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

Picture of 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

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Brennn105 years ago
For those of us without a table saw, what would be an alternative to cutting the spacer in half?

You could also use foam core.

noahw (author)  Brennn105 years ago
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.

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 :)


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!!
bdschwab5 years ago
Think there might be some copyright issues here- you might want to use another graphic for the face-
hjjusa bdschwab3 years ago
If I understand correctly, copyrights only apply if you intend on selling the made product. Could be wrong though.
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.
tat2duck4 years ago
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.
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.
Awesome! That was like my favorite thing to play with when I was young. I must have one!

romantic poems
mslaynie4 years ago
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!
beccabee7114 years ago
will the glass sit flush against the acetate?
No, the spacer goes between the acetate and the glass, leaving room for the iron filings to move around.
lizzyastro5 years ago
Nice 'ible, but the name "woolly willy"  just doesn't cross the Atlantic very well.
Naw, it's just as funny in the States :D
ilpug tnactim4 years ago
it definitely needs some explaining if you have never heard of it.
KNEXFRANTIC4 years ago
nice but what hapens if you inhale the magnetic powder

savageseas5 years ago
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.
same in the uk
same in germany ;)
Yeah, it is in the States too. That's part of the fun though! ;)
yes, i was a bit dubious about the title too.
cut'n'paste5 years ago
Great photos, links and step-by-step instructions.   I see that iron filing are sold by the pound.  How many pounds do I need?
aleji77a5 years ago
lol, I think I love you :)
Talk about a random comment lol :)
lemonie5 years ago
Very very good. I can picture more of Willy - so you could make his torso woolly too(?)

noahw (author)  lemonie5 years ago
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?

The first two lines of your comment were...
noahw (author)  Chromatica5 years ago
Upon re-reading them, I agree.
LoneWolf noahw5 years ago
Talk about not wanting somebody to read between the lines :)
lemonie noahw5 years ago
That's a good idea. Waiting-room table...

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

 Yeah, be careful, some other artist made him.  You have to respect that.  Great idea.
runndis265 years ago
 This is a great idea! We are going to try to make one for my son in our game room. Thanks for adding this.
Asmodeous5 years ago
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.
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