Introduction: Spin Art Machine Kit

About: I am the Design, Tinkering and Technology Integrator at Mark Day School in San Rafael, CA ( I teach technology and maker curriculum to K-8 students.

Overview: A Spin Art machine allows you to spin a piece of paper very quickly and drop different colored paint onto it to create a splatter effect. This project uses a laser-cut kit I designed as well as basic electronics components.

Goal: Students are able to build a battery-powered Spin Art machine to take home. Students refresh knowledge of and practice with basic electrical circuits.

Background: I teach a 3rd grade tinkering class at Mark Day School and design my curriculum around something I call the "5 B's": Build, Bot, Beautiful, Burst, and Become. This activity falls under the Beautiful and Build categories.

Ages: 8+ (designed for 3rd Grade)

Length: Four 40-minute classes

Video of the finished product in action:

Step 1: Materials & Preparation


The cost of each kit (one per student) was approximately $5 at the time of publishing this.

Alligator clips; 3 per student

Motor 1.5-3 VDC; 1 per student.

Slide switches; 1 per student. These ended up being quite small which made them difficult to solder. I would have preferred something twice as large.

AA batteries; 2 per student. The motor can be powered just fine using a single AA battery.

28" x 22" or other size white poster board; 1 sheet per 4 students (yields 5 discs per student)

1 oz. plastic flip top bottles; about 1 per student / 20 per class

1-AA Battery Holder; 1 per student.

Crayola washable kids' paint; 1 box per class

22 gauge wire

22 gauge wire connectors; 3 per student (If using wire connectors instead of solder.)

Gallon ziplock bags to hold kit items

Cardboard sheets; about 24"x18" per student

1/8" baltic birch or other plywood; about 3"x3" per student

Poster board paper

Additional supplies & tools

Masking tape, double-sided tape, hot glue gun, hot glue sticks, soldering iron, lead-free solder, safety goggles, wire strippers, laser cutter


  1. Laser cut the materials from the attached Adobe Illustrator CS6 files.
    1. Cardboard (splatter guard pieces, motor mount, motor basket, platform)
    2. Wood (disc)
    3. Paper (discs)
  2. Cut and strip 4" wires, 2 per student.
  3. Solder one wire to the middle tab and one wire to either side tab of the switch to act as leads.
  4. Fill squeeze bottles with various colors of paint.

Step 2: Demonstration

Show a short video demonstration of the finished project in action:

Step 3: Check Kit Contents

"We are going to check your kits to make sure you have everything you need. When I tell you to start, dump out all of the contents of your bag onto the table. I will hold up an item and then ask you to hold it up. Once I see yours, I will ask you to put it back in your bag."

Starting with the cardboard pieces, progress to the wooden disc and then the paper discs. Have them put the switch back in the bag and then the wires. Ask them to close the bag. "We are going to use the rest of the materials for an activity. We have four things left." [The AA battery, the battery holder, the motor, and the alligator clips.] "Who can tell me what one of these things is?" Ask them to name it and to be specific ("one double-A battery" instead of just "a battery"). When you get to the alligator clips, it's likely that no one will know exactly what they are. Ask students to guess their purpose. One of my students suggested that they were similar to jumper cables used to jumpstart a car battery, for example. Explain that they are wires and conduct electricity and they are called alligator clips because they can connect to other components and because you want to keep your fingers out of their mouths!

Step 4: Review Circuits

(See "Let's review circuits. What types of circuits are there?" "That's right, closed and open. [Draw examples of each on the board and talk about "gaps" that create open circuits.] "Any other kinds? What happens when a circuit has a short cut? Yes, that is called a short circuit. [Draw an example on the board]. We want to avoid those because it can ruin our batteries and be very dangerous. Always make sure that part of your circuit loop powers something, either a light or a motor or something else. In this case, we'll use a motor."

Step 5: Connect a Working Circuit

If time, have students discuss in small groups how they plan to connect the circuit components without actually moving them around. "Now I'd like you to connect your circuit and see if you can make the motor spin." As some students begin to get the motor to turn, require that they include at least one alligator clip. This will be necessary for the next step.

Step 6: Add a Switch and Test the Circuit

"Once you have the motor turning, add a switch to the circuit. You may have to re-arrange the circuit and you will need to use alligator clips to connect everything. Can you make the motor spin when you flip the switch on? Can you make the motor stop after a little while when you flip the switch off?"

Tip: the switch should have lead wires soldered to the middle tab and either side tab.

Step 7: Build a Splatter Guard and Motor Mount

  • Using the four "base" pieces, connect the "motor mount" by inserting its tabs into each base and connecting the sides of the base pieces to each other to form a box with no top:
  1. Start by connecting one base to the motor mount (see figure 2).
  2. Then connect a second base to both pieces and tape the base pieces together with masking tape (see figure 3).
  3. Add a third base piece and tape the bases together.
  4. Finally, add the fourth base piece and tape it to the adjacent bases.

Tip: the motor mount will be about an inch off of the table when completely assembled. The cut out arch on one base piece will be below the motor mount.

Step 8: Insert the Motor Into the Motor Mount and Motor Basket

Connect the motor basket:

  1. Fold the motor basket along the score lines (see figure 2).
  2. Disconnect the alligator clips from the motor.
  3. With the motor above the basket, thread the motor wires through the hole (see figure 3).
  4. Push the motor up into the bottom of the motor mount (see figure 4).
  5. Push the motor basket tabs into the slots in the motor mount (see figure 5).
  6. From inside the splatter guard, gently push the motor down to rest on the motor basket (see figure 6).

Tip: the battery holder and switch can be set on the table (no need to tape them on yet).

Step 9: Attach the Platform

*Caution: hot glue guns and hot glue can be dangerous. Be sure to follow necessary safety precautions. Adults should supervise children using hot glue guns. Use hot glue guns at your own risk.

  1. Using a hot glue gun, squeeze glue inside of the dashed circle but be careful to avoid the center area (dried glue will block the gear hole).
  2. Quickly place the platform motor connector into the dashed circle and hold both pieces together for 30 seconds.
  3. Turn the platform over so that the wooden disc is on the bottom and place it onto the motor's gear. You may have to wiggle the platform to get the hole to line up with the gear.

Step 10: Test the Circuit Again

“Once you have your circuit connected, turn on the switch and see if your motor turns. Does the platform spin? Turn the switch off. Does the platform stop after a little while?

Step 11: Solder the Circuit Connections

*Caution: soldering can be dangerous. Be sure to follow necessary safety precautions including but not limited to wearing safety goggles. Adults should supervise children using soldering irons. Solder at your own risk.

If you prefer not to solder the connections, you may instead use 22 gauge wire connectors. You will need three connectors per student.

Make sure the motor leads (wires) are pushed through the hole in the motor basket before you do this step. Insert the ends of two wires all the way into a connector and twist until tightly secured. If the unstripped parts of the wires are too short or too long, the connector won't hold them well. An ideal length is 1/4".

Step 12: Make Spin Art!

  1. Make a small masking tape loop and stick it to the center of the platform.
  2. Write your name in pencil on a paper disc so that you can identify it after adding paint.
  3. Place the name side of the paper disc down onto the the masking tape and press to secure it.
  4. Turn the switch on.
  5. Squeeze one or more colors of paint onto various parts of the spinning disc.
  6. Turn the switch off. The disc will take a little while to stop.
  7. Allow the disc to dry before removing your spin art.

Tip: you may find that paint dropped on the outer edge of the disc doesn't stick because of the spinning speed of the platform. Squeezing paint closer to the paper disc may help.

Tip: the squeeze bottles tend to make a mess when their nozzles are pushed down to close. Have wet wipes or a sink available for clean up.