Circuit Tiles!




I made a book with some new projects in it! It's called Marvelous Makeable Monsters. Check it out...

For all the wee Edisons and Teslas to be, circuit tiles are the best! These are a great way to introduce people to circuits in a fun, ridiculous, iterative way. This is great for just one person exploring or an entire class working together. And your collection can keep growing over time! It's like Pokemon, electronics-version.

  • What: Circuit Tiles!
  • Time: ~ 1 hour per 10 tiles
  • Cost: ~ $1 per tile, depending on elements
  • Concepts: Circuits, current, voltage, parallel vs. series, resistance
  • Materials:
    • Wood for tiles (A chopped up 2x4 works well)
    • Thin screws (We used 1.5")
    • Electronic Elements (motors, lights, switches, potentiometers, power sources, etc)
    • Wire (thin wire for hooking up electronics)
    • Gator Clip leads
  • Tools:
    • Saw (power saws make it go way quicker)
    • Sandpaper
    • Drill
    • Hot glue gun / hot glue
    • Soldering iron / solder
    • Wire strippers
    • Pliers (optional)

This project is an adaptation of one that my science teacher made for me in elementary school, for which I am very grateful. My hope is to share it with other educators out there.

Need a lightswitch? An impromptu pager? A veritable cornucopia of christmas light patterns? Circuit Tiles has you covered! Let's start!

This came inspired by The Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium. Check them out!

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Step 1: Make Wood Tiles

An easy way to make these is to just shop up a 2x4 into smaller pieces. For our dimensions, we used 3.5 x 3.5" which worked out pretty niftily for most electronics items. Sand them down to make them look purdy.

Step 2: Drill Screws In

So many screws! So little time. Find some skinny steel screws (ours were 1.5"), and you're going to screw them just a bit into the wood, so it's nice and secure. By the end, you have what looks like a bunch of torture devices. But no, silly, they're learning devices.

For most simple electronic elements, two screws will do, but for a couple, you may want use make 3 or 4. Go for it!

User JoBar007 had the tremendous idea of using slotted screws for the negative terminals and phillips head screws for the positive terminals, so you could have a "+" and "-" sign on top of the screws. See photo in comments. Brilliant!

Step 3: Electronics Time!

From here on out, you can do everything with a hot glue gun, soldering iron, and wire cutters. You're going to take electronics elements, glue them to a tile, shorten their wires to the right length, and solder them to the screws. Not too bad, right?

Here are some tips:

  • Test out all your elements with your power source before gluing and soldering
  • For elements that need wire, solder to the element first, then the screws
  • Soldering to a big exposed screw can be hard. Wrap the wire in a screw thread and spend a bit of time heating up the screw so it takes the solder.

Let's get to the different kinds of things you might have!

Step 4: Power Sources!

For circuit tiles, I've found that 3V is a good target for many simple electronic elements, so a battery pack with 2 AA or 2 AAA should work great. It also means no zaps for the kids, and not much risk (the only problem is sometimes things heat up).

Solar panels are also fun, and so are watch batteries. Go power crazy.

Step 5: Lights!

Oh the lights! There are so many great lights to use. 5mm super-bright LEDs work out great, and do a great job about teaching about polarity of currents, and how they affect LEDs. Another great light to use is incandescent X-mas lights (chopped off the string), as they work with both polarities, and you can really use potentiometers well with them.

Step 6: Motors!

Things that move are just the best. Adding things to the ends of motors make the spindle motion much more visible. A piece of scotch tape works great, corks work great, you really can't go wrong.

Motors that have an off-center center of mass are great, and are how things like pagers work. These tiles will jiggle and slide across the table, too.

I also just wanted to show a close-up of the cutest little motor in all the land. Look at that widdle iddy biddy guy!

Step 7: Switches

There are so many types of switches out there! Light switches, clamp switches, push-buttons, sliders, the works.

If you want to get even more ridiculous, Jameco has come amazing switches like combination lock switches, key-lock switches, decibel switches, centripetal switches, so you can have a lot of fun.

Step 8: Potentiometers / Dimmers

The cousin of switches, potentiometers and dimmers work great in series with lights, motors, and buzzers. With the right resistance, you can make faders that work really well. Test them out with your lights and motors to find the range that works for you.

Also, many of these will have more than two tabs to solder to. Check the combination that gets the fade you want, and solder up.

Step 9: Add Other Wacky Stuff!

There are so many things you can find in machines, or that you can make yourself!

Here are a couple other ideas for things that have been great in the past:

  • Fans
  • Buzzers
  • Electro-magnets
  • A resistor tile
  • A tile of different materials to see which ones are conductive
  • Homemade switches with aluminum foil.

Let us know what ones you figure out!

Step 10: Bring Your Circuits to Life!

Using gator clip leads, your circuit tiles can become a circuit wonderland. Have fun connecting, disconnecting, and bringing these elements to life!

If you're working with a class, here are a few challenges you can give them to start uncovering truths about electronics:

  • Make an LED light up
  • Make a motor spin
  • Make a motor spin the opposite way
  • Make two motors spin at the same time
  • Make a light and a motor go at the same time
  • Add a dimmer to a light
  • Add a dimmer to a motor
  • Make a buzzer that goes off when a switch is down
  • Make two lights alternate being on with a switch (like a stoplight)

Have some good ol' fashioned voltage-induced fun!

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69 Discussions


Tip 6 months ago

I run the Tinkering room at my school, we are very small and have very little funds. When I decided to make the DIY Ink Stamps (amybalsbaugh) I went to HOME DEPOT and headed for their flooring section. I talked to tthe floor person and walked out of the store with two full boxes of the wooden flooring tile samples-FOR FREE. I plan to do this project with my high school students and will be using the same type of tile sample for mounting. I'll let you know how it goes!


3 years ago

These work beautifully on foam board as well.


3 years ago

Love this, we are looking in to giving workshops to kids at our hackerspace. This will sure come in handy. Thank you.


3 years ago on Introduction

Nice, It's just like littlebits but home-made and waaaaay cheaper!


hi, i just want you to know that my family used this idea for the singapore maker faire attracted many kids.i also used springs instead of nails so wires with stripped ends can be attached easily.thanks for the idea


4 years ago on Introduction

Instead of using wood screws, how about using brass stand-off posts like the ones used for mounting a PC motherboard to the case? You could then attach your wiring using a lug that could be screwed into the post.

4 replies

Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

Not the point, you use the jumper wires with gator clips to facilitate experimentation and rapid connection/disconnection. Lugs are harder to use, and will wear out sooner.


Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

I agree and I presented my statement poorly. The lugs are only for static connections between the device/circuit and the post. By all means, use gator clips between tiles.


Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

Ahh, I see what you mean.

Actually, the gold standard for reliability is a soldered connection. Screws come loose, etc. You could conceivably use a crimp and some blue threadlock to mitigate it, but soldering is simpler.

On mine they were brad nails instead of screws, worked fine, and actually a little easier to solder to.

Of course, that all assumes you have a decent soldering iron (well worth having IMHO, but I'm a tool geek).


Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

You certainly could solder the lugs to brass stand-off posts. I'd be tempted to use a bit of paste solder and a hot air gun if I was going to solder them but I'd be most likely to leave it and let the kids tighten the posts.


Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

Frankly I think it's even better than littlebits, which I'm not a fan of, because it demystifies electronics and electrical circuits. This is possibly the most important aspect of learning the subject that can be transmitted here. little bits is over packaged and essentially consumer electronics pretending to be DIY.


4 years ago on Introduction

My mom did this for me in 1972, and my fate was sealed.


4 years ago on Introduction

As a grandpa who would like to make something like this for his (our) twin grandchildren (5 years) what would you suggest as a first "10" items? Since we're learning, too, we need the specs on some of the more esoteric ones...

It looks like we need at least some sort of battery (and/or small solar cell), small motor, switch... A list with specs would be a great addition - we could go out and get the parts together and even make the blocks!

Have a great morning! :)

2 replies

Hey frazelle09!

I'm so excited you're making this with your grandkids! Here's a list of ones that would be good to start with! Most of these are available online at or at RadioShack.

1-2. X-mas lights (cut off a string of lights, soldered to both terminals)

3. LEDs (5mm super-bright)

4. 1.5-3V DC motor (search "DC motor" on Jameco)

5. 2 AAA Battery holder (search on Jameco)

6. Light Switch (standard one, can find in hardware store)

7. 10k Ohm Potentiometer (search Jameco)

8. Push button switch (search Jameco)

9. 5V Piezo buzzer (will work at 3V, search Jameco)

10. 3V Pager motor (search Jameco)

Have fun! Let me know if you have any questions!