I took it upon myself to build an LED Lightsaber, just to see if I could… and it was surprising easy! Total project time was about 2 days, which includes the 3d Printing time, eating/sleeping and catching up on a couple episodes of Gotham. I had the electronic parts kicking around from a previous project (POV Poi), so I figured, why not make it POV? (that’s persistence of vision, for the uninitiated)

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So, here’s how I did it, so you can too..

The parts all came from Aidafruit, my current favourite electronics site. I can’t rave enough about these guys, they have tonnes of project tutorials and nifty stuff, plus they make the smallest Arduino I’ve found, which is the Trinket.

Here’s the parts list:

  1. Trinket Pro 5V as the controller.
  2. LiIon/LiPoly Backpack for boosting 3v to 5v power for the LEDs and USB battery charging.
  3. Tactile ON/OFF switch, for well.. turning it on and off.
  4. 2 one meter Aidafruit 144 LED Dotstar Strips. I’ve read that you can do light painting with the w2812 strips, but they don’t refresh fast enough for POV, so I personally think its worth the extra money for the wow factor of the image appearing to the naked eye
  5. Cylindrical 3.7v 2200mAh battery because the cylinder battery works oh so much better in the handle than the flat ones.
  6. Clear polycarbonate tubing and black foam board (for the “blade”)

Because I don’t have the patience and skill required for 3d modelling, I got the STLs for the Lightsaber handle from Thingiverse user ethomic. His model not only looked 10x better than many of the other Lightsaber models I found, his was already designed to house electronics, in fact, the 2200mAh battery fit perfectly inside the ridged handle housing and still left room to run the wires from the LEDs strips to the Trinket through the emitter.

I built my 3d Printer from a kit, and its not the most accurate when it comes to fine prints, so I did have to Dremel the threaded parts down and glue the print together with E6000 glue. However, ethomics parts are really well reinforced, so they printed nice and strong using 20% infill using the support STL files (which I recommend).

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The wiring for the electronics was borrowed heavily from the Morning Star Double Staff project by firepixie. The wiring is pretty much identical with the exception of the IR Sensor (didn’t really want to include it) and cutting the LED strips in half (was making Luke’s saber, not Darth Maul’s).

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The biggest challenge was soldering the wires for the two LED strips together, as they’re on opposite sides the wires need to cross over each other, which can be a little cumbersome.

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I got lazy and hot glued the LED strips to some black foam board to fit inside the polycarbonate tubing. I’m sure there are more elegant solutions, but hey, it was a prototype anyway. I used gaff tape to fit the tubing inside the emitter housing, and also hot glued the Trinket to the inside the handle, so it’s not battle ready by any means. I’m sure if I get the where-with-all I’ll find a better way to have it mounted better so I can hit stuff with it…

I used the Kinetic POV doublestaff code for the Trinket. The only changes I made was to comment out the IR stuff, mainly to squeeze out some extra space on the Trinket’s memory. The script for converting images can be found in the Kinetic POV library. Prepping the images can be cumbersome, if you’re not familiar with Python. Also, because there are 72 pixels (72 LEDs per side), storage is limited even more than the 32px doublestaff code, so unfortunately, there’s not a screaming lot of images you can get in there. I found that 4 – 8 color images at 72px height work best. I’m looking into the possibility of adding some kind of flash memory or SD slot in the future. Regardless, the end result still looks pretty impressive if you ask me!

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So ya, that’s pretty much it. Now you can make your own Lightpainting Saber too. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll help if I’m in a good mood.

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One Response to How I Learned to Stop Worrying and make a LightPainting Lightsaber

  1. Eric (erthomic) says:

    Nice Job! I will have to build one! Clever title.

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