Tin Can Candle Powered Carousel




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This Instructable describes a simple way to make candle powered carousel out of a tin can.

The last “Crea” workshop at Leefschool Klavertje Vier had a Christmas theme. It was a workshop with a series of smaller projects. I was to do something with tin cans and candles. Wanting to give it a “masynmachien” twist I came up with this simple candle....
Cutting the “turbine” proved to hard for the children expected at the workshop (mainly 6 to 9 year olds) so I ended up doing a lot of the work in preparation. Keeping it simple was still important, as I had about 20 to make. The kids had still plenty to do making the base and decorating the sides with holes.

UPDATE: I did another workshop with a small group of four girls aged 10 to 13, and apart from sharpening the bearing tip, they managed to do it al by themselves (with guidance).

I included some do’s and don’ts in this Ible. A VERY important one is to keep a large enough gap between the top of the candles and the bottom edge of the can (at least 2.5 cm). When it is not large enough the candle wax can get overheated and start burning all over of the surface, not only at the wick (Yes, I learned from experience). At that stage you can no longer blow out the candle and you risk spilling burning liquid wax.

Of course, never leave candles burning unattended, especially in a self-made construction. Also be very careful with tools and the sharp edges cut in to the can and with hot surfaces. Obviously I can not accept any liability.

If you like this Ible, please give it your vote.

Step 1: Material and Tools

- A tin can at least 10 cm diameter. You also need it to have some height to have it hang in balance easily.
- A long nail or steel rod at least 4cm longer than the height of the can + the thickness of the base. With a 2cm thick base and a 12 cm high can I used a 6.5 x 180 mm nail.
- A base plate capable of carrying three theelight candles. I used an OSB triangle with 10cm sides. You should be able to make hole in it, tightly fitting the nail or rod. Casting the nail into a plaster base could be a good alternative, as it completely non flammable.
- 3 theelight candles. It works with 2 also, sometimes. 3 makes it more sure.

- A can opener.
- An old wood chisel about 3cm wide and a mallet (not shown) to use with it. Do not use your good chisel on metal (as that is what is done in this project).
- A Phillips screwdriver.
- A file (not shown) to make the tip of the nail or rod very sharp, as it has to serve as a bearing. Using a nail saves work, but it needs to be really sharp, so you will need a file. I used a power file (a small belt sanding machine), but then I had over 20 to do.
- To make the nail or rod fit in the base you will need drill bits of the same diameter as the rod and in case of a nail also of its head.
- Some more drill bits and a columnar drill to make the decorative holes.
- Safety glasses.
- Some sanding paper (not shown).
- Some scrap wood and screws to make a drilling support.
- A sturdy work surface, capable of sustaining a blow. I used cork flooring panel, but any scrap wood panel should do.
- Some measuring gear, a pencil and a permanent marker.

Optional auxiliaries:
- A long-neck candle lighter instead of matches (an ordinary lighter tends to burn your fingers when lighting candles).
- Some silicone glue.
- A tiny amount of grease on the bearing can improve the working. Any lubricant that is somewhat heat resistant should do.
- Solvent like nail polish remover and cloth (both not shown) to remove permanent marker drawings.

Step 2: The Bearing

The can is used wth its open side downwards.

The bearing consists of a dimple in the bottom, made from the inside, hanging on the sharpened point of the nail or rod. To position the dimple nicely in the middle I used a template cut out of the plastic lid the can came with. The dimple is made with a Phillips screwdriver, pushing and turning. Do not exaggerate, as it will not work if you pierce the metal. A dimple just large enough to keep things in place on the nail is sufficient.

The point carrying the can needs to be sharp. The trick is to minimise the diameter of the contact surface, to minimise friction.

Remove all coverings and any glue. The cans I used had some hotmelt glue on them, most easily removed by heating the metal slightly from the inside (with the long-neck candle lighter I had lying arround). Take care not to burn yourself.

Step 3: Cutting the Vanes, Phase 1

I made cuts in the bottom, near the edge, with an old wood chisel as shown. The first cut proved to the most tricky. After the first one, there seems to be a relaxation of the constraints and it is easier to make a clean cut. For the first one I needed to avoid the cut intiating at the edge, because the edge started deforming. When carefully tilting the chisel to start the cut near the center, the deformation is limited. Once the cut is initiated, proceed with the chisel vertical again, or you could end up cutting the side of the can.

The cut made by the chisel is not symmetrical. One side is clearly bent downwards. This is no problem, as we will use this in shaping the vanes, but you should keep this effect always to the same side, i.e. either always at the clockwise or always counter-clockwise (See image 6 below). A trick that helps is not turning your chisel, but moving the can under it. For these cuts, the chisel is not tilted. It is a good idea to do the cuts in the order shown, to limit the deformation.

Step 4: Cutting the Vanes, Phase 2

The vanes are partly cut loose with a can opener. Start cutting in the middle of the edge of each vane.

At the side not bent down (remember the asymmetrical cut made by the chisel), keep a couple of mm uncut. It is important to leave only a couple of mm to make good vanes. If you cut one vane to far, that not that bad the others will still carry the load of the can.

At the “bent down side” you cut the vane loose completely, taking care not to cut the next vane. Sometimes the vane is not loose yet when cutting the edge. Another small hit with the chisel takes care of that.

Bend the vanes inside about 30°, taking care not to cut yourself. It is safer to use apiece of scrap wood to push the vanes in.

Step 5: Support

Mark the middle of the base and drill a hole right through tightly fitting the nail or rod. When using nail a large hole, about half a cm deep and fitting the head of the nail. Sand the edges of the hole to keep the base nicely flat and stable. Insert the nail/rod completely. I added silicone clue to keep it in place and to protect the surface under the base in case the nail/rod does overheat by accident. Again, make sure the base bottom remains flat, so it stands stable.

Not wanting to wait for the silicone to set I covered it with some masking tape, to continue working.

The bottom of the candle cups is covered with a silicone glue layer, about 1mm thick. The cups and candles are glued in place without applying any pressure, not to spill glue. When the candles are spent you can take out the wick and keep the cups, putting new candle fillings in them.

Step 6: Drilling the Decoration

To decorate the can we used a 4mm drill bit and a drill press, with special support made out of scrap wood. This was made to measure for the tin cans used. The pictures show the support relative to the can, to give an idea how.

The decorative hole pattern was first drawn on the can with a permanent marker (ordinary markers wipe of to easy during handling). It is important to take into account not to put too much holes and to keep at least a couple of mm between the holes. Do not put holes in the top couple of cm of the can, not to disturb the working of the vanes.

A sharp drill bit and keeping the can well down on the support, keeps burring to a minimum.

When cleaning of the marker after drilling, do take care of the burrs still occurring.

You can remove burrs by lightly going over a burred hole with a larger sized drill bit.

An alternative is using a nail and hammer. Although this would give nice results to, but the support needs to be a lot stronger and it works slower as you need to take the nail out again for each hole.

Step 7: Lighting Up and Putting in Motion

Hang the can on the sharp tip. You might have to move it around a little to feel the tip finding the dimple. I find it safest to light the candles after putting on the can. Use long matches or a long-neck candle lighter.

I repeat it is VERY important to check if the gap between the top of the candles and the bottom of the can is at least 2.5 cm. When the gap was only about 1 cm in some cases the candle wax overheated and start burning over all of the surface, not only at the wick. At that stage you can no longer blow out the candle and you risk spilling burning liquid wax. This happened to some examples from a first series where the gap was only about 1cm. It took a towel soaked in water, but not dripping, to put them out safely.

With a 2.5 cm gap, repeated tests showed the candles burning normally. When it works as it is intended, the can should not get to hot to handle with your bare hands, but be careful when testing that (I test with wetted fingers).

When the candles are lit, it could take a nudge to start the carousel turning. In some cases a tiny amount of grease at the bearing tip was needed. As the coating is damaged at the dimple it rusted after some time. The grease also helps to counter that.

Of course, never leave candles burning unattended, especially in a self-made construction.
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    27 Discussions


    2 years ago

    love this! we are making one! future reference for the decorative holes. make them first. put water in the can and freeze it. you can then nail the pattern in with a solid background.

    I have a question for you. Have been wanting to try to make something out of cans for a while now, and I think you have just inspired a whole lot, but is there any way of getting rid of the sharp edges? Thanks a lot

    1 reply

    That is a though one.
    For the holes, you can file down the burrs.
    For the vanes, in theory you could bend over the edges and flatten them, but that would be quite hard.
    In this project the sharp edges and burrs are all aiming inwards, so they do not pose a problem for normal use.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Sweet! I think I will make one and add it to the thermal section of my website hgttp://www.aboutsteam.com

    1 reply

    7 years ago on Introduction

    Awesome! Truly awesome. Wish you were my teacher in grade school. I found a recipe for making Gel Fuel for my fake arse fireplace. Found a new use for it I think. I'll try it out and post a pic if I can. (blushing)

    1 reply

    7 years ago on Introduction

    Great Instructible! Love the effect. Maybe for an adult version, to make the pivot bearing with less friction, you could fix a needle to the nail tip instead using either wire to bind it on or epoxy resin glue.

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Great idea. In theory a well sharpened nail point should give a similar contact surface as a needle. But in practice the ready made needle point will easily give the better solution.

    Loosing weight by making a lot of holes ore larger openings would also help lowering friction. See the one from susanrm.

    7 years ago on Step 6

    For those without access to many workshop tools, there's a trick for punching holes in the sides of cans without deforming the cylindrical shape.

    Fill the can(s) with water. Freeze until solid. Punch the holes through the metal against the supporting block of ice. Thaw, then discard contents.

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Step 6

    Thanks for the tip.

    In some cases the expansion of the ice might damage the can. But as tin cans are pretty strong, it will probably work in most cases.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Good one. I am going to have to do this. Thanks for posting!