Monday, July 14, 2014

DIY Light-Up Wand Tutorial (for Harry Potter Cosplay!)

If you've had a look around Pinterest you know there are plenty of easy DIY wand tutorials out there, but John added a little something extra to ours, using stuff we already had around the house:

 They light up!

That's John's wand on top, and mine below. I wanted my light extra bright, so I had my LED stick out more. You can bury it like John's, though, for a more subtle look. (And it's still quite bright from straight on.)

And here are the finished wands:

We went for very different looks; I wanted mine more natural, while John was all about that dramatic red-and-black. (I should note it took John less than five minutes to paint his and make it gorgeous, while I've re-painted mine three times and am STILL not happy, so of course I have to hate him a little.)

I also made my wand shorter, since I'm a shorty myself and wanted it proportional.

For comparison, here are our wands next to the official Universal replica of Harry's wand:

Our handles are a bit bigger to account for the battery, but to be honest, they're a lot more comfortable to hold, and weigh about the same, since the official wands are surprisingly hefty. I also think ours look more "real" than the Universal ones, so when you throw in the fact that they only cost a few dollars to make *and* they light up *and* you can personalize them however you like, it's kind of no-brainer, right?

So, ready to make one??

Click through for the tutorial, since this thing got super photo-heavy. (What can I say? I'm THOROUGH.)

Ok! Here's what you'll need:

 - a thin wooden dowel
- 1 short section of 1/2" PVC tubing
- 1 1/2" PVC coupler
 - Epoxy putty (that's the SteelStik in my photo)
- Paper clay
- One LED light (these lights are sold in bags of 12 or 15 in the bridal aisle at JoAnn's, & come in all different colors)
- 2 AAA batteries
- Masking tape
- Electrical wire (20 gauge or smaller)
- A small electrical switch (Push button is best, but we used metal toggles since that's what we had.)
- a battery spring (check Radio Shack)
- Heat shrink tubing
- One small metal rivet (the 2-piece kind)
- basic craft tools (pliers, craft blade, etc)

I know electrical stuff is intimidating for most of us, but this is a great beginner's projects, since you can't shock yourself with such a weak battery. (WOOT!)

To begin, use a craft blade to shave down one end of your dowel into a rough point:
This is where your LED bulb will sit.

Open up the plastic casing of the LED and retrieve the bulb. You need to add enough wire to reach the opposite end of the wand, where the battery will be. (Err on the generous side, so cut off about two feet of wire.)

Start by separating the 2 ends of your electrical wire, and stripping the ends:

Cut off two small sections of heat shrink tubing (about an inch each), and slip those down the wires. We'll be using those in just a sec.

Bend the two wire ends into hooks, and hook the LED's 2 wires through them, twisting to secure:

Slide that heat shrink tubing up over the connections (you remembered those, right?), and use a hair dryer or heat gun to shrink the tubing in place.

(This is pre-shrunk. After you heat it, the tubing gets wrinkly & tight.)

Ok! Now you've got an LED with a long wire attached. Let's stick it on your wand:

Arrange the two wires on either side of your dowel, so the LED is centered. Then start wrapping it up with thin masking tape. (Don't use electrical tape because the clay has to stick to it later.)

Wrap the wires about halfway down your dowel:

Now's a good time to test your LED. Stick the ends of your wire on either side of the button cell battery your LED came with, and cross your fingers this happens:

Yay! Or if it doesn't work, try switching sides on the battery. That should do it.

Now let's add the battery. Wrap up the rest of the wand with your masking tape, and cut & strip one half of your wire:

Now here's where John got creative: he used a small metal rivet as the contact point for the batteries:

It works great, too! Just stick the stripped wire inside the body of the rivet, and squash it flat with pliers. Once the wire is secure, wrap the rivet with tape, too, so only the flat disc is poking out.

Here's how the battery assembly will fit in your handle:

So the batteries go inside the PVC tube, and the switch sits inside the coupler on the end.

Your second wire needs to reach the switch at the end, so make sure you keep that long for now.

To attach the PVC tube handle, mix up some epoxy putty and mold it around the end of the dowel, being careful not to cover your rivet head:

Then squish the PVC tube over the putty. Don't go down too far; just enough to hold it in place. (You need to leave room in the tube for your AAA batteries!)

Sadly, we didn't get any pictures of the next few steps, so now I'm going to hand this over to John and his mad diagram-drawing self. HIT IT, JOHN!

[sounds of awkward shuffling]

Uh, hi, john here. In the diagram below, you can see the basic layout of the wand's wiring.

The positive wire goes directly to the battery using the rivet. The other wire - the negative - goes inside the PVC beside the batteries and through the coupler to the switch. Remember, the coupler is the end cap.

Now, attach the end of the negative wire to one terminal on the switch (it doesn't matter which side) and attach another short wire (just a few inches long) to the opposite terminal. Finally, crimp your spring onto the end of that short wire.

Okay, here's the tricky part. You're going to squish enough epoxy into the coupler to set both the switch and the spring in place.

This is actually more difficult than it sounds. (Ok, so I was swearing like a trucker the first time, but the second wand was much easier.) You can't see my face but I'm smiling maniacally.

Now, when you push that coupler onto the PVC, the spring will make a connection with the negative side of the batteries. And, when you flip the switch, the light will go on! Hopefully.

Here's the wand all put together:

Jen already put some clay over the masking tape, but you can see how the coupler fits on and, if you look closely, you can see the switch sticking out of the end. At this point, you'll want to switch it on and off again several times whilst whacking it on various things to make sure everything works - 'cuz once you put the clay over the handle, there's no turning back.

Well, unless you want to sculpt your clay so the end coupler is separate and still removable, of course, which would be awesome for replacing batteries. (Once our batteries die, we're outta luck - although I might try cutting through the clay at that point to remove the coupler.)

Ok, hard part's done. Now for the fun stuff:

Take your paper clay and squish it onto everything. Roll the skinny shaft part on the table like a rolling pin to help get it even. We wanted our handles to look like natural wood, but if you're all artsy 'n stuff, you could make a "design" or "sculpt" it into something "pretty."

Bam! Natural.

(Jen used her fingernail to score light wood grain marks in hers, but I didn't bother. Oh, and she went back later and added a clay well around the toggle switch, so it wouldn't stick out so much.)

Once the clay is dry, give your wand a good sanding. Leave the deeper cracks and crevices on the handle, though, for character.

To make it look like wood, paint a base coat of yellow, beige, or light brown in a satin craft paint. (Make sure it's satin or gloss, not flat.) Then paint on some dark brown or black paint, and quickly wipe it off again with a rag. Done!

Or, if you're like Jen, paint it many, many times because you won't be happy until it looks like the worn handrails at Disneyland.

Now go show off your new wand to the cat. I promise she'll be impressed.


Thanks, John! And I hope you guys got all that! If not, ask your questions in the comments, and I'll make John answer them. ;)


Come see ALL of my craft projects on one page, right here!


  1. eeee! how fun! and I love, love Lilly in the last picture btw... can we hope for HP cosplay in the future from you guys? :)

    1. Oh yes, our Death Eater costumes are nearly done! You can expect pictures in another 2 or 3 weeks, since we'll be wearing them to Leaky Con.

  2. LOVE THIS! Debating whether or not I have time to even try this before Dragon*Con...probably not this year, as it looks a little beyond my current crafting skills (plus the list of "things to finish before Dragon*Con" is already pretty long...). Thanks so much for posting this--I'll be coming back to this later!

  3. I put this together with a few modifications: button switch instead of toggle switch (when it's pushed in, it's virtually invisible), small watch batteries for a slimmer handle, since their not really replaceable, and a laser diode + SMD LED. Also, it's MUCH MUCH MUCH cheaper to buy LEDs online or at Radioshack, and since you're not even using the casing from the craft ones it makes more sense.

    1. All good points! (We only used the LED & toggle switch because we had them on hand.)

    2. sounds like great modifications. Can you share exact methods and steps you took to replace the toggle and battery please. I'm hoping to make as crafts for my daughter's 8th bday party!
      Thank you!

  4. Very cool. I can't wait to see the whole costumes put together. Oh and Jen, the paint job looks great trust me. At the beginning of the post I was sitting here wondering how you managed to hollow out the stick for the wires, so it's quite convincing.

  5. I'll be the one to ask this time: why doesn't John have a blog?

    That's a super-cool craft, and I agree that it looks easier to hold than the 'official' one. Now I assume more wand displays for these? :)

    1. I think John prefers making the stuff and letting me explain it all. ;) Although he does write for CW every now and then, which is awesome; of the two of us, he's actually the funny one.

    2. Well, that says a lot since you set a pretty high benchmark for funny. The two of you are some of my most favourite people on this planet and I don't even know you in person.

  6. I love the wands! I actually had a moment where I thought "I can do that!" Reading along, "What does that mean? Huh? Yeah, maybe it's better that I don't." It's always fun to dream, though!

    1. No, no, you can do it! I promise! Let me know which parts got confusing, and I'll try to make it easier to understand.

    2. I'm kinda in the samespot. The drawing helps. But, the first paragraph about taking the LED apart and wires is confusing me. Just not getting it. Also, how do you know which is the positive wire and which the negative? Also not really getting the whole switch/epoxy/wire/spring bit

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  8. Make all the things! I think I'll set this aside for a project when I get my Lily started on Harry Potter. She's only 2 1/2, and a 2 legged kiddo, not like your adorable 4 legged one,so I figure this will be more awesome when she understands what it is :)

  9. My husband & I are re watching the Harry Potter series. I nonchalantly said, "wouldn't it fun to have a Harry Potter party?" Perfect timing Jen! ;)

  10. This is going to be my first year at DragonCon (I'm volunteering at the Art Show, so I have no doubt I'll get to see you there!!!), and I had resigned myself to not really making/doing anything fancy[er than usual]. But now I'm really feeling some light-up making coming on!!!

  11. How do you change the batteries?

    1. With our way, you can't - unless you cut open the handle later when they die. However, you COULD cut through the clay before it dries so the coupler is separate from the rest of the wand, making the end removable. If we ever try making another one, that's what I plan to do; we just got lazy with these and didn't bother.

    2. You could also cut two discs of thin but stable plastic and slip them up to the coupler before you make the handle and just make sure you don't cover them, then you wouldn't need to cut and have a clean finish.

    3. PS: you don't have to make those discs completely round either, just make sure the have exactly the same outline. That way you don't have a perfect round shape mess up the natural wood look&feel.

  12. This is great! Your wands turned out much cooler than most of the tutorials I've seen (and not just because they light up - the natural wood look is perfect!)

    Have you thought about Dark Mark tattoos for your costumes? There are some good tutorials online for how to make your own temporary tattoos. If you search "Cosplay Class" on YouTube, that channel has one.

    Can't wait to see your costumes!

  13. LOVE the Lily shot at the end. Perhaps a wee bit more writing about wiring the end of the wand? Like where did the spring come from and how do you squish the epoxy around it? Good thing to add to my Costume Designer Handbook of Tricks! So here is one for you - use Johnson Baby Shampoo to remove make-up and ring around the collar. Pour on, use an old tooth brush to work into the garment and launder as usual. Takes out grease paint makeup!

  14. I wish I was this good at making things for cosplay! The most I did was print out an ID tag for Molly Hooper. While I do a lot of mask-making, I can't do something THIS advanced. This is why my blog is boring.

  15. So will you go back and add additional chain and hooks to the Olivander's display? Would that work?

  16. Really inspiring, and I love the diagram: in fact, I find diagrams even more helpful than photos for most craft projects, so don't hesitate to add 'em!

    Was thinking about some kind of removable cap for the wand end to make the batteries accessible but I think you're right that just cutting through the clay would be best. (If I tried it I would try to make the cut rather ragged instead of evenly circular to help disguise the join---whaddya think?)


  17. I love this idea. I was thinking about using a bicycle tire LED for a wand... they come on with motion and don't stay on very long. I feel like it would be really fun to have it light up when I actually swish and flick it! I love the two different looks you both have going on... makes me think that I really need to get my other half into being more crafty with me.

  18. perfect timing! I have to make a wand for my Dragon*Con costume and was trying to figure out if I could get it to light up. If I'm successful, I will seek you out and show it to you.

  19. OK. I'm gonna do this one! My husband absolutely needs one for his birthday in October. If I start getting stuff together, I should be able to make that happen. And I LOVE the idea of using the tire LED, Megan. I'm new to playing with electricity, so gonna do some research and practice first.

  20. You both are so amazingly talented! The wands look great, but I have a suggestion for Jen if she's still not happy with hers: Perhaps if you work on blending the handle of the wand more seamlessly with the 'business' end, either with clay, paint, or both, it might make the difference? Just a thought. Do what makes ya happy, cause clearly, you're doing a whole lot right. :)

  21. This is incredible. I could totally do this.

    Although I'm thinking more like... custom sonic screwdriver.

    Actually, no I'm not. I am specifically thinking of the Eighth Doctor's "Dark Eyes" sonic screwdriver.

  22. My wand does not light up every time i turn the switch. any tips?

    1. Sounds like it's a loose connection somewhere, since it lights up at least some of the time. Most likely it's where the battery touches, so if you can, check to make sure the battery end is firmly seated on the metal.

  23. This Sounds Great But Please explain what you mean by Crimping the Spring to keep it in place, this seems crucial to keeping the connection. Thank You!

    1. Hi. We just meant squishing one end of the spring onto the bare wire to secure the connection. So, put the wire into the spring and squish the last two rings of the spring with a pare of pliers. Hope that helps.

  24. Great idea and it totally worked. Any tips on getting the spring to be embedded and still wired? I made mine so the coupler can come off for battery replacement but the spring wobbles loosely and there needs to be extra negative wire to allow for opening the piece, so it gets in the way. Suggestions??

    Also tried the brilliant idea of motion activated bike lights....they are not all created equal, but its gonna be awesome.

    1. Man that's a tough one. I just basically pushed the wire and spring into the epoxy on the end. It's not easy and I think I should have used more pipe on the end to allow some extra space but there it is. Be sure to send us pics when you finish!

  25. Ok. Problem is just spacing - spring too loose and it doesn't always connect. Too much epoxy and there's not enough space so the end cap won't stay on. Solved this by using a 4" x 3/4" plastic bead tube with screw-on cap instead of pvc. Lighter and much easier to work with. How do I send you pics?? Or must I upload and link? I have finished wand pic and in progress with the new design.

    1. Oooh, I'd love to see! You can't upload pics directly here, so you can either link to it elsewhere or upload the pics onto the Epbot Facebook wall. Glad you got it figured out!

    2. so cool I wish I was THAT talented!

  26. Just made these with my two boys. It was more difficult than I expected. Not hard, just more labor intensive and took more "Hmmm" time. We put a push-button hold switch on the side rather than a toggle on the end. Your recommendation to use paper clay was accurate - modeling clay was too brittle and had to be removed. Had trouble with the LED connection, so if you have solder, use it for this! I especially love the finish. Painted with Burnt Sienna acrylic paint, let it dry, painted with Black and wiped off (which I never would have thought of without this). We love how they turned out. Wish I could upload a picture. We made 3 and had to buy every single component. Total cost: about $15 per wand.

  27. HEY, you can make a fade in and out effect on light's wand with some more eletronic parts, its easy, see it on youtube. You can use a led that already exists that keep changing the collors by itself.


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