Picture of Top Launcher

Gyroscopic Whirligigs is a project that breaks away from the usual fare and offers students a unique engineering gizmo that always impresses onlookers.

This quirky contraption isn't a true gyroscope, but it relies on the gyroscopic effect to produce some impossible-looking stunts.

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Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

4 craft sticks
4 1/2 sticks
6 craft cubes
4 wheels
1 bamboo skewers
1 cable tie
1 12" length of string
Hot glue

Step 2: The launcher

Picture of The launcher

The launcher is very simple to make. The only non-obvious element that you should impress upon your students is the gap left at the ends of the launcher. This gap allows the wheels to rotate without falling off prematurely. The gap is only necessary on one end, but I show students to leave a gap on both ends. Sometimes students accidentally place the end with the gap near the grip. If the gap is on both ends, then the orientation doesn't matter and construction a little more intuitive.

Step 3: The spinner

Picture of The spinner

The spinner can be made with different wheel configurations and in different lengths, however this example tends to produce pretty interesting effects.

Choose a straight skewer for this step. Most skewers will work, but some are severely warped.

Cut the skewer to size and tightly attach a cable tie. Cut the excess off. The cable tie will allow the pull cord to hook onto the spinner, which will make it easier to wind up.

The two inner wheels prevent the string from getting caught on the launcher during the release. The outer wheels aren't necessary, but they do create some dynamic gyroscope effects. Without them, the spinner tends to act more like a top.

Encourage your students to experiment with this step!

jeff.smith1 year ago

This looks like a great project for my kids and it will fit nicely within the structure/mechanisms units I teach. Thanks very much for sharing this, can't wait to get started!

love tops and gyroscopes, love this toy, thanks! but i'm wondering where to buy the wheels?

misko131 year ago
This is really great! I love everything related to gyroscopes and this "toy" will make young students be curious about them :)
Znaffi1 year ago
Very cool!:D