Picture of Blinkybug (Maker Faire version)
UPDATE: Blinkybug Kits, which include all the parts to make 4 bugs, are now available on Make Magazine's online Maker Store.

Blinkybugs are small, eletro-mechanical insects that respond to stimulus such as movement, vibration, and air currents by blinking their LED eyes. They're incredibly simple, yet have a certain lifelike quality.

I've been making variations of these for a while now, and showing others how to make them at museums, fairs, workshops, etc. It isn't rocket science, but there's some tricky soldering involved, and they usually take a person at least an hour to put together for the first time.

I wanted to come up with a solder-free version for the workshop I was organizing for the http://www.makerfaire.com/ 2007 Maker Faire], which took place May 19 + 20 in San Mateo, CA. So after a bit of experimenting, I came up with this simpler design.

Step 1: Tools and Parts

Picture of Tools and Parts
quick bug howto - 74.jpg
Tools you will need:

  • Glue gun + glue sticks
  • Rotary tool w/ metal cutting blade (a hacksaw or similar may work)
  • Safety goggles
  • Metal file
  • Measuring tape or yardstick
  • Wire cutters
  • Needle-nose pliers (2 pairs would be nice)
  • Permanent marker
  • Scotch tape
  • Scissors


  • .009" guitar string
  • Coin-cell battery
  • 5mm LEDs (2 per bug)
  • Pipe clieaners (aka "chenille sticks")... assorted colors.
  • Coin cell battery... 3V 2032 type.
  • Thin copper tubing: 1/16 x .014

I obtained the copper tubing at a hardware store, and it should also be available in hobby shops. The 1/16 is the outer diameter in inches, and the .014 is the wall thickness. Its inner diameter happens to be about .035", which is important because the guitar string needs to fit through (which is .009").

LEDs can be found anywhere on the webernet, and are actually fairly cheap at Radio Shack if (and only if) you buy the variety pack. One can obtain the coin-cell batteries at your local drug store, and they are also available widely online, such as at DigiKey. You should be able to get "singles" of the guitar strings at any music shop. The pipe cleaners can be found at tobacco shops and arts + crafts suppliers.
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cgosh2 years ago
I get it. Instrument wire is spring-y, and extending the height of the anode rings (or longer wire) makes them as sensitive as you can stand. How about using different tubing and wire diameters? Since this appeared, there's a conductive glue at Radio Shack for $5, but tape is fine. Great 'ible! -- this would be a fun idea for a group of kids. Don't miss the unique version on obeyken's Profile page.
physicx2 years ago
can i have one obeyken one of your blinkybug
leeski3 years ago

I'm lee with Instructables and I just wanted to let you know that I ordered 3 of your binkybug kits from mindware for my son Jonah's 6yr bday party.

How much are they already created vs the instructable above.

jwoo20234 years ago
actually, you could replace the guitar with the new ones then use the old ones for this project!
Gigi Tang4 years ago
I'm making the blinky bug for a science project yet i really couldn't find the copper tubing in hobby shops or in hardware stores. Are there any other places which would have it? The project dues very soon.PLEASE HELP!!!(p.s. I'm from Hong Kong.)
tubbytommy4 years ago
I'd think a place such as hobby lobby or any place that sells RC cars and planes would have tubing.
can I just attach the guitar (i'll use banjo) string to the battery itself? I have everything else around the house and don't want to have to wait on getting the tubing.
obeyken (author)  oldanvilyoungsmith6 years ago
that's what i did with the original blinkybugs. however, it's generally very ill-advised to solder directly to a lithium battery... i had one pop open on me and leak nasty stuff all over me. as a result i now have super powers, but i still wouldn't advise it (i've been told they could actually explode). most hardware stores should have the tubing!
huttarl obeyken5 years ago
I went by Lowes and they didn't have any copper tubing nearly this small. Has anybody found it at e.g. Radio Shack, Hobby Lobby, ...? Btw I ordered a kit, but I may want to make more.
ArduinoFun5 years ago
I made these with my kids from the kit. They really loved them!
Maximil5 years ago
 Very cool! i making one for a gift, but i modificated it. it's without strings. But still it's cool!
jdtwelve125 years ago
Nice little project.  I may have to make one of these some time.

Have you tried cutting the copper tubing with the guitar string already inside?  Or a toothpick, etc.  Perhaps having something inside the tube would keep it from crimping?  I suspect this would be easier than getting out the rotary tool.
LEDgonuts5 years ago
you can make it move by gluing 2 pager motors to the bottom please make video if you do:)
BraisedDuck5 years ago
maybe using the glue gun might be better....
BraisedDuck5 years ago
Hey,obeyken, is it okay to use thin copper wire instead of guitar string?I mean, it bends easier, right? Oh, and is it ok to just glue the wires together?pls reply.(sorry if i'm offending u with my language...)
obeyken (author)  BraisedDuck5 years ago
Hi Edwin- guitar wire works well because it has a spring temper, where copper has a soft temper. The springiness is a Good Thing because you want the antennae to oscillate back and forth, as this is what triggers the blinking. know what i mean? Not sure what you mean by glue wires together. glue them to what, the battery? The problem there is that most glues don't conduct electricity, so you'd get a poor connection (if any). There are conductive epoxies, though, which might be worth experimenting with...
well, its worth a shot...........I'll send you a photo if anything develops....(get it?)
Just made mine today. He rode on the Ice Cream cart with me on my route!
obeyken (author)  musicalbee20036 years ago
DIY Dave6 years ago
I have built three different bugs. I'll have to post some pictures
I was wondering the same thing.
I just had a great idea! attach a pager moter that turns on the same way, so that when the eyes blink it also starts to move (like those toothbrush bots)
Shane11636 years ago
could build a lightning bug/firefly too! lol
BIGBUG6 years ago
Very cool little instructable! I must make one. Yea, I know I am waaaay late on this one... Maybe less time building robots and more time reading INSTRUCTABLES!
obeyken (author)  BIGBUG6 years ago
Thanks BIGBUG!
samirsky6 years ago
Made a few of these with stuff around the house. I didn't have the guitar string, so I used single strands from stranded wire. I also used solder, since I have it.

The first one (orange legs), I soldered directly to the battery. Note: This is DANGEROUS; I DO NOT recommend. I was wearing eye protection, and there was no mishap, but it did concern me heating a battery so much. Also, it was very difficult to get the solder to stick to the battery (even though I sanded battery surface before soldering).

For the next 2 versions I made, I used coin cell battery holders I had. This worked much better. See the video to see how my creative 8 year-old put his under his ceiling fan to keep it blinking (in his Pinewood Derby car).

Kiteman8 years ago
Have you thought of puting something inside the tube while you cut it, to stop it closing up? Say some narrow pin or nail?
A sharp craft knife works very well for this step. Roll the tube back and forth under the blade and score it all around with even pressure. Credit to the gent in the local hobby shop for the tip.
That's the way a pipe cutter works. It rolls a round blade around and around the tube until it separates. My Dad (a carpenter) taught me to just hold a thin tube or wire against a pocket knife blade, and run the blade around and around the until the insulation is cut, or the tube separates.
obeyken (author)  Kiteman8 years ago
that's a good idea! thanks! i'll play around with that...
hac7 years ago
Brilliant! I want to make an army...
garrett107 years ago
How much was it?
eeeXsmart7 years ago
great idea! perfect!
ultrauber7 years ago
Love it. I am totally going to order the kit. +1 and favorite.
Nicely done! It looks awesome, I want to try this out. +1 rating. (added to favorites)
knitsteel7 years ago
Cut it with a jeweler's saw.
Hey, heres a tip. when (suppoese) you gift a blinky to a friend, you need to put it in a box, right? so the blinky might stay lighted up and eat up the battery life. So what i did was that i slid tiny rolls of paper between the loop of the LED's Cathode and had the Guitar wire passing thruogh it. so when i wanted to show my Blinky, i could always slide out the paper rolls! ta-dah! heres a pic for reference
mastelios8 years ago
Tried doing mine yesterday,having no legs,i used wire and to cover the battery I used some "fur" from an old teddy bear.Needs imrovement because I didn't get the angle of the string right with the loops.Anyway, lacking the small tube,I just soldered a copper wire on the string and then used the copper wire on the battery.That part worked.I'll try again.Also I have some green leds that are not round,they are rectangular.I'll try using these to see how it shows.Last thing,can you think of something to use for legs that can have a spring-like effect?
This is my second try.I used a 3.6v from o cash register.I liked its round shape and its green colour..Plus it has 2 leads that are perfect for the guitar strings!really responsive!Very nice idea obeyken!!
led bug3.JPGled bug2.JPGled bug1.JPG
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