EL Wire Class Dec 15 2010

EL Wire Soldering Class was good fun

Last night (Wed Dec 15 2010), Maui Makers held its first class – Soldering EL Wire.  I purchased 10 Learn To Solder Kits from Cool Neon.  The each kit come with a half dozen sample lengths of Electroluminescent (EL) wire in various colors and widths (pre-stripped and ready for solder!!), four battery powered Drivers, copper tape, solder, heat shrink, solder iron, and instructions. Of course the online instructions are better.  Cool Neon has a nice intro video featuring Benjamin James (leader of fun house productions, aka Cool Neon), along with a written guide. My friend Matt Pinner at CrashSpace have also posted a great How-To on soldering EL wire.

A word about the instructions – Most of the instructions do not mention the copper tape.  The tape is used to secure the tiny angel wires prior to soldering.  This method seems to work a lot better than the simple “wrap angel wires around connector wire” method in the instructions. In particular, it avoids shorts between the angel wire and main interior wire.  The online written guide from Cool Neon does mention and nicely illustrate both techniques.  I’d like to see Benjamin’s next video mention this alternative.  Ben does give some good extra pointers and tips in the video – like linking your thumbs for stability.

Back to the class – I got 10 kits at a nice discount (thanks Ben!) ’cause we’re a hackerspace teaching classes.  I had at least 10 people say they were interested and I sent out several reminders, etc.   I got a couple people RSVPd positive and one had a late nite gig so he had to cancel.  I spent the day cleaning up the house – dogs and Haiku mud make for a mess on any floor. At least hardwood cleans fairly easy.

I also wired up some of the LED Flexi-Strip I got from AdaFruit with a new Arduino Mega 2560 and set those outside as a beacon. My tub-o-wall-warts came in handy here.  I needed a high amp 12v power supply to insure the 5m of wire lit up. My tub yielded up a nice Microsoft 12v, 1.5A brick, which of course had a different connector than the Mega.  I snipped off the end and soldered on some breadboard wires, stuck the whole thing in a cardboard box and set it out by the end of driveway.  It did help people find the place, although when Brian T first saw them, he thought the blue and red lights were the police raiding our wild party.

Cole S showed up about 7pm just as I was finishing hanging the LED lights.  As usual we immediately started talking up big ideas.  Shortly afterwards Jessica arrived, followed by Tommy R and Brian T.  Chris T and Rachel showed up not too long after.  That was six people, two of whom had come after the 10 kits were spoken for.  Given that Ben H wasnt coming and it was already about 8pm, I figured the rest were also no-shows and I let Tommy and Jessica have kits.

After socializing for a good while, we started in on picking out kit parts.  Cool Neon had not separated the parts into 10 sets so we all went round and picked out our parts.  Tommy had brought his own brand new Hakko 936 iron and Chris brought a couple small ones. Everyone else dug in with the irons provided with kits.  Most of these seemed to work, however Cole went through three of em before we gave up and I let him use my Aoyue 2900.  Not sure why the irons failed to heat, or in one case sparked.  I’ll give them and the rest of the unused ones a good test and talk with Benjamin about this.

We watched the video and then everyone started in.  Six people working was pretty chaotic.  I was quite busy jumping from one to next to help out with questions, etc.  It would have been nearly unworkable if we’d had a full 10 person class.   Of course, my teaching style this time around was also fairly chaotic (“ok go for it”).  Much learned for next class.  We had quite a variety of skill levels too.  Some had lots of experience and dug right in. Others had never used a soldering iron before.

Cole was the first to get a working product and others followed shortly after.  Cole went on to make a number of other wires, and found out how difficult those tiny wires can be.  If you are not careful, you can easily break them. Then you have to strip a new end, which can be very tricky – it is very easy to cut the angel wires when stripping.  Ben makes it look so easy in the video. My wire stripper, which looks just like his, either didnt cut thru or broke the wires every time. grrr.

EL Wire Class Dec 15 2010

L2R: Chris T, Rachel, Tommy, Jessica, Brian T, Cole S. showing off their EL Wire creations

Anyway all were quite successful in soldering up EL Wire and we had a great time socializing and kibitzing.  It was Jessica and Rachel’s first time at a Maui Maker meeting. I’m sure they will be back!  Rachel (a body painter and teacher) had to leave a bit early but plans to return for more discussions and practice.  She has lots of budding ideas for using EL Wire at the Source Festival in February. Jessica is a great new find.  She is a terrific geek with lots of ideas.  She plans to insert one of the EL Wire pieces into a mongoose skeleton – I cant wait to see pics of that!

The crowd thinned out until it was just Tommy, Cole and I. We wound up talking until after midnight. I’m sure we could have gone a LOT longer but both of em were talking about having to go to work in morning so I finally chased em out the door.

All in all, it was a great workshop and learning experience.  I’m looking forward to the next one!  I will get more kits for those who missed out or want to join up.  Now I need to get working on some EL Wire to make something to wear to the TRON opening tomorrow.

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