Although this blog is heavy on the soft and squishy fiber arts, I also worked on something a little less flexible: a printed circuit board!
Now, this isn’t entirely a new venture for me. My husband and I have always built things together, but as he get into pcb design during his last job, I got involved too. (We aren’t the sort of couple that does *everything* together, but we have a lot of overlap in interests!)
For most of these ventures, I’ve been an ideas and art person: For example, you can see my ideas+art in the Battle Bunnies, the Cloud Sun internet weather station, and the “Red or green?” Chile Pepper.
But because the software used to make circuit boards is expensive and annoying to learn, I’ve previously left executing that part of things up to J. (For those of you not familiar with how this works, that means he’s been doing 90% of the work, easily.)
But there’s free software called KiCAD that does what I need, so finally this year, I learned it and built a thing! This is my Prickly Pear Soldering Kit:
These are the kits we donated to the Albuquerque Mini Maker Faire this year! When we lived in Albuquerque, I developed a real fondness for the prickly pear — both because it was so unlike any plant I’d grown up with, and also because it’s delicious. (I spent many of my weekends as a teen wandering the woods as part of the Macoun Field Naturalist club, and I will always a great fondness for discovering new plants and also eating them.) So knowing that a simple soldering kit often starts with big LEDs, I thought “what if they were prickly pear fruit?” Okay, sure, prickly pear doesn’t normally glow, but given New Mexico’s nuclear history, it seemed funny enough.
As far as soldering kits go, this is pretty simple. Two LEDs, a battery older, and a switch to solder, then add a magnet so you can wear it or stick it on the fridge. The switch is my favourite part, because I think it was my mom who once complained that these sorts of things never had switches and if you have kids and they have to take the batteries out, they are quickly lost forever. Coin cells are cheaper than they were when I was a kid, but kids haven’t changed *that* much, so I spent the extra 36 cents on a switch. This is fairly expensive for what it is, but still cheap enough to make the kids reasonably priced, since even though we donate the parts the maker faire prices them based on the actual hardware costs in case we can’t always afford to donate when they need to restock.
Prototype, v1.0: I forgot the spines, and had to hot-wire the switch because they hadn’t arrived. But it worked!
Version 1.1: added silkscreen spines (one day I’ll make them shiny), moved stuff around to make sure I could fit the pcbway logo on there (They’ve donated pcbs to the maker faire for several years running, including this new kit). Alas, the switch footprint wasn’t perfect so you have to snip off the “hold it steady” side bits to make it fit easily.
Lessons learned: order your parts before prototype 1! And also, the footprint library isn’t quite as good as I want it to be (or my understanding of how it works isn’t as good as I want it to be). Definitely this is something I’ll improve for myself over time!
Lessons still to learn: I had to get some help to make the board shaped the way I wanted it to, but I got it very close on my own, just off in scale, so I think I can solve this problem when I’m not racing towards a manufacturing deadline.
Anyhow, I’m pretty pleased with how it came out. The prickly pear design is open hardware (although I haven’t registered it as such yet, it’s licensed that way), so if you want to make your own, go to!
J notes that since we sold a decent number of these at the maker faire (more than I’d expected for such a basic kit!) I’m technically a professional pcb designer now, which is hilarious even if it’s just a technicality. Still, I look forwards to building more things now that I’m over the first big hump of learning!