Introduction: Wooly Willy Table

This Instructable is a supercharged mash-up of the childhood classic "magnetic personality" Wooly Willy toy and a coffee table. 

First released in 1955, the Wooly Willy toy uses a "magic pen" (magnet in a stick) to move a small amount of iron filings around an illustration of a hairless floating head trapped behind a plastic window.  You use the pen to draw hair, mustaches, beards, whiskers and eyebrows on Willy.  It sounds simple, and truth be told, it is, but as anyone who's familiar with the toy will tell you, it's a surprising amount of fun.

Well, if you thought that the old Willy was good, hold on to your hat, because Wooly Willy just got a whole lot bigger and better!  Complete with modern styling, coffee table functionality, cooperative drawing and a super sized drawing surface, this Wooly Willy coffee table is completely one of a kind and totally rad!

Best of all, it's made almost entirely from Ikea parts, so just about anyone with some very basic building know how can make one.

Wally Woo Woo!

Step 1: Materials and Tools

To create the Wooly Willy table you will need:

Materials:Tools:
  • table saw
  • drill & bits
  • exacto knife
  • Illustrator
  • Photoshop
  • scanner
  • large format printer
  • paper cutter
  • wrench


Step 2: Liberate Willy

The first few steps of the project all revolve around producing a high quality vector based version of Willy that can be used to produce the large format print.

First, use an exacto knife to liberate the image of Willy from his cardboard and plastic housing. 

Step 3: Scan Willy at High Resolution

Next, scan Willy at a very high resolution.  I scanned him at 1200 DPI, which resulted in a really really large image file. 

This is a good thing since all of the files that I could find on Google Image Search weren't larger then a few hundred pixels wide - way to small to generate a nice vector from.

Step 4: Vectorize Willy

The file will need to be tweaked a bit before you can live trace it in Illustrator.  Use the magic wand in Photoshop to select and paint all of the areas until you've reduced the image to just 5 colors.  You can also use the refine edge tool to further soften and smooth the edges between colors.

Once you've got it looking good, bring it over to Illustrator and do a live trace on it.  I chose to do a 5 color comic illustration trace on it.  Then, start messing with it some more to clean it up.  Use the pathfinder tool to join and simplify the paths so that Willy starts to look like an actual digital illustration with nice smooth edges.

All in all, Willy underwent a pretty extensive face lift that lasted a couple hours.  What came out the other end was a near perfectly vectorized willy image capable of being blown up to any size.  Many thanks to fungus amungus for all his help in this step of the process.

Save yourself all of this work and simply download one of the vector files provided below.

Step 5: Modify Ribba Frame

The top surface of the coffee table is actually not a table top at all - it's a Ribba shadow box picture frame from Ikea!

Disassemble the Ribba frame and liberate the square spacer that separates the glass from the back by about an 1".  It's got to be cut in half for the iron filings to get close enough to be properly affected by the magnetic pen. 

Take the spacer over to the table saw and cut it in half, so that you end up with two 1/2" thick squares.

**The first three pictures below show the dis-assembly of a small white Ribba frame, but, rest assured, the process is exactly the same with the big 19" one.**

Step 6: Build the Table

Building the table is actually pretty simple.  Just as the table top is made from a re-purposed Ikea shadow box Ribba frame, the table legs are ripped right from their $7.99 Lack Table.

Cut down a piece of plywood to a 19 3/4" square that fits perfectly inside of the Ribba frame.

Next, replace the the double pointed lag bolt like hardware from the Lack table with something that better suits the new tables design - a normal lag bolt and some washers.

Then, drill some countersinks for the lag bolts and washers in the plywood at the four corners.  If your plywood sheet is a little too thin to take up all the space created by cutting down the Ribba spacer, you can bulk things up by including the factory made Masonite frame backer in the new stack.  I drilled out holes in this too to allow for the top tiny bit of the bolt head that still stuck up over the plywood.

With everything nice and flush, use a ratchet to drive the lag bolts into the Lack table legs and mount them to the masonite & plywood support boards.

Step 7: Get Wooly Printed, Cut Matte & Acetate

Take the vector file to a print shop and have them print out a 19 3/4" poster style print of Willy.  He should blow up perfectly, fuzz and blur free.  Most print shops or Kinkos these days have a HQ banner printer that should make quick work of the file.  I got mine beautifully printed at Krishna Copies in Berkeley, CA for just $20.

Since the iron filings tend to leave a slight mark in their trail, I decided to cover the print with a $2 piece of acetate that I bought at the art store and protect my investment.  The acetate is easy to cut to size and leaves Willy completely mark and streak free.

While at the art store, I picked up simple matte board as well to serve as a nice backer for the poster print...a little unnecessary perhaps, but hey, I'm a professional.

Step 8: Assemble Table Pt. 1

Everything is ready - begin the table assembly!

The four legs should be bolted on already at this point, so here we go.

Lay down the masonite backer.
Lay down the matte board.
Use some double sided tape or painters tape looped around your finger to lay down the print.
Finally, lay down the acetate.

Step 9: Assemble Table Pt. 2

After the acetate is laid down, it's time to sprinkle copious amounts of iron filings onto the print.  I squirted out about as much iron/hair as I thought Willy could ever possibly want to have, and then added a little more.

Finally, drop the spacer, glass, and Ribba frame down onto the table and secure it into place by bending the little tabs on the frame around the plywood backer.  Easy!

Step 10: Build "Magic Pen"

The last piece of the puzzle is to construct the "magic pen".

Cut down some 3/4" dowel into comfortable pen lengths...8" or so.

Using first a small drill bit, then a larger one, bore out a hole that will accept the rare earth magnets - in my case, 3/8".  Slip the rare earth magnets into the hole (polarity doesn't matter, iron filings aren't polarized themselves).  The magnets should be just slightly inset of the tip of the dowel so that the softer wood bonks the glass table top, not the hard metal magnet.

Then, using some 120 & 220 grit paper sand down the dowel and paint it white to match the table.

Step 11: Enjoy!

The last step is to play with it and make some crazy faces!

We've been drawing a bunch already and have barely scratched the surface of what's possible...some of our most notable works appear below.

Comments

author
Brennn10 (author)2010-04-18

For those of us without a table saw, what would be an alternative to cutting the spacer in half?

author
vbanaszak (author)Brennn102014-12-19

You could also use foam core.

author
noahw (author)Brennn102010-04-18

You go down to Home Depot and by some half inch molding and use it to build a spacer yourself from scratch.  Four pieces glued to the wall of the frame should work out just fine and requires only some very minimal cutting with a hand saw and a miter box.  Paint it white (at least on the surfaces that face the inside of the frame) and you're good to go. 

All in all, doing it that way might actually even be easier than cutting the spacer in half on the table saw since it's such a thin cut and the material is so delicate.

author
soakedinbubbles (author)2014-10-10

im going to make this for a Christmas gift for my man...

i was told you can get iron fillings at an auto shop that does brakes :)

see the youtube video, its the same stuff :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qkT0EmGQNo

author
threadbareandthrifty (author)2013-10-03

This is fantastic! I intend to make this for my nephew with his face on instead, and as suggested replacing the glass with perspex for added safety. Approximately what weight of iron filings do you think this project would need? thanks for the inspiration!!

author
bdschwab (author)2010-03-25

Think there might be some copyright issues here- you might want to use another graphic for the face-

author
hjjusa (author)bdschwab2011-12-05

If I understand correctly, copyrights only apply if you intend on selling the made product. Could be wrong though.

author
bradhouser (author)bdschwab2010-03-25

Don't try to sell it, and there should not be any issue. Besides, you are asked to buy one for the iron filings, so they will get a sale anyway.

author
tat2duck (author)2011-05-15

Two safety points I would make...
Make sure the glass is safety glass or acrylic glass if children are involved. Also consider attaching the 'pen' to the table with a cord. Nice job otherwise.

author
adamazing (author)tat2duck2011-12-05

Not just if children are involved. Otherwise you're only a knocked over beer bottle or a dropped Wii controller away from glass and possibly iron filing hell.


My first idea for an improvement would be to have interchangeable pictures so you could swap out Woolly Willy for Hairy Mary or a forest scene with trees with bare branches or...


Or even interchangeable contained units so you could swap out the Woolly Willy for a maze with raised walls and a ball bearing or a small blob of filings or ferro-fluid?

Great idea by the way and great execution.

author
jacobgrayson (author)2011-12-04

Awesome! That was like my favorite thing to play with when I was young. I must have one!

romantic poems

author
mslaynie (author)2011-03-25

This is such a fantastic idea!! Makes me think about different ways to use this concept to make a drawing board/table. This would be a hit at a party, too... I can imagine all the laughter now!

Also, making multiple magic pens was inspired. The only improvement I can suggest is perhaps adding a drawer underneath to store the pens in when they aren't in use. Otherwise, this is such a brilliant idea! Love it!

author
beccabee711 (author)2010-11-30

will the glass sit flush against the acetate?

author
mslaynie (author)beccabee7112011-03-25

No, the spacer goes between the acetate and the glass, leaving room for the iron filings to move around.

author
lizzyastro (author)2010-03-25

Nice 'ible, but the name "woolly willy"  just doesn't cross the Atlantic very well.

author
tnactim (author)lizzyastro2010-12-30

Naw, it's just as funny in the States :D

author
ilpug (author)tnactim2011-03-09

it definitely needs some explaining if you have never heard of it.

author
KNEXFRANTIC (author)2010-09-30

nice but what hapens if you inhale the magnetic powder

author
Spokehedz (author)KNEXFRANTIC2010-11-28

Don't.

author
KNEXFRANTIC (author)Spokehedz2010-11-30

oh

author
savageseas (author)2010-03-25

I don't know about other countries, but here in Australia a "willy" is slang for the male appendage which makes some comments rather amusing! 
However, great 'ible.

author
KNEXFRANTIC (author)savageseas2010-09-30

same in the uk

author
WattSekunde (author)KNEXFRANTIC2010-11-29

same in germany ;)

author
frecklyface (author)savageseas2010-07-05

Yeah, it is in the States too. That's part of the fun though! ;)

author
wocket (author)savageseas2010-03-25

yes, i was a bit dubious about the title too.

author
cut'n'paste (author)2010-05-14

Great photos, links and step-by-step instructions.   I see that iron filing are sold by the pound.  How many pounds do I need?

author
aleji77a (author)2010-03-28

lol, I think I love you :)

author
LoneWolf (author)aleji77a2010-04-01

Talk about a random comment lol :)

author
lemonie (author)2010-03-23

Very very good. I can picture more of Willy - so you could make his torso woolly too(?)

L

author
noahw (author)lemonie2010-03-23

I could very easily imagine both male and female torsos that would be pretty engaging teaching tools for kids AND fun toys for adults. 

I could surely produce some of those if I were so inclined...

Since Instructables has already been tossing around the idea of "How to Vajazzle" in the forums, Randofo suggested that I work up a Magnetic Vajazzling device so that prospective vajazzlers could mach up their ideas before taking the plunge.

Who's got my vector art?

:)

author
Chromatica (author)noahw2010-03-23

The first two lines of your comment were...
odd.

author
noahw (author)Chromatica2010-03-23

Upon re-reading them, I agree.

author
LoneWolf (author)noahw2010-03-30

Talk about not wanting somebody to read between the lines :)

author
lemonie (author)noahw2010-03-23

That's a good idea. Waiting-room table...

L

author
caitlinsdad (author)lemonie2010-03-23

Pleez, I don't think we need to see too much of his willy.

author
lemonie (author)caitlinsdad2010-03-23

I said torso.

L

author
motherprinter (author)2010-03-30

 Yeah, be careful, some other artist made him.  You have to respect that.  Great idea.

author
runndis26 (author)2010-03-28

 This is a great idea! We are going to try to make one for my son in our game room. Thanks for adding this.

author
Asmodeous (author)2010-03-27

Awesome!

author
Beadazzlesalas (author)2010-03-26

Hey this came out the same year i was born,cool,plus i have a favorite eating place that sells a lot of the old games and toys from that era and i ran across a wooly willy and i bought it and i set it in the bathroom of all places to play with while taking care of business lol. Even my husband plays with it lol. I just make my own now. Oh and i bought a slinky remember those  haha.

author
bloomautomatic (author)2010-03-25

Very nice job.  I have friends in Smethport, PA (the birthplace of wooly-willy) and visit there a few times a year.  In the summer they have a Wooly-Willy look alike contest.
http://smethportpa.org/events/wooly-willy-wonderdaze/

According to this detailed history of Wooly-Willy, the original Wooly-Willy used dust from magnet grinding instead of iron filings. 
http://www.smethporthistory.org/smethportspeciality/wollypage.htm

Vince

author
noahw (author)bloomautomatic2010-03-26

Thanks for the info!

author
power (author)2010-03-25

 this is awesome
the only problem I have is to find iron fillings :)

author
noahw (author)power2010-03-26

It's very easy to find them at science supply websites...

www.enasco.com/product/S06119%28X%29M

author
juliekaye74 (author)2010-03-25

This is so cool!  I am going to tweek it a little though!  I'm going to get my friend to take a pic of her daughter with her hair pulled away from her face and use that to make a personalized table!!!!  What kid wouldn't love that!!!  I will probably make one for my kids too!  THANKS for the great project!!

author
BenistheMenace (author)2010-03-24

You can buy iron filings from almost any scientific supply. Here is a link for 1 lb. of filings for around 3 dollars.

http://www.enasco.com/product/S06119M

author
recycleking (author)2010-03-24

Nice instructable. I've been invited to my great-nephews' birthday party, and I'll be building this and giving it to him. When he isn't playing with it, he can use the table to do other things on. 

author
porcupinemamma (author)2010-03-24

Creative genius!!!! I want one.  Oh Wow!  Awsome

author
crapflinger (author)2010-03-24

http://theawesomer.com/ you made it to the awesomer today!

author
HamatoKameko (author)2010-03-23

Brilliance. Sheer brilliance.

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