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Cell Phone Camera Lens Hack

Super-Macro ViewSuper-Macro ViewGuest post by Nate Ivy

Here's a simple way to get more out of your cell phone camera by reusing components from a "disposable" camera to create macro, wide-angle & fisheye lenses.

Disposable cameras are frequently reprocessed after they are turned in to a photo developer, and for good reason- they contain a wide variety of interesting and useful components including lenses, batteries, capacitors, LED's and more.  A strong argument can be made for NOT hacking a used disposable camera because it is likely to be remanufacuted,  However, if you are interested in expanding the range of your cell phone camera, the lenses from a disposable camera are a cheap way to go.

For safety's sake, locate a disposable camera without a flash.  Cameras with flashes contain capacitors, electronic components capable of storing a large electrical charge. Even after the battery is removed, the capacitor in a disposable flash camera can hold enough electricity to hurt or kill you!.  After taking all the pictures on the disposable camera, wind the film until the ratchet spins free- this ensures that you don't ruin the film when opening the camera.

1)  Use a pair of needle nose pliers to remove the plastic ring holding the camera's lens in place.  The ring breaks away easily, allowing extraction of the lens.

Remove the ring and lensRemove the ring and lens

2) Hold the lens over your cell phone camera lens and start taking pictures.  The lens shape is plano-convex.  Place the flat part of the disposable lens against your camera. When taking photos with the extra lens in place, you'll have to hold your camera very close to the subject.  You'll also have to experiment with different distances from the subject to find the right focus. I had good luck at about 1-3 inches away.  Once you've found a good focus length, you might want to slightly adjust the placement of the disposable lens to get the best image.

  Hold lens in placeHold lens in place

3) You can further enhance the magnification by using your camera's zoom feature if available.  Click on the images below to see examples.

No macro lens in placeNo macro lens in place  With macro lens in placeWith macro lens in place  Macro lens and ZoomMacro lens and Zoom

4) Disposable cameras also include a "view finder"- the part of the camera you look through to frame your photo.  The view finder is a set of two lenses, one concave, and one convex that focus an image to your eye.  The view finder provides a "wide angle" view representative of the photos the disposable camera takes.  Remove the view finder to create wide angle and fish-eye lens photos with your cell phone camera.

The view finder is easily separated from the camera after some strategic plastic breaking.The view finder is easily separated from the camera after some strategic plastic breaking.

5) Use the view finder assembly in its factory configuration to take wide angle pictures.  Simply hold the assembly up to your cell phone camera lens.

Standard viewStandard view  Wide angle viewWide angle view

6) To create a fish-eye lens, reverse the larger concave lens at the front of the view finder.

Standard configurationStandard configuration  Fish-eye configurationFish-eye configuration

7)  Hold the modified view finder in front of your cell phone camera lens to take fish-eye photos. 

Standard viewStandard view  Fish-eye viewFish-eye view

8)  Experiment with different lens and camera settings to get a new perspective on the world.  (Note, the smaller, convex lens at the front of the view finder also works well as a macro lens.)  Here are some more pictures taken from my cell phone using the lenses from the disposable camera.

Nickel, Macro lens, 4x zoomNickel, Macro lens, 4x zoom  Coins, macro lens, no zoomCoins, macro lens, no zoom 

Macro coins w/ 4x zoomMacro coins w/ 4x zoom  Fish-eye roomFish-eye room 

  Fish-eye kidFish-eye kid 

Fabric Gift Bags

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This project has been a long standing favorite of mine. I have taught kids as young as 6 to make these gift bags. All of my friends have received presents in these gift bags over the years. It reduces waste during the winter holiday season, which can be a time of consumerism and waste over-load.

Materials Needed:

  • Fabric- decorator samples work great, handkerchiefs, bandanas, dish towels, t-shirts, etc.
  • Pinking shears
  • Ribbon- I use at least 12 inches but could use as much as 30 inches
  • Glue gun and glue sticks
  • Steam iron
  • Scraps of lace, seam binding or decorative trim
  • Buttons
  • Tapestry needle (large, sturdy needle with large eye)


1. Select the fabric you wish to use.

Fabric Scrap from Design BookFabric Scrap from Design Book

2. If using a glue gun, plug it in to pre-heat.

3. Remove any stapled or glued tags from the fabric. The one pictured came from a interior designer upholstery sample book.

4. Using pinking shears, trim the edges of all four sides of the fabric. Sometimes fabric samples are already trimmed by pinking shears. Look for a zigzag edge. If using fabric sample, trim away any fabric with holes or glue.

5. Iron the fabric with the steam iron. Pay attention to the fabric content. If the fabric is a natural fiber (linen, cotton, silk, wool), use high heat and steam. If the fabric is a synthetic (polyester, nylon, acrylic) be careful not to melt or scorch it with an iron that is too hot.

Iron smoothIron smooth 

6. Fold the fabric in half and press the fold with the steam iron.

7a. If using a glue gun, put a thin, consistent line of hot glue around one edge of the fabric and quickly press the opposite side of the fabric onto the glue. You may wish to lay down about 4 inches of glue at a time and then press the fabric down.

 Attaching sides with glue gunAttaching sides with glue gun

Once you have glued one side, use the same procedure along the bottom of the fabric. You should have one open end when you finish gluing.

Closing the bottom of the bagClosing the bottom of the bag

7b. If stitching, thread the tapestry needle with 20 or so inches of very thin ribbon or yarn. Stitch along one side and bottom of the bag. Leave one end unsewn.

Closing sides and bottom with threadClosing sides and bottom with thread

8. Using the steam iron again, press the finished bag for a polished product.

9a. The bag can be closed with a ribbon, cinching the bag's top or open end. I will often hang a gift tag from the bow loop. The one below has a gift tag made from a paper bag and calendar illustration.

Decorative ribbon closureDecorative ribbon closure

9b. Or attach a button about mid way in the center front. Using thin ribbon, lace or yarn, a loop can be created to catch the button and close the bag.

Alternate button closureAlternate button closure

Variations of this project are many. Lace scraps or decorative trim make a nice addition to the top of the bag. Here are just a few samples.

Completed Gift BagsCompleted Gift Bags 

Make a Beautiful Tin Box From a Can

This wonderful video posted to YouTube teaches how to make an embossed tin box using an aluminum can, cure sandpaper, scissors and a pointed stick.  It is a great example of creative reuse showing a process where the artists creativity adds tremendous value to ordinary objects.

Like any project, the pro in the video makes it look easy.  You may find that the aluminum can is a bit too soft and thin.  When I tried it the first time, I ended up tearing the aluminum at a seam and poking a hole through when embossing.  An aluminum food service tray proved to be a bit thicker and easier to manipulate as I learned how to do this great project.

Tools of the Trade Part 2

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Essential Tools

After my last blog about tools, I thought about what tools I think are the most vital. So, here is what I would offer as my "can't do without" tools that help me repair, reuse, rehabilitate and renovate things that might normally end up in the trash. The tools are offered in no particular order.

  1. Power drill with a good selection of bits, including and especially a Phillips head bit. Nothing fancy is needed but it is great to have one that reverses.
  2. Hammer, nothing fancy but a good claw hammer is indispensible.
  3. Variety of screwdrivers, Phillips and standard, from really big to eyeglass repair size. Not a fan of the stubby ones but that is personal preference.
  4. Ice pick, great for opening a plugged tube of caulk or glue, putting a pilot hole for a nail or screw.
  5. Channel lock pipe wrench. A coworker suggested this tool to me when I bought my first house. Thanks Tom!
  6. Vice grip. It will open up the tightest pipe fittings.
  7. Nylon spatula. These work great for scrapping things you don't want to scratch and can also clean up a caulking seam.
  8. Glue gun. Ah... these are great. Be sure to get a good one that has both high and low temperature settings.
  9. Tin snips. These are great for cutting aluminum cans, steel and other metal.
  10. Bent or needle nose pliers. Can hold something tiny with one hand and work on it with the other.
  11. Loaf pans. I love metal loaf pans that I pick up from the thrift store. An excellent way to store drill bits , nails, screws or other tiny things
  12. Safety glasses. Don't dismiss these things! They have saved my eyes more than once.
  13. Staple gun. These come in handy often.
  14. Miter box and saw. It will give you the perfect 45 degree angle cut for picture frames or molding.
  15. Tooth brush. Great for applying paint is a speckly, random way (flick paint off the brush with your thumb by ruffling the bristles) or cleaning off something before you glue it.
  16. Hand sized rock. Perfect for closing a can of paint.
  17. Rolling pin. These can flatten a piece of aluminum or even clay. Don't use the kitchen one, though. I found one at a garage sale that is dedicated for craft and repair uses only.

Optional tools that make a job much easier would be a Dremel rotary tool with a tile cutting bit, wire cutters, tool belt, table saw, jig saw and caulk.  

Decoupage Transit Pass/Card Holder

I love this project. It is a great way to repurpose an Altoid's Mint box and keep it out of the garbage and recycling bin. My favorite children made 2 of these boxes for me and put their pictures on the inside lid!

Materials Needed:

  • 1 Altoid's mint box, empty
  • Scissors
  • Paintbrush
  • Modge Podge or other decoupage medium
  • Stickers, ribbon, paper, catalogs, calendar pages, sheet music or other interesting decorative elements


  1. Wipe out the inside of the box, making sure no mint dust remains.
  2. Cut out elements you want to use to decorate the box.
  3. Using a paint brush, apply Modge Podge or other decoupage medium to the elements and place on the box. Let box dry overnight.
  4. Apply a second coat of Modge Podge or other decoupage medium over the entire box to increase the durability of the applied elements. Again, let the box dry overnight.

These boxes have been in my back pack for about a year. They have held up really well, even with daily use.

Card HolderCard Holder

Tools of the Trade

I freely admit to having a thing for tools.  Perhaps it comes from my Dad, who was a real tool guy.  As an airplane mechanic in WWII, he learned to fix just about anything.  He was such a great role model.  If something was broken, he would take it to his workshop in the garage (a magical place.)  After a few hours or even less, he would emerge with the item miraculously repaired.  It was rare that he would pronounce the item beyond hope.  As I grew older, I was allowed into the magical workshop and he taught me how to use tools to fix things.  He also taught me that it was often the obscure tool that could save the day.  The channel lock pipe wrench helped me reclaim my ring that the cat batted down the bathroom sink. 

A few years ago I got on a tool warehouse email list.  The closest retail outlet for this warehouse is about 40 miles away but it doesn't stop me from looking through the monthly flyers.  I am always on the lookout for that wonderful tool that could be vital in the middle of some project.

It seems like whatever repair project I embark upon, isn't really a full blown project without at least one trip to the local hardware store.   Hardware stores are shrines to reuse and repair.  I know several of the employees at my local hardware store by name.  They have saved me countless hours of effort by their sage advice.  Like the local bookstore, small hardware stores are a gem to any neighborhood and always well worth a visit.

So even though I get the email flyer from the tool warehouse, I always start my tool search at the local hardware store.  Over the years, I have assembled quite a collection of tools.  Some of the best came from garage sales or were given to me by friends who know of my tool "thing".  While I don't generally recommend impulse consumerism, I make an exception at the hardware store, within reason of course.  Besides, I might just find the new tool that will come in handy for my next project.  Just remember to bring a reusable bag.

Found Object Mosaics

Mirror Frame MosaicMirror Frame MosaicFor the past 10 years or so, view I have been making mosaics from broken bits of ceramics and glass.  As is the case with many of my projects, viagra 40mg it came as a result  of an accident.  I dropped a ceramic cup which broke.  As I was cleaning up the broken pieces, order I pondered their fate.  I just knew that these shards were the building blocks of something fabulous.  A friend, Tammy Lee, a talented mosaic artist, suggested I explore the medium.  So, I launched into the mosaic world with only a vague idea of what I was doing.  Slowly but surely, I developed my technique.  Through trial and error, I made some interesting discoveries.  Once I added latex paint to white grout to make a design more colorful. I added glitter to grout but the result was underwhelming.  One of my favorite salvage yards, Building Resources, tumbles glass and ceramics in cement mixers to simulate beach glass.  The end product is so amazing and fun to work with that I find myself almost over-stimulated by the stuff!  However, I do love to use their materials to supplement my supply of broken ceramics and glass.  You can replicate beach glass yourself on a smaller scale by using a rock tumbler available at most craft stores.

Read more: Found Object Mosaics

Make Beads from Paper

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This is a centuries old technique for making beads.  After a few missteps, here is method I used to create paper beads from an old calendar page.

Materials Needed:

  • brightly colored paper such as calendars, catalogues, thicker wrapping paper, paper gift bags, paper shopping bags, etc.
  • pen/pencil
  • glue sticks
  • ruler
  • scissors
  • clear sealant such as Modge Podge or Aleene's Laminate it
  • small paint brush
  • wire, tooth picks, bamboo skewers, plastic coffee stir sticks, wire hanger, or any thin, stiff item


1. Select paper and cut into 4 inch strips.

2. Mark 1 inch intervals on one edge of the paper.  On the opposite side, mark half inch intervals.

Mark backside of paperMark backside of paper

3.  Using your ruler, draw lines from side of the paper to form triangles.

4.  Cut along the lines, repeating until you have cut out all triangles on the paper.

5.  Each triangle will make a bead.  Notice that there is a pointy end and a wide end.

6.  Decide which side of the paper you want to show.

7.  Starting at the pointy end of the triangle, run the glue stick on the back side of the paper, starting about 2 inches.

Apply glueApply glue

8. Roll the triangle into a skinny tube, starting with the wide side of the triangle and continue to roll to the pointy end.  Try to get the pointy end centered on the bead.

Roll into beadsRoll into beads

9.  Repeat until you have rolled all of the triangles.

10.  String the rolled triangles, which are newly created beads, onto the wire or other skinny item.

11.  Using the paint brush, liberally coat the beads with the sealant of your choice.

12.  Let beads dry to the sealant directions.  I place the drying beads across an empty glass or bowl to ensure air circulation.  Rotate them after a few minutes to make sure they don't stick to the glass or bowl.

Dry beads threaded on wireDry beads threaded on wire

13.  String them on a piece of ribbon or monofilament.  I used a piece of gift ribbon and tied knots between each bead.   You could combine paper beads with ceramic, metal, plastic or glass beads also.

Completed NecklaceCompleted Necklace

Chief Creative Officer- Roberta Miller

Roberta MillerRoberta MillerOver the years, I have spent lots of time pondering the whole idea of reuse.  Perhaps it comes from growing up on a farm and dealing with garbage and recycling directly, with occasional trips to the dump.  My Dad and I would load up the truck with stuff we couldn't burn (waste management 1960's farm- style) and drive 20 miles to the landfill.  I credit these experiences with my chosen profession in integrated waste management.  It wasn't until we moved into town that I saw my first garbage truck collecting waste from the curb.  My Mom credits my love of reuse and recycling from being the child of Depression Era parents.  But really, I think most it comes from being thrifty and creative.

About 20 years ago, I visited a decommissioned firehouse in Oakland that had sold salvage and surplus stuff.  This place spoke to my ethic of looking at materials differently.  In speaking with other customers, I found an entire community of thrifty and creative people.  At this point, I was hooked.  The place was the first location of the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse.  While it has changed locations a couple of times since then, the community and ethic remain.  The Depot staff encourage us to find new uses for the ordinary and sometimes extraordinary.  To this day, a trip to the Depot remains a thrill, something of a scavenger hunt, different materials every time.  It is the best of a flea market but you don't have to get up so early  to get the good stuff.   However, the Depot is not the only source of "good stuff".  RAFT in Milpitas is excellent.  I am also quite fond of any thrift store such as St. Vincent de Paul, Goodwill, Salvation Army and Savers.  All of these places provide a wealth of possibilities for the thrifty and creative

In future blog entries, I will be sharing with you some reuse projects and will look forward to hearing about any that you might be willing to share.  Some projects may require the use of tools (a really good project is always an excuse to use tools) while others will require only creativity and a sense of fun.  If you create your own version of a featured project, send me a photo and a description for inclusion in the blog.


Roberta, CCO- Chief Creative Officer

Should shredded paper be composted?

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Dear Dig It!-

We shred paper bills at home to stop the deter identity theft. What should we do with the shredded paper? I’ve heard it can be composted but am concerned about the inks used on decades old paper in my parents' attic.       ~Scott

According to Alameda County Industries (ACI), the waste hauler serving the City of Alameda and parts of San Leandro, CA, they prefer to have the shredded paper placed in your curbside blue recycling cart. Loose shredded paper is captured on the single stream recycling sort line using a variety of screens that filter smaller materials or "fines." ACI suggests that you place shredded paper in a paper bag secured with one staple at the top before putting it in the blue cart. This practice prevents it from blowing off during collection and from getting contaminated during collection and processing by other recyclables and liquids.

Of course you could compost the paper in your backyard compost bin since it's a great source of carbon for compost critters, and helps balance nitrogen rich piles when you are composting lots of food. Shredded paper can also be used in smaller quantities in a worm bin or vermicomposting system to cover food scraps, prevent fruit flies and provide bedding for the worms.

However, the highest and best use of your shredded paper is to recycle it to be used again (most paper can be recycled up to 7 times). That said, when you shred paper, you're actually cutting the lengths of the individual paper fibers, which downgrades the potential and quality of the paper for future recycling. The length of a paper fiber determines its value since a longer fiber can be used to make a higher-grade paper and can be recycled more times. Most shredded paper is used for low grade paper products such as tissue, toilet paper, paper towels, etc.

If you have to shred paper consider the following tips to reduce paper shredding:

  1. Shred only the portions of the document containing sensitive or personal identity information, like the mailing label and account numbers, and keep the rest of the paper intact for recycling.
  2. Reduce unwanted mail or junk mail such as credit card offers and regularly update your business and personal mailing lists. For more information on reducing junkmail visit
  3. Go paperless. Consider signing up for e-billing or electronic statements, newsletters, etc.

As far as older paper that may have toxic ink I would say "dilution is the solution." Once your shredded paper is sent to a paper mill, the paper is turned into a pulp, screened for any contaminates like globs of glue or bits of plastic, cleaned to remove additional contaminates like staples, and then de-inked to remove printing ink and sticky residue (glue). The ink forms a froth which floats to the top leaving clean pulp behind. Fortunately, most of the inks being used today are vegetable-based inks which make the deinking process easier and the resulting froth less toxic. According to a study cited on the Natural Resources Defense Council website, "Less than one percent of the waste from a recycled paper mill is from ink, which is today more properly described as benign vegetable dye or carbon coated with plastic polymers; the remaining waste is water (90 percent) and short paper fibers (about 10 percent)".[See, for example, Bronx Community Paper Company in the Harlem River Yard, Final Environmental Impact Statement.]

Happy Recycling and Composting!