Episode 15: Hack an Etch-A-Sketch to Draw Circles


Introduction: Episode 15: Hack an Etch-A-Sketch to Draw Circles

We here at Stupid Inventions love the Etch-A-Sketch, but we lack the artistic talent to draw anything good on the classic toy.

So we came up with a cheap and easy way to hack the Etch-A-Sketch so that not only can you draw the old way, but you can draw a perfect circle wherever you want too!

For this hack you're going to need:
1x Etch-A-Sketch
1x Metal Wire (we took ours from a hanger)
1x Plastic Ring From A 2-Liter Soda Bottle
1x Sharp Edged Pick (something that can bore a hole into plastic)
Super Glue, Duct Tape, Scissors, and other miscellaneous parts...

Warning: Although the Aluminum Powder inside the Etch-A-Sketch is Non-Toxic, it does get everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE! So prepare the area where you'll be operating on the Etch-A-Sketch accordingly.

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Step 1: Opening Up the Etch-A-Sketch

This is actually not that hard, just messy.
Remove the knobs from the Etch-A-Sketch, then use whatever tool you have to separate the front and back of the etch a sketch at the seam.

You'll discover that the front plastic, in our case the blue Toy Story design, is actually just a cover, all the aluminum powder and plastic beads are sealed behind the glass and plastic.

Step 2: Making the "Circle Maker"

Before we open up the glass to get inside the Etch-A-Sketch, we fist have to make the device that will be making the circles.

For those of you who don't know how an Etch-A-Sketch works, the knobs move a plastic stylus that scratches the super sticky aluminum powder off of the glass.

So we want to make a plastic circle with sharp edges that will scratch the powder off the glass to form a circle when you twist the knob.

I used the plastic ring from a 2 Liter Soda Bottle and taped/glued it to metal wire from a hanger to make this device, but you can experiment with other stuff to get similar or better effects. Just make sure you're able to twist the plastic circle easily.

You should use a scissor to scratch the surface of the ring so it'll be rougher.

Step 3: Installing the "Circle Maker"

Now comes the messy part!
Use a blade to open up the glass and plastic layers of the screen to get inside the Etch-A-Sketch.

Once inside, bore a hole through the back center of the Etch-A-Sketch, then quickly cover up the hole on the outside with duct tape. Then, poke the duct tape with your "Circle Maker" device. This ensure that when you're using the "Circle Maker" that none of the Aluminum Powder will seep through.

Once your "Circle Maker" is through the hole, try it out. Make sure you can move it around where the screen would be and make sure you can twist while applying pressure to the screen. Also make sure you can pull the "Circle Maker" away from the screen and that it doesnt interfere with the regular Etch-A-Sketch mechanics.

Once all those tests are complete you're ready to seal it up!

Step 4: Seal Up the Etch-A-Sketch

This sounds simple, but you're forgetting the super sticky aluminum powder.
At this point it will be EVERYWHERE!

Try to get as much of it as you can back into the Etch-A-Sketch, then super glue the screen back on.
Then put the plastic cover and the knobs back on.

I can pretty much guarantee that the aluminum powder will find a way to seep out, so i would suggest putting a tape seal around the seam of the Etch-A-Sketch, just to be safe.

Step 5: Drawing a Circle!

If everything is done correctly, you should now be able to draw a perfect circle wherever you want on the screen of the Etch-A-Sketch!

Unfortunately, the "Circle Maker" we used broke a little bit while it was inside and after it was sealed up, so we can't twist it properly, but we are able to make circles that are a million times better than anything we made before.

So there you have it! A cheap and easy way to hack an old Etch-A-Sketch to make a perfect Circle!

It's a fun rainy afternoon project, and we highly recommend it!

Below is our abstract Circle/Line art that we were able to make using this Instructable!

The Stupid Invention Team

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    47 Discussions


    18 replies

    Thanks for the warning! I was able to wash most of off from my work ared/clothes/skin. Is that enough or should I be taking more precautions? How dangerous is it? Because the Etch-A-Sketch website said its non-toxic...

    If it's such a fine powder, most metals will actually spontaneously combust... Aluminum, Magnesium, etc. Likely, since I've NEVER heard of an etch a Sketch blowing up, (on it's own) it's Aluminum OXIDE. Meaning it's non-reactive. If I'm not mistaken, they use it in everything from deodorant to baking powder... Of course, getting it in your eye would probably be a bad thing.

    If you have a block of aluminium and you cut it to expose unoxidized aluminium underneath, by the time you can look at it, it's already turned into a thin layer of aluminium oxide on the surface. To expose pure aluminium metal you would have to cut it submerged in oil. By the way when people are talking about the powder being explosive etc ... not explosive, but it is a component of thermite and once lit burns extremely hot. Like burning through a steel safe or concrete hot, so don't mess around with it!

    Aluminum oxide is oxidized aluminum (Captain Obvious would be proud). Anyways, aluminum oxide can crystallize and form a gem most people know-- sapphires! And, no, it isn't black in powder form. it's a darkish gray.

    thanks for shedding some light on the issue... i think if there was a danger in the Etch-A-Sketch we would have heard something by now... still, im not gonna eat the powder or put it in my eyes...

    Good call ;) As for aluminum oxide being black... most the aluminum I see is a Grey color. Which, by the way, Aluminum oxidizes FAST. And No, oxidization is not rust, Rust is oxidation. *Oh, and the aluminum oxide seems to range from white (pure) to almost any shade of grey, and brown, depending on contaminants.

    actually, some people take the aluminum powder inside an etch-a-sketch to make pyrotechnic compositions. it is toxic if breathed in but should be easily treated.

    wow, are you serious? any articles or videos that mention that? thankfully its all cleaned up and im feeling ok, but i don't think ill be opening up any more Etch-A-Sketches any time soon!

    Why would it be only harmful if inhaled? I would have thought that ingesting it would be worse.. but both ways it's still getting into your body. And sweet mod, now my happy faces can have bodies!