Engineering for Comm. Majors: A DIY USB Charger from an Altoids Tin

Adhering to the DIY project guidelines, I chose to do something that makes me incredibly uncomfortable: mechanics and electrics. I began with the idea to make a solar powered emergency radio from an Altoids tin, as per the suggestions list, but failed to find an instructional video on how to create the device. What I did find in my original search (through Google and YouTube), however, was various instructions on how to create a portable USB charger inside of an Altoids tin; thus, I changed my project. My biggest fears regarding this endeavor were failure (the contraption would not function) and electrocution (because I do not usually re-wire and have never used a soldering gun).

To gather resources, I began with a simple Google search of, “Altoids tin USB charger” to find materials. The first video ( show-cased a very well made USB charger and provided general points on how to create the device. Unfortunately, my not-so-engineering-inclined brain needed more direct instructions — or, more words — to complete the project, a point that coincides directly with my results from the “Multiple Intelligences Skills” quiz, which indicated verbal/linguistic as number one on my skill set. Therefore, I completed a more direct search for a couple of articles ( and,1#page-2) and a step-by-step instructional video ( The video, created by “Electric Escape” who sounds like a pre-pubescent boy (though we do not see his face, so I cannot be certain), runs for fourteen minutes and fifty-two seconds – almost five times as long as the previously aforementioned video, which runs for 3 minutes and eight seconds. Despite taking more time (and heavy description of materials), the longer video functioned as a tremendous help because of my learning styles: interpersonal and verbal/linguistic. I need the specific breakdown of how to assemble the supplies and to hear the voice of another person.


The necessary supplies are: a 9-Volt battery, a USB car charger and an Altoids tin. Not pictured, but also necessary are: battery clip with connective wire, a soldering gun and solder. Total cost of the project = $20 at Target.

Pulling from my resources, I enlisted the help of Dr. Delwiche and an engineering friend who both assisted in tracking down a soldering gun. Because I have never used a soldering gun (or seen someone else use a soldering gun), I again employed YouTube through which I found a video of how to solder ( The instruction moves a little quickly, but after watching a couple of times, I felt more comfortable. Once I felt like I knew what I was looking to do, my engineering friend and I went to the tool shop in CSI — an area I had no idea existed until this project. We met in CSI one evening to discover that the tool shop was closed and I had to find an alternate method of creation.

Despite this setback, I decided to try and create the charger mechanism itself inside my dorm room because I assumed I would not need any outside help for this portion (i.e. from the tool shop). Boy, was I wrong. After cueing my videos and re-orienting myself with the instructive articles, I sat at my desk, poised to begin, and ran into the second problem – I could not take the USB car charger apart! Thus, I employed the assistance of my boyfriend, who tore the plastic casing apart to reveal the fragile interior:


Photo of the inside of a USB car charger.

I’m not sure why I was surprised that doing it all by myself failed — I’m an interpersonal learner! Having someone to talk to/think through each step with helps tremendously. After continuing on with the creation, I ran into problem #3: I did, in fact, need a soldering iron to meld the battery clip wire to the USB prior to connecting the device to its battery. Persevering, I watched and took notes on the video’s remaining minutes and brought them with me to the CSI tool shop the next day.


Inside of “the shop” at CSI.

Escorted by my engineering friend, I tentatively greeted “the shop” (as the engineers call it) professor, Manuel. Manuel took a look at my Altoids tin and after comprehending my end goal, walked to the back, cut a few lines and emerged with a slot where the USB device is exposed to the outside of the tin. Success #1! We then triumphantly walked next door to the electronic circuits lab, where I requested to use a soldering iron to connect the battery clip to the USB device. (Not so) Fun fact: the engineering department frowns upon non-engineers using engineering equipment. With their “safety” point well taken and a somewhat disappointed yet compliant attitude, I watched closely as the professor soldered the clips onto the USB device in a way that to minimize the possibility of electrocution.

I next clipped the connective wires onto the 9-V battery, placed the contraption into the Altoids tin, and created a portable USB charger!


Alyssa’s handmade USB charger in an Altoids tin.

Although the charger does not work when plugged into a cord (a huge disappointment), my most significant obstacle was that I watched the shorter video prior to making the USB charger and waited to watch the longer (more informative video) until I sat down to work. The second/longer video, featuring the step-by-step process, included additional supplies than what I had previously bought. I failed to purchase battery clips on the first trip to the store! Therefore, I had to go out and buy those on a separate occasion. After obtaining all the correct materials and checking for the CSI tool shop hours, my project continued swimmingly.

Through the DIY project, I have reinforced my belief that I work best with words and with others. Having the help (and great support) of a good friend who knows his way around the engineering department made me feel more comfortable and stay positive despite adversity. I liked using the video(s) better than the articles because with video, I have the ability to pause when necessary, observe what is supposed to be happening, and work simultaneously with the boy in the video. Using an instructional video and detailed articles, then talking with professors who are well-versed in circuitry allowed me to broaden my horizons in regards to simple engineering. Though my initial fear that the charger would not work came true, I feel successful because I discovered the existence of a tool shop, met new professors and tried my hand at mechanical and electrical engineering.


Electric Escape. 2014. “How to make a portable phone/device charger from an Altoids tin.” YouTube. <;.

Geraghty, E. 2015. “By putting a battery in an Altoids tin, this guy made something incredible.” Viralnova: Your stories delivered daily. <;.

James7193. [n.d. (but the post has comments from 3 years ago)]. “Simple 9-Volt USB charger in an Altoids tin.” Instructables. <;.

Jamor. 2009. “9 Kick-ass DIY projects to get your hack on.” Maximum PC. <,1#page-2&gt;.

Sodja, M. 2013. “How to use a soldering gun: lawn care and power tools.” YouTube. <;.

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