Introduction: Tilt Switches Made From Bottles of Craft Beads

Picture of Tilt Switches Made From Bottles of Craft Beads

If you are looking for a mercury-free tilt switch that you can make yourself on the cheap and quick as I was, then follow along and I will show you how to make some from little tiny bottles of crafting beads.

Step 1: Stuff You Need

Picture of Stuff You Need
In order to make something similar, you will need....
  • a small bottle and cork (mine came with my metalic beads...score!)
  • some tiny metalic beads (Some are conductive, some are not. anything silvery usually is, they need to be tiny to flow well and make good overall contact. A decent substitute would be teeny balls of tin foil.)
  • paper clips or a similar stiff bit of wire
  • a thicker gauge of copper wire, I used house wiring
  • some hook-up wire
  • some glue or some acrylic paint
Tools you will need include....
  • small needle nose pliers
  • a soldering iron
  • a pin (safety pin, sewing needle)
  • a small container
  • a turn of the century mood

Step 2: Empty Two Bottles

Picture of Empty Two Bottles

Pour off two bottles of beads into separate containers. The ones we are interested in are the silver ones, and we will be dividing them up into the two sides of the tilt switch.

Now make a little paper funnel and pour a small quantity of beads into each of the two empty bottles, a quarter of the volume should be fine.

Step 3: Make the Contacts

Picture of Make the Contacts

Start by straightening your paper clip and cutting two pieces about 1 1/2 inches for each bottle (That makes four). Put those aside.

Take your sewing needle and 'pre-drill' two holes in each cork by carefully pushing the needle through the cork, work slowly, the corks are fragile and brittle.

Once your holes are pre-drilled, you can push your contacts through.

Use the paint to seal things up and lend some support to the cork. I did this later, now would have been a better time, learn from my mistakes, and do this step now. (you will see that in the next step, mine are not yet painted).

Once the paint is dry, go ahead and solder some leads to one of the contacts for each switch.

Step 4: Connect It All Together

Picture of Connect It All Together

Okay, if you followed my last instruction, yours should look slightly different than mine. (I.e. the corks are painted and there are leads attached to one side of each.) Yours will be that much the better for it.

At this point you have two tilt switches, you could stop here and use them just as you would use a mercury switch. I wanted it to be bi-directional so I attached them together.

Luckily there is a nice groove in the bottle shape to facilitate this.

Use your copper wire (the thicker gauge) and wrap around one of the bottle necks with a turn and a half. The groove accepts the wire perfectly and getting it snug was easy. 

Line the other bottles neck up, but invert the bottle, and wrap a turn and a half around this one as well. Your two bottles should be securely attached together.

Finally you can bend your contacts. Bend them so they come in contact with the copper wire.

Solder them to the copper, solder a lead to the copper, and your sensor is complete!

Test it out with your multi-meter. Set your meter for a continuity test. Attach one lead from your meter to the copper wire, and another to either of the other leads and give it a tilt. 

Tilt it one way and the beads in one bottle should bury the contacts inside the bottle, thereby closing the circuit for that side. Tilt it the other way, and the beads fall away from the contacts breaking the connection. The opposite effect will be happening in the other bottle. 

Add two more (or even more than that) and you have an effective multi-directional tilt sensor for dirt...erm...bead cheap.

Share and enjoy.


emc2mm (author)2014-11-16

A small amount of zinc or nickel would prevent any aluminum corrosion (galvanized washer glued to bottom of jar) They would sacrifice themselves first. Both are conductive too.

Kiteman (author)2011-12-01

Nice trick.

I guess you could use iron filings as well, since you can seal the bottles to prevent rust.

mrandle (author)Kiteman2014-07-12

I'm thinking that pellet gun bb's or pellets would work great. I think they are usually lead but i think you can get copper looking ones. You can get a whole box for cheap. I think you can get shotgun shot (just the pellets) in big bags. They are very cheap as well and pretty small. I've seen x-ray clinics use them lots to mark things on your body for the radiologist to see.

fjordcarver (author)Kiteman2011-12-01

There are a bunch of options, use iron and throw a grain or two from one of those freshness packs in the mix might help with rust as well.
It was a midnight idea that solved several problems (a) I needed a mercury switch, b) I wanted to enter two weekly challenges with one project that fit both categories bottles and wire. c) I need/like/am addicted to making things, and now to Instructables as well.

Thanks for commenting! (You are like a super hero)

This is very clever. Various applications are buzzing in my head.

Thoughts RE this conversation and Kiteman's comment. Have you tried iron? I could be way off-base here, but I think it might actually work poorly. The wrapped copper wire will act like a weak electromagnet, and iron might develop some hysteresis (i.e. might remain magnetized. This could result in the filings clinging to the steel paperclips and perhaps end up keeping the circuit closed.

Also, the freshness pack (i.e. dessicator pack) could work well if it's silica gel, but not so much if it's calcium chloride-based, as it would tend to corrode any metal it touched. The choices of the metal-covered plastic beads or your aluminum foil plan are winners. Other weak diamagnetic conductors, like carbon, copper or silver could also be winners. I was actually thinking of little bits of lead free solder....

Thanks for the insight. The beads are cheap and come with the bottles....soo....

Aluminium grindings maybe. Simple idea from a simple guy.
I am really pleased to hear that I made your head buzz......erm, that doesn't sound right....but ...well...erm...glad to be of service?

Share and enjoy.

Kasm279 (author)fjordcarver2011-12-04

Aluminum would oxidize and eventually become non-conductive.

Kiteman (author)Kasm2792011-12-05

All aluminium exposed to the air is already oxidised, and that surface oxidation seals the surface, stopping any more oxidation occuring (unlike iron, where the rust layer eats into the metal).

srilyk (author)Kiteman2013-04-13

Steel - actually. With iron (at least according to this Instructable:, iron forms the initial layer of oxidation and as long as it's not scraped off, the internal iron is protected from further oxidation. Steel flakes when it rusts, so it will continue to expose more and more of the metal to oxidation.

Kasm279 (author)Kiteman2011-12-05

I was assuming that he was filing the aluminum himself. How long does it take to oxidize?

Kiteman (author)Kasm2792011-12-05

It's almost instant - aluminium is a very reactive metal.

fjordcarver (author)Kasm2792011-12-05

nope, I was using beads, as I showed in the Instructable, the comment concerning alluminium filings was made as a suggestion for an alternative.

Kasm279 (author)fjordcarver2011-12-05

I know, I was saying that the alternative idea of using filings might not work because the filings might oxidize.

fjordcarver (author)Kiteman2011-12-05

See, I knew somebody smarter would know. Thanks for the information Kiteman!

fjordcarver (author)Kasm2792011-12-04

Good thing that the beads work fine then. How long would it take for the aluminium to oxidize in this sealed small environment?

Kasm279 (author)fjordcarver2011-12-04

I'm not sure how long aluminum takes to oxidize.

fjordcarver (author)fjordcarver2011-12-01

It remains to be seen whether it will be accepted in both challenges, but it certainly solved problem A. (I think it should it fits both criteria)

Kiteman (author)fjordcarver2011-12-01

As long as you leave the url in the comments for each challenge, I think it qualifies!

(Late-night ideas rock, as long as you have a note-book to hand when you have them!)

fjordcarver (author)Kiteman2011-12-01

I do and have, but nothing says that one has ideas worth writing down like owning a proper Maker's notebook, which sadly I am not yet the proud owner of.

Ahh but one can dream.....of a day when a Maker's notebook adorns his bedside table. With the little logo....and the prestige.......

Alas, I am confined to dollar store quality notepads for now.
Thanks for the support!

shinojmahe (author)2014-07-04

brilliant thinking

nerd7473 (author)2014-05-24

neat you can make this from stuff you can buy at hobby lobby

simplejim (author)2012-10-25

Small led shot will work well. I use it to turn a led flashlight on in the trunk of my car when I raise the trunk lid.

njrajgelani (author)2012-06-08

You are a Genious!!!! :O

fjordcarver (author)njrajgelani2012-06-09


ferragamo (author)2011-12-28

your creation is so cool and amazing,, a very intelligent mind.

ahm, mr.fjordcarver , im just curious on the two wires that are connected to the bottle where it connected?? on the 6th photo on steph 3.??
and can you post the complete photos of your creation..??? plz... hope u grant my request, hope to see ur answer tomorrow.. thank u!! :)

fjordcarver (author)ferragamo2011-12-28

The completed photo is the first photo. This was the project. It is just a switch, that can be connected to whatever circuit you would like to use it in. I have only connected it to an Arduino in order to run some tests and play with turning different flashing LEDs on.
Typically a switch allows you to make or break a connection at will, in this case, you turn the bottles over.
I hope this helps.

stringstretcher (author)2011-12-14

Cool idea! Has anyone mentioned BB's?

filmtunes (author)2011-12-05

I have done this before in a much simpler way. Using 1 1/2" of plastic drinking straw in place of the glass bottle. 1 large drop of salted water in place of the beads or mercury. 2 small wires on one end. and sealing both ends with a butane lighter and finger pressure. at higher currents this will fail miserably, but my needs were DC only. It worked fine, simple, free. just for the curious, my tilt switch allowed the battery current to consume a small wad of fine steel wool which in turn lit another item.

elic (author)2011-12-04

Very nice!

solaralternatives (author)2011-12-04

Hmm, metal BB ammunition looks like it would work

joen (author)2011-12-04

How much current can you safely switch? For example, can you switch 100 watts or is this better suited as a sensor that switches a transister or input for a micro controller?

Like the idea either way!

fjordcarver (author)joen2011-12-04

It was designed as an input for a micro controller. It worked fine under load of a small dc motor, but I have not tested it under a higher load. If you build one and try it under a heavy load, post the results, it would be fun to see. Perhaps somebody with a technical background might be able to speculate.
Thanks for the support!

swander (author)2011-12-04

Ball bearing or a Pachinko ball in an old glass inline fuse. Put a strip of foil from one contact almost to the other in the glass tube and then put the ball in. When the ball rolls to the Open end, the ball shorts the foil to the open contact and closes the switch. You can make dual open contacts on each end and have a double throw switch depending on the orientation of the glass tube, The ball shorts the contacts on either end. These switches are already in the stores. Mercury switches are in old house thermostats if you need to find one.

fjordcarver (author)swander2011-12-04

You could also put a quarter in a film case, but that wasn't what this Instructable was about. You should write up your method and share it with the rest of us.

agis68 (author)2011-12-04

it works like mercury switch....but the mettlic beads are much safer....goooooood!!!!!!!

Phil B (author)2011-12-04

BB shot for an air rifle should work, although they are not real small. I would not use lead shot from a shotgun shell because lead oxidizes and becomes less conductive in time.

I used a tilt switch once for an alarm on a water cooling line. A friend sometimes forgot to shut off the cooling line for the shop spot welder when he went home at night, and there was a chance of overflow and flooding in his shop. We replaced a single pole light switch with a 3-way switch. When he flipped the light switch to "off" the 3-way energized the transformer on a doorbell ringer for an alarm. The tilt switch was on the water shut-off lever. If that lever was not in the "off" position, the door bell ringer made lots of noise and immediately reminded my friend the water was still "on." It saved him at least once.

gerbilboy (author)2011-12-02

Okay, if this shows up three times, it's because the site wouldn't display the first two attempts to leave a comment.

You could try using one of these

instead of the bead bottles. Just put a divider between the two sections, and then you wouldn't have to wire two containers together.

fjordcarver (author)gerbilboy2011-12-02

Good idea, thanks.
If I win some Sugru, I was thinking I'd try a two ended one with a section of pen tubing and contacts at both ends. We'll see. I am actually very pleased with both the function and asthetic of this switch though. Wireing the two together was easy anyways, just twist the wire around the channel.

TheJoshinator (author)2011-12-02

Just a thought - if the seal was waterproof, like if you used a rubber stopper and sealed it with silicone caulk or something, you could use a concentrated brine solution instead of having to mess around with beads or other macroscopic particles. Great idea and execution, though!

I actually thought of that, with a touch of food colour, they would look cool too. I did not have a small amount of silicone and did not want to waste my last tube. I think problems might arise as the air inside would be humid, and evaporation and dripping might actually slow down or bounce the contanct.
Try it out, post a picture let us know how turns out.

H4T (author)2011-12-01

Simple and awesome, very cool idea! It's so aesthetically interesting too!

fjordcarver (author)H4T2011-12-01


About This Instructable




Bio: Dad, maker, dreamer, hacker, painter.
More by fjordcarver:Make A 2D Video Game with UnityAcoustic/Electric Cookie Tin UnitarMake a Keepsake Book of your Child's Artwork
Add instructable to: