recycling bin kaleidoscope!

A while ago I showed you a project I did in school, the altered book project, where I turned a botan­i­cal for­eign book into a kalei­do­scope. I thought I would share the process here, but with a chal­lenge for myself — every­thing I use must come from the recy­cling bin!

It even has turn­able, inter­change­able lens­es, like my altered book project :D


I’ve made kalei­do­scopes with groups of kids in the past (6–12 years old), and they seemed to have lots of fun and quite proud of what they made. For the younger kids I cut some of the parts for them ahead of time, like the clear plas­tic, and the hole in the mid­dle of the eye piece (because it’s eas­i­est to cut with a util­i­ty knife). For the old­er kids I just made copies of tem­plates and had them cut out the shapes them­selves (except the hole in the eye piece — I still cut that ahead of time).

Old­er kids (8+ years old) can prob­a­bly han­dle a lot of the steps them­selves, but help from an adult would be nec­es­sary for this project, espe­cial­ly for stuff involv­ing the util­i­ty knife and hot glue gun.

There are lots of instruc­tions for home­made kalei­do­scope, like this one. But I’ll show all the steps here, makes it eas­i­er if any­one’s going to try this.

So! From the recy­cling bin, I pulled:

- Two card­board tubes. One is slight­ly larg­er than the oth­er in diam­e­ter, i.e. a loo roll (aka TP tube) is usu­al­ly larg­er in diam­e­ter than paper tow­el tube.

- Fly­ers with pic­tures of flow­ers, i.e. the gar­den­ing section.

- Bit of card­board from a gra­nola bar box.

- A stiff sheet of clear plas­tic from the pack­ag­ing of a swiss roll. A sheet of clear plas­tic that’s large enough for this project may be hard to come across, so if you can’t find any, over­head trans­paren­cies or project cov­ers work perfectly.

Then I used these tools:

- Clear pack­ing tape

- Hot glue

- White glue

- Util­i­ty knife

- Scis­sors

- Ruler

- A bowl

To make the kaleidoscope:

First, make the prism by cut­ting out three pieces of clear plas­tic. It needs to fit snug­ly inside the small­er paper tow­el tube. To deter­mine the length of the short side of each piece, I Googled “para­me­ter of a tri­an­gle inscribed inside a cir­cle”. I found this for­mu­la that some­one real­ly smart came up with and fol­lowed it.

The for­mu­la is: 3 x square root of 3 x radius.

The radius of the small­er paper tow­el tube is 2 cm. So fol­low­ing the for­mu­la I got 3.46.

I mea­sured 3.4 cm on for each short side. It does­n’t real­ly mat­ter how long the long side is, as long as the three pieces are iden­ti­cal in mea­sure­ment. I just har­vest­ed as much plas­tic from the pack­ag­ing as possible.

Then I taped them togeth­er along the long sides with some pack­ing tape, form­ing a prism.

Now for the kalei­do­scope tube, I took the small­er card­board tube and cut it to the same length as the prism.

To make the eye piece (i.e. the end where one looks in), I traced the end of the small­er card­board tube on a piece of card­board, print side up. I then drew a larg­er cir­cle around it and cut it out. Then I cut out small tri­an­gles all around, and fold­ed the notch­es up. Final­ly, I cut a small cir­cle in the cen­ter with a util­i­ty knife.

This piece is then taped to one of the ends of the small­er card­board tube with pack­ing tape, like so (prob­a­bly looks nicer if you glue the notch­es down with some white glue, but tape is quicker).

One could prob­a­bly wrap/decorate the tube with some nice papers at this point, but I did­n’t have any­thing in the recy­cling bin that I liked, and plus I like how it has the “recy­cling bin look” with the bare card­board, so I just left it.

Then I took the prism and put some white glue all along the edge of one end…

Then I slid the prism inside the tube with the eye piece, with the glue side going in first.

I let it stood, eye piece down, to dry for a while…

Which made it a good time to make the inter­change­able lens­es, from these flyers!

I put a short length of pack­ing tape on a pic­ture of the flowers.

Then I scraped it with my thumb­nail to get rid of any air bub­bles, so the tape is in com­plete con­tact with the paper.

I cut out the taped areas of the pic­tures and immersed them in a bowl of water, let­ting them soak for a few minutes.

Then I took it out and start­ed rub­bing off the paper fiber on the back of the image (the side that’s not taped).

Remove as much fiber as pos­si­ble, and you’ll get a trans­par­ent image! Pret­ty neat, huh?

While I let these dry com­plete­ly, I took the larg­er card­board tube and cut them into rings that are about 1 inch tall.

To attach the ring to the image, I put hot glue all around one end of the ring, and placed it on top of the image, tape side down (this is a bit tricky, an adult should do it). After the glue cooled down I trimmed the image around the ring.

While I was at it, I tried mak­ing lens­es with a pressed flower by tap­ing it on a piece of clear plas­tic. (the flow­ers did­n’t come from the recy­cling bin… but I just want­ed to see how it looks in the kalei­do­scope :D)

And some some tis­sue paper dots made with a hole punch, also sand­wiched between clear plas­tic and pack­ing tape.

I attached both to card­board rings the way I did with the fly­er images.

So it’s done! Let’s put the lens­es on the tube and test it out…

Mike found that the fly­er image of the tulip worked the best, and I agreed with him.

The one with pur­ple flower is also pretty.

The pressed flower was too cen­tered to make any inter­est­ing illu­sions, I think.

And the tis­sue paper dots looked alright, but the shapes weren’t as inter­est­ing as the tulips.

I think pressed flow­ers would make cool illu­sions, just need to per­haps use more flow­ers so they cov­er the whole lens. I’ll be on the look­out for flow­ers to press this sum­mer! :D

Kind of an odd project, but I’d love to see it if you do give this a go!

Have a great start to the week!