How to Make a Speaker from an Altoids Tin

The functional and stylish Altoids speaker
The functional and stylish Altoids speaker
Image courtesy Matthew Poage

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. While this may be true in many cases, you can also make the argument that good old creativity should weigh in pretty heavily as well. After all, not every invention is necessary or vital to our existence. Just ask Matthew Poage, the creator of the Altoids speaker.

Poage is a high school math and computer science teacher and one of many "tinnovators" across the world. A tinnovator is someone who repurposes an Altoids tin in an innovative way. Altoids, the "curiously strong mint," have been sold for more than 200 years, though they weren't packaged in the tiny metal tins until 1920s [source: Edwards]. The small, rectangular metal box is now as much a part of the product as the mint inside the package. Tinnovators come in all stripes; some of them stick to the artistic side of things, fashioning miniature shadow boxes or custom pill carriers. Others get a little more use out their tinnovation, making tiny survival kits or belt buckles.

Poage has a background in production pottery and counts potter Byron Temple as his major artistic inspiration. Temple, a pottery pioneer known for his "functional" pottery designs, passed away in 2002, but not before leaving his mark on the design world. Poage's goal was to honor Temple's approach in "form, function, design and utility." In short, he wanted to make something that Temple would have been proud of, using the unusual medium of an Altoids tin. He wanted to create an "object of virtue." With the Altoids speaker, he may have done just that.

Altoids Tin Speaker

While Poage is a math teacher by day, he also has a background in production pottery, so his creative side is well-entrenched. He initially became interested in working with Altoids tins when he decided to make what's known as a "minty boost," a device previously created by another tinnovator. These are small, battery powered USB chargers that fit into the even smaller Altoids gum tins. The idea is that you can plug in a cell phone or iPod when you're on the go without electricity. During his research and development, Poage looked down and noticed that he had a small speaker from a Macintosh computer on his desk alongside a 9-volt battery and an Altoids tin. He found that the battery and speaker fit pretty well inside the tin and knew immediately that he had a pretty cool project on his hands.

The speaker itself is not unlike an ordinary speaker, it's just housed in an Altoids tin instead of a wooden speaker box. The lid of the tin has small holes drilled into it to allow the sound to escape. Then it's simply a matter of wiring the speaker and gluing everything into place. The power is supplied by a battery, just like the minty boost, and in the end the result is a working speaker that can plug into an MP3 player for listening out loud. So you can not only enjoy your music on the go, but you have an instant conversation starter.

Being a tinnovator, Poage is not happy resting on his laurels with the speaker tin. He'd like to eventually build an Altoids tin MIDI drum kit. Poage says:

"Based loosely on Tod E. Kurt's Spooky Arduino projects, the Drum Kit would consist of a number of piezo and other pickups that would represent various drums or other instruments. An AVR microcontroller would process the sensors and output midi signals to Processing which would use Java sound libraries to render the sound. Ideally the entire kit (power supply, microcontroller, cables, and sensors) would fit into an Altoids tin and the sensors would pop up and unfold when the tin is opened."

It's clear that Poage is passionate about his work with the Altoids tins. He sees the tin as both a design element and a constraint. This factors in to using both a creative and realistic approach when working with the tin. Poage says it best, "Respect both and hide neither."

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Sources

  • "Minty Boost Small battery-powered USB charger." ladyada.net, 2009. http://www.ladyada.net/make/mintyboost/
  • Edwards, Terry. "What's Behind Those Little Tins We All Love?" associatedcontent.com, September 27, 2006. http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/63734/the_story_of_altoids.html?cat=22
  • Poage, Matthew. July1, 2009.