Snappy Art (Joule) Thief




Introduction: Snappy Art (Joule) Thief

Admittedly, this is kind of a dorky, lame, ridiculous project, and built purely for amusement and aesthetics, to which I am addicted. In fact, I can't imagine anyone but me wanting to make this thing, but ...

Having said that, I love Snap Circuits - they are an elegant teaching tool, because of the practical and visual representation of a schematic. But not always the most attractive projects emerge from the box, and the complete sets themselves are ridiculously  expensive and perhaps even overpriced. I discovered, though, that one can buy replacement units at a fairly "reasonable" price.

I also love the simplicity and elegance of the Joule Thief, and while most of the designs that take advantage of its power are clever and attractive, I wanted to make something both useful and pretty, So, I decided to combine Snap with Joule.

Here we go.

Step 1: What You Need

A Joule Thief as about everyone knows is the simplest of circuits, requiring few parts that cost pennies or can be salvaged for nothing. This is way more expensive, duh.



Hot glue gun

Wire Stripper

Diagonal Cutter

Razor knife to get the %#*$ blister pack on the light open


From Elenco Electronics

(3) 2 spring socket: #6SC 1 @ 2.95

(1) 1K ohm resistor #6SC R2 @ .95

(1) NPN transistor #6SC Q2 @ 2.50

(3) single snap conductor 6SC 01 @ .25

(4) two snap  6SC 02 @ .50

1 three snap 6sc 03 @ .70

1 4 snap 6sc 04 @ .90

1 jumper wire 6" 6sc3 j3e .75

mini base grid 6sc  bgm 2.75

(1) Slide switch: #6SC-S 1  @ 1.25 (optional)

Total: $23.40 plus S&H

Cigar or other box with lid,

$1- ?

Gooseneck LED lamp or LED setup of choice. I got mine at

BigLots: $3.00

Wire (salvaged, free)

Toroid (salvaged, free)



(1) ziotek battery upsizer @ $3.95

(1) D cell holder .99 radioshack

Grand total: $31.34

And lots and lots of dead batteries. FREE. Maybe someone will even pay you to take them.

I think that's it.

Step 2: Prepare Thy Lamp

This little thing is a lawsuit in a blister pack. There is a "Try Me" button which turns of the laser pointer while it's still in the package. If you buy one of these, be careful opening it. It was also somewhat irritating to prepare - the outside coil unravels and is a little difficult to contain, and the wires are very thin. But after some effort, I freed and stripped enough wire to reach each side of one of the spring connectors.

To secure the lamp to the connector unit, I fed the wires through a grommet to avoid accidentally cutting them off on the metal of the lamp base.making sure I had stripped enough to reach the springs, Then I hot glued the grommet in the middle of the spring connector, and the lamp neck into the grommet. I set this aside until I had the rest of the circuit laid out because I didn't want it to get bumped around.

Step 3: Prepare the Toroid


I salvaged a toroid from an old radio. (In another version I salvaged the tiny little toroid from a CFL. It worked.) Winding the toroid is explained in a bunch of other instructables  as well as all over the internet, so I'm not going to explain it here. I'm not very coordinated, so it took me awhile.

After the toroid is wound, strip the ends of the four wires.One wire of each color from opposite sides is twisted together, the other two single wires stripped. They will be connected as explained in the circuit outline.

Step 4: Lay Out the Circuit

No doubt there are lots of ways to lay this out, but this is the one I came up with. Lay it out the way you want, snap the components to the grid, and connect the wires from the toroid to and the battery to the spring terminals as shown.

There are a plethora of EXCELLENT instructables detailing this circuit, so I am not going to belabor the point.

This image came from Evil Mad Scientists web site. Great site.

This is the cool part about Snaps - you are pretty much creating a 3-dimensional copy of the schematic. This is a wicked cool way to teach younger kids without having to worry about burning down someone's house when little Johnny/Jilly drops the soldering iron.

Step 5: Put It in a Box

I found this pretty wooden box at a tobacco shop for a dollar. Any box will do as long as it has a lid and the grid fits in.

Step 6: Make It Pretty

Here's where you get to pick your art! The whole point for me was to find a use for the Joule Thief circuit that was aesthetically pleasing. Love that Dollar Store - I bought this gaudy gilded little plastic frame. I went through old art magazines and picked out a few choice reproductions that fit well in the frame. Original art would be even more cool, especially if Johnny and Jilly draw something besides the house burning down. The frame is held to the lid with velcro so I can change the art whenever I want.

Step 7: Turn It On!

This thing will last forever, because I have a couple hundred dead batteries laying around. To make it even more useful, I bought a battery upsizer (which I think are the coolest things ever) from xtremegeek, and a D-Cell battery holder from RadioShack - this way I won't have to put in a new holder every time I change batteries.

I also purchased a coin cell battery holder which fits nicely between the the spring terminals.

Oh yeah -we can also use 9v batteries - rip them apart and free the 6 little AAAs inside. (Has anyone taken apart a RadioShack 9v lately? They've replaced the AAA size with a stack of flat rectangular things.) But I'd prefer to use the Snap Circuit 9v batter holder, but I'm guessing that might require more resistors and I have no clue how to do that.

That's it - the art thief will be spotlighting masterpieces for years to come!

Enjoy, and I'd love to have comments.

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    8 years ago

    Love this, alot! Love snap circuits and your visual of the art thief opening the box to burgle the scream is priceless...

    Man, I love this, how come you've had no comments? I used to build my own computers worked out much more expensive than buying one off the shelf. I want a great big flyback transformer but can't find an old CRT TV anywhere so I'm considering buying one (apparently "no-one buys flyback transformers").
    Great to find out where to get replacements for all the Snap Circuit components my kids have broken and lost too.
    Now I'll have to look at your other instructables and see if they make me laugh as much.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Hey thanks! It takes a true aesthete to appreciate Snap Circuits. Sometimes I score them at Goodwill, which is a heart racing event - getting an $80 set for $6.99. I'm soon to post another Snap project.

    I see CRTs at thrift stores all the time. Or free on craigslist. Anyway, thanks for the ONLY comment!