Useless Machine - Complete Plans and Hardware Sources




Waste hours having fun and accomplishing nothing with this mesmerizing
and addictive toy! The Useless Machine quickly becomes the center of attention at any gathering.

This little gem is sure to garner a laugh, a quizzical look and more. You turn it on, it turns itself off. That's it. What does it mean? Is it a commentary on the age old question of man vs. machine? Does it speak to technology in todays world becoming ever more emboldened to make decisions regardless of your desire or will? Or is it just a mindless toy sure to entertain and amuse?

This Instrucable includes all of the plans you need to create your own laser cut box and mechanism as well as links to source all of the hardware you need to make your own Useless Machine

If you have trouble sourcing the parts, visit our website to get a complete kit. You can also order just the laser cut parts or even a complete and assembled Useless Machine.

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Step 1: Gather Your Materials

You will need the following items:

  • (1) DPDT On/On toggle switch. We like these from Jameco. Though you can use another size or style if you prefer. Just be sure get one with a 1/4 inch mounting hole or adjust the files that you will be cutting out later to compensate.
  • (1) Micro switch. This needs to be this item to match the mounting holes and cam assembly in our file that you will be cutting out later. If you get another switch, you will need to edit the file and potentially spend time to get the measurements setup for alignment. (Note - 9/29/16 Jameco no longer carries the item. The above link now points to The item is an Omron D2F-L-D if you want to look elsewhere.)
  • (1) 2xAA battery holder. Any brand or kind should do. We prefer this one from Jameco.
  • (1) Solarbotics GM-9 Geared Motor. These are available from many sources including and Hobby
  • A short piece (about 3") of 3/64" brass rod (for the hinge mechanism). Available at many local hardware stores and big-box stores.
  • The laser cut enclosure, mounting and cam mechanism.
  • About 10" of black 22 gauge solid core wire
  • About 10" of red 22 gauge solid core wire
  • About 2" of green 22 gauge solid core wire
  • (1) small zip tie (for a strain relief)
  • (1) 1" of velcro
  • (2) AA batteries
  • (2) #4 x 1/2" screws
  • (2) #4 x 3/8" screws
  • (3) #2 x 3/8" screw

Step 2: Gather Your Tools and Supplies

To assemble the Useless Machine, gather the following tools and supplies:

  • Wood glue
  • 3 large elastic bands (will be used to clamp the box after glue up)
  • Small brush (for applying glue) An acid brush or small hobby size paint brush will work perfectly for this.
  • Screwdriver - No 1 Phillips
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Wire cutters / Strippers
  • Soldering iron
  • Solder


  • A set of helping hands to hold the pieces while soldering

Step 3: Cut Your Useless Machine

Use the attached plans to laser cut your useless machine in 1/8 material. We used Baltic Birch for this instructable. You will end up with the pieces shown in the attached images. There are essentially 3 sub-assemblies that will make up your Useless machine. The box base, the box lid and the internal mechanisms which consist of a cam assembly and the mounting brackets.

The attached plans use color mapping so that the resulting file has both engraved areas (raster) and cut areas (vector). The red lines in the plan are set to a lower power and higher speed so that the result is a line that is marked (rastered) instead of being cut. This speeds up the process considerably.

In our shop, for production items, we often finish our material prior to running them through the laser. We use a Golden Oak finish. the benefit of this finish is that it closely matches the smoke residue color so that, once cut, our pieces can be immediately assembled. Feel free to assemble this however you want, though.

Step 4: Solder Your First Wires

Cut and strip about 1/4" off of both ends of your 2" green wire. When looking at the bottom of the DPDT switch, you are going to solder one end of the green wire and the black wire from your 2xAA battery pack to the top right lug as show in the image. Trim any extra wire tag ends after soldering to ensure that you do not accidentally short out your toggle switch terminals later.

Step 5: Soldering Part 2

Now cut about 3 inches from your red wire and strip about 1/4" from both ends. Solder one end of the red wire and the red wire from your 2xAA battery holder to the lower right lug of the terminal. Once the solder has cooled, trim any tag ends to prevent a short circuit later.

Step 6: Soldering Step 3

Cut about 3 inches from your black wire and trim 1/4" of insulation from both ends. Attach one one of the wire to the top left lug of the toggle switch.

Step 7: Soldering Step 4

Solder the other ends of the red and black wires you soldered in the previous step and attach them to the two outside terminals of the micro switch. The polarity does not matter. You can attach either wire to either of the terminals. Just make sure you do NOT use the center terminal.

Step 8: Solder Step 5

Take the remaining red and black wires and strip 1/4" from each of the ends. These wires are soldered onto the toggle switch. The black wire to the top center terminal and the red wire to the bottom center terminal.

Step 9: Solder Step 6

Take the remaining end of the green wire and solder it to the lower left terminal.

Now turn off your soldering iron for a few minutes while we assemble the mounting brackets and cam assembly.

Step 10: Attach Large Mount to Gear Motor

Using the 2 #4 by 1/2" screws, attach the large mounting plate to the gear motor

Step 11: Attach Micro Switch to Large Plate

Using the 2 of the #2 x 3/8 screws attach the micro switch to the large mounting plate. The screws attach from the back side of the plate. Be sure to note the orientation of the switch so that the lever is pointed towards the top of the plate.

Step 12: Attach the Top Mounting Plate

Apply a few small dabs of glue between the tenons on the large mounting plate and attach the small mounting plate. Be sure to note the orientation of the small mounting plate. Let the assembly dry for 15-20 minutes. You can use an elastic band to apply pressure to the plate if it is necessary.

Step 13: Mount the Toggle Switch

Push the toggle switch through the hole in the small mounting plate. The switch needs to be mounted so that the wires for the battery tray are towards the back (farthest from the axle on the motor). This is important for your Useless Machine to operate correctly.

Step 14: Build the Arm and Cam Assembly

Layout the arm and cam as shown. Use the 2 #4 x 3/8 screws to mount the cam. The orientation of the cam is important. Make sure that the angle between the arm and the cam matches as shown in the picture. If your cam is mounted the wrong way, the arm will not fall below the cover of the useless machine.

Step 15: Attach Arm Assembly to Motor Axle

Using the remaining #2 x 3/8 screw, mount the arm assembly to the motor axle. Now is a good time to attach the zip tie through the hole in the lower left of the large mounting bracket to hold the battery wires. This will provide strain relief for when you need to replace your batteries.

Step 16: Attach the "hand"

Use a few dabs of glue to attach the hand to the arm. The hand gives us a slightly larger contact area so the the arm make solid contact with the toggle switch.

Step 17: Solder the Motor

Solder the red wire to the upper tab on the motor (closest to the toggle switch) and the black wire to the lower tab.

Step 18: Test the Motor Assembly

Now is a perfect time to test our motor assembly. Hold the
assembly upright with the large mounting plate flat on your work table. Make sure the toggle switch is pulled into position furthest away from the arm assembly and insert 2 AA batteries. Toggle the switch on. The arm should rise and push the switch into the off position and then return to closed. If this does not occur, check all of your wiring and for short circuits. If you did not hold the assembly against a flat surface, it is possible that the cam pushed past the lever of the micro switch. If this happened, remove the batteries and carefully push the arm back over the lever. Be sure not to bend the lever.

When you are finished playing with the assembly, set it aside for a few minutes and we will begin building the enclosure.

Step 19: Layout, Glue and Assemble the Lower Box

Grab a paper towel to have handy for cleanup and layout the lower box bottom and sides as shown and apply a small bead of glue to all the meeting tabs as well as the tabs on the inside portion of the sides where the side pieces will meet. It is sometimes helpful to use a small brush to help with this step. You will be "folding" the box together so make sure the the lines and markings are all face down. Start by folding up two meeting sides. Then a third and finally the last. Use an elastic band to hold the entire assembly together. Quickly grab your paper towel and clean up and glue overflow.

Step 20: Add the Arm Assembly to the Top

Apply a small dab of glue to the upper bracket and insert the arm assembly into the top cover. Tighten the nut. Make sure the arm assembly is pointed in the proper orientation as show in the pictures.

Step 21: Glue the Top Into Place

Apply glue to all of the tabs on the top as well as to the thin bottom portion of the large mounting plate. Insert the top into the bottom assembly and apply a rubber band while the glue dries.

Step 22: Glue Up the Lid

Layout the pieces for the lid as show. Apply a small bead of glue to all the overlapping tabs and fold up similar to how you did the box bottom. Wipe off any glue spill and clean up any squeeze out. Place the lid onto the box assembly and add an elastic band as shown to temporarily hold in place. Set the entire box aside to dry and let the glue setup.

Step 23: Add the Hinge Brackets

Place a few small dabs of glue on the hinge brackets where the hinges will meet the box and lid. Place the lid back onto the box to check alignment of the hinge brackets and then set aside and allow the glue to dry thoroughly.

Step 24: Add the Hinge Pin

Using your pliers, bend about 1/4" of your brass rod to a 90 degree angle. Slide the hinge pin through the hinge brackets and then CAREFULLY bend the other end. Do not apply much pressure to the hinge brackets as this can cause the bracket to split. Trim he end of the hinge pin you just bent to match the size of the other side.

Step 25: Add Velcro to Keep Battery Box in Place

Attach the velcro to the battery box and then the battery box to the side of your Useless Machine. This will keep the battery box in place

Step 26: Enjoy

Have fun and enjoy your new Useless Machine. We get a giggle from almost everyone who tries it. We think you will too!

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53 Discussions


1 year ago

Thanks, OrangeKat for such a gorgeous machine, and such great instructions! I'm confused, though -- my cam is too short to make full contact with the micro switch. I didn't show this in the video, but if I just throw the switch a second time, the cam catches on the metal of the micro switch. Any thoughts on what went wrong or how I can fix this? Thx!

2 replies

Reply 1 year ago

Hi Andy - Thanks for the video. There are two things. First, the box
bottom is an integral part of the system. If is used to help prevent the
over-swing. If you hold the assembly down as if it is sitting in the
box (so the elbow of the arm comes in contact with your work surface) it
will likely solve the problem. Additionally, if you want you can
slightly bend the metal contact on the micro switch. It is a delicate
operation, though. You need to hold the hinge end firmly against the top
of the micro switch (closed position) and using slight pressure bend
the flap end away from the body. Again, be very careful if you try this.
I've broken a few micro switches making this adjustment.

Why this happens on some kits, I am not sure. I've seen it myself a
few times. I think that some of the motors have a bit extra torque and
with a nice fresh set of batteries the micro switch closes but the arm
has too much momentum and swings past.

Let me know if this is not helpful. We will make sure you get squared away!

Thank for your order and kind words about our kit.


Reply 1 year ago

Thanks for the quick response! I'll give this a shot!!


1 year ago


We bought the kit a while ago, and just got around to building it. We're testing it now (before completing the box) and it seems to half work. That is: I flip the switch, and the arm stays where it is. I don't hear the motor engage and see no motion. If I gently move the arm towards the toggle switch, then flip the toggle switch, the motor engages and returns the arm to it's original position.

When we first tested it, it got hot and we realized we had a short circuit. We fixed it (two wires touched). Is it possible that we damaged something?

We tried loosening the screw that holds the arm to the motor, as described below. That didn't seem to have an impact.


2 replies

Reply 1 year ago

Hi - It sounds like the toggle switch is having a problem. We are happy to replace it. On our webpage, which is on the box bottom, has a contact us page. Use that to send us your mailing address and order number and we will send you a replacement.




Reply 1 year ago

Thank you! We have a local electronic shop where I can probably pick it up--no need to send us a new one. I appreciate it though!


1 year ago

I finished the motor/switch assembly thing, but when testing it, the motor was not able to turn off the switch. I know the electronics work because the arm moves correctly when I manually turn on and off the switch, but the switch seems too stiff or something for the arm to be able to turn off. Is there a way I can fix this?

2 replies

Reply 1 year ago

We've noticed the same problem a couple of times on the ones we assemble. We think that, when torquing down the screw, the gears in the motor will sometimes get out place just a little bit and jam up the works. Loosen the screw that holds the arm to the motor so there is just the slightest amount of play in it. Then jiggle the arm around a bit in different directions. It may loosen it up.

Another possibility is weak batteries. Check the voltage on your batteries to make sure they are fully charged. If neither of these fix the problem, let us know and we will help you to get the problem resolved and/or any replacement parts you might need.



Reply 1 year ago

It was one of the batteries. I replaced it and it now works like a charm! It’s a wonderful kit.


2 years ago

Do you have a wire map or a high level drawing of what solders where? The zoomed in photos are a little tricky for a noob

1 reply

Reply 2 years ago

Are you saying that the arm will turn off the switch but after turning off the switch it does not go back into the box? That sounds like a wiring problem or a bad toggle switch. We have seen a few toggle switches that have gone bad and we are happy to send you a replacement. Email your name, order number, and USPS mailing address to and we will send a replacement.


2 years ago

This is the most precisely crafted wooden kit I have ever assembled. The pieces fit together like a Swiss watch with no sanding or trimming required. The machine works perfectly.

Steve In SC

2 years ago

Got your kit a couple days ago and had some time to build it this afternoon. I put some finish on all the wood parts yesterday and took to the soldering today but have run into a road block. When I attempt to test it, the wires from the battery pack both get hot soon after putting the batteries in with the micro switch either open or closed and with the DPST switch in either position. I double checked the wiring several times and have no shorts that I can see and everything is wired exactly as the photos and instructions show. Please advise as the project is at a standstill for now.

2 replies
OrangeKatSteve In SC

Reply 2 years ago

It sounds like a bad switch. We will get you a replacement. We've sent you an email to get your usps mailing addressso we can ship it. Thanks!

Steve In SCOrangeKat

Reply 2 years ago

Just finished the assembly. Everything works perfectly! Lots of laughs when it goes to town and does its business. I will ohm out both the switches and give feedback as to which one was no good. Thanks for a cool project and funny gag!!


2 years ago

The Wires become too hot to touch and the arm pushes the switch but does not go back into the box. How can I fix this? Thanks.

Photo on 6-3-17 at 3.25 PM.jpg
1 reply

Reply 2 years ago

Your micro switch is installed the wrong way. The hinge on the metal lever needs to be at the bottom instead of the top.