DIY UV Lamp Is The Cure For Nails And More

We must admit to wondering how Adafruit’s [Becky Stern] gets anything done with those fingernails of hers. They’re always long and beautifully painted without any chips, dings, or dents. As it turns out, she uses UV gel nail polish. It’s much more durable than standard air-dry polishes, but it requires UV light to cure. [Becky] bought a lamp to use at home, but it’s very bulky and must be plugged into the wall. She knew there was a better way and devised her DIY UV mini manicure lamp.

She really thought of everything. The open source 3D-printed enclosure includes a small compartment in the top for cuticle sticks, emery boards, and tweezers. The Li-poly battery is rechargeable over USB in conjunction with Adafruit’s PowerBoost 500c. The lamp itself is made from 30 UV LEDs and 100Ω resistors. [Becky] lined the inside of hers with silver sticky paper to help distribute the UV light evenly.

You know, this can also be used to erase EPROMs or to cure small DLP 3D prints. Do you have another use for it? Tell us in the comments. Introductory and partially hyperlapsed video after the break.

60 thoughts on “DIY UV Lamp Is The Cure For Nails And More

      1. You’re correct, but I think that “MUCH” is shrinking fast. When I checked into the price of a true UV-C LED about two years ago, there were none to be had for less than $300. Then about a year ago I noticed an aquarium filter appeared on the market with a UV-C LED, for $130. And as of today, the price is down to $50. Considering the cost of equivalent filters without the UV option, this suggests the manufacturer pays less than $20 for a UV-C LED, with output equivalent to at least a 3W UV-C fluorescent. Maybe much less?

    1. As I sit here typing with my short, natural nails, I wonder maybe, just maybe, people don’t paint their nails to turn you on?
      Interesting that nail painting is condemned as vanity (and not self expression) yet your whole comment is extremely judgmental about what peoples appearance says about them on a personal and intellectual level.
      Some might say your shallow approach to fitting people in boxes by glancing at their appearance is the kind of attitude that encourages vanity?

  1. Won’t work with EPROM well. It needs shortwave (UV-C) to erase and UV LED are not able to do shorwave, only the longer UV-A end. Beside UV-C would make people go blind so EPROM eraser has to be fully contained.

    1. You best me to it. Everyone talking about nails and ignoring the more techie stuff – what’s happened to HaD! Anyway, does anyone still use EPROMs other than for retro projects?

      Should be OK for exposing (small) photo resist PCBs. That’s what I use my eBay purchased UV nail lamp for.

          1. So, people naked bungee jump too. Now what’s your point? Mine is people do a lot of pointless shit for no good reason, in case you couldn’t figure it out for yourself.

  2. Painted longer nails like Becky’s I like. It’s the ones that are so long you can’t do anything or the ones that have spent $100 on “getting their nails done”. I prefer painted nails much more than tattoos (or nose rings).

    But, back on the ranch…. She needs to build a smaller plug in unit for the thumb. Her smaller unit only allows for just the 4 tips. Then you have to double the exposure time to stick your thumb in.

    Alternate version would be a small cylinder that you grip that contains the battery/charge/timer board. Have a small shield on one side that contains 5-10 LED’s directly over the nails. This way, you can just carry it around until the timer shuts the light off.

      1. Someone on YouTube has a “tutorial” for using an LED UV flashlight in a soda-bottle-bottom housing for one finger at a time. The thumb, perhaps? Love your idea, Becky, and will likely make my own, probably using a cardboard box in the interest of just getting ‘er done (although I do love having an excuse to use our library’s 3D printing lab). Been following you ever since I needed a corset for a costume and found your friend’s great tutorial, and then from there found Adafruit. Thanks!

  3. The thing I like is the way that the red and black wires from battery to LEDs pass through an integral duct in the housing. Great design! This is the sort of thing that makes a 3D printed custom case that much better than using an off-the-shelf box.

  4. You can never be too Polish!

    In seriousness, I don’t find people who use nail polish to be vain. Wanting to have pretty nails is a level of vanity, but only if the reason for that desire is for the approbation of other people. If you like looking at your hand and seeing color there, I don’t see that as vanity, at least not with the selfish, adolescent connotations the word has.

    I’m hesitant to believe that someone who is vain would want to be thought of as such. Vanity desires approval, not truth.

    1. I don’t think they’re thinking very much at all. It is a Barbie doll thing. I’m supposed to play with Barbie dolls aren’t I? It is a cultural gender trap. I can certainly understand the motivation, I just don’t happen to agree with it is all.

      It is the kind of mindset that will ultimately lead to our extinction like lemmings running off of a cliff. Everyone else is doing it! I’m a wolf who isn’t into sheep. Weird, I know!

          1. Sure, if you’re coughing up the airfare, you big rugged manly man you.

            In the meantime, tell us all about what a daring pioneering individual you are, sitting in your cosy air-conditioned house out there in suburbia, lazing in your comfy chair posting your wisdom on sites like Hack-a-day.

            What a life! Oh, if only we could be like you!

            Teach us, oh wolf! We don’t want to be sheep any more!

            (That reminds me, did you ever figure out the difference between crosstalk & voltage spikes?)

    1. Horace as the husband of a “hobbiest” nail technician I can tell from seeing countless women sitting at her table, having used UV-gels for many years, the effect of the UV on their hands do not seem to make a difference. I like the DC design, would just add a 2min timer (did not watch the video, maybe she did). My hacked together iteration used fluorescent tubes… Was very interesting when a wire shorted out while a friend had the chocolate-icecream-uv-oven over her hand :D

  5. Useful for curing “liquid optically clear adhesive”, AKA LOCA, used for attaching smartphone front-glass to screens. I just built myself a giant overpowered UV LED lamp because it seemed like more fun than owning a nail-curing lamp, for doing phone repair.

  6. When I saw the project I became curious as to what direction the comments would take. I’m of the opinion humans developed a fashion sense to attract compatible mates, and maybe more importantly to deter who may be incompatible mates All in all fashion sense in on that list of life’s small shit not to sweat. Ultimately a poor person is going to more carefully a person who need expensive fashion to be happy, and a person who needs expensive fashion to be happy will more carefully consider the poor person. Nope I can’t think of an alternate use for myself. Unless it could be used to attract women to my pad; I have a nail coating curing oven at home. You are welcome to come by and use it if you want to.

  7. How do you stick your thumb in there? Do you need to cure the thumb separately? That sounds like a pain.

    Why not just make little finger-cots for each finger? You would probably only need one LED for each finger, That would cut the number of LEDs required from 30 down to five, or ten if you wanted to do both hands at the same time.

    1. Its not UV, it is violet, which will still cure most resins. A typical blacklight is 365nm and is considered eye safe. The tube in your uv eraser emits short wave which in the 254nm range which will fry your skin and your eyes.

      1. Thanks for clearing that up. Nowhere in the article is that distinction made and the mention of using it to erase EPROM’s certainly made it seem otherwise.

        That just leaves reason B. However, I’m going to check if this is something my wife would be interested in me building for her. Who wouldn’t want ultra tough Gorilla Polish nails?

  8. This shouldn’t work because these LEDs barely get to 400nm. If you look at the spectrum graph, 30 LEDs should take hours and hours to deliver enough 400nm (and lower) light to cure the gel nails.

    1. Then riddle us how it *does* work, then! Yes it takes longer than the higher wattage full-hand lamp, but only about 5 minutes per coat. At first we had our doubts because research indicated most gel polish cures around 350, but there’s no arguing with results.

      1. I’ve seen both lamp and LED models of these on the net. My wife just bought one and does her nails this way. The comments here were very worrying. HaD isn’t the place to debate the merits or reasons behind painting nails but about the device used to cure the polish!
        I would hope that the “hackers” here had enough “maker” in them to appreciate the skill that goes into some nail designs, it truly has become an art form.

        1. I agree completely. It’s no one’s business if people want to paint their nails.
          It’s almost as bad as if someone had posted a meat hack and having to listen to all the vegans preach their religion with furrowed brows and wagging fingers.

  9. vanity, as i see it:

    if you live in a house completely surronded by trees and you want to paint your house to look nice it is NOT vanity.

    if you used to not paint your house and now that you’ve moved into the city and people can see your house, you THEN start painting your house “because people might see that i dont paint my house” or “people might think my house is not pretty” then that IS vanity.

    this has been my opingion.

  10. The reason people paint their nails is the only valid reason at all: because they want to.

    It is the same reason why you whine so much, in this case attributing objective moral judgement to a subjective esthetics.

    1. This. Also, while I recently bought an actual nail lamp at the thrift shop for quickly curing small parts, I do worry about the risk of cancer from sticking your hands into these things. Maybe a custom 3d printed hand shield with built on curing lights or something might be a good place to go from this project- stick your fingers in and have a ready made nail mask for quick painting, then flip a switch and have the whole thing cured a few seconds later.

  11. The wife is interested so I’ve started researching this. One of the first things I found is worth reading.

    I found this section particularly interesting and relevant to this project.
    “…When nail technicians use UV light to cure gel products, it is important to remember that the nail manufacturer knows what UV light intensity is required to cure the gel. So, if a gel manufacturer says that its gel requires two 4-watt bulbs to cure the gel, this will be sufficient. However, if a manufacturer has determined that its gel cures best in a 9-watt lamp that contains four bulbs, do not attempt to cure the gel in a 4-watt lamp. The gel will become a solid plastic, but the resulting plastic will not be as hard or as durable as it would be if cured in the 9-watt lamp. This information is important because the nail technician should know that all UV lamps are not equal and will not perform the same. It is also important to realize that not all UV bulbs are the same and it is advisable to buy the best bulb for your gel….”

  12. Hmm…it seems like this process is a lot like painting an old school hot rod.

    The CND product comes in a base coat shellac, colour coat, and a top coat.
    Apparently you can also substitute your favourite standard polish for the colour coat layer.

    1. Two issues with sandwiching a standard polish: 1) you lose the advantage of not having to wait forever for the polish to dry before putting on the next coat 2) you’ll still have the slow out-gassing issue that causes tiny bubbles.

  13. Do you feel that way about all art?
    As appearance-modification goes, painted nails are probably my favorite.
    Unlike a lot of the crap that women put up with, it isn’t based on the idea that bare nails aren’t good enough. It’s just added beauty.

  14. My wife paints her nails because SHE likes the way they look. She doesn’t care what others think, so I’d hardly call it a vanity thing. She doesn’t grow her nails too terribly long because they get in the way of even the simplest of some tasks (not to mention being more easily broken or torn). Again, the length is something that she adjusts to her preference, not what those around us like. I like it when her nails are smooth and clear-coated or French-tipped. She knows this and tries to accommodate me. Makeup is another story. I hate it because it looks fake and smells terrible.

  15. I’ve been looking to make something like this for a couple of years but it’s been murder trying to find a box that’s “just right” to fit everything in. This project is “okay” but I’d like to see something big enough to put the thumb in there as well. That seems to be the problem spot when painting nails–the thumb gets botched before everything else is dry.

  16. @pcf11
    This post is bizarre.

    Why do some women wear nail polish? Because they think it looks good, and there’s nothing wrong with looking good. It doesn’t make them vain or show any sort of weakness; they just have different taste from you. Were you seriously expecting some sort of “reason” like “to protect against the northeastern nail wasp”?

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