Harrison’s Box

A little over a year ago, I became an Uncle.

This is my nephew, Harrison.


For his first birthday, Harrison’s Mom wanted to give him something really special.  Not just an ordinary toy for a one year old, but something strange and wonderful, tactile, interactive, unique.  Thus was born the idea of an “electric box”, an electronic contraption full of switches, lights, buttons, knobs, levers, and sounds.

An elite task force was assembled to create this special gift, codenamed “Harrison’s Box”.  The team consisted of Grandpa, the Woodworker, Jeff (alias mightyohm) the Engineer, and Kylie, the Project Manager.

Upon defining the project, we immediately jumped into phase one, Procrastination.  Deliverables were met, and as the birthday loomed closer, we eased into phase two, Git ‘er’ Done.

Supplies and materials were ordered, wood chips started flying, and soldering irons blazed.  A short time later, the front panel was realized:

Harrison's Box

Harrison’s box consists of (clockwise from the upper left):

  • A buzzer (sound comes out the four holes)
  • A group of red, yellow, and green LEDs that respond to button pushes below
  • A panel meter (for looks!) from the junkbox
  • A pair of robots with blinking red eyes (aka tradeshow schwag)
  • A pong controller, scrounged at the Prototype This! garage sale on Treasure Island
  • Three large, brightly-colored arcade-style pushbuttons and a large joystick
  • A numeric keypad
  • Some random buttons and switches

Almost all of the electronic components, including the arcade buttons and joystick, were sourced from All Electronics.  A few odds and ends came from my junkbox.

The wiring is point to point – zipties and hot glue keep all of the individual wires in place.  Here’s a shot of the wiring for the pushbuttons and the joystick.

Harrison's Box

The buzzer consists of the guts of a cheap bicycle buzzer and a single C cell battery to power it.  Some creative wiring allows a pushbutton elsewhere on the panel to control the buzzer.

Harrison's Box

I salvaged a few high brightness red LEDs from a surplus automotive taillight assembly I picked up at Weird Stuff a few years ago.  A 5 Watt power resistor I had in my junkbox limits the current to the LEDs to a bright but not blinding level.

Harrison's Box

The whole box (with the exception of the buzzer, as noted above) is powered by a pair of AA batteries.

Harrison's Box

Finally, the big day arrived, and it was time to present Harrison (and Mom) with his gift:

Opening the box

Initially the Box was met with some skepticism.  Perhaps Harrison was dwelling on the simple question: Toy or thermonuclear device?  Understandably, there were very cautious button pushes at first.


Moments later, knobs were being turned, switches switched, buttons pushed, and Harrison had learned how to use the joystick.  Look out Steve Wiebe!


The front panel mounts to a small stand that conceals and protects the wiring while also giving Harrison something to hold onto while operating the Box.

Harrison plays with his box

I’m happy to report that Harrison’s Box was a success.

Check out more pictures of the box on flickr.

13 thoughts on “Harrison’s Box”

  1. I need deets on the wiring and power supply on the underside. Please. I want to make this for my students.

  2. Awesome control panel and great insperation for the one I am about to create for my twins. I am doing a similar project with led’s, joysticks, etc but I am going to install a trigger MP3 player with a couple of little speakers as my twins are now 2 and love music.

    I am still trying to convice my wife how awesome this would have been as a kid when the imagination is alive!


    1. Ben,

      Adding an MP3 player is a great idea, I wish I had thought of that! 🙂

      Good luck with your project and have fun creating it, I’m sure your twins will love it!


  3. To Scott Lawrence:
    Thanks for the comments. The case was made as a “one off”, no drawings. I simply arranged the parts on the panel–that gave me the size. The sides were made to fit the panel. Material is 3/8″ ply from Home Depot with 3/4 square screw-to support battens.
    Remember to make the bottom removable for battery changes, maint. etc. Finish with Verathane, also H/D.
    The biggest design problem was to figure the height. Was the little guy going to sit with legs going under and operate the thing or stand up using it as a bench? After some hemming and hawing, I chose the latter. The height became about 16″, with about a 15 degree slant up away from the user position. There is still room under the panel for his legs, but he never sits to operate it. Remember robustness. This thing gets picked up, carried around, and slammed down, and is expected to operate flawlessly. Also remember light weight.
    The more things to operate, the greater the fascination, so put in as much as you can find. A number pad that operates lights equal to the number pressed is a counting teacher. Our little guy was a bit frightened by the horn, but since has gained mastery of that detail. Don’t forget to have a knowledgeable electrical guy do the hook up, in this case, Mr. Mighty Ohm.com.
    When you’re finished, you’ll get raves from the other parents and adults, and a great alternative to TV. Good luck.

  4. Hi there. I’ve got a 9 month old, and I’ve been inspired by this. i’m going to be building him something similar for his birthday in December. I have a few questions about the non-electronic construction;

    What did you use for the case? was it home-made, or repurposed from some other piece of furniture or something? If it’s all new, do you have any info about construction? (plans, finishing ideas, etc.)

    Thanks! This is really awesome!

  5. Great post – I have three grandkids that NEED something like this. Heck. I NEED something like this. Thanks for the deets.

  6. A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, when Stars wars came out and my kids were small, I built something like this. It was supposed to be the control panel for an x wing fighter, but was used as just about anything they could imagine.

    1. Cool! Do you have any pics? I would have loved something like this when I was small.

      I did have a poster of the control panel of the Space Shuttle, and I used to poke wires through holes I made in the poster, such that touching the wires with my multimeter would make the meter move… Ahh, memories!

  7. I think the box is fantastic. I’m sorry to hear Madox’s lament that the latest little fun one is a niece instead of nephew. I would encourage Madox to promote the interest of science and electronics and how things to all little fun ones girls and boys alike. I am afraid it was that type of thinking 35 years ago which discouraged me from being an engineer.

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