Introduction: A Better Altoids Smalls LED Flashlight

Picture of A Better Altoids Smalls LED Flashlight

I really love making projects out of Altoids. Especially the new Altoids Smalls tins. They're so small and so very very cute.

I've seen a couple of Instructables on how to turn these small tins into flashlights, but I think that we can do a better job. Both in appearance and craftsmanship.

This little guide will show you how to make a flashlight out of an Altoids Smalls tin in a way that's both easy to do, and has a classy result.

Time: 20-30
Price: Less than $4
Mints eaten: 14

This a great project for beginners or kids.

Step 1: What You Need

Picture of What You Need

Soldering Iron
Drill with 9/11 inch bit
Wire Cutter

Altoids Smalls tin ($1-1.50)
Electrical Tape
Wire (any type will do, I used magnet wire because I had some)
Coin Battery Holder
Coin Battery
Two 3mm White LEDs
Two 3mm LED holders
Two resisters of value less than 100 ohms (100 for $2 off ebay)
One Submini Momentary Pushbutton switch... or toggle! (2 for $2.50 at Radio Shack)

The only thing I didn't have at my "shop" were the pushbutton switches. I had to bite the bullet and buy them from Radio Shack. They're the "submini" type, which means very small.

Everything else I had bought in bulk, so the total cost of the parts used was quite small. Buy a bunch of LEDs and LED holders off ebay. They'll cost you a little bit and last for many a project.

Step 2: Minty Fresh Breath

Picture of Minty Fresh Breath

If you have a tin, awesome. If not, buy one.


If you're giving this as a gift (great idea) you can put the mints in a bag to give along with the flashlight.

Step 3: Drill Baby Drill!

Picture of Drill Baby Drill!

A 9/11ths sized drill bit works perfectly for every hole in this project.

When drilling make sure you keep the lid shut, and that you try and space things out ahead of time. Put the drill a more than halfway below the lid and the bottom lip. (And unlike me you may want to mark where you want each hole so they're evenly spaced....)

Push your drill into the tin a bit to leave a dent. Then apply pressure while drilling. You don't have to go crazy pushing down. The tin, while quite strong, is easy to drill through with even just wood drill bits. (Which I use)

After you drill both holes, pop in the LED holders to make sure they fit. Maybe even pop an LED in each just to double check that they fit.

Step 4: Button Hole

Picture of Button Hole

The best place, in my opinion, is below the S in "smalls." You could put the push button on the lip of the bottom, but it'd be a tough fit. Also, I think having the button there works better when holding the darn thing.

Again, lid shut. Push to make a dent. Apply pressure when drilling.

Pop the button in when you're finished! It's a tight squeeze for the button, but it'll fit.

(So 9/11ths mostly works for this hole. If you can't get the button in use the 9/11ths drill to make it a bit bigger. Put the bit into the hole, run the drill, and apply pressure to the edges. This will make it a tad bigger.)

Step 5: Tape Up the Bottom

Picture of Tape Up the Bottom

To reduce the chance that we get a short, and to make things appear classy, use some electrical tape and line the bottom of the tin.

Step 6: Wire and Solder LEDs

Picture of Wire and Solder LEDs

Before someone comments, no, you don't really need the resistors because we're working with a battery that is only 3 volts. BUT having some resistors will increase the life of the LED's and provides some protection. I used 100 ohm resistors because I have heaps. Anything less than 100 will be fine.

Twist a resistor around the positive (long leg) of each LED.

Then twist the other ends of the resistors together.

Twist those around the positive tab of the battery holder.


(Don't do anything to the negative legs yet!)

Step 7: Wire the Switch

Picture of Wire the Switch

Carefully bend the two legs of the switch down a bit. Seriously, be careful or you'll have to go back to Radio Shack and blow all your money. Again.

Take some wire and wrap it around one leg.


Wrap the other end of the wire around the negative side of the battery case.


At this point you should pop the LEDs into the LED holders and have the two negative legs touching each other.

Take another bit of wire and wrap it around the two negative legs of the LEDs.


Wrap the other end around the second switch tab.

What do we do next?


Step 8: Test and More Tape

Picture of Test and More Tape

At this point you can test to see if everything is working.

Well, is it?

Before we close up you need to put a bit of tape down again. Put a layer of tape between the resistors/ positive legs and the negative legs. This prevents any shorts from happening when you close the lid.

Step 9: Enjoy!

Picture of Enjoy!

Well close her up. We're done. Make sure you don't have any shorts (you shouldn't if you used tape!) and that your button is screwed in tight.

See, that wasn't so bad. Plus it looks really classy both inside and out. These really impress people as gifts, and really don't cost very much if you order some of the parts in bulk ahead of time. (AKA avoiding Radio Shack....)

This is a project that is great for beginners and kids, and teaches a lot of electrical basics in the process. Plus you get to munch on mints while making it.

Now if you'd like to own one but really couldn't be bothered to make one on your own.... I do happen to have many a flavor of tin available at my gadget site Or, if you prefer, my account.


YouthLibrarian (author)2015-06-29

Another silly question: almost finished but when I started to solder the wires to the switch I realized the LEDs were lighting up. So it lights up with the switch is off but when you press it down it turns off. My battery connections are correct and I've tried switching the wires on the switch legs but it doesn't make a difference. Help please! I want to do this as a program tomorrow evening.

BrandyH14 (author)YouthLibrarian2016-02-29

I had the same problem. My husband pointed out the error. These directions didn't make it clear, but what you do is you solder the negatives together. You solder the positive from the LEDs to one of the switch terminals, and the positive from the battery to the other switch terminal. If you connect all the positives to one side of the switch and all the negatives to the other side of the switch, then you'll have the problem you're having.

arduino_boy13 made it! (author)2015-05-06

I literally made this last night. I thought it was a great idea and everything went together perfectly. I used a bigger altoids box but it still worked great!

markmoran made it! (author)2015-03-10

I made this a few years ago (before there was an "I Made It" comment button) and it is still one of my first and favorite electronics project. It's an incredibly simple and elegant design, people immediately understand and like it, and it still works on the original batteries years later.

dan.mandle (author)2014-12-02

Having a hard time finding a drill bit 9/11" in size. What have you all been using?

I forgot to add: I used a form cut thin piece of plastic under the board to prevent shorting. I think on my next one I'll TheGeekFathers Plasti-dip suggestion a try.

I made a Altoid's Smalls flashlight but I went a different route mounting it on a proto board and using two Piranha LEDs on each side of the 5mm LED. And I checked out your BrownDogGadets site and I gotta say, That's Cool!

My ible is here.

yanz67 (author)2014-08-12

Thank you! This is a great idea. I had a lot of fun with my 4 year old, building it.

I didn't have the 100ohm resistor and tried 330ohms but the led was way too dim so i didn't use any resistor. Hopefully LEDs will last a while.

Yeah, but they're not panel mount. Which makes mounting super duper easy on the outside of the tin.

Though a very small toggle switch on the side would be cool.

Dusty79 (author)BrownDogGadgets2014-07-26

I have one of these and yes, the toggle switch is awesome. I made my flashlight a little over 2 years ago with these directions (minus the switch because RadioShack didn't have anything else other than a toggle). It's still working great on the original battery and I do use it often. Great directions and flashlight.

I have a toggle like this and it does screw down so it's tight with the case. Fits pretty well, tho I mounted it on the top part just as you did with the push button. Everything in the box is tight anyway, but it does work well.

Josh1983 (author)2012-10-07

This is a great project. Where do you find the push buttons in bulk? I've been able to find all the other parts for decent prices except for the buttons, the best I've found is a two pack.

Schmidty16 (author)2012-06-28

couldnt you fit 2 AAA bateries in that or even 1

No, 2 AAAs won't fit.

Also, one isn't enough. You need 3V for white LEDs (red is 2.6 even).


dude i canfit it in my tin like urs i think i can it may be a tight fit but i think it would work

guillebd (author)2012-02-28

I've got a question, it may seem stupid but it will clear my head out of doubts. If you are only using one 3v coin battery, then the led's shoul be of 1.5 v each? thanks

BrownDogGadgets (author)guillebd2012-07-02

It's in Parallel, so they're each getting 3V.

ericb1 (author)2011-12-15

Hmm, not sure what I did wrong. I used 100k-Ohm resistors (1/2watt) and CR2032 bateries, and 5mm white LED's.

Any reason why this set-up wouldn't work?

schumi23 (author)ericb12012-03-16

or the fact you used 100kohm maybe?
Im just guessing, but try replacing the 100 000ohm resistor, with a 100 ohm resistor (Or one in that range)

BrownDogGadgets (author)schumi232012-06-21

Yeah.... there is a massive difference between using a 100,000 ohm and a 100 ohm.

bburksjr (author)BrownDogGadgets2012-06-25

Sorry for a newbie question. Are these 1/4 watt resistors? I'm looking at 100 75 ohm 1/4 watt 1% metal film resistors for $2.55. This will work? Thanks!

schumi23 (author)bburksjr2012-06-29

That should work, though you do not need to buy resistors that are that expensive (5% ones would be fine.) (I will give a more complete explanation tomorrow, just got back from camping :) )

BrownDogGadgets (author)ericb12011-12-15

LEDs backward. Bad battery. Melted switch.

shootfilm (author)2011-11-30

I love this! How advanced is the soldering involved? I've got a soldering iron, but haven't really done much with it besides experiment a bit and burn the heck out of my fingers.

It's simple.

The only thing you have to watch out for is melting the button. Just be quick and use a small amount of solder.

TheGeekFather (author)2011-05-19

Electrical tape is all and good but You can buy spray on Plasti-Dip that leaves a much nicer finish. Just do three light coats. (do multiple tins at a time. even if you dont have a current use for them.)

I say use the spray on because I find it keeps better than the cans that you dip tools in or use a brush with. So unless you plan on using a lot I'd go with the spray on. (plus I think it leaves a nicer finish if your using a sponge brush)

Goodness that does sound a whole lot nicer. That is a wonderful idea.

I just use tape because I had it handy and it takes less time, but the Plasti-Dip would look a whole lot more professional.

By the way that wasn't a slam on your ible. I just see so many people using electrical tape I thought I would throw it out there. A lot of people I talk to didn't even know what plasti-dip was or that it comes in spray form too.

This is a general FYI for the readers. Plasti-dip is sold in most hardware stores and is used for a lot of stuff. It's flexible, insulates, durable, and has a good grip. A lot of uses but it's mainly known for dipping the handles of your tools if the old grip has worn off. I've used it to isolate wires instead of electrical tape or shrink tube. Coat a pistol grip, on the bottom of cool tiles to turn them into coasters and on the inside of metal tins if I'm using electrical components.

Were would one find Plasti-dip?

Aaronius (author)tyler3030472011-11-28

McMaster-Carr sells it: 9560T4

sorry been working. Don't mean to take so long in responding most the time. Anyways on to your question. I usually get it from Ace Hardware. I've seen it at the major home improvement stores as well.

I didn't take it as a slam, I think it's a great idea. I'm planning on picking some up next weekend.

tyler303047 (author)2011-08-17

Great ible man. I'm goin out to buy these hopefully on Saturday.

ryanmercer (author)2011-05-03

I found a 15/64 to be the perfect size for the grommets you sell on your site in the kit.

Good to know.

(How I do wish we lived in a metric world....)

ryanmercer (author)2011-05-03

I used a 1/4 for this hole for the button in your kit on the website.

About This Instructable




Bio: I used to teach middle school science, but now I run my own online educational science website. I spend my days designing new projects for ... More »
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