Mr Makoto Tsai has appeared periodically and shown off some of his uber-bright LED-string blades. They're very impressive and if constructed well - very tough! In the spirit of Do-It-Yourself, here's a not-so-quick tutorial on how to make one of these for yourself.
First off, lets get in the mood...
here's his blog site and a bunch of his awesome sabers. He will be starting his own website soon, so stay tuned for that:Makototsai Blog site
Pretty much what he's pioneered is a DIY version of an MR blade or a hyperblade: a whole bunch of individual LEDs strung together to make the blade.
I've spent months trying to match his blades in brightness, evenness, and versatility. I've had lots of good self-learned points and some help from other folks along the way. So far and BY FAR the most important point that I've learned is: The Quality is in the LEDs!*EDIT - You can now buy the same LEDs that Makoto Tsai uses directly from The Custom Saber Shop - they're literally direct from Makoto himself! LED-String Specific supplies HERE
So's not to confuse anyone - We're talking about 5mm LEDs, the small ones with two prongs sticking out of the bottom - one of these.
NOT a Luxeon, not a star, K2, P4, Rebel or any of those... just a simple Light Emitting Diode - but a whole bunch of them!
Like I said, the results depend on the quality of the LEDs. There's two things to consider when buying LEDs: source and specs.
You'll want to find a reliable source, as in, a supplier that can guarantee SAME batch LEDs, otherwise they'll all be different tint, brightness, angle... all looking like multi-colored corn-on-the-cob... that's bad. You want SAME BATCH - ALL MATCH.
DO NOT buy LEDs in bulk off of ebay! Yes, it's tempting at such low prices, but they can not and will not guarantee same batch or uniformity. Your best bet is a reliable, stateside, supplier that can confirm they all match - look for stores that advertise for external automotive lighting, effects lighting, DJ lighting... generally the same thing we want.
What you're looking for as far as specs, are brightness and viewing angle... and to a lesser degree, voltage and current, but those are usually standard.
- First viewing angle. This is the total angle that light covers from the top of the bump. Standard 5mm LED are +/- 20 degrees, which is another reason why you'd want same batch. It is possible to find 45-degree or even as high as 120-degree viewing angles, but they're harder to find and probably more expensive. Mr. Makoto uses 45-degree LEDs.
- Brightness. Measured in Millicandela or "mcd", the LEDs to look for are classified as "High Brightness" or "HB". This depende on the color, of course, but as a general estimation, HB LEDs usually range from 1000mcd and up. For green/blue, 3000-6000 mcd is good, Red can run a little lower around 1000+. Of course, in your searches, you'll certainly find higher mcd counts and different shapes, sizes, multi-colors, RGBs, etc... sky's the limit on this one.
- Voltage and Current. If you DO find some awesome 120-degree, 80,000 mcd LEDs out there... check out the required voltage and current... you could be looking at some hungry little suckas. For voltage you'll want 2.5-3V for the reds and 3-4V for the greens and blues; for current, ALL should be no more than 20mA. There's a lot of super-duper bright LEDs out there, but if you look at specs, you'll see that they require something like 100mA each... you'll have to add up the required current for each LED, so be aware of the specs.(Insert Jeopardy theme song here)
Okay. Now that you have your LEDs, we can start construction of the blade - prepare yourself for Maximum Awesomness
Tools that you'll need before today is over:
- Needlenose pliers
- Soldering iron
- MR foamy blade insert
- Thin wire (preferably multi-strand ribbon wire)
- Clear tape (I use 2" 3M Scotch packaging tape)
- Strip of non-corrugated cardboard, (0.5" x 2")
- Resistors or driver (corbin board, MR sound board, 1A buckpuck, CF, US, etc.)
- Batteries or battery pack
- Latching switch
- Small tray - for collection
- (optional) 2-lead connection device (quick-disconnect plugs, 1/8" audio jack, connectors, clips, etc) - for detachable blade
- (optional) calculator - required for me
Starting with one LED, identify long leg vs short leg. When you finish bending them all, it's easiest to line them up in the tray, by 10s, with the long legs and short legs also lined up.Disclaimer: pictures come from two different projects, so they look different.
Seperate the legs so that they're both sticking straight out - like the splits.
Bend the legs back down so that they're bowed out - think cartoon guy on a horse. The space should be the same width or more than the actual LED... so you can fit another one under there - you'll see ;)
Remember that strip of cardboard that didn't seem to make sense? Well here's where you use it:
place it against the legs so that you're measuring one half inch (the amount of spacing between each LED)...
...and then with the needlenose pliers bending the legs to a 90-degree angle.
The LEDs are going to hook together, like arms holding on to the armpits of the next guy...
Once you hook them together, bend the arms back up so they lock into place. I worked in smaller strings of 10 to keep track of them
Place a drop of solder on each of the two joints for each LED - just a drop... in this case, "less is more". You'll be able to tell where the weak solder joints are when you light it up.
I've done a few and they've all been different lengths. It really depends on 1) how long do YOU want it and 2) how much current can you drive through it. Remember, these are 20mA each and that gets added up... so if you have a 1A buck puck, in order to drive each one properly, you'll only be able to string 50 LEDs together. Make sense? If you want more, you can use more current or maybe even under-drive them. For my purple string, I used 54 LEDs at less than 1A, they were under-driven but they were still brighter than my MR Mace.
Anyway back on track, you should have a string, ladder, whatever of LEDs now...
...and now for the sucky part: math.
How many LEDs did you end up connecting? Lets say 60. 60 x 20 (mA) = 1.2A required to drive properly. In this respect, the entire string will ultimately function like a Luxeon blade. Drivers, batteries, all get calculated and wired the same, and really, that's another thread to look for ;)Use this for resistor calculation
For protection, I just go with what MR did: the funny foamy liner thing that comes wrapped around every MR LED ladder works great for protection. I suggest you cut it open, follow where the edge of the MR string was, find it? It's a narrow groove where the LEDs slid in - cut along that groove. It'll be easier to slide your LED string into it. When it's in, a wrap with the packing tape makes for a relatively tough product... don't wrap it up too TIGHT, just enough to close the gap in the foamy thing, and get a nice uniform sheen from the entire length.
After all that, stick it in the blade, fire it up, take pictures, post on fx-sabers! ;D
For the most part, it's relatively simple - just time consuming. And if you get this far with it, a single burnt out LED, will be nothing... or it will set you off into a time-consumed rage-filled frenzy.
This is getting to be a long post. I'll make a part two that covers: Detachable Blades and Scrolling Effect.
So stay tuned!
Thanks for reading, if you run into problems, post here - maybe someone else ran into the same problem ;)