Children’s Light Up Toy Is An Easy Hand-made Gift


While this year’s Christmas lists are dominated by electronic gadgets and other mass-produced toys, it wasn’t always like that. We’re not trying to sound like the old man yelling at the neighborhood kids to get off his lawn, but many of today’s gifts lack the personal touch found in old, hand-made toys.

[henlij’s] son is a budding electronics geek who loves playing with switches and lights, so he was inspired to build him a fun toy to pass the time. He constructed a simple box full of lights and switches that his son could toggle on and off to his heart’s content.

While there’s not a ton going on inside the box, we think that the idea is fantastic. With just a few dollars worth of simple components, anyone who knows their way around a soldering station can build something that will keep a child fascinated for hours.

There’s no reason to stop at buttons and lights either. If we were to build one, we would swap the bulbs out for LEDs, then add a wide variety of switches and dials along with speakers and any other components we could get our hands on.

The options are pretty limitless, so if you happen to know a child that gets a kick out of playing with buttons and switches, why not make him or her something special this year, much like [henlij] did for his son?

31 thoughts on “Children’s Light Up Toy Is An Easy Hand-made Gift

  1. I built something like this for my daughter when she was younger. I put spare switches, some LED’s, and a buzzer. It kept her occupied for hours. Just remember to attenuate any buzzers as they can get annoying after a while… ;-)

  2. My younger son asked me to build him a “spaceship” with some left over lumber from a project. He wanted to paint a control panel on it. “Why do that,” I said, “when we can add some lights and switches?”

    He and two of his friends will pile into this and play for hours.

  3. Building things for your kids is always better than off the shelf toys, so kudos to the guy :)

    Some advice about drilling project cases though. Mark your lines using a pen (cd pens work well), then drill the holes with a small 1-2mm drill. This will guide the bigger drill in without it slipping (you can remove the pen afterwards using red spirit). Also if you want to countersink screws simply drill the hole and then use a much wider drill lightly to countersink.

    1. I played with Erector sets as a kid….you could easily cut yourself with one of those.

      I played with a wood burning kit….you could easily burn yourself with that.

      I played with toys my dad bought overseas. Tons of tiny little plastic spring fired missiles that could easily get into an eye. (And I probably did shoot myself in the eye at least once.)

      I can’t tell how old the child is, so unless there’s a choking hazard, the exposed bulbs are no big deal. Heck, the kid will probably have a blast putting the lights in and taking them out and seeing when they light up and go out and switching them around and so on. Throw in different colors and you’ve doubled the fun.

      The worst that could probably happen is a cut finger.

      1. Why won’t you think of the children?

        Seriously though you are right. HaD peeps (and other new breed hackers) seem to be overly safety conscious. I guess it is the result of being a basement dweller for so long.

        Better get your nerf suit on, we are going out into the outside.

  4. @toumal
    me! me!! except mine was some sort of 19″ rackmount panel pulled from some kind of industrial control panel surplus. it had toggle switches of different sizes, momentary, on/off/on, LEDs and large multi-position, multi pole switching knobs. but it was just the panel with the wires all hanging out the back, so I had to set it on the top of an open box to use it.

    even better, put down some masking tape and draw out all your cuts and measuring lines and whatnot! –but that’s just my opinion. I can see some instances where marking directly on the material to be worked with is needed over using masking tape.

    ok, you’ve convinced me… I will speen this weekend crafting together a similar box for my kid. it just looks too fun not to have, at any age!

  5. My home-made toys were old transistor radio parts, cast-off kitchen appliances, and an old radar equipment rack from an aircraft. I survived and have kids. So obviously I managed not to electrocute nor radiate myself… ;-)

  6. mine was a plywood box with a hinged lid. Powered by 2 dry cells. All the bulbs were in bezels, aircraft type. (My family worked at Convair) I must’ve played with that thing for hours!!

  7. The perfect gift for my lighting-up-children needs :-)

    By the way you kids were all lucky to have boxes with lights and switches. All I had was a multi-pole 3 (or 4) button switch that that my neighbor had taken out of a stereo, that he let me practice my soldering on. No batteries, no lights.

  8. I see this and I foresee making it and adding a micro-controller with an LCD panel to allow binary counting. Young child gets to play with the lights, older child gets to count in binary

  9. My kid had a blast with something similar @ the children’s museum with colored arcade buttons and colored lights to match, so I know what I’m doing this weekend!

    AXE MAN here I come!

    1. A fellow Twin Citier? Axeman might be my favorite place to shop. I get in trouble though if I go there without my kids. We rarely find what we’re actually looking for, but they always get something that inspires them to go home and start building.

      (dang ‘report comment button’!)

  10. We called these “do nothing machines” in my electronics classes and they were one of the most popular projects. My kids loved playing with this sort of thing when they were growing up- a panel of knobs, switches, and lights is fertile ground for young imaginations!

  11. Why build such a think when you can hand the parts and some tools to the kid and have him/her build it themselves? Such a project is a good stepping stone to eventually getting one of those 200-in-1 experimenter’s boxes…

  12. Wow, what an honor to be posted on hackaday. Regarding not letting a child play with bulbs, I wouldn’t recommend it and mention it in the instructable; that for most small children, bad idea.

    My son (4 now) never put things in his mouth and is very cautious. Plus, he doesn’t get to play with it un supervised. I do have to admit though, unscrewing and screwing in the bulbs is his favorite. In our home, we encourage him to take things apart and see how they work and I help him.

    If you have a young child that shows interest, I’d recommend “Snap Circuits” (From radioshack, amazon, etc.) as well. My son absolutely loves his snap circuit set. Does he get to play with it by himself, nope.

    When he was two, I built this ( for him to help him learn his name. This is the toy that got his interest in electronics started.

  13. I was busy playing Duck Hunt on my NES when I was 4. I would have asked why I couldn’t play Contra on this, and smash it like a failed LEGO project. Please tell me you stimulate you kid more than this now?…

  14. When I was young, my dad built me a little house out of balsa wood. It was like a real house, with a kitchen, living room, bedrooms, etc. The whole thing was maybe 2’X3′. He put light sockets in every room, and wired them each to a toggle switch(about 10 total) in the front of the plywood base. It all ran off a 6V battery. It was just cool to have a row of switches that turned on and off all these different lights. The more lights I turned on, the dimmer they got.

    Later on, he built me a wall. It was a freestanding wall made from 2x4s and some sheetrock, maybe 4’x6′. We put on a couple light sockets, some outlets, a couple three-way switches, a dimmer, and basically wired up every combination of those. It had a cord that plugged into the wall, and then I could play around all I wanted. Yeah, I tripped the breaker a few times. It all seems rather simple now, but at the time I loved it and I learned quite a bit.

    1. When I was younger, I used to play with those sets from radioshack (60-in-one, 160-in-one, etc) and that’s how I learned how to make very basic circuits. Here is another toy I built and posted on Instructables with better directions ( Nothing much to formally learn, just play and have fun. One thing I am horrible at is working with wood. But again, just have fun, challenge yourself, poke around google/youtube/instructables a bit and you’ll be amazed at what you can do. Enjoy!

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