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.

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.

1-40 of 84Next »
emilolip2 years ago
My dad does this often and it always puzzled me, now i can finally do it myself!
smartalec3 years ago
I made one! I used some wood I originally cut to make a bow but never got around to making it. I didn't put as many notches on the handle, but it still works alright.

Great instructable.
courtervideo (author)  smartalec3 years ago
Looks Great!
Dumchicken3 years ago
it works with heat if you balans a piece of wood pefectly rub you hands together
and put youre hands next to the piece of wood it will spin
Timbersmith3 years ago
I got one of these from a Navy pilot in the late '60s. He called it a "hooey stick" and when you said "hooey" the propeller would reverse. He also had a "twin engine" hooey that he could reverse the right or left prop on command. I guess carrier duty had long hours of waiting around between missions.
courtervideo (author)  Timbersmith3 years ago
Wow. Can you describe the "twin Engine" one a little better? Never heard of that!
As best I can recall,(40 plus years ago) it was "T" shaped with two short dowel "engines" the same diam. as the main riffled dowel. I don't recall how the parts were attached. I was about nine or ten at the time, but I think the top of the "T" was also a dowel, coped into the top of the main shaft and the sides of the two "engines".
courtervideo (author)  Timbersmith3 years ago
Sounds like something to experiment with. Have you made any of these?
I've only made singles. 7/16" dowel, popcicle sticks, round (chain-saw) file, ruler, saw. You get to use all the tools! Quick and easy. I showed a troop of girl-scouts how to make them and we had a lot of success. Even spacing of the grooves is pretty critical.
Here is a website that shows an example of what the twin engine may have been. This site calls it a Double-Whimmy-Doodle:
nunchucker4 years ago
Are there any other variables that affect it spining?
courtervideo (author)  nunchucker3 years ago
Sorry I missed this comment a while back. I wish I could be more specific on how these work. As I said below, some of my attempts didn't work at all and others would spin like crazy. The amount of pressure of your fingers on the shaft and how smoothly they slide -- sweaty or sticky being worse -- seems to make a difference.
courtervideo (author)  nunchucker4 years ago
I have made a few that didn't work and I am really not sure why. I think the size of the hole in the propeller with respect to the diameter of the nail, and just how tight -- or far in -- the nail is driven seem to be very important. It needs to be rather loose but not too loose.
instruct394 years ago
cool, i remember these things!
jackerboy4 years ago
hi i like this and i want to bring this to school to show off but i dont know if i can make this because i dont have any tools and i dont know if i can get the right wood i can deal without the tools i just need to know if the dowel and the stick need to be exect or can i just use some chopsticks i got from a restraunt
courtervideo (author)  jackerboy4 years ago
I have a good feeling about using chopsticks, but you need to make the little notches and drill a hole in the propeller, etc
thanks =)
demydewaard4 years ago
these are great and how easy never thought of that
Puzzledd4 years ago
What fun! Haven' t seen one of these but I love the idea.
Great explanation:)
courtervideo (author)  Puzzledd4 years ago
Try making one!
I might just do that! I'm not good with woodworking, but this may be within even my ability:)
chabias4 years ago
My goodness, I haven't seen one of these in ages. I remember my father making what he called an "Idiot Stick" (New York)
courtervideo (author)  chabias4 years ago
Yes, it is amazing how many folks once played with these.
akossoy4 years ago
I just made one but can't seem to make the propeller spin.
Does the wood NEED to be maple or pine, and do the dimensions have to be like yours?
courtervideo (author)  akossoy4 years ago
I also made one that didn't work. I think the wood I used for the notched shaft was too heavy and thick. The one pictured is light clear pine and just over 1/4 inch square, so it may vibrate more...
Ok, thanks, I'll try to make another one because I'm pretty sure mine isn't pine... I just found it in my room so we'll see. At least I know I'm not alone :) and so I'll give it a second shot.
ilpug4 years ago
my grampa has one of these and its just made from sticks. works great, with no special hand position
courtervideo (author)  ilpug4 years ago
OK. So... Do words make the propeller change direction? What words does Grandpa use? Or maybe it always goes the same way?
courtervideo (author) 4 years ago
I might have made it sound more difficult than it really is -- a lot depends on the grain of the wood right at that spot. The tiny drill would be excellent.
russoliver4 years ago
Perhaps a small pilot hole would work? You'd need a tiny drill bit, of course.
Sandbar4 years ago
We called them Arkansas Hooey sticks. I have one in my desk drawer at work that is over 40 yr.s old. I can't tell you the number of peeps that just had to ask, "what is that" and then I go through the whole routine. A lot of fun from a little piece of wood.
courtervideo (author)  Sandbar4 years ago
Thanks for the nice comment. Are you a teacher? Please don't be offended, but have you ever seen a "bullshit grinder?" This is another item my father used to make. It seems there are a number of toys that should be re-introduced to kids today...

Not a teacher, I work in the automation machinery field. Have never heard of a Bullshit grinder but I'm interested. It sounds like an extremely useful item.
Seriously, I'd like to know more about it.
I google searched it and it seems to be this:

Pretty cool little toy, but there doesn't seem to be a trick involved. I kinda want one.
courtervideo (author)  zombipotence4 years ago
Right -- no real trick. Come to think about it, my dad probably made these and gave them out as a kind of commentary...
masaya9994 years ago
i will do that... and teach my nephews and nieces^^
awoodcarver4 years ago
Nice clear and easy to follow .... Very neat and brings back memories . We called them Gee Haws ..made them in the late 60's in day camp ....you said Gee and it turned one way and then said Haw for the other ........ I could never get it to turn the other way
courtervideo (author)  awoodcarver4 years ago
I am very glad you made this comment. It does not necessarily follow the rules. When I shot the video, at first it refused to go one way. So I started it going the other way, and then when I switched directions, it cooperated. WTF? There might be more going on here than physics...
Makaaberi4 years ago
I remember making one of these when I was a kid, but funny thing is, no recollection if it was in school or with grampa. Either or. Will add it to my mental list of things to do with my kids. :D
artinct4 years ago
We called them whoooie sticks. and every time you said "whooie" the propellor would change direction. We used a half of a popsickle stick for the propellor. Well done.
1-40 of 84Next »