How to make a simple motor

I made this motor about 8 years ago when Jane was a baby (she's the one who keeps crying "Dad-dee! Dad-dee!" near the end of the video). I learned about it from this Howtoons cartoon, which appears in every issue of MAKE.

It's very easy to make the motor. You need:

-- 12" of hook-up wire

-- One 1.5 battery

-- One neodymium magnet (the one I used is ½" square. You can buy a set of four for $10.29 on Amazon)

-- Nail polish

-- Two safety pins (you could use the hook up-wire or paperclips if you bend loops into them)

-- Scotch tape (to attach safety pins to battery)

-- Pad of Post-It Notes

-- Wire cutters / wire strippers

Here's how to make it:

1. Make a coil out of the hook-up wire as shown and strip off about ½" of insulation from the ends. (Tip: Wrap the wire around the battery to make the coil.)

2. Coat the top half of the exposed part of the wires with nail polish. Look at the illustration here to see what I mean.

3. Stick the safety pins to the battery terminal with the tape. (Tip: Howtoons uses a rubber band to accomplish the same thing).

4. Insert the wire coil into the loops of the safety pins.

5. Use enough Post-It Notes to get the magnet as close as possible to the coil.

You might need to flick the coil to get it started.

The best part about making this video and uploading it to YouTube is reading the comments from the Big-business-is-surpressing-free-energy crowd: "Haha my dad works for ExxonMobile. Trust me. They suppress this stuff." and "Unlimited energy sources are out there!But the powerfull Oil business won't alow common ppl to know this"

If you like this project, you should get a copy of Howtoons, which is loaded with fun things for kids and parents to make.


  1. Wow, I remember making one these in grade school nigh on 30 years ago but had completely forgotten about it until now. Real deja vu.

    1.  See, this is what I keep telling people. When I talk to younger kids today, I’m surprised how LITTLE they know, or know how to do. The most simple things we were taught in school (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and all the cars were black) from “how things work” to Basic Latin (you can learn ‘new’ words with that- plus understand medical terminology, among other things) say, ‘classical’ knowledge is now something someone has to find on some specialty site as if it’s some incredible gem. ALL KIDS SHOULD KNOW THIS STUFF! adults too- I am surprised this is even spotlighted like it’s something special.. sad..

  2. The energy is from the battery. Why people would call that “free” is beyond me. Then again, I remember my youth, and my fantasies about mounting a wind gennie on a vehicle :P

  3. There’s an even simpler motor that can be built with those parts (well, a circular cross-sectioned magnet would help), called a unipolar motor (or “homopolar”) which, i confess i do not understand (letsee… left-hand rule on a helix…. hmm)

  4. I remember having to do this in high school physics. Ya high school, but it was sort of presented as a puzzle of magnetic field shapes and you had to figure out how to build it yourself, rather than just a schematic to build.

    If memory serves, it was actually kind of a pain to get it balanced.

  5. I love these. Like others- I remember making these in school probably 35 years ago. After making one in school, I made several at home for fun. I wanted to find a way to make one power a toy car, but they just don’t have enough power.

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