Introduction: Animation Fidget Spinner

About: I like to explore with my hands, but I trouble choosing one area of focus. I have completely renovated my house, but nothing I do is craftsman quality. I want to build an electric car, hack computer hardware…

If you can't beat them, join them. As the price of a good fidget spinner goes up ("You have to get the good one," a student advised me, as "it goes for, like, five minutes.") and the shelves are cleared off (on the sidelines of soccer, parents swapped places they had last seen them), I started making them and expanding on their basic design.

A fidget spinner is essentially a sealed skateboard bearing in the center of a body designed to capture centripetal force to keep it spinning. There is a photo of a generic factory-made fidget spinner above. They are meant to unconsciously be played with and work fine motor skills. Now, they are toys.

Where They Came From

Where did fidget spinners come from? Not the device (the New York Times tells us here) but how they became a fad so, so fast.

On a Tuesday there were three kids who had them--and needed them to occupy their otherwise tapping fingers while listen to directions. Among my middle school colleagues we noted how great they were (i.e., quiet). After a year of modeling clay residue on desks, tossed sand and stress balls and, most recently, the "fidget cube" the fidget spinner seemed like the Holy Grail of fidgets.

Until Wednesday. Half the class had them on Wednesday. Kids had endurance competitions. They stacked them. Holding them to the light and looking through their spinning blades creates a cool strobe effect, apparently. A few kids rented theirs, and one enterprising student used a 3-D printer to create personalized ones (with cat heads, for example). Very creative, but no longer fidgets. They are now toys.

While distracting in the classroom, toys always inspire creativity--and hacks! This Instructable will focus on one such hack--making a phenakistoscope fidget.

Step 1: Materials

To make a basic fidget spinner you will need the following:

Sealed Bearing: The heart of the fidget spinner is the sealed ball bearing. Skateboard bearings are easy and reasonably cheap--I found a box for less than $5.00 on Amazon, but I'm sure they aren't very good. I don't need my spinner to go on forever. Any skateshop will have an 8 pack, and you might score an old one for free (good enough for this, if not skateboarding). Mine come from my son's old skateboard.

You can obviously use other bearings. As machine bearings are often meant to create as little friction as possible they can often run longer, but can be expensive. Skateboard bearings are sealed. As fidget spinners will get a lot of abuse, grit will quickly contaminate an open bearing and gum up the works. On the last step I show a spinner made from a transmission bearing and sawdust got in it almost immediately.

Wood: The thickness of a skateboard bearing is 7mm. You could use 1/4" and have the bearing slightly thicker than the body or 1/2" and the bearing be a tad bit recessed. I did the latter, but recommend the former (especially if you use glue later).

Drill Bit: Whatever you use for the housing, you'll need to drill a hole. Skateboard bearings are 22mm, which is just shy of 7/8". I used the latter and had to do a (poor) glue job.

Glue: Crazy, epoxy or Gorilla--it's gotta hold. A friend who had a 22mm bit was able to get a tight enough fit that no glue was necessary.

Tools: Drill, saw and the like.

Step 2: Make the Body

Here is an Instructable of "How to Make a Paper Animation Wheel" to provide the theory. Instead of seven sides, I made eight (I don't know if it matters to help fool your brain).

How Big? To spin, you hold the bearing between your thumb and forefinger--a pinch. The body of the spinner needs to have clearance of the perlicue. Having large hands, mine is a bit less than 4" as the distance between my pinch and the perlicue is about 2.5"--the pinch is the center.

Process: You might need to adjust steps as you go, but here is the basic idea:

  1. I cut a 4" square from 1/2" plywood (again, I'd use 1/4" on a redo). If 4" doesn't fit your small presidential hands make it smaller, but make it square.
  2. Find the center. Draw a line between corners--the intersection is the center.
  3. To make the square into a balanced octagon you can use this Instructable "Create an Octagon From a Square". It's easy. Doing it evenly allows for a balanced spin. Cut the corners off.
  4. Drill the center hole. Use that 22mm or 7/8" bit.
  5. Cut the slots--these slots are what turns drawings into an illusion of movement. Lay your straight edge across opposite corners and draw lines that pass through the center. Then, mark half way between the corner and the center hole--cutting further undermines the structural integrity of the body.

Step 3: Insert Your Bearing

If you used a 22mm bit you might be able to pop the bearing in without glue. Try it.

Falls out? Get a strong glue (Crazy, epoxy, Gorilla) and seal it in place.

Warning: Make sure the glue only touches the outside of the bearing, as the center needs to spin. Glue is the enemy of that. A stray drop will not only ruin the bearing, but now your ruined bearing is stuck in your body.

Step 4: Drawing for Animation

Again, check out "How to Make a Paper Animation Wheel" for the practical steps, or this optical toy site for a more detailed explanation of theory.

I started with what I wanted--the full heart--at "12 o'clock" (the top).

Then, I drew the opposite--the tiny heart--at "6 o'clock" (the bottom). Remember, the orientation of the image is always that the bottom is the center. As the disc turns, the image bottom will always be oriented so that it is near the center.

Because of how my brain works, I drew up the left side the three progressive illustrations linking the top drawing and the bottom. Remember, the bottom of the image is closest to the center.

Then, I did the same on the right side--three progressive illustrations that mirror the left side.

Note: If I do this again, I'd use whiteboard material so kids can draw on it with a fine erase marker and make new stories and experiment. Actually, I'd use a "hardboard panel board", made of MDF with a smooth white panel side. You can buy half and quarter sheets cheap.

Step 5: It Works

Hold the spinner up to a mirror. The image side faces the mirror.

Now, spin and look through the slots. Animation!

Step 6: Other Spinners

I've been goofing around with other spinner ideas.

First, this is a simple 3" square for my son. Fidget spinners have gone up in price, and this is personalized and the price of the bearing. I like the square (easy) but a colleague made a nice oval.

Second, I had a bearing for my car's transmission that I had never put in. It's nearly 3" in diameter, so I built a big fidget spinner for fun (it's as big as a fork!). The kids got a laugh out of it, and everyone wanted to touch it.

The point is, the basic spinner is a foundation for a lot of creative hacks. Have fun (and share).

Note: Weights on the ends helps power the centripetal force--note the bolts in that giant spinner. Stray balls from an old bearing are easy--drill a hole, wedge or glue in. A lot of DIY spinners seem to use coins; if you travel a lot, you might have some cool foreign ones, but they need to be identical in weight for an even spin.

Note: As I mentioned earlier, if I do this again, I'd use whiteboard material so kids can draw on it with a fine erase marker and make new stories and experiment. Actually, I'd use a "hardboard panel board", made of MDF with a smooth white panel side. You can buy half and quarter sheets cheap.