If you’re looking for a simple toy project that you can knock out in bulk as quick gifts, party favors, craft fair items or official currency in some alternate universe where tops are tops, the simple, timeless joy of a spinning top is as easy to achieve as it gets. It’s also a great beginner project to get the kids and grandchildren involved.
How to Make a Spinning Top – Let’s Take It From The Top
First of all, let me mention that I made all 25 tops you see in one evening. It really is something you can make in bulk without a huge time investment. The secret is in the method. Rather than turn tops on a lathe, (though a good lathe operator could arguably make them fairly quickly as well), I just combined parts I already had.
The axles are 1/4” poplar dowel from the home center. All 25 of mine were cut from a single 48” dowel.
The other component is the flywheel. The two flywheels pictured in the top row are hole saw cutouts left over from other projects. The ones in the bottom row are “craft” wheels that you can buy from most craft supply dealers. All of my flywheels happen to have a 1/4” center hole. Whatever size hole is in yours, just choose an appropriately sized dowel. 1/4” seems to be about perfect though and would be my recommendation.
Get Right To The Point
The first step is to taper one end of the dowel with a pencil sharpener. You don’t want a needle point. A tiny amount of flatness at the tip is ideal. After a few you’ll get it just right. You can always use fine sandpaper to adjust the point if needed.
On The Fly
Slide your flywheel of choice onto the axle from the pointy end. I found that the best location for the flywheel is usually right above the top of the taper. With larger diameter flywheels, you can often afford to raise it a little higher. Keep in mind that the higher the mass the more unstable the top tends to become. So it’s generally preferable to keep it fairly low, but not so low that it’s going to keep bottoming out on the tabletop.
If you use craft wheels, install them with the decorative side up and the flat, boring side towards the point.
Trim A Little Off The Top
After you’ve slid the flywheel slightly above the top of the taper, it’s time to cut the axle free from the rest of the dowel. You want to leave more axle length above the flywheel than below. I judged mine from an aesthetic standpoint and found the proportions to be pretty much perfect. Since I eyeballed mine, they vary quite a bit. The following dimensions will serve as guidance, should you need it. They all produced well balanced tops:
Proportions will be expressed in the following format:
“Fly dia @ thickness > Axle length above flywheel”:
1” @ 1/2” > 11/16”
1” @ 3/8” > 11/16”
1-1/4” @ 3/8” > 13/16”
1-1/4” @ 3/4” > 1-1/16”
2” @ 1/4” > 1-1/2”
By no means must your tops be restricted to the dimensions given above. Those are just what looked right and worked well for me. There’s plenty of room for variation.
Sand a roundover to soften the cut you just made. It doesn’t take much.
Spin Spinna You Don’t Quit; Spin It! (Takin’ ‘er For A Spin)
Give the top a few test spins on a flat, smooth surface and adjust the height of the flywheel as needed for stability. If the dowel fits snugly in the hole, twisting the flywheel will break the friction, making it easier to move along the length of the dowel.
Sticking To What Works
Once your flywheel is located where your want it, run a line of CA (“super”) glue on the underside of the flywheel, along the axle joint to ensure that things stay put from here on out.
Top of Your Game
You could stop here and call it complete. But if you want to liven things up a bit, use permanent markers to add color. Adding color is as simple as bracing your marker holding hand and rotating the top with the other hand.
See what cool color combinations and patterns you can come up with.
Some patterns take on a whole different appearance or even seem to change color when in motion.
Finish your tops with a few coats of clear lacquer from a spray can and you’re done.
The Spin Zone
If you want to make something cool but don’t have the time or energy for anything too involved, this is the project for you. Your top will be spinning long before your head ever has a chance to!
Here are a few craft stores with wooden wheels to get you started: