Jackson Instrument

posted Oct 10, 2017, 12:02 PM by Hawken FabLab


Hello, my name is Jackson Helm, and for my final project, I created a simple piano that makes sound through striking tubes of water filled to different heights. The process was long and there were some roadblocks, but with the help of my peers, Mr. D., and the variety of tools I had available to me (laser cutters, power saw, 3D Printers), I was able to make a musical instrument out of just a few household items like wood and glass test tubes, some tape, and plenty of hot glue. The files for the laser printer cutouts are listed at the end of the page if you would like to make this for yourself; please feel free to explore the design process on the way down to the bottom. Thank you!


Final Design

The entirety of the creation of this project has been an incredible rollercoaster ride of learning and fun experiences for me- one that I will surely not soon forget. At first, I had absolutely no idea what anything in the fab lab did or how it worked, as I thought a lot of the machinery in here was largely unavailable to students on a day-to-day basis. As I spent time in this classroom learning through experience and creating many different things each day, however, a new world opened up to me: one where I could create anything I wanted with almost no restriction. I used the opportunity of this world to create something that allowed me to pursue an interest that has guided a lot of my life so far: Music.

I gained a lot of inspiration from the music I have been playing at school and at home for the past years, and several videos on YouTube describing instruments others have made with the equipment that is now available to me. After several weeks, through the help of Mr. D, many of my peers, and the courtesy of the school and the equipment of the fab lab, I was able to create my very own musical instrument from my own designs. The set of 8 key-powered chimes plays an octave scale that starts and ends at E, with each tube that is struck playing a different note on the scale. The proudest moment for me was absolutely when I figured out how to play Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” with the new “Water Tube Piano”. I hope to take it home with me and share it with my family soon, and perhaps leave it to the school for use with young children whom this project may help instill an interest in music in. Please see the below posts to explore each step of the design process.

Sunny Fang's Homemade Piano



This video (among others) helped me to visualize in the short term what my final project would look like in the end. I have always loved playing music, and the opportunity to create something from scratch that I could then use to make my own new kind of music seemed like an incredible idea to me during the early part of the design process. The creator's design in this video does have some flaws though, as the note tones are not evenly spaced (the person has to jump about 5 keys down to play just one tone lower, and only one key up to play two tones higher). Other than that, the key design seems to work pretty well, even if the keys and hammers seem a bit bulky. Hopefully I can improve upon these designs as I work to create my piano.


Paper Sketch

This sketch depicts what I would like to create for my final project: a musical instrument (similar to a piano) that makes its sound by hitting glass tubes filled with varying amounts of water and causing a sound to be produced. It will be made predominantly out of wood, the dimensions of which may change as I make physical mock-ups. It will be approximately 16 inches long and 10 inches tall, with a width of about 10 inches, likely a little less. When keys are pressed, they will cause another piece of wood with a shaped hardened material as a tip (which will strike the glass tube) to swing upwards. There will be 8 total "keys" that will each strike a tube with a different water level causing a different note to sound (as the tubes will be tuned).



Card Stock Model

This is the first working card stock prototype of the key style I have made. This design shows what it will look like for one key to function:
  • The colored pencils act as axes upon which the key and striker rotate.
  • The full design actually is significantly smaller in working scale, which actually seems much more convenient space-wise, so that changes the plan schematics significantly.
  • There is a piece of cardboard suspended on a string which is standing in place of the glass tubes, which will need to be added on the final draft due to limited materials.
  • This worked well for a first try, the next step will be cardboard based and I will likely use the laser cutter to make more accurate cuts and measurements.


Laser Cut Design 1

This diagram, created on Inkscape, depicts the first draft of the paths the laser cutter will follow when cutting out the cardboard version of my design. I am not exactly sure if it will exactly work yet, but I am ready to try it out. The longer pieces at the bottom are the press keys (the ones you physically play) and the striker keys (the ones that actually hit the glass tubes to make sounds). Not depicted here are the thin wooden rods which will fit through the holes on the flat pieces in the middle; there are two, and they will serve as the axis upon which the keys move (far better than the colored pencil in the cardboard design).



Cardboard Model

This is the first printed version of the cardboard model I cut out using the laser cutter. I still need to fully glue in and assemble all parts of it, but it seems to be a very good start. As far as changes from the original design, I have:
  • Created a new way for the piano hammers to swing upwards through orienting them vertically and running the wooden axis through holes so it can rotate more fluidly.
  • Glued down the parts that need it and adjusted some minor cardboard flaps to make the connections a little more streamlined.
It seems to be in pretty good working order so far but friction is still high and the piano hammers and keys alike are both flopping around a little too much where I need them to stay still and strike in the same place every time. I will try to remedy this in the next design, but this is a good jumping off point.

Hawken FabLab,
Feb 7, 2019, 2:11 PM
Hawken FabLab,
Feb 7, 2019, 2:11 PM
Hawken FabLab,
Feb 7, 2019, 2:11 PM