Picture of The Magic Propeller


OK, this is a silly one, and I even have to admit you can find a few toys like this on the internet. A site for teachers describes how to make one using a pencil. But I feel entitled posting this Instructable because I can remember when my dad made one for us kids roughly 60 years ago. My brother and I were completely baffled how he would rub a little dowel on a notched stick and the little wooden propeller at the end would start spinning, and then he would say, "stop and go the other way," and without the slightest perceptible change in anything he was doing, the propeller would obey. And of course we would try and try and fail.

Naturally there was a trick, and for those who have not seen this toy, I will reveal the trick at the end of this Instructable.

You need a few little pieces of scrap wood -- almost any kind will do, and a small brad.

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Step 1: Step One

Picture of Step One

I used my table saw to rip a piece of pine to about 5/16th inch square, and cut it to about 12 inches in length.

Starting about three inches from one end, and continuing to about one inch from the other end, I marked one edge, using pencil, with 1/4 inch intervals.

Then, using a small, fairly coarse, square file, I filed notches in one edge.

Since folks are going to be rubbing this stick like crazy, it needs a very good sanding including rounding the edges slightly.

nosnow3 years ago
You shouldn't have told the secret... Now my grandkids will know before I tell them when they graduate from High school...
auntwrenny3 years ago
My parents grew up in the Ozarks and we always called these, "Hooey Sticks". I see that it's the same name they use in Kentucky. They are highly trained sticks that recognize the word "Hooey!" You should use only well educated wood! ;-)

I'm glad you shared this. THere are so many toys like this that I grew up with but I'm afraid they are being forgotten because video games are so popular now. (heavy sigh)
courtervideo (author)  auntwrenny3 years ago
When we have visiting kids, some of whom are certainly video game players, I find they love to get outdoors and play with more active toys as well. Since there has been a bit of interest in this toy, I will try to put up a few others that kids have enjoyed making and using around our place.
Do you know how to make a whistle out of a freshly cut maple branch? My Dad used to do this for us but he's forgotten the tricks and I was too young to notice.

I remember something about slipping the bark off and cutting notches. I also remember that the wood still had to be wet or fresh to do this. I'd love it if I could find someone who knows how to do this.
courtervideo (author)  auntwrenny3 years ago
OK, here is a very similar one to the ones I remember. This site shows all the steps.

courtervideo (author)  auntwrenny3 years ago
I remember making these too. I don't remember the exact cuts but will do a little research.
caribe7043 years ago
That was a "Gee-Haw-Whimmy-Diddle" for me, got it when my grandparents drove through the Carolinas on their yearly trek to Florida in the 60's I played for hours with that thing, the "Gee" and "Haw" are directional signals for a plow-horse,
thats all knew but was so entrance to make it change directions, it was my PS3 when I was a kid, well, that and gigging mullet off Mathers Bridge in Indian Harbour Beach Florida...
I got my first Whimmy-Diddle in North Carolina in the mid-60's. Brought it back to Illinois when on vacation visiting my grandparents. Seems they'd been around awhile, 'cause my grandpa knew how to make it change.
courtervideo (author)  caribe7043 years ago
I bet Indian Harbour Beach was beautiful in those days...
jc30093 years ago
These mountain toys have been made for generations in the Blue Ridge mountains. They are known as "Gee-Haw Whammydiddles" and are made from tree branches (usually maple). Glad to see the "city slickers" version here :).
courtervideo (author)  jc30093 years ago
Haha, I believe the "city-slickers" version actually has a carbon fiber shaft and a titanium propeller.
auntwrenny3 years ago
I meant to add, my Dad used to use a small piece of thin metal for the propeller. I think I remember him cutting pieces out of old aluminum cans to make the propeller also.
courtervideo (author)  auntwrenny3 years ago
I believe my did made some with aluminum propellers too. That reminds me of another toy he made using an aluminum propeller and a thread spool. I will have to make one of those and put it up.
emptyset353 years ago
I have one of those that was my dad's when he was a kid. He got it in the Appalachian mountains. We always called it a gee-haw whammy diddle.
ddave3 years ago
Top video! ...and great wikipedia link.
When my mother was a child in the late 1940s in UK, her uncle who was a sailor in the British Merchant Navy brought one home for her from his travels. It was always know as a jagga-jagga stick in out house. Anyone else heard of them by that name?
XxZombiexX3 years ago
To add to previous comments, where I am in Western KY we called them "hooey sticks" (probably just a variant of the "hoo-wee" mentioned earlier).

Glad to see an instructable for them!
courtervideo (author)  XxZombiexX3 years ago
I had no idea there were so many cultural aspects to this toy!
thegreat583 years ago
We used to call these yip stix when I was a kid, we'd say yip when we made them change direction, the dumber kids never clued in that it had nothing to do with saying yip.
I woulda lold if the wood caught on fire when he did that :P
courtervideo (author)  pokerstud0013 years ago
This is not a problem because the wind from the propeller would blow the fire out...

CameronSS3 years ago
Interesting timing, I had never seen one of these before Saturday, when I saw a guy selling them as whimmy sticks (old Appalachian word, apparently) and demonstrating one to a passing woman. She was completely dumbstruck and bought it on the spot. I had a rough guess on how it works, and now that I've Googled it, I'm happy to say I was right. :D It's very basic physics, I won't spoil it here.
Appalachian? You wouldn't happened to have been in Tennessee for the festivals would you?
Nope, I stay in Kansas for the festival. Funnily enough, one of the entertainers brought that up... "Whenever I come to a festival like Winfield, I...Wait, what am I talking about? There is no other festival."

There is quite a large representation of Appalachian and Ozark folk music and traditions, though.
I was talking about the other festival, seeing as I'm in the middle of the Appalachians, I thought you might have been pretty close to my house.
courtervideo (author)  nickodemus3 years ago
Did you folks see the comment about this toy being ancient Egyptian? Next thing we hear it will be Martian! After that... Tea Party!

Wikipedia calls it a "gee-haw whammy diddle," which I think is the best name we've come up with so far. Most Google results point to an Appalachian origin, and I think it can be pretty well established that it at least has some history in Appalachia, anything else needs a [citation needed] tag.
cam42 CameronSS3 years ago
That is definitely the best possible name for this.
courtervideo (author)  cam423 years ago
I love "Gee-haw Whammy Diddle." Plus the political overtones are inescapable...
Amazing, I wonder if any other traditional wooden toys have ancient roots...
courtervideo (author)  CameronSS3 years ago
Interesting. As I mentioned in the intro, my dad was making these in the 1950s. We lived in suburban Philadelphia, and my folks were PA Dutch...
good,I think what I made it
Phil B3 years ago
Someone gave my kids each one of these. I learned to make the propeller stop and change direction by changing the angle at which the round stick crossed the notched stick.
Burf3 years ago
My dad made several of those for me when I was a kid. He made them out of a willow branch with the bark stripped off and a popsicle stick. He carved the notches with his pocket knife.
We called them "Hoo-wee" sticks, because you were supposed to shout "Hoo-wee!" and it reversed the direction of the propeller.
courtervideo (author)  Burf3 years ago
That is a GREAT story. Would you mind saying where you grew up?
I grew up in central Texas, about 60 miles from Abilene. This would have been around 1952 or '53 when I was 6 or 7 years old.
My old man used to make me all sorts of wooden toys;  tops, yo-yos, cars and airplanes, spinner toys, flutes and Pan pipes. Almost all of them he whittled out with just his pocket knife.
courtervideo (author)  Burf3 years ago
Wonderful. Sounds like your dad was a good father. I certainly owe any skill I have with respect to making things to my dad. My two sons also now can design and build almost anything, and I know they are pleased to have grown up with a well-equipped workshop like I did.
That's bothered me for 20 years. And now I finally know!
courtervideo (author)  shoehornteeth3 years ago
OK, but don't tell anyone!
eulaliaaaa!3 years ago
This is actually an ancient Egyptian toy. Of course, they "magical powers" were behind the propeller.