Introduction: Useless Machine - Complete Plans and Hardware Sources

Picture of Useless Machine - Complete Plans and Hardware Sources

Waste hours having fun and accomplishing nothing with this mesmerizing
and addictive toy! The Useless Machine quickly becomes the center of attention at any gathering.

This little gem is sure to garner a laugh, a quizzical look and more. You turn it on, it turns itself off. That's it. What does it mean? Is it a commentary on the age old question of man vs. machine? Does it speak to technology in todays world becoming ever more emboldened to make decisions regardless of your desire or will? Or is it just a mindless toy sure to entertain and amuse?

This Instrucable includes all of the plans you need to create your own laser cut box and mechanism as well as links to source all of the hardware you need to make your own Useless Machine

If you have trouble sourcing the parts, visit our website to get a complete kit. You can also order just the laser cut parts or even a complete and assembled Useless Machine.

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

Picture of Gather Your Materials

You will need the following items:

  • (1) DPDT On/On toggle switch. We like these from Jameco. Though you can use another size or style if you prefer. Just be sure get one with a 1/4 inch mounting hole or adjust the files that you will be cutting out later to compensate.
  • (1) Micro switch. This needs to be this item to match the mounting holes and cam assembly in our file that you will be cutting out later. If you get another switch, you will need to edit the file and potentially spend time to get the measurements setup for alignment. (Note - 9/29/16 Jameco no longer carries the item. The above link now points to The item is an Omron D2F-L-D if you want to look elsewhere.)
  • (1) 2xAA battery holder. Any brand or kind should do. We prefer this one from Jameco.
  • (1) Solarbotics GM-9 Geared Motor. These are available from many sources including and Hobby
  • A short piece (about 3") of 3/64" brass rod (for the hinge mechanism). Available at many local hardware stores and big-box stores.
  • The laser cut enclosure, mounting and cam mechanism.
  • About 10" of black 22 gauge solid core wire
  • About 10" of red 22 gauge solid core wire
  • About 2" of green 22 gauge solid core wire
  • (1) small zip tie (for a strain relief)
  • (1) 1" of velcro
  • (2) AA batteries
  • (2) #4 x 1/2" screws
  • (2) #4 x 3/8" screws
  • (3) #2 x 3/8" screw

Step 2: Gather Your Tools and Supplies

Picture of Gather Your Tools and Supplies

To assemble the Useless Machine, gather the following tools and supplies:

  • Wood glue
  • 3 large elastic bands (will be used to clamp the box after glue up)
  • Small brush (for applying glue) An acid brush or small hobby size paint brush will work perfectly for this.
  • Screwdriver - No 1 Phillips
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Wire cutters / Strippers
  • Soldering iron
  • Solder


  • A set of helping hands to hold the pieces while soldering

Step 3: Cut Your Useless Machine

Picture of Cut Your Useless Machine

Use the attached plans to laser cut your useless machine in 1/8 material. We used Baltic Birch for this instructable. You will end up with the pieces shown in the attached images. There are essentially 3 sub-assemblies that will make up your Useless machine. The box base, the box lid and the internal mechanisms which consist of a cam assembly and the mounting brackets.

The attached plans use color mapping so that the resulting file has both engraved areas (raster) and cut areas (vector). The red lines in the plan are set to a lower power and higher speed so that the result is a line that is marked (rastered) instead of being cut. This speeds up the process considerably.

In our shop, for production items, we often finish our material prior to running them through the laser. We use a Golden Oak finish. the benefit of this finish is that it closely matches the smoke residue color so that, once cut, our pieces can be immediately assembled. Feel free to assemble this however you want, though.

Step 4: Solder Your First Wires

Picture of Solder Your First Wires

Cut and strip about 1/4" off of both ends of your 2" green wire. When looking at the bottom of the DPDT switch, you are going to solder one end of the green wire and the black wire from your 2xAA battery pack to the top right lug as show in the image. Trim any extra wire tag ends after soldering to ensure that you do not accidentally short out your toggle switch terminals later.

Step 5: Soldering Part 2

Picture of Soldering Part 2

Now cut about 3 inches from your red wire and strip about 1/4" from both ends. Solder one end of the red wire and the red wire from your 2xAA battery holder to the lower right lug of the terminal. Once the solder has cooled, trim any tag ends to prevent a short circuit later.

Step 6: Soldering Step 3

Picture of Soldering Step 3

Cut about 3 inches from your black wire and trim 1/4" of insulation from both ends. Attach one one of the wire to the top left lug of the toggle switch.

Step 7: Soldering Step 4

Picture of Soldering Step 4

Solder the other ends of the red and black wires you soldered in the previous step and attach them to the two outside terminals of the micro switch. The polarity does not matter. You can attach either wire to either of the terminals. Just make sure you do NOT use the center terminal.

Step 8: Solder Step 5

Picture of Solder Step 5

Take the remaining red and black wires and strip 1/4" from each of the ends. These wires are soldered onto the toggle switch. The black wire to the top center terminal and the red wire to the bottom center terminal.

Step 9: Solder Step 6

Picture of Solder Step 6

Take the remaining end of the green wire and solder it to the lower left terminal.

Now turn off your soldering iron for a few minutes while we assemble the mounting brackets and cam assembly.

Step 10: Attach Large Mount to Gear Motor

Picture of Attach Large Mount to Gear Motor

Using the 2 #4 by 1/2" screws, attach the large mounting plate to the gear motor

Step 11: Attach Micro Switch to Large Plate

Picture of Attach Micro Switch to Large Plate

Using the 2 of the #2 x 3/8 screws attach the micro switch to the large mounting plate. The screws attach from the back side of the plate. Be sure to note the orientation of the switch so that the lever is pointed towards the top of the plate.

Step 12: Attach the Top Mounting Plate

Picture of Attach the Top Mounting Plate

Apply a few small dabs of glue between the tenons on the large mounting plate and attach the small mounting plate. Be sure to note the orientation of the small mounting plate. Let the assembly dry for 15-20 minutes. You can use an elastic band to apply pressure to the plate if it is necessary.

Step 13: Mount the Toggle Switch

Picture of Mount the Toggle Switch

Push the toggle switch through the hole in the small mounting plate. The switch needs to be mounted so that the wires for the battery tray are towards the back (farthest from the axle on the motor). This is important for your Useless Machine to operate correctly.

Step 14: Build the Arm and Cam Assembly

Picture of Build the Arm and Cam Assembly

Layout the arm and cam as shown. Use the 2 #4 x 3/8 screws to mount the cam. The orientation of the cam is important. Make sure that the angle between the arm and the cam matches as shown in the picture. If your cam is mounted the wrong way, the arm will not fall below the cover of the useless machine.

Step 15: Attach Arm Assembly to Motor Axle

Picture of Attach Arm Assembly to Motor Axle

Using the remaining #2 x 3/8 screw, mount the arm assembly to the motor axle. Now is a good time to attach the zip tie through the hole in the lower left of the large mounting bracket to hold the battery wires. This will provide strain relief for when you need to replace your batteries.

Step 16: Attach the "hand"

Picture of Attach the "hand"

Use a few dabs of glue to attach the hand to the arm. The hand gives us a slightly larger contact area so the the arm make solid contact with the toggle switch.

Step 17: Solder the Motor

Picture of Solder the Motor

Solder the red wire to the upper tab on the motor (closest to the toggle switch) and the black wire to the lower tab.

Step 18: Test the Motor Assembly

Picture of Test the Motor Assembly

Now is a perfect time to test our motor assembly. Hold the
assembly upright with the large mounting plate flat on your work table. Make sure the toggle switch is pulled into position furthest away from the arm assembly and insert 2 AA batteries. Toggle the switch on. The arm should rise and push the switch into the off position and then return to closed. If this does not occur, check all of your wiring and for short circuits. If you did not hold the assembly against a flat surface, it is possible that the cam pushed past the lever of the micro switch. If this happened, remove the batteries and carefully push the arm back over the lever. Be sure not to bend the lever.

When you are finished playing with the assembly, set it aside for a few minutes and we will begin building the enclosure.

Step 19: Layout, Glue and Assemble the Lower Box

Picture of Layout, Glue and Assemble the Lower Box

Grab a paper towel to have handy for cleanup and layout the lower box bottom and sides as shown and apply a small bead of glue to all the meeting tabs as well as the tabs on the inside portion of the sides where the side pieces will meet. It is sometimes helpful to use a small brush to help with this step. You will be "folding" the box together so make sure the the lines and markings are all face down. Start by folding up two meeting sides. Then a third and finally the last. Use an elastic band to hold the entire assembly together. Quickly grab your paper towel and clean up and glue overflow.

Step 20: Add the Arm Assembly to the Top

Picture of Add the Arm Assembly to the Top

Apply a small dab of glue to the upper bracket and insert the arm assembly into the top cover. Tighten the nut. Make sure the arm assembly is pointed in the proper orientation as show in the pictures.

Step 21: Glue the Top Into Place

Picture of Glue the Top Into Place

Apply glue to all of the tabs on the top as well as to the thin bottom portion of the large mounting plate. Insert the top into the bottom assembly and apply a rubber band while the glue dries.

Step 22: Glue Up the Lid

Picture of Glue Up the Lid

Layout the pieces for the lid as show. Apply a small bead of glue to all the overlapping tabs and fold up similar to how you did the box bottom. Wipe off any glue spill and clean up any squeeze out. Place the lid onto the box assembly and add an elastic band as shown to temporarily hold in place. Set the entire box aside to dry and let the glue setup.

Step 23: Add the Hinge Brackets

Picture of Add the Hinge Brackets

Place a few small dabs of glue on the hinge brackets where the hinges will meet the box and lid. Place the lid back onto the box to check alignment of the hinge brackets and then set aside and allow the glue to dry thoroughly.

Step 24: Add the Hinge Pin

Picture of Add the Hinge Pin

Using your pliers, bend about 1/4" of your brass rod to a 90 degree angle. Slide the hinge pin through the hinge brackets and then CAREFULLY bend the other end. Do not apply much pressure to the hinge brackets as this can cause the bracket to split. Trim he end of the hinge pin you just bent to match the size of the other side.

Step 25: Add Velcro to Keep Battery Box in Place

Picture of Add Velcro to Keep Battery Box in Place

Attach the velcro to the battery box and then the battery box to the side of your Useless Machine. This will keep the battery box in place

Step 26: Enjoy

Have fun and enjoy your new Useless Machine. We get a giggle from almost everyone who tries it. We think you will too!


OliverP37 made it! (author)2017-09-10

the first couple of test runs worked great. But shortly after, the cam ran past the stop switch. I reset the mechanism and tried again, but it overran the stop again. My solution was to add a rubber bumper to the bottom of the box to ensure the cam cannot freewheel past the stop switch.

OrangeKat (author)OliverP372017-09-11

Great idea to solve your problem!

HenryW64 (author)2017-09-09

I finished the motor/switch assembly thing, but when testing it, the motor was not able to turn off the switch. I know the electronics work because the arm moves correctly when I manually turn on and off the switch, but the switch seems too stiff or something for the arm to be able to turn off. Is there a way I can fix this?

OrangeKat (author)HenryW642017-09-10

We've noticed the same problem a couple of times on the ones we assemble. We think that, when torquing down the screw, the gears in the motor will sometimes get out place just a little bit and jam up the works. Loosen the screw that holds the arm to the motor so there is just the slightest amount of play in it. Then jiggle the arm around a bit in different directions. It may loosen it up.

Another possibility is weak batteries. Check the voltage on your batteries to make sure they are fully charged. If neither of these fix the problem, let us know and we will help you to get the problem resolved and/or any replacement parts you might need.


HenryW64 (author)OrangeKat2017-09-10

It was one of the batteries. I replaced it and it now works like a charm! It’s a wonderful kit.

HenryW64 (author)2017-09-09

I cannot get the arm go actually flip the switch. The electronics do work, however.

JoshuaM267 (author)2017-08-12

Do you have a wire map or a high level drawing of what solders where? The zoomed in photos are a little tricky for a noob

JoshuaM267 (author)JoshuaM2672017-08-12

Nevermind, I figured it out. :)

daddysean (author)2017-07-19

I cannot get the arm to return. Please advise.

OrangeKat (author)daddysean2017-07-20

Are you saying that the arm will turn off the switch but after turning off the switch it does not go back into the box? That sounds like a wiring problem or a bad toggle switch. We have seen a few toggle switches that have gone bad and we are happy to send you a replacement. Email your name, order number, and USPS mailing address to and we will send a replacement.

HowardL28 (author)2017-07-08

This is the most precisely crafted wooden kit I have ever assembled. The pieces fit together like a Swiss watch with no sanding or trimming required. The machine works perfectly.

Steve In SC (author)2017-06-21

Got your kit a couple days ago and had some time to build it this afternoon. I put some finish on all the wood parts yesterday and took to the soldering today but have run into a road block. When I attempt to test it, the wires from the battery pack both get hot soon after putting the batteries in with the micro switch either open or closed and with the DPST switch in either position. I double checked the wiring several times and have no shorts that I can see and everything is wired exactly as the photos and instructions show. Please advise as the project is at a standstill for now.

OrangeKat (author)Steve In SC2017-06-22

It sounds like a bad switch. We will get you a replacement. We've sent you an email to get your usps mailing addressso we can ship it. Thanks!

Steve In SC (author)OrangeKat2017-06-24

Just finished the assembly. Everything works perfectly! Lots of laughs when it goes to town and does its business. I will ohm out both the switches and give feedback as to which one was no good. Thanks for a cool project and funny gag!!

jstash07 (author)2017-06-03

The Wires become too hot to touch and the arm pushes the switch but does not go back into the box. How can I fix this? Thanks.

OrangeKat (author)jstash072017-06-04

Your micro switch is installed the wrong way. The hinge on the metal lever needs to be at the bottom instead of the top.

jstash07 (author)OrangeKat2017-06-04

Thank U soooo much

lil14001 (author)2017-03-16

My useless box is not working and I've tried everything I could think of. The middle two lugs (Toggle switch) is given no sign of life. I tested all the other ones and they showed they have a current going to them. Is there anything I can do that I haven't done to fix my useless box?

OrangeKat (author)lil140012017-03-16

It is possible you have a bad switch. If you got your kit from us, you can go to our website (on the bottom of the box) and use the contact us link to send us your order number, who you bought it from (Amazon, Etsy, etc) and your USPS mailing address, we will send you a replacement.

lil14001 (author)OrangeKat2017-03-17


lil14001 (author)lil140012017-04-03

Ugh. I am having the worst of luck with this box. I got it working but it will only turn off and will not retreat back into the box. What am I doing wrong this time? Also the battery pack gets warm each time I put the batteries. is there a way to fix that?

OrangeKat (author)lil140012017-04-03

Sounds like it was not the switch. The batteries getting hot are a sign that there is a short circuit somewhere. We are happy to help your troubleshoot and find the problem if you wish. Do you have a multi-meter or something else you can test voltage and continuity with? Also, can you post a few pictures of the various connections so we can confirm the wiring?

lil14001 (author)OrangeKat2017-04-04

The new switch worked, unlike the other one. I'll get some pics... I feel so stupid if its just something stupid that can fix it.

lil14001 (author)lil140012017-04-04

The two wires going nowhere are to the batteries. The green wire is connected to both of the micro switch wires because before it was only connected to one and only went in one direction. It would be nice if you could help me... This useless box is really useless without a purpose.

OrangeKat (author)lil140012017-04-04

I do see a couple of problems:

1) The red and black wires going to the motor are reversed.

2) It also looks like the toggle switch is 180 degrees off but it is hard to tell as the pics are a bit fuzzy.

To help explain better, if you are set the assembly down on the table with the motor touching the table, have the arm on the right side and are looking at the bottom of the toggle switch (as in your last picture) and we number the toggle switch terminals as follows:

1 2 3

4 5 6

You should have the following connections:

Pin 1 should be two red wires. 1 wire is the positive battery and 1 wire goes to the micro switch.

Pin 2 should be a red wire that goes to the motor ( it should be the motor terminal that is closest to the toggle switch, or top, of the assembly)

Pin 3 should be a green wire that connect to pin 4

Pin 4 should be the other end of the green wire and the negative wire for the battery pack

Pin 5 should be black wire that goes to the motor (the terminal furthest from the toggle switch)

Pin 6 should be a black wire that goes to the micro switch

Hopefully that helps get you sorted but please let us know if you need additional help.

lil14001 (author)OrangeKat2017-04-05

That's what I had but it was only turning the switch off and would not go back down. I mixed the black and red motor wires up by accident, so I used the red as the black and the black as the red. Ugh... I'll try again.

lil14001 (author)lil140012017-04-05

Ugh!!! I tired fixing the wires and the battery pack was warm again... I undid the wires and when I started typing this the battery pack started to smoke... I have no idea how it happened and I'm starting to wonder if doing this was such a good idea...

OrangeKat (author)lil140012017-04-05

If you would like, you can mail your kit to us and we will find the problem, fix it and return it to you. We can either return just the arm assembly completed or the entire box complete so let us know which option you would prefer. Our mailing address is on our website on the contact us page.

M888R (author)2017-03-05

What are the dimensions of the vector graphics file? I'm trying to laser cut the wood myself, but the file doesn't contain those measurements. If you answer, please let me know what units. Thanks a ton!

OrangeKat (author)M888R2017-03-06

I'm not sure what you mean by the dimensions of the file. The box is 5 1/4 x 3 1/4 x 2 1/2

M888R (author)OrangeKat2017-03-11

I need to know how large the platform for the cutting needs to be and the scale. Even with the size of the box, the file provided has whitespace in between that i don't know the size of.


OrangeKat (author)M888R2017-03-13

The platform for the cutting? I don't know what you mean by that. The page size is 12" x 24". Is that what you need? Sorry for being dense but you are using terms which I don't use and I am not sure what you mean by them. What are you looking at that does not work? The files attached to this 'ible should not need to be converted. Is that what you are doing? Converting to another format?

M888R (author)M888R2017-03-05

Also, where might I find a brass rod pre-cut to 3"? Does this design still use a brass rod or anything?

M888R (author)M888R2017-03-05

Agh, sorry for another one, but where would you buy the screws from for the best price? They seem pretty expensive in general.

OrangeKat (author)M888R2017-03-06

I would buy them for the best price. I but them in bulk from

OrangeKat (author)M888R2017-03-06

It still uses brass rod - though any rod of approx the same diameter should work. It does not need to be brass. You can normally find the rod at your local home improvement or hardware store.

Sandbird (author)2016-12-22

Can you give me the dimensions of this box? The files have no sizes :/

OrangeKat (author)Sandbird2016-12-22

5 1/4 x 3 1/4 x 2 1/2

Sandbird (author)OrangeKat2016-12-22

Thank you :)

ConnBomb (author)2016-09-29

I'm trying to make this version of the pointless box for my class but the micro switch you recommended for the machine is not available anymore on so what would you recommend as a replacement?

OrangeKat (author)ConnBomb2016-09-29

Hi - The item is an Omron D2F-L-D Here is a link to get them at

I believe Mouser also carries this item, also.

Thanks for pointing this out. I will update the Instructable with the new link right now.

ConnBomb (author)OrangeKat2016-09-29

Thanks for the info

KLShore (author)2016-09-25

I feel really stupid here...when first soldering, how do you know which "upper right" lug to start with? You could rotate it 180 degrees and have a different "top right", kwim? I'm worried we'll do the whole thing upside down and the switch will be backward.

OrangeKat (author)KLShore2016-09-26

It will be OK either way. Let us know if you have any problems.

marinezombie made it! (author)2015-09-25

Painted flat black, and had to use a different hinge as @OrangeKat must have accidentally left out two of the hinges.

Took about and hour and had to file down the arm that hits the micro-switch to have the box completely close.

I like it.

Kużdo (author)2015-07-31

"Use the attached plans to laser cut your useless machine in 1/8 material. We used Baltic Birch for this instructable." - Did you mean boards with a thickness of 1/8 inch?

OrangeKat (author)Kużdo2015-07-31

Yes. 1/8 inch thick boards.

bepppo (author)2014-12-29

dont forget to make your cnc laser cutter first

tomatoskins (author)2014-12-27

And so much detail!

seamster (author)2014-12-26

These are so much fun!

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