Introduction: Jar Lantern

The Jar Lantern is a contemporary take on the traditional gas lantern. It was inspired by seeing sunlight refract through my glass water bottle one afternoon, and thinking to myself that it was a bit like carrying a jar full of light. This brief moment of illumination sparked something in my mind that made me wonder how I could capture this experience more permanently.

While trying to bottle light may be a fool's task, I could at least try to recreate the sense of magic I had briefly experienced. After mulling over various methods of accomplishing this, I decided to make a jar with an illuminated floating light bulb. The beauty of this seemingly impossible object is that the light bulb has no clear power source, yet it seems so natural and familiar. The Jar Lantern tends to leave people both taken and dumbfounded by its simplicity.

Step 1: Go Get Stuff

You will need:

(x1) Jar**
(x1) CFL Bulb
(x1) Disposable camera
(x1) AA battery holder
(x1) Switch
(x1) Roll of magnet wire

**You can get jars with lids online, but only by the dozen from Daiso.

Step 2: Open the Disposable Camera

Open up the disposable camera case. Be mindful not to touch the large capacitor which could potentially give you a nice jolt.

Step 3: Cut Away the Capacitor and Flash

Discharge the capacitor by bridging the leads with a long screwdriver that you don't care much for. Be careful not to be touching the metal part of the screwdriver while doing this. Once discharged, cut it from the board so that it will not recharge.

Also, cut the flash tube away from the circuit board.

Step 4: Hack a CFL

Use a pair of diagonal cutting pliers to make a hole in the plastic body of a CFL bulb.

Next, use this hole to insert a screwdriver and gently pry the the base apart from the glass tube.

Finally, unwind the CFL tube's wires from the posts on the circuit board.

Step 5: Bridge the Switch

Remove the push tab atop the flash charge switch.

Solder the switch's terminals together.

Step 6: Prep the CFL Bulb

Scrape the coating off the wires coming out of the CFL bulb using a razor blade.

Twist the wires together and tin them with solder.

Step 7: Remove Extra Parts

Remove any parts the stick out from the board such as battery terminals. However, remember to make note of which terminals on the underside of the board they are connected to for future reference.

I also removed the wire connecting the top of the trigger transformer to the flash tube for the heck of it.

Step 8: Trim the Circuit Board

Trim away any corners that have unnecessary electronic traces (or no traces at all).

Step 9: Prep the Magnet Wire

Strip away 1/2" of plastic coating from both ends of two 3" pieces of magnet wire using a razor blade.

Step 10: Hack a Camera Flash

Now is time to connect the wires to the board that will power the light.

Solder the first magnet wire to one of the terminals connected to the ground plane.

Solder the other wire to the terminal of the inverting transformer that the diode is connected to.

*** If you are confused, a more hands on way of figuring this out is to use aligator clip jumper cables to connect the battery to the board. The board should now be live, so be careful of high voltages!

Using another cable, connect one of the bulbs leads to ground. Finally, connect a fourth cable to the other battery lead. Briefly touch this wire to various spots on the board until the bulb lights up. Once its lit, you have found the proper connection. ***

Step 11: Connect a Switch

Trim the battery holder's red wire in half. Solder the trimmed pieces to the center terminal of the switch and the red wire still connected to the battery holder to the switch's outer terminal.

Step 12: Drill the Lid

Drill a 3/16" hole near the outer part of the lid for mounting the switch.

Step 13: Mount the Switch

Pass the switch up through the underside of the lid and lock it in place with its mounting nut.

Step 14: Connect Power to the Camera Flash

Solder the red wire from the switch to the spot on the camera flash circuit board where the positive terminal of the battery was connected.

Solder the black wire to ground.

Step 15: Hot Glue

While I am not normally a fan of hot glue, it is the perfect adhesive for connecting the circuit board and battery holder to the inside of the lid.

Center them inside the lid and then glue them in place as flush to the lid as possible.

Use a generous amount of glue, but be mindful of not getting any on the lid's inner edge, or it will no longer twist shut.

Step 16: Connect the Bulb

Solder one of the magnet wires to each of the CFL bulb's leads.

Step 17: Insert the Battery

Insert the battery into the battery holder.

Step 18: Twist On

Twist the lid onto the jar.

Step 19: Power!

If the lantern is not already on, power it up by flicking the switch.

Step 20: Illuminate the Darkness

Go forth and make good use of your new lantern.


sdfgeoff made it! (author)2017-01-17

I put a tilt-switch in mine so when it's this way up it's on and to turn it off you turn it over.

I also didn't have a camera flash circuit, so I used one from an electric flyswat.

MichaelJ212 made it! (author)MichaelJ2122017-01-24

Love This!!!

randofo made it! (author)randofo2017-01-18

Nice mods! Did you have to alter the electric flyswatter circuit at all, or were you able to run it off of the connections to the wire mesh?

MichaelJ212 made it! (author)MichaelJ2122017-01-24

Love it!!

sdfgeoff made it! (author)sdfgeoff2017-01-18

You do have to alter the circuit, you have to remove a capacitor and a diode. There's a nice writeup about the mod here:

mlocke made it! (author)2016-02-20

Got the circuit working. I just need to find a jar to put it in. Thanks for the clear ible,

Silversalmon made it! (author)2017-03-04

Hi Randofo,

Sorry for delay in getting back to you. I DID manage to get the circuit working and made a really nice jar lantern that works perfectly.Thanks a million for all your help.

Kind regards,


MichaelJ212 made it! (author)2017-01-24

wow, i was actually considering making something like this!!!

Silversalmon made it! (author)2016-07-25

Hi Randofo, Great instructable and excellent work.

Unfortunately,I have been trying to copy this project trying loads of different disposable cameras. when I very carefully cut a brand new working 12 W CFL bulb open it would not light at all. I did get an intact 3.5 LED lamp to light brightly but it's strobing ALL the time at a constant rate (at about 1Hz or slightly less). I can't get it to light continuously no matter where I place the bulb contacts. When I tried another unopened CFL it worked but strobed again, no continuous light. I carefully opened another CFL without breaking the glass. Snipped off the pcb and sanded and paired the 4 wires etc - no joy!I I have tried Kodak, Le Box AgfaFoto Fujifilm etc cameras every which way. Any ideas? I'm in Ireland. Is it possible that all disposable cameras sold in Europe have different circuitry which pulse the high voltage unlike the ones sold in the US? I would have thought that that would be unlikely.
I would be most grateful if you could tell me how I can get a CFL to light continuously. Thanks,

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randofo made it! (author)randofo2016-07-25

I have no idea. Maybe you need a higher watt CFL?

This should pretty much be the same as the flash I am using:

SandiM2 made it! (author)2015-10-22

is kool but for the cost of all that stuff to buy you can get a led light from rejext shop for $5 .. :)

chefranger made it! (author)2015-09-20

Very cool

SamuelA1 made it! (author)2015-03-25

what if i dont have an old camera?

Radkid made it! (author)Radkid2015-08-10

You can use the power supply inside a 3 dollar harbor freight electric fly swatter. Just detach the poly film capacitor.

gravityisweak made it! (author)gravityisweak2015-05-12

NO NO NO , you don't need to buy anything. Walk in to your local CVS, Walgreens or whatever. Go to the photo counter and ask them if you can have some of the old disposable cameras that they are getting rid of because you want to use them for a project. Apparently its fairly common. I did this and walked out with a huge bag of at least 40 cameras inside. Once they remove the film they send them out to be recycled.

stephenmack made it! (author)stephenmack2015-04-19

Those are the disposable cameras, which you can buy just about anywhere for a cheap price.

An example:

stephenmack made it! (author)stephenmack2015-04-19

One more thing; They're mostly sold in 3 packs or so online, so go to a store to buy individual ones.

drosenkranz made it! (author)2015-04-12

thank you for this awesome instructable it took me about 20 min

espdp2 made it! (author)espdp22015-06-25

That is literally the most brilliant twist on this Instructable. I love it.

fda silveira made it! (author)2015-05-07


miked2001 made it! (author)2015-04-28

This was not hard to build but just a tad frustrating.

First: My first camera flash didn't work after I disassembled it so I grabbed another and was much more careful.

Second, I used a high wattage bulb so only half of it lit up. I then doubled the input voltage and voila, It's Alive !!!

Third: The AA batteries did not last very long so I used 'C' cells (I have tons of them with no devices that use them).

Fourth: The bulb was too big for standard mason jar openings. I had this short wide mouth jar that would only house the bulb without the electronics and batteries, hence the box.

It has a nice glow and would be a good sit around and chat light but not very good for reading. I have a low wattage bulb starting to die so I will try again very soon and I plan to make it a solar rechargeable unit.

Thanks randofo for the inspiration

Light.jpgLit up.jpg
Craig M made it! (author)2014-02-21

How long will the batter run the CFL?

What about using an LED bulb?

miked2001 made it! (author)miked20012015-04-20

No, an LED bulb will not work for this. The technology is completely different. The real purpose of this instructable is to re-purpose a dead CFL where the circuit died but the bulb part is still good. In a CFL bulb the voltage is stepped up (300 volts), in an LED bulb the voltage is stepped down (2 to 3 volts).

Hope this helps.

Miramithe made it! (author)Miramithe2015-02-13

The answer to that is a bit complicated, and at the same time not. Ohms law is the answer, but to run those cfl you need a high frequency high voltage and LEDs like low voltage dc, but you can use a joulethief for the LEDs. By theory you could have double battery life on LEDs vs cfl cos cfl have around 50lm/W light output and led can have about 100lm/W.

jimcathers made it! (author)jimcathers2015-02-12

Cool instructable, thanks for sharing OP. I too am curious to know if an LED bulb would be a better choice in terms of battery runtime...maybe the OP hasn't responded because LED bulbs are more difficult to modify? I really don't know...

coryvr03 made it! (author)2014-07-13

Hey Guys, i am having an issue getting the bulb to light. I am an extreme beginner into the electronics world. i have tried two bulbs and two different styles of disposable camera boards. What is the desired voltage at the end of the magnet wires? I place my volt meter across the two wires and i get 295v with one board and 360v when i use the other board. Any ideas what i am missing? is there a special type of CFL i should be using? Any help would is greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

miked2001 made it! (author)miked20012015-04-20

If you could post some pictures we might be able to see something you missed. The only thing that comes to mind at the moment is that the bulbs are bad. If you cracked the seal on the tube it won;t work. What is the voltage when the bulb is connected? I had to use 3 volts to get mine to light.

Miramithe made it! (author)Miramithe2015-02-13

Search joulethief and look at solar powered garden lights, there you have some nice beginner circuits.

neopolitan made it! (author)neopolitan2015-02-12

this is no way a project for an extreme beginner. try low voltage leds or timer circuits

catfisher81 made it! (author)2015-02-13

could one of those cheap solar yard lights be used to charge the battery during the day? maybe somehow mount the solar panel to the top?

miked2001 made it! (author)miked20012015-04-20

Hey, you stole my idea :)

I did think of that because I have a few of those lights for just such experiments. The only problem I am having is my light needs 3 volts to light the bulb so it would eat up two solar panels.

ranger_steve made it! (author)ranger_steve2015-02-13

Sounds like a good idea! Might as well give it a try and post up your results

JohnS55 made it! (author)2015-04-13

Great project and I built one but my bulb doesn't seem to light up all the way. It only lights up the top bar and the rest is dark. Using 1 AA Battery anyone know how to fix?

ArduinoDeXXX made it! (author)2015-03-24

Thank you for your Instructable. I have tried it
using stuff gotten in Japan. It requires some changes from yours to light. I
feel your project is wonderful. I would like to introduce yours with these
changes to Japanese Instriuctables if you don’t mind.

Picture 13.jpg
ArduinoDeXXX made it! (author)ArduinoDeXXX2015-04-04

I used a circuit board of FUJI instead of KODAK. And I added 5-step-dimmer to it. The lantern based on yours has been posted to Japanese site of instructables.

Machine translation of web browser might help you to read it.

LiamOSM made it! (author)2014-10-30

I lookedall over the dollar store for a plastic jar but couldn't find one. I had to use a glass jar with a metal lid, but that wasn't a problem because thee are no wires touching the lid. The only thing I had to purchase was the tiny switch, so it was totally woth it! Also I didn't use the original pcb I just desoldered the transfomer, transistor, and resistor and soldered them together on the transformer. I also didn't use an AA battery holder, to save space I just soldered onto the battery and glued it on the lid.

景吳 made it! (author)景吳2015-02-26

Can you teach me?

Cheney Cheung made it! (author)Cheney Cheung2015-02-13

so beautiful!

景吳 made it! (author)2015-02-25

I can use alternatives to complete it anyway?

A complete circuit of it?

mgingerich made it! (author)2015-02-23

cain2622 made it! (author)2015-02-13

FugiFilm, sorry

cain2622 made it! (author)2015-02-13

I used a fug film disposable camera and learned that it only puts out about 150 volts. I compensated by using 2 AA 's. Works great, thanks.

waraji made it! (author)2015-02-13

Fun project, but you should give a mercury warning. Since you haven't, I will:

Be careful regarding potential CFL bulb breakage. The mercury danger is real. Mercury poisoning is no fun.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality refers to this PDF for cleanup instructions. Don't vacuum!
Vacuuming spreads the contamination. Read this PDF.

KingW1 made it! (author)2015-02-13

If you do not how to do this board

customboss made it! (author)2015-02-12

Awesome idea and instructable!

Dop13 made it! (author)2015-02-12

This is a nice instructable. I am going to mak one!

akarod79 made it! (author)2015-02-12

Thanks, awesome idea. I was looking for a nice easy project to do with my son since he's been learning about electronic circuits in school. This will be perfect!

ggrookett made it! (author)2015-02-12

This looks like a great project going to try this sometime with hopefully the same great results you got.

BurgersBytes made it! (author)2014-02-16

For those who would prefer to make their own circuit board, I found all of the parts here:

All you need is the following:

1- XFT-5383-1.5v works with just one battery

1- 2SD882 transistor pin out normally ECB

1- 1K resistor

The CFL board I found also had a transformer about the same size so conceivably the round circuit board could be adapted to hold the 300 volt circuit.. If my calculations are correct, I can make one with a CP300H battery that should last about an hour. I can charge it through the base too.

pmck made it! (author)pmck2015-02-12

cool, Ill use this and let you know how it works

About This Instructable




Bio: My name is Randy and I founded the Instructables Design Studio. I'm also the author of the books 'Simple Bots,' and '62 Projects to ... More »
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