Introduction: Steampunk USB Mini-Lantern

This Instructable will show you how to turn a USB computer lamp and a lantern-style die-cast pencil sharpener into a Steampunk USB powered mini-Lantern.

This project was inspired in part by the wonderful Instructable: mini USB powered Tiffany Lamp.
Another helpful Instructable for this project is: How to make a USB light.

If miniatures aren't your thing, and you'd like to make a full-scale version of this device, see the fine Instructable: Steampunked Halloween Lantern.


• USB computer lamp
• USB cable
• Die-cast lantern-style pencil sharpener
• Assorted brass pieces
• Altoids tin
• Heat shrink wire wrap (large and small)
• Bootlace
• “F” type quick connect video adaptor


• Power drill
• Soldering iron & solder
• Exacto blade (or razor blade)
• Dremel (or similar rotary tool)
• Pliers
• Screw driver
• Scissors
• Wire cutter
• Paint brush
• Lighter
• Clamp or vice

Note: if you don't plan to steampunk-ify the USB cable, you don't need all these materials and tools. If you do plan to go for the full effect, see my Instructable: Steampunk USB Cable.

Step 1: Preparing the Pencil Sharpener

With a screwdriver, pry the bottom off your die-cast lantern style pencil sharpener. (These are available for a few dollars from many online novelty sites). Remove the pencil sharpener. (I forgot to photograph this step, but hopefully it's self-explainitory). Be careful not to damage the bottom lid, because we will be putting this back when we're done.

With your power drill, drill a hole through the die-cast metal underbelly of the lantern, into the plastic part where the bulb will go.

My sharpener had a faux plastic bulb inside the plastic flute portion of the lantern, which required quite a bit of shaking before I could get it to drop through the hole.

Step 2: Preparing the LED Bulb

I used the LED bulb from a USB computer lamp, which had already been cannibalized for another project.

First cut off the USB plug. Then remove the plastic lens from the tip of the aluminum tube. Now you should be able to pull off the aluminum tube. Once the aluminum tube is removed, the LED bulb and wires can be easily pulled through the plastic shielding.

Save the plastic lens and the aluminum tube, as we'll need these later.

Step 3: Preparing the Steampunk USB Cable

If you decide to stick with a plain usb cable, you can skip this step.

If you decide that you want to go with the full steampunk effect for the cable, see my Instructable: Steampunk USB Cable.

Note: While the female to female video adaptor I used in the original cable fit perfectly in the pencil sharpener, I decided to use a different piece, explained in the next step.

Step 4: Preparing the Pencil Hole

Before you insert the usb cable into the sharpener, you need to find something to fill the hole where you would have inserted your pencil for sharpening. This is where we will feed the cable through, but you'll need something to insert in this hole to hold the cable in place. I tested a female to female video adaptor, which fit perfectly, but it was too new and shiny looking. I thought about using a rubber grommet, but didn't have one the right size, and didn't feel like buying one.

Then I found the perfect piece – a small metal cuff, from the base a lamp shade holder, or "harp." (I'm not sure exactly what this piece is called, but to get technical, it's the part that connects the "harp" to the "saddle," pictured above). There are a few things that make this part ideal: It's the same coloration as the die-cast metal; it has a slit in it so it can be bent to shape; and it's the perfect size to fit the pencil hole and hold the cable in place.

Whatever you choose to hold the cable in place, insert it in the pencil hole, to hold the cable in place.

Step 5: Feed Cable Through Pencil Hole

After you have the brass cuff in place, feed the cable through the hole. (At first I tried a knot in the cable to hold it in place, but it ended up staying in place better without the knot).

Step 6: Attaching the LED Bulb

When you remove the LED bulb from the original USB lamp, make sure to leave about an inch of wires attached to the bulb. Strip about a quarter of an inch of plastic off these two wires, in preparation for attaching to the cable.

A USB cable has four wires inside of the plastic and metal shielding; two for data, and two for electricity. We don't need the two data wires for this project, as we are only concerned about the electricity. On my cable, these wires were the black and red. I attached the red wire from the bulb to the black wire on the cable, and the green wire from the bulb to the red wire on the cable, plugged in the usb cable to test it, and got a light! Your colors may vary, and you may need to do some trial-and-error experimentation.

(Note: The bulb from the USB computer lamp already has a transistor attached. If you are using a new LED bulb, you'll need to attach a transistor).

Once you've tested the bulb, and know which wires you need to connect to, cut back the other two wires, mesh shielding, etc, so you just have these two wires exposed. Strip a bit off those two wires and thread a small piece heat shrink tubing on the wires. Attach the exposed wires from the bulb to the exposed wires from the cable, and then slide the heat shrink tubing up to cover the splice. Gently heat, to shrink the tubing.

Once the wires are attached, and the heat shrink tubing heated, cover with a small piece of the plastic tubing from the original USB lamp. (This is to make the connection between the cable and the bulb a bit firmer, which will help it stand straight when you insert it into the lamp). Then tightly wrap the whole splice with a small piece of electrical tape.

Step 7: Insert the Bulb Into the Flute

Just as we needed something to hold the cable in place at the base of the lantern, we'll also need something to hold the bulb in place. This is where a piece of scrap aluminum from the original USB lamp comes in handy. Cut a small piece of the tapered end of the aluminum tube, to fit into the hole you drilled in the underbelly of the lantern. (This will serve like a socket for your LED bulb). Wiggle the bulb into place, until its sticking upright inside the flute and then force the aluminum piece in tight with the your needle-nose pliers, to hold the bulb in place. (Be careful not to sever the wires).

Step 8: Finishing Touches

Once the cable and bulb are in place, the only remaining step is to add pieces to the top and bottom of your lantern. Hopefully you didn't lose that the plastic lens that came off the original USB lamp, because we're going to glue that piece into the hole at the top of the lantern. (It should fit perfectly). Put a little bit of Crazy Glue (or something similar) around the plastic lens, and place it on top of the lantern.

Once the glued plastic piece has dried, you're ready to put the finishing touches on the base. Put the original base plate you pried off back into the base of the lantern. If it doesn't stay in place, try a little bit of glue. Now choose a piece of fabric to cover the base. I decided to go with a piece of leather I salvaged from a discarded sofa.

Place the lantern on the fabric, and trace a circle around the lantern with a marker. Cut out your pattern, and glue it to the bottom of the lantern.

Note: if you use black leather, as I did, you can touch-up around the cut edges with a marker.

Enjoy your new Steampunk USB mini-Lantern!

Step 9: Finished Steampunk USB Mini-Lantern

Here are a few shots of the finished product, both illuminated and in action.

If you like this Instructable, please consider rating it (just to the right of the introduction), and/or voting for it in one or all of the contests I've entered: Make it Glow Challenge, Mad Science Fair, and Hack It! Challenge.

If you decide to make your own, please post pictures! And comments are certainly welcome!

Hack It! Challenge

Participated in the
Hack It! Challenge

Make It Glow Challenge

Participated in the
Make It Glow Challenge

The Mad Science Fair

Participated in the
The Mad Science Fair