Busy Box #1 - a Simple Switch




My 13 months old son is a busy, busy boy who loves lights (just like his daddy). To keep him entertained, I recently started making various toys for him - busy board, light switch board (base on this one), etc.

This specific project serves two purposes. First, I wanted something small and simple that will keep him entertained during plane and car rides. Second, I used it as prototype before making something more sophisticated (with a micro-controller, rechargeable battery, and all the other goodies).

The design itself is simple - there's the cube structure itself (made of 6 pieces of plywood), and the on/off switch module. The later includes the switch, and two battery holders that are glued to it. This whole unit slides into the cube, and then secured with four small M2 screws.

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(I apologize for the quality of the photos in this Instructable. I was in a hurry to get this done, and all I had was my phone and very bad ceiling lights in my office)

Step 1: What You'll Need

  • 1/8" (3mm) plywood. We will use this for the cute

  • Blue Light 4 Pin DPST On/off Snap Rocker Switch (or any color you like). I found mine at the MIT flea market, but you can find them anywhere

  • 5mm white LED. You will use this one to replace the light in the switch

  • 4 x 2M screws, 6mm - 10mm long.

  • 2 Coin cell battery holders. Try to find something small with a low profile. I used these

  • Epoxy glue or hot glue. I used epoxy

  • Some wood glue

  • Some wires. To connect the battery holders to the switch

Step 2: Cube Cutting and Assembly

This part is easy. Use one of the attached files to cut the cube parts out of the 1/8" plywood. You'll notice that you have 7 pieces - 6 for the cube structure, and one additional part for holding the switch. The 7th part has a rectangular hole and 4 tiny screw holes. Put this part aside, and focus on the other six.

Assemble the 6 pieces to compose the cube and make sure they fit well. Apply small amount of wood glue to the pieces, and if you have small clamps, use them to hold the cube together.

Step 3: Replacing the LED in the Switch

Warning!!! you are going to modify a switch that is supposed to work with high voltage, and place a low voltage LED inside. Make sure you mark it well so no one tries to connect it to high voltage in the future.

The switch we use here is meant to be used with mains (110 - 240v, depending on what you got). Since we want to use this with a small 3V coin cell, we'll have to replace the tiny bulb it has inside with a regular low voltage LED.

First, use a small screwdriver to lift the black casing and pull out the switch itself (first photo). The second photo shows the parts inside the switch - there are two metal parts that control the movement and whether the circuit is closed or not, the blue switch, a white part that contains the bulb, and two small springs that connect the bulb with the terminals. Take a photo of what it looks like so you know how to put it back together.

Next, use the screwdriver to pop out the white part (third photo). Inside, you will see a tiny bulb and a resistor. Remove both, and replace with your LED. You will probably need to cut/sand down the LED and make it shorter, so it fits inside the blue cover. Note that the LED legs need to touch the springs. In my case, there was this funny grease on the springs. I believe it is meant to hold the springs in place during assembly, but it also affects the conductivity. If that's the case, make sure to clean it up a little.

Now, put everything back together and make sure it's working: use a coin cell battery and make sure that the LED is indeed working and check the orientation of the on/off switch. Also, mark which connectors are used for powering the LED so you know where to connect the battery compartments.

Step 4: On/Off Switch Module

First, put the switch into the rectangular cut in the plywood piece. Depending on the exact size of your switch, it should snap in with some force.

Next, solder wires to the battery holders and make sure you got the polarity right.

Glue the battery holders to the (long) sides of the switch. I used epoxy so that I don't add much to the width of the unit. If it's too wide, it might not fit in the cube. Depending on the battery holder you got, maybe sure you leave enough room between the battery holder and the plywood so that the battery can fit there.

Finally, we connect the battery in parallel to terminals of the switch. This means that the "+" on both battery holders go to the same terminal, and the "-" of the battery holders go to the same terminal (see image). Again, make sure you connect everything to the right place before and that the LED turns on and off correctly.

Step 5: Putting It Together

Now just slide the switch module into the cube, and secure it using the 4 screws. Use sand paper (200 - 320) to round all corners and edges of the cube so there are no sharp corners or edges.

That's all!



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    9 Discussions


    1 year ago

    Thanks for all the comments and ideas. I hope this Instructable will inspire others to create their own variations :)

    The goal here was to keep it simple so I can finish it in the time limit I set for myself. The original design I had in mind included different types of buttons, buzzers, more lights and other stuff. This is why this is called Busy Cube #1 - I'm planning to make more variations :) I already have some RGB LEDs, accelerometer, buzzer, vibration motor, and arcade buttons waiting on my desk for Busy Cube #2.

    Also, I think that people don't realize the size constraint of this specific design. I wanted to make something that will be solid, hard to open (for a baby) and with minimal number of openings (think baby food, saliva, etc). The layer with the holes for the screws actually limit the size of what can go in there. With the two battery holders on the sides of the switch, the just barely fits. If anyone can suggest a design that better utilize the space of the cube, I'm open to ideas.

    As for plexiglass - I thought about putting a "window" that allows the kid to see inside, and maybe put more LEDs inside to make it more interesting. However, I think that plexiglass is more fragile than wood. I might be wrong though :)

    1 reply

    Reply 1 year ago

    Oh, and by the way - if there's one feature I would really love to add to this project is a circuit that will turn off the LED after several minutes of inactivity. I was thinking ATTiny or a 555


    1 year ago

    This is fun project. Wish I had thought of something like this when my kids were younger.

    Sidenote: I'm not sure about taking this on an airplane. You might have some trouble getting it through security.

    1 reply

    Reply 1 year ago

    Thanks, I think I'll try to take it anyway. I had no issues with my research project (a bunch of PCBs, batteries, raspberry pis, programming rigs, etc).


    1 year ago

    Awesome! :-) I am planing to do some similiar stuff for our triplets as they are getting smarter and smarter, so they need (I need) to be tranquilized. Thanks


    1 year ago

    Nice job!

    However, given the ample room in the box and that a DPDT (1/0/1) switch is the same size . . . hmmm maybe it could do more! Maybe add another RED LED such that he could make it glow red or white (or green, or yellow). Or add a buzzer and let there be light or sound? With four AA's in the bottom, you could tap off 1.5, 3.0, 4.5 or six volts to operate outputs (LED, Buzzer) that require different voltages - maybe a small motor with an offset weight in its shaft to make the little box vibrate when activated.

    It is as easy to cut plexiglass as wood, so maybe the next box could allow him to see the components and light them up as well.

    When I was fifteen, I bought my Dad a small transistor radio (long before the digital stuff) for Christmas. I wired a micro-switch into the wrappings so that power was cut when the package was laid on a surface and on as soon as it was picked up, Setting it to a loud station and turning the volume up 'all the way' insured that, it would 'blair' as soon as hi went to pick up his present.

    You might add a 'tilt switch' to override the DPST setting such that, if he held it 'just so,' it would light - but only if titled to the right, say.


    1 year ago

    The kid is spoilt rotten, I dreamt of owning a light up switch when I was a kid good dad (joking) but are you selling them asking for a friend


    1 year ago

    very nice. Keep him busy. I would use AAA batteries.