Introduction: Solar Dark Detecting LED Light Bulb

Picture of Solar Dark Detecting LED Light Bulb

Like so many projects in life, I got this idea while randomly walking around Hobby Lobby. I came across these cute little glass "light bulbs." They have screw off tops, a flat bottom, and only cost $1.50. Who couldn't pass that up?

My original idea was to try and cram a LED, battery, and switch in there. Yeah, that wasn't ever going to happen. My second idea was to make it solar power because as we all know, everything is better with solar. (Yes, even puppies!)

In a nutshell what I ended up making was a little side box that had a solar panel, joule thief circuit, and a switch on it connected to the glass bulb. Oh yeah.... I threw in a simple dark detecting circuit as well. Just cuz.

A fun beginners project for anyone wanting to do some soldering.

I'm putting together some "Light Detecting Solar Circuit" kits on my gadget webpage, Brown Dog Gadgets. All the electronics you'd need to build one of these. Or, if you don't want to do the work I have some of these for sale on my site... with upgrades...

Step 1: What You Need

Picture of What You Need

Hardware:

Hot Glue Gun
Soldering Iron
Drill
Helping Hand (Optional really)
Breadboard (Optional, but super handy.)

Supplies:
Wire - I used 22 Gage Insulated as well as some thick magnet wire. Anything will work.
5K ohm Resistor
1K ohm Resistor
1 Zenger Diode
3 White LEDs
PNP Transistor
NPN Transistor
Toroid
A switch (I used a toggle because toggles are fun to play with...)

4.5V Solar Panel
AAA Battery Holder
AAA NiMh Battery (You could use a AA as well. I just used these for their size.)

Glass Lightbulb from Hobby Lobby
Little Plastic Bead Box that I picked up at Hobby Lobby as well. 6 Pack for $3.

A lot of these supplies can be mixed and matched. AA instead of AAA. Smaller Solar Panel. Different box. Ditch the dark detecting. Blah blah blah. You're all adult, make up your own mind.

Total Cost for parts: $5 or so. I had all these parts on hand to begin with.

Total Time: Less than one hour if you know what you're doing, two hours otherwise.

Step 2: Circuit

Picture of Circuit

This is the circuit we're making, except I'm adding a switch between the LED and the battery. This way the battery can charge even if the switch is off.

Some of you may recognize this circuit from somewhere else. Yes, it's true. I did steal this circuit from evilmadscientist.com who wrote up some awesome solar circuits. (Look, I'm giving credit!)

The first transistor, the PNP 2N3906, acts as a dark detecting. When power (aka sunlight) is hitting the solar panel the transistor closes. When there is power (aka darkness) coming from the solar panel the pathway opens and we get power. If you want, you can ditch this step and control the LEDs via the switch.

After the first transistor we get the famous Joule Thief Circuit. Google this if you've never seen it before. It'll help you with this instructable.

Step 3: Wire Up the Solar

Picture of Wire Up the Solar

I bought 30 of these panels off ebay for $30. They're amazing. You just have to solder on wires.

Which you can see me doing below....

Step 4: Wrap Your Torrid

Picture of Wrap Your Torrid

This is where you wrap your torrid up with wire.

Again, if you've never done a joule thief circuit before watch a video. Go right now. I'll even give you a link to a video and guide.

Quick reminder for everyone else.

Two wires, coated, equal length.

Wrap around torrid at least 7 times.

Take a wire from one "end" and hook it up with the opposite color from the other end.

Step 5: Breadboard

Picture of Breadboard

This is where I highly recommend you use your bread board to test everything out.

I'm not going to give you every detail of the circuit, it's kind of simple.

Needless to say I screwed up a transistor the first time I put it on the board. Go figure.

In the first picture the light is off because the solar panel is getting light.

The second picture I cover the panel and the light goes on. Darkness detecting!

Step 6: Drill Baby Drill

Picture of Drill Baby Drill

Just drill three holes in the box. I put one in front for the solar panel wires, one on top for the switch, and one out the back for the LED wires.

Size is up to you, and depends on how big of a switch you're using.

Step 7: Soldering the Dark Detecting

Picture of Soldering the Dark Detecting

If you're not doing the dark detecting part, you can (mostly) skip over this page.

First, don't forget to thread your solar panel wires through the hold first.

Then, solder the zener diode and the 5,000 ohm resistor to the positive wire.

Solder the resistor to the center leg of the PNP transistor.

Solder the zener diode, as well as the positive side of the battery case, to the left leg of the transistor. (Did you breadboard to test this out first?)

Solder the double twisted end of the torrid to the right leg of the transistor.

Step 8: Test Again!

Picture of Test Again!

It never hurts to test things again. Use your breadboard. It's your friend.

Step 9: Defuse Your LEDs

Picture of Defuse Your LEDs

If you're smart you'd be using some diffused LEDs.

If you're like me, dumb, and only have clear LEDs you'll have to defuse them.

To do this you can either use a big ball of hot glue OR sandpaper.

I used sandpaper, which reminded me I should order some defused LEDs off ebay.

Step 10: Joule Thief

Picture of Joule Thief

Off your torrid are two wires.

Take one (doesn't matter) and solder the 1,000 ohm resistor. Then solder the other end of the resistor to the middle leg of your NPN transistor.

The other torrid wire you then solder onto the right leg of your NPN.

Joule Thief is nearly finished.

Step 11: LEDs

Picture of LEDs

I used thick magnet wire because of the look and made it long because I wanted to hide the box away from the bulb, but anything will do provided it fits through the hole in the bulb cap.

First, put the wires through the bulb cap. You can always make it bigger by using your drill.

Next, hook up all positive legs of your LED to one wire, and all negative to another.

***If you're using 8mm or 10mm LED you might want to start with two and see if they'll fit into the bulb. Then, maybe add a third while the other two are inside the bulb. Kind of like a ship in a bottle. Helping hand to the rescue.

Step 12: Hook Up Your Wires in the Box

Picture of Hook Up Your Wires in the Box

Take the other end of your LED wires and put them through the hole in the box.

Solder the positive one to the far right NPN leg (the one you already soldered the torrid wire onto).

I soldered the negative wire to the switch. Then run another wire off the switch.

Lastly, solder the new wire off the switch, the negative battery wire, and the negative solar wire all to the left leg of the NPN transistor.

Do a little dance because we're done soldering.

Step 13: Warm Liquid Goo Phase

Picture of Warm Liquid Goo Phase

So now we have a big mess of wires and whatnot that need to go in the box. But what about random exposed wire touching random exposed wire?

Hot Glue Powers Activate!!!!!!

I just cover all the random exposed bits with hot glue. It makes things way easier.

(Word on the street is that the technical term for this is "potting." I prefer calling it the "Warm Liquid Goo Phase.")

Step 14: Shove It All in the Box

Picture of Shove It All in the Box

This really shouldn't require it's own page, but I am because it can be a real pain.

Be careful and shove it all in the box. Breaking something now would be a big pain to fix.

The goal is to get it all in the box, not look fancy. Maybe you can be fancy the next time you build this?

Step 15: Enjoy!

Picture of Enjoy!

You should now be finished.

We've now created what amounts to a very fancy looking outdoor solar light. The kind you can buy for less than $5. Only this one looks very impressive.

This is a great beginners circuitry project and cheap to make. Plus it will impress the heck out of everyone you know because of how it looks.

To really impress them use two colors of lights inside that you control using a second toggle. (Go from the NPN to a toggle switch with two positive lines running out. Use a common negative line back. You'll have three wires instead of two.)

If you'd like a prebuilt version of one of these, I have them for sale on my gadget site, Brown Dog Gadgets, or my etsy store. I've tweaked my production version a bit, added a few upgrades.

Or if you'd like to build one on your own I also have kits available that provide you with all the wires and gizmos you need to build a light detecting circuit of your own. (My personal favorite is putting them into Mason Jars for outside lights.)

Comments

cr3at1vem1nds (author)2015-07-12

What is the NPN do you use ?

jsingh64 (author)2013-12-10

Can we use 3.7 v battery and a string of LEDs to have good illumination for garden lights?

synthdust (author)2012-09-15

Can I use a flickering LED with a Joule Thief?

I honestly don't know. Blinking LEDs tend to freak out in this circuit, I've not worked with flickering LEDs before so I honestly can't say.

superstatic27 (author)2012-08-10

Would these work?

http://www.dealextreme.com/p/wired-magnetic-ring-power-inductor-orange-10-piece-pack-143490?item=4

Umm... I have no idea. Grab one from All Electronics. They have some nice big ones that work fine. You just need some solid core wire.

avail19 (author)2012-01-24

josh
i cant get this to work...help!!
i think ive pretty much wired the circuit identical to your on the breadboard but no luck. any suggestions?

dasimpson1981 (author)avail192012-03-14

you might have the terminal wrong for the transistors or maybe the rechargable battery you are using isent enogth power i had to use 2 aa batterys in series

Grandtech (author)2011-06-23

Parts list indicates a zener is needed. Where and what voltage? The only diode in the drawing is a switching diode.

The toroid, what "mix" should it be, #44 or...etc.?

1N914 diode. Easy to come by. You can buy 100 of them for $1.

Thanks. I was referring to the parts list that listed it as a ZENER. I have plenty of the signal fast swithing 1N914's.

Grandtech (author)2011-06-23

Now it it was a bit bigger with a brighter light I could light up my flag on the pole at night.

lcapria (author)2011-06-07

Could you tell me what transistors and what Zener diode did you use?
By the way, i think it's a wonderful project!

BrownDogGadgets (author)lcapria2011-06-08

Read the circuit diagram. Everything is listed there.

lcapria (author)BrownDogGadgets2011-06-10

Thank you! I'm sorry, I was in a hurry when i read the instructable. :-)

rcisneros (author)2011-05-18

Cool project. Though you could do this project with a lot less work. You can replace the electronics with 3 components. Basically the insides of a common solar path light. Here is an example.

https://www.instructables.com/id/Make-your-own-solar-powered-led-string-lights-/

mitchiko (author)2011-05-18

It's awesomeness that's all I can say

bmwzz (author)2011-05-05

wow... nice instructable....!!

but one doubt ..tht is.. what if i want to light a meter led strit (12v) for 5 hours....??
what should i do ??
thanks in advance..

BrownDogGadgets (author)bmwzz2011-05-05

You could. The Joule Thief Circuit ramps up the voltage extremely high. Youtube is full of videos of people lighting entire strings of Christmas lights off of a single AA battery via a Joule Thief.

The thing you'd need to worry about is your power source. A single AA isn't going to light all those LEDs for long. You'd need to have a large capacity of batteries to back things up.

If you go the solar route that would mean you'd need some decent solar cells or an array of solar cells (a make shift panel) to power things up. Not too difficult or expensive to do.

Defy57 (author)2011-04-18

Very cool. How long does the light last? I could see mounting a few of these under my truck to ward off cat. converter thieves.

BrownDogGadgets (author)Defy572011-04-20

Depends on how much sun you get during the day.

Five hours of light (which is a good amount) at 80 ma would give you 400 ma of power. One led uses an average of 20 ma in an hour. 400 divided by 20 = hella lot of light. (In theory)

More than enough to get through the night. You could easily power several LEDs.

rstevens76 (author)2011-04-01

Are you using magnet wire? What gauge wire you using? Also, is that a ferrite bead, or is it a ceramic magnet? Thx.

ferrit core
23 gage insulated wire (not magnet wire, but I have also used that)
You only need to wrap it about 7 or 8 times to get the desired results.

anonymouse197 (author)2011-01-18

Amazing instructable thanks!!
Have made it but am looking for some nice solar panels now - you don't happen to know the specs for your panels do you, or the shop you bought them from on ebay??
Thanks for the help,
Anonymouse197

simmer65 (author)anonymouse1972011-01-18

Go to Home Depot and buy a solar powered LED light. It cost me under $4. Tear it down and you will end up with a solar panel, a boost circuit, a photoresistor, a rechargable AA battery and a bright LED.

BrownDogGadgets (author)simmer652011-03-23

If you're lucky you can even find solar lights at the $1 Store. I recently bought 100 of them...

Even though they're cheap they have a lot to offer. The only downside, as with any cheap solar garden light, is that the solar panel might not offer many amps. If you really want a good panel you should buy one from elsewhere where you know the strength.

It could be the diference between 10 miliamps and 80 miliamps. A big difference and worth the extra couple of dollars.

Here is the panel I used. American Science and Surplus has it for $8 a pop. I found the exact same ones on ebay for $1 each. A guy out of Maine sells them in sets of 30, 60, 150, 300.... I bought 30 for $30 + $5 shipping.

American Science

http://www.sciplus.com/recommend.cfm/recommendid/10893

ebay

http://stores.ebay.com/Enginecom?_rdc=1

You can also find them on a lot of hobby electronics sites. The thing is, every time I see them there are different tech specs. Some say 3V, others 4V, some 4.5. Amps from 40 ma to 100 ma. When I tested a couple, both in sun and a lamp, I got 4.5V.

I've used them to make a lot of little projects ranging from Robots to battery chargers. Might as well spend the $35 and buy 30 of them.

Thanks very much, I think I may buy some. They do look very similar, and I could get through 30 panels in quite a short amount of time.
Thanks,
anonymouse197

Good plan.

In general I keep an eye on ebay looking for good deals on solar panels. Occasionally you can buy sets of them for low prices. I got ten 6V panels for all of $7 last week.

It never hurts to have extra solar panels around.

alex12349 (author)2011-02-08

pretty nice

haroun (author)2011-02-06

Can the battery be replaced with a super capacitor, & if so how would one go about that? Just put it in the place of the battery or is there more circuitry involved?

BrownDogGadgets (author)haroun2011-02-06

You most certainly could. Replace it with a big old super capacitor in place of the battery.

The downside is you'd need a rather big super capacitor to do this. Probably one rated 5-10F at least, and you'd end up paying a lot for it. (10F 2.5 Volt super cap is around $10. I bought my AAAs in bulk so they end up being $0.50 each.)

As much as I love super capacitors, and I do, using NiMh batteries is so much cheaper to do.

haroun (author)BrownDogGadgets2011-02-06

The dash light s of my 90 toyota pick up are out, & I need to pull the dash to replace them, so a small, solar powered light I could clip to the dash would be nice. The SC would make it smaller than batteries.

Applebohn (author)2011-01-21

Fantastic ible!!!

And rather easy to make. Doing a very similar project was what got me in the electrical circuit mood.

kelseymh (author)2011-01-18

This is an excellent Instructable, with a nice narrative write-up. Well done! There are a few places where you've used the wrong words (consistently, not just a typo):

In Step 4, it's called a toroid; "torrid" generally refers to hot and steamy affairs from 1940's film noir.

In Step 8, you want to diffuse your LEDs. Unless you're using your circuit to set off explosives, there's no reason to "defuse" it :-)

Step 13 is a great solution to preventing shorts, once you've got the circuit working correctly. If you're interested, the technical term is "potting."

This is well done enough to deserve featuring; please correct the terminology if you can.

BrownDogGadgets (author)kelseymh2011-01-18

Sigh... always a critic in thr crowd...

I'll get on that later after work. Thanks for letting me know. I was really sleepy when writing this up last evening. I'm surprised I didn't make more mistakes.

kelseymh (author)BrownDogGadgets2011-01-18

:-) Not so much a critic as a copy editor. Though the image of a "torrid dark finder" is rather amusing :-)

BrownDogGadgets (author)kelseymh2011-01-18

Maybe we should call them torrids after all...

dasimpson1981 (author)2011-01-18

have you tried this with 2 batterys like the circuit says i have and it seems that my jt unit wont run but on 1 battery only works fine

Then your JT probably isn't working right. The beauty of the JT is that you can get a white LED to run off a single AA battery. Check your wiring as well as how your toroid is wrapped. If you're still confused do some googling.

I had some issues the first time I did it, but once you figure it out you'll be going "oh duhhhhhh."

my jt works perfect on 1.5 and below 2.4 volt it dosent wont to know anyway have this unit set up now with 2 aa the circuit has enogth losses to solve the problem i was shorting out the panel to represent night time but didnt work as soon as night came the unit started working

dasimpson1981 (author)2011-01-18

also it is not a zener diode it is silicion diose acoording to the data sheet

About This Instructable

38,545views

124favorites

License:

Bio: I used to teach middle school science, but now I run my own online educational science website. I spend my days designing new projects for ... More »
More by BrownDogGadgets:Interactive NASA Shirt Using Crazy CircuitsGiant LEGO NES Controller LED Broken Heart Bracelet
Add instructable to: