How to make a spinning lamp

Written by megan shoop
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How to make a spinning lamp
Heat causes specially made lampshades to spin. (spiral image by Dragomir Uzunov from

Motion lamps became popular in the 1950s when lamp makers created cylindrical lamps with colourful acetate insets. The heat from the bulbs inside the cylinders made the pictures rotate. Though you can still find these lamps in vintage shops, you can often make them for just a few dollars at home. The fact that you get to pick your own pictures and customise your lamp is just an added benefit.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Clear acetate film
  • Scissors
  • Permanent markers
  • Glue dots
  • Aluminium pie plate
  • Mathematical compass
  • Scissors
  • Flat-base lamp with lampshade harp

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  1. 1

    Cut a piece of acetate film about 12 inches long. Spread it out on a flat surface and colour it any way you like with permanent markers. Try to keep the pictures colourful and simple with line art dominating your work. Don't touch the ink; you'll smear the picture. Let it dry for at least an hour.

  2. 2

    Roll the acetate into a cylinder, securing it with glue dots. These sticky dots are available at craft stores and are almost always clear.

  3. 3

    Measure across the top of your cylinder and add ½ inch to that measurement. Divide the resulting measurement in half and adjust your mathematical compass to that final measurement. For instance, a tube measuring 5 inches across requires a compass adjusted to 2 ¾ inches.

  4. 4

    Draw a circle in the centre of your aluminium pie plate. Cut out the circle and poke a hole in the centre with your scissors. Snip into the circle six times, stopping about ½ inch before the hole in the centre. Space your cuts evenly around the circle, creating six even "wings."

  5. 5

    Twist each wing at a 45-degree angle to the right. Bend the last ¼ inch of each wing down at a 90-degree angle. Glue the bent parts of the wing around the outside of your acetate cylinder. This completes your lampshade.

  6. 6

    Slide the centre hole of your lampshade down over the tip of the lampshade harp on your lamp. Lamps with flat, wooden bases work best. The harp is a wire loop that surrounds the bulb and has a pointed tip to support a lampshade. When the shade warms, it should spin.

Tips and warnings

  • Try tracing pictures, maps or photos onto your acetate. You may also paint the outside of the shade with acrylic paint and draw dark swirls on the inside. When lit, you'll be able to see the swirls as shadows.

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