Levitating Top





Introduction: Levitating Top

About: We are a supplier of neodymium, rare earth magnets. We also love to conduct experiments with our magnets and build unique projects with them! We have several engineers on staff who are always thinking of new...

With some everyday household items and some magnets, you can make this awesome Levitating Top! This mimics the popular Levitron toy from the 90's.

Materials needed:

-Household items: Wood, pencil, tape, plastic or brass washers, Post-It notes or paper, plastic or cardboard

-Other: Qty 13 1/2" x 1/8", grade N52 disc neodymium magnets and Qty 1, 3/4" OD x 3/8" ID x 1/8" thick ring magnet, grade N42.

Step 1: Layout

As the intro stated, this is replicating the popular Levitron toy that was popular back in the 90's, but is not longer for sale. That toy used two special ceramic ring magnets, but we are going to replicate it using some standard sized neodymium magnets!

The first step is to print out the layout above. You'll use this to get your drill holes to place the magnets. Be sure to double check the scale with a ruler! Then, cut out the square layout.

Step 2: Cut Wood to Size

Next, cut a piece of wood to size, to match the layout drawing. You can use any type of wood, but it should be at least 1/4" thick.

Step 3: Transfer Layout to Wood

Next, tape the layout to the block of wood. Use your 1/2" forstner bit to create a center punch on the center of each circle. This is where your holes will go and will give your drill bit a starting point.

This step isn't needed, but we found it helpful.

Step 4: Drill Out the Holes!

Now it's time to drill out the holes! We use a 1/2" forstner bit, to give us a nice flat bottomed hole. We set the drill press depth so that the bottom of the hole is just beneath the top surface of the block. We want the magnets to be as close to the surface as possible.

We kept the layout taped onto the wood block while drilling to help accuracy. If the holes are off, it could throw off the whole project.

Step 5: Add the Magnets!

Once the holes are drilled, it's time to insert the magnets into the holes. We want all the magnets to be facing the same way. The NORTH pole of the magnet should be face down in the hole. Consider using a magnet like our D68PC-RB to help you figure out the poles. Or, check out Which Pole Is North?

Take your stack of disc magnets, we used our D82-N52 magnets. Slide one magnet in a hole at a time. Use something to push the magnets down flat into the hole. We used a wooden dowel rod.

Repeat this until all the magnets are in! We placed the block on a steel plate, to help keep the magnets in place while doing this. It's not needed, but it definitely helps.

Make sure the magnets are as far in the holes and even as possible!

Step 6: Make the Top!

Next, the top. We cut a pencil down to about 1 1/2" in length, keeping the sharpened end. Then we used electrical tape to make the diameter larger to accommodate the ring magnet.

We placed the ring magnet on, we used our magnet RC62, with the NORTH pole facing down (facing the sharpened point). We then used some plastic washers to add weight to the top.

This is where it gets tricky. Once your start trying the top, you'll have to mess with the weight of the top to get it in a "sweet" spot. WARNING: It might take a frustrating amount of time to get the weight right.

Step 7: Test It Out!

Cut a piece of plastic or cardboard to create a spinning surface. This will go on top of your base. You'll spin the top on this and lift it up to try to get the top in the "sweet spot".

If you can get this to work, it's a lot of fun. But it might takes a long time to get it to work, so keep on trying!

There are a few factors which can affect the performance. One, you'll need to balance the base. We used Post-It Notes to jack up the sides of the base to level it.

If you keep seeing the top falling to one side, you'll need to jack up that side. We used a three-sided leveling system.

The weight of the top also is a key factor. There is sweet spot in the repelling magnets, where the repelling force is just right and the top will levitate there. But to get it to stay in that height, you'll need to either add weight, or decrease the weight of the top.

If you find the top flies off right away, you probably need more weight. If the top doesn't lift off of the spinning plate, it's probably too heavy.

You'll also need to make sure you are starting at the right height above the base. If it's too hard to spin, try putting some paper or post-it notes under the spinning surface.

Be sure to check out our video to see the how this works!

Step 8: 3D Printer?

Have a 3D Printer? We successfully made a 3D printed version of this and have uploaded our files to ThingiVerse. Here is a link!

Interested in how/why this top works? Check out this blog article: Levitating Top.

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    18 Discussions

    Very neat project ! Thanks for sharing


    8 months ago

    cool, i think making a makeshift top and a wooden base is becoming irrelevant because the pencil top is not working properly and even if you don't have a 3d printer you can get it 3d printed from a nearby 3d printing service or form 3D hubs

    Added suggestions: put adjusting feet on the base. Make the top "heavy" so it won't lift, then remove weight until it just BARELY lifts off the spinning plate. Then adjust the leveling feet to keep the top from going off to the side. Once you get it levitating, it will most likely collapse back to the plate. Remove a little weight to keep it floating. This scheme allows determining the proper weight first, rather then simultaneously having to determine weight and the leveling simultaneously. The heaviest possible weight also makes leveling adjustment less sensitive.

    Also keep in mind that temperature affects the top. When it gets warmer, you must remove a little weight.

    You can build a "perpetuator" to keep the top spinning "forever". It consists of a thin pack of iron laminations spaced about an inch under the magnet platform, with a coil driven with a pulsed waveform at several hundred Hz. A 555 timer chip set to generate a narrow pulse feeding a drive transistor, and a 15V supply will do it. This was also sold commercially, but then discontinued. You will need to re-adjust the top weight with the perpetuator underneath. This can be done with the coil unpowered.

    I've always wanted to make something like this! I wonder if you used a larger OD ring magnet for the top if it would make it more stable. It would definitely make the top itself more stable as a top, but not sure what the effect would be with the ring of magnets in the base. Great project!

    3 replies

    weird to see you're using the same name as Mike from Instructables,

    aka tomatoskins!!!

    Or did he used your`s..LOL...

    WannaDuino, magnets are sooooo amazing i use them to make current.

    We experimented with this, thinking the same thing. Bigger magnet, more weight. We found that using a larger ring magnet added too much weight. Magnetically speaking, it probably would be more stable.

    Very interesting. I may need to mess around with this idea. I'll let you know if I come up with anything else. Thanks for your great instructable!

    Awesome.Let children learn the basics of magnetic levitation with this simple DIY.

    I like your idea and design , very much !

    Ah, Jiansy beat me to it! Oh well, I also wanted to say I've got a Levitron, and people making one of these might be helped by a couple things that system uses: 1) Use 2 wedges (easy to make, inexpensive to buy at a hardware store) to get the base level. 2) Collect a bunch of different rings, washers, etc., for experimenting with the weight.

    You might try starting with a section of dowel rod that's the same diameter as the hole in the levitating magnet, if you don't have a pencil stub and don't want to use a perfectly good pencil. If you do use a pencil, adding some plaster or putty under the magnet (leaving just the tip of the pencil exposed) might help. You might find the amount that provides almost enough weight for stability.

    As the temperature changes, so will the strength of the magnetic fields, so you will find your collection of rings and washers comes in handy over time.

    Ideas for further experimentation: Obviously you could try making the spinner with different things for the shaft and different sizes and strengths of ring magnets, or take a solid magnet and glue a pointy thing on the bottom and a cylinder on the top. Hmm, maybe use a nail, tack, or push-pin on the bottom. A section of an old pen might make a good top.

    What if you put a magnet in the center of the base, facing the other way? Make it adjustable, or try magnets of the same size but different strength, or try placing a disk of ferrous metal in there.

    If you could mount a motorized spinning magnet above or below with just the right strength/distance balance, maybe it could keep the levitation going!

    Try a larger base, with a small circle of magnets inside a larger circle. Experiment with different strengths and polarization orientation.A small container of iron filings or ferrofluid might help with these experiments, showing changes in the overall magnetic field pattern.

    Try a sheet of bismuth on top of the base. Or maybe a disk that fits inside the circle of magnets in the base. Bismuth's diamagnetic properties are used in another form of magnetic levitation device that doesn't require spinning.* Maybe you could form a small ring of bismuth to use as the weight on the spinner. Not sure it would make much, if any, difference. Bismuth is heavy so you couldn't use much. OH, maybe use carbon-graphite sheets. More expensive, but easier to shape, light weight, and even more diamagnetic.

    *The drawback of that approach is that it generally involves a large apparatus with two slabs of bismuth and a small magnet in-between, with a very small space between it and the bismuth. With this "spinner" technique, you can get enough levitation height to slide you hand under it, and there's nothing above or otherwise blocking the view.

    Change the pencil by a small cooper hollow tube.

    That´ll do it !


    8 months ago

    I'm sure people making this would figure this out quickly, but it's not clear which way the block is oriented after the magnets are inserted in step 5. Are the holes with the magnets facing up or down? It makes a difference because in step 5 you state to insert the magnets with N-pole facing down, meaning the S-pole is exposed in the hole. Then the spin top also has the N-pole facing down, which would be attracted to the exposed S-poles of magnets in the block and the top would never levitate. The bottom line is that you want like poles facing each other. So you would have to either put the magnets in the block with S-Pole facing down (contrary to instructions) or flip the block over, but don't know if magnets would fall out. It's a great project for my Physics classes once the equations are figured out. Thanks for posting.

    Absolutely fantastic! Thanks. Your post reinvigorates my zeal to do the levitating Death Star instructable - that thing is AWESOME!! On the note of your uncooperative top, try a shorter top with a wider base, not a taller top (lowers your center of gravity) - something like an inverted, shallow, cone.


    8 months ago

    I have a feeling the "max speed" instability is based on the tipsy-top principle.


    8 months ago

    Have you tried a longer and very light tail? Try a 4-inch plastic straw fit over the eraser end of the pencil. If I were to try it myself, I'd fit the straw over a 1/4" dowel center punch and then put the magnet over the straw and dowel punch, sort of pinching the straw between the punch and magnet.

    Dowel center punches are available in many sizes, so I'd buy both a 6 mm and 1/4" punches and see if I could find a straw slighter smaller. and buy a magnet that is about the same size as the OD of the straw.

    Wouldn't using a steel punch also lower the magnetic "center of gravity"?

    Great, now I've talked myself into doing this project.

    Officially on my to-do list. Very cool project idea, and nicely documented. Thank you!!

    1 reply

    8 months ago

    Now this is awesome! :)