Steampunk Solar USB Charger




The full title for this project is the "Sun-Powered Lithium Polymer 2600 Milliamp Hour Voltage Box," but that wouldn't fit in the title line;-)

This instructable will not show you how to build a solar charger device. I bought mine. But there are number of fine Instructables that will show you how to do this, so if that is your goal, keep looking.

This simple instructable will show you how to build a steampunk themed case for a very modern looking solar charger, and some techniques that can be used to build a steampunk case for any number of devices.

This case serves a number of purposes: The first is to store the solar/USB charger and all the accessories that come with. The second purpose is to serve as a stand to charge the device in the sun, reducing the risk of scratches or damage. And the third is to just look really cool;-)

I'm shocked, honored and amazed, but this was actually a GRAND PRIZE WINNER in the Cabot Woodcare contest!

• Solar charger
• Wooden box
• Brass corners
• Scrap leather
• Scrap aluminum
• Label (optional)

Supplies & tools:
• Stain & paint
• Power drill
• Rotary tool
• Pliers
• Utility knife

Step 1: Choose a Solar Charger

I bought my solar charger for about US$20 on eBay. There are many models to choose from, but I chose this one because it had good customer reviews, and suited my purpose of being able to charge my cellphone and my Steampunk iPod. It also has indicator lights to let you know the charge level, and can output at variety of voltages; from 4.5v to 9 volts. 

For my purposes, another thing that is key about this back-up battery and charger is that it has a standard USB attachment, and is capable of powering a USB lamp, of which I've made quite a few, including; my Dieselpunk USB Lamp, my Steampunk USB mini-lantern and my Steampunk incandescent USB lamp.

One draw back to this device is that it's a bit delicate, and scratches easily. This box comes in handy here, because you can leave the charger in the box, remove the lid, and place it in the sun to charge. (If it's a cloudy day, you can also charge this device through a USB cable connected to your computer).

So while its great to have this device as a back-up battery charger to charge my phone or iPod on the run, it will most likely spend more time sitting on my coffee table powering a homemade lamp;-)

Step 2: Choose a Box

You obviously want to choose a box based on the size of your charger. I got really lucky and found a wooden puzzle box that was the perfect size to fit my charger, with the cable plugged in, and to hold the adapters under a "secret" compartment in the bottom.

Originally I had planned to build my own wooden box. But when I found this puzzle in a discount store, with a perfect size wooden box, for about US$3, I couldn't resist.

Step 3: Clean and Sand Box

First step in preparing the box is to peel off the paper labels, and scrub off the glue. This was accomplished by carefully peeling away as much of the paper as possible, and then scrubbing the glue with a scouring sponge and soap.

When you've removed as much of the glue as possible with the sponge, let it dry and then use some medium grain sandpaper to remove the rest of the glue, (I used 100), and smooth off any rough spots.

Step 4: Drill USB Port

I used a power drill to drill two holes, very close to each other, and then used a three square file, to turn the two drill holes into a rectangular hole. Most important is that the USB female plug will fit through this hole, but it doesn't have to be perfect, as we're are going to cover it up with an aluminum face plate later.

Step 5: Paint and Stain

This box is made of a very low quality pine, so I decided a nice coat of stain was critical to make it look better. I tried a very light stain first, and wasn't satisfied, so I decided to go with a much darker walnut stain for the second coat.

The top of this box is a flimsy piece of fiber board. Even stained, it wouldn't look very good, so I decided to paint it instead. First I tried a coat of copper metallic paint, and wasn't satisfied with the results, so I covered the copper with a coat of metallic gold.

Step 6: Fit Leather Lining

My original intention was to line the bottom of the box with a piece of scrap leather (salvaged form a discarded couch), to cover the fiber board bottom of the box. But then I realized this was the perfect place to store the many adapters that came with this device, and cover them with the leather scrap, creating a sort of false bottom. (When I brought this device into the country in my luggage, Customs & Border Patrol really thought they were on to something when they took this box apart and found the hidden compartment, only to be disappointed to find a variety of USB adapters;-)

Step 7: USB Port Faceplate

This is where we are going to use the scrap piece of aluminum.

I cut a small piece from the lid of a cookie tin with my small rotary saw. Mark the outline of the USB plug on the aluminum, and then cut an "X" hash mark, and then bend back the four pieces created by your two cuts to create a rectangular port.

Once you have the piece cut out, cut the corners diagonally, (see the third photo), to make it easier to bend the edges back.

Now fold back the edges, so that you don't have exposed sharp metal. Flatten the edges out with a pliers or similar tool.

Note: If you have the tools and skills, you might want to create a brass faceplate to cover the USB port. I don't have either;-)

When you have the faceplate cut and bent to size, mount it over the hole you have cut in the wood, and make sure your plug fits in snugly. Mine was a bit loose, so I used a few drop of solder to hold in in place. This made a bit of a mess of the faceplate, so I ended up painting over it with gold metallic paint.

Finally screw it into place, making sure that the screws won't interfere with the contents of your box.

Step 8: Add Brass Corners

I used the same brass corners for this project that I used for my Steampunk cable-box &  caddy. Since I also used the same walnut stain, these three devices will compliment each other nicely. (I only used two corners, saving the other two for another project).

These cost about US$4 at my local hardware store.

Step 9: Steampunk Label

To add to the retro-antiquity of this build, I created an appropriate label for the lid. I wanted the label to accurately describe the device, but to also have an antiquated look.

The goal was to give this device the look and feel of a 19th century appliance, and I think I achieved that goal.

First I did a Google search for "Victorian border" and found a wide variety to choose from. Then I designed the text in Photoshop, using the appropriate 19th century-looking fonts "Gingerbread Victorian" and "Rosewood," and added a craquelure textured filter.

I printed the label on parchment paper, and used a glue stick to affix it to the lid, then added a light coat of polyurethane to give it a nice shine.

Step 10: Lid

With the label in place, I realized I needed to add a knob, to make the lid a bit easier to slide off. I used a brass knob I took off a discarded karate trophy I found on the street.

This fiber board is very easy to make a hole in, so I marked the spot with a screw and pushed a hole in the board with a screw driver.

Since the screw that holds the knob in place would bang into the box when closing, I had to shave a small notch in the box with a utility knife to accommodate the screw when the lid slides closed.

Step 11: Add Adapters

As I mentioned earlier, this solar charger came with a number of adapters and cables, to charge a variety of devices. Since I plan to mainly use this device to charge my iPod, cellphone, and to power USB lamps, i won't be using these plugs regularly, but it can't hurt to keep them around. This is where the "hidden compartment" comes in.

Place your adapters in the bottom of the box, and place the leather scrap over them. Now forget about them, until you need to charge that old cellphone from the last century... or until Customs stops you at a border crossing;-)

Step 12: Charging

Here's a photo of the box before it was finished, protecting the charger from scrapes and scratches while it basks in the sun pooliside;-)

Step 13: Finished!

Well that's how I made my "Sun-Powered Lithium Ploymer 2600 Milliamp Hour Voltage Box." Above are photos of it powering my Steampunk USB mini-lantern, my Brazilian Steampunk Incandescent Condiment Dispenser Illumination Device, and charging my Steampunk iPod Classic.

A word of caution: If you plan to use this device to charge or power standard USB devices, such as lamps or an iPod, you should leave the voltage output set to 5 volts (which is standard USB port output). If you accidently switch it to 9 volts and plug in a lamp, you will blow the bulb. I learned this the hard way;-)

If you decide to make one yourself, please post a photo here.

Cabot Woodcare Contest

Grand Prize in the
Cabot Woodcare Contest

Fix & Improve It Contest

Participated in the
Fix & Improve It Contest

Off the Grid Contest

Participated in the
Off the Grid Contest



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    31 Discussions


    The details are everything here! The brass corners, the stain, the vintage fonts, and printing them on parchment paper: a perfect combination of ideas to give an excellent look. Good work! Thanks for including the font names by the way!


    5 years ago

    Totally stealing this box! I thought about possibly making the lid of it almost like a miniature door instead of sliding it completely off. I'm not sure how to keep it closed though. Maybe a little latch or some magnets? Anyways, awesome job on the box.

    1 reply
    Winged FistTMarizzle

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    It's not stealing if you give credit where credit is due;-) Hey, this little box scored me a $1,000 grill... Hope your's serves you that well;-) Good luck with the locking mechanism, and please do post a pic if you make one like this!


    6 years ago on Step 13

    You are a true artist.
    You could make a living from this kind of artwork! Amazing =)
    Do you have any suggestions for a desk lamp? I have one that's horrible, standard white..

    Congratulations again, it's an art piece.

    3 replies

    Very very cool...
    The label makes this project! I love it...

    Here is a trick you may or may not be aware of. If you printed the label with a laser printer, you could "Iron" the label directly onto the wood then finish it.
    though, I think the actual label on your project "adds" to the appeal.

    3 replies

    Not quite sure how well ironing would affix this label to wood. Also might end up burning the label! But so far the glue stick has done the trick. If it comes off, I may add a coat of polyurethane. Thanks for the suggestion!

    I worded that in-correctly... I fyou printed the label out with a "laser printer" in "mirrored" format. The iron process transfers the toner from the paper to the wood and then poly over it... I should do an instructable on this. lol

    Ahhh, now I understand! That sounds like a really cool technique. You should certainly write up an Instructable, and I will keep this in mind for future projects. But for the purposes of this build, I think you're right that the physical parchment paper label really gives this device an authentic 19th century look and feel.

    Thanks bricabrac - I put a lot of thought into the label... I think it really gives this build a touch of steampunk authenticity, while actually explaining what it does;-)

    Winged FistSchmidty16

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Schmidty16 - Do you mean mount the solar charger on the bottom of the box, on the outside, or mount the USB port on the back face of the box, opposite the knob?