A Better Altoids Smalls LED Flashlight




About: I used to teach middle school science, but now I run my own online educational science website. I spend my days designing new projects for students and Makers to put together.

I really love making projects out of Altoids. Especially the new Altoids Smalls tins. They're so small and so very very cute.

I've seen a couple of Instructables on how to turn these small tins into flashlights, but I think that we can do a better job. Both in appearance and craftsmanship.

This little guide will show you how to make a flashlight out of an Altoids Smalls tin in a way that's both easy to do, and has a classy result.

Time: 20-30
Price: Less than $4
Mints eaten: 14

This a great project for beginners or kids.

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Step 1: What You Need

Soldering Iron
Drill with 9/11 inch bit
Wire Cutter

Altoids Smalls tin ($1-1.50)
Electrical Tape
Wire (any type will do, I used magnet wire because I had some)
Coin Battery Holder
Coin Battery
Two 3mm White LEDs
Two 3mm LED holders
Two resisters of value less than 100 ohms (100 for $2 off ebay)
One Submini Momentary Pushbutton switch... or toggle! (2 for $2.50 at Radio Shack)

The only thing I didn't have at my "shop" were the pushbutton switches. I had to bite the bullet and buy them from Radio Shack. They're the "submini" type, which means very small.

Everything else I had bought in bulk, so the total cost of the parts used was quite small. Buy a bunch of LEDs and LED holders off ebay. They'll cost you a little bit and last for many a project.

Step 2: Minty Fresh Breath

If you have a tin, awesome. If not, buy one.


If you're giving this as a gift (great idea) you can put the mints in a bag to give along with the flashlight.

Step 3: Drill Baby Drill!

A 9/11ths sized drill bit works perfectly for every hole in this project.

When drilling make sure you keep the lid shut, and that you try and space things out ahead of time. Put the drill a more than halfway below the lid and the bottom lip. (And unlike me you may want to mark where you want each hole so they're evenly spaced....)

Push your drill into the tin a bit to leave a dent. Then apply pressure while drilling. You don't have to go crazy pushing down. The tin, while quite strong, is easy to drill through with even just wood drill bits. (Which I use)

After you drill both holes, pop in the LED holders to make sure they fit. Maybe even pop an LED in each just to double check that they fit.

Step 4: Button Hole

The best place, in my opinion, is below the S in "smalls." You could put the push button on the lip of the bottom, but it'd be a tough fit. Also, I think having the button there works better when holding the darn thing.

Again, lid shut. Push to make a dent. Apply pressure when drilling.

Pop the button in when you're finished! It's a tight squeeze for the button, but it'll fit.

(So 9/11ths mostly works for this hole. If you can't get the button in use the 9/11ths drill to make it a bit bigger. Put the bit into the hole, run the drill, and apply pressure to the edges. This will make it a tad bigger.)

Step 5: Tape Up the Bottom

To reduce the chance that we get a short, and to make things appear classy, use some electrical tape and line the bottom of the tin.

Step 6: Wire and Solder LEDs

Before someone comments, no, you don't really need the resistors because we're working with a battery that is only 3 volts. BUT having some resistors will increase the life of the LED's and provides some protection. I used 100 ohm resistors because I have heaps. Anything less than 100 will be fine.

Twist a resistor around the positive (long leg) of each LED.

Then twist the other ends of the resistors together.

Twist those around the positive tab of the battery holder.


(Don't do anything to the negative legs yet!)

Step 7: Wire the Switch

Carefully bend the two legs of the switch down a bit. Seriously, be careful or you'll have to go back to Radio Shack and blow all your money. Again.

Take some wire and wrap it around one leg.


Wrap the other end of the wire around the negative side of the battery case.


At this point you should pop the LEDs into the LED holders and have the two negative legs touching each other.

Take another bit of wire and wrap it around the two negative legs of the LEDs.


Wrap the other end around the second switch tab.

What do we do next?


Step 8: Test and More Tape

At this point you can test to see if everything is working.

Well, is it?

Before we close up you need to put a bit of tape down again. Put a layer of tape between the resistors/ positive legs and the negative legs. This prevents any shorts from happening when you close the lid.

Step 9: Enjoy!

Well close her up. We're done. Make sure you don't have any shorts (you shouldn't if you used tape!) and that your button is screwed in tight.

See, that wasn't so bad. Plus it looks really classy both inside and out. These really impress people as gifts, and really don't cost very much if you order some of the parts in bulk ahead of time. (AKA avoiding Radio Shack....)

This is a project that is great for beginners and kids, and teaches a lot of electrical basics in the process. Plus you get to munch on mints while making it.

Now if you'd like to own one but really couldn't be bothered to make one on your own.... I do happen to have many a flavor of tin available at my gadget site BrownDogGadgets.com. Or, if you prefer, my etsy.com account.

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34 Discussions

Another silly question: almost finished but when I started to solder the wires to the switch I realized the LEDs were lighting up. So it lights up with the switch is off but when you press it down it turns off. My battery connections are correct and I've tried switching the wires on the switch legs but it doesn't make a difference. Help please! I want to do this as a program tomorrow evening.

1 reply

Reply 3 years ago

I had the same problem. My husband pointed out the error. These directions didn't make it clear, but what you do is you solder the negatives together. You solder the positive from the LEDs to one of the switch terminals, and the positive from the battery to the other switch terminal. If you connect all the positives to one side of the switch and all the negatives to the other side of the switch, then you'll have the problem you're having.


4 years ago on Introduction

Having a hard time finding a drill bit 9/11" in size. What have you all been using?

I forgot to add: I used a form cut thin piece of plastic under the board to prevent shorting. I think on my next one I'll TheGeekFathers Plasti-dip suggestion a try.

I made a Altoid's Smalls flashlight but I went a different route mounting it on a proto board and using two Piranha LEDs on each side of the 5mm LED. And I checked out your BrownDogGadets site and I gotta say, That's Cool!

My ible is here.



5 years ago on Introduction

Thank you! This is a great idea. I had a lot of fun with my 4 year old, building it.

I didn't have the 100ohm resistor and tried 330ohms but the led was way too dim so i didn't use any resistor. Hopefully LEDs will last a while.

Yeah, but they're not panel mount. Which makes mounting super duper easy on the outside of the tin.

Though a very small toggle switch on the side would be cool.


I have one of these and yes, the toggle switch is awesome. I made my flashlight a little over 2 years ago with these directions (minus the switch because RadioShack didn't have anything else other than a toggle). It's still working great on the original battery and I do use it often. Great directions and flashlight.

I have a toggle like this and it does screw down so it's tight with the case. Fits pretty well, tho I mounted it on the top part just as you did with the push button. Everything in the box is tight anyway, but it does work well.



7 years ago on Introduction

This is a great project. Where do you find the push buttons in bulk? I've been able to find all the other parts for decent prices except for the buttons, the best I've found is a two pack.


7 years ago on Introduction

I've got a question, it may seem stupid but it will clear my head out of doubts. If you are only using one 3v coin battery, then the led's shoul be of 1.5 v each? thanks

1 reply

7 years ago on Step 9

Hmm, not sure what I did wrong. I used 100k-Ohm resistors (1/2watt) and CR2032 bateries, and 5mm white LED's.

Any reason why this set-up wouldn't work?

4 replies

Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

or the fact you used 100kohm maybe?
Im just guessing, but try replacing the 100 000ohm resistor, with a 100 ohm resistor (Or one in that range)

Sorry for a newbie question. Are these 1/4 watt resistors? I'm looking at 100 75 ohm 1/4 watt 1% metal film resistors for $2.55. This will work? Thanks!


Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

That should work, though you do not need to buy resistors that are that expensive (5% ones would be fine.) (I will give a more complete explanation tomorrow, just got back from camping :) )