Making a box lamp

My bedside lamp is perfect for reading, but way brighter than what I need when I wake up for a midnight pee. This is not TMI. We've all been there.

Rather than buying a nursery night light, I thought I'd have a go at making my own. I got an old tea box from a friend who found it in a cupboard while moving house. It turned out to be the perfect size and shape for my first real-world electronics project.

a cute tea box

Turns out this type of project is perfect for a beginner. You can get almost all the parts at Jaycar, and don't even need screws, glues or solder to create something you can use right away. So here's how to make a super simple box lamp...

making a box lamp


1 x yellow, orange or red LED (I'll talk about why in a sec)
1 x 68ohm 0.5W metal film resistor
1 x microswitch
1 x mini breadboard
1 x AA battery holder
2 x AA batteries
3 x breadboard wires
Some masking tape or blu-tac.


box lamp setup diagram

Connect the microswitch's NC pin to ground, then attach the switch to the inside of the box, where the closed lid will keep the lever pressed down.

box lamp schematic

This is probably what the schematic would look like if I knew what I was doing. BE WARNED: I'm not good with schematic diagrams. The switch part might be wrong.

Choosing the LED bulb

Really, you can use whatever colour bulb you like. For a box lamp serving as party lighting or a stage prop, it doesn't matter. But my lamp was intended for the intermissions between sleep, so I had to pick a warm colour (ie. no blue light) to minimise any 'awakening' factors caused by light.

I've been using f.lux on my computer for a while now, so it's hard to recall the improvement it made to my bedtime experience. But I remember being impressed with it at the time. Light hacking is a thing in our house.

inside the box lamp

Why a tea box?

Before making this lamp, I sketched out my dream designs. Squares with slots. A copper panel touch sensor. Something Escher-esque, though that was just my shit drawing. But nothing sat right with me.

A lot of my making projects left me with that feeling. Guilt, I guess. I had grand plans of things to make and sell, but I'd get to the bit where it was just possible, then back down. I'm not sure what's up with that. I want to say I feel guilty making new things when there are so many of the same new things out there already.

With this project, I wanted to give new life to an old piece of junk. It's a lovely box, and a shame for it to end up in landfill without a second chance. I love the feeling of recycling. It's what got me into gardening. And I'm quite fired up about learning electronics right now, though it still feels like a strange thing to identify with.

Baby steps, I guess. First, this silly junk lamp. Next, calling myself an engineer until I actually become one.