Friday, August 7, 2015

The Top 3 Steampunk Switches For Your Inner Mad Scientist

I've been on the hunt for amazing steampunk light switches for ages now, and my search has yielded three very different styles I think you guys are gonna love.

First, and most common, are the kinetic gear covers from Green Tree Jewelry:

These are gorgeous and fun - and with lots of different styles - but I've always been bugged by the visible light switch. I wanted something more convincingly period-looking for our steampunk room.

Then I found these:

... and absolutely flipped. (See what I did there?) That's plasma-cut steel, so it's hefty and really real looking, plus it completely covers the existing light switches.

The only problem? I needed two double switches... and I'm too cheap to pay $136 for two light switch covers. 0.o

Finally, about 3 weeks ago, I stumbled across these:

They're 3D printed, so they don't cost much, and the knife-switch operation (which most call the "Frankenstein" switch) is positively ingenious. Like the other two, it fits right over your existing wall switches!

I waited so long to post the ones we bought because John and I have been busy trying to refinish ours. We tried something called vapor smoothing to smooth out the 3D printing grooves - twice! - but sadly it just didn't work. Maybe it's the wrong kind of plastic?

So then I applied several coats of a heavy build-able primer, which smoothed them out a little.

By that point it had been many days and I was getting extra impatient, so I called them "close enough" and slapped some paint on.

Here's the finished product:

I'll be honest: I'm not thrilled with the finish. You can still see some diagonal printing grooves, and the "metal" parts are far too rough to ever really look like metal.

Happily our steampunk room is quite dark, though, and the switches look WAY COOL from a distance:

 Claptrap approved!

I also can't tell you how fun it is it turn the lights on and off now. The switches make a really satisfying snap, and the levers feel pretty substantial.

Since I didn't apply a clear coat, though, some of my top coat is starting to scratch off the switch mechanism, down to the red primer underneath:

So I think I may take another crack at refinishing them - especially since I found this amazing version by Thingverse member sdrazga:

Really digging the patina'd copper and aged black! I think aging the "metal" is key, so it doesn't need to be smooth.

And here's a much better version of the color scheme I was trying for, from Thingverse member kyag:

Just to show you guys that these switches can look better than mine. ;)

And finally, if you have your own 3D printer you can actually download the single switch design - for free! - here on Thingverse. There are also alternate versions for rocker switches.

Happy switching!


  1. How fun!! :)
    Now if there was a similar way to cover up plug outlets... hmmm.

    --Piper P from Washington State

  2. The first word out of my mouth when I saw your choice was unprintable, so I'll just say that I'm on my way to Etsy right now!

  3. *whistling to myself* Just slap some paint on it and call it SteeeeeaaaamPunk.


    These are pretty, even if you aren't happy yet. I still like them.

    I was also joking a few days ago with friends about using this exact switch to rig up something for turning the Internet router on and off. You know, like when my kids don't finish chores, I can clunk that switch down in a big showy move. Needs some heavy metal plates to really get the sound correct though.

  4. Hi Jen - If this is PLA filament, there's a really nasty (but it does such lovely work) chemical called tetrahydrofuran. You can vapor smooth - or... you can pull on three pairs of Nitrile gloves, grab some dye-free linen and smooth it on. It gives a very smooth finish that way. Depending on how it was positioned on the build plate, you could even work with the layers to give it a "grain" look.

    Either way - it looks lovely. I'm going to print a couple just for giggles.

    And hey - if you see something you want printed over on Thingiverse, drop me a note, I'll be happy to print and ship it to you.

    1. Oooh, thanks, Timmie! I'll definitely keep that in mind!

  5. What if you do the metal tape stuff over the metal parts?

  6. So cool! These are perfect. I can hear in my head the "zzzzzttt" of the Frankenstein switches with the buzz of electricity.

  7. That looks amazing! As far as I know, the vapor method only works with ABS. Your print may be PLA or another plastic. Smooth on does make a coating that smooths and levels out the striations of prints called XTC-3D® High Performance 3D Print Coating. Haven't personally tested it yet, but it looks good!

  8. Great, now I need a dremel AND a 3D printer...

    -Just Andrea

  9. It would be SO COOL if there was a way to rig a thing to those so they made a zap sound when turned on or off. Like a real Frankenstein switch.

  10. "...exactly how many toggle flips in toto are involved in this procedure..." is what sprang to one mind.

  11. I'm assuming you're aware of this:[tn]=kC&ft[qid]=6184860006722929980&ft[mf_story_key]=-3630694921652848410&ft[ei]=AI%404dd17b4e9d7a3b2ea592d5538e89dff0&ft[eligibleForSeeFirstBumping]=&ft[fbfeed_location]=1&ft[insertion_position]=1&__md__=1

    But just in case you weren't I thought I'd point it out. :-)

  12. Regarding refinishing, I was over on your other site a bit ago and the banner for the metal tape tutorial came up. Have you thought about using that for the switch plates?

  13. I honestly like your paint finish better than the two other examples you showed. I think your "wood" looks more like well-polished and stained wood than the others.

  14. Yours is by far the best one shown and looks more realistic than the "brick" it's mounted on too.

  15. So the reason your vapor smoothing didn't remove all the printing grooves, assuming you followed the advice from the video you linked, is because you didn't heat the acetone up to create the vapor.

    He was right in that not heating it up is safer, but the boiling point of acetone is ~133 F, and the smoothing works by getting an even distribution of condensed solvent around the entire part surface. I do not think the normal evaporation of acetone would produce this. To get the necessary saturation for a really smooth part, you will need to heat it up.

  16. Of all the examples, I liked yours the best. Are you willing to recreate it and sell it? Carlos

    1. No, mine's just a crappy paint job over the seller's 3D print, so you're better off buying & painting your own!

  17. Actually I liked your switches best! Awesome job! I wish the seller was still selling them, but the link is no longer functional. (or at least it wasn't when I tried) but at least I know what to look for!

  18. It would be cool to make something like this out of real wood and brass: I might try it ...


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