The Christmas Box II


Introduction: The Christmas Box II

Hi all! D here. I've found a lot of good stuff on instructables and I thought it was time to give a bit back. This is my first kinda sorta instructable so please bear with me. It isn't as much an exact how to, but more of a walkthrough, along with why I did it in the first place. Here goes...

The whole thing started when I needed an interesting way to give my two boys a Christmas present. Sure they would get other presents, but, this one had to be special. I wanted a way to show them that Christmas was about giving, not just getting, and so...

Step 1: The Backstory

My boys were 10 and 12, still in that golden age where everything was possible and magic still existed. And I was more than willing to spin a Christmas tale the likes of which...well... I did my best.

My boys know that I take notes on every project I make. About two months before the holidays I asked them if they had seen my notebook. I told them I couldn't find it anywhere? I then made a crate out of an old pallet and filled it with straw. I placed the box inside and had the mailman deliver it as though it had really been shipped. when they opened it they didn't know what to think. When I got home from work they ran to the door yelling, "Dad, Dad, look what came.." (it was well worth the price of admission) I then asked them where they found my new box?? I told them I had been hired by a strange old man to build a puzzle lock box, a safe of sorts. He wouldn't tell me what it would be for but I took the job none the less. Then, soon after the box was finished, it, my notebook, and various other items went missing from my shop. Now at least I had the box back.

When they asked me to open it I told them I couldn't because the combinations and keys were in my notes and I couldn't find them anywhere. I then told them I would have to start over and proceeded to place the box in my shop closet.

Step 2: The Box

Finding the right box was important. It had to be big enough to do what I needed it to, but not be too big. The look was important too. It had to speak to me (wow that sounds artsy fartsy) but its true. I didn't realize how expensive old boxes could be, some were over 500 dollars. I found this one at a local antique store. It was the case for a nautical sextant made in 1911. Missing that important component it was on sale and I took it home for 50 dollars. Still not cheap but it was just the right size and had the right amount of wear and tear.

Word of advice, whatever size you think you need, go one size bigger.

Step 3: The Workings

The locks for the box fall into two groups, Mechanical, and Electro-Mechanical. I've seen many projects on I'bles that use Arduinos and Raspberry's to control functions, But I figured that since the box was old school, I should try to make the locks and mechanisms old school if at all possible. The mechanical end was pretty straightforward, two trunk latches from an antique hardware store. The E-M part, well...

Step 4: Powering Up

The box is powered by a 12 volt battery. To turn it on two magnetic triggers must be placed on the Box's front panel. these triggers were made from parts from wall mounted coat hangers I found at Cost Plus. I disassembled them and added small disc shaped magnets to the ends. I and M are my boy's initials. When the proper location for the triggers is found, (strange openings in two matching antique doorbell bezels), Two magnetic "REED" switches wired in series close allowing current to flow to the rest of the box's systems. When this happens, the Plasma Generator "Plasma Disc" is turned on letting the opening person , or persons, know that they have found the on switch, lol. Plasma discs can be found on Ebay.

Step 5: ARK Switch

The next step is to turn the ARK switch to the right position. (I called it the ARK switch because when I finished it I noticed it reminded me of the Ark from Indiana Jones) Once that is done the power feeds the Nixie Display. The switch is not an on-off, it is a three way. That will be important later!

Step 6: Nixie Numeric Display

Yes... Nixie tubes were such a good idea. I can say that now lol. I love the look of the little guys and couldn't resist. To control the Nixies I found 3 vintage two pole, 5 position rotary switches (I wanted to use 10 position but they were way too expensive) set to The correct combination must be entered (397). The middle number was hidden in my notes while the outer two were hidden under the mechanical latches. Did I mention Nixie Tubes run off 180 volts dc? Yes you will need an inverter and they are available on Ebay. The tubes are as well. I'bles has many great reads on Nixie Tube ideas! P.S The cover pieces are antique door knob handle bezels.

Step 7: ARK Switch II-That Three Way Thing...

When the proper code was entered the box still didn't open. And yes, I did feel a bit bad about this one.

The rotary switches I used were 2 pole. There were two different sets of contacts within the switches that corresponded to the same numbers. But, I fed the power for the opening solenoid from a different source, yes, from the other pole of the 3 way ARK switch. Meaning in essence that once the correct code was found, the ARK switch still had to be pushed so that the left side button was down instead of the right to allow current to flow to the opening solenoid instead of the nixie display. This proved to be almost a deal breaker. The only way they found the solution was when my younger son suggested shutting the box down so they wouldn't waste the batteries. When they pushed the left button they heard the click... and the box opened. All was right with the world. I also installed a mercury switch so that when the lid was opened it would cut power to the solenoid to save battery power.

Step 8: The Business End of Things

As I've said, I tried to keep this box as vintage as I could. No electronics except the solid state power inverters and the Plasma Disc. And lets face it, Plasma Discs are just too darn cool not to use one! Not the neatest job I know, but it honestly was a make it up as you go along project. The story would evolve and then the box would change to go with it. Hopefully i've stayed true to the period somewhat! At least as far as an ADD OCD mad inventor would have.

Again, I didn't really want to go through a step by step instructional with diagrams and schematics. Your electro-mechanical choices (if you chose to use any) would depend on what you were looking to do and how far you wanted to go. Hopefully something I've done will be helpful.

Step 9: Decoration

Once the locks were complete I was able to concentrate on looks. I wanted to give the box a look based on its original nautical purpose as well as throw in a little turn of the century machine age touch. the turtle magnifier was from Cost Plus, the Dragon, from an antique store (not sure what its original purpose was?). And the Plasma Generator cover was found at an industrial lighting supply house. The ARK switch, its cover and the nixie covers were purchased from an antique home fittings shop. Lots of Dremmel work whew!

Step 10: Oh Yeah...The Story...

After the box was delivered, my boys started receiving letters, always when I wasn't there. Left at the front door, given to them by a waitress at a Diner, even delivered by Santa while taking a Christmas picture at the Mall.

They were informed that they could not tell me about any of the things that were happening and that they would have to solve the riddles by themselves if they wanted to see my notes again. They were also asked to complete three tasks, 1. bake cookies for those you love (wound up being 10 dozen for my inlaws Christmas party WoW!!). 2. Purchase a toy for a child that would be in the hospital on christmas and 3. Do something nice for their mom. And yes, none of that will change the world, but for two young boys trying to do a little good it seemed more than ok.

As they solved each puzzle and performed each good deed, they received more and more pages from my notebook and they kept them all safe and sound until the box was opened. I was taken aback when they told me the whole story of what had happened, and all they went through trying to open the box. The best part was when they told me that they had to open it, they just had to,... They just had to get me my notebook back! And yes, a few tears did come. And they seemed to like their presents just fine!

Step 11: Thank You

Thanks for reading along. I hope this inspires you to do something nice and a bit out there for someone. Again, if I've been too vague, made too many errors in grammar, or been too long winded, my apologies. I'll try to get better as I go along. Perhaps this can start a Christmas Box tradition? Let me know if you are interested in seeing any more of my projects!

Bye for now... D.

Step 12:

Hope this makes more sense!



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    Ok, so I have this thing almost figured out... Nicely done... I like the antique quality to it. Is there some sort of light and embellishment behind the glass of the turtle?

    3 replies

    Thanks! The piece behind the Turtle was purchased at Michaels. Originally it was going to light up and spell Noel when the box was opened. But,...

    My older Son prides himself on being able to solve my riddles and puzzles quite easily. (usually after he has solved them) So I thought the best puzzle of the box for him to try and solve just might be the one that was never really there in the first place. Sure enough, he was sure that the secret to opening it was hidden just behind that blank space. It drove him nuts for days. Now, its kinda become my trademark. My first Christmas Box had one also, But it remained blank because I just couldn't figure out what to put there? In the end it worked out well because everyone that explored the box wound up coming up with their own idea about what should go there. And, they were all right! LOL!

    christmas box 1.jpg

    Is there a manual way to open it?

    The solenoid is located behind one of the trunk latches so that if one of the screws holding it on is removed a thin metal rod may be inserted to manually push the latch out of place opening the box

    Wow, besides the box being incredibly cool your story took me aback. The love for your kids is so clear from all of this. Especially the part where you had them buy a gift for a kid in the hospital. Damn you good! Very. Good. Job!

    1 reply

    Pure Genius! I really want to make to make one of these! Can you provide any extra detail about the wiring, especially the nixies and rotary switches?

    Great build! And an awesome story! Now I want to have kids just to put them through such an adventure.
    Did you tell them it was you in the end? If so... how did they react?

    Also, I understand you were working on something else for Christmas 2015, what was it?

    As a young man who constantly dreams of the toys and inventions I'll one day make for my kids, just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for being the type of Dad I aspire to be. Thank you for using your creativity and prowess to not only give your children an experience they'll remember for the rest of their lives, but also to encourage them to make compassion a part of any process. You're awesome!

    love the box so much - that I am going to make is as well! Is there any way you can upload or email me the schematics and how u did the power ?
    I am
    Having a hard time finding how to get 12v and increase it to power the Nixie tubes .. And how did u get the Nixie tubes with the 2 poll 5 switch to set a combination .. Any help would love it - my email is

    What a great dad, awesome idea and excellent execution. I loved the story that tied the whole thing together, the deeds, letters ect. The only problem is when there are older who gets the box lol. Maybe both sets of grand-kids will have to sole a new story.

    PS I think the build looked great- leave it to a fellow ADD OCD. We're always to hard on ourselves.

    Ok I'm going to try this... I can't resist... I do however have a few questions. How are you recharging the battery,and is there a way to open the box manually in case the battery dies or a malfunction in the mechanics?

    This is an incredible idea. I love it. Would love to have one of these. Great job. Very Nice work.

    1 reply

    Thanks Try it!! The locks can be simple. Padlocks?? Just make finding the keys interesting.

    much better than spending a bunch of money on something that is really just a lazy parent gift. Better to inspire creativity and do some good.

    1 reply

    This is really amazing. Well written and very enjoyable to read. You came as close as you could making us feel like your kids.
    Wish I would have got such a present as a child. I guess I should place this in my mind for when I have kids.

    1 reply

    Really great fathering! Mystery, works of Love, and learning to keep good secrets until the right moment. Beautiful work on the box but the best part is the story.

    1 reply