Introduction: Wind Tube!

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Whether you want to wind down or wind up, this tube is soon to be your favorite automatic aerodynamic magic. Like the giant bubble fan from Willy Wonka's factory, this easy to make wind tube is great for exploring what flies, spins, tumbles, soars and falls, all easily mobile for the teacher/parent/adult/kiddo on the go.

There are other tubes out there in the world, and this one is inspired by this one at the Exploratorium. I wanted to make it sturdy, upright, easy to roll around the class, so here we go!

  • What: Wind Tube!
  • Concepts: aerodynamics, physics, air pressure, flight
  • Cost: ~ $40 (not including fan)
  • Time: ~ 1.5 hours to make, great for shorter activities
  • Materials:
    • Fan
    • Wood for base (we used about 24"x20" of 3/4" ply)
    • Wood for legs (we used about 6' of a 2x3")
    • Wood Screws
    • 6 L-brackets
    • Plastic for tube (polycarbonate or acetate)
    • 2 Wood Embroidery Hoops (we used 14")
    • 3 Zip Ties
    • Clear Packing Tape
    • Duct tape
    • Materials for flying (balloons, bags, skewers, tape, popsicle sticks, paper, gloves, the works!)
  • Tools:
    • Drill
    • Jigsaw

Step 1: Materials Notes

Yay! Time to gather up materials.

Find an old fan in the attic or at the thrift store, and get ready to let it rip. The stronger the merrier, but all will do. We used a 12" Polar Aire fan for ours.

For the tube, you're going to want to make sure it fits in your embroidery hoops. A 14" embroidery hoop has a circumference of approximately 45", so you'll want one of the dimensions to be near that. The other dimension is however high you want your tube. We chose 48".

Casters are optional, but are useful for us so we can move it around the classroom easily.

Step 2: The Wood Donut

First up is to make a wood donut, which is going to be the main supporting structure for the tube.

You want the inner diameter to be as close to the fan's diameter as possible, and then for it to be thick enough to be strong even when we cut leg holes out of it soon. For ours, we used the hoop to make the inner diameter 14", and then we made a makeshift screw-and-pencil compass to make a 19" outer radius.

Cut the outside with a jigsaw or bandsaw. Then drill a hole for a jigsaw to cut the inner diameter. You made a wood donut!

Step 3: Cut Room for Legs

Tripod time! Use the wood for your legs to outline notches in your wood donut. Cut with a jigsaw, and test to make sure there's enough space for your legs to stand upright while having enough clearance around your fan.

Step 4: Notching Your Legs

Cut out three lengths of your 1x2 so that the wood donut will clear the top of the fan, and you'll have a couple inches between your donut and your wind tube so that you can put objects inside it from below. We made ours with 15.25" legs.

Cut notches in them so they can support the wind tube, and cut these out with a jigsaw or a bandsaw.

Step 5: Screw and Drill

Grab your L-brackets and screw them on so they'll be on the underside of your platform. Afterwards, drill some holes in the top of each leg for future wind tube attachment (you only need one per leg).

Step 6: Add Wind Tube Supports

Each leg will need a little platform for the wind tube to rest on. I eyeballed three pieces of 3/4" ply that ended up being near 3.5" x 2". You can cut a curve in them (more for appearance), sand them, and screw them on to your legs.

Whew! All done with wood!

Step 7: Casters

These rollie-pollies are optional of course. We added them so we could move it around a classroom easily. If you want, grab three and screw them in to the bottom of the legs.

Keep in mind these will affect the overall height of your wind tube platform above your fan.

Step 8: Making the Tube

Get ready to take 2D plastic into the third dimension. This is a bit like herding cats, but comes out okay in the end. Peel back your plastic to expose it's shiny interior. Fold it into a tube, and start lining it with packing tape along the seam. When you feel like there's enough tape to hold, add the embroidery hoops on either end to give more support. You can duct tape these, and come back later to make them look prettier if you want.

By the end, you have a great 4' tube!

Step 9: Prep Tube Attachment

While your tube sits neatly on the wood base, you'll want to attach it there. Put your wind tube on the supports, and mark two points for drill holes for each leg. These will be for zip-ties to go through.

Take your tube off, and drill the holes (six in total). Huzzah!

Step 10: Zip-tie Tube

Let's tie it up! Attach the wind tube to your base with a zip tie through the holes on each leg. Three zip ties should do it, and makes it easy if you want to cut them for transport in a car or in to storage.

Cinch down the zip ties, and cut the extra off. You have a wind tube!

Step 11: Safety Add-On

If you're using this with kids, do take into account fan hazards. Having hands near fans can be dangerous if the proper pre-cautions aren't taken. Also, when you make things to fly in your tube, popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners can get eaten up by your fan if you don't shield them. NOM NOM.

So grab some wire mesh from a hardware store, cut it to your fan size, and zip-tie it to the top so that no fingers or popsicle sticks get injured in the making of this joy.

Step 12: Make Things to Float!

Time to unload the craft drawer! This is the fun part, in trying to make different wacky objects for different behaviors. You can try to make things that float, spin, hover, fall, or interact with the wind.

Pinwheels, paper airplanes, balloons with weights, parachutes, and even crumpled paper behave in wonderful ways. Try them all, whether you be a party of one or a giant group.

Step 13: Liftoff!

Your wind tube project is complete, and is the gift that keeps on giving. Try new objects, designs, wind speeds, prompts, and constraints to get new projects all the time.

You can even turn it on its side and get a horizontal wind tunnel, or put a beach ball on top and see the Bernoulli effect as you begin to change the angle of your tube.

Leave comments! Ask questions! Show us what you fly in your tube, and as always, keep exploring. :)