How to make a miniature zoetrope

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26 April 2022
As a forerunner of the movies, the zoetrope ‘wheel of life’ was a popular Victorian optical toy. Learn how to make your own miniature version in this tutorial by Jane Harrop...

The first zoetrope was made in 1834 by William Horner in England, but it didn’t become popular until the 1860s.

It was made up from a simple drum which housed a strip of paper illustrations on the inside with each slightly changing in appearance. Slots were positioned at equal distances just above the pictures, and the drum placed on a central axis. The illustrations could be viewed through the slots and when the drum was spun, the pictures appeared to be moving.

He also sold books that had a series of small images individually printed in the top corner on each page which created the same effect as the zoetrope when the pages were flipped. 

Have a go at your own miniature version of the zoetrope in this step-by-step tutorial...

DIY miniature zoetrope

By Jane Harrop

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You will need

  • Access to a photocopier or scanner
  • Thin (matt finished) craft card for drum frame and base
  • Cream or white copier paper for illustrations strip
  • Compass or compass cutter
  • Black marker pen
  • Wooden spindle for stand
  • 3/4in (19mm) diameter wooden craft toy wheel for stand
  • 3/8x1/16in (9.5x1.5mm) wooden washer bead for stand
  • Wood stain
  • Brass sequin pin
  • Glue stick
  • Tacky glue


1. Scan or photocopy the drum frame on to thin matt finished craft card – the card needs to have no coating so it can absorb the marker pen and leave a flat matt finish. Using a sharp craft knife and metal ruler, carefully cut out the slots.

Cut out slots in drum frame

2. Cut round the outer lines keeping the surrounding card attached as you do so.

Cut out card

3. For the drum base, draw and cut out a 1-3/16in (30mm) circle from the same card. NB: The central point is required.

Circle card

4. Colour all sides and edges of the drum frame and base, using a black marker pen and leave to dry.

Coloured card

5. Scan or photocopy the illustrations strip on to copier paper. Use a craft knife and metal ruler to cut out.

Zoetropr illustrations strip

6. Curl the drum frame by gently rolling it around a cylindrical object like a pen.

Curled zoetrope drum

This project originally featured in the August 2013 issue of Dolls House & Miniature Scene. Pick up a digital copy of the magazine, or subscribe for year-round miniature inspiration!

7. Use a glue stick to attach the illustrations to the band beneath the slots. The end of the strip must be flush with the outside of the last slot. Glue this section into place and work your way back. The end of the strip on the left hand side shouldn’t be glued down as the drum shape needs to be formed first.

Attached illustrations

8. Form the drum frame into a cylinder and glue the right hand end underneath the left hand end. The ends of the images strip should match up when you do this.

Drum frame cylinder

9. Apply a small amount of tacky glue to the bottom edge of the drum and glue centrally on top of the base piece.

Zoetrope drum

10. Cut the spindle as shown and sand each end smooth.

Miniature spindle

11. Drill down into the end with a fine drill bit. Colour all of the wood pieces with wood stain and buff with a clean piece of cloth to produce a soft sheen.

Drilling with fine drill bit

12. Glue the rounded end of the column into the wooden craft disc. Once dry, glue the wooden washer bead centrally on top.

Wooden support for zoetrope

13. Trim the pointed end off a brass sequin pin. Thread the pin through the hole in the base of the drum from the inside and then into the top of the column stand. Gently press down, but not too much, to allow the zoetrope to freely revolve.

Miniature Victorian zoetrope

And there you have it! Your very own miniature zoetrope. Loved making this miniature Victorian toy? Learn how to make a miniature hobby horse for your dolls house nursery next! 

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