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DIY Sonic Screwdriver Fail

by: Alicia Anderson

My husband wanted a sonic screwdriver that he could use as a functional pen-light.  He uses pen-lights to check people’s pupils on the ambulance, so it had to have certain features:

  • Useful: Bright, white pen-light lightbulb
  • Long-term: Replaceable bulb/batteries
  • Safe: Not going to poke anyone’s eyes out

The fourth requirement for this light was that it also had to be within my budget. I am buying him some reasonably expensive stuff this year, so “free and or cheap” was also ideal.

Before we get started, you need to know what sonic screwdrivers are supposed to look like.

They are devices that are frequently used by the Doctor on the BBC television series, Doctor Who. Like the actors who play the Doctor and the control room of the TARDIS, the screwdriver goes through changes and iterations over time. 

Here's one: 

Particularly the most recent, 11th Doctor’s (played by Matt Smith)

There is no such thing as a usable pen-light version of the sonic screwdriver commercially available. There are customizable, personalized versions.  There are universal TV remote versions. But a simple pen light? Maybe one that makes the little hummy noise?  Nope.

Being crafty, brave and willing to try anything once, I decided to make it myself.
I bought this pen light from amazon ( because it was shiny and silver, had the other requirements of replaceable batteries and being useful.
I found this tutorial online, where a guy basically glued stuff to a pen light to make it look cool. 

If I can make X-men necklaces and gluten-free thin mints, I can do this.

The day I decided this process, my umbrella broke. It was one of those purse-sized umbrellas that are so flimsy and small, they serve as the spare-tire sorts of umbrella in real life.  On the verge of tossing it, I decided the little bendy metal elbows reminded me of Matt Smith’s sonic screwdriver.

I assembled my bits and bobs. An umbrella destined to be dismantled, a few key rings, some gorilla glue, jewelry-making supplies, and the thick white tape used on the ambulances (which is an inside joke among the paramedics, so would make this particular screwdriver special).

I used wire cutters and scissors to demolish the umbrella, snipped the bits to the right length – thinking surely I’ll have room at the ends to put something safe and protective there – and set about stringing them together and gluing them to the pen light.

I chose to glue them so the elbows were poking toward the light itself – so it would be safe for any patient’s eyeballs. 

I slid a keyring onto the thing.  I realized it’s a little short.

(the product descriptions of replicas run 8-9” long. Mine is a whopping 6” long)

And it’s very chubby.

But I was in the midst of creative surges of inspiration, so I layered on the next set of elbow things and looked at it.

This time, I really looked at it.

I had to remove the lapel-clip from the cap in order to screw it in for the batteries. By the time I got the batteries installed, I’d pricked my fingers so many times on the jagged ends of all of the umbrella parts that I knew I had to do something about that.

I tried to use the wire cutters again on the pieces I had already glued to the pen-light. And. Well. That was some mighty poor planning on my part.

At this point, I looked at the stumpy little chunk of scrap metal and realized I could probably not continue crafting this thing into success.  I realized there were very few options to make the pokey parts safe.  I slung a band of tape around the barrel of the thing to at least show where I was going with it.

TA-DA!  Um. I tried? 

Here’s a universal remote, honey. Merry Christmas.


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