DIY planet ornaments

This Christmas season I’ve really been going all out on the nerdy DIY Christmas ornaments (Tetris ornaments, Ninja Turtle ornaments, and Pokéball wreath). One final project for the season: planet ornaments.

I’ve always been in love with space, and the planets fascinate me to no end. Last Christmas season, I searched online for planet ornaments–assuming such things must exist–and the top result that consistently came back was this glass-blown set of planets and the sun. Pretty sweet ornaments. The price tag of $395, though, was a bit out of my range!

So I looked into planet diagram sets instead, thinking they could be modified into ornaments. I found that a lot of them just come with blank balls that you have to paint yourself, so I figured: why paint some cheapo plastic balls to look like the planets when I can use real ornaments?

The Process

First I gathered some Christmas balls left over from my other projects. Keeping the planets in scale is practically impossible, but I managed to find bigger balls for Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, and small balls for the other planets (and dwarf planet Pluto).

Using acrylic paints, I started with several base coats for each planet, followed by more detailed paint. I hung the planets from my fan, as I didn’t want to set wet spherical objects down on the table to dry, which would leave a mark where the ball touched the table.

Making planet ornaments

After painting them, I coated them with a thick, shiny glaze.

Making planet ornaments

For reference, I used an astronomy book. I don’t think my colors are entirely accurate, but I did the best I could. Turns out painting on a slippery, spherical surface is a lot harder than I thought!

Making planet ornaments.

The Inner Planets

Mercury Ornament

Mercury. The dappled black represents the rocky, cratered surface.

Venus Ornament

Venus, Earth’s twin sister.

Earth Ornament

Earth. In retrospect, I would probably add a layer of clouds on top of the continents.

Mars Ornament

Mars, the God of War.

The Outer Planets

Jupiter Ornament

Jupiter. It’s kind of hard to see in the picture, but the Great Red Spot is there!

Uranus Ornament

Uranus, God of the Sky.

Neptune Ornament

Nepture, God of the Sea.

Pluto Ornament

Pluto, the dwarf planet. In the future, I might make the other dwarf planets, like Eris and Ceres. Pluto was a challenge, as no decent resolution photo exists, making the color hard to figure out. I made Pluto gray with a sheen of blue. This summer, the New Horizons probe will orbit Pluto, so hopefully we get a better sense of its color then!

Saturn

No, I didn’t forget about Saturn! This was the toughest ornament to construct due to the rings. I pondered this for a couple months, trying to figure out the best way to make the rings. Here’s what I came up with. I’m not entirely happy with the construction (or the paint job), but it’s serviceable.

I cut bass wood into two curved pieces and glued them together with wood glue. The wood is 1/8″ thick. I could’ve used thinner wood, but I was afraid it wouldn’t be as durable. As soon as I applied the paint (this is the top layer), the wood started warping!

Making Saturn ornament.

Fortunately, once I applied the bottom layer of paint (not as detailed), the wood warped back into place, straightening out. What a relief!

Making Saturn ornament.

The challenge was now attaching the rings. I made two little tabs out of leftover bass wood and glued them to the side.

Making Saturn ornament.

Top view of the ornament plus tabs.

Making Saturn ornament.

The rings sitting on the tabs. There is a slight gap between the rings and the planet’s surface, just like there should be.

Making Saturn ornament.

Top view of the ornament plus tabs.

Making Saturn ornament.

The completed Saturn ornament!

Saturn Ornament.

Saturn seen from the side.

Saturn Ornament.

Saturn from underneath.

Saturn Ornament.

The Completed Planets

Here’s the entire arrangement of planets, showing you the relative size of each.

Planet Ornaments.

I’m pleased with the final result, though I can honestly say this was the least fun Christmas project I’ve completed so far! The painting was much more challenging than I anticipated, but I’m happy with the result.

In the future, I may paint some exoplanets as well. Even though our telescopes don’t have any detailed photos of what these planets look like, artists have come up with some pretty stellar renditions, based on the probable chemical and physical makeup of these planets.

~Dennis

Easy Tetris Christmas ornaments

Tetris Christmas ornaments

Okay, this will probably be the last Tetris project for a while! A couple weeks ago, I made Tetris refrigerator magnets using pieces from the Jenga Tetris game. I had some pieces left over, so I thought, why not add to my collection of nerdy Christmas ornaments?

This project was really simple. You’ll need:

  • Tetris pieces
  • An electric drill
  • Screw eyes
  • Ribbon

First, drill pilot holes into the pieces themselves. The Tetris pieces are two plastic halves glued together: all of my holes were on the seam. If you try to force the screw eyes in without pilot holes, you risk splitting the pieces in two.

Second, twist in the screw eyes.

Third, tie ribbon through the screw eyes to hang the ornaments.

And that’s it! This is one of those projects where gathering the materials takes far more time than the execution. It took me five minutes to make five ornaments.

Tetris Christmas ornament

Game on,
~Dennis

Easy Tetris DIY refrigerator magnets

Tetris Magnet

It’s no secret that I love Tetris, as my Tetris-themed wallpaper attests to. For over a year I was eying the Jenga Tetris game, thinking the plastic pieces were cool but not sure what to do with them.

Then it hit me: make the pieces into refrigerator magnets! I’d been separately trying to come up with an idea for nerdy fridge magnets, and finally the ideas came together.

It’s really simple.

Buy Jenga Tetris. I got mine off Amazon but it was in Walmart and other stores for a long time (in my area it disappeared after Christmas 2014).

Take out the uniquely Tetris pieces. There weren’t as many as actual Tetris pieces as I hoped for. One square, maybe 3 s/z-shapes, 5 L-shapes, 3 t-shapes, and a few two block shapes (not a true tetronomino, rather a domino). The purist in me is also disappointed by the lines, which are only three blocks long, not four (a trinomino?). About 2/3 of the package is just lines.

Put magnets on the backs. First I started with square magnets I got from Hobby Lobby. They have adhesive backs and stick very well.

Tetris Magnet

The problem was they were a little pricy if you wanted full coverage, so I settled on putting the magnets in the corners of the pieces. When I ran out, I switched to magnet tape. It has a much lower profile, and is cheaper, so you can fully cover the back of each magnet.

Tetris Magnet

You can also find the tape at hobby and craft stores. When it comes off the roll, it’s curved, so the edges want to lift up. To get them to stick down better, I put the magnets on all the pieces, then put them under a stack of books and games overnight.

Tetris Magnet

In actuality, I forgot about the magnets, so they ended up staying under the weights for three days, but that’s probably not necessary.

And that’s it! This project is really simple; it probably takes longer to go to the store and buy all the materials than it does to actually make, especially since you probably need to get the game and the magnets at different stores.

Enough Tetris pieces came in the Jenga game that I was able to make two sets of magnets, one for me and one for my brother.

They are a lot of fun to move around the refrigerator when I’m making dinner!

Game on,
~Dennis

Tetris Magnet

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Christmas ball ornaments: How-to!

So I had this idea over a year ago for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ornaments. I saw somebody post it online and thought it seemed like an easy enough project. I think this is the listing I saw, though there now appear to be many variations on the theme.

But then Christmas got busy with my Pokéball Wreath, so the project was shelved.

Until now! Because the Christmas season is so hectic, I thought I’d make these ornaments now and save time later in the year.

So without further introduction, here’s how I made my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Christmas ball ornaments!

Materials needed

  • Four green ball ornaments
  • Blue, red, purple, and orange paint
  • Googly eyes
  • Hot glue
  • Painter’s tape

I used four large balls, plastic, 4″ in diameter. They were on 90% clearance at Hobby Lobby after Christmas, so it was less than a dollar for all four. The googly eyes are 1″ in diameter.

Assembling the ornaments

First, I taped off the ornaments to paint the turtles’ masks. The mask should be in the center of the ornament and should be wide enough that the googly eyes fit inside it. Putting painter’s tape around a spherical object isn’t perfect, and my lines aren’t completely parallel, but close enough!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ornament

Then the painting begins. It always amazes me how, even within one brand of paint, some shades go on thicker than others. Leo’s mask took 3 coats, Donnie’s took 4 coats, and Mikey and Raph’s both took 7.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ornament

I added a new coat of paint about every ten minutes. In between coats, I put my wet brushes into a Ziploc bag to eliminate the tediousness of washing brushes between coats. The baggie works very well in keeping the brushes wet.

After the paint, it was time for the googly eyes!

Googly eyes

The googly eyes have a little flap on the back for sewing them onto dolls. That little protrusion makes gluing them onto a spherical surface a little tough, so I pushed that flap down as best I could. In the picture below, you can kind of see how the left eye’s flap doesn’t stick out as far as the right eye’s flap. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing.

Googly eyes back

Finally, glue the eyes to the masks!

This project was a lot of fun, super easy, and I completed it over the course of two nights. I can’t wait to put them on the tree next year!

~Dennis

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ornament

Pokeball Christmas Wreath

This year, as I prepared for Christmas, I wanted to come up with a decoration that fit the season but also fit my nerdy, video game interests. I’d seen wreaths before made out of ornament balls, so I decided to make one myself.

Only with Pokéballs!

All you need for this project are Christmas balls, red and green glitter spray paint ($8 a can at Hobby Lobby), a strong wire (like a coat hanger), electrical tape, and ribbon.

First, I gathered the balls, about 70 total.

White and silver Christmas balls

Because the Pokéballs were going to be green and red, I used white and silver balls to fill in the gaps. I eventually added some plain red balls as well.

The larger white balls served as the base for the paint. Putting painters tape around the circumference, I spray painted the tops of half with red glitter paint and half with green.

Spraying green glitter paint on the pokeballs.

I held the balls in my hand and spray painted them, then set them in a box to dry.

I quickly found that the glitter paint was harder to work with than normal spray paint. You can’t really push the button down lightly. If you do, only a clear glue comes out, not the paint. So I held the balls at arms length and tried to apply the paint as lightly as possible. In some cases the paint clumped together as it dried, but other times it stayed on evenly. I’m not sure what caused the difference.

In the future, it’d probably look better to spray the balls with normal green and red paint first, and then put a second, lighter coat of glitter paint on top.

The masking tape didn’t work perfect: sometimes the paint dribbled through.

Red pokeball ornament with paint dribble.

What was most unusual is that sometimes the glue part of the glitter paint pooled at the bottom of the ball, under the masking tape, leaving the sides cleaner than the bottom.

When painting the balls, make sure to leave the “top” hole of the ornament in the center of the ball and toward the back. Once on the wreath, since this messy back-end will be facing the wall, nobody sees too many dribbles.

I followed this woman’s general plan for assembling the wreath. One thing she recommends, which I didn’t realize until all the balls were strung on, is hot glue the metal top of the ball to the ornament itself. Once all the balls are on the wreath, the pressure of so many objects together can cause the balls to pop out of their holders, making it very difficult (and frustrating) to get them back on again.

After all the balls were strung, the wreath was nearly complete. I put about 3-4 small balls between each Pokéball. Because gravity wants to pull all the balls toward the bottom of the wreath, hide any remaining wire at the top with ribbon.

And that’s all there is to it!

Completed pokeball wreath

To make the black line separating the color and white halves, I used electrical tape. I cut strips of tape into four or five smaller stripes, almost like pinstripping, then cut a line circle by hand. The electrical tape sticks well and hides some of the paint dribbles as well.

Overall, I’m pretty satisfied with this project, even if some of the paint on the balls isn’t perfect.

Merry Christmas!

~Dennis

Detail on the Pokeball wreath

Detail on the Pokeball wreath

Update: 1/5/2014

As I packed away my Christmas decorations this season, I couldn’t help but be bothered by all those balls that popped off while I manipulated the wreath. So I took all the balls off the wire, then glued the metal parts in place.

I used super glue, and the process was quite easy, though time consuming. I learned not to pull the metal part off completely: the glue will dry before you bend the little wires to get it back on. So instead I pulled the metal part back just a little bit, put a dab of glue down, then pressed the metal into place.

The only balls I didn’t glue were the Pokéballs. I thought the wreath looked best with all the Pokéballs turned color-side-up, so I left the metal parts unglued so that I could twist them into place once they were back on the wire.

I rethreaded the balls, and only one ball popped off, a green Pokéball at the bottom of the wreath (where all the weight puts pressure on the balls). I’m so glad I took the time to do this. Now I won’t have to wrestle with this wreath next season!

The only task that remains is finding a box that’s wide and flat to store the thing in!