Do you need a new table centerpiece that is colorful, visually striking, and interactive? If so, this kaleidoscope planter is perfect for you!
I've seen some really neat pictures of kaleidoscope planters in outside gardens with fancy metal kaleidoscopes, and I thought it would be cool to make my own wooden version to liven up my dining room table!
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Step 1: Tools and Materials
- Chop saw
- Table saw
- Misc files and sandpaper
- 4ft 1x4 lumber
- 3ft 2x2 lumber (I used a scrap 2x4 cut down to a 2x2)
- 1ftx1ft 3/4in pine board
- 2sqft 1/2in plywood
- 1.5" acrylic mirror strips (typically comes in 5ft strips)
- 4" Lazy Susan turntable
- Pea gravel
- Small rubber feet
- ~1sqft thick plastic
- #8 x 3/4in wood screws
- 1-1/4in wood screws
- 5 minute epoxy
- Wood glue
- Wood stain (I used jacobean)
- Spray polyurethane
- Blue tape
- Plants and a small amount of potting soil!
The mirror strips were a little tricky to find, and the smallest width I came across was 1.5" at Grainger. They came in a pack of two 5ft sections and worked great for this project. Other than that and the turntable, most of the materials for this project were things leftover from other projects or stuff living in my scrap pile.
Step 2: Build the Base
To build the base, start by tracing out the turntable and adding a 1/4in border around that. This should form a 4.5in square. The two shorter legs will extend 2.5in perpendicular from the middle of two faces of the square and should be 1.5in wide. The longer leg will extend from the corner opposite of the shorter legs and should be 1.5in wide as well. Measuring from the end of the long leg to the opposite corner of the square should be a total of 11in. I used a jig saw to make all the cuts for this, but you could also use a scroll saw or even hand saws.
For the arm that will hold the kaleidoscope, I took a 1.5in x 1.5in board and used a table saw to cut a corner out of it. To do this, set your table saw blade to a max height of 3/4in, and set your fence to 3/4in away from the blade. Ripping down the length of the board on two adjacent faces will cut one of the corners loose. Once your board is prepped, cut the two arm sections out. The longer one is 16in long and should have two parallel 45 degree cuts on its ends. The shorter section should measure 7.5in on the longer side and should have a 90 degree cut on one side (this will attach to the kaleidoscope) and a 45 degree cut on the other side that will match up with the longer arm section. When making these cuts, make sure the angle goes from the missing corner to the opposite corner. Take a look at the pictures for clarification.
To join the two arm sections, I used my table saw to cut a matching groove in both sections and used some scrap wood for the joint. This was my first time making a joint like this, so I used plenty of glue and just made sure to sand everything down after it was dry. To cut out the joining wood on the inside of the joint, you can just use some hand chisels and small files.
To join the arm and the base, drill a 45 degree pilot up through the bottom of the base and into the arm. Throw some glue on the bottom of the arm and screw it together with a 1-1/4in wood screw. It's a good idea to use some sting or blue tape to make sure the assembly keeps its form while the glue dries.
After the glue has all set, sand everything down, add pilot holes for the turntable and the rubber feet, and add a finish of your choice. I always like using Jacobean wood stain and hitting it with a coat or two of spray polyurethane to finish it up.
Finally, attach the rubber feet and the turntable using the #8 3/4in screws. Remember that you will need the turntable to measure pilot holes on the bottom of the planter, so it's a good idea to wait on screwing down the turntable until after you make those pilot holes.
Step 3: Build the Planter
The planter is a hexagon with 6in faces.
I started by cutting six 6in sections of 1x4 board. I had boards that were rough-hewn on one side leftover from another project, so they just required a little extra sanding work in the end. Once the boards are cut to length, set your table saw blade to 30 degrees and slice off the board corners. If you have a fancy compound miter saw, this can be done in one step. Add glue to where the boards will join up and let the glue dry. If your boards are flat, an easy trick for the glue-up is to add blue tape to the outside of the corners to act as a joint for when you make the final hexagon shape. Tape didn't stick very well to my rough-hewn boards, so I just used some string to hold it all together.
Once the glue has started to dry, you can trace out the hexagon on some 1/2in plywood and cut it out with a jig saw or scroll saw. Put some glue around the base and clamp it together while you screw the sides to the base. Drill some countersunk pilot holes and use 1-1/4in wood screws for this. I used two screws for each face of the hexagon.
As with the base of the planter, once the glue is dry, sand all the edges and faces, drill pilot holes for the turntable, and add the same finish as the base. One thing to note is that I thought the bevel on the 3/4in screws was going to be tall enough to prevent the screws from poking through the bottom of the planter, but they ended up just peeking through. This can be avoided by either using a thicker section of plywood for the bottom of the planter or by using shorter screws to attach the turntable. I put a dab of hot glue on the tips of the screws to keep them from poking through the plastic liner for the soil.
Also, to help align the turntable properly, you can find the center of your hexagon planter by drawing three lines between the pairs of opposite corners.
Step 4: Build the Kaleidoscope
For the kaleidoscope, start by cutting three mirror sections to 15in. The wonderful thing about working with acrylic strips is that you can make your cuts by scoring the section with a utility knife and snapping it along the score. Once you have your mirror sections, tape them together in a triangle tube and use some 5 minute epoxy to join then together. I used gloves for this to avoid getting any smudges on the mirrors that will be hard to remove later.
For the outer portion, cut three sections of 1/2in plywood to 15.5in, giving them parallel 30 degree cuts along the length of the strips. The faces of these plywood strips should be 3in x 15.5in. I added and extra half inch to the mirror length in order to help conceal the mirrors in the final assembly. Also, the inside of this shell is a little bit larger than what the mirrors take up, so the extra room is there to provide a bit of extra margin for the epoxy.
After your plywood strips are cut, attach them together with the #8 wood screws and a little bit of wood glue. Make sure you position the screws in such a way that they will join the strips and not poke through the sides. Make sure to go light on the glue here to avoid having any glue spill on the inside of the tube where it would be really hard to clean up. Trace out an eye cap for the tube, find its center, and drill an eye hole. I was a bit off on the hole, but it isn't too important as long as the eye hole will be completely inside the mirror tube. Use 1-1/4in wood screws to attach the cap.
Once the shell is assembled, sand it and finish it before gluing in the mirror tube. To add the mirror tube, slide it into the open end of the shell and twist it as far as it will go. This should center the mirror tube and give you three nice corners to drop a bit of epoxy in. After the epoxy is set, you can look at your pets through your wooden kaleidoscope!
Step 5: Final Assembly
Once each of the three parts are finished, you can put it all together! Since there isn't anything in the planter at this point, it will be really unstable, so be careful not to let the whole thing fall over and break during final assembly.
If your turntable is slightly off-centered like mine, you might have to go back with a file or small saw to cut out enough clearance for the planter. This is a super easy fix, though, and the dark stain hides it really well.
To attach the kaleidoscope to the arm, 5 minute epoxy works great. Add some to the face of the arm that will join with the kaleidoscope, and after that sets and holds the kaleidoscope in place, add a nice bead of epoxy around the outside of the joint. The clear epoxy should blend in well, and this will make a really strong joint. I placed that joint about a third of the way down the kaleidoscope from the eye hole, but you can shift that closer or farther away from the flowers depending on what kind of view you want in the kaleidoscope.
Inside the planter, I cut out a liner from some heavy duty plastic, and add ~1/2in of pea gravel. The gravel will add a bunch of weight needed to keep the assembled planter stable. Add your flowers and some potting soil, and finally clean up the mess on the kitchen table. It's probably a better idea to do this part in the garage or outside....
Step 6: Final Thoughts
Enjoy your new planter!
You can get quite a variety of views depending on what you fill your planter with. I grabbed some nice flowers I liked from my local hardware store, but you can put whatever kind of plant you want in it!
Some ideas for this:
- Rock garden (maybe like geodes and crystals)
- Small cactuses
- Kitchen plants (like basil, mint, thyme, or garlic)
Ideas for future iterations:
- Make the planter interchangeable with other hexagon units. You could have a variety of these hexagon planters around your house and be able to switch them out with whichever one is in the kaleidoscope assembly.
- Make a movable arm for the kaleidoscope to allow other views of the plants
First Prize in the