Hits and misses of DIY projects, both big and small.

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I made this terrarium after the mesh screen in my French press was no longer doing its job of filtering out loose coffee grounds (and no replacement could be found online). I spotted a photo of a large French press terrarium on Pinterest a few years ago and decided to make my own with my small, single serving coffee maker. I didn’t purchase any supplies for this DIY and was able to use items I already had at home. If you don’t have a French press to repurpose, try picking one up at a local thrift shop or garage sale. The other items can be purchased at any home improvement or gardening store.  

The three main components needed in a terrarium are pebbles for drainage, charcoal to clean and purify the water and soil for the plants to grow in. The most important thing to remember when making a terrarium is drainage. A French press doesn’t have a drainage hole, but I was able to improvise by using the metal filter to separate the potting soil and plants from the drainage pebbles in the bottom of the glass beaker.  

To make your own French press terrarium you will need:

• 1 French press
• small pebbles
• potting soil
• charcoal
• small terrarium plants or mosses
• larger pebbles or other decorative items
• water
• spoon (optional) 

Before beginning the project, make sure your French press is thoroughly washed and dried. Once the glass beaker is ready, add the pebbles. You'll want a small layer, about a ½ -to-1-inch deep. If you’re using a large French press with a deep beaker, you can add more pebbles. 


This next step is where things get tricky. If at all possible, remove the lid of your French press so it is no longer attached to the plunger. You can then put the plunger with the assembled metal filter parts into the glass beaker, on top of the pebbles. Removing the lid makes it easier to add the charcoal, potting soil and plants. If you can’t remove the lid, like me, you can put the three pieces that make up the metal filter and mesh strainer together and place them on top of the pebbles. As you add the next layers to your terrarium, avoid putting any charcoal, soil or plants over the hole where the plunger and lid screw into the metal filter pieces. It’s more difficult, but completely doable.  

Sprinkle or spoon a layer of charcoal over the top of the metal filter and mesh strainer, about ¼ to ½ inch thick. Add a layer of potting soil, about ½ to 1 inch deep. Again, if you couldn’t take the lid off of the plunger, avoid the hole in the center so you can attach the plunger and lid later.  

If using small terrarium plant(s), take them out of the container you purchased them in. Gently tease the root ball so it's a bit loose before setting the plant in the beaker. Once your plant is sitting where you would like it, add potting soil around it. It's easiest if you pre-moisten your potting soil with a bit of water before adding it to your container. Dry soil will get everywhere; with damp or wet soil you have more control. I prefer to spoon a little bit of soil into a plastic container, add water and stir before adding the damp soil to the jar. I also use a spoon to add my soil to the teacup, but that’s entirely optional. If you’re using moss, you can add a couple spoonfuls of potting soil to the beaker, make small depressions in the soil and set the clump(s) of moss in the depressions. 


Next you can add a decorative touch to your planter. I used some of the same pebbles that make up the drainage area in the bottom of the beaker to decorate the top of the soil and a small metal frog. Any small items can be used, a little plastic animal or other trinket adds just a little something extra! 

The final step is replacing the lid of the French press plunger. If you were able to remove the lid from the plunger, simply screw or twist the lid back into place. If, like me, you were unable to separate the lid from the plunger, you will need to insert the plunger into the metal filter and twist it into place. 

Be sure to keep the needs of your plants in mind when caring for your French press terrarium. Some plants need more light than others and since your French press will not be watertight, you will occasionally need to water it.  

If you're in the terrarium/tiny planter making mood, you could follow my DIY instructions for teacup planters and plant some tea or coffee cups with plants to go with your French press terrarium!

Photos by Courtney Denning.

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With the outdoor cooking season almost underway here in Reno it was time to rebuild our Stoven.  About three years ago I created a rocket stove/cob-oven hybrid (see blog post here) to meet our summer food cooking needs.  We live without electricity and fossil fuels at our Be the Change Project and when we can't or don't use our Sun Oven we fire up the Stoven.

For three years our original Stoven was great - it performed well and generally aged well.  It was made mainly of cob with some firebrick used in the burn chamber.  My impetus for making this second version was threefold: First, to make a more durable model; second, to add a water heating cooktop; and third, as part of an overall redesign of our outdoor kitchen.  

While the first Stoven aged well overall - the exterior was perfect (and protected under a roof) and the interior dome showed no damage from three seasons of firings - the shelves which held the grill grate had worn away considerably on both the front and back of the chamber.  This caused the door to fit poorly and made it more difficult to place and hold the grate once the fire was burning.  Now, admittedly, I could have simply mixed up a little cob and repaired the area and gotten years more use but that wouldn't have been nearly as fun as making a much better Stoven and more functional outdoor kitchen.  For this new-and-improved model I incorporated much more firebrick including for all of the grate-holding surfaces.  I had about thirty salvaged bricks left over from my mini-masonry heater project (including halves and pieces) so I used them to build the interior frame of the new Stoven.  The halves and chunks were great fillers (along with regular old red bricks) which save a lot of cob and mixing.  



I started by laying a layer of regular red bricks over the existing wood platform that held the last Stoven.  Then I played with firebricks for a while to see what shapes I could get.  I wanted a burn basin that was small enough to keep it efficient but big enough to handle some decent sized sticks and a good amount of charcoal for when I roast a rabbit or two.  I wound up laying a layer of landscape pavers for the basin floor and then standing fire bricks all around it save for the wood feed slot.  The pavers were just a little wider than the firebricks and seemed to make a good-sized basin.  This gives me two layers of bricks above the plywood base, more than enough, in my experience, to prevent damaging heat from reaching the plywood.  Also, any gaps between the bricks are quickly filled with ash once I start cooking with the Stoven which act to insulate further.  

I continued building up with bricks for the burn basin (the bottom half of the burn chamber) and then laid some cob on the outside to create a shell and to hold the next layer of firebricks which was reset back from the grate-holding first layers.  In dry Nevada I only had to wait an hour or so for the cob to firm up enough so the bricks could be set on top without causing any splooging.  I should mention that I re-used the cob from the old Stoven.  After hacking it apart with my two young hammer-wielding sons, we collected the pieces in large basins to which I simply added water and used a shovel to break it down further.  I took a little break and let the water do the work of "melting" the cob (overnight is great if you can plan ahead) and then mixed it up a bit with a shovel again.  I love this about cob: it's infinitely re-usable. 

I set the bricks and kept building up the cob on the outside.  The cob does several things:  it adds thermal mass, holds the firebricks together (I smush cob into any large gaps between bricks to serve as mortar, as well), allows me to make a dome and a curved door opening, and creates an aesthetically pleasing form which can be further sculpted and plastered.  Cob is also a super-local product that takes no fossil fuels to create or transport.  I could and would have used solely cob if I didn't have free and salvaged firebricks lying around.  It would have worked just as well and likely have needed some minor touch-ups over time.

To make the dome top, I added layers of cob which slope inward bit by bit and take breaks in between each layer so it can set up.  This is not technically difficult in any way but takes a little time.  My new Stoven was built over three days for a total of maybe 8 hours for one person (without any finish plaster).  I could have made a complete dome like the original Stoven but wanted to add a water heating surface so I inset an old fly pan into the top of the dome.  This made making the top easier and gives me a place to heat a kettle for tea or a pot for hot water to clean the dishes (because we live without electricity and fossil fuels, hot water is sometimes at a premium).  Being on top and outside the Stoven also means the teapot will not get sooty - the one major annoyance with this type of cooking.  And, yes, we'll lose some heat for cooking by having this feature but our desire for hot water trumps that bit of savings.

The feed slot has a brick on its side and another couple odd bricks angled up after it (towards the exterior of the Stoven) to make use of a little gravity to help deliver the sticks more easily into the burn basin.  I also added a little cob there to further extend the feed slope so it would hold sticks in place and prevent them from falling onto whatever shelf I make next to theStoven.

I also tacked on a piece of flagstone to serve as the loading dock at the door.  From the firstStoven I knew that I wanted a larger surface to easily hold my pots and a more durable surface as it is used often.  On the first model, this shelf was made of cob and wore out a bit.

Sculpting the Stoven


After I got the overall structure up I started adding some sculptural elements.  I knew I wanted some sort of fire on the front and as I played with the cob what evolved was a sun with fiery rays emanating from the door.  I realized the back could use some art too so that turned into a moon to go with the celestial theme.

The next layer after the cob is the brown coat.  I used a mix of 2 parts screened sand and 1 part screened clay.  The clay is from our yard and the sand from up the road in the desert.  Both materials are just perfect for building – the clay is quite pure and sticky and the sand has sharp grains of varying size.  It would be entirely possible for all of Reno’s building to be made of cob using these abundant, non-toxic, low-tech, and local materials.  Can you imagine that?  It would be amazing.

I find applying the brown coat to be the most enjoyable of the natural building processes. The screened materials feel so sensual and luscious in the hands and they spread across the walls like butter on hot toast.  Also, there is less pressure to have the coat come out perfectly since it will be covered by the finish plaster anyway.  No pressure and silky materials make for a good natural building time.  

Finish Plaster


After getting the Stoven roughed out I spent several days building our outdoor kitchen.  I made use of old lumber, salvaged granite counter tops from a local tile store, salvaged wood from a cabinetry place, and a sink from the local Habitat for Humanity store.  I plumbed the sink using some leftover half-inch pex tubing and have each sink draining into a bucket that we empty as needed on the few plants in our front yard not on our irrigation system. 

I bought Kaolin clay several months ago to use on finish plaster projects I knew I’d be getting to this spring and summer.  Kaolin is the most commonly used clay for finish plaster.  It is mined in Florida and shipped all around the world, which is why I generally don’t purchase it but make do with what we have or what shows up from pottery stores and pottery classes.  However, we hadn’t been able to find any light clay of late and I wanted to put on some ridiculously beautiful finish plasters around my house.  So, I bought two 50 lb bags for about $25 bucks each. .  (Update:  I just found a great source of local Kaolin-like clay in a dry lake bed just twenty minutes from our house.  Woo-hoo!) 

For the first finish coat I mixed 2 parts screened sand with 1 part Kaolin and added some yellow iron oxide pigment (bought at a hardware store).  The finish plaster goes a long way so I never mix up too much and always keep track of my ratios if I do need a second batch.  The best tool for applying finish plaster on round surfaces is a plastic disc cut out from a 32 oz yogurt container lid.

Overall, this layer came out quite white.  From here I started experimenting with clay paints.  I made a wheat paste and mixed it equally with Kaolin and then added lots more pigment and enough water to get it to a paint-like consistency.  This got me a smooth paint that I was able to brush on all over the first finish coat.  It was a light yellow and served to fill in some of the small cracks that had appeared in my finish plaster.  More pigment and some vegetable-based paint powder (“tangerine” was the name) we found in the kids’ closet made an even richer orange paint that I added for accents.  I am quite pleased with the result and look forward to using this Stoven (and trying, unsuccessfully I am sure, to keep soot off the plaster) this season and for years to come.

Kyle Chandler-Isacksen runs the Be the Change Project with his wife in Reno, Nevada.  They are dedicated to creating a just and life-sustaining world.  They were one of MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ Homesteads of the Year in 2013.  Shoot him an email at

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Caulking tube 

Caulking can dry out between projects.  To save the remaining caulk, use the tip of the tube as a cork.  

To remove the cork, just squeeze the tube above the cork. 

Caulking Tube Corked 

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 



Occasionally, there can be unintentional side effects from switching to more appropriate choices. For example, when incandescent light bulbs are replaced with more efficient and longer lasting technology (such as LEDs and CFLs), waste is created. As more people choose to reduce their energy consumption and buy newer, energy-saving light bulbs, more incandescents are disposed of.

PowerSave Campus, a program working on California university campuses to increase energy efficiency, presented Humboldt State University students with a way to divert incandescent light bulb waste by hosting a terrarium-making workshop, where students could up-cycle their incandescents into something new: mini terrariums! 

PowerSave Campus set up a table at the Campus Center for Appropriate Technology and provided materials (incandescents, plants, tools) for students to use. The workshop had a huge turnout. The workshop encouraged students to swap out incandescent bulbs for a more efficient type of light taught students how to turn their incandescents into terrariums at home.

CFL and LED light bulbs use 10-20 percent of the energy of an incandescent and have a much longer lifespan, which compounds the monetary and energy savings.

How to Make a Mini Terrarium

1. Remove the metal plate from the bottom of the bulb by twisting it up and pulling the small metal piece out.

2. Break the black glass and remove all the pieces. Depending on the brand of the bulb, the black glass can be easy or tough to remove. If you are finding it difficult to remove, you will need to use skinny pliers that will fit in the hole left once you removed the metal plate. You can leverage the pliers against one side of the black glass to break it apart.

3. Break the inner glass inside the bulb by leveraging the pliers against one side of the light bulb and pushing against the glass lightly in the opposite direction. The glass is very fragile, so be sure to be careful when breaking it or you could break the actual light bulb, too. The glass pieces and wires will need to be pulled out through the opening.

4. Some light bulbs are coated with a white powder. This can be easily washed off by rinsing the bulb in water. If the powder is not wiping off easily, soap will help.

5. Fill the light bulb with dirt. How much dirt to use is up to you, but most fill the bulb up to the middle of the curve of the light bulb.

6. Pick your favorite small native plants, or purchase various plants that stay relatively small in size or do not grow too quickly, and do not require a lot of water. This will help you create a terrarium that you can enjoy for the longest amount of time possible. For the workshop, various lichens, mosses, and succulents were collected to create beautiful terrariums.     


Quick Tips

1. Dried leaves and small twigs covered with lichens can really add some color and character to your terrarium.

2. Don't be afraid to add a lot of lichen! They require hardly any maintenance and they make terrariums look great.

3. You can arrange the plants by using any tool that is long and skinny (i.e. long tweezers, small scissors, or even screwdrivers work).

4. If you are interested in making a terrarium with only succulents, you should consider using small rocks as a substrate instead of soil. Many succulents prefer small rocks since succulents require good drainage and loose substrate.

5. You can put 3 to 4 small dots on the bottom of the bulb with a hot glue gun so your terrarium can sit on a flat surface without toppling over. Or hang your terrariums up by tying them with a string or wrapping them with wire and hanging it at your window.

First and final photo by Matthew Ware

Middle photos by Ivan Soto

PowerSave Campus is a program of the Alliance to Save Energy, funded by the investor-owned utilities of California, and is a student-driven energy efficiency education program that promotes careers in the green workforce, generates actual energy savings, and increases awareness and education of the importance of energy efficiency and water conservation. Projects range from energy audits, competitions, academic projects, and career events that involve students, faculty, and community members. Click here to learn more about PowerSave Campus. You can read more about what Humboldt State’s PowerSave team is up to by signing up for our monthly newsletter on the HSU PowerSave website.

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Hanging Lights 

Even with minimal building capability, you can learn how to make light fixtures from old metal chicken feeders. The feeders may be hard to come by, but if you know someone that has been in the commercial chicken-raising business, then you can likely find some in their used feeder pile. That's how I got some of mine.

This project is really quite simple. First, you will need to decide if you want a fixed light or a swag lamp. I made some of both. I ordered parts from a site I found by searching around on the Internet that supplied the lamp cords, sockets with rings, and rods. You can order any length rod depending on how low you want the light to hang.

Drill and Sander 

Project Components and Cost

The parts I ordered to make the fixed light were a little less expensive than for the swag light. I used steel pipe, 1/8-inch, threaded on both ends (this fits the socket thread size). Cost of the pipe: $4.52.

Keyless lamp holders (sockets): $3.28. Locknuts: $0.26 each (you will need 2). The 3-inch electric box was $7.00 and the cover was $0.95. Paint: $4.00.

The total cost per light was $19.32. I used some electric wire I had already, so you may have to figure in the cost of a few feet.

For the swag light, the cost of the cord with socket was $30.00. The chicken feeder was free. The paint cost me $4.00.

Chicken Feeder 


I needed to sand the metal feeder tray and the wire cage. I did this with an electric drill and a wire brush attachment (see photos). Clean up the feeder up and spray-paint it a bright color.

Sanding Attachment 

I wired the rod and light straight into a junction box with a cover (the cover needs to have a hole in it) and then painted the feeder portion a range of bright colors.

I also made a swag light that turned out to be the easiest. I simply ordered a colored cord with socket and ring together and attached the cord to the painted chicken feeder tray, put in a light bulb and attached the wire cage (which is spring-loaded).

Drill Attachment 

I did all the wiring of the electrical boxes myself but I did hire a licensed electrician to wire it to the main electric line.

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Forge 1

Blacksmiths often held a special status among traditional people; when your plow bent or your scythe broke, he kept your family alive. They must have seemed like alchemists, turning bare stones into gleaming jewellery or fierce weapons; here in Ireland even their homes looked different, with a bizarre keyhole-shaped door that announced the resident’s craft as clearly as any barber pole or butcher sign.

Try blacksmithing for a short time and you respect them yourself. Metals like copper or tin can be hammered into shape cold, but iron needs more than a thousand degrees of heat to become malleable; for those temperatures you need charcoal, a forge and a continual blast of air, along with the skill to know what you’re doing.

I do not claim to have such skill, but under the guidance of two excellent tutors, I was able to take a rusty piece of discarded machinery and, by heating and pounding it many times over two days, flatten and shape it into a useable machete. The course was one of many offered by the Irish organization CELT, and hosted at the Slieve Aughty Centre in County Galway.

We started by creating a forge – in this case, out of clay, sand and horse manure, mixed and shaped like a sand castle. We cut and stapled plastic bags and wooden planks to form bellows, and used pipes to connect them to the clay structure, and soon we had something primitive yet useable. We used metal ones later to save time, but it’s a great pleasure to know that you can make a working forge from almost nothing.

We quickly learned that forging metal means a lot of time standing over the fire, holding the metal – with tongs, obviously – in just the right place to get the proper amount of heat, and withdrawing it at just the right moment. Too much heat and it sparks and disintegrates, too little and no amount of hammering can budge it. Movie blacksmiths look like bodybuilders slamming white-hot metal with sledgehammers; the reality involves a lot more frantic and often delicate tapping, as the smith has only a few seconds to make the right changes before it cools again.

In my case, I hammered the old machine part into a straight bar, flattened it into a knife-shape over the next two days, and a bit of cutting and polishing did the rest. I cut a handle from a hazel branch, heated the “handle end” of the metal until it was yellow-hot, and seared the hot metal into the handle, with a gust of steam and a few bursts of flame from the wood. The result looks a bit crude, like a weapon an orc might use in the Hobbit, but it’s turned out to be a perfectly serviceable tool.

Blacksmithing is one of the dozens of professions that were widespread in all traditional cultures, when most villages had families of craftsmen – coopers, wrights, tanners and thatchers – that now survive only as surnames. Children apprenticed from an early age, learned a skill for several years, and might have entered the working world as masters at an age when teens today are spending their prime years bored and self-destructive.

A world of craftsmen creates an economy alien to modern Westerners; instead of cheap belongings meant to be thrown away quickly, goods had to be made durable, to be fixed, recast, re-forged or re-sewn over and over, with no mountains of rubbish. Such an economy entirely lacked the anonymous transactions that we think we depend on; writers from a century or two ago described recognizing particular barrels, nails or saddles as we would recognize someone’s handwriting, and the craftsman’s reputation hung on the quality of their work.

Of course, few people would be able to make a living as a smith anymore, but it’s a skill we should retain; plastic can only be recycled a few times, but iron can be recycled indefinitely. When the world is no longer able to mass-produce new materials at its former rate, when there is no new plastic and fewer forests, we will have billions of tons of landfill waste. Movies like WALL-E posit garbage covering the Earth, but in real life much of that garbage would not only be reusable, but precious, and today’s landfills could be tomorrow’s mines.


For more information about CELT’s Weekend in the Hills, check them out here. If you are in County Galway, do check out the Slieve Aughty Centre near Loughrea.

Top photo: Two of my course-mates stoking their forge; the bellows are pipes and cattle feed bags, the forge itself is sculpted out of clay, sand, and horse manure. 

Bottom photo: The knife I made, with a book for scale.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Dead Batteries

Batteries have a limited working life. Even the best batteries won’t last forever. When your electronics say “low batt” it means just that: The batteries are low but not dead. They can still have useful energy in them.

The energy that remains in seemingly dead batteries can be used in this simple night light project that you can build at home in about one hour. Your new night light will shine for months and is reusable for years, powered by “dead” batteries.

How to Wring All the Energy from a ‘Dead’ Battery

New, single-use batteries start with 1.5 volts. However, modern electronics generally stop working when the voltage in a battery reaches 1.2 volts. To be clear, we're not talking about bringing a “dead” battery back to life but simply harvesting the rest of the energy that remains inside. Until now, remaining energy was wasted when a battery was recycled or sent to a landfill. That wastes energy and money.

This isn't a new concept. It's based on the Joule Thief circuit that has been around for decades. I don't like the term Joule Thief so I renamed it a “Watt Winger.” The teaching version of the Joule Thief circuit uses transistors and a homemade transformer. Fortunately, a solar-powered garden light has compressed all of this onto a single electronic circuit board—much better for use with the Watt Wringer. Repurposing the circuit board from a garden solar light into an attractive and efficient nightlight is easy.

Don’t worry! There is no engineering involved and there is no chance you will be shocked by the electricity

Watt Wringer Materials List

Supplies you will need:
• Solar-powered garden light – new or used
• Wire cutters - or substitute toe nail cutters
• Screw driver
• Soldering iron
• Solder
• Battery holder – lots of options for these
• Switch (optional)
• Enclosure (optional)
• Hot melt glue (optional)
• Heat shrink tubing or electrical tape (optional)


Step 1: Find a Donor Solar-Powered Garden Light

Those little solar-powered garden lights seem to be everywhere.

Solar Light

Inside a solar-powered garden light is a clever electronic circuit board that is still working long after the garden light stops working. New solar-powered garden lights are not too expensive but used or damaged lights are less expensive, sometimes free. Maybe a used solar panel is cloudy or someone ran over the light with the tractor. Hey, it happens!

Note: A cloudy solar panel will have reduced performance.

Step 2: Disassemble the Top of the Solar-Powered Garden Light

Light Cap

Let’s start by opening the solar light and following the wires.  The battery is easy to see.  



This solar light uses a battery that is shorter than a standard AA battery. Other parts are not so easy to identify in the photograph so here’s a simple diagram that may help.

Diagram Circuit

The circuit board is connected to the battery with two wires and to the solar panel with two more wires.

Step 3: Identify the Type of Solar-Powered Garden Light You Have

Some older solar-powered garden lights have a solar panel PLUS a photo diode (wait, I thought you said there wouldn’t be any engineering?). A photo diode is just a light sensor. These light sensors are small and round with a squiggly looking pattern. Light sensors turn lights on and off automatically at dusk and dawn.


For the simple night light we’re building, we will be using solar-powered garden lights without light sensors. Besides, they're just not that common anymore.

Step 4: Inspection and Testing

Remove the battery and follow the wires from the battery to the circuit board. If the circuit board has damage from a leaky battery or physical damage (remember the tractor?) it’s time to find another solar-powered garden light. Circuit boards aren’t worth fixing.

Even a circuit board that looks OK, it might not work. There’s also a chance the LED light could be burned out.  To see if the circuit board and LED are still working, install a battery you know is still good.  When you cover the solar panel on top of the garden light, the LED should illuminate.

Step 5: Harvesting What You Need For the Project

If you have a working circuit board and LED light, you have found your donor parts. Remove the battery again and cut the wires between the solar panel and the circuit board. There are small wire cutters for small projects like this but nail clippers work pretty well, too.

Cutting Circuit

Circuit Chopping

Light Circuit

Next, carefully remove the circuit board from the garden light housing. A hobby knife and some patience will remove the adhesive. Be careful not to damage the wires—or yourself!

Battery and Supplies

Before you cut the wires to the battery holder, test the circuit board and light one more time just to be sure the circuit board was not damaged when removing it from the housing. With the battery installed and the solar panel disconnected, the LED will still illuminate if everything is OK. If the LED is still working, congratulate yourself. That was the hard part.

Step 6: Start Building Your Night Light - Choose a Battery Holder

Choose the battery holder you want to use. In this post, we’re focusing on AA and AAA batteries because they are the most common. Larger 1.5-volt batteries such as C or D size can be used, too.

The donor light in the photos has battery holder that was molded into the solar-powered garden light itself. This light is intended to be used with smaller, non-standard batteries so full sized batteries will fit. Some solar power night lights have full sized battery holders that can be reused.  If that’s the case for your project, carefully cut away any parts you don’t want. As an alternative, find a battery holder in another electronic device such as a damaged remote control or camera. Still another alternative, you can use battery holders from electronic supply stores like Radio Shack.

There are lots of options for battery holders.

Step 7: Choose an Enclosure

Speaking of options, there are also lots of ways to enclose your new nightlight. You could install it in a plastic jar or some other container. These clear, pointy containers in the pictures below are rejects from a plastic bottle making machine. Great for camping or backpacking because they are compact and waterproof.

Light Working

You can also leave all the components completely exposed for a high tech look. There are also alternatives to build your nightlight inside something else like this metal lantern designed for tea lights.

Tiny House Lit Up

This little battery holder below is designed for four AAA batteries and has a convenient switch built in. It has a compact stealthy appearance. Also good for camping or backpacking but is not water tight. It’s inconspicuous on a shelf.


In the photo above you can see the battery and circuit board inside. A small hole through the side of the battery holder is for the LED to shine through. The circuit board is held in place with hot melt glue.

Your enclosure might influence where you add a switch and how much wire you may need to add to reach the switch. Small enclosures won’t need any extra wire.

Step 8: Add a switch (Optional)

For this light, we’re going to add a switch to make it easy to turn the night light on and off. The switch is optional. Slide switches can be removed from small appliances or other electronics. Buying these new can be a little expensive. Right now prices are low at Radio Shack but there are also many other online electronics suppliers such as Mouser and DigiKey.


There are lots of slide switches to choose from. Any switch will work because voltage and amperage is very low in a Watt Wringer.

Slide switches have flanges that make mounting easy. The switch can be held in place with screws or hot melt glue.  Slide switches are a low cost solution. Toggle switches can be used too but they’re more expensive to buy new.

You could eliminate the switch and remove the battery when you want to turn off the light or just leave the light on all the time. Naturally the battery won’t last as long if the light is on all the time. Since our goal is to save energy so we’ll turn the light off when it’s not needed.

Install a switch in one of the wires between the battery and the circuit board. It doesn’t matter which wire but it’s conventional to install a switch at the positive side of the battery.

To make the connections at the switch, remove a short section of insulation at the end of the wire to expose the copper inside. Connect the wires to the switch. Electrical connections with small wires like this are usually made by soldering. Shrink tubing or electrical tape will protect the wires from accidental short circuits. A short circuit at the switch will keep the light on all the time.

Closed Circuit

Before you install your new nightlight into a housing, let’s check it again to make sure it lights up.  If there is a problem, it’s easier to fix it now than after everything is inside the enclosure.   Install the battery again and flip the switch back and forth.

Light Wires Circuit

Step 9: Enclose or Not to Enclose?

The last step is to put everything into the enclosure and mount the switch. The possibilities are as endless. You don’t need to put the Watt Wringer in an enclosure. It can just sit on a table and be a conversation starter.

For this example, I chose to replace an incandescent light bulb with a Watt Wringer. A deck prism is a piece of glass that ship builders placed through the top deck of a ship to allow light to enter the decks below.  I like the contrast of old school lighting with today's electronics.

Green Light

You’ve probably noticed that most of the light leaves an LED through the end away from the wires. Bend the wires so the LED points in the direction you want the light to go.  In this case, I bent the wires so that the light goes up, through the glass. The switch is easily mounted through a hole in the plastic base. Hot melt glue holds the switch in place.  If you’ve read this far, you’re probably handy enough to install a switch without any further instruction. But if you need some help, please feel free to leave a comment in the box below.

Step 10: Next Steps

Save your batteries! Other people also save their dead batteries and give them to me. Maybe people you know will save batteries for you. Better yet, show others how to find this blog post on MOTHER EARTH NEWS so they can make a Watt Wringer for themselves.

After a few weeks or months the light will start to flicker. When that happens, it’s time to replace the battery with a different “dead” battery. When the LED is flickering, the battery is really nearly dead at around 0.6 volts. Then you can recycle the battery knowing you got the most energy possible from it.

Congratulations! Your new nightlight will wring lots of Watts from your batteries.

If you have any questions about this blog, please leave them in the comments below. You could be helping other people who may have the same question. If you prefer, email me: My contact information is on my bio page. Thanks for following this blog post and be on the lookout for more of my DIY projects from MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

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