Dieselpunk Insulator Light With Arduino-Controlled LED




Introduction: Dieselpunk Insulator Light With Arduino-Controlled LED

A long time ago, I stumbled across some old glass insulators. The weird shape, soft colors, and general shininess intrigued me. I've collected a few over the years. Used on old telephone lines, they are beautiful to look at and I've always wanted to make something around them.

After looking around in my scrap metal bucket, I found a short section of steel pipe that seemed to fit perfectly inside a clear insulator. The pieces started coming together in my head. The base from an old lamp, a PVC coupling, the steel pipe, a multicolor LED, and of course... the insulator.

After playing with the pieces for a little bit, I found an arrangement I liked. The old lamp base and PVC coupling would be painted black, with the wirebrushed-metal pipe sticking up. On the top of that pipe, the insulator would rest. I would keep all the electronics (except for the LED, of course) on the outside of the assembly.

Let's start building!

(but first, check out the video up there)

Step 1: Supplies and Tools

Some basic supplies (most of these are scrap I found around the workshop)

  • glass insulator - these can be purchased from antique stores, and I've also been told that they can sometimes be found along the side of old roads in their natural habitat
  • 1 in. diameter metal pipe - found this in my bucket of scrap metal, it's about 5 in. long
  • PVC pipe coupling - meant to join two 1 in. diameter PVC pipes. these can be found in virtually any hardware store for just a few cents a piece
  • Lamp base - although a plain piece of wood would work just fine, get creative
  • Arduino UNO or other microcontroller
  • RGB LED - although this could be made with a single LED or a set of three different LEDs
  • NPN Transistors (3)
  • 200 ohm resistor


  • hot glue gun
  • black spray paint
  • soldering iron
  • electrical tape
  • breadboard
  • plenty of prototyping wires
  • laptop and programming cable (for the Arduino)
  • a basic knowledge of electronics

Time required:

  • an afternoon

If you are not super experienced with electronics or Arduino, don't worry. If you would like to ignore everything that says "arduino," shove some LEDs in there and call it done, I completely understand.

Step 2: Make the Base

Putting together the base of the light is a very simple process. It's just the electronics that get tricky, but we'll worry about that later.

We'll start by drilling a small hole, no bigger than 1/4 in. in the lower section of the PVC coupling. This will leave some room for the wires. When we have done that, paint the coupling and the lowest part of the base (in my case, the old piece of a lamp) completely black. Give it plenty of time to dry.

After that is done, use hot glue to secure the coupling to whatever will serve as the base of the lamp. Wire-brush the metal pipe (optional, but it looks really cool) and insert it into the coupling. Do not glue it! It should fit snugly without glue, and we'll need to open that part up again later. I tried gluing the glass insulator to the top of the metal pipe, but the glue wouldn't stick to anything. After a little experimentation, I decided it wasn't necessary anyway.

That's basically it! At least, for everything that isn't electronic. I thought the final product looked rather dieselpunk.

Step 3: The Electronics

The electronics for this thing center around a three-color RGB LED and an Arduino UNO board. In an ideal case, we could just plug the LED straight into the Arduino and be done with it. But, nothing is ever ideal. Rather than sharing a ground connection, like any other group of LEDs, this particular multicolored LED has a shared + connection. (:0)

So we'll just have to use a few transistors that have a shared ground connection to control the multicolor LED that has a shared + connection. This will allow us to turn each ground connection on and off as if it were a + connection. Sounds simple enough...

...2 burnt out transistors and 1 smoking LED later...

I finally got the circuit working. Now we know why resistors are necessary to limit the current. Let's add the Arduino!

I attached the base of one transistor to digital pin 3, the next to pin 5, and the last to pin 6. Pins 3,5, and 6 are all PWM pins, which will be necessary when we start programming.

I recommend building the circuit exactly as it is in the diagram above.

Check out this little simulation:


Step 4: Program It!

I attached my program, which will just make the multicolor LED fade from one color to the next. If you write something more complicated, let me know in the comments!

Step 5: Put It All Together

Place the LED inside the upper part of the metal tube and thread the wires out through the hole we drilled in the PVC coupling. Connect those to the circuit and you're basically done. Be sure to insulate any exposed wires, as they have been known to cause much frustration. When everything is wired up and programmed you can take a step back, relax, and enjoy your new creation: a dieselpunk insulator light!

Don't forget to vote for this project in the Make it Glow contest!

Thanks for reading! Take a look at some of my other projects and let me know what you think in the comments below! Can't wait to see more cool stuff? Check out my YouTube channel and consider subscribing. Best of luck in all your projects!


Trash to Treasure Contest 2017

Participated in the
Trash to Treasure Contest 2017

Make it Glow Contest 2016

Participated in the
Make it Glow Contest 2016

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    4 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Simple and pretty cool!


    Reply 3 years ago



    3 years ago

    Great Project!

    Here are the instructions for an RGB (Red / Green / Blue) LED and only using resistors. It will have a few less wires and the same results!


    Another Idea is to hook up some potentiometers so that you can choose the color of the RGB LED by just turning the potentiometers. Each one will control one of the three colors.


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thanks! That's pretty cool. I used an Arduino to control it because I don't have a lot of experience with microcontrollers and I needed to learn how to use them. Now that I've done that, I can make some more complicated projects with Arduino.