LED Bead Jig




About: Former Instructables employee CHECK OUT MY WORK www.carleyjacobson.com

Use this jig to make sew-able surface mount LED beads to illuminate your clothing, accessories, etc!!  With this jig you can make 55 LED beads really fast!

I started making my own LED beads a couple of weeks ago but got frustrated using the helping hands to solder very tiny pieces together.  It took me about 45 minutes just to make 10 LED beads!  So I designed this LED bead jig to speed up my rate of production.

The way it works:  There is a rectangular acrylic stand with 5 rows each with 22 tiny holes on the top of the stand.  Toothpick tips will peak out of the holes of the stand and they will be secured by a layer of cork and Styrofoam underneath the acrylic stand.  The tooth picks will be used to keep the LED's in place while they are soldered to the LED.

Step 1: Materials

1. 12"x7.5" piece of acrylic
2. Laser Cutter
3. Heat Gun
4. Metal Straight Edge
5. 2 Clamps
6. Table
7. Oven mitt or hand towel
8. Xacto knife
9. Cork board
10. Styrofoam
11. 1 Sheet of Squishy Stuff**
12. Tooth Picks
13. Dry erase marker
14. Ruler
15. Glue
16. Pins (sewing pins)

**Definition: "squishy stuff you can get to line drawers, or put under carpets to keep them from sliding" -scoochmaroo

Step 2: Cut Acrylic

Cut the acrylic using a laser cutter.  I have attached a PDF of the file I used to cut my acrylic.  It took me a few versions to get to this final one.  I had to take into account crimp bead size, LED size, and tooth pick size.

You will have two main pieces.  The first is the actual jig which is the main picture in this step.  This piece will be bent in 6 spots using a heat gun to make the final jig.  The second is a divider that will be used to prevent the LEDs from moving around while being soldered.

Using your dry erase marker draw a line 1/2 inch from the inside edge of the cut out rectangles.   This marks the line that will be bent. 

Step 3: Prepare Acrylic for Bending

Set yourself up at a table that has a straight edge.  Set the acrylic jig cut out on the edge of your table as seen below.  The legs should hang over the table and the inside edge should line up straight with the tables edge.

Take your metal straight edge and line it straight up with the edge of the table and the jig cut out's inside edge.  The legs should still be sticking out.

Clamp the metal straight edge down at each end to make sure the jig cut out does not move.

Step 4: Bend Acrylic Part 1

Now its time to bend the acrylic.

You will be bending each leg over the edge of the table.

Use one hand to head up the acrylic with the heat gun and the other hand to bend the acrylic.  The hand that will be doing the bending will be close to the heat gun tip so cover it with an oven mitt or hand towel so your hand doesn't get too hot!!

Bring the heat gun about 2-3 inches from the edge you will be bending and move it back and fourth between each end of the acrylic edge that will be bent.  Hold the end of the leg with your other hand.  The acrylic will heat up fairly fast.  Once you notice the leg starting to bend push the leg down against the table so it makes a 90 degree angle with the rest of the jig cut out.

Make sure you don't use too much force as you bend because you could break the leg (I did this on my first jig oops!).  Since the acrylic is hot be careful that the rest of the leg does not get warped when you bend it.  Keep your finger pressed against the leg until the leg cools down and does not move from its 90 degree position.

Bend all four legs 90 degrees in the same direction (they should all be bent under the jig).  When you bend the two legs on the other side you will need to set this clamp/straight-edge configuration up at the corner of the table because the two legs that are already already bent will prevent the acrylic cut out from lying flat.

Step 5: Bend Acrylic Part 2

Now its time to bend the acrylic along the lines you drew with dry erase markers.

I made this new set up to bend the acrylic because the bent legs wouldn't allow me to bend the acrylic over the table.  I use a yard stick as my straight edge in the same way I used the metal straight edge (you can use your metal straight edge for this as well mine was just too thick.)  The edge of the straight edge should line up with the line drawn with the dry erase marker. 

Bend the acrylic up wards (not down over the edge of the table) using the yardstick to help make the crease.  Use the same technique for bending the acrylics that you used in the last step.

It should now sit on the table like so (second picture). 

Step 6: Toothpick Holder

Take your styrofoam, cork board, and squishy stuff and cut out a 41/2" x 6 1/2" rectangle of each (i use this size so they will fit right under your jig, however this may change from person to person depending how well you bend your acrylic). 

Glue the squishy stuff to the styrofoam.  I used a hot glue gun because it bonds really well but I only used it when it was warm not really hot because it will melt the styrofoam. 

Then attach the cork board to the other side of the styrofoam  using the sewing push pins.  This will secure the layers together.  You don't want to use glue to do this because you will be pushing toothpicks through the layer of cork and styrofoam and glue will obstruct this. 

Take these layers and place them under the acrylic jig.  It will be held in place by the legs.  The squishy stuff should be on the bottom because it is used as traction so the jig doesn't move around the table and the cork should be on the top because it will securely hold the toothpicks in place.

** these pictures were taken with the second jig I made (I used clear acrylic).  A leg on the red jig snapped off because I am careless and like to break things...  I used the pictures from making the red jig for the other steps because it showed up better.

Step 7: Insert Toothpicks

Insert the tooth picks through the holes on the top of the jig and push them through the layer of cork and styrofoam so just the tip of the toothpick is above the surface of the jig.  I have a layer of cork because it keeps a really good grip on the toothpicks and makes sure they don't jiggle when you solder.

Step 8: Make LED Beads

Place the crimp beads on top of the toothpicks.  This can get tedious do I used tweezers to help.  Then place the LED in-between the toothpicks.  Insert the divider into the rectangular slots so the LED stays in place.


If you think of any cool projects to make with these LEDs post a comment.  If you have made a project or seen a project with these surface mount bead LEDs post a picture! 



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    15 Discussions


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Hello, I LOVE the idea of DYI surface mount LEDs- did you use a specific metal for the crimping beads? Would brass, copper, silver, or stainless steel crimp beads all be effective since they are fairly conductive materials? I was just wondering if you tried different (crimping bead) metals-since craft stores have many choices- and if you found one worked better than another? Great tutorial by the way! I will have to try this!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This is the first 'ible that inspired me to comment. Excellent job and great imagination.Please show us much more of your abilities and ideas. I'm particularly interested in how you are going to power some of your creations. Keep us posted!!!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    nice idea. PCB material might be a better choice for heat resistance, but it's not so formable. Hmm. Are your beads going the right direction? The LED beads I bought via Etsy had the holes parallel to the emitting surface of the LED, rather than perpendicular as in your photos. I guess either way could be made to work...

    Wow! I like what I see. How about some other pix of a finished product, also very curious!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    It took me most of the instructable to figure out what you were trying to do! Perhaps you should mention that you are trying to solder beads to surface-mount LED's so they can be strung together with conductive thread. :-)


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    The divider is there to stop it from getting pushed back by the soldering iron which was a problem in one of my original models. You just have to be very careful when soldering. I touch the soldering iron only to the crimp beads because they're secure and feed in the solder very carefully.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    That is a pretty asthetically pleasing jig. I love when people make quality tools like this. You must feel really proud when you use it.

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks. This was my fourth or fifth version of it. In the beginning it was completely made of out cardboard. Jason suggested I make it with acrylic. I just bought 500 tiny surface mount LEDs and crimp beads so I have lots of projects in store that will use this.

    Ghost Wolf

    9 years ago on Introduction

    I want to see something made with those beads! I am very curious what it looks like. 5 stars by the way