Build: An Electrified Zoetrope from recycled parts

Craft & Design Energy & Sustainability Fun & Games Technology
Build: An Electrified Zoetrope from recycled parts

This time we are going to be making a Zoetrope from a bunch of junk. What is a Zoetrope? Here is what I found on Wikipedia:

The earliest elementary zoetrope was created in China around 180 AD by the prolific inventor Ting Huan.

It consists of a cylinder with slits cut vertically in the sides. Beneath the slits on the inner surface of the cylinder is a band which has either individual frames from a video/film or images from a set of sequenced drawings or photographs. As the cylinder spins the user looks through the slits at the pictures on the opposite side of the cylinders’ interior.

You should be able to make the Zoetrope from found or recycled parts. If you can’t salvage parts like a motor or potentiometer, you local electronics shop should have them in stock.


Finding parts:
Remember all those toys the kids have outgrown, or the VCR your neighbor threw out. They all contain switches, motors and wires. It can be a lot of fun scavenging for parts. Just be careful, things like TV’s and computers can have high voltages even when they are unplugged. Only scavenge for parts if you know what you are doing. In general, kids toys that are battery operated are fairly safe to rip apart.

This build is a general guide to making a Zoetrope. Make adjustments depending on what parts you find, or purchase. If you make your own Zoetrope, post it in the MAKE Flickr photo pool and send me an email. Thanks!

Supplies you need:

  • (1) Old CD – Think AOL, or any demo disk
  • (1) CD spindle case
  • Paper – Black & white [you can paint the paper black too!]
  • Small Eraser
  • (1) Motor – Scavenged from a kids toy
  • (1) Switch – Again, scavenged
  • Some wire

Tools you need:

  • Scissors
  • X-Acto knife – Be careful!
  • Soldering Iron
  • Rosin core solder

Part 1: Finding the parts


The first thing you do is acquire some old or broken electronics to scavenge for parts. You can find a motor in many kids toys. If you don’t have kids, or know any kids, then just go to the dollar store and buy something with a small electric motor. Hopefully it will have a few switches and batteries too. I bough a small orange fan for $1, and it didn’t work at all. Technically the fan would spin, but there wasn’t any air movement. It’s a perfect candidate for ripping apart.


Disassemble the fan, or what ever recycled toy you have. A lot of times the screws are hidden under stickers so check there if it doesn’t open easily.


When I was done I was able to salvage (2) AA batteries, (1) small light bulb, a nice motor, some wire and a lanyard. I’ll keep whatever I don’t use for another project.


In my bin-parts I had a battery holder, which was scavenged a long time ago. It holds (4) AA batteries. I thought this would be perfect, but I had to cut it in 1/2 so it held (2) AA batteries.


A quick score with a razor blade, and I could snap it in half.
Part 2: Making the drive system from a CD spindle


First, cut the center post out of the CD spindle. A pair of wire cutters makes this really easy.


Next, you need some holes for the potentiometer, a switch, and the motor. You can’t drill into the spindle case, it will shatter. I heated up an X-Acto blade and just pushed it through while twisting it until I thought it was the right size. The switch and potentiometer go anywhere on the side of the spindle and the motor will be attached to the top.


I had this potentiometer in my parts bin. I’m not sure where it came from, but it had some solder on it, so it must have been used for another project at some point. These are getting harder to come by, so if you can’t salvage one, just pick one up from an electronics store for about a $1.


Solder (1) 4″ piece of wire to either the eight or left tab, and another to the center tab.


Now you can attach the potentiometer to the case. I added nice little knob, but you could make one out of wood, or just turn the metal post of the potentiometer.


Now its time for the switch. Again Solder (1) 4″ piece of wire to either the right or left tab, and another 4″ wire to the center tab.


Now attach the switch to the cylinder.


Finally the motor needs some wires. Solder (1) 4″ piece of wire to both tabs of the motor. Next, add a dab of hot glue to the motor and put in the hole you made in the top of the CD spindle case. Next, add a healthy amount of epoxy to the motor. It is going to take a bit of abuse and you want to make sure it stays. My epoxy needed 24 hours to cure so at this point you can take a break and start again tomorrow. You can add a scrap piece of plastic to the top for added support. I used a piece from the original fan.

Part 3: Connecting it all up


Now it’s time to wire it all up. Start by adding a bit of hot glue to the battery holder and placing it on the base of the CD spindle. Later I found out that (2) AA batteries made the motor spin too fast, so I have to make a modification so it ran on (1) AA battery. I could use another battery holder, but why? Just solder a wire on the spring where the second battery was, and another wire on the (-) side of the battery terminal. The fun of this project is the hodgepodge of parts that are scavenged!


Lets start soldering. As you can see my wires are all different colors. That is because, once again, they are all recycled. I purposely used yellow heat-shrink tubing to make it even more interesting to look at through the clear case.

No need to worry about polarity, it really doesn’t matter which way the motor spins. Solder (1) battery wire to (1) of the switch wires. Next, solder the other switch wire to (1) of the motor wires. Next solder the remaining battery wire to (1) of the potentiometer wires and the remaining potentiometer wire to the last motor wire. Got it? Good!


Flip the switch and see if it runs. You can adjust the speed from the potentiometer. Also, If it spins the wrong way, just switch the battery wires.

Part 4: making the Zoetrope cylinder

Start by downloading the


, and


. Next, print them out and draw your animation in the empty boxes, or use the “red ball” version. Try something simple at first.


After you draw your animation, you need to glue your printout to the black backing paper to make it more rigid.


Once the glue is dry, cut out the white rectangles. These will be the viewing holes in the Zoetrope.


Now flip the printout over and add a long strip of tape to the bottom edge. Have the tape hang over the entire bottom edge about 1/4 inch. Then cut the tape about every 1/2 inch. This will allow the tape to bend under the CD easier.


Now stand the CD on the edge of the paper and on the tape. Roll the CD and press the tabs of tape on the CD. When you are done, add a tape at the seam. My CD was a bit smaller than the standard 4.75 inch diameter. If it is, just cut the excess. It will not make a difference.


Almost done.

Part 4: Attaching the cylinder & trying it out


Take a spare CD and draw trace the center circle onto an eraser.


Cut out the erase slightly larger than the traced circle and add a center hole.


Push the eraser into the center of the Zoetrope cylinder and attach it to the motor.


You’re all done! Now print the blank template again, but this time cut the bottom off and place it inside your new Zoetrope. You can have a whole set of animations to show your friends.

18 thoughts on “Build: An Electrified Zoetrope from recycled parts

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’ve heard the oft repeated “be careful when using high voltage parts from t.v.’s and computers”. Um. Manufactures have used bleed resistors for years for this very reason. I’ve yet to come across any HV cap that still contained a charge even after 10 minutes.

    1. Marc de Vinck says:

      That’s good to know, thanks!

      However, how long have they done this, and how old are some of the things people rip apart. Better safe than sorry. I love to find things from the 40’s and 50’s. They have the coolest knobs and panels. I have had a few “mishaps”…….so once again, be careful!

  2. Tachikomatic says:

    I think that the vacuum tube in a tv is what they are most concerned about, since they can hold a pretty large charge at a high voltage for a long time. Of all the CRTs I have messed with, only one had what I believe was a bleed resistor associated with the tube.

  3. Jack of Most Trades. says:

    I handle all CRT’s as though they are live bombs, anyway. Don’t wanna get bit by the 2nd anode snap, which would probably lead to dropping the damn thing, which would probably lead to the glass breaking, etc.

    As for the other parts, I was taught (back in the days when radios had those little glass bottles that glowed orange in them)that there is a term for people who assume that the bleeder resistor never opens:

  4. Sy says:

    I’m not yet all that technical when it comes to some basic electronics; so, what specifications should I be looking for when sourcing a potentiometer for this project?
    at the store I can still easily lay hands on a large selection: 1K, 2K, 9K, 10K, 22K, 200K, 500K etc.
    Best regards – Sy.

    1. Marc de Vinck says:


      Mine was a 22. Hope this helps.

      Send me an email if you make one. I would love to see the finished product. Hopefully you will make a better animation than my simple bouncing ball!

  5. Runningone says:

    Hi, I am making larger scale motorized zoetropes (multiple ones) and I was curious as to what sort of motor I should use (I’m thinking modified small “desk” fan”) and what size potentiometer I should use. I would love to talk to you about yours and get some thoughts from you.
    Thank You

  6. Runningone says:

    Let me also add to this, that I would ultimately desire to have them outlet powered. So if that changes anything in the game, please let me know.

  7. Teddi says:

    What size motor would I need in order to make a 3D zoetrope. I’d like to make a 3 layer 3D zoetrope like Gregory Barsamian’s Feral Font. This blog is very helpful.

  8. Erkan Yesilkan says:

    Hi, that is really awesome work… So nice, so cool… I want to make a gift for my nephew look like your project. But I dont have enough electronic information :( Also may I ask you some questions sir?

    1) do we have to use potentiometer if we have slow rpm mini DC motor? is it possible without potentiometer? 50 rpm or lower?
    2) what do you control with potentiometer in this project? Electric current or voltage?
    which techniqal specifation potentiometer is enough for this project.
    3)does the project works with 3 – 4 batteries or a few rechangeable batteries too?
    4) how can we add some led strip lights to the electric circuit?
    5) any other suggestions?

    thank you very much

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