3 Cool Gadgets That You Can Build Yourself

Angelina 29-09-2009

Doc BrownIn the spirit of taking a hands-on approach to technology, I’ve decided to scour the popular tutorial site Instructables in search of cool hardware hacks to upgrade the gadgets you have to something more fun and decidedly more geeky.


I looked for beginner-friendly tutorials for cool gadgets you can build yourself, that don’t involve too much dangerous or difficult work, to help ease us into being confident enough to work on harder projects.

Beware: this article contains solder, wires, and all sorts of adventurous things. If you’re not willing to bust a couple of flash drives or glue a few fingers together, you might be better off simply marveling, and leaving the tools for another, luckier day.

The Lego USB Stick

cool gadgets you can build yourself

This is, hands down, my favorite hardware hack of all time, because not only is it whimsical and nostalgic (for me, at least, who loved building Lego landscapes as a child), but it is incredibly useful as well.


  • USB stick. Preferably one that can easily be cracked open.
  • Lego. The tutorial writer used 2×4, 2×2, 1×4 and 1×2 sticks to make his USB. Use whatever combination of bricks to create a case that fits your USB stick snugly.
  • Clear silicone. The writer used this to set the USB stick in the lego brick and make sure it wouldn’t wobble around, but in the comments there seems to be commenters who tried hot glue with equal success. Just make sure the glue isn’t so hot that it melts the circuit board!
  • Metal Polish. This is used mostly for aesthetic effect, to make the block smooth and shiny, so you can easily do without it, if you’d like.  Someone in the comments suggested using a paste (not gel) toothpaste to rub out imperfections in the brick.
  • Super Glue. Like I said, be ready to glue your fingers together.
  • Tools: A knife to cut through the Lego. A soldering iron works too, but beware of burning your fingers! Pliers to rip out the inside parts of the Lego.

Projected Cost (given that you already have a USB stick): around $15. Silicone is almost $10 by itself, but if you’d rather use hot glue, there are plenty of places that sell glue guns for under $5.

Variations: Instructibles also has an eraser USB, but if you use some silicone or hot glue to protect the PCB (Printed circuit board), you could theoretically make a USB Drive out of anything. The commenters tried toy cars, NES controllers, and Altoid tins, among other things.

I myself someday want to put one in a small stuffed animal, so the USB connector is sticking out of its head or its butt (or… I could rip the head off and use it as a cap), so there’s plenty of ways you can innovate.


cool gadgets to build yourself

Although this project has no practical use of any kind (unless you’re into corporal punishment), it’s a fun way to learn about circuitry and rewiring it. This project is relatively dangerous, and you could end up tasering yourself if you’re not careful, but there’s nothing like a bit of painful motivation to keep you going, right?


  • Disposable camera, any kind will do.
  • Screwdriver to pry apart the camera and to discharge the capacitor. You might want to use a screwdriver that you’re not too fond of, because discharging the capacitor will leave a scar on it.
  • Wires: The writer just ripped some out of broken electronics, but you can find insulated wire pretty cheaply at hardware stores.
  • Wire Strippers: these are not necessary, because its easy to strip wire using a pair of scissors.
  • Electrical Tape: Using electrical tape would be the most efficient, since electrical tape doesn’t conduct a charge, but any type of tape that is not flammable could theoretically work.

Projected Cost: less than $10. The cost is a little higher if you need to buy wire, but insulated wire is extremely cheap, so even if you do buy it, the purchase shouldn’t push the cost of this project much higher than ten dollars. There’s not much you can add on to this project, except perhaps pimp the casing, but hey, maybe if the taser were bright pink, your friends will object less to being the objects of your experimentation.

The Amazing Harry Potter Wand

cool gadgets you can build yourself

Okay I admit, I couldn’t resist throwing this in. I’m a huge Potterhead, and I’m sure many people you know are too, so this would be a double threat: you can learn about basic circuitry and make a cool gift for a friend/family member/random child!

The wiring involved in this project is not complicated at ALL, and the most difficult part of the whole shebang is figuring out how you want to decorate your wand. But don’t worry, even if you’re not Ollivander, the end result will still be fabulous.


  • LED Keyring. These are often given out for free at fairs or as promotional items, so this should be a rather cheap/easy product to come by. If not, you can buy one for two or three bucks. You could also buy just the LED bulb by itself.
  • 6Volt 4LR44 battery. The battery that comes with the LED keyring is a bit too bulky  for the wand, so you’ll need to get a thinner battery (which is where the 4LR44 battery comes in).
  • Solder + Soldering Iron. Used for soldering wires to the LED bulb; alternatively (and a bit less securely) you could use a copious amount of electrical tape.
  • Wire. Once again, you could tear apart an existing appliance, or you can just go buy a spool of wire.
  • Electrical Tape. To insulate the end of the batteries. Get one in a light color, so you can sharpie over it later. You’ll need to do this so you can differentiate between the positive and negative ends of the battery.
  • Paper. Lots and lots of paper. The wand itself is actually made of paper, double sided tape, and PVA glue, so you’ll need enough paper to make a wand about half an inch in diameter.
  • Paper Clips. The writer ingeniously used paper clips as the wand’s switch. Hopefully you have a couple spares lying around. If not, steal some from the office ;)
  • Glue Gun. Used to fill and stiffen the body of the wand, and also to firmly attach the LED to the drinking straw it will be fed through.
  • Decorating stuff: paint, emulsion, gold/silver leaf, even wood paint, if you so please. Anything that tickles your creative fancy.

This is an extremely fun project, and it’s relatively easy, as far as technical things go. If you wanted to make this family oriented, you could even pre-assemble the wand bodies for the children, and let them decorate it themselves. The cost per wand is approximately $5-$6, assuming you have all the tools already. If not, you’re looking at an additional fifteen dollars.

With these projects, I hope you’ve learned a bit about basic circuitry, and how it can be applied to turn several distinct components into a cool toy or device. Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed Make Use Of’s foray into hardware-oriented articles, and continue to support us as we grow.

If you’d like to tell us about what you’d like to see from us as we improve our writing and expand our knowledge base, please let us know by leaving your comments below!  Oh and don’t forget to tell us how you got on with the above 3 projects!

Whatsapp Pinterest

Enjoyed this article? Stay informed by joining our newsletter!

Enter your Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. John Williams
    April 7, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    If you build a bigger wand you can fit the taser inside it. Extra Lithium power packs can be built into boxes made of Lego. Plug the power pack into the wand - you might want to use a better plug and socket than the USB - and cast your "mega - lightning" spell.
    Molto hilarioso damagissimus ! Et muy peligroso !
    The project is also scaleable all the way up to Gandalf's Staff - but you might need a permit for that ....

  2. mr. who
    October 16, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    the wand is ridiculously awesome

    and if two people make it with the same materials, we can both experience priori encantatem!!!

  3. Jez
    September 30, 2009 at 1:19 am

    To an extent I stand by my original comment. The makeuseof post implies that by reading the post you will learn something. Only by following the links and reading pages and pages can you learn something.

  4. Jez Webb
    September 29, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    Oh, I get it - we need to follow the links.

    • Alyssa Myers
      September 30, 2009 at 12:19 am

      Welcome to the internet.

      • Chris
        September 30, 2009 at 9:28 am waif...please depart this thread immediately lest I get too distracted to try out the USB key project.

      • u are a dumb
        October 1, 2009 at 11:26 pm


  5. Jez Webb
    September 29, 2009 at 9:38 pm

    "With these projects, I hope you’ve learned a bit about basic circuitry," have I missed something? It didn't say anything about circuitry. It didn't show me HOW I can build anything myself. And I certainly didn't learn anything.