Steampunk Zoetrope With USB Chargers




Introduction: Steampunk Zoetrope With USB Chargers

About: I like to read all about the creative ideas everyone has here. I love to make "one of" projects, learn something about doing it and then move on to something new. Hope you like my ideas. email me...

I wanted to clear up the clutter of two iPhone cords on my desk table in my kitchen. They were too long and messy, so I thought I would make a nightlight, USB x2 charging station. But since it would be visible to a lot of visitors, I thought I would make it an entertainment device so why not a movie machine? A zoetrope is a turn of the century optical illusion machine that gives the appearance of motion. Google Zoetrope and you will find period pictures to chose from. I chose a very classic horse race jockey.

You will need:

Copper sheet or similar conductive metal for the rotating disk.

LEDs for the nightlight (Colored)

White LEDs to light up the zoetrope disk

Neon 120v indicator bulb for power on.

A small hobby DC motor with lots of torque (mine is 9 vdc). You need a resistor to control the speed.

A momentary contact pushbutton

Heavy / thick packaging tape.

Wire and misc soldering skills

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: Make the Box

It gets cramped rather quickly in the box. I designed my disk to be 5 inches in diameter and kept the box tight to this dimension. It made it VERY difficult to pass the wires from the cover past the rotating disk without risking them being cut. So dimension carefully.

I chose 1/2" oak (and cherry sides) as I like the strength and how they take stain and they are common woods especially oak in antiques electrical boxes. So make your box or buy an old telephone ringer box, as that could work too and scale it down.

Step 2: Make the Disk

Carefully cut your disk out of a conductive metal as the rotating disk carries the current to light up the White LEDs. Get the disk balanced as best you can. Be sure it is as flat as possible. Take your time here to not have the disk wobbling like crazy because it will cause the contact on the underside of the electrical pick ups to lose connection and the strobe effect wont work to freeze the disk's motion.

To get an accurate disk as possible, solder the stem onto the center point. Use a square to get this truly normal to the disk's surface. Then drill a similar sized hole on a block of wood or steel as shown on my disk sander picture. Rotate the disk through as you sand the edge. This will true up the diameter. Then double check that your disk is flat.

Google your zoetrope pic and print it out playing with the scale until you have the correct size you want. I printed it on heavy ivory colored paper for an old time look. Use rubber cement and cement it to the disk's top SPARINGLY at first on a few dabs around the perimeter because you will take it back off. On the underside, cut pieces of heavy packaging tape in the shape of pie wedges and stick them on the underside of the disk VERY EVENLY !!! Make alignment marks with a sharpie by dividing the circumference up by the number of pictures on your zoetrope disk. Use that spacing to make the gaps in your tape.

Goal here is to leave a gap of about 1/4" between pie wedges to allow for two contact wires that ride up and contact the underside of the disk. The key is to have both touching the disk when the hose picture is centered on the window. This may take several attempts to position the paper disk correctly (phased to the tape) so on the first try, use very little rubber cement. Once you have them phased up, make an alignment mark on the disk and paer image disk and glue it down fully.

The motor will need to be balanced with a resistor that is small enough in ohms to cause the motor to take off and rotate but not too small so the motor winds up ad a very high rpm and the disk is a blur because the white leds are on all the time. Trial and error.

Step 3: Power Supply

I installed two USB chargers that I cut apart with my Dremel too. I used a third charger from surplus (voice phone recorder) and used it for the motor and the LEDs.

To indicate the power to the USBs is on I used a neon bulb and a resistor to indicate power is on the chargers and available to the motor. A simple push on the momentary pushbutton on the cover spins the more and the white lights make contact in phase off of the packaging tape and strobe the picture.

I used Copper wire for the window frame as soldered in a jig - this was quite a challenge. Next time stained glass methods.

I finished the wiring and used connecting pins for the lid to the under box. This is always a challenge to get the lid down. But I like the tight fit and I only have to open it once if done right!

Step 4: Extras

I made the copper plates as usual by etching and finished it all off with stain and a good wax. a few attachments for electrical connectors and a period wiring cloth cord and it is all good to go!

Now people come over and I show them a movie when they ask what is up with the box that glows!

Be the First to Share


    • Magnets Challenge

      Magnets Challenge
    • Snow Challenge

      Snow Challenge
    • Wearables Contest

      Wearables Contest

    4 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    This is beautiful! I would love to see more information on the electronics on the inside.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    It is quite simple really. Circuit (1) - A toggle switch controls the 120 VAC to the transformers for the 2 USB chargers and the other charger for the motor/leds. Circuit (2) is a momentary pushbutton on the secondary for the motor to run. just add a resister to slow the motor down. Circuit (3) is the rotating knob to take the secondary off the same transformer to the LEDs. There you have it!


    4 years ago

    I would love to see a gif of this in action! Nice work!


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Just added it. Sorry about the quality but the video throws off the strobe or vice versa. You can see the horse is shifted a little to the left because I moved the pick ups a bit for the electrical firing. It's a bit tricky to get them aligned.