Up Periscope!

My two older boys, ages 12 and 11, and I made this periscope.  It could be used in connection with learning about WWI, where they used periscopes to see over the edge of the trenches and in U-boats, while learning about submarines in general, or while learning about optics and mirrors.  Or be a cool parent and just do it for fun.

How to build a periscope with your kids.

We used scrap wood, spray paint and nails we already had around the house and purchased mirrors from a craft store for $0.99.  It took us about 1 hour for the whole project.


  • 2 pieces three ply plywood, cut 2″ x 16″
  • 2 pieces three ply plywood cut 2″ x 18″
  • 2 pieces three ply plywood cut 2″ x 2″
  • small finishing nails
  • 2- 2″ square mirrors
  • wooden matches
  • hot glue or wood glue
  • sandpaper
  • spray paint (optional)

How To Build A Periscope

After cutting out the pieces (a good chance to teach older kids how to use power tools) sand all the pieces smooth.  We used 100 grit sandpaper, but you can move to finer grit if you want a smoother finish.

Nail each of the 2″ square pieces of wood to each of the the 18″ long pieces.  Then nail the 16″ piece on to the 18″ piece to make a three sided box.  Be careful that the gaps you leave end up opposite on the periscope.  The two shorter pieces, the 2″ and 16″ should sit on top of the 18″.

Break the heads off of four matches.  Use the resulting small strips of wood to hold the mirrors in place.  Use hot glue or wood glue to attach one match to the bottom edge where the mirror will sit.  Position your mirror and glue the top end.  The mirror should be at a 45 degree angle.  Before you position the second mirror, you’ll want to hold the periscope up in place and make sure the mirrors are at the right angle to see with.

Once your mirrors are in place, nail the two halves of your periscope together, with the gaps on opposite sides of the periscope.

Now if you like you can spray paint the whole thing in any color you like.  Be sure to cover your mirrors with paper to prevent them from being covered with paint.


Additional Layers

  • This is a great chance to practice math skills in a real world application.  Let the kids do the measuring.  Have them find things like volume and surface area.  And see if they can find out the optimal measure for the angles of the mirrors.  They can measure the angles with a protractor to see if they got it right.
  • Learn about mirrors and how they work.  Who first figured out how to make mirrors?
  • Learn the history of the submarine.
  • Write a story based around a periscope.  Is the periscope in a fort or trench?  On a submarine?  A spy tool?  Pretend you are the main character and tell how you use your periscope in an adventure.
  • Look through your periscope and describe what you see in detail.  This is a good exercise for practicing detailed descriptions.


  1. It is so nice to see another family with boys who are interested in wars. Mine are, and I feel so alone in this sometimes. My boys play with periscopes they made all the time. Thanks for sharing.

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