Introduction: Create Your Own Solar Powered Mason Jar Nightlight From Junk

It's spring which of course means two things:
  - Rain, snow and snow-shovels have left wornout, damaged and broken solar garden lights in the yard.
  - Garden centers are running specials on new solar lights (I found several stores selling them for $1 each)

I managed to avoid throwing out several broken solar lights by using them to create some neat "Mason jar nightlights"...just charge them up during the day and they light the way at night.
I liked the results and noticed pre-made "Solar Mason Jars" are selling for $24.00 on Amazon and even "Solar Lid Lights" (just the lids) are $12. So I tried a few more variations with a few of the $1 solar lights and put together this Instructable so we can make our own!

This Instructable describes how to create either style of Solar Mason Jar Nightlight (from salvaged or new solar lights)  
We'll start with the "new light" variation, it's a pretty easy project!

What's Needed for this Instructable:
  • Solar Garden Lights - either salvaged or new - you know the type, typically a cylinder on a stick with the solar panel on top
  • Mason Jar, Band and Lid  - I used small Half Pint (8oz) Kerr brand decorative jelly jars, but any canning jar will work.
  • Frosted Glass spray paint - I used Rust-Oleum brand.
  • NiCad batteries - the damaged lights generally have rusty worn-out batteries, typically AA. Even new budget lights occasionally need new batteries. (found these at Harbor Freight store). If you have a charger you can try re-freshening old batteries with that.
  • Something to cut with - I used a Dremmel, X-Acto, Tin snips and even a bench-grinder depending on how well a particular light fit into the jar. 
  • Glue or Hot Glue gun
  • Screwdriver - often required to access dead batteries
  • Soldering Iron and Solder - damaged lights will likely need some repair, however new lights shouldn't require soldering
  • Vice or clamps
  • Colored Spray Paint - I had some sparkly blue auto paint around so added a light coat of blue to a few,
    I like the blue color a lot!  Just go light on the paint, I made one that is really just too dark.

Let's make some!

(This Instructable submitted by the Rabbit-Hole Maker Space as part of the Instructables Sponsorship Program.)

Step 1: New Solar Light Variation

Bargain solar lights are either:
 - larger than the 2.25" opening of the Mason jar
 - smaller than the opening in the Mason Jar

Larger: The first style I tried was (on clearance from 4th of July) just a touch larger than the opening. Easy enough to detach the blue top section from it's plastic post (not shown here).  Next to make things fit I simply had to cut the sides of the light off using the dremmel and a tin snips.
This particular size light worked really well because no rewiring, cutting of the lid or even gluing of the lid was needed. I found these at Menards for $1 ...think I better go back for some more!

Smaller - Here because the solar panel itself is so small it would slip through the jar "band". I had to cut a hole in the lid, and then glue the light to the lid.
(another solution might be to copy the size of the lid out of something easier to cut, plastic (like the top of a Skippy jar maybe) or wood. I haven't tried this technique yet)

I cut the lid hole 2 different ways:
  - Marked a square on the lid and used the Dremmel to cut the opening.
  - I also used a hole-saw to create a round hole. The hole-saw technique is easier, but partially blocks the solar panel.

Another problem with the smaller size light: the battery inside was a 1/2 AA...looked like a AA only half the length. I couldn't find a replacement so I made my own battery holder from spare cardboard and used the AA size...see the images below.

Step 2: Salvaged Solar Light

Where do you get Solar Lights to Salvage? - I ran one over with a lawnmower, my nephew got aggressive shoveling snow and smashed one, and I find these lights typically stop working because water gets in and rusts up the connections and/or the batteries just wear out..All these variations can be up-cycled via this Instructable!

Broken down solar lights require some or all of these extra steps:
 - cut off the excess broken plastic
 - replace worn out corroded battery
 - clean rusty connections on the battery holder
 - resolder disconnected wires. Fortunately the circuit boards for these lights were very simple and were marked
+b (positive from the battery)
-b (negative from the battery (typically black)
+s (positive coming from the solar cell)
-s (hmm, I'm starting to see a pattern here)
-CDS - only found this on one light I repaired's where the light censor gets connected (orientation doesn't matter) (CDS stands for Cadmium-Sulfide Sensor (aka a photocell))
Otherwise everything else is the same as the steps for a New Solar Light.

Step 3: Frosting the Jars

In or out? At first I frosted only the insides of the jars. I thought this would leave the outside cleaner and smoother.
I eventually switched to painting the outside. The feel of the outside frosted jar is fine, and painting the outside makes it easier to keep the paint level even.
Either way it's important to use multiple coats letting the pant dry for 10 minutes between coats. It takes that long for the frosted paint look to take effect.

Frosting Tip: Leave the bottom unpainted - this variation works great as you can pick the jar up and use it as a flashlight. 

I also experimented with using broken pieces of mirror and CDs at the bottom of the jar. It was easy to glue pieces in there and I think it helped make the light a bit brighter.

In Summary
I'm very happy with the way these turned out (even made some for Mother's day presents).
Future design changes may include:
- externalize a switch so even if it's dark the night light can be switched off
- Use bamboo wood for the lid portion...easier to cut and should be a good look.
- Find other things to "solarize".

Thanks for checking out this Instructable and good luck with your projects! 
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