House of Hacks

Saturday, May 14, 2016

How to easily make a low-voltage, remote shop vac switch


Controlling appliances remotely can be useful, but some ready made solutions are pretty expensive. Today Harley shows an inexpensive way he uses to turn his shop vac on and off remotely. The same items could be used to control any appliance remotely.

The central part of this system is the PowerSwitch Tail. It contains an electronically controlled switch to turn things on an off. There are a large number of ways to control this. In this episode, we talk about a very easy way to use this device. In future episodes, we’ll expand on different ways to control this switch that can be useful around the shop environment.

PowerSwitch Tail II: (Amazon affiliate link)

For a written transcript, go to How to easily make a low-voltage, remote shop vac switch

Music under Creative Commons License By Attribution 3.0.
Intro/Exit: "Hot Swing" by Kevin MacLeod at
Sound effect: living-room-light-switch by alienxxx at


In the comments of “How to quiet a shop vac”, Rob liked the low-voltage remote switch aspect of how I control the vacuum and he asked “Can you show me an example and material break-down that could easily then be added onto?”

Today at the House of Hacks, I will talk about that very thing.


Hi Makers, Builders and Do-it-yourselfers. Harley here.

When I converted my shop vac to a central, plumbed in system, I wanted a way to easily start and stop it. I went through a couple designs before settling on the one I used. Today I’ll show a variation on my design that's an easy way of controlling a shop vac with a simple wired remote.

While my application is a shop vac, you could actually control anything using this technique. In the future I plan to show some upgrades to this control, but for now, I wanted to keep it really simple.

Before I start, I do want to point out that there are ready made solutions from expensive to cheap. I’ve not tried any of these to be able to make any specific recommendations but I did want to mention them for the sake of completeness.

If you just want to get the job done without hassling with making something yourself, you might want to investigate these. But if you want something that’s got your own style to it, you want to learn something, you need something that’s not available off-the-shelf or just want to have the joy of making something, hopefully the following will help.

At the core of how I made mine is a device called a PowerSwitch Tail. This is a short cord that looks very much like an extension cord. It has a plug on one end and an outlet on the other. What sets this apart from other extension cords is it has an electrically controlled switch built into it.

On the side of this box are two connectors. When these connectors have between 3 and 12 volts DC applied to them, the main power is turned on. When there is no voltage on the connectors, the main power is turned off. It only draws up to 30 milliamps, so it’s pretty easy to control with electronics, like an Arduino or other digital circuitry.

However, the easiest way to control this is simply with one or more batteries, a bit of wire and a switch. In this example, I’m using some D cells because that’s what I had lying around, but a 9 volt battery would be simpler and smaller.

To use it, just connect the negative side of the battery to the minus connector. Connect the positive side of the battery to one side of a switch and the other side of the switch to the plus connector. Now, when the switch is on, the device will be on and when the switch is off, the device will be off.

And that’s the easiest way I know to remote control a vacuum, or any device. The cost of the PowerSwitch Tail is around $30 and the wire and switch is based on what you want to use. You may have something in your junk drawer that could be used, like a USB cable or network cable that could have the ends cut off. Switches could be scavenged from dead electronics.

Or you could get new materials. Low voltage wire is a couple cents a foot at the home improvement stores and they have a wide variety of switches for a couple dollars each. A box to mount the switch in could be anything from a disposable food container to something more robust. Just use your imagination.

As I mentioned at the start, I do plan to do follow-up videos talking about different, more capable, although more complicated, ways to switch the PowerSwitch Tail on and off.

In conclusion, let’s have a conversation in the comments about buying off-the-shelf solutions versus making your own, or anything else you’re interested in.

If this is your first time here at House of Hacks: Welcome, I’m glad you’re here. We’d love to have you subscribe. I believe everyone has a God-given creative spark and through this channel I hope to inspire, educate and encourage makers in their creative endeavors. Usually this involves various physical media like wood, metal, electronics, photography and other similar materials. If this sounds interesting to you, go ahead and subscribe and I’ll see you again in the next video.

Thanks for joining me on our creative journey. Now, go make something. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just have fun!