A DIY Kaleidoscope

Make a DIY kaleidoscope just like the expensive with a PVC pipe and a reflector made from wood.

| November/December 1983

Ever since 1816, when Sir David Brewster invented the kaleidoscope, this plaything has fascinated people of all ages with its dazzling displays of color and light. Using mirrors to reflect reflections (think about that!), the optical curiosity creates a seemingly infinite variety of symmetrical and geometrical patterns.

But unfortunately, even though these instruments are enjoying something of a resurgence in popularity these days, it’s difficult to find a really well-made kaleidoscope at an affordable price. For the most part, commercial models are either shabbily constructed (the cheap, dime-store variety) or outrageously expensive (the ultra deluxe, handmade, crafts-boutique types).

To avoid having to make a choice between those two unsatisfactory alternatives, I decided to make my own kaleidoscope. A few hours later — after using only scrap (or low-cost) materials and some ordinary hand tools — I’d put together a fine little mirrored viewer that performs just as impressively as most of the better store-bought models. In fact, my creation is superior to them in at least one important way: It’s a dual-optic device. That is, you can use it with bits of colored glass or plastic to create classic kaleidoscopic patterns…or you can point the tube at a 90-degree angle to any object — a bumblebee, a street sign, or whatever — to produce unique designs from the world around you.

Four major components make up my DIY kaleidoscope.

First: a viewing tube. For this, I used a 13" length of 1/2" PVC pipe (which has an outer diameter of 1 5/8"). You could use cardboard tubing of the same diameter instead, but I chose PVC because it’s inexpensive, easy to find, and very durable (cardboard kaleidoscopes tend to get soggy in the rain!).

Second: mirrors or other reflective material. These, of course, are at the heart of any kaleidoscope. To reproduce my version, you’ll need three 1" X 12" strips of mirror and another piece (for the reflector component described below) measuring 2" X 2 3/8". You can recycle an old mirror for this purpose (use a good glass cutter-and great care-when doing so). Or you can buy the material from a glass or tile shop (chances are you’ll have to purchase a 12" square — the minimum size many stores stock — and either cut the pieces yourself or have the storekeeper do it).

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