Introduction: Make Your Own Flea Circus

Make your own miniature flea circus.

Flea circuses have been around since the Victorian times when actual human fleas were used to perform circus tricks.  The flea would be harnessed with a small, thin piece of gold wire and made to do acts like pull a miniature chariot, type rope walk, sword fighting, and kicking a small ball!  Unfortunately for the live flea circus (and fortunately for us!) the human flea is virtually extinct due to our much cleaner ways.

The type of flea circus that I have built is called a "humbug" flea circus and all the acts are performed using hidden, mechanical means. 

Initially I wanted to make a  flea circus inside a small cigar box or wooden case.  In the end I went with a small wooden case as it was a little deeper than a cigar box.  Kind of wished I went with a little larger box as i couldn't fit everything I wanted into the small case that I ended up using.

The project itself was a real learning experience, and everything I built was trial and error.  I tried to take as many photos as possible but with the electronics it just became too hard to take photos of every step.  I have drawn-up some schematics which will help you through this section though.  Also I couldn't get the tight-rope to work well.  I left all of the steps though in the Instructable as i believe it would have worked if I had used a separate servo for the type rope.  

The flea circus can be built over a weekend with most parts being available on eBay or your local electronics shop.

Hope you enjoy – and happy making.



if the clip doesn't work above - try this one

Step 1: Parts, Materials and Tools

Parts and Materials

Case
1.  Case - Ebay
2.  Ply wood - as thin as possible.  this will be your flea circus floor


Electronics
1.  Servo tester - Ebay
2.  Servo - Robotshop
3.  AA x 2 Battery Holder - eBay
4.  AAA x 3 Battery holder - eBay
5.  2 channel helicopter - a happy deal
6.  Candle LED's - eBay
7.  LED Diffuses - your choice
8.  Computer ribbon wire - scavenged from and old PC
9. Switch - 3 throw - eBay


Paint
1.  Interior Stain - new baltic pine
2. Clear varnish - Matt finish

Circus Acts / Misc.
1.  Pinball ball - local pinball repair shop or eBay.
2.  Tiny car.  I purchased mine on eBay but you could any car - as long at it is small.  what about a micro machine
3.  Magnets: You need to use some rare earth magnets which can be purchase on eBay.  I used these and these
4.  Thin cord or rope.  I used some braid fishing line

Materials
1.  Wood glue
2.  Small screws
3.  Solder
4.  Solder flux
5.  Various drill bits
6.  Sand paper
7.  Paint Brushes
8.  Hot glue


Copper
1.  Copper Tube - various sizes
2.  Copper wire - various thickness and sizes
3.  Copper flat (Used on the servo)


Tools
1.  Soldering iron
2.  Various pliers
3.  Stanley knife
4.  Drill
5.  Wire cutters



Step 2: Deciding on the Case

First things first.  You need to decide on what type of case you want to use to house your flea circus.  After a little research I decided to use a little wooden suitcase which I purchased from eBay.  There are 2 sizes available and I decided to go with the small one. 

Steps:

1. First remove the handle and clasp and put aside

2. Next use a stain to give it a darker finish.  It’s up to you on how dark you want it.  Do a few coats as the stain will be absorbed on the first couple of coats.

3. Screw back on the handle and latch

Step 3: Making the Floor and Staining Your Case

The next step is to make the floor.  This will be your base where the magic will happen.

Steps:

1. Use a thin piece of ply wood and cut a small rectangle out about the size of the case.

2. Trim the wood until it just fits length ways into the case.

3. To ensure you cut the rounded corners correctly, use a paper template as shown below and mark out where you need to cut.

4. Carefully sand off the edges and continue to try and fit into the case. 

6.  Cut the 2 corners out on the floor where the poles will go.

7. Once the floor just fits you’re done.  Initially, I was going to add some ply wood along the inside of the case for the floor to sit on, but in the end didn’t have to as the floor is a tight fit.

8.  Now you can stain the floor. 

Step 4: Making the Circus Ring

So now you have the floor, you’ll need a circus ring for your acts to perform in.

Steps:

1. To make a copper ring I used a piece of copper wire and bent it around a can of hairspray.

2. Once you have gone around a couple of times you should have a nice complete circle that you can cut from the wire. 

3. Measure against the floor and make sure that it fits ok.  Mine turned out to be 50mm which was a perfect size.

4. Solder together.

Step 5: Making the See-Saw

One of the acts use a see-saw!  So here’s how to make one.

Steps:

1. First, start off with a piece of copper wire – not too thick as you have to do a few small bends.

2. Bend as shown in the images below.

3. Next is to make the actual see-saw.  I used a flat piece of copper for this and bent the ends back.  The see-saw part should just fit into the circus ring.

4. Solder a piece of copper tubing to the middle of the see-saw.

5. Push the copper tubing through the copper wire and bend the copper wire down as shown.

6. Add two 4mm x 4mm rare earth magnets to the ends of the see-saw with superglue.

7.  The next step is to add a small, wire loop in the floor so the base of the see-saw can slip into .  If you don't do this the see-saw will be pulled around by the magnets. 

Step 6: Adding the Electronics

This was a little tricky but with a little patience it worked out ok.  Instead of going through each of the steps, I have created a couple of schematics for you to use.  The first one is if you want to use a remote to make the acts work and the second is if you don't want to include the remote.

Steps:

Servo Tester

1. Remove the pot from the servo tester by de-soldering it.  You can also cut it away if you have fine enough cutters.  Don’t wreak it though – you are going to need it.

2. Drill a small hole in the back of the case and thread through some computer wire.  Solder to the pot and to the servo tester circuit board


Remote

1. For the remote I used an old 2 channel flying saucer I purchased some time ago.  You will need to pull this apart so you are only left with the electronics as shown.

2.  Cut off the battery and the motor.

3.  Cut off the IR sensor on the receiver half way through the legs.  attached some computer ribbon to one end of the legs which are still in the circuit board and the other to the IR sensor.  You do this so it can be located outside the box.  If you don't you won't be able to use thew little remote.

4.  drill a small hole in the side of the box and attached the IR sensor as shown.

So now you’re ready to add all the bits together.  Check out the schematic for the next steps.

Step 7: Adding the Servo

Steps:

1. Find the dead centre of the bottom of the case and mark.

2. Measure the servo length and mark this onto the bottom of the case.  This way when you are gluing the servo down you can get it exactly where you need it.

3.  Attach one of the servo arms to the servo with the screw provided.



Adding the copper wire and magnets.

1. Cut a small piece of flat copper wire so it is just able to turn inside the box without hitting any of the sides.  

2. Attach 2 magnets with hot glue, making sure that they are attached flat and not at an angle.  The magnets should be glued with the same polarities closest together.  So the 2 sides that are closest to one another should be the same polarity.  This is so the car moves around in a circle and doesn't just go crazy in the ring.  See drawing below for more detail. 

3.  Hot glue the copper and magnets to the servo arm.


Step 8: Adding the Lights

This is really optional and I was in 2 minds whether to add them or not.  In the end I decided to as it adds a little more drama and “je ne cest qua” :)

1. Decide on what LED’s you want to use.  I went with some flashing candle ones.

2. Make some small holes in the floor for the LED wires to slip through.

3. Solder 2 legs together as shown below.  Make sure one leg is a cathode and one is anode.

4. Wire up the other legs to the battery and switch.  See schematic below as to how I wired-up the LED's. 

NOTE - The switch that I used was a tripple throw and how I wired this up to all of the electronics can be seen in step 8

5. To make the LED covers I used a couple of plastic diffusers from a set of solar LED lights that I had.  You can buy diffusers for LED’s or just improvise. 

7.  I drilled out the diffusers and pushed through a small piece of copper to act as a small stand.

8. These just sit on the LED’s and are not glued down.

Step 9: Adding Circus Posters

Now that you have made all of the acts, the next thing to do is to decorate the case.  I decided to use some images I found on the internet.  All of the images can be found below. 

Steps:

Deciding on an image


1. Decide on the images you want to use.  Try and find flee related images.  The types of searches I put in were, flee poster, flea circus, flea image.

2. Once you have your images copy them and paste at various sizes.  This will give you an opportunity to decide which is right for your case.


Making the images look old

1. To give the images some character, I decided to make them look old.  Use this site to see how this was done. 

2. Cut out the images and lay them in a tray.

3. Experiment first by using more tea or coffee as the website suggests.  I did a few tests before I hit upon the right mix.


Attaching the images

1. I used wood glue to attach the images to the case.   Decide first where you want to attach each image to the case.

2. Next, cover all of the back of the image with glue.  Make sure it isn’t too thick.

3. Carefully attach the image to the case.

4. Smooth carefully with something flat.

5. Leave to dry for 24 hours


Adding the circus ring picture

1.  Once you decide on a picture for the cicus ring - I choose a red star you need to cut it out and glue on as mentioned above.  i didn't make this look old as I wanted the inside to have a clean look.

2.  Once the image had dried I coated the whole of the circus floor with a clear matt varnish.  i added about 5 coats to ensure that when the acts are moving across the floor, they don't lift up the paper.

Step 10: The Acts - Part 1

There will be 5 acts ; driving a car, using a see saw, pushing a pinball ball, swing and lifting a match. You still need to prepare the type rope walk and the driving act.


Steps:

Car

1.  Find the right type of car!  I found mine on eBay but I think a micro machine would work well too.

2. Attach magnet to the bottom of the car.  Make sure that the poles are correct.  I worked mine out through trial and error.

3. Test.


Pinball
1.  This act is pretty straight forward - a super strong flea pushes a metal ball around.  Just make sure that the circus is on a flat surface.


See-saw
1.  See step 5


Step 11: The Acts - Part 2

Crazy Swing
This was an outcome of not doing the tight rope anymore.  I wanted to use the copper in some way so I came up with the "crazy swing"

1.  Cut a length of copper pipe to 200mm.

2. Solder on a length of copper wire to the top of the copper tube.  Make a couple of grooves in the pipe so the wire so it’s easier to solder.

3. Bend the copper wire as shown.  This will be where the swing is connected.

4. The poles will be needed to be attached to the box.  The solution that I can up with was to attach a couple of copper tubes to the box which were slightly larger than the poles.  The poles then would slip into these and be kept into place.

5. Cut a small piece of copper tube.

6. Use some tin snips and make 3, small incisions at the bottom and snip one of them off.  These will act as feet and help stabilize the pole.

7. Bend the other 2 at 90 degree angles as shown.

8. Slip the pole into the tube.

9. Cut a piece of flat copper and bend and drill as shown.  This will be the braces to hold the copper tube into place.

10. Screw into place as shown.

11.  Next I modified a cotton holder (swing) by removing one side as below.  I used this because I had it hanging around but I'm sure that there are plenty of other things that can be used as well.  attach a small round magnet to the bottom

12.  Tie a piece of cotton on and loop around the hook in the copper wire.  

13.  The swing will go around and around and slowly get twisted.  When it reaches a certain point and the twisted cotton is stronger than the pull of the magnets, the swing will spin wildly in the opposite direction.

Step 12: The Acts - Part 3

Lifting a match up
For the last truck our little flea will lift a match up!   Remember a match to a flea is like a human lifting a large tree!

1.  Attach a tiny magnet to the bottom of the match with superglue.  Ensure that the magnet is correctly aligned to the servo magnet.

2.  Now when you slowly spin the servo, the magnet will attract the one on the match and the match will stand-up.


Making fleas!
1.  To make fleas all you need to go is cut up some old, rusted metal into tiny bits.  Experiment on how small you can get these.  If you don't have rusty metal, you can always just use a black highlighter to cover the metal.  The fleas look very real as they bounce along the circus ring.

2.  When you have made enough, store them in a match box and get them out with a pair of tweezers. 

Step 13: Finished!

You should now have a pretty good looking, mini flea circus to astound your friends with.   Practice your acts and I promise you’ll have every kid in the neighbourhood believing you have trained fleas to do your bidding.


Things to consider
Next one I make I’ll definitely make sure that it’s in a larger case.  The one I used, although very cute, was a little too small.  The eBay seller who I purchased from has a larger one which would work great.  I would like to add more than 1 servo in the next one – I think with 3 you could do a whole lot of cool tricks (and I could get that pesky type rope working).
I have also been toying with the idea of using an EZ-B to control all of the servos etc.  an EZ-B is a fantastic processor which I have used in the past to make a robot with.  You can connect up to 20 Servos to it and has some really neat features like voice command.  Instead of twisting a little knob at the back, all you would need to do it tell your fleas what to do and they would do it!  The speed of the servos could be easily controlled as well.  This would be a big project, but if I got it right it would be really impressive.

Step 14: NOT USED: Tight-Rope - Part 1

***NOTE***

I didn't use this act in the end.  Not because I didn't want to - I just couldn't get it to work properly.  The biggest hurdle was trying to find the right type of string to use.  Every time I thought I had it the knot would get caught somewhere and it would jam.  Also it really needed it's own servo.  
I tried everything from fishing line to dental floss but for some reason I though cotton would be too weak.  It was only went I was speaking to my mum (an avid sower) about the problem and she showed me all the different types of cottons available which would have done the job well!



Next step is to add the tight-rope poles.  I used copper tube for these.

Making the Poles

1. First decide on how high you want the poles to be.  Once this is done cut to size with a dremmel.

2.  Bend a flat piece of copper as shown below and solder onto the top of the pole. 

NOTE: The best way to solder the copper together is to use a small soldering torch like the one in the tool section.  Cover the areas that you want to solder in solder flux and get the copper really hot before introducing the solder.  Move the flame away just before you add the solder, and once it has melted, introduce the flame back again.

3. Next cut another piece of copper and bend the 2 sides as shown.  Drill a hole in the middle just big enough for the pole to fit in and solder into place as shown.

4. Do this twice.


Adding the poles to the case

The poles will be needed to be attached to the box.  The solution that I can up with was to attach a couple of copper tubes to the box which were slightly larger than the poles.  The poles then would slip into these and be kept into place.

1. Cut 2 equal sized pieces of copper. 

2. Use some tin snips and make 3, small incisions at the bottom and snip one of them off.

3. Bend the other 2 at 90 degree angles as shown.

4. Slip the poles into the tube.

5. Drill a hole about 30mm from the bottom in both of the poles.  This is where the string will come out and be attached to the servo.  The holes should be a 45degree angles from each side.

6. Cut a couple of pieces of flat copper and bend and drill as shown.  These will be the braces to hold the copper tubes into place.

7. Screw into place as shown.

Step 15: NOT USED: Tight-Rope - Part 2

Adding the poles to the case

The poles will be needed to be attached to the box.  The solution that I can up with was to attach a couple of copper tubes to the box which were slightly larger than the poles.  The poles then would slip into these and be kept into place.

1. Cut 2 equal sized pieces of copper.

2. Use some tin snips and make 3, small incisions at the bottom and snip one of them off.

3. Bend the other 2 at 90 degree angles as shown.

4. Slip the poles into the tube.
5. Drill a hole about 30mm from the bottom in both of the poles.  This is where the string will come out and be attached to the servo.  The holes should be a 45degree angles from each side.

6. Cut a couple of pieces of flat copper and bend and drill as shown.  These will be the braces to hold the copper tubes into place.

7. Screw into place as shown.

Comments

author
Shawntheox (author)2016-08-19

This build is straight forward if you build it just with the pot control.
Adding the remote circuit from the helicopter is a total headache
Just build it with an on / off switch and relocate the pot from the servo tester to the back and control with that
I can not stress this enough !!

It's the de soldering and RE soldering the rc recerver on the helicopter circuit so it is external
The component is so rubbish and if your iron is hot enough to solder it's too hot for the pcb... iv just bought my third to try and get this built for someone and I'm not taking it off
Thanks

author
lonesoulsurfer made it! (author)Shawntheox2016-08-28

Yep agree - def made it over complicated! If I was going to do this today I would use a geared motor like the one in the image (eBay) and a PMW motor control. That's really all you need. You could however add a remote module as well which would allow you to turn on and off.

Plus using a geared motor makes it a lot quieter than the servo

s-l500.jpggeared motor.jpgs-l500 (1).jpg
author
Jack Moran (author)2014-07-02

The backdrop really creates the circus!

author
Otterim (author)2014-01-03

is there any substitute for the 2 channel helicopter (remote)????

author
lonesoulsurfer (author)Otterim2014-01-05

Hey there,
I wouldn't even worry about that part. It just makes things more complicated and I don't really use the remote anyhow!. Just get yourself a continuous servo and a servo controller and that will do fine.

author
bricabracwizard (author)2013-09-04

I was thoroughly entertained! Great project! I hope you paid the fleas handsomely?

author
Fn917256722 (author)2013-08-23

It will be my next project, thanks to you.
thanks so much! Nice job!!

author

Cool - thanks

author
juemad (author)2013-08-25

Type rope walking? Dude, TIGHT rope.

author
blueangelical (author)2013-08-21

I've never seen anything as beautifully artistic as this before. I love it, the posters, the act, the effect the video and even the music. Just brilliant, well done. Fantastic.

author

wow - thank you so much, really means a lot getting such great feedback.

author
violet48187 (author)2013-08-21

How do you see the videos?

author

The Instructable website is having issues showing you tube clips on mobile devices. i also included a link at the bottom of the clip which you should be able to use ok on a phone.

author
Vito413 (author)2013-08-20

I don't know what a type rope is, maybe you were thinking of a tightrope? i think this is very cool and really creative I want to build this.

author
lonesoulsurfer (author)Vito4132013-08-20

Yep your right it should have been tight-rope, put it down to a "typing" error. Sorry bad pun.

author
lewisb42 (author)2013-08-20

I would have loved this just for the history lesson, but then you hit it out of the park with a gorgeous finished product. Well done!

author
billbillt (author)2013-08-20

very cool

author
Pandroe (author)2013-08-20

That was pretty cool. The vids are the great!

author
blahboo37 (author)2013-08-19

This reinforces the fact that some people are just genius when it comes to crafting... and then there's me.

author
lonesoulsurfer (author)blahboo372013-08-20

Ah shucks...
Believe me, if I can do it anyone can do it!

author
Renard_Bleu (author)2013-08-19

Awesome. Gorgeous instructable, nice result and great commentary!

author

Thanks so much. Really nice to get such great feedback.

author
NTT (author)2013-08-19

Absolutely beautiful! This is the stuff of childhood memories. The kids will love this :-)

author
lonesoulsurfer (author)NTT2013-08-20

Cheers - I'm trying to get my boys to go down the local market and put a show on!

About This Instructable

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Bio: I've always liked pulling things apart - it's the putting back together again that I have some issues with.
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