Introduction: Build a 4 X AA USB Altoids Battery

Picture of Build a 4 X AA USB Altoids Battery

Not long ago, I upgraded the hard drive in my laptop from an 80GB 4200RPM to a 120GB 5200RPM. Not wanting to let my old 2.5" drive go to waste, I bought a rather nice USB enclosure for it.

Ah, but there was a catch. USB ports can only supply a maximum of 500 milliamps. The hard drive will need 550mA, meaning that the use of an AC adapter (or special USB cable) would be necessary under high load conditions.

I HATE those clunky AC wall adapters. I don't see why we should have to deal with them. Why can't we just have a centralized 12 volt power system in our buildings? We have it in all of our cars! That would be much more efficient.

The way this HD enclosure "solves" the power problem is to include a special USB Y-cable that can draw power from two ports. So one port handles power+data while the other just supplies power. This means that sometimes I'd have to give up two ports for one HD (or use an after-market AC adapter.) Not cool.

But I'm not here to complain. I'm here to awesome this problem out of existence. And we do that with some bits from Radio Shack, and, of course, a tin of Altoids.

I got the idea from ladyada's article where she built a 2 x AA battery encased in a smaller Altoids gum tin. While it works and is super portable, it utilizes a power-management system that requires exotic parts (but you can just buy the whole unit minus Altoids from her.) Plus the output current is limited to about 200mA. Nowhere near enough power for what I need.

Step 1: Get Some Snackage.

Picture of Get Some Snackage.

The beauty of using an Altoids tin for the project box is it comes with candy. While at the market, why not avail yourself to the fine selection of other snacks including (but not limited to) Pringles, Skittles, pizzas and beverages of your choosing. You're going to need them.

You'll first need to eat the Altoids. The candies make poor electronic components. You cannot store the candy in an alternate container. They will attract goblins.

I like the cinnamon flavor, but also quite partial to wintergreen. All other flavors are invalid and you are a horrible person for choosing them.

Step 2: Other Parts.

Now you have to get the parts that'll turn the tin into a battery. You will need the following:

4 x Single "AA" battery holders.
1 x Motherboard PCI-mount USB port. (the shorter the profile the better.)
1 x Tube of plastic-friendly cyanoacrylate super glue.

And you will need the following tools:

Soldering Iron.
Small precision files.

Simple, huh? You should be able to handle all that.

Now, I recommend getting an extra AA battery holder. You'll be monkeying around with them in the next step and you might accidentally destroy one... some more.

Step 3: (Almost) Total Destruction.

Picture of (Almost) Total Destruction.

Four AA batteries can fit comfortably in the space provided by the good people at the Callard & Bowser company. However, the battery holders will not. We'll have to teach them a little lesson in space management!

Take the wire-cutters and carefully cut the ends and middle part off. Take a piece of fine sandpaper and rough up the surfaces that we're going to adhere to the metal.

Start off by sanding the inside of the tin. We want a nice rough surface for the super glue to hold onto.

You'll want to arrange the holders so that the batteries will be in a series circuit (5-Volts.) Make sure there are no shorts. The metal back of each contact is recessed in the plastic so shorts are unlikely, but it won't hurt to make absolutely sure there isn't any metal on metal.

Gluing the battery contacts to the tin is almost an art, so all I can tell you is try your best to keep the alignment of the 3 parts in true. Use a junk battery and glue on one piece at a time. The glue sets PERMANENTLY in about 10 seconds.

Step 4: More of the Same.

Picture of More of the Same.

The USB port is too long for our needs. Take the wire-cutter and hack away all the excess. Be sure to leave behind enough plastic so it can still be securely mounted.

After about a half-hour of trimming, you should be left with a small nub of a USB port. Go ahead and cut the two center wires. We only need the red and black. Put a little dab of super glue on the back to make sure the port and pins don't move around. Carefully bend the back pins to one side so it'll fit in the tin.

While you have the PCI bracket handy, use it as a stencil and mark on the tin where you're going to drill the holes. Make sure you don't mark it too high or too low.

Step 5: We Drill.

Picture of We Drill.

Use a nail to LIGHTLY tap little indentations in the center of your marks so the drill bit doesn't wander. The metal that makes up these tins is a very soft steel. So go slow.

Make multiple drill holes where the port is going to go. Take away as much material as you can. Think "connect the dots."

Take the small files and start making a rectangle. This is tedious. You might want to hire a schizophrenic clown to entertain you.

Having a USB flash drive on hand will be good for sizing.

Kinda looks like some weird anime expression don't it?

Step 6: Time to Solder

Picture of Time to Solder

You need to connect all the battery holders together so that the batteries are in series. You will probably be using your teeth to strip the wires.

The little metal wire terminals swivel with a bit of firm (but gentle) force. Align each of them to their respective neighbor (baring the reserved master + and - wires.)

Solder everything together. You now have the basic battery.

Now, you could call it done. Simply affix the USB port and you're set. But (and I may be labeled a heretic for this) while the current setup has a certain novelty factor, the Altoids tin is pretty gaudy. So, if you like, let's add some paint to our work of art...

Step 7: Painting

Picture of Painting

Standard procedure here. Primer and paint. Be sure to mask off the parts where the lid has to slide over the bottom part. You want the thing to close after all. Wet sand both the primer and paint if you really want a glossy finish.

A definite improvement, but... it's kind of boring. Mayhaps a little personalisation is in order?

Step 8: Cinnamony Doom.

Picture of Cinnamony Doom.

Hell. Yes.

I made the Irken Invader logo in Adobe Illustrator and printed it out (two logos on the page.) I covered the top with masking tape and glued (with spray-on adhesive) the logo template onto the tape. Then, using a round-tip X-acto knife, I carefully cut away the white bits.

If you do something like this, practice on, like, a pop can or a piece of scrap metal first. That's why I printed out two logos. I used a bright "Ford Red" for the color.

After removing the stencil, I sprayed on a clear coat to protect the design.

Step 9: Choosing Batteries.

Picture of Choosing Batteries.

I did a lot of research about batteries. Which you should appreciate because it's quite boring. Sifting through PDF after PDF looking for the right energy capacity and discharge profile.

The perfect battery for this is the NiMH Energizer E2 rechargeables. They come in a convenient pack that includes 4-AA batteries and and a charger for about $20. They have 2500mAh of current capacity and they hold their voltage levels up until the screaming end. Doing away with the need for any sort of voltage management hardware. These batteries are able to power my hard drive for up to 3 hours on their own! Three times as long when the HD is plugged into a low-power USB port.

If you decide to use alkalines, or especially Lithiums, install a diode on the positive battery wire to block current from feeding back into the batteries. It'll prevent them from overheating, leaking and "venting with fire." However, if you intend to use this only to charge your iPod or PDA, then It isn't necessary.

Please note that if you do use alkalines, or especially Lithium batteries, your voltage may be dangerously high for some electronics. So the NiMH rechargables are really the best (and most economical) option.

So there you have it. The whole setup weighs about 6 ounces. A tad heavy, but if you're seriously considering building this, then you are a geek. A geek who probably needs the exercise anyway.

Step 10: Updates & Observations.

UPDATE: 8-31-08

1) For those of you who want to charge your iPod with this, please read this supplementary Instructable. I figure you could wire those resistors into a short USB extension cable or something so they don't drain the battery.

2) If you're going to be using Lithium batteries, be sure to install a 1A Diode on the positive terminal so that there's no chance of electricity feeding back into the batteries. That would be bad.

3) You can use a 4xAA battery holder just fine, it may save you some trouble soldering together 4 individual battery holders.


amullick (author)2015-11-28

Can I make a rechargeable battery pack with USB-C with these batteries?

knektek (author)2009-11-18

i have 4 aa 4600mah batteries off ebay for a total of £8 ( yes i do live in the U.K ).

Kolby12309 (author)knektek2015-11-19

i can guarantee they are fake

mkls0 (author)2013-01-28

Do you know why it does not work with a Motorola? I have a Photon 4. Is there a way to make it work with a Motorola?

Kolby12309 (author)mkls02015-11-19

put a resistor on the data lines

JesusG33k (author)2015-05-23

Haha I like how you said "You'll first need to eat the Altoids. The candies make poor electronic components. You cannot store the candy in an alternate container. They will attract goblins."

Great one! Thanks for sharing!!!

IanDominic (author)2015-01-24

What if I wanna charge the batteries directly? Is there another diagram that needed to be follow or there should be schematic? What are your suggestions?

harishvar.akaash (author)2014-10-17

how many times can this charge

jtsnell (author)2014-09-22

Are you dumping 6V between USB GND and VCC?

ronin.ness.7 (author)2014-09-01

I make instructional videos on small game hunting. I get sick of running back to my car to charge my Emerson Go Action Cam I'm going to make two of these one to charge my camera and a back up when I inevatibly loose the first one. ;0

Guthix Priest (author)2014-02-21

would you be able to make an instructable on how to do this but with 2X 3.7v cell phone batterys?

werd608 (author)2013-12-11

may you upload a video of the soldering process as this will be my first project with the use of a soldering iron

wiljo94 (author)2009-06-08

where can i get the "Motherboard PCI-mount USB port"?

dcastor (author)wiljo942012-11-19

Try to locate an older, dead PC. maybe at thrift stores... Although you may have to talk to them cause electronics that don't work are often thrown out.

pancho del rancho (author)2009-08-14

can we do this with a AAA batery holder break it like in the picture above and put AA's instead of AAA;s since it would fit

Yes... Just would not last as long.

techturtle2 (author)2012-11-10

Would you not need some sort of voltage regulation if you intended to charge more delicate equipment (like things that will be hurt if overpowered)? In the past I have done things of this kind, but I used a 7805 MOSFET to regulate the power.

deactivated-000000 (author)2009-05-21

Would this be able to output 2A at 5V theoretically (disregarding the plug)? And if so, for how long?

Theoretically, this will be able to supply 10 amps for 1 hour, or 2 amps for 5 hours. But there's no way a USB cable would be able to handle 2 amps.

telfon (author)Sitnalta2012-03-22

Nope. Since the batteries are connected in series you cannot add the capacities together. One battery can provide (in optimum conditions) 2.5 amps for 1 hour at 1.2 volts. Four batteries connected in parallel can provide 10 amps for 1 hour at 1.2 volts. Four batteries connected in series, as they are in this project can provide 2.5 amps for 1 hour at 4.8 volts.

tutdude98 (author)telfon2012-08-09

when its battery charged it have about 1.3 volts so its 5.2 volts

gcrdcn (author)2011-08-04

Forget about using the "old" energizer batteries, they will discharge themselves in a week. Get the newer "Pre-charged" ones, Sanyo Eneloop or those called low self-discharge

ARJOON (author)2010-03-29

hey don't do it like this it will fry your devices guys. it don't have any regulator and filter. also it woulf be good to have an led

cegu (author)ARJOON2011-01-29

How can you use filter on DC. Regulating from 6V down with non NiMh maybe (but as he said, put a diode there, lowers the voltage). But not enough voltage will not harm the device.

Vanila (author)2011-01-07

Will this work with the new iPod Touch 4? *I dont want to ruin a relativly new ipod that was bought by the money I earned by working

grimrencher (author)2010-12-14

wouldn't the 4xAA's give you 6v power? 1.5v x 4? i thought usbs only could use 5v max

sharlston (author)grimrencher2010-12-27

My energizers are 1.2 volt each

elyk0312 (author)2010-06-18

Well, i have a project to look forward to now. I just bought a bluepack iPod backup battery for 10 bucks, but this definitely has more uses than simply charging an ipod. Here's an idea: use something slightly larger than an altiods can, and possible add slots for firewire as well. Btw, very nice and stylish final product.

peterjt (author)2010-04-25

hey i have built something like this and if you can get a 4 AA batt pack at like radioshack it will fit with minimal perswasion, then bend back into place, and also unfortunately this design will not charge an ipod touch or newer ipods.

j0n4h (author)2010-02-27

 This just seems too good to be true. I thought you had to add resistors to the white and green wires for the iPod to charge?

Does anyone have any info if this charges a 2G iPod Touch?

SLKestrel (author)2007-05-31

Hey! awesome, but where can I find that motherboard bracket port or w.e? does it have to be a single port, and will anything (with possibly multiple ports) off of ebay work? thanks a lot-- my computer battery is so weak >.

dlosoccer10 (author)SLKestrel2010-01-20

 i found mine in a computer and i think it should work with a multiple ports.

pancho del rancho (author)2009-08-12

can we use a extension cord cuz that haz a usb port

 you can but it holds very little voltage so it will take for ever to charge your ipod. plus its going to be very difficult to find a battery that has such little voltages.

computo (author)2010-01-07

hmmmmm........ (thinking...) k... PROBLEM... my ipod died. . . (sob sob, charges it, i think this is why i need this.)

computo (author)2010-01-07

Dat Color is Black... LOL                                                                                                Q

Serious note: I like it so far but im having second thoughts about the voltage and amprage... hmmm (dont wanna explode my electronics... im thinking of using it for my ipod touch)

computo (author)2010-01-07

i like instructables with jokes... LOL                                                      Q

Zem (author)2009-08-08

Couldn't you take a 4 AA battery holder, and do the same thing?

oOANOo (author)2009-08-05

in German are just peppermint xD

mason0190 (author)2008-06-13

ya cinnamon is good. once i went to a christmas rummage sale and got a cinnamon man. it looked and smelled like cinnamon so CHOMP!!! I soon figured out it was wood.

Briguy9 (author)mason01902009-07-13

ouch. lol.

jdmike13 (author)2009-06-24

I gotta old ps2 with usb ports any way i can take parts off that to make this?

ray916mn (author)2009-06-13

Great idea! My total cost of parts including the Altoids was under $5. A shortcut to making the battery holder is to get a 4 battery holder, cut it in half and file the two resulting edges down a bit. Glue the two halves in. A lot less gluing, a lot less hassle to get the holder to fit in the tin.

maerko (author)2009-06-09

Can i charge an ipod touch with this thing? Will it charge the device, or it will only support the power to it?

Retro349 (author)2009-06-04


nick1987 (author)2009-06-04

can use this to charge 4x aa batteries?

2115476 (author)2008-02-06

I just built a charger using 4 "AA" NiMH batteries (4.8 volts) and a USB plug. It works fine on my 2g Nano, but not on my son's 3g Nano. Does anyone know why, and how to make it work on the 3g Nano? After some research, I connected a 10k ohm resistor between the D- and 5v wires, and another one between the D+ and GND. That did not work. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated, either here or by direct e-mail ( Thanks in advance for any help.

it_dont_work (author)21154762009-06-02

you need to put the resistor between the data pins of the usb. and use a voltage regulator. should work after that

Sitnalta (author)21154762008-02-06

Methinks the voltage is a little too low. I'm able to charge my 3G iPod for a little while, but once the voltage drops below 4.7, it stops. Really this thing is designed for high-load USB-powered devices- such as a hard drive. I've even powered fans, LED laptop lights (very handy), and even at one point a USB hub. However the iPods appear to be very finicky, and require more managed voltages.

2115476 (author)Sitnalta2008-02-06

It seems to work with my 2g Nano. I wonder if Apple did something with the circuitry in the 3g that would require other components. I took the iPod computer cable and plugged the 2g into a usb cig lighter plug and it works. I then tried it with the 3g and it didn't. My guess is that the plug converts the 12v car power to 5v at the usb port. I use this for my handheld gps and my palm Zire 31 with no problems.

About This Instructable




More by Sitnalta:How to get your iPod to charge with your homemade charger.Convert an ATX Power Supply Into a Regular DC Power Supply!Build a 4 x AA USB Altoids Battery
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