Magical Magnetism: Intro to Reed Switches (Normally Open)

Written by: Jill Dawson

Magnet Magic

Magnets, like wands, are magical! In this tutorial, we will show you how to make a magnetic wand that can trigger a circuit you make with a reed switch.

Introduction

A reed switch and magnet are an intriguing duo possessing magical qualities that may be applied in countless ways.  Their mystical qualities make it possible to open or close a circuit with the power of magnetic force! That means you can create paper circuits that light up (or turn off) when triggered from a distance. With the flick of a wrist, you can trigger the switch! And any circuit, including a programmed one, may be triggered using this type of switching mechanism. 

Imagine a wall covered in interactive artwork, with features that are only visible when a concealed magnet moves within range!

One way to conceal a magnet for this purpose is by creating a magnetic wand, which we’ll be showing you how to do. But, you should know that the possibilities for incorporating a magnet and reed switch into your paper circuits are endless!

magnetic wand
Magnetic Wand
reed switch
A magnetic wand has the ability to trigger a circuit from a distance.

A reed switch is a small electrical component containing two thin fibers that are highly susceptible to magnetization.  In the most common type of reed switch, called a “normally open” reed switch, these thin contacts usually contain an opening or gap between them, as illustrated in the diagram below.

When integrated into a circuit, this open gap prevents electricity from flowing through the switch. This all changes, however, if a magnet is placed nearby.  

While some reed switches are made of glass, this one is insulated with plastic.
This illustration depicts the inside of a “normally open” reed switch.

If a magnet is within range, the force of its magnetic field causes the fibers inside of the “normally open” reed switch to move closer together until they touch, closing the opening and forming a connection that allows electricity to flow through it.  When this happens, and the circuit closes, you’ll notice some sort of actuation in the circuit, such as the lighting of an LED, the turning of a motor, or even the sound of a buzzer!

When the magnet is pulled away from the reed switch, the fibers move apart again, recreating the opening that was there before. With the switch now open, the flow of electricity within the circuit is once again disrupted.

The animation above, depicting a “normally open” reed switch coming in contact with a magnet, is copyrighted material. It is being used here in accordance with Educational Fair Use (Source).  

Tips, Tricks & Call-outs
In addition to the “normally open” reed switch being explored in this tutorial, another type of reed switch works in the opposite way. A reed switch that is “normally closed,” normally allows electricity to flow through it when it is part of a circuit. That changes when a magnet is nearby. What do you think happens to the ferromagnetic fibers inside of a “normally closed” reed switch when it comes within range of a magnet? How might the circuit be impacted in this case? To learn more, visit Magical Magnetism: Intro to Reed Switches (Normally Closed).

1. Construct a Circuit Using a Reed Switch

To demonstrate how to use a “normally open” reed switch and magnet to open and close a circuit, we’ll be using a printed copy of the Paper Switch Template from page 46 of the Circuit Sticker Sketchbook. 

Please keep in mind that the circuit you create may be more elaborate, the reed switch located wherever you wish, and the magnet hidden in a variety of clever ways.

reed switch template
This template was completed using copper tape and conductive fabric patches, but you can also use conductive fabric tape.

Tools & Materials

  • Paper Switch Template (PDF prints out four copies to a sheet)
  • Circuit Sticker LED
  • binder clip
  • coin battery
  • reed switch (“normally open”)
  • magnet(s)
  • conductive tape for the traces (fabric or copper) 
  • Conductive Fabric Patches (or Conductive Fabric Tape) to adhere the reed switch
  • Scotch tape
  • OPTIONAL: Love to Code Creative Coding Kit
switch template
Paper Switch Template
reed switch components
Circuit Sticker LED, Binder Clip, Reed Switch, Coin Battery, & Magnet
conductive tapes & patches
Conductive Tapes & Patches
tape
Scotch tape

Directions

The first thing you need to do to create the circuit is apply conductive tape (copper or fabric) to the gray lines on the template. Afterward, apply a Circuit Sticker LED to the template’s triangular footprint, ensuring that it overlaps both conductive traces; press it down firmly.

Apply conductive traces to the template.
Add a Circuit Sticker LED. Press it down firmly.

Once the LED has been adhered, insert the battery and secure it in place with the binder clip.  Test the circuit by placing a piece of conductive material over the switch gap to ensure that the LED lights up as expected.

Insert the battery and secure it in place with a binder clip.
Test the circuit by holding a piece of conductive material over the switch gap.

Next, place the reed switch in the center of the switch gap. Use a piece of Conductive Fabric Tape (or a Conductive Fabric Patch) to connect each metal leg of the switch to the conductive traces on both sides of the gap. 

Once the reed switch has been adhered to the circuit, place a magnet over the reed switch to check the polarity of the magnet and determine where the switch is most easily triggered.  It’s possible that you might need to rotate the switch and secure the legs again, if you determine that your switch is more sensitive on one side than the other.

Adhere the reed switch in the switch gap.
Check the polarity of the magnet.

After ensuring the correct polarity of the magnet, adhere it to the “contact patch” area of the template.  If you are using a tiny magnet, it’s helpful to use a piece of Scotch tape to pick it up.

Pick up the magnet with tape and place it in the “contact patch” area.
Verify that the magnet triggers the LED.

Testing the Circuit With Different Magnets

reed switch gif
The tiny magnet needs to be close to the reed switch to light the LED.
The larger ceramic magnet can light the LED a couple of inches from the reed switch.
Reed switch gif
A strong bundle of magnets can light the LED several inches from the reed switch.

Tips, Tricks & Call-outs
You can also add a reed switch to a circuit you program with a Chibi Chip.  The examples below are modifications from Love to Code, Chapter 3:  Add a Switch (Part 1), using the Microsoft MakeCode Editor.  

The first example uses the Basic Switch program.  The second example adds a bit more complexity by triggering a function that makes the LED blink when the reed switch is activated.

Basic Switch Program
reed switch chibi chip
Basic Switch Program With a Function Added

2. Create a Magnetic Wand

The easiest way to make a magnetic magic wand is by rolling up a piece of paper and adding artistic details with help from washi tape. There are, of course, plenty of other ways to construct a wand; but, this method is the quickest, with lots of room for personalization! Just remember that you are only limited by the materials you have access to and your own imagination!

magnetic wand
This is the top of a magnetic paper wand containing an adhesive ceramic craft magnet.

Tools & Materials

  • a completed circuit containing a “normally open” reed switch (such as the one created in Step 1)
  • a piece of cardstock (I’m using an 8 ½ X 11 piece, but 12 X 12 will give you a longer wand.)
  • a magnet strong enough for your needs (Self-sticking ceramic craft magnets are ideal for wands because they are sticky and strong.)
  • double-sided tape (a glue stick may be substituted)
  • pencil or wooden dowel (for rolling up the paper)
  • decorative washi tape
  • scissors
  • embellishments of your choice (I’m using adhesive backed foam glitter stars and a pipe cleaner.)
supplies for making a magnetic wand
Supplies needed for a magnetic wand
magnetic wand
Transform a piece of paper into a wand! Keep it simple or make it fancy!

Directions:

Lay your cardstock down on a flat surface with a short size facing toward you. Add three strips of double sided tape to the left corner.

paper
Lay your cardstock on a flat surface with the short side facing you.
add double sided tape to the paper at angle
Add three strips of double sided tape to the top left corner.

Apply a longer piece of double sided tape diagonally across the paper, starting from the top right corner. The tape will help secure the paper as you roll it. Use a pencil or wooden dowel rod to hold the bottom right corner in place and roll the paper toward the taped corner. Tear the backing off the tape and finish rolling the paper into a tight tube. Remove the pencil or dowel rod.

rolling paper for a wand
Use a pencil or dowel rod to hold the paper in in place as you roll toward the taped corner.
 paper wand
Tear off the backing of the double sided tape and roll all the way to the corner. If needed, you can add glue.

If you want your want to have a flat bottom, use scissors to trim it straight.

paper wand
If desired, trim off the bottom of the wand to flatten it.
rolling a paper wand GIF
Here is a quick demo of how to roll a paper wand.

Adding decorative washi tape serves two functions. One is to jazz up your wand. The other is to prevent your wand from coming unraveled.

Add decorative washi tape around your wand. It will look pretty and help prevent your wand from unravelling.
paper wand GIF
Here’s a quick demo of how I added washi tape.

Once your wand has been wrapped in washi tape, you can add your magnet. If your magnet is not self-adhesive, you can use double sided tape or hot glue to secure it. Add decorations if desired. I added a springy pipe cleaner to the end of my magnetized wand, but that part is completely optional.

The last step is to add a magnet to the tip of your wand and decorations if desired.
paper wand GIF
Here’s a quick demo showing how I added a springy pipe cleaner to the end of my magnetized wand.

Gallery

Similar Posts You Might Enjoy

Bee Amazing

With help from a reed switch, a magnetic bee “delights” his buddies by landing upon a flower.

Light up Flowers

A well-placed frog lights up the flowers in this scene using a magnet & reed switch.

Flying Concertina

reed switch gif

This project combines conductive thread & a reed switch to add interactivity & conserve battery life.

Scroll to top