LED Popsicle Stick Picture Frame




About: My name is Randy and I am a Community Manager in these here parts. In a previous life I had founded and run the Instructables Design Studio (RIP) @ Autodesk's Pier 9 Technology Center. I'm also the author ...

Recently my projects have been accused of being a part of some hipster arts and crafts movement.

Is it arts and crafts you want? Then it is arts and crafts you will get!

Here is my LED-enhanced popsicle stick picture frame. Just in time for the holidays.

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Step 1: Go Get Stuff.

You will need:
30 - Popsicle sticks
1 - Photograph of you and your Grandma (or relative of choice)
1 - Micro toggle switch (Electronic Goldmine part #G1827)
8 - LEDS
1 - 3V coin cell battery
1 - Small piece of copper foil
1 - 12" of very thin flexible wire
1 - 12" Magnet tape

- exacto knife
- hot glue gun
- soldering iron

Step 2: Prepare a Three Layer Popsicle Stick Frame.

Cut three layers of popsicle sticks to match the diagram below.

Note that the three layers will line up upon the red dot (although the reason for "Layer 3" to be flipped horizontally may yet make sense).

Step 3: Carve the Popsicle Sticks.

With your exacto knife, carefully carve the popsicle sticks. The popsicle sticks need to be carved and or hollowed as shown in the diagram below. The grey area is the part of the popsicle sticks that needs to be hollowed. As well, when carving "Layer 3," please note that the red dots on the three layers need to line up and that "Layer 3" is flipped over.

The hollow area should be carved about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way into the popsicle stick. It should be deeper than your wire is high.

Step 4: Build the Circuit.

With your hot glue gun, put a drop of glue on an unused popsicle stick. Quickly and carefully glue two adjacent popsicle sticks together so that no glue interferes with your carved trough or can be seen on the surface of the frame. Do this with all of the popsicle sticks of the first layer.

Cut a piece of copper foil about the size of the big square cut for the coin battery. Leave a thin strip of copper running an inch off one side of the squares. Glue this into place with the thin strip of copper running up the trough of the popsicle stick towards where the switch will be.

Once this is done, carefully insert LEDs into each of the four holes that you carved for them. Make sure you insert them in the same direction so that on one side are all the ground leads and the other all the power leads. Make sure they all work and then bend the leads ninety degrees in the same direction so that the leads from each respective LED touch the leads coming out of the one next to it.

Trim the leads as appropriate and then solder them all together. Repeat the same action with the LEDs on the other side of the frame.

Connect both LED chains with wires which will be hidden in the trough carved in one of the short sticks.

Next you will attach the switch. Solder one wire from one of the edge pins to the thin copper strip sticking off the square you glued down earlier. Solder the middle pin to a wire connected to the positive side of the LED (i.e. the longer leg of the LED... the one that connects to plus...) Glue the switch in place at the edge of the frame with a small drop.

Find the ground leg of the LED closest to the copper tab. To this will be attached a short wire connected to yet another small copper tab. This small copper tab will be touching the ground side of the coin cell battery. The other copper tab will be touching the plus side of the coin cell battery.

Hold the battery in place, flick the switch and see if you can turn it on and off.

Step 5: Attach Your Photograph.

Make sure the first layer of your frame is assembled and wired correctly.

Lay the photograph face up on the table. Place glue around the edge of the photograph and then stick the frame neatly on top of it. The LEDs should be looking at you along with your image.

I don't know how anyone could possibly glue this wrong.

You will need to trim your photograph if it is covering the compartment carved for your battery.

Step 6: Add More Popsicle Sticks.

Once the picture is glued on, flip the image, frame and all, face down. Now glue the second layer of popsicle sticks on top of the back of the frame.

Make sure that the notch carved for the battery and the switch line up with the first layer.

Again, this will be very hard to screw up.

Put the battery in place between the two pieces of copper. Push down on this as hard as you can, flick the switch and make sure it is working and then glue the battery in place.

Step 7: Add Even More Popsicle Sticks.

Add your final layer of popsicle sticks over the second.

Step 8: Make It Refrigerator Friendly (optional).

Ideally your frame will stick to a refrigerator so that whoever you send it to will have to begrudgingly keep it there as to spare your feelings.

Glue the magnetic strips lengthwise onto the frame directly atop "layer 3."

Step 9: Mail It to Grandma (or Relative of Choice).

Pack it well, put it in a box and ship it out to your favorite or least favorite relative.

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    17 Discussions


    2 years ago

    I work with teenagers with special needs and I find this a very interesting activity which I am sure they will enjoy. Keep your ideas coming. Love them. TQ


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Does anyone know a way to be able to push each light to turn them on and off? Like a click on and off mechanism? I am sure each would need their own battery, but I can't find a switch for this. Thanks!

    1 reply

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    There is no easy way to do that. They sell backlit toggle switches that have on and off states. You would still be able to run them off a single battery if you wired them in parallel, but it would be much too large to use for this project. If you incorporated a micro controller and some clever hacking, I can think of a few ways you might be able to fake push on/off LEDs for this project, but that is probably more trouble than its worth (and again probably be too large). It would be easy to create something where the LEDs light up when you push them down and turn off when you let go, but that is mildly pointless, since you wouldn't really see them light up.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Well aside from not wanting to insert a resistor inside a hollowed out popsicle stick frame, the current from the coin battery is kind of low and I never keep it on for too long due to the limited life of the battery (being that its almost impossible to replace). Those two factors, in combination, allow me to get away without a resistor. If you want, you can add a 200 ohm resistor, but it won't make too much difference. Anyway, LEDs provide a little bit of resistance and with a low power source, it should be just about enough to get away with. For instance, if you put 4 (or so) LEDs in series with a 9V battery, the LEDs will provide too much resistance for current to pass through them and illuminate.


    12 years ago

    inductive charging with a supercap! Hack one of those shaky flashlights for a power source. Replace magnets with rare earth models to hold up your heavy frame.

    3 replies

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    yeah throw it at a metal wall so those dumbasses in New York think its a bomb, again. im insulting your idea it would just be funny, lol


    12 years ago

    I love this. For some reason it's making me laugh hysterically but I might try it!

    why dont u try wireing the circuit so that it blinks, im shure you can find instruction on the internet........somewere

    1 reply

    You can use blinking LEDs. The other way would be to put in a 555 chip, but those are kind of large relatively speaking.


    12 years ago

    I like! I'm actually considering doing some of these with my little girl for Christmas. She can glue the sticks, Daddy can do the electronics. Thanks for the great idea!


    12 years ago

    Very nice project! When I saw the bottom of your diagram, I thought it had a gravity switch, which made me think that a tilt switch (like a mercury switch - can you still get those?) would be a good idea. You could make it so that it only lit up when straight, so you could tilt it a bit to turn it off. I think your design is tight and elegant, but I would want a replaceable battery...

    1 reply

    Reply 12 years ago

    Yes, the battery is the big problem. For version 2.0 I'm considering either a simple slot where the battery can be slid in and out or a rechargeable battery connected to a small solar cell.


    12 years ago

    very nice and creative. Will you give it to grandma for xmas?


    12 years ago

    Badass in a second grader kind of way.