Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Making a Toy Top (Version 1)

Tops are a seriously old toy. In Iraq, some tops from 3,500 BC have even been found. (Making them almost as old as my 7th grade teacher was.)

I have always thought tops were neat because of the tremendous speed they operate at from a simple pull or twist. As a kid I had a couple of commercial top toys, but never a wooden one. The two that stand out most are the immortal Battling Tops and a top/gyroscope called a Whizzer.

Epic Battling Tops gladitorial games still take place at my house.My Whizzer eventually spun so fast it vanished into another dimension. (And yes, it really did a zillion tricks.)

In the past I'd made little tops out of... you'll never guess what...clementine box wood! Just a 1/4"dowel and a disk of the 1/8" plywood from a box, powered with just a quick twist of the fingers. They are fun to decorate and work well enough, but I wanted to make something more substantial.  That is where Bob comes in.

In looking for something else I found the general idea for this top at Bob LaFara's site - http://bobscrafts.com/bobstuff/top.htm
This design gets around my main top making obstacle namely: I don't own a full sized lathe.

Seeing as how I was recently named to Forbe's Magazine "Top 500 Cheapest Toy Making Dads in the World", I used a piece of 2x4, an old bed slat and a wine crate for the pieces I cut.
(I know I should use hard wood... but that would cost money! Like $4 or even maybe $5! Why, a new Studebaker should only costs eight bucks. Maybe nine with a full tank of gas.)

I used a 2 1/8" hole saw to cut out a disk from the wine crate wood (it is 5/16" thick.) I then used a 1/4" bit to drill a pilot hole straight through a 2x4 (which we all know is really 1 1/2" thick.)
This pilot hole let me start the cut on one side with the 2 1/8" saw and then after going a little more than half way through the board, I flipped it over and finished the cut.

Be sure the board is securely clamped and keep you hand out of the way.Flip the board half way through and finish the cut from the other side.

Be sure to clamp everything securely and be careful not to touch the bit immediately after you finish. Trust me; it gets very hot, especially after the 2x4 cut.

I took a 1 1/4" hole saw and repeated the process twice on a 3/4" thick bed slat leaving me with two wood cylinders. Take one of these two and re-drill the center hole through it with a 5/16" bit. This will be the "handle" of the top.

 At this point I could have cut another thinner disk with the 1 1/4" saw to be final disk at the top, but I decided to use a store brought 1" toy wheel instead. I think it looks good and it has a slightly raised hub to help the handle spin. It also comes is slightly smaller than the handle, so that helps in holding and releasing it without touching the rest of the top.

Sand the disks smooth, get some glue and a 1/4" hardwood dowel and start final assembly.
The disks in order - 2x4, bed slat, wine crate, bed slat with larger center hole, toy wheel.The dowel is actually straight. The shadow and the angle of the photo make it look this way.

Four of the five disk are then glued to the dowel. The handle is not. Make sure there is a little play between the handle and the pieces above and below it (for a total of about a1/8" gap.) You want this to be free spinning. The dowel can be trimmed to size after the top has been glued, clamped and is finished drying.

Glue the red sections to the dowel running down the center. Do not glue the (green) handle.The second (red) section is what you will wrap the string around. Hold the green, free moving section while you pull the string to start the top spinning.

The dowel should extend about a 1/4" past the bottom of the top and be flush with the top of the top. (Wow, that is an odd sentence.) Shape the end of the dowel into a point. I did this with coarse sandpaper pinched on the dowel while I spun it by hand.

Okay, now you are ready to literally give it a whirl. Wrap two or three feet of string around the second section from the bottom. Hold the handle piece and don't let your fingers touch any other part of the top. Get close to a hard floor. Give the string a quick pull and then let go of the handle. It should look something like this -

I found that the more I sharpend the tip, the better the spin was.

I will paint this guy at some point, but I think the plain wood looks pretty classy for the time being.


  1. looks great! I plan to work on the climbing bear first, but this will be my next project. Thanks.

  2. I built a 15 lb version of this top,with a drill bit attached to the bottom for the top to spin on,and it drills thru the floor.The kitchen floor looks like swiss cheese,and I can see grammah downstairs!12 year old mad scientist strikes again!!NYAHAHAHAAA,hey whats'that cracking sound???YYYAAAAAAAARRGGHHHH!!!!!!!


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.