DIY Workshop: Bright Bunnies

In my current job role I’ve been focusing a lot on events and initiatives to run in my small, one branch library and I thought it best to start sharing these ideas to the larger library world! We’ll be starting with the first ‘maker’ event I ran, based on the SparkFun Bright Bunny Kit. I invited parents/guardians along so each teen would, in theory, have their own supervision and assistance. This worked out surprisingly well and my target audience of 13-18yr olds turned up and had a lot of fun, so much so that I had to kick everyone out half an hour over time!

If you can’t solder or are worried about insurance risks etc. reach out to a local makerspace, high school, or university. If you’re in Western Australia you can try contacting Curtin University’s Engineering Outreach Coordinator who is always looking for ways to encourage STEM fields to school students.

The Bright Bunny Kit is a great way to learn soldering and hand sewing (it’s also a great way to trick people into learning new skills!). At the end of this project, participants will have a cute stuffed animal that lights up when you feed it a carrot.

Prerequisite: participants will have read the ‘Soldering is Easy’ comic before attending the session. This makes the soldering instructions run a little easier and gives people points of reference.

Now, since the Bright Bunny Kit is out of print you can’t just buy it off the shelf so you’ll have to assemble the kit yourself. Luckily, SparkFun have provided a list of components and uploaded the original eagle files (circuit board layout) for you to download and use. Each kit cost roughly $24.00 (for 30 kits) and I already had soldering irons and solder to use, my main supplier was Altronics who have discount rates for libraries and schools and seemed to carry everything I needed.

Your Bright Bunny Kit:

I bagged the above into individual sandwich bags which made handing them out easy and kept all the components together.

The following items will be provided by the library for use during the workshop:

  • sewing needles (one for each participant)
  • white thread
  • stuffing
  • fabric glue
  • soldering irons and station (I had four going at once;  you can try borrowing a class set from a local school)
  • solder
  • wire (see* If I Did It Again*)
  • wire cutters
  • pliers
  • safety glasses ($5 a pair at Bunnings but most kids have their own for school)

Housekeeping

Safety instruction on soldering, how to hold the iron, heat warning, wear glasses etc., and exits in case of emergency.

Assembly

There are two main parts to building the bunny,  soldering the electronics, and sewing the stuffed animal. The tutorial on the SparkFun page is fairly comprehensive so I won’t repeat it here but I will share the way I ran the workshop.

I had groups of four participants come to workstations, where I had set up the irons, to solder the circuit boards under my supervision. I highly recommend having a 1:2 ratio of instructors to participants as first time soldering can be a little intensive. This should take about 15-20 min each board depending on the skills of the solderer (I made mine in about 10 min and got it down to 5 once I had made a few!).

While others are soldering, the rest of the group will be putting together their bunnies. Groups who haven’t soldered their board will need to leave the bunny open to allow the completed board in later. Each bunny will be unique and up to the individuals to glue eyes, ears etc. on to the basic shape. This group ideally should have someone helping out and offering suggestions, giving sewing tips, watching out for people struggling.

Outcomes

  • Participants will have a basic understanding of soldering and how circuits work as well as basic hand sewing and crafting skills.
  • Parent/child bonding will also occur, helping to encourage participants in a pursuit of one of the maker skills they were exposed to (electronics, sewing).
  • It will possibly expose participants to a new skill sets they would not have previously looked at (electronics/sewing).

If I Did It All Again

The main lesson I learnt from this is ask for help. I was woefully under staffed for this workshop and needed at least two other staff/helpers to support me in running this workshop. If you’re the only one who knows how to solder either find and pay for someone in your community to come in or teach other staff how to solder so they can help out (it’s really not that hard and it’s fun!).

Parents really got involved to the point that I had to dig up extra kits so they could have their own bunny! I would highly recommend having several spare kits and components, especially the reed switches as they break really easily.

My final suggestion is if you can find someone who can edit Eagle files ask them to modify the design as a few of the components I bought were slightly too big for the PCB. The only battery holder I could find required me to add pieces of wire onto it so it would connect to the board, a bit of a hack but it would be easier to change the board. I didn’t realise this until after I had 30 boards printed up!

Other than those few things the workshop was a big hit and I’d do it again easily. Involving parents and teenagers worked really well which surprised me, several parents had signed their teens up to the workshop without telling them and simply dragged them along but everyone really enjoyed themselves.

Coming up next, DIY Arcade Cabinet!