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Rotary Switch Motor Controllers
By John Hewes
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Control your Meccano models (or anything else) from your Windows PC!
Take a look at my new MECControl project at

Described below are two motor controllers that can be built using the simplest of components – a rotary switch, diodes and resistors. The diodes and resistors can be soldered directly onto the tags of the rotary switches, avoiding the use of breadboard or stripboard.

2-Speed Forward/Reverse Controller with Centre-Off

This controller, shown in figure 1, must be powered from an AC supply and uses six diodes in an arrangement that allows the motor to rotate at half or full speed, in either the forward or reverse direction.

Figure 1: 2-Speed Forward/Reverse Controller

The rotary switch used is a 6-position type with two poles; but only five positions are needed for this controller. To set the number of positions, prise off the metal ring on the top of the switch with a screwdriver. You will see a legend from '2' to '5', so move the ring to the '5' position. Note that if you needed all 6 positions, you would leave the ring off permanently.

Rotary switch

4-Speed Forward/Reverse Controller with Centre-Off

The controller in figure 2 is similar to the one described above, except that it uses resistors as well as diodes to provide extra speed settings. It also requires a 'wafer' switch to be used, so is slightly more complicated to assemble.

Resistors R1 and R2 must be chosen to suit the requirements of the motor to be controlled. The value of R1 should probably be the same as the value of R2, and for typical Meccano motors it would need to be between 5Ω and 25Ω. The resistors will need to be wire-wound and rated for high power – at least 3W and certainly more for medium sized motors.

Lamps such as torch bulbs (3.5V, 0.2A rating) could be used instead of the resistors – they have the advantage of a lower resistance when first switched on, giving the motor an initial surge of power to overcome inertia in the mechanism. This would be especially useful at the low speed settings (+1 and –1) where the motor may be reluctant to start despite running quite happily once it has started!

Figure 2: 4-Speed Forward/Reverse Controller

Wafer Switches

Wafer switches consist of several parts:

  • The switch is constructed on a shaft assembly which looks similar to a variable resistor. It has a long spindle with an adjustable limit stop which can accommodate up to four wafers. The shaft assembly can be panel mounted, and requires a 9.5mm diameter hole.
  • The wafers are purchased individually in sizes ranging from 1-pole, 12-way to 6-pole, 2-way. Each wafer has solder tag contacts.
  • Also available is a metal plate to provide a 'screen' between two wafers.

Wafer switch shaft and wafer (from RS)

The top half of figure 2 shows the first of the wafers in the four-speed motor controller. One lead from the motor is connected to the common of this wafer, the other lead is connected to the common of the second wafer. Other connections to the second wafer are between it and the first wafer – connect a wire from contact +1 of the first wafer to contact –1 of the second wafer, a wire from contact +2 of the first wafer to contact –2 of the second wafer, etc. This is shown in the bottom half of figure 2.

Six diodes are required for each controller, although in fact one of these diodes could be omitted, but I think it is better left in to keep the design symmetric, reducing the chance of an error occurring – diodes are cheap after all! Use 1N4001 diodes for applications where the current will be under 1A, or 1N5401 diodes for currents up to 3A.

 Shopping List

Below is a list of the parts required to construct both controllers, except wafer switches which cannot be purchased from Rapid Electronics, but are available from RS (see links page for contact details).

1N4001 Rectifier Diode   6   47-3130   $0.05   $0.30
1N5401 Rectifier Diode   6   47-3144   $0.11   $0.66
22Ω 6W Wirewound Resistor   4   62-8326   $0.45   $1.80
3.5V 0.2A MES Bulb   4   -   $0.00   $0.00
5.6Ω 6W Wirewound Resistor   4   62-8319   $0.45   $1.80
6-way 2-pole Break-before-Make Rotary Switch   1   79-0221   $1.24   $1.24
MES Lampholder   4   -   $0.00   $0.00
Grand Total   $5.80

Full printer-friendly parts list

Order the above items from Rapid Electronics via our Circuits Shop and help support the Electronics in Meccano website, without affecting the price you pay! Just click on an item for information about it and/or to add it to your Rapid order.

Orders can also be placed by telephoning Rapid on 01206 751 166 or visiting their website at Prices quoted include VAT at 20%.

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Article Information
Topic: Controlling Motors | Created: 2/9/2007 | Last modified: 2/10/2007 | First published in EiM: Issue 7 (April 2000)

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