Laser Vortex 2.0 - Starburst Vortex




The Laser Vortex was extremely popular last year and many made one this year as well. The wormhole like effect is great for many different themes. Last year I used Deep space; this year is was a portal into another realm. Made with spar parts and maybe a trip to the hardware store, you can have one in just a few hours.

This new instructable will show you haw to build a Laser Vortex with extended range, sharper display, less noise and the ability to create a starburst vortex. You can use this instructable to fine tune your old one or create a better one from scratch but this time you may need to salvage some junk parts or order some materials. You can take it as far as you want.

Step 1: Gather Your Tools & Materials

These are the materials I have used for best performance of the Laser Vortex. The Make Controller Kit was used for creating the Starburst Vortex and as a power supply. I'll offer some alternative power options when we get to these steps.

Six inches quarter round trim
Small piece of laminate flooring (aprox. 5.5 inch by 2 inch)
1/4 inch by 5/16 inch Tee Nut
Insulated alligator clips
3/4 inch first surface/front surface mirror
Mini camera tripod
Precision drive motor and head salvaged from a CD or DVD player
5 mW Green Laser Pointer
One wire tie
Small electrical wire (a 6 foot network cable with the ends cut off works great for this)
Heat shrink to cover the wire connectons
MAKE Controller kit (for the Starburst Vortex effect and power supply.)


Hack saw (for cutting the quarter round trim)
Wire cutters/Side cuts
Drill and 1/4 inch drill bit
Hot glue gun and glue sticks (low temp glue works fine)
Multi-meter (to check connections)
Fire (for the heat shrink)

Step 2: Extra Info About Parts

You can skip this step if you wish. Some people may want to know why we are using these particular parts so they can substitute parts they have on hand or improve upon this work.

Precision drive motor and head:
This is used to rotate the mirror mounted at an angle so it continually changes the direction of the laser beam. Any motor will due but one salvaged from a CD or DVD player will have a mounting bracket already attached allowing us to glue the mirror directly to it. These are also small, quiet and run well when hooked up to the Make Controller. By using this particular motor, we get smooth controllable operation reducing vibration that may cause the vortex to appear dull or dim at long range.

1/4 inch first surface/front surface mirror
A first surface mirror is used because the reflective surface is on the front of the mirror. A regular mirror requires the laser pass through the clear glass before being reflected back. Part of the lasers power is diffracted off the surface of the glass before it reaches the reflective back of the mirror. This causes a second beam to reflect off the mirror. You loose intensity of the primary beam and cause a secondary weak vortex to form. The vortex will be weaker and less focused with an ordinary mirror.

5 mW Green Laser Pointer
You can use almost any laser pointer of any visible color for the laser but green is most visible to the human eye. So it is the perfect choice of color. Using one rated at 5mW has plenty of power to get great range but still be safe for people to get close to (within 2 or 3 feet). You can do more with a more powerful laser but we want it to be safe for people to be near. People love to be close enough to touch the vortex.

MAKE Controller kit
We can power the laser and motors off batteries but the MAKE Controller allows us to power everything from its digital outputs and control the motor speed from one place. We prefer to run the motor at the slowest speed while getting a fluid projection to reduce vibration. Also, it allows us to pulse the laser on and off at a high rate of speed to produce the Starburst Vortex.

Step 3: Mounting the Mirror

Extract your motor if you haven' already. These CD and DVD players usually come apart with a few screws. You can cut the wires but remember to leave enough connected to the motor so new leads can be connected.

The disk is often held to the motor with a magnetic clasp. These images show the mirror being glued to the clasp allowing the mirror to be removed from the motor for storage or swapping it for a mirror mounted on a different angle. You can glue the mirror directly to the motor without the magnetic clasp if you don't want the option to remove it.

With your hot glue gun, just glue the mirror to the motor using enough to prop the mirror up at a slight angle. A 15 degree angle or so is all you need and it dose not need to be perfect.

Step 4: The Tripod Mount

To mount the tripod to the base, we need to attach the 1/4 inch by 5/16 inch Tee Nut to it. Measure about 1 1/2 to 2 inches from the end of your base and drill a 1/4 inch hole. Then place the tee nut into hole and hammer it into place.

Step 5: The Motor Mount

We will be using the quarter round trim for mounting the motor and as a prop for the laser. Cut the quarter round into 3 pieces, one will be used to mount the motor. Glue one piece to the end of your base then glue your motor to the quarter round at an angle making sure the mirror can spin freely but is still rather close to the base.

Step 6: The Laser Mount

The other 2 pieces of quarter round are mounted with the rounded edges facing each other. This allows the laser to be held in the center and be propped up to point at the mirror.

Mark the place where you will be gluing the quarter round making sure the mirror can spin freely once attached, then glue into place.

Step 7: Attach the Laser

Most 5mW laser pointers run off of 2 AAA alkaline batteries. With mine, I can get about 1 ½ hours of constant use before it gets noticeably dim. This is fine for just pointing things out but I need at least 4 hours of constant operation while I run my haunted vortex an Halloween night. So unscrew the battery compartment taking note of the battery contact on the inside spring, this is normally the negative side. We will need to know this when everything gets hooked up.

I notched out part a small portion of my base with a Dermel to keep the laser from sliding. Then place the laser on the quarter round pointing at the mirror and held it in place with a wire tie. Clip off the excess part of the wire tie and the laser is mounted.

To hold the button down, you can use clear tape or duct tape, any tape that won't stretch out. Electrical tape will not work for long.

Step 8: Connect Wiring Insulated Alligator Clips

Now we can start wiring things up. Cut the ends off your network cable and strip of the outer sheathing to find the 4 pair of wires inside, that's a total of 8 wires in all. We will only need 2 for powering the laser and 2 for the motor.

Pick 2 pair and strip the ends to bare wire, I used the green pair and orange pair. Remove the covering from your clamps and place one of the striped wires through before connecting the bare clamp. Connect your clamp and slide the covering back over. Do the same thing to the other side and you're done. The nose of the alligator clips should be the only exposed metal.

Step 9: Connect Motor

Now our motor needs to be connected. To make sure there is a good solid connection that won't short, we will solder the connections together and use shrink wrap to insulate it.

Strip the insulation off your motor leads and another pair of wires from your network cable.

Cut a piece of shrink wrap tubing to slip over the wire before soldering the connection, you usually need no more than a half inch of shrink tubing to protect the connection. You must put the shrink tubing over the wire before you solder the connection.

Solder your wires together and slip the shrink tubing over the soldered connection covering all exposed wire. Use a lighter or torch to slightly heat the shrink wrap. It will shrink and protect the connection as it cools. It only take second and it lasts longer than electrical tape on these small connections.

Do the same thing to the other motor lead and you're done with the motor connection.

Step 10: Connect Camera Tripod

The camera tripod can now be screwed into the base using the tee nut instilled earlier. Now we can point and angle vortex wherever we want.

Step 11: Connecting to the Make Controller or Other Power Source

Note: If you do not have a make controller you can use a 2 x D cell battery holder. This will have more than double the battery life of the AAA batteries and would be an excellent 3 volt power source. I found the motor I used consumes less than 80ma and the laser consumes less than 180ma at 3 volts. Make sure your positive and negative leads are connected properly for the laser, polarity dose not matter for the motor.

Also, I am running the laser at a higher than recommended voltage from the make controller. I took the chance that my laser pointer could handle the 5 volts supplied from the make controller and it work fine for over 3 hours. Be aware that yours may not so there is a risk of toasting your laser pointer but you wont be able to make the Starburst Vortex without it or some other circuit to pulse the laser.

Connecting the Make Controller

Strip the other 4 ends of your network cable and hook up the motor up to digital output 1 and 2, the polarity dose not matter. Hook up the leads with the alligator clips with the positive lead on digital output 3 and the negative lead on digital output 4.

Make sure you have your Make Controller hooked up to a power supply and the USB cable it attached to your computer and the controller. The Make controller should be running the latest Heavy. If you have not yet done this, go to and follow the instructions.

Open mchelper and we will turn on the motor by sending this command to the controller: /motor/0/speed 400

The motor should start to spin. If you want to make it spin faster, replace the œ400 with a higher value (up to 1023). Replace with a lower value to decrease the speed.

Step 12: Connecting the Laser

Before we connect the laser, send: /motor/1/speed 0 (This will ensure this is at a low setting prior to connecting the laser.)

Connect the negative alligator clip to the inside spring of the laser pointer, the insulation around the alligator clip should prevent it from touching the outside of the laser pointer.

Connect the positive lead to the out side casing of the laser pointer. Make sure your on button is taped down to hold it in the on position.

Now send command /motor/1/speed 375

The laser should come on and project what looks like a series of lines or dots.

Step 13: Add Fog and Play With Settings

Now fire up the fog machine and dim the lights. If you are using DC batteries you'll still get your Laser Vortex as the fog passes in front of the projected laser beam. If you're using the Make Controller, you will see the Starburst Vortex appearing as moving shimmering beams of light coming out at you.

For narrower beams in the Starburst, send a lower speed command to the laser such as /motor/1/speed 300

For wider beams, send a higher value such as /motor/1/speed 450

To change the way the vortex rotates, change the speed of the motor. It only needs to spin fast enough to make the reflected laser beam appear like a fluid circle with the laser turned on but changing the speed will make a change in the beam rotation. Try sending /motor/0/speed 250 and see what you get. There are a lot of deferent affects you can produce with the make controller but changing the laser pulse and motor speed should keep you entertained for a while.

If you have an oscilloscope, you can check the output supply to the laser and see why this happens with different speed settings.



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    30 Discussions


    7 years ago on Introduction

    So my presumption here is that the starburst effect is coming from the mirror type used and not anything you are telling the laser to do?

    I run a laser vortex for Haunted brewery tour every year and all that is using a old ATX computer power supply Jump the green to any black to activate. a Case fan wired to yellow and black to spin a regular mirror mounted offset to the middle of that fan.. green laser pointer aimed at that fan. It's a constant "cone" and with the smoke machine gives a good "walking towards the light " effect.

    on a regular computer power supply, the orange leads give you 3.3v and should be safe for a standard laser pointer using 2 AA, or AAA's you might want to throw a 330 resistor just to be even safer though ;)

    the Mirror in question here looks to be the same mirror used by the CD-rom drives laser reader. that can just be pried off and used, but it is a very small target to hit. 2mm square usually.
    most high speed CD rom motors are of a brush-less motor type and require three conductors to be energized via a special driver board to work. With a standard two pole motor, you can simply put a 10K potentiometer between in line with it to manually control the speed of the motor

    A great little instructable! its giving me bigger and badder ideas for next years display!


    10 years ago on Step 3

    I pulled a motor out of a computer cd drive, but it is not a straight DC motor with two leads. It has 15 leads, and the motor jiggles back and forth when i power some, but i never get it to just spin.

    I am guessing this is because it takes signals to adjust the Constant Linear Velocity used. ( )

    I suppose i'll just get a cheap DC motor from the local electronics store.

    3 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Step 3

    Good find. Sounds like you won't know what you have on the inside until you get on the inside. When this image was taken, that DVD player was about 2 years old. I cannot recall salvaging a motor from a cdrom drive faster than 24X and have not seen a motor with more than 2 leads in these so far. Do you have any idea what speed that drive was? It may help some find what they need.


    Reply 10 years ago on Step 3

    It is a Samsung 'High Speed' drive, but doesn't say much more than that. The circuit board has a date, 2001.08.15, on it. Shame, because of the nice mounting area it would be easy, as you say, to put the mirror onto.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Hmm, lots of leads on the "motor" you say? ... Could be a stepper motor if it only makes a little jiggle when you apply current. Just a passing thought.... Maybe you could try sending pulses and see if it rotates.

    Good luck with that motor!


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    You will not likley find a first surface mirror in a hardware store. These are used in precision optics, so you could try a camera shop that repairs high quality cameras or a gun shop or army surplus store that sells gun sights. The two best ways got your hands on a first surface mirror is to salvage one from a flatbed scanner or order one from someplace like American Science and Surplus. You can pull off this affect with a standard craft mirror but the final affect will not be as sharp.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    awesome Instructable. I was thinking of using the circuit from an old bike light that flashes to get the starburst vortex.

    1 reply

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Thats a great idea. The only thing you will probably need to modify on the circuit will be the flash rate. A lot of these simple flasher circuits can be modified for a faster or slower flash by simply changing the resistance of one resistor on the board. I would replace that with a variable resistor so you can see what affect it has on the vortex. Please post your results on this, I'm sure this would be helpful to others and I would love to know how it turns out. Good luck and happy haunting!


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Good job! My cheap laser pointers they overheats after some seconds of continued use, and they spents. ¿Is this normal?

    8 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Well, not much is cheaper than a £2 laser that burns out after an hour, but a heatsink or small cooling fan will only set you back £5 or so.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Some sheep laser pointers do not handle continued use well. I have had good luck with the ones that take 2 AAA cells but the ones talking button cells don't seem to last. I think its because the laser diode on the cheep ones are surrounded by plastic, you need metal to dissipate the heat. The kind i have is just a laser pointer, no light or pen combo, and has worked well through hours of continued use for only $20. What kind to you have?