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♦ THE INVISIBLE SWITCH – How to light models & displays with no visible ‘on/off’ switch (12-24-2022).
THE INVISIBLE SWITCH
You can often greatly enhance the visual impact of a finished model by adding lighting or sound or other special effects. I build mostly W.W.II military vehicle models. These can easily be enhanced by creating a small landscape or backdrop to give a sense of time and place. So far, I haven’t found a need to light these models in any way. However, I also build a lot of science-fiction based models – spaceships, UFOs, rocket-ships, robots, ray-guns, and so on. Adding simple lighting, or electronically driven animated lighting, adds a new level of life and interest to these models. One thing has always bothered me about this process – it’s easy enough to install LEDs and electronic circuits into a model UFO or robot, but how do you turn the lighting effects on or off? Until recently I used conventional toggle switches or small sliding switches to do this job.
Conventional mechanical switches work well enough, but they can be somewhat distracting. Small sliding switches are not too distracting, especially if they’re the same color as the display base they’re set into. However, shiny metal toggle switches or larger sliding switches can be very distracting. Creating a display for a model spaceship, like a lunar landscape or an alien planet backdrop, is meant to enhance the model by removing it from everyday life and making you focus on its ‘fictional reality’. Switches sticking out of the display base ruin the illusion you’re trying to use to enhance your model.
So… How do you activate lighting or sound effects without having a switch sticking out of your model or its display base?
The solution is easy – use an ‘invisible switch’. No, I don’t mean that literally. I mean, use a switch you can conceal inside the model or its display base, where it can’t be seen. How do you do that? The answer lies in a simple electronic device called a ‘magnetic reed switch’. These tiny wire and glass devices can be hot-glued inside a display base, or inside a model and wired into the desired effects circuit just like any standard mechanical switch. The difference is that when the reed switch is in place, it will be ‘invisible’ to viewers and they’ll only see your model and the setting you created for it. To activate (turn on) your lighting or other special effects, place a small magnet near the ‘magnetic reed switch’.
Here are a few examples of model displays that would have looked better if I’d used an ‘invisible’ switch to control their lighting effects:
1. TINY UFO – this 3″ diameter UFO has a small black slide switch in its display base. It’s not highly visible, but it does break up the smooth lines & surface of the display base.
2. LUNA ROCKET-SHIP MODEL – Another small sci-fi model, only 5″ tall. The toggle switch in the display base sticks out like a sore thumb and distracts from the fictional scene above it by injecting an element of ‘real life’.
The mechanical switches in the two examples (above) can be eliminated by use of a magnetic reed switch concealed inside the display base or the model itself. The following illustrations show you how a magnetic switch works. The switch is wired into your lighting or other special effect circuit exactly the same way any mechanical switch is placed into a circuit – the only difference is that you can’t see it once it’s been installed.
Click on the YouTube icon to view a short video showing you how to construct a simple ‘invisible switch’ circuit and to see examples of models using magnetic reed switches to control their lighting effects.
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