Mechanical Winged Top Hat

Introduction: Mechanical Winged Top Hat

So this semester I took an electronic art class and with the help of my dad, I built an top hat...with wings...that flap! plus a thing that spins!

Me and my dad built it from an older erector set (not those cheap plastic new versions), a gear shaft from a toy tank we had long since throw out, a circuit from an old broken Joker toy, chopsticks and an Arduino that I programed to use a photocell to decide when to turn on the flapping mechanism.

I will try to explain everything I did and how it works. I apologize ahead of time because I'm kind of bad at explaining so I'll do the best I can. Will try to add a video soon.

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: Supplies

General Use supplies

If you are going to try to replicate this you will need your general electric tools:

  • a soldering iron (you will want a small, low power one because I know mine is way too powerful and hot for this project)
  • Wire cutters/strippers
  • small drill
  • flash light (for testing light)

Erector set

I used an erector set for the frame to keep everything together but I am sure there are lighter alternative. The basic ides could be duplicated with any material really as long as you drill holes to put screws. The main pieces you would need from the erector set are:

two medium flat erector set pieces

  • 2 circular erector set piece
  • three rectangular panel erector set pieces
  • long flat erector set piece

Full supply list:

I am merely listing the materals here but if you if you go to each step I have tried to make the materals bold so they can be quickly found and there I will give more details (ordered by when it is listed in my directions):

  • hinges
  • Screws
  • two chopsticks
  • two L brackets
  • gear shaft (4 gear complex)
  • circular piece of wood
  • propeller
  • toy motor
  • Motor circuit (resistors, etc.)
  • AA battery
  • switch/button
  • rod switch
  • Arduino Uno
  • 10k Ohms resistor
  • one 150 Ohms resistor
  • photcell
  • bread board / circuit board
  • Arduino power source connector
  • 9v battery


For artisic expression and design here are the decorative elements:

  • the hat
  • feathers/wing material
  • hot glue
  • yarn
  • paint
  • elastic for chin strap (optional depending)

Step 2: The Hinges

Basic Idea

So initially, my idea was to create a hat with wings inspired by the greek and roman god Mercury / Hermes's hat/helmet. It would be a normal hat but would have wings on top which would have some mechanism to make them flutter.

I was thinking the wings would be based on a ornithopter/chirothopter similar to this Instructable page but on a hat. I really had a hard time finding exactly the same mechanism that I am envisioning. It needed to be some sort of mechanism which made the wings go up and down. There are a lot of ornithopters online but I had trouble finding one with instructions rather than either cool, sometimes grainy short videos or ones you just had to buy.

I drew a lot of inspiration from a Thingiverse project ( It was did not have a motor but it would not take much to attach one to the wire hings. I tried a number of 3d prints but no matter how much I adjusted the front T shaped piece or no matter what materal I printed it with I could not manufacture something which was both flexible enough to flap the wings while durable enough to not break under rotation of the toy motor. I love the basic idea I just couldn't achieve a long lasting solution. But that doesn't mean someone else can't find a solution (I should caution you that the linked model's wing hinges are pretty thin so even the creator adjusted their size if you look at their pictures).

What I did

Long story short I decided to go with a more durable solution (and something I had on hand).

I used two overlapping hinges to replace the T shape of the 3d model's front wing holders (I used some hinges from an old van but any hinge with a short height but a good length could be used). Screws need to keep those overlapping but also most hinges have vertical holes so I had to drill horizontal holes so I could put attach my wings. For those I used simple store bought chopsticks but any thin piece of wood could do. I would wait till you get your motor working so you know how much weight you can put on them before you land on your wing design (that's why the actual wings are later on).

Next, I attached two L brackets to the two unlapping parts of the hinge. Then I took two medium flat erector set pieces of equal lenth with lots of wholes (as previously noted you could use anything with holes in replace of this). You will want to make a misshapen X shape and then attach them to the L brackets.

Next to rotating mechanism!

Step 3: Rotating Mechanism

With the hinges and the two medium flat erector set pieces combined (they make a triangle btw), the next obstacle is how to make it rotate.

Gear shaft

To the two medium erector set pieces, I attached a circular erector set piece which goes out ever so slightly on one side almost like a wheel/axle where a hole for a screw is so you can tighten it to the shaft (you might need a second one of these for later on if you are like me).

To this I attached a shaft with some gears. Now, I lucked out and had a gear shaft from an old tank we had long since thrown out so I have a harder time explaining what you need for this. Basically, it has two gears directly on on the main shaft and two gears (four gears in total) attached to a much smaller gear shaft. Like I said, I lucked out and found it exactly like I needed it so I don't really know what you would need or where you would get it.

Now, regarding the main gear shaft: depending on the length of the shaft and the size of the hat you might have to consider not only the wing portion but also the other side. My gear shaft is too long for the hat so it sticks out on the front and back of the hat. I used a second circular erector set piece on that side which I screwed to a piece of circular of wood surrounded by a light plastic propeller.


Linked to one of the gears on the smaller gear shaft is the motor. Now, I would advice just going with any toy motor you can find. You just have to keep in mind the motor's speed or power because that would not determine not only how much weight you can put on the wings but also their speed. Also keep in mind how much power it needs when it comes to the battery.


To the motor I attached a circuit. Now, I once again lucked out and had an old broken joker toy that essentially did what I wanted the device to do: it had a photocell in the Joker (sorry about the bad picture) which when shot with a laser would fall and then would turn on a motor to help it get it up again. Now, I attached a new photocell to this but it required so much of a drastic soft of light change that I had to make my flash light to go strobe and flash quickly so it would actually activate.

Now, you go in a variety of ways as far as the circuit is concerned. You could do a simplified circuit board. Mine had like 9 resisters but you don't need but one or so to make it go. Mine has the photocell as I mentioned but that unnecessary to this circuit if you do what I did and attach it to the Adruino (if you decide to go that route).


You will need a battery. You won't need but a set of AA batteries (or at least mine didn't take that much to run). Again, depends on your motor.

You will of course need to include a switch on this circuit so you can turn it. I decided to go with a button but you do need to remember to turn it off or your battery will run out so up to preference.

Now, my dad developed a stop mechanism so that each time the gear shaft did a full rotation it would switch the motor off. It's a simple rod switch where every time it gets hit or moved it turns off. This is slightly unnecessary if you apply the Arduino to the mix (I attached the Arduino to the override of said switch) but I thought it would be worth mentioning anyway if you want the ability to not use it.

Collection of everything

Basically, I combined three rectangular panel erector set pieces to make a box. this is slightly unnecessary and could be done a lot more minimalistically so it would be lighter (my hat requires a chin strap but then again my top hat also is too short to put my head all the way in). What is really necessary out of this complex is long flat erector set piece (this will need to be much longer than thetwo medium flat erector set pieces used in wing mechanism). Whether you do a box something else, this long flat piece will need to be held up above the gear shaft (the actual distance is rouch depending on the size of wing hinges and erector set flapping mechanism). At the end of this long flat piece is where the overlapping portion of the two hinges should screw so it is above where the gearshaft attaches to thecircular erector set piece (you will need to make sure it hight enough to let the circular piece and the two interlocking medium flat erector set pieces rotate. This box is also import about keeping any loose wires out of the teeth of the gears or motor.

Step 4: The Arduino

Once you know the motor and the circuit work together and thus the hinges flap, one of the final obstacles is the Arduino.

My layout

My arduno circuit is inspired by a blog post ( where a camera is hacked and controlled with an Ardunio. I altered the basic idea so instead of the camera wires I have wires attaching to my rod switch so it overrides that set rotation stop.

I'm including pictures of my bread board layout because it is lot more clearer than my soldering of the cirucuit. You will need a npn-transistor as well as two resistors (one 10k Ohms resistorand one 150 Ohms resistor ). You will also need a photocell and of course lots of wire to make all the connections.

Now, one wire will from the Ardunio Gnd to the 150 ohm resistor. Then a wire from 13 on the Ardunio to other side of the 10K. The photocell (or more likely a wire) will attach at the 5v on the Ardunio and the other side of the photocell (or another wire) will need to attach to the breadboard, lining up with the previous two resistor wires. then the 10k hooks to the seond GND and lines up with the photocell behind which is a wire which attaches to A0. I will try to remember to make a diagram with this information but I may forget.

After the that, I simply moved the beard board content to a circuit board and put that on top of the Ardunio after soldering everything. It really makes things pretty compact that way.


I made my own Arduino power source connector but you can find those for pretty cheep online. I only needed a 9v battery to power mine so depends on how much power you want. I made mine so that I could include a power switch so I could just have the machine one without the Arduino.

You will need to link the powers of the Ardunio and the motor circuit. I myself put a wire that went from the battery of motor to the 150 resistor. It's just a precaution you understand.


I'm not exactly sure how you post code here so I'm going to attach the file and post my code as well:

int camPin = 13; // Cam trigger connected to digital pin 8

int cds = 0; int reading;

// The setup() method runs once, when the sketch starts

void setup() { // initialize the digital pin as an output: pinMode(camPin, OUTPUT); pinMode(cds, INPUT); digitalWrite(camPin, LOW); // set the CAM trigger off Serial.begin(9600); }

// the loop() method runs over and over again, // as long as the Arduino has power

void loop() { /*digitalWrite(CamPin, HIGH); // set the CAM trigger on, capture image delay(1000); // wait for a second digitalWrite(CamPin, LOW); // set the CAM trigger off delay(4000); // wait for 4 seconds */

reading = analogRead(cds); Serial.println(reading); delay(500);

if (reading > 900) { digitalWrite(camPin, HIGH); } else digitalWrite(camPin, LOW);


the 900 should be the number you should change to get results depending on how much light you desired area has. In theory, this code should sense when there is a change in light and turn on the motor.

organizing the wires

Pretty self explanitory but you need to organize the wires of this device and the motor once you attach them. Since I had my erector set box around the gear shaft and motor all I had to do was hang the Ardunio and circuit from the side of the box with paper clips. However, before that I put a sheet of plastic along the side of the box so it wouldn't for some reason conduct.

Step 5: The Hat

So really that finished the hard part. Now you just need to put it in a hat.

The hat

I used a regular sized top hat you can find at most costume shops. I had to cut off the top to put it all in there. The addition of the Arduino part made mine go in crooked so its not in the center of the hat. The wings hinge complex should be removed and if you have propeller on the other side you should remove that as well. Make sure you can access the photocell to put it where ever is most convient to you. that and the switches and buttons are the same but underneath.

You just have to measure the height of the wing hinge complex to figure out where on the hat should be and where to cut the holes. Since my gear shaft was so long I had to cut a slit along the side instead of just a hole. It should just slide right in wing end first followed by the other end (if you have one).

My motor was acting up on mine (kept loosing its attachment to the teeth of the gear) so I didn't close the top other than with some velcro but I'm sure you could do a number of creative solutions so you could still access the motor if you needed to).


The holes for the gear shaft should hold everything in place (and if your machine and the hat are a tight fit it shouldn't go anywhere but just in case and because you don't want to get your hair stuck in the motor, I would suggest cutting a piece of card board to go right underneath.

You'll want to make sure the botton for the motor power is accessible and if you are like me the same goes for the Ardunio's on off switch.

Depending on the weight and how much of the hat the machine takes up in the hat you might want to consider putting a piece of elastic as a chin strap.

Step 6: Wings and Finishing Touches

All that is left is the wings and they are pretty simple depending on your taste on how much force your motor puts out.

The sticks

I just went with chopsticks because they are cheap and easy to find. I just drilled too tiny holes for two screws to put in the horizontal holes we drilled in the first wing step.

The Wings

For the wings themselves I just got some black costume feathers, glued them together and then rapped them with brown yarn. The yarn allowed me to slide the wings on and off pretty easily while still being secure.


Just for visual appeal I used some gold spray paint to paint the chop sticks and I sprayed the propeller and round wood peice.



It was an interesting project so I hope you enjoy. I will try to get better pictures and visuals so it is more clear what I did. My photocell in this project acts up every so often and I not sure exactly why but it just takes a little bit before it responds. Plus my motor as I said unlocks teeth with the gears so every so often I do that but otherwise I'm happy with the result.

Be the First to Share


    • Tiny Speed Challenge

      Tiny Speed Challenge
    • Heart Contest

      Heart Contest
    • Fiber Arts Contest

      Fiber Arts Contest

    2 Discussions


    3 years ago

    This would be awesome at a costume party!