Introduction: Kids Can Make Infinity Mirrors Too!
Dream AcadeME is a non profit alternative education organization. Our philosophy focuses on child-centered learning connected with STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math), nature, and social-constructivism, an approach where children create their learning in a social dynamic. The Infinity Mirror is one of many project-based lessons we here at Dream AcadeME have lead, that integrates STEAM in a hands-on capacity, empowering our young innovators to build the world they dream possible! Check out another project our students worked on in woodworking class: https://www.instructables.com/id/Kids-Make-an-Adventure-Board/
Step 1: Tools and Materials
- 1 mirror with a frame
- 2 1"x3"x8' sticks of lumber (the size will depend on the mirror you are using)
- 1 1/8" thick pane of glass at least as big as the mirror you are using
- 1 strand of LEDs as long as the perimeter of the inside of the mirror frame
- two-way mirror film, adhesive-backed, large enough to cover the pane of glass
- wood putty
- some 3/4" long wood screws
- some small (1" or so) finish brads or nails
- hanging wire and eye screws, or some other way of hanging the mirror once it's done
- (Optional) chopsticks or other wooden spacers to hold the mirrors in the frame
- circular saw or miter saw
- power drill
- various drill bits (countersink bits are extra handy)
- power sander
- various grits of sandpaper
- speed square
- tape measure
- straight edge
- glass cutter
- wood glue
- hot glue and gun
Step 2: Start With a Used Mirror. Prep the Frame.
We picked up a used mirror from a thrift store. The size of this mirror determines the size of the glass you'll need as well as the size of the lumber and two-way mirror film.
Start by opening up the back and removing the mirror. You'll need to figure out the amount of space you need inside the frame. From front to back, you'll need space for the glass, the LED strip, the mirror, and the cardboard (or other padded backing). Once you've added those up, subtract the depth of the inset (rabbet) and that's how thick the lumber will be you'll add to the back of the frame. If the number you get is negative, that means your frame is already thick enough to hold everything! In that case, you can skip the following steps involving adding lumber to the back of the frame. For us, we needed about 1/2" more depth, and the width of the frame was about 2.5", so we bought some 1"x3" lumber (which is actually 0.5"x2.5"). Remember, the width of the frame should match the width of the lumber as close as possible.
We were fine setting the mirrors directly against the LED strip because the strip came housed inside a rectangular silicone tube. If you think it will be a problem for either mirror to touch the LED strip, you'll have to add spacers of some kind and add that into your depth calculation. These spacers could be simply chopsticks glued to the inside of the frame just surrounding the space where the LED strip will go.
Set aside the glass mirror in a safe place. We'll use it near the end.
Clean up the frame as much as possible. Remove all staples, nails, cardboard, paper, etc. Sand down the back of the frame so it is a smooth flat surface to attach the lumber to.
Step 3: Make the Frame Thicker.
Measure the length of the frame. Cut two sections of lumber to those lengths. The carpenter's speed square is handy here.
Put some wood glue on a cut section and clamp it to a long side of the frame so the inside edge lines up with the inside edge of the frame's inset (rabbet). Using countersinks if you have them, predrill your screw holes being very careful not to puncture the front of the frame. If you do punch through, you may be able to patch the hole with wood putty later.
Insert screws into the screw holes, again, being sure not to puncture the front of the frame. Remove the clamp.
Repeat the procedure attaching the second long piece of wood to the frame.
Next, measure the distance of the frame between the two sections you just added. Cut two sections of lumber to those measurements. If your lumber is the same width as the frame wood, this measurement should be the width of the frame minus twice the width of the lumber. (Note: for teaching purposes, this is a good demonstration of the difference between empirical measurement, the former, versus theoretical calculation, the latter.)
Repeat the procedure for clamping and attaching the lumber to the back of the frame.
You should now have a thicker frame. Before finishing the frame, pick a location for the power cord of the LED strip to exit the frame. You'll need to drill a hole large enough for that cord to go from an inside corner of the frame to the outside edge or backside.
If you need to add spacers to hold the mirrors in place, now may be a good time to do so. Using wood glue and clamps, attach the chopsticks or whatever spacers you are using to the inside of the frame surrounding the space where the LED strip will go.
Step 4: Finishing the Frame.
Hide all the screw holes and seams with wood putty. Use a putty knife or your fingers to apply the wood putty to all the holes and seams in the wood (except the hole for the LED power cord). Wait for it to cure, then sand all surfaces.
As it turns out, our lumber was a slightly different width compared to the frame wood width so there was a bit of a lip on the edge of the frame. We used a coarse 80-grit sandpaper on a belt sander to quickly make the sides of the frame flush. Then we used medium 120-grit sandpaper on the orbital sander on the sides and back of the frame smoothing all the surfaces. And lastly, we used a fine 220-grit on the orbital sander on all sides to make it all nice and smooth.
Now it's time to prime and paint the frame however you like. Keep in mind the time it takes for each coat to dry. You may work on some of the following steps between coats.
Step 5: Cut the Glass to Match the Mirror.
You'll need to cut the pane of glass you bought to match the mirror. Measure the mirror you removed from the frame and mark the glass with a marker. Alternatively, you could simply place the mirror on the glass, lining up the corners, and mark the glass to match the mirror. Again, empirical vs. theoretical.
Use the glass cutter and straight-edge to score and break the glass like in the posted video.
Step 6: Apply the Two-way Mirror Film to the Glass.
Make sure the glass is as clean as possible. Any dirt, hair, or other contaminants will forever be trapped under the film, so we want it as clean as we can get it!
Cut a section of film that is slightly larger (1-2") than the pane of glass. Follow the instructions for applying your two-way mirror film. For us, we had to spray the glass and top side of the film with a weak soap-water mix. Then we peeled off the back layer of the film exposing the adhesive, and we carefully laid the film on the glass, starting at one end and squeegeeing from the center out while laying it down. Another round of spray and squeegee from the center out helps to remove as many bubbles as possible.
Using a sharp razor or box cutter, trim the excess film from the edge of the glass. Take your time and get as cleanly and as close to the edge of the glass as you can. Any film that hangs over will end up bulging against the inside of the frame and warp the reflected image.
Step 7: Assemble and Test the Infinity Mirror.
If the frame is painted and dry, you are ready to assemble!
First, insert the two-way mirror glass into the frame. It is important to orient it so the film is on the inside of the frame or else you will get a double "ghost" image in your infinity mirror.
Next, insert the LED strip around the perimeter of the inside of the frame. I suggest doing a dry run to make sure you have a long enough strip and you have a plan for how it will all line up. The further the LEDs are from each mirror, the wider the gap will be between the receding points of light in the infinity illusion. Make sure to start by inserting the power cord through the hole you made for it. Push it through far enough so the first LED is neatly in the corner or wherever you want it while planning for how the last LED will meet up with the first. When you're ready, remove the backing exposing the adhesive (or if your strip doesn't have adhesive apply your own) and begin attaching the strip to the inside edge of the frame.
Now insert the original mirror that came in the frame. In case it's not obvious, you'll want the mirror side facing in!
Back it with the cardboard or other padding you have. You can now plug in the LEDs and while holding the backside carefully lift up the mirror and test the infinity mirror to make sure it works. Be careful not to let anything fall out the back!
Step 8: Secure the Back, Add a Hanger, and Hang It on the Wall!
Set it back face down. Make sure the cardboard or other padding you have is set. Secure everything in place by carefully tapping in small brads or nails around the inside perimeter. When using the hammer, be careful not to break the mirror! We found it easier and safer to tap in the nails with the top edge of the hammer as seen in the photo.
Attach a hanger. We used two eye screws connected by a hanger wire. Photo shows us predrilling the holes for the eye screws.
Hang it on the wall, plug it in, and admire your work!
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