Introduction: Solar Altoids Flashlight Experiment (SAFE)

Greetings fellow creators.  I recently became a fan of Altoids Tin projects... and decided to try my hand.  I now present to you a great little weekend project that will consume a few hours, have real practical value, and probably seem like a waste of time to many of the people we know and love!

The beauty of this Altoids creation is that it's solar powered... and yet requires almost no knowledge of electrical circuitry.  We are going to "steal" the guts from 2 solar-powered garden lights and simply transfer them over to our much-loved Altoids tin.  In my case, the fit was near perfect.

During the day, simply open it up to soak in the sun's rays and charge the 1.5 volt AA batteries.  At night, close the lid, flip the switches on, and you've got free illumination!  (Thanks to Mr. Sun.)  A small word of warning: do not attempt to assemble this after a double espresso.  Steady hands required (-:

Step 1: Gather Up Your Tools...

It may seem obvious, but we are going to need a few tools.  Fortunately I collect them like crazy so there was nothing I didn't have on hand:

- The drill makes lovely holes for lights and such.
- The glue gun is great for sticking everything in place. 
- The roto-zip is handy for cutting but not entirely necessary.
- The soldering iron is only needed if you happen to rip a wire off (oops!).

- Duct tape is great for making sure the tin is "insulated".
- Scissors, sharp knife, drill bits and wire cutters all come in handy too.
- Finally we are going to need a flat surface.  I used the shiny dining room table.

Step 2: The Solar Garden Light

Some people find them tacky... some people think they're annoying... some people (like me) think they're ridiculous fun.  Here's the kind I found at Home Depot.  The key thing is the size of the solar panel - just under 2" x 2" - perfect.  Any larger and it won't fit the Altoids tin.

As I mentioned earlier, I don't know much about electronics - and I didn't have to.  I unscrewed the lid of the Solar Light, took a look at all the components, and then carefully started removing them, without disconnecting any of the wires.  Patience and a sharp knife were my best friends for this part.

KEY POINT:  Most of the wire connections are quite fragile.  Try not to yank on any of them or you'll be soldering some mighty small pieces back together... DOH!  (I had to do 3 myself.)

Step 3: Working With the Guts

Grab your thinking cap... strap it on tightly... and start playing with those Solar Light guts.  I recommend taking only one set of components and fidgeting with the placement until you find something that works for you.  Then see about adding the second set beside and on top of the first.

Something important to keep in mind is the width of the solar panels, since they are ultimately going to lay on top of each other once the lid is closed.  I had to put the LEDs, switches and wires as close to the bottom of the tin as possible, to give room for the solar panels.

I also suggest that you continually check that the LED is still working before securing anything.  Keep the glue gun aside until the very last moment.... so you can easily make corrections.  Once you go glue-gun-happy it becomes much more difficult to make any changes.  )-:

Step 4: Voila... Let There Be Light!

If you have been able to follow along you have just about become one with the Altoids.  Yes, there is only one step left my little grasshopper... the testing.  Throw those charged batteries in there, close the lid and flip the switches.  If those LEDs are now on, you have created a thing of beauty.

The Solar Altoids Light Experiment (SAFE) is now in your hand, warming your heart and lighting your way.  Let none say you have wasted your time.  On the contrary!  You have achieved the highest form of engineering satisfaction... the warm glow of an Altoids creator. 

Should the LED dim and the batteries weaken, open the lid and place your solar panels in sunlight for as along as possible.  I have no hard numbers, but 8 hours of sunlight should give you a few solid hours of flashlight time.  Enjoy!


swilus made it!(author)2010-10-06

Very cool! I just purchased an entire box of solar garden lights (I'm talking a large plastic tub worth) for five dollars! I got it at this "nuts & bolts" store down the street. He even through in a couple extra small solar panels approx. 4x4". Score! I'm going to attempt this project. I will post a picture if I get around to it. ;)