Build Your Own Batphone


Not too long ago, I got a bug in my head to put a blinking Batphone on my desk at work, much like the one used in the 1966 television series starring Adam West. I had been thinking about it for years, but now, for some reason, I needed one.


I started poking around on eBay and found full-blown reproductions of Commissioner’s Batphone with the cake cover on top. If you remember, Bruce Wayne had the red no-dial phone on his desk in stately Wayne Manner. Commissioner Gordon’s phone at Police Headquarters had a cake cover on top reinforcing it’s solemnity. Since I wanted this phone at work, it needed the cake cover. Back to eBay, there were some nice reproductions floating around, but they were over $300, and frankly, I’d get in big trouble with the Princess of Power if I spent that much on a telephone. She didn’t quite understand that this is the telephone of all telephones. Oh yeah, and I wouldn’t be able to eat for like a month. To me, that was a decent trade-off, but alas, I needed other options.

So I did some research, scoured the net, and found all of the pieces necessary to make my own light-up phone, with a cake cover, for around $140. I’m going to show you the best case (found at the best prices), and how to wire it up for lights and sound. Does this mean I can make my own ‘Batphone’? you may be asking… Precisely! I have no experience with soldering, much less basic electronics, but you’ll be able to manage with these directions. Also, you can pick and choose what pieces and features you want, so we can fit any budget here.


The Red Phone
The first thing you need is an old no-dial hotline phone. These are called hotline phones because they are intended for incoming calls only. These were also popular in movies and television for talking to the President during the Cold War. They’re not really a consumer good, because most people can’t use phones without a dial, but you can find them pretty easily. One option is scouring those computer/ham radio shows and conventions that are held monthly in most cities. Ask for a “500” no-dial hotline phone, and most people should know what you’re talking about. But if you’re ready right now dammit, the best place to buy an old no-dial phone is His red phones run $60 and are guaranteed to work.

If you’re impatient, or nervous around electronic guts, you can buy his light-up Batphone for $190, but be patient, I’m going to show you how to do this by yourself, and save you some cost.

HOLY CUSTOM JOB—if you have a red phone with a rotary dial, no fear! has these directions for removing the fingerwheel! Now if you paint over the white engraved numbers, go lightly, and just use what’s necessary. If you glob on the paint, you’ll make the face even more opaque and harder to see the internal light. But in a pinch, you’ll probably come across a dial phone before you find a hotline phone. The only other consideration is the dialing mechanism inside, and how much space that’ll take up when you’re installing your lights and buzzer.

Also, you’ll notice a black button in the middle of the face plate. I used this button from Radio Shack. Actually, I couldn’t figure out how to get a button to light up the phone in addition to it lighting up when it rang. So I cheated, and I hot-glued the nubby button to the center. Whoops. If you or your electrician friend are able to get a button to activate the lights and sounds, more power to you. [Ed note: voltage joke omitted]


Lights and Sound
So now that your phone is on the way, you need to get lights and sound. I really don’t know how to solder, and if you do, you can probably come up with something better here by purchasing your own perfboard and bare LED lights and putting something together. This bit is for the rest of us.

After researching different light sources, it was found that LED lights were the best thing available to illuminate the phone. Here’s the first issue: The Batphone used on the show was not a working phone. It was the shell of a phone, probably cast in a lighter weight plastic, and was illuminated from below. Also, it didn’t need any phone guts because it was just a prop. I know the LEDs will not light up the phone exactly like the television show. To do that, you’d need to make your own plastic casing, however I do not have the means or the patience for such a procedure. LEDs are bright enough to shine through the plastic, and most importantly, they do not over heat which would otherwise hurt your telephone. Bunch enough together, and you’ll get that glow look.

If you’re into soldering, I’d say go nuts and make a decent array, but when I started pricing pre-wired LEDs, the arrays I wanted were in the $200 neighborhood. I did however find something great from folks. (Scroll down to White and Colored LED Light Bars, the second item) It was a 12 inch by 1 inch strip that had 12 LED bulbs pre soldered for about $20. You could light up the strip, or snap it into sections and then connect them with additional wires.

Click to see on Radio ShackYou’ll also probably want that beep from the show. Here is an MP3 file (60K) from the television show. I ended up getting this Piezo buzzer from Radio Shack for $8. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than a telephone ring, and it’s kind of intended for this type of application. Later on, you can see what my phone looks and sounds like and see if that suits your needs. Before you leave Radio Shack, be sure to pick up 100K resistor and some bare speaker wire. Also, if you have a better solution, we’d love to hear about it, please join the discussion on our message board.

Let’s Do The Wiring
I strongly recommend finding a friend who understands basic electronics to help out here.

  • Disconnect the existing factory bell/ringer from your phone so that it no longer works.
  • First, connect wires to the positive and negative leads on the piezo buzzer. You can use ordinary speaker wire to do this. Wrap the wire around the post in the direction opposite of which way the screw turns, so that it does not fray the wire when you tighten it.
  • Connect the positive lead from the piezo buzzer to the positive lead from the LED array. Next, connect the negative leads from the piezo buzzer and the LED array together. This wires them in PARALLEL, meaning that electricity flows through them at the same time, thus causing them to activate simultaneously.
  • Next, connect one lead from the 100K resistor to the positive leads of the buzzer / LEDs.
  • Plug the other lead of the 100K resistor to into the RED wire that comes into phone from the wall jack. This is the “ring” line.
  • Finally, connect the negative lead from the light array / buzzer to the connector on the opposite side of the green (“tip”) incoming line from the “ring” wire.
  • What you will have done is wired your PARALLEL LED & buzzer circuit in SERIES with the resistor across the incoming “ring” line and the avoiding the “tip” line. If all is well and voltage is OK, this circuit SHOULD light up whenever the phone rings. By avoiding the “tip” line, you prevent the lights from activating when you pick up the receiver, yet still get them to light when the phone rings.


Mounting the Lights
Click to see!I tried all kinds of configurations. First off, I wanted to mush all the lights into one concentrated area so that it would give off more light, but I also had to work around the space involved. I ended up removing the metal cross bar holding the numberless disc in place, gluing along the lip to secure it to the phone body, and then duct taping the lights directly to the plastic. One thing that helped was getting foam tape, cutting it into little strips, and stacking them to make a sticky pile taller than the lights, to cushion it a bit. Here is what it looked like when I taped it to the side of the phone.

Does it Work?
It does light up and beep, but you’re not going to get that glow, light-up the room effect for $20 worth of LEDs. However, if you’re looking at it, you can definately see the LEDs lighting up under the plastic. If you have the money, or know-how, I would recommend putting in more LEDs. Also, if you happen to know of something better, please recommend it on our message board. You can watch a video here. Mind you, my camera is not meant to shoot movies in the dark, so you can’t see the lights that well, but you can hear the buzzer. For a good representation of what the lights look like, check out the thumbnail.

WARNING: A lot of offices and modern buildings use digital phone lines. The voltage from this will harm your phone and lights, so if you need to plug this in to a digital line, be sure to get digital to analog adapter.

Cake Cover
You really can’t get started with a Batphone and then not put the cake cover on it. People will probably ask you where the cake cover is. (I know people will ask you if it really lights up.)

I searched high and low, in stores, online and in catalogs, and only found one appropriate cake cover. The one on the show had rounded corners and a fancy brass-type handle on top. All of the cake covers I could find online had a defined corner where the top begins to slope, and most of them had an upside down U-shaped handle, so it had two screw holes on top, neither one on the very top center. Then low and behold, I hit the jackpot.

Container Store carries only one acrylic cake cover, and it’s perfect. Rounded corner along the edge, and one handle on top, easily removed… here’s the stipulation, their web site does not currently carry this cake cover, so you have to go in to their actual store. Here is their store finder. With 31 locations in 16 major areas, you should be covered, but I know you may be stranded. But alas! I called customer service, and if there is no Container Store near you, you can order it and have it delivered. Trust me, I looked everywhere, this is the only one out there that’ll work. To order this cake cover, call 1-800-733-3532, and order part #325170 (cake cover) it should be $19.99 (same as in stores) but you’ll have to pay shipping.

Now that you have the cover, you’ll need the fancy handle. It was tough finding a 100% match to that on the show, probably because the one on the show is from the 60’s or worse, made specifically for the show. On top of that, I avoided flea markets and eBay, because I wanted you, the reader, to be able to buy one too. I hit one of those home furnishing stores with all of those handles lined up on drawers, spent a very long time trying to find a close match. By luck, I found that the Baldwin Premium Robe Hook, in brass, is the closest match. It’s item number is 3505-030 (this is Baldwin’s number, not a SKU, so if you go to a store, that number won’t help. Ask for it by name, and then confirm the product number on the bottom of the box).

Click to see!I found this at The Great Indoors, and paid about $15. Their web site doesn’t have anything for sale, but you can buy this exact robe hook from the online store Wolfe Brass. I talked with a customer service person, showed them a pic of the handle I bought, and they confirmed that their #3505 Robe Hook Brass is a match. They’re selling it for $10 too. (But shipping may get up there… this thing is heavy).

Here’s the stink part, the hole for the mounting screw in the robe hook, is slightly bigger around than the hole of the cake cover. Meaning that a screw that fits through the cake cover, will not “grab hold” of anything in the robe hook. Also, the screw that comes with the cake cover is really short and stubby because it’s intended to attach the handle that comes with it. No problem. For this one, go to a hardware store (with shipping and crap, it’s just ridiculous to do this online).

Going to the hardware store
Bring along the little bitty screw that comes with the cake cover. Bring the cake cover’s handle too if you want. Ask an employee to help you match that screw you brought with a screw of the same diameter and thread type, only longer. One and a half to two inches should be good. I don’t normally shop for screws, so I don’t know what you need of this info, but this was on the drawer of the screw I bought: M4 X 20, .70 Pitch, Metric, Philips Machine Screw

Click to see!Now, don’t leave the hardware store yet, you’re going to need a little bit of epoxy. Remember, the screw you’re going to buy is too skinny for the brass handle. Ever thrown a toothpick into a volcano? I’ve tried several types of glue, and what you need is some real epoxy. This brand, Gel Epoxy was only $4 and it did the job great the first time.

Putting it together
This stuff stinks a little bit before it dries, so do it in a well ventilated area. All you do is push down on the plunger and the two compounds mix together making this über glue. Push a bit out into the plastic from the blister pack. Now, put the longer screw through the cake cover screw hole, and either dip the screw in the goo, getting it all over, or use a plastic knife to kind of smear the goo all over the screw. [Ed Note: man, that… um… nevermind] But do this after the screw has gone through the cake cover hole. Now, carefully lower the handle down onto the screw, quickly, this stuff sets in no time. Let it sit over night, and it will hold well.


The Wooden Base
This whole array sits proudly on a dark oak base on the show. Not only am I no good with soldering, but I am the pits when it comes to wood-shop activities. Before they called me Mr. Stinkhead, they called me Mr. Butterfingers (I think it’s on the floor… over there…). So here’s how to fake it. Go to WalMart (or local craft store) and pick up four 12-inch diameter Styrofoam® discs. Check in the crafts section. They look like Frisbees® and should be 1 inch thick. These are around $2 a piece. Now before you do anything else, measure one inch from the edge and make a dime-sized hole. The foam is soft enough that you can kind of dig at it with a screwdriver. After you’ve carved this hole in each disc, stack the four discs and see that they line up. You’re going to eventually string the telephone line through this. I have found that simple craft glue will hold these together. You could use that stinky epoxy if you wanted to, but regular glue should work. I used Tacky Glue®.

Now that they’re glued together get some dark wood-grain contact paper. I actually had a hard time finding contact paper at my local craft store. (The hardware store had some). But if you have the same problems I did, you can buy them online (go with walnut). This roll should be around $5. The roll of contact paper is wider than 12″, so you can roll out a length, lay the foam stack on that, and trace the top circle with a marker. Give yourself a little bit of lip going around it. You’ll want the contact paper to curve down the sides a bit. Infact, before you peel it, make little .25″ snips about 1 inch a part (or a little less) all the way around the border. Kind of like you’re making a flower in kindergarten. Peel off the back and place it on the top of the stack, but make a note of the location of the little hole you drilled. Once the paper is on, poke that hole through the contact paper, and fold the excess sticker all the way around. The little snips help remove air bubbles.

The thing with contact paper is that it’s pretty light and flexible, and the sticky coating on the back isn’t meant for Styrofoam®. What I recommend is to stick the contact paper onto construction paper, and then use the craft glue from early to glue the construction paper to the foam pylon. (Actually, it stuck to the top pretty nice without construction paper, however the sides looked terrible without it). Measure a strip of contact paper that is 4″ tall and around 40″ long. Once you peel off the backing and attach the construction paper, just put a good bit of craft glue on the construction paper and wrap it around the sides of the base.

When it’s all set, you can now thread the phone line down through the hole and the cake cover will sit nicely on top. You will have to tuck up the phone line a little bit. But it looks natural.

Bat Poll
Ok, I admit, that’s awful. But seriously, I’d like to know, would you buy one of these (ready made, all wired up) in stores?

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