Monday, March 15, 2010

Gee-Haw Whammy Stick/Whimmydiddle

I was in 5th grade when I was first introduced to this toy. We had a group of people come in one day and show us some Appalachian crafts. One of the toys was a stick with notches cut along its length. It had a small propeller at the tip which spun when the stick was rubbed along the notches by someone using another stick.  The woman demonstrating it said it was called a "Gee-Haw Whammy Stick" and that name and the simple action of the toy really stuck with me over the years.
Know Your Haws

The propeller can be made to change direction as it is spinning and that is where the name comes from. For the most part (on this side of the pond at least), "Gee" is a command to a plow animal to turn right. "Haw" is the command to turn left. This being a folk toy, the name made sense to people in the days before horse were primarily used for racing or for beer commercials.

I built this one about eight years ago and even though it shows some wear, it has hung in there really well. I used:
  • 10" long 3/8" dowel. This will be your Whammy Stick.
  • 1 3/8" long x 1/8" thick x 3/16" wide piece'll never guess...clementine box wood!  This will be your propeller.
  • 7" long 1/4" rubbing dowel. (3/16" or a pencil would work as well.)
  • A little brass nail.
Cut a series of notches in the Whammy stick. I used a coping saw, but use whatever you are comfortable with. Mine has nine notches that start about 1 1/2" from the front end of the stick. Each notch is about 1/4" wide and doesn't quite go halfway through the stick. Each notch is about 3/4" from center to center. (Okay, you're asking "What gives with all the 'abouts'?" - No worries. This toy is usually made with hardwood twigs and a sharp knife. It really doesn't need to be exact.)

Sand and round off the edges of your propeller. Drill a small hole right through its center. Make sure the hole is larger than the diameter of your nail so that it can spin freely.

Note the authentic rough nature of the notches.    The business end of the toy.
Many have a "dumbbell" shaped prop.

Almost done. Make a small pilot hole in the end of the Whammy stick for the nail. (This will make it easier to get centered and less likely to split when you sink the nail in. Next, thread the nail through the propeller. Make sure it spins freely and then tap the nail into the hole at the end of the stick until it is secure. (But not so deep that it interferes with the propeller.)

Hold the Whammy Stick firmly, pointed away from you. Take the rubbing stick and rub it along the side of the notches. Rubbing on the right side makes the propeller spin to the left. Rubbing on the left makes it spin towards the right. (Remember the whole Gee and Haw thing.) Rubbing down the middle turns it into a cheap rhythm instrument but tends to make the prop just bounce around and never really get going.

So there you go. Start to finish less than 30 minutes.

This is a toy that really is ancient and is very simple to make. I think part of the charm/mystery of it is that it seems to be a cousin to a magic wand or divining rod. A fair number of sources in print and on the internet (as if you can believe ANYTHING you read on the web) makes mention that this little toy has been passed off as a lie detector in the past. You can put a positive spin on that and call it a "truth detector" and try it out on and little ones. Just remember to make it Gee or Haw the way it should depending on the question you ask.

Be sure to leave a little mystery before you tell them how it works.

  1 comment:

Just Saying...

While we don’t necessarily need more objects, we just might benefit from more making.
- John Dunnigan


About Me

My Photo
Regular guy who likes to make stuff who lives with a very patient wife, three daughters and three cats.