Introduction: Wooden Zoetrope

About: I experience life through my finger tips and taste buds. Can't stop making new things. In my day job I manage a student workshop, and in my free time I volunteer as an EMT and for a local food rescue organizat…

Last year, I was invited to do a presentation at the Furniture Society' annual conference in San Francisco. The theme of the conference was the combining of new technology with traditional craft. I have been fascinated with zoetropes for a long time, so this felt like a good opportunity to build one. I was also on a big segmented turning kick. Segmented turning was particularly useful in this case because it allowed for an easy way to individually cut each image of the animation. Shaper Tools sponsored my talk and sent a machine to my shop to practice with and use for the building of the vessel. I had recently visited my grandfather in Denver Colorado where he had been building and installing swallow boxes for years. These birds became the inspiration for the animation on the vessel.

Step 1: Design

As usual, I started with a CAD design in Fusion 360 to rough out the shape of the object, and pull dimensions off for the manual machine work. I ended up straying from the original shape later on, but this was a good starting point. I also used Illustrator to design the animation for the zoetrope. Starting from a time-lapse photo I found online I traced each image and added some frames in between.

Step 2: Wood Prep

I always love using scrap wood when possible. For this project, I found a bunch of discarded plaques and cut them up into strips that would later become segments for the vessel. I originally thought this would be enough for all the walnut pieces, but I was wrong. I ended up having to buy a couple pieces of walnut and maple from the lumber yard too.

Step 3: Cut Parts

Cutting precise segments is an important part of segmented turning. I used this video by Jeremy Schmidt as inspiration for my table saw sled. The angles of each segment are identical, so the length of the sides is what dictates the size of the ring the pieces will create. It is important to keep each size segment in it's own pile and not get them mixed up. The difference in diameter of a ring translates to a pretty small difference in segment length, so it is really easy to mix up pieces. I did this more than once, and it was a pain in the butt.

Step 4: Make Rings

There are different methods for gluing up rings, but my favorite by far is using a pipe clamp and an impact driver. Its fast and easy and reliable. Some folks glue them in halves and then true up the halves on a disk sander before the next glue-up, but if your wedge sled is good, you won't need to do this.

After the glue dries, it is important to flatten the rings. This should be done either with a very large disk sander or with a thickness sander like the one pictured above.

Step 5: CNC

The ring with the inlayed birds is easily the most important and also most difficult part of the project. I chose to use the Shaper Origin for two reasons. First off, they sponsored the talk. More importantly, it's a remarkable too. Shaper Origin is a hand held CNC router. Sounds impossible, right? Wrong. The display on the machine shows you the design, and the user moves the router along that path. Your motion is obviously not perfect, so motors in the machine do the fine adjustments to compensate for human error. The results blew me away. I was using a 1/16 inch router bit and the inlays were incredibly accurate. The most amazing part about the Origin, is that you can have a practically infinite sized work area.

I cut the pockets in the maple segments after I had already put the angles on them to make the segmented ring. This was important in order to get the birds centered in each piece. I made a simple jig to hold each block in place while cutting.

Step 6: Inlay

After the CNC work was done, I simply cut the walnut birds out from the blocks with a band saw and glued them into the maple base. It was important for these inlays to be fairly deep because I wasn't quite sure at this point how much of the outside of this ring would end up being removed in the turning process.

Step 7: Glue Up

I did most of the glue-up for this project on the lathe its self in order to keep the rings centered on each other. In order to do this, I made an over-sized cone tail stock to clamp the smaller rings, and then 'F' style clamps for the larger rings. It is important to glue each ring offset from the last so that the seams between the segments do not line up. The strength of a segmented turning comes from the overlapping of the pieces. In this way, they are similar to a brick or cinderblock wall.

Also, when making large segmented pieces, I prefer to turn in between glue stages. This way you don't have too much overhang of the tool when cutting the inside to shape. The final passes on the outside were done after everything was glued up.

Step 8: Turn

The fun (and stressful) part.

Turning can be very meditative if you let yourself get consumed by it. It requires so much focus, that the rest of the world melts away. At least, that is how it feels for me. The stressful bit was turning the ring with the birds on it.

Step 9: Electronics

I can't speak much on electronics here to be honest. My good friend Robb ( graciously did all that work for me. Robb is a rock star and he works magic. Robb has lots of electronics experience, and has worked specifically with zoetropes on a number of other occasions. The best I can do to help in the way of electronics is to give you the bill of materials we used. Robb also had a custom zoetrope board used for another project that can't be shared here for intellectual property reasons.

Motor: (also requires a power cable and signal cable)

LED Strip:

Screw Terminal:

Micro Controller:

Power Supply:

Step 10: Finish

After sanding on the lathe, I used Danish Oil to finish this piece. Danish oil brings out the color of wood, and gives it a nice shine, but isn't too thick and preserves the feel of wood that I love.

Step 11: Ship

Shipping artwork is often a big challenge. I highly Adrien Segal's Instructable about art shipping.

Step 12: Complete

Here it is in all it's glory. At the moment it is in storage, so if you know of a gallery or collector who might be interested in showing it, please don't hesitate to reach out. My website is