Learn How To Make a Water Prism

rainbow on my ceiling

rainbow on my dogs feet

Learn how to make a water prism if you want rainbows on your ceiling (or even on your dog)!

Figuring out how to make a water prism that didn't leak was not easy. I didn't want just one that didn't leak, I wanted them all not to leak, and that wasn't happening.

The first four leaked, some slowly, and one as fast as I filled it up. I was frustrated, wanted to give up and then decided it would not get the best of me. Finally, I had success. Three that did not leak a drop. Perfection had been accomplished. Now it is time to share what I learned, so that you can have beautiful rainbows in your house too.

my first leaky water prisms

Here are my first two water prisms.
Very pretty but very leaky!

Double Click on any of the pictures to enlarge them.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Materials List for Making a Water Prism

Six 3"x3" bevels
Chain (fairly fine but strong)
Clear silicone
Copper foil
22 or 24 gauge copper wire
Distilled water
60cc syringe

bevels laid out

Step 1. For this water prism, I used six 3x3x3 triangle bevels, but you can use any size diamond or triangle bevels you want. Make sure they are all the same. I say this because in a box of 30 bevels, some had longer sides than others. Just marginally longer, but enough to throw the angles off. Divide them up into 2 sets of three bevels and lay them out like the picture, just to make sure all sides line up and are of equal length.

Cut or grind off the tips of one set of 3 bevels, as shown in the photo. This set will be the top section of the water prism. Cutting off the tips is done to accommodate the chain that will be used for hanging, and for a place to add water to the finished prism.

testing chain in opening

Step 2. Use a fairly fine but strong chain. How much you cut off the tips will depend on the size of the chain. The chain must easily fit through the hole. You might have to grind off a bit at a time to get the right size. To make sure the hole is large enough, tape the three bevels together and put the chain through the hole. If it goes through with some room to spare, it is large enough. If not, grind off a bit more.

Step 3. Lightly grind the edges of all the bevels to get rid of burrs and imperfections. Wipe all edges with alcohol. This gets rid of grinding dust and helps the foil adhere better.

offsetting the foil

Step 4. Wrap all 6 bevels with 1/4" foil. I used copper backed foil because I finished this water prism with copper patina. Here is something important to remember when foiling the bevels: DO NOT CENTER THE GLASS ON THE FOIL... off-set the foil so that about 1/4 of it is on the back of the bevel, and the other 3/4's wraps around to the front of the bevel.

slitting the corners

Step 5. Before you press the foil down, take a pair of scissors and snip the foil at each corner, on both sides so that it looks like the picture.

foil on the front of the bevel

foil on the back of the bevel

Now you can fold down the foil, one edge at a time. Cut off any tips that stick out beyond the glass. Make sure you burnish very well on all three sides (front, back and edge). The initial snipping at each corner stops the bunching of foil that we usually find at corners. I'm convinced this is an area that causes a water prism to leak. When you finish foiling and burnishing, the bevels will look like these pictures.

Step 6. Since a lot of water prisms seem to leak from under the foil, it made sense to me to seal the edge of the foil to the glass. This is accomplished by using clear silicone sealant. This step shows you where and how to apply the silicone.

taped...ready for silicone

Place strips of masking tape on the back of each bevel, lining it up with the wider edge of the foil that you see showing through from the front. There should be a space between the masking tape and the edge of the foil, on all three sides of the back of the bevel, including the corners. This space is where the silicone will go. Trim the masking tape where it overlaps so doesn't cover any of the areas where you will be applying the silicone.

The masking tape is a guide, and it will be used as a straight edge to trim along the silicone once it is cured. The silicone will then have a clean straight line along the inside edge, and it won't show through from the front of the bevel.

smoothing silicone

applying silicone

Step 7. Apply a thin bead of silicone along the spaces between the foil and the masking tape on the back of each bevel. Once the silicone is applied, go along and smooth it out with your finger (if you wet your finger, the silicone won't stick to it). Make sure the silicone covers the edge of the foil and the edge of the masking tape. Also make sure it goes to the very top and bottom of each side. After it is smoothed out, go along and wipe of the edge of the bevels. You do not want silicone on the edges, as solder will not stick to silicone.

Leave the silicone to cure for 24 hours (I didn't say this was a quick process). The heat of the solder does not seem to affect the silicone after it has cured, so it is best to wait 24 hours before going on to the next steps.

cutting silicone

Step 8. Once the silicone has cured, using a straight edge as a guide, place it along the edge of the masking tape and cut through the silicone with an exacto knife. This will give the silicone neat, straight edges. Check to make sure there is silicone all the way down each edge of the foil. If you missed a spot just put down another piece of masking tape and add silicone to that spot. It is imperative that the edges are completely sealed.

pulling off the tape

Once the silicone is cut, pull the tape off. It should come off easily if the silicone has been cut properly. If the tape seems to be stuck, cut through the silicone in that area again. You should now have a nice bead of silicone sealing the foil on the back side of each bevel. Clean any stray silicone off the bevels and make sure the outside edges of the foil are free of silicone. It is finally time to put the water prism together.

tin the front and edge...not the back

Step 9. Tin the foil on the edge and front of each bevel. This serves two purposes. It will show you if all the stray silicone is cleaned off the foil, and it makes the assembly process easier as we do not want to flood the seams with flux. If you find stray silicone, scrape it off with your fingernail, and continue tinning that area. The foil should be completely tinned. obviously, you will not tin the back side as that is where the silicone bead is. We do not solder the inside of the bevels.

ready to solder

Step 10. Hold the three bevels for the bottom section of the water prism together with masking tape. They should be touching edge to edge (forming a V), not overlapping. Before you start soldering this three bevels together, make sure the edges that will join the top section are even/level. If they aren't level, you will have monumental problems when it comes to joining the two sections together. Now you can solder the three seams together, tacking them at the top and bottom first. Tacking makes it easier to manipulate the piece for ease of soldering.

Repeat this step for the top section. Make sure you do not get any solder in the hole that the chain will go through.

top and bottom

When both sections are finished, wash them very well and make sure there are no finger prints, solder or flux on the inside.

chain before and after

Step 11. Put a solder ball on one end of the chain. The way I do this is to put a small piece of copper wire through the last link of the chain and form it into an oval. Flux it well and, while holding the chain upright, melt solder on the wire. Put a pool of flux under the wire for the solder to melt into. You will eventually have a solder ball the resembles a Hershey Kiss. Hold the chain steady while the solder sets. If it doesn't look right, melt it and start over. You want a ball that will not slip through the hole in the top of the water prism. The solder ball does two things: partially seals the hole and gives a way to hang the prism.

chain in place

Step 12. When you are done, wash the solder ball very well and dry it. Thread the chain up through the opening in the top section and slide a piece of wire through one of the links to prevent the chain from falling down through the hole while you are soldering the two sections together. Trying to take the sections apart to retrieve the chain is not an easy task. Been there, done that!

Fix up any areas that need retouching. Slide a bead down the chain and solder a wire loop on the end of the chain. I use fine brass tubing to make my loops. Wash the water prism in hot soapy water, being careful not to get any of the soapy water on the inside.

If you do not want to use patina, use silver backed foil in your construction. Since the inside of the prism is not soldered, the back side of the foil shows through. I have a passion for copper patina, so I generally use regular copper foil for most of my work.

putting top and bottom together

Step 13. Fit the two sections together. You will probably have to turn one section around several times to get the best fit. When you are happy with the fit, tape the two sections together. You will see small gaps between some, possibly all, of the areas where the two sections fit together.

Tin some copper wire. I use both 24 and 22 gauge, depending on how wide the gaps are. Lay a piece of wire in the gap (even if it is very small). The wire keeps solder from running through, and keeps flux from getting on the inside of the prism. Solder the seam, turn the prism to the next side and repeat the process. Use a very small amount of flux when soldering, at least until the seam is filled in. You can use more flux to build up the bead. Make sure you have the entire area between the two halves filled with solder.


Step 14 Carefully wash, dry, and polish the water prism. Be sure you don't get anything inside.

filling with distilled water

Step 15. Fill the water prism with distilled water. I use a 60 cc syringe and a needle to fill my prisms. To fill it, push the chain in a bit and slide the needle in beside the chain.

here it is

Step 16. Hang it in a sunny window.

Enjoy your rainbows.

If you are having problems with water prisms and have a question you want answered, click here to ask your question. You will receive an answer within 48 hours.

As you make a your prisms and come up with better ways to do it or have some good tips please tell us about them Here. This is also where you can contact me if you have any questions or comments about making a water prism.

Here are some tips from Janet In SC:

1. Make the hole in the top big enough to accommodate the neck of a 60cc syringe.

2. Don't fill the water prism too fast..you get air bubbles.

3. Make sure there isn't any silicone on the outside of the bevels when they are sitting for the 24 hours. It is difficult to get off.

4. Don't use flux when soldering the wires in the spaces between the two sections. Tin the wires, clean them off, lay them in place and solder with 63/37 solder. Once the wires are covered, fill in the gap with 60/40 solder.

And here are some tips from Nancy:

Hi Sue. I am enjoying making your water prisms, and have a few tips that have worked for me. I don't know if you have tried this or not. I ended up with silicone up to my elbows, and all over my bevel with my first water prism, and I didn't have a lot of luck placing the masking tape on the back.

My next one, I pulled out a long strip of wide tape and stuck all of my bevels on it flat side down, then I put a piece of tape on the front sides. I then cut them apart and went to my light box. I was able to see the front side of the foil to follow and cut my tape. Then I removed the outside section, leaving the middle section.

When I silicone, I used a 1" plastic putty knife instead of my fingers. It wasn't so messy. I bought them at Wal-Mart. They came in a package of 3 different sizes. I didn't have silicon on my finger, so that meant I didn't have it any where else. Every thing came out clean when I removed the tape.

Thank you very much, I am having fun, and am making Christmas presents. I am also thinking of hanging a crystal on the inside to add a little interest. Thank you so much,

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