A collection of spinning tops made from white pine and staghorn sumac.

Things that spin

Your closet of toys is growing quickly, filled with Twiggie Parachutists, buzzsaws, a bead necklace, and soon your very own thaumatrope. This is part 3 in a 3 part series that will teach you how to make 3 different fun and simple toys that spin! You’ll also learn about aging white pine forests, the ecology of beaver ponds, spring ephemerals, and vernal pools along the way! You can always skip the background info below and go right to the video tutorial. And you can find more How To videos on our YouTube channel.

~ Teage (AKA Professor Eweagey)

Activity #3 of 3: Making Spinning Tops

A few years ago I made a bunch of dreidels out of white cedar. They were a real pain to get properly weighted so they didn’t always land face up on gimel. In the end, they were somewhat biased, but they sure did spin great. Well, sort of. I used cedar because it’s soft and easy to carve. Without much weight, however, they proved somewhat finicky to get twirling. I’ve still got quite a bit to learn about crafting that perfectly balanced, easy riding top, but after making quite a few this week I’ve learned quite a bit.

For this How To, I wanted to keep it as simply as I could. I carved tops out of a single piece of white pine (initially I tried sticking a handle/point through a sumac as in the image above, but found these to be more difficult to get properly weighted). I experimented a bit with the length of the tip and handle and found that most would spin as long as the handle was short enough. Check out the video to see how they twirl.

The third in our “Things that spin” series. For this video, I couldn’t help but yammer on about white pines and how to tell how old they are before diving into a lesson on making spinning tops.

Materials

  • A section of wood (as always, experiment with size. I used a dead section of a white pine trunk that was about 2.5″ across)

Tools

  • Knife
  • Saw
  • Belt sander (optional, for smoothing out your disk)

Steps

  1. Cut a section of the trunk >6″ long
  2. Whittle the wood to a blunt point
  3. About 1-2″ up from the point, saw in a circle around the branch, but don’t call all the way through (you’re just sawing in to where the handle will be)
  4. Use a knife to knock out the wood (see the video for a visual on this)
    1. You can also just carve the handle
  5. Try and balance your spindle so that it’s symmetrically balanced with weight
  6. Spin that top!

As for the other spinning toys, I made a short “How To” video on making a top from materials you’ll find out in the woods. Enjoy! And you can find the other How Tos over on the Crow’s Path YouTube channel.

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