Introduction: LED Tilt Light Box

Picture of LED Tilt Light Box
This instructable will show you how to make a simple circuit board with a mercury switch (tilt switch) and LEDs, and then a little wooden box with a window to put it in.

Step 1: Parts Needed, and Where I Got Them

Picture of Parts Needed, and Where I Got Them

Alright so here is the list of materials that are needed for this project, everything can be found at local stores but online is cheaper...

Wooden Box (found at Micheal's arts and crafts)

Project board (I bought at, also at Fry's Electronics)

LEDs (I bought at, also at Fry's Electronics)

Resistors for my project I used 150 ohm resistors, but whichever kind you need for your LEDs, how I have found out is by going to which is a LED calculator, you plug in your information and it tells you the array and what resistors to use. (I bought at, also at Fry's Electronics)

Mercury Switch (found at Fry's Electronics, but I am sure Radio shack has them too)

9V Battery plug (found at Fry's Electronics, but I am sure Radio shack has them too)

9V Battery (found just about everywhere)

Fogged hard plastic (Home depot, Lowe's)

Step 2: Making the Wooden Box

Picture of Making the Wooden Box

First you need to decide the size of window you want, I just ended up going half inch in on all sides, in this part you can get as creative as you want, you can cut different size holes, maybe in quarters so there is four windows, however you want to do it....

So I marked my cuts with a pencil then used a drill and drilled some holes big enough to fit my little saw blade into. I have a hack saw blade that I used for this, but if you have a jig saw it would be much faster. So just cut out the shape you want on the front of the box, once cut out, don't forget to do a little sanding to make sure everything is looks good!

After the hole is cut out, measure the inside of the box and then mark the dimensions on the Fogged hard plastic. Then proceed to cut out the Plastic so a nice square will fit right into the top of the box. To attache the piece of plastic I used double sided tape, but you can used glue or whatever you choose.

Step 3: Making the Circuit Board

Picture of Making the Circuit Board

Alright so here we go with the solder of the circuit board. It is kind of hard to explain in words so I took pictures and made a diagram of how the circuit works... Some things to know before starting the soldering.

Make sure not to solder the LEDs really close to the board, you do need room to bend them outward, if you don't bend them outward then you will get big spots, and not a nice defused light.

Do the same thing with the Mercury switch, you will need to bend that so it will turn on and off at the angles you want them to.

With the Resistors I DID solder them so they were on the board, you don't want those to get in the way or break off, so keep those nice and clean.

On the underside of the circuit board you can see I just laid rows of solder instead of adding wire to connect each component, it doesn't matter how you want to do it, I chose this way because it looks nice and clean when it is all done.

Step 4: Installing the Circuit Board

Picture of Installing the Circuit Board

Alright so the last step, putting the circuit board and the battery into the box. This part is nothing fancy, for mounting the circuit board all I did was use some electrical tape and fold it into a loop with the sticky side out and and placed two of those loops on the back of the board and stuck it into the box. As far as the battery, I just used double sided tape and stuck it against the wall... my original idea was to actually mount the board with some screws so it is suspended a little of the wood, but I just didn't have the time to finish that part :)

Step 5: Finally DONE!!

Picture of Finally DONE!!

Alright so now it all works! When it is standing up the LEDs should be on, and when you lay them on their backs they should turn off, please let me know if you have any questions, and please if you make one of these or a variation of them let me know, and or show off a picture of them! Thank you for taking a look, and I hope this explained it good enough!


Scooley01 (author)2012-07-19

I had an idea to do multiple colors with separate switches so that rotating the box 90 degrees would have the effect of changing the color (I see a few others have mentioned that on the comments here).

My original thought was to use 3 tilt sensors in a triangular orientation so that two will always be off...however, when I actually did a drawing with the box around the triangle, I can't seem to come up with an orientation where one of the switches doesn't end up horizontal. It's my understanding that the horizontal tilt switch may or may not stay it possible to orient 3 tilt switches in such a way that only one of them is ever on at a time?

DiyProjects (author)2011-01-10

i used rgbs it looks way cooler.

RGB LED's are a good idea too, but depending on what look you are going for it might not be the best choice for everyone.

Glad you liked the project enough to build one! Thanks for the comment, but in the future please try not to put people's instructables down, thank you.

Verathia (author)2009-04-02

Mines basically done, but I'm waiting for the 9v battery plug to get here. :) I'll be doing the same thing as you circuit-wise, but instead of a square on the top, I'm cutting out someone's name with a scroll saw. :)

seligtobiason (author)Verathia2009-04-07

NICE! that sounds very cool, when you finish up you should post a picture, I would love to see it!

Verathia (author)seligtobiason2009-05-05

Actually, I seem to be out of replacement blades for my scroll saw... so I ended up doing this:

The box isn't quite done yet... but I have the basic part of it done.

seligtobiason (author)Verathia2011-05-03

That looks really cool, I like the creativity with the box!

ElectrokV (author)2011-04-24

A couple of suggestions: 1. ALUMINUM DUCT TAPE TO REFLECT LIGHT (found at most hardware stores) - It can be used for about any LED or lighting project like this. [WARNING: THIS IS METAL AND CAN SHORT ELECTRICAL CIRCUITS! SO, INSTALL IT CAREFULLY AND INSULATE ANY WIRING TO PREVENT IT TOUCHING THE TAPE! THIS IS ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT IN ANY DESIGN THAT USES HIGHER VOLTAGES AND POWER. IT CAN BE A FIRE OR PERSONNEL HAZARD. I RECOMMEND USING SOMETHING LIKE SCOTCH 33+ ELECTRICAL TAPE (600 V / wrap insulating capability) TO INSULATE USUALLY EXPOSED WIRING ANYWHERE NEAR THIS TO REDUCE SHORTING POSSIBILITIES!!!] (You don't want to short out and ruin any circuit anyway) - - -  The idea is to stick the very reflective tape inside boxes like the ones used in this and other experiments behind the LEDs to get more of your light output to shine through the translucent film.  You could just get some construction paper or other non-conducting material and size it to fit the length/width of the box and stick the tape to it and put holes around the LEDs and place it between the circuit board and the LEDs (remembering to insulate the LED leads from the aluminum tape). - - - - I've used this tape in many lighting projects to increase light output and it works fine.

2. I had this in mind before seeing Mr. Bond having the same idea - Experiment by adding more mercury switches and having arrays of various colored LEDs so once the box is upright and on, you can move the box to the other sides and the mercury switches can be setup to turn off one color and turn on another. So, you could have green when the box is on one side, move 90 degrees and it will turn red, move another 90 degrees and it can be blue, and so on.  AND, it's rather easy to break glass mercury switches and the stuff is toxic and almost impossible to clean up, so the switches that use the rolling balls is a good idea!

teoeva (author)2009-09-15

oh my god, I have this project on my notebook for a year ... and I never realized ... how about applying this concept ... the cube? Put a cube with 5 internal cardboard for 5 different color (the sixth side to switch it off) depending on whose side you will support it a different color ...

Saotome (author)teoeva2010-02-10

heh, weird.
I've been planning to do that exact thing for quite a few months now but never taken the time.
I was thinking about making the cube out of clear acrylic and putting white paper on the inside.
I was gonna use pretty bright LED's (one or two for each color turned toward each side of the cube) and use ping pong balls cut in half to try to disperse the light evenly over the interior surface. 

rosswinky (author)2009-03-21

would it be possible to do it so instead of turning of and on it changes colour

I would think so. A combo of colors for LEDs and four (or what ever your needs are) mercury switches, each in a different operational position. Turn the box, the currently on mercury switch shuts off and another turns on. You could do a 16-sided box with mercury switches for each side.

Verathia (author)shamanwhitewolf2009-03-23

I think that would work, but it wouldn't be a smooth fade because the light turn on and off instantaneously. Still sounds fun to try. :)

ryukyu (author)Verathia2009-04-02

You can add a capacitor in parallel with the LED and the sinking resistor. That should give you some fade.

shamanwhitewolf (author)Verathia2009-03-24

I didn't think about the smooth fade. That's a good point.

and just have 2 separate circuits? thanks

I was thinking of each mercury switch/LED having its own circuit, sharing the power switch and power source. If you have a lot of sides (especially if fully 3D like a dodecahedron), then multiple lights might be on, depending on how the switches are aligned and the position you put the box in. 20-sided light-box dice, anyone??

Verathia (author)shamanwhitewolf2009-03-24

Ohhh, I want to try a 6 sided box with fogged glass on each side! That would look superb.

polonium9 (author)2009-03-19

can i buy one of your mercury tilt switches?!?!?!!? because i want one for my breadboard experiments and it would be cool to have one

polonium9 (author)seligtobiason2009-03-30

the mercury one is not available to order and the other one does not contain mercury but i knew $1.49 was suspicious, lol.

seligtobiason (author)polonium92009-03-30

Well the mercury switches are something you can purchase at many of the more elaborate electronic stores, I bought mine at Fry's Electronics, but have send them at other places too... There is another kind that doesn't use mercury, but a metal ball (ball bearing) instead, but it achieves the same outcome.

rosswinky (author)2009-03-24

how much is the wooden box and the plastic

seligtobiason (author)rosswinky2009-03-30

Well the wooden box was about $2.99 and the fogged plastic was scraps that I found in my brother in laws garage... but you can get the plastic at home depot for a couple bucks, or you can get some plexi glass and sand it to make it fogged too. Either way pretty in expensive!

seligtobiason (author)2009-03-30

Very nice! Thank you for helping out the crew, I will try to find a place online to get the mercury switch and post it, but that is a great DIY tilt switch!

Verathia (author)2009-03-19

I'm extremely new at this so bear with me: Here's probably the first question of many: I can't seem to find an 9v Battery Plug on Fry's website.

seligtobiason (author)Verathia2009-03-30

I know how it can be with these search engines, its like you need to know the exact name for things, he he he... here is the link for the battery clips/holders. Let me know the rest of your questions, I will do my best to help!

mspark400 (author)2008-09-04

If you were to put four mercury switches inside you could in theory change the color (in rainbow order) by tilting in different directions. I might do that, if that's cool, if i can find the mercury switches. They have become a frowned upon in recent times. cheers, mspark400

wolf555hound (author)mspark4002008-09-05

wait, is it actually filled with mercury?

dg33 (author)wolf555hound2008-09-06

They used to be filled with mercury until they made it safer by putting a metal ball inside them ...

seligtobiason (author)dg332008-09-08

Well actually this one is real Mercury, if you look at the video you can see how it molds around the two metal prongs to complete the circuit, and actually mercury is not as dangerous as people think, especially this small amount.

Spokehedz (author)seligtobiason2008-09-11

Mercury is always dangerous--if exposed to air or skin--in any amount. Just don't break it, and it's fine. the lead in the solder is more likely to kill you than the mercury is. :P (If you are feeling particularly paranoid, wrap it in some heat-shrink tube. Seal the ends with hot glue.)

darthdredge (author)Spokehedz2008-09-11

Mercury is really only dangerous in vapor form or if ingested. The liquid form is only dangerous to babies and very young children. You can break the switch and roll the mercury around in your hand if you want; nothing will happen to you.

Spokehedz (author)darthdredge2008-09-12

Wrong Darth.

I know that Wikipedia isn't a concrete source of information and shouldn't be used--but it was handy.

I do know that mercury is not something that will instantly kill you if you touch it. It builds up in the body and will eventually cause problems. It is like lead in this way, only much more toxic.

But my point was this: Don't Panic. Just know that it isin't something to be taken lightly.

darthdredge (author)Spokehedz2009-02-12

Every time you eat mayonnaise it gets rid of heavy metals (like mercury and lead) from your body because it contains calcium disodium EDTA, which is actually used in treatment for mercury poisoning. And seriously, how many switches do you plan on breaking open? It would take quite a few to build up to a toxic amount.

wolf555hound (author)Spokehedz2008-09-12

yea, im just gunna buy a little ball bearing one. My pops will be happy.

linkaylomen (author)darthdredge2008-09-12

Mercury has a very low melting point meaning at room temp it will be giving off vapour, its damaging to adults and children alike. If you've ever heard the phrase "mad as a hatter" you will probabily know this.

Kydoes (author)linkaylomen2009-02-09

Listen, Mercury is obviously dangerous but it large quantities and prolonged exposure. If you spend everyday of the week rolling balls of Mercury around in your bare hand for hours the Mercury could in fact be absorbed by your skin and potentially cause health issues. On the other hand, if you somehow break one of these switches open and spill it on a table, you wouldn't notice anything strange about your health after you pushed it into your hand and threw it away (In a proper chemical waste container of course). Just don't heat it up and breathe in all the wonderful gases that come off of it.

Spokehedz (author)Kydoes2009-02-10

But the point is, why even expose yourself to it when there are plenty of alternatives that are much easier to find/purchase. I am all for recycling--and as he is using them responsibly, and they are not in a landfill somewhere--this is okay. I just don't want people thinking that it is okay to be exposed to mercury--which it is not--just because it is a tiny amount. It builds over time. Depending on how much you handle it, and how often determines it's effect on you.

darthdredge (author)Spokehedz2009-02-12

There's not much risk in doing this that you'll break it open, and if you do, there's very little danger. Mercury switches also work better and more smoothly than ball switches. And even if you absorb a tiny little bit, it won't do any damage. About it building up, there is the only real threat, and every time you eat mayonnaise it gets rid of heavy metals (like mercury and lead) from your body because it contains calcium disodium EDTA, which is actually used in treatment for mercury poisoning.

ooo, i see now, but my dad would NEVER ever let me even touch it, so ill get the ball bearing one. thanks!

mspark400 (author)dg332008-09-06

some are but some are still mercury. Its more fun, if pretty dangerous. cheers, mspark400

mspark400 (author)wolf555hound2008-09-06

yep, mmmmmm mercury cheers, mspark400

Aw, you thought of it before me. I was about to say It would be cool to set it up to change colors as it was tilted. What would really be cool is if you put the components in a clear ball with many switches and leds, so it would change colors when it rolled.

that's brilliant!!!

Thank you.

Grey_Wolfe (author)mspark4002008-09-07

Would probably work better with a triangle format, as the adjacent sides may or may not be on since there is no tendency for the mercury/ball to move clear of the switch when parallel to the ground. Was trying to figure that out myself. The triangle seemed like the most reasonable solution to the design. could use it with a single RGB (or a few if not bright enough).

Goodhart (author)mspark4002008-09-05

You could put that on a tilted turntable, motorized with a slow turning motor, so it tilted itself as it went around.... :-)

joetcochran (author)2008-12-20

Great Instructable - I used all white LED's and cut out some blue and yellow contact paper to make a St. Louis Rams logo. My brother is a big Rams fan, so he'll be getting this for Christmas this year

About This Instructable




Bio: Well, I feel like I am a pretty regular guy... I work in the Entertainment industry, right now am working for Lucas Animation on a ... More »
More by seligtobiason:TV Backlight -usb powered-Make a Robotty!LED Fan/Party Light
Add instructable to: