A Wheeled Steampunk Mouse




How would a Victorian engineer make a mouse? You can't build an optical mouse with a mechanical difference engine. So you need wheels and mechanics.

This Instructable shows how to dissect a (computer) mouse and how to mechanically connect to the encoders of a mouse. I'm sure you can think of lots of ways of making a mouse with wheels.

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Step 1: Size

It looks large but it's actually not much bigger than a standard desktop mouse. Body length 111mm; Width 68mm; Height 57mm.

It's fairly comfortable to hold and can be used for most mouse tasks although it's a little more tiring than an optical mouse. It needs a mouse mat (in the same way that a ball-mouse does).

With a painting program, it's very easy to draw exactly horizontal and vertical lines - just lift the other wheels off the mat. Diagonal lines and circles are drawn OK: both sets of wheels will turn smoothly at the same time. Of course, it's never easy to draw a circle with a mouse.

Step 2: How It Was Made

Start with a USB ball-mouse. They are not too common. Ball-mice usually have the old PS/2 connector which no longer fits most computers and USB mice are generally optical. But if you search, you can find the occasional USB ball-mouse in a charity shop or car boot sale. It shouldn't cost more than £1.

I wondered if there should be two wheels at the front or at the back so I built models out of Lego. It turns out that it's much more stable with them at the back. The "mudguards" are needed to stop your hand touching the wheels.

Take a photo of the pcb layout to trace the tracks - it's easier with a photo. Find the tracks that lead to the optical encoders and switches and make a note of the circuit.

Cut off the unnecessary parts of the pcb

Step 3: Gears and Axles

Gears from a broken clock movement are used as wheels. The back wheels are both the same size, the front wheel is larger.

The axles are made from brass tube. A coin is soldered near the middle to drive the wheel encoders. During construction, temporarily stuff the gears (and their axles) into the tubes with rolled-up paper.

Stripboard is used to support the encoder wheel, the LED and the sensor. One end of the shaft rotates in a washer held in place by brass wire. The other end is held in a slot bent out of brass wire.

A short length of rubber tube is fitted over the encoder shaft. The coin fits in a slot in the PCB and a spring pushes it against the rubber tube. One end of the shaft can slide in the brass slot and the rubber tube is held against the coin with a small spring.

Carefully bend the LED and the sensor leads so they point at each other and successfully encode the rotation.

Step 4: The Front Wheel

The arrangement for the front wheel is similar. The wheel axles rotate in bearings bent from brass wire. They are prevented from sliding by collars soldered onto the axle tubes.

You can test the sensors by temporarily wiring them into the original mouse PCB.

Each sensor consists of an infra-red LED light (with two pins) and two IR receivers in one chip (with three pins). The LED has to shine at the receiver. The receiver has two slots which the light shines through; the slots must align with the slots in the encoder wheel.

Step 5: ​The Mouse Wheel

The mouse wheel fits in a hinged carrier which operates a microswitch. Remove the rubber tyre and glue on a brass olive (used in plumbing). Some olives have a groove which looks very nice.

The carrier is hinged onto another piece of stripboard. The mouse wheel encoders and switches are soldered into place.

Step 6: The Pushbuttons

Pushbuttons are made from "Tactile Switches". The corners are filed off the plastic switch button and it then fits inside a 14mm brass olive.

Circular letters are printed and cut out of paper. They are covered with small circles of celluloid.

The buttons are mounted on PCBs made from yet more stripboard.

Mount what's left of the old PCB over the new stripboard. I used "lacquered" copper wire - transformer wire - to connect the sensors to the old PCB. You can buy wire with a coating that burns off when you solder it; it's much easier to work with.

Step 7: ​The Bottom Shell

The bottom part of the mouse shell is made from papier mache. During construction, the mechanics are protected from the glue and are padded so that the shell won't touch the coins or encoder wheels.

After smoothing, painting and varnishing the result is quite good.

Step 8: ​The Top Shell

The sides and top are made out of old tinplate. Cardboard templates are made first then copied in metal. Tinplate is easy to soft-solder and is nice material to work with.

The tinplate is bent, soldered, filed, filled and smoothed. Car body-filler would be good but I didn't have any so I used a mixture of plaster of paris and PVA glue. It took a couple of cycles of fill, sand, fill, sand. Then three cycles of primer, sand, primer, sand.

The final coat of paint is red aerosol car paint with a light spray of black car paint while the red is still wet. It gives a nice textured appearance.

The coach lines are hand-painted in gold arcylic. It is then given several coats of varnish.

When it's all finished, the gears and their original axles are glued into the brass axle tubes with epoxy.

The USB cable is covered in a bootlace outer to keep it in character.

A webpage describing this project is here. It has links to some of my other projects.

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    13 Discussions


    1 year ago

    Papier mache! Wow! This is an artistic "labour" of love for sure! Beautiful results.

    1 reply
    Peter BalchNeilRG

    Reply 1 year ago


    Yes, papier mache for the bottom of the shell and tinplate for the top. I tried a variety of materials but papier mache turned out to be the easiest to get the shape I wanted. I suspect that vacuum-formed polystyrene sheet would be better but the vacuum-cleaner powered former I made doesn't work well enough.

    I'm a huge fan of tinplate as a modelmaking material. It's strong and easy to cut and solder. Decades ago when my son was a toddler he lived on formula milk and I saved all the tinplate cans. So I've got a lifetime supply.


    2 years ago

    This is an awesome instructable! I think I'll try to use a wireless mouse using your instructions. I'll let you know if it's a complete fail or not. =)

    8 replies
    Peter BalchScott_1224

    Reply 2 years ago

    The question with wireless mice is: should you choose one with Bluetooth or its own proprietry receiver dongle. I bought a Bluetooth mouse for a project like this and found that it needed pairing almost every time I used it. A proprietry receiver dongle never needs to be paired but you can only use it with the computer it's plugged into.

    My other disappointment was that all the radio mice I've tried really eat batteries - even when they're in standby mode.

    Maybe a rechargeable mouse with a Qi charger is the answer.

    Radio mice often turn up in car-boot sales and charity shops but make sure they haven't got separated from their dongle.

    Good luck with the project and please do publish what you make.

    laptopleonPeter Balch

    Reply 2 years ago

    You might want to check first, what the reputation of the mouse is. For example, the wireless Apple mice last quite long with a set of AA's, specially the later models.

    Also: Kudos for this job. It must have been quite a few hours you put in.

    Peter Balchlaptopleon

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thanks. Yes it took forever.

    I hadn't realised that Apple mice could be used with Windows. It seems you need a special driver and possibly even a special Bluetooth dongle. Not ideal but worth knowing.

    laptopleonPeter Balch

    Reply 2 years ago

    I assumed you wanted to use it for a Mac since you used an Apple or Power Computing (Apple clone) USB-mouse for this – looking at step two, first picture – that's why. Regular BT mice work fine with Apple hardware, out of the box, AFAIK, so I assumed it'd be the same the other way around.

    The advantage of BlueTooth mice is that they usually have LED-based tracking so you don't have to (re)build most of the 'ball tracking' mechanics, just transplant the scrollwheel. This makes this project a lot less daunting ;·) You can buy a brand new BT mouse with a (dedicated?) micro USB 3 dongle for under € / $ 10, so I suppose it should be possible to find a used BT mouse in a recycle shop for a few euros / dollars.

    Peter Balchlaptopleon

    Reply 2 years ago

    For this particular project I wanted wheels that really drove the mouse logic. I reckoned I had to start with a ball mouse. I couldn't see a compact way to connect wheels to the camera of an optical mouse. I've never seen a BT mouse with a ball.

    My experience with BT mice has been disappointing. I had to keep re-pairing them and the batteries didn't last long. And I had to remember to turn it off every night. Perhaps I was just unlucky with the mice I tried. Apple ones may well work better but I suspect that the re-pairing is a Windows problem.

    Of course, there's an instructable for a Qi mouse:

    laptopleonPeter Balch

    Reply 2 years ago

    I get it: You wanted it to be steampunk, hence the choice for 'mechanical', despite the bluetooth connection.

    I own an Apple wireless mouse, a Wacom tablet that can be used wireless and I've worked with several wireless mice on Windows laptops / PC's and I can assure you the usually work quite stable. Often, it takes a few seconds and a 'wake up click' or two to re-activate them after a certain time of inactivity though. Obviously, sooner or later you have to replace/recharge the batteries (once in a few months with the Apple mice). Although I'm quite a fan of hightech, all in all I don't see a real advantage in the wireless part. I now use a plain simple old Apple USB mouse on one machine.

    I've been using a quite old Wacom Intuos 2 tablet with a dedicated wireless (even battery-less!) three-button-mouse on another Mac. The middle button is also a scrollwheel. It's perfect! Have used it for ± 14 years or so now. The silvery paint of the tablet is worn off, but who cares?

    Unfortunately, Wacom doesn't support this tablet's drivers any more for OS X 10.10 and up… So sooner or later the Mac Pro computer I use it with will stop working and then I'll have to trash the tablet and mouse too :(

    Yes, Wacom has a similar mouse still for my new tablet but it's still a waste and I also think ± € / $ 75 for such a dedicated (will only work with certain Wacom tablets) mouse is ridiculously expensive. I'd rather buy a fine, non-Wacom dependent mouse – wireless or not – for a lot less.

    Scott_1224Peter Balch

    Reply 2 years ago

    HAH! Went to an antique shop to look for stuff I can use for a bunch of projects... Look what I found!

    cordless mouse1.jpgcordless mouse2.jpg
    Anirudh Ralhan

    2 years ago

    This is really Awesome. Good job :)