If we're being honest, we know that the best DIY projects come with a recipient in mind. Sure, it might be cool to fill your house with mason jar candles — but wouldn't it be even cooler to give them to a friend?
This high-tech DIY'er decided to do something special for his son, giving him a handmade gift in the form of a DIY sandbox. This isn't an ordinary sandbox, though. No, this one comes with lights, colors, and a building process that looks equal parts intimidating and fun. The final result is pretty bad ass, and the best part is that the original builder created thorough directions, so you can follow along as he does it.
Check out the basics below, and if you ever get confused about the process, check out his original post. There, you'll find more resources to help you create the sandbox of your kid's (and possibly your own) dreams.
What kid doesn't love a great sandbox?
Which OG sandboxes are pretty cool, this dad set out to make one like you’ve never seen before.
First, he had to gather the materials.
“Basically, we need a standard home projector, a kinect sensor for Xbox 360, some wood, L-angles, bolts and nuts. Apart from the home projector (about $300), the sandbox was really cheap to build. I spent about $50 I guess since I was able to reuse some spare wood. If you have nothing but a home projector, you can expect to get all the materials for less than $100.”
The sand is obviously a crucial element.
“We need about 2-3 gallons of sand, i.e. about 25 lbs (12 kg).
I started with regular sand that I had left and tried later two brands of inside play sands: “kinetic sand” and “sand alive”.
Kinetic sand is really great for this application I think.
Sand alive is whiter and behaves very differently from real sand. It is also nice but IMO a little less fitted for a sandbox. They are both about $50 for 11 lbs so it adds some overhead to the price of the sandbox. But I found that it really improves the user’s parents’ experience by keeping the sand inside the box.”
And then there's the table to put it on.
“The sandbox will be secured on top of an Ikea LÄTT children’s table in such a way that it can be removed. This children’s table is just the right height for a sandbox and its small width will keep the projector not too high above the table top.”
The kinect will be part of a more high-tech sandbox model than we've seen before.
“We need a Kinect V1 (the old round kinect for Xbox 360). It is safer if you can get the original 1414 Kinect as the later versions (1473, 1517 i.e. Kinect for Windows) may not work on Mac OSX if they have been plugged to an Xbox The first step was to prepare the kinect sensor since the one I got had no USB AC Adapter. I soldered an old 12V 2A power supply previously used for a broken hard drive.”
He also required a home projector.
“You can use about any home projector that you like as long as it is sufficiently bright (>1000 lumens is better I think) and its throw ratio is less than 3 (otherwise the projector ends up really high above the table. I used an Acer P1185 which has a throw ratio of 2 and a brightness of 3200. The projector weighs only 2 kg, is not very loud and is also quite cheap, around $300.”
Surprisingly, his set of tools is pretty simple.
The tools you need for this project are more basic than we thought.
Now it's time to measure.
Roughly checking the distance between the projector and the table top, as these numbers can make a difference in the end result.
The builder's original theory is confirmed.
“The Ikea table is 2 feet wide and the projector’s throw ratio is 2 so we need to set the projector about 4 feet high (122 cm). Theory checks out.”
Next it came time to start the wood work.
“We need four walls for the box, two 2′ long boards and two 1.5′ boards. My main wood board was 7″ wide and 1″ thick which was just fine.”
And then, it was time for assembly.
“These boards will support the weight of the projector above our toddlers so we want the assembly to be quite solid. I took some strong steel L-angle (3.5″x3.5″) and M8 bolts. I also had hard wood, don’t use poplar for that.”
Of course, the process wasn't without its errors.
“There is an old saying in DIY that if you do something with your kid around, you will end up doing it again. I drilled 4 holes instead of 2.”
Now he's got what he needs for the next step.
“We have our four walls ready, time to prepare the projector pole.”
For the projector, you need wooden pillars.
“We nail a platform on two 50” long pillars.”
The platform to support it has got to be strong.
This prevents any future breakage and mishaps from occurring.
Next, it's time for box assembly.
Here’s where the entire project really starts to come together.
The builder isn't without a sense of humor.
“There it is all square and fine. Actually this DIY is all about making a wood box.”
And it's for kids, so we have to consider sharp edges.
“I used some carriage bolts and cap nuts to avoid any sharp edges.
In my case 16 M8 bolt 30 mm long but it depend on the thickness of your wood of course.”
Everything is coming together now.
“Time to fix the projector pole. The pillars extend below the sandbox walls so we can use them as end stops in the horizontal direction. The pillar is fixed by 4 M8 bolt that are 70 mm long.”
The whole thing fits nicely on the table he chose.
This is the kind of accuracy that patience and thorough measurements will get you.
Now it's time to secure it all.
“We add end stops on the other sides of the box to secure the sandbox in the horizontal plane. The weight of the wood boards and the 25lbs of sand is sufficient to keep the assembly from tilting over in my case (I was quite surprised by the overall stability of the sandbox) but you should probably secure the pillars to a wall if you don’t plan to be always next to your kids.”
And there's always more fine tuning to be done.
“Now we can set up the projector on the pole. We need to find the precise location of the holes on the platform to secure the projector.”
Here, he explains a little about his projector.
“My projector has three gray M4 threaded holes.
I placed a match dipped in wet paint in each threaded hole and placed the projector on the platform to mark the location of the holes.”
Then, he drilled three holes to match.
“I ended up using only two of the three holes to fix the projector in order to adjust the angle of the projector more easily (the ACER P1183 is quite light so it is okay). I used 2 M4 screw (30 mm and 40 mm) + 2 washers.”
It has to be able to support the tilt in the projector.
“The projector has to be slightly tilted as it projects its image a bit upward.”
Then comes the final alignment.
Soon, the fruits of all of his labor will pay off.
But first, the kinect holder.
“Now it is time to build a structure for holding the kinect. I made a 12″x9″ U-shape in light wood with two steel angles for securing to the projector pillars. The kinect is quite light so you can use a light wood (plus you want to keep your center of gravity as low as possible).”
You have to make sure the holder doesn't block the projector.
“It is secured with 4 small wood screws. The kinect cannot measure a distance less than about 1.5 feet from its sensor and we want at least 1 feet of vertical space to play in so the kinect holder has to be set higher than about 2.5 feet from the tabletop.”
He kept his about three feet away from the table.
“In my case, the kinect holder is about 3 feet from the table top (94 cm). You can put it higher or lower if you want. You probably don’t want to fix too high as it reduce the resolution and don’t want to fix it too low to be able to sense the high mountains as mentioned above.”
Taping the kinect isn't perfect.
But hey, not every part of this has to be beautiful, right?
Now all that's left is the sand — but first, the sandproof lining.
“I cut a tablecloth according to the correct dimensions and added some eyelets for a bungee cord. In my case the original tablecloth was 60″x60″.”
The tablecloth isn't just for show.
It keeps the sand dry and inside the container, and prevents water from getting onto the floor.
Now, it's all prepped for the sand.
“If I was to do it again, I would take a darker tablecloth to get a better contrast.”
Here's the final project in the light.
“The principle of the magic sandbox is as follow: A kinect sensor checks the level of the sand, send it to a laptop then the laptop control the output of a projector hanging over the sand to project colors depending on the height. This project is adapted from the Sandbox project developed at UC Davis which has additional explanations on the Kinect/Projector assembly and advices.”
And here's the best part.
Finally, we get to see what happens when the lights go off and the little recipient gets to work!