Pipe Cleaner Circuitry




Introduction: Pipe Cleaner Circuitry

About: I am an artist and arts educator based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

This project engages students in an open ended activity exploring art and circuitry. Students learn about electrical circuits by creating an illuminating art object out of pipe cleaners. They are invited to design an off/on mechanism for their creation. An extension project could be to invite students to create a scale model of a public space light feature or a paper and pipe cleaner model of a hand held illumination device.

Step 1: Materials & Tools


  • Two pipe cleaners (ends stripped of fuzz)
  • two paper clips
  • five or six additional pipe cleaners
  • construction paper
  • tape or small rubber band
  • one lithium button battery (from IKEA store)
  • one LED light with anode and cathode legs curled
  • Colored pencils optional.

TIPS: Remind students to be careful with stripped ends of pipe cleaners as they can poke. Test out that the LED light works with the battery before you begin. (Do this by straddling the anode and cathode “legs” of the LED light on either side of the button battery so that these “legs” touch an opposite side of the battery. If the light does not light up, then flip the battery around and test with the anode and cathode touching the opposite sides)

There is a bit of prep time to cut off the fuzz on the pipe cleaner ends and to curl the LED light “legs” (anode and cathode wires). To cut off the fuzz on the ends of the pipe cleaners, use scissors and trim almost parallel to the wire to cut fuzz close to the wire.


  • pliers
  • scissors

Step 2: Get Inspiration!

You will be drawing with wire soon, so get your imagination going with some cool wire art:

Step 3: Building a Simple Working Circuit/ Attaching the Paper Clips to the Pipe Cleaners

  1. Students check that they each have all the materials needed to make a basic circuit: two paper clips, battery, led light and two pipe cleaners with the ends stripped of fuzz.
  2. Students check that the light works with their battery by having it straddle the battery. Set the battery aside.

  3. Students wrap a raw wire end of a pipe cleaner to a paper clip. They take their second pipe cleaner and attach a paper clip in the same way. They should now have two pipe cleaners, each with a paper clip foot. They should double check that they wrapped the wire tightly around each paper clip and that the wire of the pipe cleaner is touching the wire of the paper clip.

Step 4: Building a Simple Working Circuit: Attaching the LED Light to the Pipe Cleaners

Now the students will attach the LED lights.

  1. The other end of each pipe cleaner (the end not attached to a paper clip)is wrapped around one loop of the LED light (the anode and cathode legs need to be curled with pliers to create the loops).
  2. The LED light now looks like it has two pipe cleaner legs with paper clip feet. Students test out the circuit by touching the paper clips at the same time to different sides of the battery. If it doesn’t work one way, flip the battery and try again.

Step 5: Make IT Art!

At this point students have a working circuit! Now to turn it into art!

  1. Students can attach one paper clip foot to the battery with a rubber band or tape. The other paper clip foot is the on/off switch that they tap against the battery to turn on.
  2. Students now pick up six extra pipe cleaners and a sheet of paper to turn their circuit into wire art.
  3. taping the whole structure to construction paper can also add support to the design.

THINGS TO TRY: Can you make an on off/switch in a fun and creative way? Can you collaboratively design a series of pipe cleaner units that light up to illuminate up a light?

ACTIVITY MANAGEMENT TIPS: Have accessible only the basic material for making the circuit on the tables. After they make a successful pipe cleaner circuit with the LED light, then they go to the materials table for construction paper and more pipe cleaners and beads (optional) to add to the circuit. Also, it is helpful to demonstrate how to make a tight winding of the pipe cleaner around the paper clip and LED wires. If students are struggling to get their light light up, ask them to problem solve and investigate where the break in the circuit might be. Is everything connected well? They can ask their neighbors for advice, too.

Per unit cost: .70 cents per student (spreadsheet of costs) cost of pliers is $5.00 each (students can share pliers in pairs)

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    Question 1 year ago

    I am so excited to find this.I teach 4th grade science and I was looking for a way to teach circuits that was inexpensive for parents. I am fully remote and there is no sign of us going back to school soon. Do people have any more suggestions for what I can do with the class? Do the pipe cleaners get hot? Any other safety tips? One person mentioned 3V LED that change colors and flash in the comments. I think those would be cool too. Any tips where I can get them? Any other suggestions for things parents can buy? I am really excited!


    6 years ago

    I'm planning on making this with a group of 4th graders. What LEDs are you using? When I went to the HSC site, there are about 40 different ones to choose from. I'd like these to be long lasting and have an idea that the LED forward voltage to supply has an impact on life. Do you have any suggestions?


    Reply 6 years ago

    Thanks for your interest in this project. I have been using 3V LED lights from HSC that I pick up from their physical store. Also, here is a link to bright 3V LED lights that change colors and flash: http://ebay.to/1lUQhu1 These are quite fun for kids. These work well with the 3V ion lithium batteries I purchase from IKEA.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    We are looking for simple electronics projects that don't include soldering and this is perfect especially because it incorporates art.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I am so glad that this is useful to you! I have also blended this project with toy hacking. Kids love taking about toy watches and cars from dollar stores and adding in LED lights and cell phone rocking motors.