Curiously Hackable: 8 Awesome Altoids Tin Hacks

By Paul Lilly

Who knew there was so much you can do with an Altoids tin?

MacGyver could fashion all kinds of contraptions out of bubble gum wrappers, tree bark, and other nearby objects, which he did through seven seasons of crime solving, but one thing he never made was a custom USB key out of an Altoids tin. Come to think if it, he didn't do much of anything with Altoids, but the same can't be said for creative modders in more recent times. In fact, the Altoids tin has become an icon for D-I-Y culture. Its low cost, malleable yet sturdy frame, and pocket-able size makes it the ideal housing for small electronics.

Custom USB key


Miniature speakers

Kirkpatrick's Altoids wizardry consisted of dismantling a pair of headphones so he could pluck out the tiny speakers. He then used a pin to poke a small hole in a pair of playing cards and then glued the speakers to them. Pulling this one off requires a steady hand, as Kirkpatrick then had to burn the plastic coating off of the wires with a lighter and reconnect them. If you plan on following his steps, you'll want to grab a pair of  el cheapo headsets from your neighborhood thrift store before cutting and burning your high end Shures. Extra kudos go out to Kirkpatrick for describing the sounds as "a little bit tinny, but loud enough for making out."

USB battery pack

Diclerico's mod has gone through several revisions, the latest of which involves just a 9V battery, which he claims is enough to power an iPod for up to 4 hours when the internal battery is fully drained. And because it only requires a single battery, he was able to revise his original schematic to fit into an Altoids gum tin, which is about half the size.

LED flashlight


Strobe light

Building your own strobe light is rad in and of itself, but out of an Altoids tin? That's a whole new level of creek cred, and entirely attainable for less than $50 and under 2 hours of your time. This one involves shoving an ultra-bright Luxeon V star LED into the tin along with a high output LED driver module, electrolytic capacitor, 1/4 watt carbon resistor, proto board with copper solder pads around each hole, lm555 timer IC, and other electronics you're not likely to have around if you're new to modding electronics, but can easily be found both locally and online. 
Surprisingly, the bright light is powered by a single 9V battery, providing enough juice to keep the Altoids party (which is nothing like that other party - you know the one) going for over 2 hours. Looking for another use? Apparently it also works great inside a pumpkin, if you can trust the trick-or-treaters in your neighborhood not to jack it.

Stereo mixer

Like many of the best mods, this one requires a bit of skill with a soldering iron. You'll also need to do a bit of drilling, snipping, and cutting, as well as wiring and a few other skills. Put the work in, however, and life will get a whole lot easier afterward, guaranteed.

Emergency survival kit

Altoids BBQ pit

wouldn't want one? One of the easier mods to pull off, this one requires no soldering or other messing around with electronics, just a bit of work with a hacksaw, drill, and dremel (cue the Tim Allen grunts). You'll also need a coat hanger, which you'll cut into smaller rods and shove through the tin to act as the grill. Best when used with fast cooking food, as there's not a ton of room to keep the fire going for extended stretches.
What's your favorite Altoids tin mod? Know of an awesome Altoids hack not included here? Post a link!