Not only is this a pretty decoration or a lovely, old-fashioned gift, but it is a heat-powered motor and a teaching tool. If you are going to use this to teach, the learning objective is to demonstrate how heat energy from convection is converted to work. The work is used to spin the carousel. It can be an excellent project for a physics class, including the opportunity to calculate how much heat is lost to surrounding air.
Here is mine in action; I made the music specially for this article. It's only 20 seconds long and shows the carousel in action, with no words.
You can also see an example of a commercially made one on Amazon.com.
Step 1: Materials and Supplies
- a regular or short (tuna or cat food) can
- aluminum pie pan
- SAFETY EQUIPMENT: safety glasses and mask
- Dremel or other rotary cutter with cutting disks and sanding disk
- spray paint
- metal cutter
- spray paint
- sparkly bracelet
- metal/glass glue
- decorative glass pieces
- wire: fine gauge and thicker gauge
- wire cutter
- round nose pliers
- metal file
- paper shape punch
Step 2: Start the Base
If you have a tuna, cat food or other low can, you can skip this step. I don't use much canned food, so I had to choose what was available in my recycle bin: a can from chili.
First, don your safety glasses and mask! Metal shavings are nasty to breathe, and if you get any in your eye, you may be disqualified from ever having an MRI in the future. Unless you want to lose your eye from shavings flying out of it, protect your eyes!
Using your rotary tool, cut along the bottom ridge all the way around. Be careful, because the cutting disks may well shatter. I lost two in the process. Take your time and always go with the direction of the tool, not against it.
Next, sand along the top until it is a smooth edge.
Spray paint the outside to make it pretty. I used gold spray paint. Make sure you do this in a well ventilated area! I did it in my back yard. Let it dry while you are working on the other steps.
Step 3: Make the Fan
I used the can to trace a circle around the outside of the can with a marker. Then I cut it out using metal shears.
Now you will have a nice circle.
Note that were I to make this again, I would make this circle larger than the can's diameter. This wouldn't significantly increase the weight, but it would add more surface area to the fan blades and would make the fan spin more easily.
Find the center of the circle. I did this by measuring the diameter crosswise and finding where they crossed. Poke a hole in the center. I used pointy round-nosed pliers for this, but you can use a knife or anything small. The hole I ended up needing was much smaller than this.
Draw four lines dividing the circle into eight pie pieces, and cut along the lines, stopping about half an inch from the hole.
Once they are cut, gently twist-bend each section. You will now have a workable (if fragile) fan.
Note: I originally tried this project with the lid of the can, which was much sturdier, but too heavy for the heat convection to move. If you want to add more candles, you can use heavier metal.
Step 4: Add Structural Reinforcement
With such a delicate piece, I decided to reinforce it with some scaffolding.
Originally, I had wanted to hang different beads and sparkly things from the fan. As I realized how much heat would be involved, I changed the project to include only aluminum decorations on the fan. So this step is optional if you are sticking with the aluminum hanging decorations.
Cut a couple of pieces of thin wire (~22 gauge) about the same diameter as the fan.
Fold them over each other in the middle to form a plus sign.
Then curl the ends to form loops from which to hang decorations, if you can make some heat-proof ones.
Glue the wire in the center to the center of the fan. I pushed the bit where they are joined through the center hole.
Next, cut a little circle about 1/2 inch in diameter out of the foil pan. Make a fairly deep dent in its center and glue this in the center of the fan. This is where the wire holding up the fan will go.
Step 5: Prepare the Stand
I used 12-gauge copper wire to hold up the fan.
First, find the optimum height for the stand. I did this by moving the candle up and down in relation to the fan. In this case, the best distance was about three inches from the candle. I cut a piece of wire around 4 inches long, knowing I would be bending it.
Next, cut a couple of slits in the side of the can using your rotary cutter. They don't need to be big, maybe 1/2 inch wide each.
Use round nose pliers to shape the slit and the can above it into a holder for the wire.
Next, use a metal file to make the end of the wire nice and pointy, so it will allow the fan to spin as freely as possible.
Place the wire in the holder, pointy side up, and bend it up, across, and up again. The important thing about the bends is that you need to make sure none of the dangles hit the wire when the top is turning. That's why my dragonflies stick out a bit.
(This design makes it possible to take the carousel apart for storage or transport.)
Step 6: Add Hanging Decorations
After contemplating all week what to hang from the fan that wouldn't make it crumple, burn or fall, I finally came up with the idea of using more of the pie pan as the decorations.
First, I took a paper punch and punched out four dragonflies. The punch worked better on this foil than it ever has on paper.
Then, I cut four strips to hang the dragonflies from. After cutting them, I trimmed them to make them even.
Next, I punched tiny holes in the ends of the strips with a knife and fed the dragonfly tails into the holes. Bending them over made them stay, and they retain a bit of motion.
I then used the knife to cut slits on four of the fan blades (not the ones with wire beneath them). The strips went through these slits. I found this to be helpful because I ended up having to adjust the length of the strips a lot as I was creating, and this design made them adjustable.
Step 7: Bling It Up!
Now for the fun part: making it pretty.
The first thing I did was to fill the base with red glass. This makes it look festive and also adds stability, making it less likely that the candle will tip.
Then I glued rhinestones around the edge of the base.
For Plan A, I had bought crystal bracelets to take apart and use the beads as dangles for the carousel. When I scrapped that plan, I still had the bracelets. This one looks lovely with the red glass surrounding the candle.
Step 8: Come On, Baby, Light My Fire!
Once you have assembled all the other components, find a safe place away from children and pets to light the candle carousel. Place the fan on the pointy wire and light the candle.
Enjoy the lovely spinning glory of this holiday magic.