Need to keep an eye out for enemy invaders? This PVC periscope project is super simple and gives you a chance to show and explain to kids how mirrors work. An added plus – it will keep little explorers busy for hours/days/weeks to come as they search for spies and intruders.
Learn while you build: Periscopes have been used for hundreds of years to observe things without being seen. They were used in trenches during World War I and have been used in submarines to see above the water’s surface. Simple periscopes work using two mirrors set at 45 degree angles on either side of a vertical tube (see diagram).
You may have seen periscopes built into fancy playgrounds before. Kids love looking through scopes and binoculars, so I figured this project would be a hit. This basic design uses a few inexpensive parts that can be found at the local hardware store or even purchased online. I was able to scrounge up my supplies for a few bucks (I already had paint and glue). The end result was totally worth it! Here’s my supply list.
- 2 x 2” PVC Elbows (slip style ends)
- 16” – 2” PVC Pipe (schedule 40 white)
- 2 x Small round mirrors (2” diameter or smaller)
- 2 x Cardboard Pieces (3” x 2-1/4”)
Step 1: Measure and Cut Cardboard
There are a few other periscope projects out there on the interweb that require some pretty involved pipe cutting and measuring to install the mirrors. For a kid’s periscope, I found it easiest to use pieces of cardboard to mount the mirrors. That way I could tweak and turn them inside the scope before gluing them in place.
I used standard corrugated cardboard, as it was thick enough to lodge in place and has some give to it. I used two pieces of cardboard about 3” x 2-1/4” in size. The idea is the cardboard needs to be small enough to fit into the elbow opening, but large enough to lodge into the corner without it moving around.
Optional: Before going on to the next step I chose to paint my cardboard a lighter color so it wasn’t as distracting when you look through the scope. It makes for a slightly more polished looking end product.
Step 2: Glue on Mirrors
When I began this project I figured finding mirrors would be simple. After searching various stores, I was directed to the craft store where I searched high and low before finally wandering into the mirror aisle. Of course, they were out of the 2” diameter mirrors I needed, so I decided to improvise. You’ll notice in my pictures I am using small 1” square mirrors glued together. I wouldn’t recommend this technique, as the periscope image gets a bit skewed by the individual mirrors in the end.
For your project you can check craft stores, hardware stores, or even old makeup compacts. I am told the big hardware chains will cut sheets of mirror to whatever size you want. A 2” x 2” square or 2” round mirror is ideal. If you can think of other sources for small mirrors like this, please share!
Glue one mirror to each of the cardboard pieces. The cardboard is a little bigger than the mirror so position it right in the middle of the pieces. I used some industrial strength glue I had, but you could also use hot glue or super glue. I recommend something stronger than tacky glue, as the mirror backs are pretty slick.
Step 3: Put Mirrors into Elbows
Once your mirrors are dried, take one of the 2” PVC elbows and stick the mirror piece inside, lodging it in the corner at a 45 degree angle (or as close as you can estimate).
Do the same with the other side. The corners of the cardboard pieces will bend as you cram them in the corner. That’s okay. The bend in the cardboard is what keeps it stuck there. Don’t glue the cardboard to the elbows yet. You’ll want to make sure everything is lining up sigh-wise first.
Step 4: Put it All Together
Take your 2” PVC pipe and stick an elbow on either end, positioning the bends facing opposite one-another. Look through one end and you should be able to see out to some extent. Now you can nudge and turn and adjust the mirrors to get an accurate line of site. Once the mirrors are how you want them you can run a bead of glue along the edge of the cardboard where it meets the PVC. This will keep the sights from getting way off.
Optional: If your explorer is particularly rough with her toys, you can always glue the elbows to the PVC pipe. I found that if I pushed them on hard enough, the scope was pretty sturdy without glue. This may differ depending on the PVC parts you use, etc.
Step 5: Paint
Now the fun part – decorating! I used some paint I had from past projects to come up with a simple camouflage print. Obviously, you can decorate your periscope however you like. You could even get fancy and add a carrying strap or attach a compass.
Camouflage Paint How-to: Get together 3 or 4 colors for your camo. Start with your lightest color and paint a single coat over the entire periscope. Next, use your econd lightest color and paint on random blotches of color. I tried to make mine more blob shaped with rounded edges. Last, use your darkest color to make more colored areas, layering some over the existing spots. Now you should see all three colors peeking out fairly equally all along the scope.
Step 6: Play!
When everything is dry, you’re ready to explore! Experiment with using the periscope to see over the couch, peek under a table, or look around a corner.
Periscope Game idea: Submarine Hide and Seek – One person is “it” and must stake out a spot behind a couch or barrier. This barrier is “base”. The seeker is not allowed to look out from behind that barrier except through the scope. The hider’s goal is to sneak up and touch base without being spotted through the periscope. First person spotted is “it”!
Thinking about trying this project out? Shoot me a comment and let me know how it goes! I’d also love to hear some of your DIY kid’s project ideas that have turned out to be a hit.
Amanda Hill is the content manager at CIS, a commercial industrial supplier of PVC related products for contractors as well as consumers. Amanda is responsible for managing all content efforts as it relates to PVC and DIY projects related to the products we supply. Amanda creates a wide range of projects utilizing a wide range of plastic piping materials. Learn more about CIS on Google+