Introduction: Joule Thief LED Night Light

Picture of Joule Thief LED Night Light

I have many used batteries around. Remote controls, cameras, many electronic gadgets all use batteries, mostly AA size. I always felt guilty for throwing away the used batteries. I know there are rechargeable batteries, but many electronics don't work well with rechargeables.

I also know that those "used" or "spent" batteries usually have some juice left in them. So to come up with a good use of used batteries, I've created a LED night light.

I like having a little night light on when I sleep. LEDs are perfect for this purpose, because they are energy efficient, and good at providing low intensity illumination.

This LED night light operates with just one battery. It utilizes a little circuit called Joule Thief to boost voltage out of an AA battery. I also added a light sensor to turn it on automatically when the surrounding is dark.

The circuit is energy efficient, and requires very low voltage to work. So it effectively sucks every bit of energy out of batteries. This type of circuit is often called "Joule Thief", because it works as though stealing every bit of energy (Joule is a unit for energy) out of battery.

I'm calling this project Night Joule Thief.

*The kit purchasing info can be found here:

Step 1: Features

Here are the highlights of the Night Joule Thief.

  • Compact & streamlined design
  • Uses only one AA battery (or any 1.5V battery you can hook up to)
  • Easily adaptable to different size batteries - hook up holes to attach home made clips
  • Two white LEDs
  • Automatic turn on via a light sensor (adjustable sensitivity level)
  • Energy efficient - works even with a run-down battery, down to 0.6V
  • Choice of through-hole only components or SMD - mix & match on the same PCB

Step 2: Technical Overview

Picture of Technical Overview

"Joule Thief" circuit is an inductor based voltage booster circuit to light LEDs with low supply voltage. As most of you know LEDs need higher than 2V (3V for white LEDs), so usually at least two batteries are needed to light them. The "Joule Thief" circuit was published in 1999 and has been quite popular. You can see the principle of the circuit here.

My version is a variation that uses single coil inductor, to make the inductor easily obtainable. I designed the circuit using readily available parts only, to make it an ideal DIY project.


The L1, Q2, Q3, C1, R2, and LEDs D1 & D2 make the Joule Thief. And the Q1, and the rest of the parts form the light sensor. CdS is the device that actually senses the light and change its resistance accordingly. When the surrounding of CdS is bright, it has low resistance (anywhere around 1k to 3k ohm), and when the surrounding is dark, the resistance goes up to 100k to 3M ohm range. So in this circuit, the base voltage of Q1 is controlled by the ambient light level. When the base voltage of Q1 goes more than 0.6V below the power supply(battery) voltage, current goes through R1, turning the Joule Thief circuit on.

The Joule Thief circuit is boosting the battery voltage up to over 6V to light two LEDs in series. LEDs light up with the battery voltage as low as 0.6V! Amazing!

PCB layout can be downloaded as an editable PDF, so you can etch your own board if you like. Custom 2 layer PCB and kit are available for sale as well. The 2 layer PCBs have extra front pads for SMD where possible, so you can build the same circuit with SMD parts as you wish.

Parts List
1x CdS Photoresistor (rated 3k - 0.3M ohm) (CDS1)
1x 1k ohm (R1)
1x 100k ohm (R2)
1x 10k ohm (R3)
1x 50k ohm trim pot (VR1)
1x 22pF (C1)
1x 470uH (L1) (anywhere between 22 - 470uH would work - might have to reduce the C1 value however)
1x 2N5401 or equivalent (Q1) (or just about any general purpose PNP transistor, such as PN2907, 2N3906, etc...)
2x MPSA06 or equivalent (Q2, Q3) (or just about any general purpose NPN transistor, such as PN2222A, 2N3904, 2N4400, etc...)
2x LED (D1, D2) (Just about any LEDs can be used)
2x Battery Clips

Step 3: Assembly

Picture of Assembly

The assembly is very straight forward. Insert the parts into the PCB, and solder them. Start with smaller components, follow the order listed below.

Parts List (in assembly order)
1x 1k ohm (Brown - Black - Red - Gold) (R1)
1x 100k ohm (Brown - Black - Yellow - Gold) (R2)
1x 10k ohm (Brown - Black - Orange - Gold) (R3)
1x CdS Photoresistor (rated 3k - 0.3M ohm) (CDS1)
1x 50k ohm trim pot (VR1)
1x 22pF (C1)
1x 470uH (L1)
1x 2N5401 or equivalent (Q1)
2x MPSA06 or equivalent (Q2, Q3)
2x LED (D1, D2)
2x Battery Clips

Transistors and LEDs have polarities, so make sure to insert them in the correct orientation. Battery holders need a bit of force to snap into the holes. They attach from the back side of PCB as you can see in the picture.

Once everything is soldered in place, double check the part placement, orientation and solder joints. Then insert a battery. The polarity is marked on the front side of PCB.
If you don't see the LEDs light up, don't worry. The room is probably too bright. Take a piece of black paper or tape and block the light from hitting CdS light sensor. (and/or darken the room) If the LEDs still don't come on, turn the trimmer (the little orange thing) with a screw driver, counter clockwise. This makes the sensor less sensitive to light, so the LEDs will come on by just placing the sensor under shade, or turning off the room light.

View the step by step pictures of assembly here:

Step 4: Performance

Picture of Performance

This little night light performs very well. For starters, the brightness is not bad for using just one AA battery. I've been using these as flashlights as well.

The light sensor also works very well. Once adjusted, the light is steadily off during the day, even when you put the sensor under shade. Only when you block the sensor by a black object, the light would turn on. Yet after dusk, the light would come on when you turn off the room light.

A fresh battery lasts for weeks if only used as a night light. And the best use of this light is to "revive" used batteries. Those batteries from remote controls, cameras, etc. usually have quite a bit of juice left in them. Joule Thief sucks the juice out of those batteries till the last drop. It's like getting free energy when you can use something that were going to be thrown out.

Step 5: PCB & Kit

Picture of PCB & Kit

If you are handy, you can etch your own PCB, and build this night light entirely DIY.

However, to spread the goodness of Joule Thief and to contribute to the greener earth, I am putting together the PCB & kit available.

The details can be found here:


NelioA (author)2017-07-09


How many LED's can I connect with this circuit?

I'm planning to connect 12 LED's. What changes do I have to do?


Best Regards


iwoodinspire (author)NelioA2017-10-07

He hasn't been on this thread for a pretty long time! He engineered it specifically for 2 LED's. You might check out another 'ible:

Granted the more LED's you put in this circuit, the shorter the battery life. This circuit boosts the voltage to use a battery longer, but of course doesn't prolong actual amp-hours available from the battery. 1 battery can power 1 LED for weeks, but 12 LED's would be way less time. :)

aequanimitas made it! (author)2017-08-05

The battery is attracted to the magnet, so you can stick it to any metal object, even to the nail on the ceiling.

Thank you for schematic and sharing :)

HirenP17 (author)2017-03-15

i tried by my self by joining circuit on bread board. but it is not working please help me.

as i am connecting the supply LED glows on and does not effect with the LDR.

please help.

FergieBaird (author)HirenP172017-04-09

--scientists-- (author)2016-05-14

Very good project thanks for sharing

jashchro (author)2015-09-11

I am wondering whether a motion detector added to this circuit...

vineeshc99 (author)2015-09-10

Hi, i wanted to know if i could use a rechargeable battery and solar panel with this circuit, so that we can make it to run for long time. if possible please specify the voltage rating for the solar panel.

Nice work and please keep posting good work.

Implicate_Order (author)2015-04-15

When the led lights up, it doesn't affect the light sensor?

Not under normal use - those clear LEDs project light forward, so the light doesn't hit the light sensor. But if you have a reflective object near by, you can see the LEDs dim as their light hits the sensor.

MichelleO5 (author)2015-06-20

Does it have a block diagram?

elicitone made it! (author)2014-04-17

I bought the kite and it was shipped wicked fast... Took me about 30 mins to assemble it and it worked right off the bat. I put a 'Dead' battery that I pulled out of the garbage (it was in my cordless mouse) and it powered it over night and is still going just as bright.

Now i am going to try building one from scratch.

Thanks again... This one will go in a custom etched Sun Jar for my Girlfrind !!!

ledartist (author)elicitone2014-04-17

Great to hear the success story! It's amazing how much juice those "dead" batteries still have.

rupin.chheda (author)2014-01-04

The PDF should be printed on what size of paper? Letter or A4? Does it matter?

douglas marcelo (author)2013-12-29

ñ deu certo aki eu coloquei um bc548 entre o negativo e liguei no capacitor cerâmico, o LDR coloquei na base e liguei no resistor de 1k

douglas marcelo (author)2013-12-29

Essse circuito e tão leve que eu coloquei na minha pipa com uma pilha recarregável voou de boa vlw pelo circuito

manuka (author)2011-09-04

Very neatly done! However perhaps instead consider hacking a solar garden lamp ? Most of these now use a 4 lead "quadistor" that'll simplify your circuitry!

ledartist (author)manuka2011-09-06

I'm aware of that IC, but can't find anywhere to purchase. (except taking it out of a garden light) Do you have a source?

Also, that IC won't work with this project because it uses the solar panel as a light sensor...


manuka (author)ledartist2011-09-10

Simply source them from cheap Solar Garden Lamps ! These things are a parts goldmine anyway- for ~$2 you get a PV,NiMH/NiCd cell, a switch,battery holder,inductor & the "quadistor" circuitry!

neuromonkey (author)manuka2013-02-21

I bought a few of these, only to find that the IC is a SMD, potted onto the board. Drat. There are 8 traces that run under the potting glob, so no clear answers. There are only 3 resistors and two caps, no Schottky and no inductor.

I think I"ll buy a kit from ledartist!

manuka (author)ledartist2011-09-09

Just grab ZE002 from a solar garden lamp -for just a few $ these lamps are a parts goldmine !

iwoodinspire (author)2012-12-14

Hey, I'm noticing the inductor has a much longer lead on one side. Does this mean I need to worry about its orientation on the board? I'm probably just being overly cautious, but want to make sure.

ledartist (author)iwoodinspire2012-12-14

Inductor orientation doesn't matter for this circuit.


fejfish (author)2012-10-16

You can buy something that does the same thing for less than £1 with the added advantage that it contains a solar panel to recharge the included NiCd or NiMH cell during daylight. It,s called a solar garden light!

ledartist (author)fejfish2012-10-17

It is amazing what a mass production can do... However where's fun in just buying things? Building things with your own hands and learning from the process - isn't that the DYI spirit?

Dave Kruschke (author)2012-09-27

I've read where there are a few people that seemed to be highly focused on a narrow definition of Joule Thief. But isn't the main focus here intended to be on electronics rather than grammar or semantics? Besides, the meanings of names often change over time. Like, "I'm using a mouse to operate my computer even though we don't live with mice and I'm not really computing anything. Surely using these words this way isn't seriously confusing or worth fussing over. If something acts almost exactly like a "Joule Thief," why default to a more general term like Voltage Converter, etc...

Not only that, I'm rather biased with by the work of ledartist since I successfully used part of his circuit (diode and cap) to get my particular IC and inductor only "Joule Thief" to work with a flashing, multicoloured LED. Otherwise, I wasn't able to get this flashing LED to work with my circuit - see "Joule Thief" circuits, crude to modern...

colin55 (author)2012-08-11

Here's a Joule Thief with 10 LEDs on a 9v battery:

The inductor is simply a nut and bolt. It works just as efficiently as a ferrite core and it's easy to find.

rush_elixir (author)colin552012-09-21

Good day, can you please give illustration on how to wind the wires on the bolt and in which part did you joined the wire to make it out of phase. I would like to make one like this from above pictures. Thank you so much.

waynevanwijk (author)2012-06-15

Today I put together the first of the kits that I bought. For an electronics newbie like myself identifying each pert with a picture would have made life easier. Anyway, I managed to use the photos in the instructable to get it right. The thing does not work for me though. I have checked everything twice and still nothing. I even wrapped the battery in paper in case it's housing was shortening out the circuit. Still nothing. My only thought is that part L1 (470uH) is polarity sensitive. One pin was shorter than the other but there was nothing in the instructions to indicate that it should go in a certain way. Before I start desoldering can you tell me if this is likely to be the cause.

Thanks, Wayne.

I feel so foolish - the problem was not the circuit but the power supply. 3 out of 3 batteries that I tried it with were all dead flat. It is all sorted now. Hooray!

ledartist (author)waynevanwijk2012-06-16

Ha! Congrats anyway!

ledartist (author)waynevanwijk2012-06-15

Hello Wayne,

Inductors don't have polarity par-se, but they indicate the polarity in terms of magnetic field. Only matters when you have two or more inductors sitting close together.
So if your unit is not working, please check other things, such as;
- polarity of LEDs
- correct transistors - Q1 and Q2/3 are different
- resistor values
- quality of solder joints (open or short to adjacent pads).

Did you look at this i'ble?

Lastly, make sure to test your unit in a very dark place. Also test with the trimmer turn to the both extremes.

Good luck,

Tinkerteem (author)2012-01-03


pongpak (author)2011-10-19

Is ti possible to bypass the CdS cell and Potentiometer with a switch. Would I have to change the resistance of R3

ledartist (author)pongpak2011-10-19

That's pretty simple. Just leave the CdS out, and put a switch where the pot was. See the PCB image with note.
No need to change R3.


rainbowrider42 (author)ledartist2011-10-26

or is there any possibility that i can buy your circuit board here in the Philippines? have you distributed already your circuit board in the market? please help me get one of it. thanks a lot.

ledartist (author)rainbowrider422011-10-27


Yes you can purchase the PCBs. Please see the pricing/details here:

rainbowrider42 (author)ledartist2011-10-26

hello. My name Is MJ Laurel. Actually I am from the Philippines. I m an avid fun of DIY projects at instructables. but I am fascinated more with your bright idea of using used batteries through your Joules circuit, I would like to know how much is the cost of your Joules circuit board. I really want to assemble one but I do need a circuit board. I got a little knowledge about electronics but i know how to read the instructions and the circuitry. Is it possible for me to get one of your circuit board? how much it will cost for me? I do hope you will reply me. thank you so much for this very bright idea.

ledartist (author)ledartist2011-10-19

You can also leave out Q1 and put a switch between battery positive and R1.

jimengn01 (author)2011-09-30

I think this is a great idea, I have a project I am working on and need someone to help me design a prototype PCB board. I am willing to pay once the non discloser and non competes are signed....... Great job !!

ledartist (author)jimengn012011-09-30

Sounds good. Let me know when you are ready!


jimengn01 (author)ledartist2011-09-30

Aki, I am ready, I am new to this forum, we need to be able to communicate outside this forum, how do you suggest we do that, are we able to exchange data here ??

ledartist (author)jimengn012011-09-30

I will PM you.

jimengn01 (author)ledartist2011-09-30

lol now i feel dumb ! PM ??

ledartist (author)jimengn012011-09-30

You can send personal message via profile page. I already sent you one, so you will get it.


blinkyblinky (author)2011-09-24


rachl009 (author)2011-09-23

Hi, I just got the kit in the mail today and started to solder it together, but the 50k ohm trim pot only has three legs, nothing in the I missing something?

rachl009 (author)rachl0092011-09-23

Ahhh never mind, it works!

ledartist (author)rachl0092011-09-23

Great! Thanks!

ledartist (author)rachl0092011-09-23

You're not missing anything. There is an extra hole there to accommodate different type of trim pot, so please ignore that hole.

I just wanted to design the PCB to be as versatile as possible...


About This Instructable




Bio: I am an electronic artist living in Brooklyn, NY. I work with LEDs and microcontrollers to create beautiful objects.
More by ledartist:Joule Thief Filament LampT962A SMD Reflow Oven Fix/HackColor Organ Triple Deluxe II
Add instructable to: