Introduction: Candle-Powered Paper Carousel

About: I am a scientist, professional science writer, and science educator. I'm also author of the Biology Bytes books:

A Christmas Pyramid is a rotating pyramid-shaped structure that is usually powered by the heat of candles around the pyramid’s base. (Take a look at the link above to see some pictures.) The heat from the candles causes blades at the top of the pyramid to rotate, which causes platforms of figurines to rotate around the pyramid. Christmas pyramids are usually made of wood (and are rather expensive). However, I wanted to make one using paper. Why paper? Because then other people could easily print and cut out a design and make their very own! After lots of troubleshooting, I was able to make a paper version, which I show how to make here – I’m calling it a candle-powered paper carousel because that’s basically what it is (although it's really being powered by the heat of the candles).

If you’d like to make your own candle-powered paper carousel, then this Instructables project is for you! Mine has a Minecraft theme (because it’s a great game that I enjoy playing) but I’ve included blank templates so you could make any themed paper carousel you want!

Warning: Paper is flammable. Keep paper parts a safe distance away from candles when lit (I positioned my blades about 12 cm above the flames and this seemed fine). This project should only be operated with adult supervision. Never leave the candles burning when you are not watching them. Light the candles on a surface that is not flammable, and keep them away from flammable objects. Also be careful about putting your hands above the candles when lit because the air will be very hot.

Step 1: Materials You’ll Need

You just need some simple, common household materials to make your very own heat-powered paper carousel:

  • Cardstock paper, 110 lb, or 199 g/m2. This is for making the blades.
  • Color printer
  • Scissors
  • Glue. You could use a similar adhesive, such as rubber cement, but normal white school glue worked well for me.
  • Metal bottle cap
  • Nail
  • Hammer
  • Play doh or modeling clay
  • Skewer. Use one that’s as straight as possible and at least 20 cm tall. This will be the axle.
  • Four small candles. I used candles that were about 6 cm tall and 6 cm in diameter. I wouldn’t recommend using candles taller than about 7 cm unless you make a taller axle. Also, I could get the carousel to run using only two candles, but it isn’t as impressive as when using four candles.
  • Matches or a lighter
  • Printer paper. This is for making the rotating platform, figurines, and axle.
  • Permanent marker (optional)
  • Scotch tape

Step 2: Building the Blades

Print the blades

Print out the blade patterns in the PDF files in this step using cardstock paper. If you want to do the Minecraft themed carousel, then print out the jungle-colored patterns. Print the blade pattern on one side and then print the solid-jungle sheet on the other side of the paper so the blades will be double-sided with jungle patterns. (I made the jungle pattern myself – enjoy!) If you want to make your own themed carousel, then print out the blank blade patterns.

Cut out the blades

Carefully cut out the eight blades, the long rectangle piece, and the circular piece. (You will use the circular piece in Step 3, so set it aside for now.) Be careful to cut only along the solid black lines.

Fold the blades

Carefully and gently fold each blade along the dotted lines. Specifically, fold the long blade part down towards the base, along the dotted line. On the base, fold the two side parts down, away from the long blade part. See the pictures for details. Then take the long rectangle piece and fold it length-wise (“hot dog style”), exactly in the middle.

Attach the blades to each other

Put the rectangle piece on a hard, flat surface so that its peaked side is pointing up. Line a blade up on the rectangle piece as so that the right part of the blade’s base goes down the back side of the rectangle piece, the left part wraps around under the front of the rectangle piece, and the middle part (where the blade attaches) is on the front side of the rectangle piece. Please see the pictures. Slide the blade to the far left of the rectangle piece, far enough that the base barely fits on the rectangle piece. Once you’re happy with the position, glue the blade’s base (but not the blade itself) to the rectangle piece. (Use the glue sparingly – you don’t want the paper becoming damp – and always hold the pieces together for a few seconds.)

After letting the glue dry, put a new blade right next to the first one in the same way and glue it into place. Continue doing this until all 8 blades are glued in place. Line up the blades against each other as best as you can, aligning the solid black lines.

Bend the blades into a circular shape

Now add a little glue along the inside (underside) of the rectangle piece and hold it shut to let the glue seal the sides of the rectangle piece together. After it dries, slowly and carefully bend the rectangle into a circular shape – see the pictures. Be very careful doing this as the blades will be under stress and can tear. Also, as you do this, carefully bend the blades so they point straight out from the central part of the circle.

Take the left end and cut the edge off so it ends right where the blade comes out (at a slant). Glue the new end shut. Once the glue dries, pull both ends together, forming a circle by putting the uncut end under the cut end and spacing the ends so that those two blades are the same distance apart as the others (use the dots to help guide you). Once you’ve figured out the positioning, glue the ends together, holding them in place for several seconds as they’ll be under a lot of tension! See the pictures.

Step 3: Building the Bottle Cap Top

Dent the bottle cap

Take the metal bottle cap and flip it over. In the very middle, gently use a nail and hammer to make a small dent. You should carefully do this on a soft surface, like carpeting. The dent needs to be big enough so that the skewer’s tip is held in it. However, if you make the dent go all the way through the cap, then the skewer can get stuck on it. I accidentally made the dent a little too deep, but then I used the hammer on the bottle cap’s top side to gently hammer the side flat, and this worked well.

Try balancing the bottle cap

To make sure the bottle cap balances well, you’re now going to start building the axle. To do this, take the skewer and stick it in a small ball of play doh so that the sharp end is pointing straight up. If you need to adjust the height of the skewer to make it be about 20 cm tall, do so now (before putting it in the play doh) by cutting off the flat end.

Once you’re happy with the axle, try balancing the bottle cap on the top of the axle, putting the pointed end in the cap’s dent. If it doesn’t balance well, you may want to try with another bottle cap.

Covering the bottle cap with paper

Once you’ve got a good dented bottle cap, take the circular piece of cardstock (that you cut out in step 2) and make small inward cuts on four equidistant points along the circle’s edge. Put a double-sided piece of tape on the top of the bottle cap and place the circular paper on top, taping it centered on the cap. Mold the paper around the bottle cap so it smoothly fits the cap. Then wrap the paper’s edges around the underside of the bottle cap, all along the rim. Use lots of glue on the paper that goes around the underside of the rim to glue the paper to each other (like paper mache) and to the bottle cap. Hold it in place for a few seconds and then allow several minutes for it to completely dry.

Attach the bottle cap to the blades

Once the bottle cap top is dry, glue it to the top of the circle in the middle of the blades. (Make sure the dotted sides of the blades are facing up.) Glue the cap top as centrally as you can to the circle – it should be a nearly perfect fit. Allow it to completely dry before the next step.

Step 4: Testing the Blades

Aligning the blades

Make sure all the blades are pointing as straight out from the central circle as possible. This means that if a blade is drooping a little, fold it back along the blade’s base crease a little to raise it up.

Balancing the blades

Place the blade on the top of the skewer axle (the one you made in step 3). Fit the skewer’s tip into the bottle cap top’s dent. The blades should balance well on the skewer’s tip. Try giving the blades a gentle nudge – they should spin freely on the skewer’s tip.

Spinning the blades using candles

Now place the four candles around the base of the axle. Place them equally spaced from each other and equally spaced around the axle. Then light the candles one at a time. If there are any open doors or windows, be sure to close them to minimize air flow – this is important for the heat to build up below the blades. You may need to give the blades a gentle push to get them going – see the video for what to expect.

Caution: Paper is flammable. Be sure to light the candles only on a surface that is not flammable, and away from any other flammable objects. Make sure the paper is not closer than about 12 cm from the flames. Always watch the candles when they are lit.


If the blades are not spinning, be sure to make sure the blades are pointing as straight out as possible – this will let them catch the most heat going up from the candles. Check again to make sure there are no open doors or windows that could be disrupting the buildup of heat below the blades. Also try adjusting the positions of the candles. It’s normal for the blades to stop and go sometimes – if you see this, don’t worry because when you add the platform the carousel actually becomes more stable and works even better than it does at this stage.

Step 5: Building the Rotating Platform

Printing and cutting out the platform blocks

I made a platform using a 3 x 3 square of paper Minecraft grass blocks. Click here for the pattern to make the paper Minecraft grass blocks. Adjust the size of the blocks so they are a little more than 2 cm on each side (I did this in Photoshop). Then print out nine blocks on plain printer paper and cut them each out (being careful to not cut off the white tabs, which you’ll need for gluing).

Assembling the platform

Assemble 8 of the 9 grass blocks. For each block, do this by folding along the edges to make a cube shape. Also fold the white tabs inward. See the pictures. Once you’ve made the cube shape, glue it together by placing glue on the white tabs and holding the cube shape together for a few seconds.

To the 9th grass block, cut off the top and bottom parts (the solid grass square and the solid dirt square). Glue it together as you did with the others but the top and bottom tabs will remain unglued. This is so that you can fit the skewer through this square, which will go in the middle of the platform.

Glue all 9 squares together to make a 3 x 3 platform, with the square missing its top and bottom pieces going in the very middle. See the pictures. It’ll probably end up around 6.5 cm on each edge of the platform.

For more tips (and links) on making Minecraft papercraft, see another Instructable, The Ultimate Guide to Minecraft Papercrafts!

Step 6: Making and Adding the Figurines

Balancing the platform

This is a tricky step because you will need to make sure the platform is still balanced at the end of it. To check how balanced the platform is, gently place a small piece of tape going over the middle, open grass block on the platform (sticky-side down), as shown in the pictures. Then balance the platform on the top of the skewer axle you made in step 3, putting the tip of the skewer below the middle of the tape. See the pictures for details. (If needed, you can measure the open grass block’s opening and make a small dot with a permanent marker where the exact center is to help you balance the platform.) The empty platform should balance on the skewer.

Selecting and printing figurines

Pick which figurines you want to place on the platform. I included a Steve, a creeper, and an ocelot because I thought it’d be funny to see an ocelot chasing a creeper (since cats scare off creepers), which is chasing a Steve, who is oblivious of the creeper and is trying to tame the ocelot. (It shouldn’t be surprising that I came up with this idea shortly after spending much time in a jungle trying to tame an ocelot.) Here are links to the patterns I used:

  • Creeper. The creeper is pretty easy to make.
  • Steve. Steve is pretty easy to make too, just a little harder than the creeper.
  • Ocelot. The ocelot was difficult to make because of the tiny ears, mouth, tail, and leg pieces!

Planning and making the figurines

Once you’ve decided which figurines to make, think about how you want to arrange them on the platform. Keep in mind that they’ll be rotating clockwise (due to the blades), that they’ll need to balance out, and that you’ll need to keep the central square unblocked because the axle will be going through it (in my design, it takes up an entire square space). Here are tips as you make your figurines:

  1. Decide what scale you want to make them, and if you want them all to the same scale. I made the creeper slightly larger so it’d balance with Steve better. My creeper and Steve are both 5.5 cm tall, and the ocelot is 1.5 cm tall (to its back). (If you want to make the ocelot, I wouldn’t make it any smaller than this – those tiny pieces were really hard to fold!) Use a program like Photoshop, Paint, or Word to change the sizes of the patterns.
  2. Once you’re happy with the sizes, print out the patterns on plain printer paper.
  3. When cutting out the patterns, be sure not to cut off the white tabs, which you’ll need to fold inward and for gluing the pieces together.
  4. Pretty much everything will be folded into a blocky shape, so look at each piece you cut out and figure out how it’ll be folded into a blocky shape. This usually involves folding the pieces backwards between each white tab, as shown for the grass blocks in step 5.
  5. If you’re using glue, only use a tiny bit on each white tab. You don’t want the paper to become soggy. Hold the pieces together for a few seconds after gluing them so they glue in the correct shape. On tiny pieces, you may want to use a toothpick or sewing pin to carefully push flaps into place.
  6. If you’re not sure how to put the blocky shapes together to make the figurine, try searching for images online to see how they should go together. You can look at the pictures here of Steve, the creeper, and the ocelot.
  7. For more tips and pictures on assembling Minecraft papercraft, check out The Ultimate Guide to Minecraft Papercrafts! (This is also the Instructable that gave me the creeper and Steve papercraft links, above.)

Arranging and balancing the figurines

Once you’ve made your figurines, try arranging them on the platform so that they balance. (Again, do this by placing the platform on the skewer axle, with the skewer’s tip touching the middle of the tape piece.) This can be very challenging to do. If the figurines are falling over a lot while you do this, I recommend carefully deciding where to glue one figurine to the platform, then balancing the platform again, and then gluing a second figurine, etc. It probably will not balance perfectly, but as long as it balances well enough to remain mostly horizontal on the skewer’s tip, you should be in good shape.

Step 7: Finishing the Axle

Now you’re ready to finish the axle and connect the platform to the rotating blades. To do this, you’ll build a jungle tree trunk up from the middle of the platform.

Planning the trunk height

First figure out how tall your jungle tree trunk needs to be. You do not want the platform above the candles – I found it’s best to fit it in between the candles. You also do not want the height of the platform plus the trunk to be taller than the height of the skewer. For these reasons, I made my trunk be about 14.5 cm tall, which was the height of 7 jungle wood blocks stacked (making each the same size as the other blocks, about 2 cm on each side).

Building the trunk

After deciding how tall to make the trunk, print out the jungle wood patterns here. Make sure you adjust them so they’re to scale. Since you’ll be fitting the skewer through the middle of the trunk, when you cut the log patterns out you’ll want to cut off the top and bottom squares. Then glue each block together, but leave the top and bottom parts open. See the pictures.

Glue the glued wood blocks on to the middle of the platform, stacking them one at a time. See the pictures. Note that one of the four sides of the blocks will not have a white tab – to compensate for this, rotate the direction you stack the blocks so that there’s always a white tab to use to glue to a block (by pushing the tab flat against the adjacent block).

Attaching the trunk to the blades

Once the trunk is the height you want it to be, put a bunch of glue on the bottom of the circular part of the blades and hold it against the top of the square trunk to make sure they glue together well. You should be able to line up the circular part to touch all four corners of the square trunk.

Step 8: Watching It Spin!

Place the trunk and blades on top of the skewer axle. Try to get the skewer’s tip in the bottle cap’s dent. Then arrange the candles around the base of the platform, giving the platform enough space so that it can rotate without hitting the candles. Then carefully light the candles. The blades should quickly start rotating clockwise! Sit back and enjoy your paper carousel as it spins the figurines around.

As a side note, I could get the carousel to spin using only two candles, but it was much slower than with four candles (see the videos).

Caution: Paper is flammable. Be sure to light the candles only on a surface that is not flammable, and away from any other flammable objects. Make sure the paper blades are not closer than about 12 cm from the flames (and that the platform is not directly above the flames). Always watch the candles when they are lit.

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