Top 10 Custom Projects You Can Do With Linear Actuators

Do it yourself projects are taking America by storm with 57% of homeowners feeling their homes are a work in progress. Fueled by social media and a "can do" attitude, everyday people are taking on projects of creativity in order to make their living spaces more enjoyable and user-friendly.

Are you looking for a unique project to give your home a modern touch? Automation and the Internet of Things (IoT) are megatrends of our modern lifestyle. Linear actuators are an engineering tool that many are discovering in order to shape their surroundings to their will.

From smart windows to furniture that adjusts at the push of a button, the possibilities are endless. In this post, we look at some of the most popular concepts and projects using linear actuators. Keep reading to be inspired. 

What Are Linear Actuators?

what is a linear actuator

Before we begin exploring linear actuator uses, we should understand what they are, how they work, and the different types available.

Simply put, a linear actuator is a device that converts a form of energy into a push and pull linear motion. Although the function of all linear actuators is essentially the same, there are a number of ways that linear motion is achieved. Some common types of linear actuators include:

Mechanical Actuators

These are the simplest and most common type of linear actuators. Mechanical actuators convert rotary motion into linear motion. Leadscrew, ball screw, and rack and pinion are all types of Mechanical actuators

Hydraulic Actuators

These operate by applying pressure to a piston with a fluid to create linear displacement. Hydraulic actuators are used in heavy machinery like excavators and forklifts.

Pneumatic Actuators

Used as servo devices, pneumatic actuators produce mechanical motion with compressed air. A valve or port is opened and closed to apply and release pressure moving the piston up and down.

Piezoelectric Actuators

Operating on the piezoelectric effect, this type of actuator uses the electromechanical energy created by pressure and heat. They are often used to open and close valves when certain conditions are met.

Coiled Actuators

These actuators operate on magnetic field principles. When a current is applied it creates motion along the shaft pushing the coils with magnetic force.

Telescoping Actuators

When space is limited and the range of motion needs to be greater than the length of the retracted device a telescoping actuator is used. Tubes of equal length telescope within each other to accomplish this.

How The Typical Linear Actuator Works

The directional linear motion is created by turning a leadscrew either clockwise or counterclockwise. Most linear actuators create this rotary motion with a DC or AC motor. The turning of the leadscrew causes a nut on the screw to move up or down which creates the linear motion.

Linear actuators come in every imaginable size to perform various push and pull tasks. To reverse the direction the polarity of the motor is reversed. The amount of force applied is determined by the speed of the motor.

A gearbox is used to control the speed and thus control the force of the push/pull motion. Microswitches are placed at the top and bottom of the shaft to cut off the motor when the desired movement is achieved.

For more detailed information on the types and common uses of linear actuators, check out this article which covers everything you need to know and then some. With the basics understood, it's time to get into what creative DIY pioneers are doing with linear actuators.

DIY Projects With Linear Actuators

There are endless possibilities with linear actuators for the creative ingenuity of the do-it-yourselfer. The following 10 examples of popular projects are guaranteed to inspire you to create mind-blowing modern conveniences around your home.

These projects don't come with instructions in order to keep them undefined and ready for you to adapt them to your vision. You can, of course, find some of these ideas complete with step-by-step instructions with a little online research.

1. Disappearing Kitchen Storage

Counter space is something often lacking in kitchens. Do you feel that your kitchen looks cluttered with spices and tools of the cooking trade? Do you want the easy access and organization of countertop shelves and wall hangings but want them tucked away out of sight when you don't need them?

A fairly easy first project is a spice rack that raises from beneath the counter. The top of the spice rack can double as a cutting board when the rack is retracted. Check out an example of the hideaway spice rack here.

Spices aren't the only cooking tools you can hideaway. There is no reason why you can't create raising, dropping, and sliding storage from the back of deep cabinets out into the open space all along the kitchen counters. You can also build vertical drawers that pop up kitchen appliances such as coffee-making stations.

Have you ever seen magnetic strips on the walls of some kitchens? Knives and other utensils are magnetized to these strips to be handy and ready for use. These magnets could be mounted on a board and moved into view by linear actuators.

Another great kitchen storage project is the retractable dish drain above the kitchen sink. With a push of a button, a dish rack is lowered to eye level. Cleaned dishes are put away organized into the dish rack and then disappear into the cabinet above. The dishes then drain and dry from their storage space, ready for the next meal.

How about storing canned goods? Tired of digging through layers of stacked cans of vegetables, fruits, and soups in your pantry or kitchen cupboards? Shelves could be made to the perfect size to hold canned goods three, four, or more layers deep and each layer brought out into view with linear actuators. 

2. Hidden TV

hidden TV

According to a special research project conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American aged 15 or older spends 2 hours and 46 minutes watching TV daily. Watching TV is a big part of almost every family's modern lifestyle. Yet, there are times when we wish the TV wasn't taking up space, sitting ideally, and distracting from the mood of the room.

Have you ever wanted to hide your TV away when it is not being used? Maybe take back some control over when the TV is tempting your family to waste away the day? A popular DIY project is a pop-up, slide-out, or drop-down TV.

Utilizing linear actuators, a room dominated by the TV can be transformed into a serene place for other activities, free from the distraction of screens. There are many places where a hidden TV cabinet is ideal to save space, keep the TV protected and clean when not being used, and make areas multipurpose.

Many Ways to Hide a TV

There are several ways a TV can be hidden away at the push of a button with the simple yet powerful action of linear actuators. A shelf, painting, or mirror could move away to reveal the TV behind it.

The TV could be lifted or pushed out from inside cabinets, from under tables and counters, or even out of the floor. Following the same logic, a TV can be revealed by dropping down from a ceiling fixture or out of the attic above.

We specialize in gear for DIY TV hiding projects. Get what you need right here for all the many ways to tuck a TV out of view:

We also have motorized swivel mounts that can adjust view angles are swing for viewing in multiple connected rooms. No matter what room you would like to have a hidden TV, there is a way to do it. If you are not sure which way to go please feel free to contact us and we would be happy to make some suggestions. 

3. Compact Tool Storage

compact tool storage

Let us assume, if you are reading this article, you have a love for DIY home projects. You likely have a space where you store your tools and a workbench or table where you work on projects. Do you ever wish you had a way to store your hundreds of tools in a way they are easily found and accessible when you need them?

We have all been there. Most of us don't have the wall space to hang all our tools on display and end up filling many toolboxes which we tuck away wherever we can find space. With a little creativity and some linear actuators, you could take a small space and turn it into a tool storage area that pops out the tools you need at the flick of a switch.

The size and complexity of these projects are only limited by your imagination. You could design your custom tool storage area to completely unfold revealing all the tools at once or have multiple controls, each opening drawers and/or hanging boards that reveal various types of tools as you need them.

Imagine sitting at your work table, clear of clutter, focusing on your latest project when you realize you need a screwdriver. You reach under the desk and flick a switch.

Out of the false wall in front of you, a drawer pushes out towards you where you keep all your many screwdriver types, sizes, bits, etc. You grab the tool you need without even having to get out of your chair. Another flick of the switch and the tools quietly and effortlessly go back to their home out of the way.

4. Hidden Computer Within a Desk

hidden computer in a desk

The invention of the personal computer ushered in a new era for humanity and paved the way for our technological way of life. Computer monitors and their little brothers (laptops, tablets, smartphones, and wearables) claim much of our attention in both our professional and personal lives.

Smartphones, the internet, and social media have become a cornerstone of the way we learn and communicate with others. The next step is to integrate technology into our lives in a less "in your face" way. This unique and imaginative project is done in the spirit of combining the simplicity of the age-old desk with the power of today's desktop computers.

It is something straight out of a spy movie. With the flick of a switch under the desk, the monitor(s) raise out from the back of the desk. At the same time, the keyboard and mouse push out from under the desk completing the transformation from a simple writing desk to a modern-day workstation.

Imagine your desktop computer and all of its many peripherals devices integrated into the desk yet protected and hidden away when the computer is not being used.

In the not-to-distant future computer equipment might become so cheap that it would be common to have one in every room of the house but blended into the room itself. And when that future comes, linear actuators will make it happen. 

Someday projects of hidden technology might become their own interior decorating style but for now, we will just call them extremely cool and useful pieces of furniture.

5. Pop-up fridge from Patio or Hidden furniture

Pop-up fridge from Patio

The outdoor space of a home can be upgraded too. If you would take a time-lapse of the patio or deck of a home over several years, you would see it buzz with activity. Chairs and tables come when needed and stored away again. Children play, projects are done on the big open space, and things are stored temporarily when needed.

Linear actuators offer a way to build in the tables and sitting areas you need but keep the wide-open space as well. This project would be on the more expensive side as industrial-strength actuators would be needed to handle the weight and force of lifting stone or concrete tables and benches.

Not to mention the cost and effort of excavating beneath the patio or building support structures beneath a deck. But for those willing to put in the effort, having an outdoor space that transforms at a push of a button is well worth it.

Garages are another place raising tables from the floor would come in handy. Imagine backing out your car, flipping a switch and out of the garage floor, a large table raises for you to work on. When you've finished another flip of the switch and the table lowers again, the tabletop seamlessly becoming a boring garage floor again.

6. Automated Windows and Doors

Automated Windows and Doors

According to the advisory firm ABI Research, consumers will spend $123 billion on automating their homes with IoT gear. The homes your children grow up to buy and live in will surely be technological marvels. Artificial intelligence will anticipate the homeowner's every need.

Automatically our remotely controlled windows and doors are only one of the standards yet to be set. Why not start smarting up your home ahead of the crowd?

Linear actuators installed on windows and doors make opening and closing them as simple as pushing a button. This is particularly helpful if the window or skylight is difficult to reach. Windows locked in place with a linear actuator are much harder to penetrate, making them more secure as well.

Imagine being able to open all your windows at once without even having to get up out of your easy chair. Next time you're bombarded with sirens, loudspeakers, trains, or airplane noises simply hit a button temporarily closing the windows. Once it quiets down again another tap on your remote opens them all up again.

No matter the type of window or door, installing a linear actuator is not only possible it is a relatively simple project. Automating the opening of windows, doors, skylights, and vents is definitely part of the smart home future. But why wait when you have everything you need to have this modern convenience today?

7. Hidden Rooms and Storage Space

Hidden Rooms and Storage Space

You have probably seen it in the movies and thought a hidden room behind a bookcase was a neat idea. Believe it or not, building a secret room is not all that difficult.

All you need to do is build a wall closing off a section of your basement or any room for that matter. Make the entrance a door that when closed, blends in or becomes the wall. Use linear actuators activated by remote control to open the door and reveal the hidden room on the other side.

The doorway could be designed to be a built-in bookcase. When the door is activated the bookcase swings inward to gain access to the other side.

What would you do with a secret room? Maybe store valuable belongings for safekeeping? Have a place to hide in case of a home invasion – called a panic room?

Not up to building an entire secret room? Well, how about a more modest secret stash spot? Safes may seem safe, but thieves know just where to go for your valuables as they are obviously in the safe. A hidden secret stash spot is a creative way to outsmart thieves.

8. Dog Kennel door

Dog Kennel door

Did you know that there are 63 million American households that own at least one dog? For those that love dogs, giving them everything they can to ensure a happy and comfortable life is a major priority. Yet, having pets is a lot of work.

If you have a dog kettle, one way to make life a little easier on yourself is to automate the gate that releases the dogs out into the yard to stretch their legs. This can easily be accomplished with a top-hinged square door.

Build the kennel gate with a linear actuator encased in a short tunnel. When the actuator is activated it pushes the door up allowing your dog(s) to leave the kennel. The automatic gate can be opened by remote or wired to a switch in the house.

Following the same logic, other gates around the house are also fair game for automated opening and closing. Driveway entrances, fenced-off gardens and yards, utility sheds, chicken coups, and any other gated structure could just as easily be automated.

9. High Tech Closet Space

High Tech Closet Space

No matter the size of the closet, it seems to never be enough to organize our clothes, shoes, and accessories. Linear actuators can help by uncompressing and moving around drawers and racks displaying only a portion of the wardrobe at once.

A good example of this is an unfolding shoe rack. When the shoe rack is closed the shoes are compacted into layers to save space. Linear actuator(s) are engaged to push out each layer into the empty space displaying the shoes.

Another great way to utilize space is to have several drop-down shelves. The entire top of the closet could be packed with shelves of clothing. Linear actuators connected to each shelf section lower that shelf into view displaying only those clothes on that shelf.

10. Adjustable Standing Desk

adjustable standing desk

Standing desks are all the rage these days as they provide many health and wellness benefits. Building a desk that adjusts from a sitting height to a standing height with a push of a button is easier than you might realize. Adjustable desks are built with one, two, three, or four legs, each of which is powered by a linear actuator.

The easiest way to build a strong adjustable height standing desk is to buy the frame and mount a custom desk top to it. These kits take all the guesswork out of building an adjustable desk and often come with power supplies, high-powered telescoping linear actuators, and programmable handsets for easy remote control of the desk's height.

It is also possible to convert a traditional sitting wood desk to an adjustable standing desk. Although this type of project often comes with its fair share of challenges, the wow factor it creates may be worth it.

You will need to separate the desk top from the base and build a sturdy frame to hold the desktop steady when it is in its raised position. Be sure to use a microprocessor controller to ensure each leg of the desk extends at the same time and rate.

11. Hidden Liquor cabinet

Ok we squeezed in 1 more just for fun. Check out this hidden pop-up liquor drawer. If you have a prized $20k bottle of something, you may not want to have it on show all the time where it can get stolen or even spoiled with UV light. It perhaps make sense to keep it hidden away. 

Honorable Mentions

The above projects are only the tip of the iceberg! With a little imagination, you could be the first to create an idea in motion that revivals any DIY project out there. Here are a few more common uses and ideas to spark your next linear actuator project:

Needs of the Disabled and Elderly

Linear actuators are often used to help with mobility. An easy chair could be outfitted with linear actuators to raise and tilt the chair making it easier to get in and out of.

A wheel Chair lift that raises to the level of an outside door and lowers to ground level is another project made possible with industrial-grade high-quality linear actuators. This is a solution for making an entrance wheelchair friendly when building a long ramp is impractical.

High cabinets can be made to lower and come out so that they are accessible from a wheelchair. Windows and doors that open by remote or low switches also provide more independence of mobility for the disabled.

Sun Tracking Solar Panel Mounts

Solar panel efficiencies have increased from 13% to over 20% in the last twenty years. With costs dropping year after year and efficiencies increasing installing solar panels for home energy use is a trend that is gaining momentum.

In order to take full advantage of the sun's energy, solar panels need to be in direct sunlight. Linear actuators make it possible to track the sun's movements to ensure solar panels are soaking up as much sunlight as possible. As the sun travels across the sky in much the same way day after day, timer switches programmed to automatically tilt the solar panel makes for easy operation.

Dropdown Tables and Beds

With the price of living space very high in places like New York City, people are having to learn how to make the best use out of the space they have. Storing surfaces such as tables and beds in a vertical position until needed for use is a powerful way to do just that.

Space-saving tricks like this are also handy for the growing number of people joining the tiny house movement and for those that live in or spend a great deal of time in recreational vehicles (RV).

Child Safety Gates

For those of us that have children, protecting them from the dangers of falls down stairs and other dangerous places in the home is a great concern. Manual child safety gates are often difficult to unlatch and open making them a pain to deal with.

Tired of jumping over child safety gates? Make your own highly secure and easy-to-use child safety gates with linear actuators.

Robotics Hobby

Discovering the hobby of robotics may seem out of reach for those of us without engineering degrees but the truth is anyone, including children, can and do build robots.

Mini linear actuators and micro linear actuators are used in robotics to achieve a various range of motion for arms, legs, and other parts. A robotics hobby is one that will never leave you without something more to learn and do.

A robotics hobbyist learns how to integrate more and more advanced robotics parts with each project they take on. Start with a simple project and who knows, one day you may build a robot to do your housework.

Automation in Automobiles

Cars and trucks have come a long way over the years with manufacturers integrating more and more automated features. Would you like to have fancy features such as an automated tailgate, tonneau cover, hood, trunk, utility box, side doors, spoilers, etc. but don't want to trade in your current vehicle for a more expensive one?

DIY automobile automation is a new trend made possible by various linear actuators. Not only cars and trucks, but tractors and boats are also commonly customized for convenience and style using actuators. Check out this article about installing an adjustable sleeve hitch for a John Deere tractor.

Tips for Choosing the Right Linear Actuator

With such a wide variety of linear actuator types and sizes, it may prove difficult to decide which ones fit your project the best. We have several tools and tutorials to make choosing the right linear actuator for your project easier.

If you still are having trouble deciding on the components you need for your project, please feel free to contact us for assistance. Our highly knowledgeable and friendly staff are prepared to answer any questions you might have. Please send details of your project including any diagrams and specific needs you have and we will get back to you within one business day.

If in the future you are in need to replace your linear actuator, our replacement actuator article will be of great help.

Get Creative With Linear Actuators

We hope you enjoyed reading about the many ways linear actuators are used to make our lives a little easier and a lot more fun around the house. Linear actuator applications are everywhere and your next DIY project is only limited by your imagination.

Unlock and free your creative mind. FIRGELLI Automations has been leading the way in home automation projects for twenty years and we are only getting started. Join us in putting ideas into motion and shop our extensive line of linear actuators today.

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