How do you make a kaleidoscope?

The heart of a kaleidoscope is a three-dimensional prism made of mirrors. Several different mirror systems are used to produce different forms of symmetry in the kaleidoscope image. Our mirror is front-surface mirror (silvered on the front instead of the back) for increased clarity of images and elimination of errors caused by refraction.

Although the internal optics of a kaleidoscope consist of mirrors, the body can be made of any material. Although we design and make all-glass scopes as well, the majority of Optical Wonders kaleidoscopes are made as 19th century kaleidoscopes were, handmade of finely finished hardwoods and optically clear mirror glass. Each kaleidoscope is made from several strips of wood cut at a precise angle and joined to form a cylinder through use of the “coopering” technique, similar to the method used to make barrels and hogsheads. Each of our “parlor scopes” is mounted on its own base and has specially designed stained glass wheels or a cylinder as its pattern-forming objective.

We use only selected domestic and plantation-grown exotic hardwoods in our scopes. Each scope is hand-sanded then hand-rubbed with three to six coats of Danish oil, then waxed. The color of the wood will change through the years as the wood ages. No stains, polyurethane finishes, or other coatings are used.

All glass work is done with pieces of stained glass individually cut and ground to fit, then edge-wrapped in copper foil, burnished, and soldered together. Designs for kaleidoscope objectives combine color balance, intensity, contrast, delicacy, and structural integrity to produce the image you see.