Introduction: Wooly Willy Table

About: I've worked for Instructables off and on since 2006 building and documenting just about everything I enjoy doing. I am now the Creative Programs founder and manager for Autodesk and just finished building out…

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:

  • 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.