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How To Make A Functional Kaleidoscope

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 4 16

 

Finished Kaleidoscope

Kaleidoscope image 1

In a different era when people possessed considerably longer attention spans, they enjoyed items known as conversation pieces.  Kaleidoscopes fell into that category and adults would collect them simply for their fascination and visual beauty. 

Held up to the light, kaleidoscopes offer a color show of images through the viewing end.  The mirrors inside are set at a 45 degree angle reflecting glittery objects stored at the other end.  Changing patterns are created by rotating the tube and watching the objects shift position.

While three mirrors are standard, interestingly, kaleidoscopes can have as few as 2 mirrors and as many as 8.  They can also be big or small.  At Catskill Corners in New York, you’ll find the largest Kaleidoscope in the world constructed in a silo where viewers wear neck supports to view the mammoth structure.

Kaleidoscopes and their construction vary greatly.  Store bought pieces are formed from almost anything, including metal and wood.  The containers inside house a variety of materials and liquids.  Some kaleidoscopes incorporate both liquid and small objects that will swim around when the tube is turned.  Check out children's learning websites online and you'll find them put together with kitchen plastic wrap to contain the shiny objects and rubber bands to hold them onto paper towel tubes.

The kaleidoscope on this page falls somewhere between the Castskill silo and the rubber band version. 

What You'll Need For This Project

1.5" mailing tube from Staples

Small, clear, craft container with screw on lid to fit in the tube end (approximately 1 3/8")

One sheet of Plastic Mirror measuring 9"x 6"

Materials for decorating the tube

Craft knife

Scissors

Beads, rhinestones and other glittery objects

Sandpaper or fingernail file

1" painters tape

foam or sponge pieces

Constructing The Kaleidoscope

1.  Remove both caps from the ends of the tube.  Using a craft knife, cut the tube to measure 10" long. 

Step 1(99334)

2.  The cut end will be uneven and frayed.  Smooth and even it out with a fingernail file or sanding paper.

step 2(99335)

3.  The mirrored plastic comes with a  film on it to protect it from scratches.  Do not remove it yet.  Use a craft knife to cut three panels from the plastic each measuring 9" by 1 3/16".

step 3(99336)

4.  Place the panels with mirror sides down on your work surface.  Align the long edges together and secure them with tape.  Place one more length of tape on one side with only half of the tape adhering to the panel.

step 4(99337)

5.  Turn the panels mirror side up and bend them in toward each other along the taped seams.

step 5(99338)

6.  Create a triangle tent by overlapping the free tape edge onto the backside edge of the first folded section.  The mirrors will be facing each other inside the triangle.

step 6(99339)

7.  Place the mirror tent inside the tube.  Cut six pieces of sponge or foam and tuck them against the inner wall of the tube between the panels and the tube wall.  Three pieces on each end of the tent will prevent it from moving around when the kaleidoscope is rotated.

step 7(99340)

8.  Remove the lid from the clear plastic craft container.  Scuff up the bottom surface using a fingernail file or sanding paper.   When you're done and you hold it up to the light it, it should allow light through but not provide a completely clear view. 

step 8(99341)

9.  Gather together shiny colorful objects like rhinestones, glass beads, glitter, metallic confetti, etc.  Use objects of different sizes, shapes and colors.   Allow enough room in the cup for the objects to tumble around but no so much that there are big empty spaces.  Screw the lid back on.

step 9(99342)

10.  Force the filled cup into one open end of the tube, allowing half of the cup to extend beyond the end with the scuffed side facing out.  The craft container is ideal for this project because it fits firmly inside the tube yet can be easily removed, allowing you to experiment later by adding objects of different colors and shapes.

step 10(99343)

11.  With a craft knife, cut slits in one of the cap ends that came with the tube. 

step 11(99344)

12.  Insert sharp scissors into the slits and cut a round hole in the cap.

step 12(99345)

13.  Cut a round circle out of metallic card stock or other decorative paper to fit the size of the cap.  Punch a hole in the center of the circle and glue it onto the cap.  Place the cap on the open end of the tube.

step 13(99346)

Finishing

You now have a kaleidoscope ready for decorating.  Before you do, hold it up to the eye, point it towards a light source and turn the cylinder to enjoy the spectacular color show.

When you're ready to decorate, let your imagination run free.  Cover the tube with paint, fancy paper, ribbon, stickers, or attach leftover gems with glue.  The kaleidoscope pictured at the top of the page was covered with flocked paper found at a scrapbooking store and glued onto the tube.

Here's another image after I replaced the bling with different objects.

Kaleidoscope image 2

Tips and Information

The haze in the bottom cup serves to distort the view beyond when looking into the kaleidoscope.  If the bottom were clear, too much light would enter the tube, diffusing the reflections. 

The viewing end should be opaque with only a view into the tube from the eyehole.

Vibrant bead and rhinestone colors will reflect best.

Kaleidoscopes made with mirrors but without colors inside them are called worldview kaleidoscopes, as they only reflect the world outside the tube through the mirrors.[3868]

Kaleidoscopes are sometimes made without beads and other shiny objects.  Instead, colorful markers are used to draw shapes inside a plastic end piece.  Interesting designs are formed by the markers when the end piece is rotated instead of the tube.

Alternate Materials

No matter what materials you choose for your kaleidoscope, the length of it should be approximately 9 to 12 inches for an optimal focal length.

Other materials to consider include water bottles, PVC and gift wrap cardboard tubes.  The tubes need to be sturdy and not give easily.  The reflective triangle tent inside should also be sturdy enough to remain rigid and hold its shape, as it does with the plastic mirror.  Children's kaleidoscopes often sustitute the kind of clear plastic found on notebook covers, in place of the plastic mirror.

Reflective effects can be enhanced by using genuine mirrors inside the tube but they require special cutting and additional expense. 

Kaleidoscopes and their origins are an interesting subject.  Read more.

 


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Comments

May 22, 2012 9:20pm
Introspective
Diva! You're back and just as clever and interesting as ever! Love the Kaleidoscope, very cool idea. Great article - "Thumbs-Up!"

Welcome back, I've missed you! (I also like your new photo.)
May 23, 2012 11:01pm
divaonline
Thanks Intro! Travel is fun but it's great to come home to friendly faces like yours. Tomorrow I look forward to seeing what everyone has been up to while I was away. Appreciate the read as always.
May 23, 2012 11:01pm
divaonline
This comment has been deleted.
May 23, 2012 11:01pm
divaonline
This comment has been deleted.
May 22, 2012 10:02pm
vicdillinger
Perfect!! Goes great with your other excellent DIY articles!! BIG thumb!
May 24, 2012 10:42am
divaonline
Thanks for the thumb Vic!
May 23, 2012 2:39pm
aberdelle
My brother has a kaleidoscope on his family room table that I pick up every time I am over at this house. I always wondered exactly how it was made, because it looks simple enough even though it was purchased. I think making kaleidoscopes would be a fun activity for young kids.
May 24, 2012 10:43am
divaonline
There are many websites with instructions for very simple kaleidoscopes kids can make with simple materials. Thank you for the read.
May 23, 2012 4:02pm
Deborah-Diane
What a wonderful craft idea! I love this Kaleidoscope. Well worth a Tweet and a Pin ... for everyone who wants a fun summer project!
May 24, 2012 10:44am
divaonline
I appreciate the tweet and pin my friend! This is indeed a fun project for summer.
May 23, 2012 7:36pm
aguy
What an awesome project!

I made a kaleidoscope when I was a kid. I had seen a store bought one and wanted to figure out how it worked. So - apart it came! Then I made my own. I don't think there was plastic mirror back then, I used glass mirrors.

Anyway - as usual with your articles, splendid!
May 24, 2012 10:45am
divaonline
You're obviously very creative to be able to do this as a kid. And with real glass! I'm impressed!
May 27, 2012 5:47am
mommymommymommy
This is another craft that I will link to my Girl Scout blog. It is perfect for older scouts! Thumbs up!
May 29, 2012 4:22pm
divaonline
Thanks 3M. Should be a fun project for the Girls!
Jun 7, 2012 7:38pm
southerngirl09
Wow! Another amazing project, and what a beauty. I had a kaleidoscope as a child and enjoyed it. I wish it had been saved.

So glad to see you back from your travels, and I am looking forward to reading some of the articles you have posted on your trip. Thumbs Up!
Jun 9, 2012 7:45am
divaonline
Thank you Southerngirl. I appreciate the read and comment.
Aug 8, 2012 6:37am
eileen
Terrific job Diva, you are so clever with your ideas and crafts. I remember playing with one of these many moons ago. Although mum had to buy it in those days. Not so much craft done like today.
Aug 9, 2012 7:36am
divaonline
Thanks Eileen! This is a great craft to do with kids by chaning the design and colors to something bright and fun to attract a young one's eye.
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Bibliography

  1. "how to make a kaleidoscope." www.optics.arizona.edu. 21/05/2012 <Web >

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