An Electric Toy Shocking Machine


jchismar electric shocker toyThe Toy Shocking Machine, in all honesty, is a primary reason I chose to construct projects from the 1915 book Home-Made Toys for Girls and Boys for the upcoming 2016 Newark Maker Faire. The innocent nostalgia transports to simpler times when children were encouraged to challenge themselves and explore their world without restraint. Maintaining youthful spirit I imagined owning a device to shock myself, friends, family and strangers for entertainment. I’m old enough to remember similar devices making a splash at amusement parks and science class.

With giddy anticipation I started constructing the heart of the device, the induction-coil. The coil consists of two windings of different gauge wire around an iron bolt. A rapidly interrupted flow of electricity is applied to the central primary coil to create an oscillating magnetic field which, in turn, creates high voltage across the outer secondary coil. The high voltage discharges between the two ends of the secondary coil in the hands of a volunteer.

jchismar shocking toy interupter
Electricity Interrupter #1

In hindsight it’s easy for me to parrot the above information and sound as though I know what I’m talking about. I enjoy tinkering with hobby electronics however my understanding is often limited. When I attached the coil to a battery I was baffled as to why it wasn’t shocking me. Confused, I texted electronics genius friend Charlie England. He responded “…you have to apply voltage and remove it very quickly…” I hastily constructed an interrupter as described in the book. Turning the crank created an entertainingly loud racket and a few sparks, but nothing shocking from the secondary coil.

Charlie suggested testing the electromagnetic properties of the coil. I grabbed a small washer, verified it was steel with a real magnet and applied power to the coil. Nothing, the washer fell to the table without hesitation. The only thing that made sense was to apply more power (amps). Working in increasing intervals I finished with two 6-volt lantern batteries in series attached to the coil. No electromagnet but plenty of heat – which is undesirable. Defeated, I informed Charlie I was going to make another coil. He responded with four words, “Send me the coil.” Yessir, the coil was packed and on its way the following morning.

jchismar shocking toy
Electricity Interrupter #2

After receiving the delivery Charlie went to work testing my induction coil. The coil only created a 90 volt spike using a 10 volt power source. Charlie determined the secondary coil needed triple the amount of wire layers to generate a palpable shock. Charlie also designed and created an interrupter circuit employing a proximity switch. It was left to my imagination on how to integrate this interrupter circuit into the device. Because the proximity switch detects ferritic material I created a wheel with thumbtacks placed at fixed intervals around the perimeter. When a thumbtack passes under the proximity switch the switch turns on, when the thumbtack passes the switch turns off.

I added several more layers of wire to the coil, attached it to the new hi-tech interrupter and with a little fussing around, success! A tangible shock was felt when the interrupter was engaged. Knowing the coil was working correctly I built the third and final interrupter for the circuit integrating wooden gears to increase the switching frequency. Everything works like a charm. I will continue tinkering with this device leading up to the Maker Faire to ensure an entertaining and dependable experience.

Thanks bartender, may I have another?

john chismar bartender tin toy

I enjoy browsing estate sales every now and then. A few weeks ago the sale of a local artist’s estate caught my attention. I picked through the rubble during the last hours of the last day seeking bargains. I filled a shopping bag with some hand tools, brass cabinet hardware and a disheveled tin bartender for under fifteen bucks. The major winter storm this past weekend provided a perfect time to stay inside and play with my new toy!

john chismar bartender tin toyNot surprisingly, activating the power switch on the base did nothing. Examining the bottom of the toy for a battery compartment I found a printed disclaimer cautioning, “If the bartender ceases to emit smoke, it means that the batteries are weak.” Wait, the toy is incorrectly functioning if it isn’t emitting smoke? Awesome! It was evident the batteries were bad when the compartment was opened. I put on a dust mask, pulled out the old corroded batteries with needle-nose pliers and carefully vacuumed up the remains. Then the clothes, torso and head parts were removed systematically.

I snipped the power chord near the battery compartment and connected it to 3 volts supplied from my variable voltage ac to dc transformer. Before turning the power on I set the video recorder on a tripod. I wasn’t expecting much to happen, but to my surprise the robot bartender came to life!

Everything worked as it should! Without his jacket, however, there was nothing restricting the motion of his drink shaking arm. When he the shaking action initiated the arm would flip completely backwards, my fingers are preventing the flip in the video. Excited and inspired I loosely wrapped a wire tie around his arm to restrict the motion. Doing this was a mistake, however I’m not sure why. The bartenders sequence of actions became sporadic and stuck.

john chismar bartender tin toyCuriosity got the best of me and I disassembled the gearbox beyond repair. I come across these bartenders at flea markets and estate sales every once in a while. I never knew how delighted I’d be watching the display in person. I regret busting this one and when I find another for under ten bucks I’ll try again.

Repair broken NRG Digital Table Warmer 231-0293

repair broken nrg digital table warmer 231-0293

A quality massage table is very important to my wife Amy, a massage therapist. Many clients find the warmth of an electronic table warmer beneficial for various reasons. Enter the NRG Digital Table Warmer 231-0293 found “on sale” for $70+ dollars. Amy purchased one of these pads; it lasted six months before the controller crapped out and died. She purchased another, stored the extra pad and plugged the new controller into the original pad. Give it about six months and that controller bit the dust as well.

Always curious with electronic stuff I took apart a controller to inspect for a blown replaceable fuse. I didn’t find any. I poked around a few of the components with my meter to test continuity, it all checked out. I sent one of the broken controllers to my electronics expert friend Charlie. He found a blown thermal fuse positioned under a resistor on the circuit board enclosed by a glob of thermal compound. When the resistor reaches a temperature above 76 degrees Celsius the fuse trips and permanently shuts down the controller. RIP.

Both Charlie and I went to work locating the manufacturer of the thermal fuse Set Fuse (, the Model Number is K0. We reached out to the very enthusiastic and helpful sales department and a week later Charlie received the fuses direct from China. He replaced the fuse and returned the controller to me. I unpacked the box, removed the controller and dashed to the massage table. With the controller attached to the pad I plugged the controller in and Voila! The controller turned on like new.

I possess the remaining replacement fuses and I’m looking forward to repairing the other blown controller. While I have the second controller disassembled I plan on measuring the temperature of the resistor while the unit is functioning to examine how close to the cutoff temperature the resistor becomes. Hopefully the new thermal cutoffs last longer than six months each. At best we extended the life of these otherwise perfectly good objects, keeping them out of the landfill for now.

Rustic LED Firefly Lamp Wedding Reception Table Centerpiece

rustic led firefly lamp wedding reception table centerpiece

Last Friday my niece Nicole was married. When I first heard about the wedding my brain went to work thinking of the various things I can make for table centerpieces. The first idea was to harvest white birch bark to create cylindrical candle covers with heart shaped windows. The first problem facing me with this plan was it was the middle of winter, not the appropriate time to harvest bark from living trees.

The next idea was to cut small sections of tree branches and somehow transform them into candle holders. Vertically standing sections were not stable enough for my satisfaction. The last thing I wanted was to have tall candles falling over on the tables at the reception. Instead I decided to plane a flat side on the branch to lay the wood horizontally on the table. I carved a recess in the wood to hold a tea candle. The result is in the photo above.

My favorite part of the centerpieces were the LED firefly lamps I designed. I built 15 hollow wooden boxes to act as a bases and to hide two AA batteries. Rising from the center of each base is a small steel rod to support the shade and yellow flickering LED arrays I soldered together. The randomly flickering LED lights cast distorted circles on the shade, creating the illusion of fireflies or a gentle fire. A florist provided beautiful and unique floral arrangements to compliment the centerpiece as a whole.

ElectroCallioBreeze – For Greater Newark Maker Faire April 11 2015

[09.19.2018 There used to be a video demonstration here. I deleted it from YouTube and I’ll replace it when I locate the file]

The ElectroCallioBreeze is the product of several years of occasional experimentation. This contraption has been on my mind for some time. Preparing an exhibit for the Greater Newark Maker Faire was enough reason to invest resources to the project. My sister Suzanne acquired the xylophone at an estate sale a while ago and it sat on a shelf in my workshop reminding, er inspiring, me until now.

If the cogs were directly attached to the propeller shaft the melody would play too fast, sounding like a Wayne’s World dissolve. To slow the rotation of the cogs I created a second shaft with a belt across two different sized wooden gears. With that mechanism complete I experimented with various cogs to trigger the hammers.

Happy with the belt, gears, cogs and hammers I tested and experimented with the electrical continuity across the cogs and hammers. I consulted with electronics genius friend Charlie to insure I wasn’t going to ruin any of my electronic gizmos by attaching them to the mechanism. With a thumbs-up from Charlie I attached various gizmos to hear what would happen.

This video is of my first full-scale test of the project. Following recording the video I made several adjustments and additions for more reliable functionality. One of the additions is bushings between the hammers to prevent them from walking sideways and missing their target. After disconnecting everything I realized I had a few more noisy gizmos I wanted to attach as well. Perhaps I’ll bring the new sounds with me to the Maker Faire Saturday April 11.

Wood Wind and Wires @ the Greater Newark Mini Maker Faire in Newark, NJ – Saturday, April 11, 2015

wood wind and wires @ the greater newark mini maker faire in newark, nj

Saturday, April 11, 2015 is the Greater Newark Mini Maker Faire in Newark, NJ. For the second year in a row I will be exhibiting some of my wares. Last year my exhibit, titled Urban Lumberjack, was a collection of woodworking projects I created using found wood.

Wood, Wind & Wires is the title of my exhibit this year. I am planning a collection of small projects incorporating three of my interests: woodworking, whirligigs and hobby electronics. Charlie England, a friend and electrical / mechanical engineer, is collaborating on the project to bring everything to life.  Thank goodness because I only know enough about electronics to be dangerous.

Together we’ve been busy designing fun projects for the exhibit. Along the way there have been various levels of success. What’s the point of the exhibit? To challenge, to have fun and to explore imagination. Too many things require a reason; it is important to remember to play and sometimes discover something new in nonsense.

Night Light Made From Recycled Solar LED Path Light

night light made from recycled solar led path light

Every Christmas I create a custom made wooden toy for my great-nephew. This year I decided to create a unique night light using parts from a discarded solar path light. Lawn mowers and snow throwers often mistreat these hidden treasures. Also people are unaware these solar path lights work through recharging a battery. As the battery ages it is unable to recharge to its youthful glory; this is when the homeowner chucks the entire thing to the curb.

When I find these orphans I bring them home and remove all the useful parts: solar panel, circuit board and battery holder.  The circuit is simple. With light the solar panel charges the battery, with no light the circuit switches to illuminate a LED by battery power. These are such fun to play with; the technology is so basic yet amazingly complicated. I can spend a good deal of time pointing the solar panel to and fro a light source to watch the light turn on and off.