Make: Electronics

COVID-19 quarantine continues and the extended time at home has presented another opportunity to pursue another passion project – performing every experiment in the Make: Electronics book, cover to cover with my children.

Make: Electronics
Learning by Discovery by Charles Platt

I didn’t want to piecemeal acquire the parts and potentially have any delays when we got started. The quarantine has noticeably exacerbated shipping delays. When we got started I wanted to be able to stream roll through the book. The second edition has a checklist appendix of all the supplies required and I purchased them all on piecemeal in one fell swoop. (I know there are kits out there for this book, but I wanted to get lots of spares so both children could work simultaneously under my tutelage. You can never have enough LEDs, am I right?

Make: Electronics – the components acquired piecemeal via amazon

Make: Electronics Chapter 1

Experiment 1: Taste The Power

The kids were amazed at the tingle on their tongues! We were off to a good start

Experiment 2: Let’s abuse a Battery

This was a good experiment to discuss the concept of short circuits and the engineering reason for having a fuse in a circuit as an electrical safety feature. I had a leftover spare 3 amp circuit in hand that we used for the experiment. The children again were amazed how hot the wires and batteries got for this experiment. It was exciting to see the fuse blow under real-time observation.

Experiment 3: Your First Circuit

We opened up my old resistors and they had become jumbled and to my dismay the packs were not labeled. This was the perfect opportunity to introduce the multimeter and take the time to measure and label the resistance of each pack. It took a while to execute but the children were pros at this activity at the end.

The children were tasked with measuring and labeling all of the resistance values.

After the values were all measured and the resistor packs were sorted by least ohms to largest ohms we made our first battery-resistor-led circuit. We started with the largest value resistor which produced no light and then decreased the value which demonstrated an increasingly brighter LED.

Experiment 4: Varying the Voltage

Experiment 4: Varying the Voltage

With the concept of resistors mastered from the previous experiment, it was relatively easy for the children to grasp the concept of a potentiometer varying resistance as evidenced by the dimming LED with the turn of the knob. I admit – in a 2020 digital world there is something so gratifying about the smooth velvety feel of the analog knob of the potentiometer. Velvety smooth!

Experiment 4: Varying the Voltage

Experiment 5: Let’s Make a Battery

We didn’t have much success with this experiment. We got some voltage out of our setup but not much and not enough to light an LED. I don’t think we had enough fresh lemons and we substituted what I believe were galvanized washers in place of the galvanized metal plates, so perhaps one of these elements was a contributing factor.


Make: Electronics Chapter 1 was complete! The children were able to use a multimeter, understand the concept of voltage, current, and resistance. They built their first circuits, made LEDs light up and dim, and explored the use of a potentiometer. We were off to a good start!

A Light Emitting Diode (LED)

Prusa I3 Mk3S Upgrades

Now that I have had my Prusa I3 MK3S 3d printer for 4 months I have had an educational time upgrading the unit with aftermarket add-ons promoted by the 3d printing community. Obviously, one of the neatest aspects of the unit is that it can print it’s own upgrades!

Modified Duct Fan

Prusa Delta P Duct Fan Upgrade

The stock shroud that comes with the base kit was flimsy and chunks were occasionally meting off and falling in my prints. I stumbled upon the Delta P duct fan upgrade in a Reddit post. You can download the info and plans here. At the start I printed it and installed this fan configuration because I thought it simply looked really cool, but I’ve come to the opinion that this configuration is superior to the base configuration that comes with the printer. I do believe the fan runs quieter, is more structurally stable, and that it does a more precise job of ducting the air to the nozzle base.

Silicone Sock

Aftermarket 3d Printer Hot End Silicone Sock

I read about these after fixing a clog in my E3D V6 hot end a few weeks ago. The aftermarket hot end Silicone Sock runs about $8 and is well worth a try. The silicone sock keeps your hot end insulated, keeps it clean, and prevents against stray filament curling around, sticking to the hot end and the associated risk of creating a filament blob. There is a small risk the silicone sock could come lose and fall into your print during operations, but to date mine is fastened snugly on the hot end without issue since installation. In my opinion the silicone sock has done a great job to keep the hot end clean and in general improves the quality and reliability of the print.

Silicone Sock

Filament Extrusion Visualizer

The last upgrade I’ve made is a filament extrusion visualizer. This add-on is more aesthetically fun than anything else, but does have some minor functionality by quickly enabling you to observer how the extruded is operating at any given time.

The Prusa Extruder Visualizer tutorial has mostly windmill and screw type designs, but I chose to go with a nostalgic wind up toy configuration, but there are many fun Options to choose from. I’ve seen YouTube videos where the windup knob appears to crank in time lapse videos which also adds a pleasing visual effect. (Tinkering with 3d printing time lapse is on my to do list)

The set up is simple. You print your extruder visualizer, and then take a tiny Neodymium magnet

(8x3mm) and super glue it to the printer extrusion visualizer componen. The magnets make for interchange options.

3d printer extruder visualizer

COVID-19 Quarantine STEM: Elenco AmeriKit Learn to Solder Kit

Another weekend of COVID-19 quarantine lockdown means another weekend to dust off some of the STEM projects Santa Claus gave the kids this past Christmas that were sitting in the basement 😉

Elenco Amerikit Learn to Solder Kit

The kit impressed me. It comes with a decent soldering iron and a simplistic but effective stand for the soldering iron when not in use.

We divided work on the kit into two days . The first day they practiced soldering the pads on the circuit board and then soldering wire to the board.

My daughter is practicing her soldering skills

On the second day we assembled the kit. Along the way we got to discuss resistors, capacitors, transistors, and potentiometers.

Some of the electronics that came with the Elenco Amerikit learn to solder kit

After the kids had the basics of soldering down and were comfortable using the equipment we pivoted towards assembling the actual kit. I think it took us about 2 hours of relaxed zen-like soldering to complete the kit. It was very relaxing and enjoyable actually.

The kit is supposed to have flashing LEDs and a European siren when completed. We were able to get the LEDs to perform the alternating blinking pattern but alas, we could not get the siren to work on either child’s kit. We spent a good half hour troubleshooting, but in the end my hunch is that we may have applied too much heat to the 555 timer chips.

Final Thoughts:

We were somewhat disappointed we couldn’t get the siren to play after all of the components were soldered to the board, but I chalk that up to user error on our part. The real goal of having the children obtain a real world STEM skill of soldering was successfully accomplished. The kit was very effective at teaching this skill. Santa picked out a fun, practical, and educational gift for the kids to grow their soldering skills.

Hack the Pandemic – 3D printing COVID-19 Face Masks

I’ve been experimenting with printing face-masks to wear during the pandemic.

The .STL file was downloaded from Thingiverse .com and then printed on my Prusa I3 Mk3S 3D printer. I love the Prusa 3d printer. It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

The parts for one COVID-19 mask take approximately 7 hours to 3D print.
This 3D print of 3D COVID-19 masks took 18 hours
Finished and assembled COVID-19 mask 3D printed on my Prusa I3 Mk3S

A HEPA filter from a HVAC unit or a vacuum cleaner bag can be cut to make the masks filter unit. I don’t have flexible filament on hand so the the mask is rigid. A rubber weather strip gasket can be used to line the interior for a gasket effect.