Altoids Solar USB Charger

By on October 19, 2013


Total cost is pretty low for everything, depending on where you buy various parts and the batteries. I would say easily under $25 if not under $20. Would probably take about 3 days of full sun to charge 2500mAH batteries, which would give me a full charge on my Galaxy Note by Samsung. 

Step 1: Materials

So, like most of these projects there are only a few basic materials you need to collect and can actually get them all at a Radio Shack or on eBay.

I am using a
6V 80mA Solar Panel from Radio Shack
3x AA Rechargeable NiMH Batteries
1x 1N914 Diode
1x 3AA Battery Holder
1x DPDT Center Off Switch
1x 5mm LED in Chrome Bezel
1x 150ohm Resistor
1x DC-DC USB Converter

As well as basic insulated wiring, solder, soldering iron, pliers, wire strippers, etc. 

Please note that the DC-DC USB Converter I used for this project may or may not work with various Apple products. I only have a Samsung Galaxy Note and it charges perfectly with this device.

Step 2: Wiring Assembly

step2 ste2

I drilled 2 holes in one end for the switch and the LED bezel. I also used some aviation snips to cut a bit out of the lid and side to fit the USB port. I also drilled a hole in the top of the lid near one end for the wires to come in through the solar panel.

I insulated the entire interior because I think it looks a little better.

I started by wiring a diode to the positive on the solar panel as well as soldering wire to the negative. These were both covered with electrician’s tape and then wired through the lid of the tin and the solar panel was mounted with double sided mounting tape. The wires were then soldered to the 2 end points of the dpdt switch.

The battery pack was soldered to the middle points on the dpdt switch and placed in the tin.

Lastly, a resistor was wired to the positive lead on the LED and that was placed, along with the USB port, on the last 2 points on the dpdt switch. It’s important to keep all of the negatives on one side and the positives on the other.

This wiring lets you either flip the switch in one direction to charge the batteries, put it in the middle to turn it off (to prevent excessive over charging), and in the 3rd position the LED comes on and power flows to the USB port. 

Step 3: Interior Layout


You have to be careful to mount the LED in the side of the tin before you solder it to the switch. Otherwise, everything else should be soldered to the switch and then that mounted into the tin. The batteries should fit just perfectly and not want to move at all. I mounted the USB board on the inside of the lid with a piece of double sided mounting tape.


The wire leads for the LED can be fragile, so I found bending them once after heat shrinking all the connections made it a perfect fit to keep them out of the way and from being bent more than necessary. The soldering onto the switch should be very fine because there isn’t a lot of room between the switch and the batteries.


The last thing I did was to pump some hot glue in and around the switch and LED to prevent any wires from moving/shorting/bending/etc.

PLEASE NOTE: The pictures with the 4xAA battery holder are here only as a reference. This gadget will likely work best with the update swapping that out for a 3 AA battery holder, which, conveniently, fits in the tin long ways and gives you a little more room with the switch and LED wiring at one end. 

Step 4: Final Touches

step4 ste4

I found I needed to bend the rim of the lid and tin a little bit to be able to get it to fully close and ‘lock’. After wiring it should be pretty easy to plan out how everything should be laid out and put together. I keep a dead sim card in the tin to make it easier to pry the batteries out because I have an extra set of rechargeable’s if I don’t want to wait for it to charge. There’s not much room for anything more than that. Maybe a little paper slip with basic information about the device would be useful.


About The Survivalist

Total bacon buff. Explorer. Survivalist Expert. Zombie Fanatic/Hunter. Internet Entrepreneur

One Comment

  1. COburner

    October 28, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    USB devices are designed for 5 v., and maybe need a little more than this to charge a battery in the device. Your 3 NiMh 1.2 v. batteries are going to supply 3.8 v. when they are full — borderline at best. Even 4 batts would be marginal for this use in my opinion.

    Your diode should be a Schottky type to minimize voltage drop between solar panel and batteries.

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