Spinning Top and Helicopter




Introduction: Spinning Top and Helicopter

About: Hi I like to have a go at anything that's interesting, from CNC to toy making, recently I have been dismantling an old Cybot to link to Arduino using Scratch for Arduino as the initial language. I have thre...

Ive made a number of spinning tops in various shapes and sizes and have even made one with a handle and pull string. This guide is intended to show how to make one of the pull string varieties.

Please see my videos below:

The one in the video works well, but when I first made it I used a slot for the string which wasted the end.

For this one I want to use the end as a launcher for a toy helicopter. So this is to be two toys in one.

Sound interesting ???? The n please read on.

Step 1: Spinning Top

Ordinarily to turn a spinning top I would make it from a single piece of stock. First forming the spinner and then turning the handle used to spin it and once sanded with a finish applied I would part it off and there you have it.

BUT this spinner needs to be a bit stronger in the stem so I have made it in two parts.

Part 1 - The spinner

The first thing to do is center drill a 10 mm hole that will eventually take the stem. I the turned a rough spinner shape, at this point its not important to clean it up as it will need to be cantered once the stem is attached. Once the basic shape is done form a short tenon she the point will eventually be and part it from the rest of the wood.

One of the tools used to shape the top was one I had made - just a plane chisel that I ground into a semi circular end and sharpened to make a skew chisel that works in both directions without having to turn over.

Be careful when using any chisel see the 4th picture - if the tool bites in it will drag in one way of the other and can be quite a hazard. If your luck you only get to do some more turning if not then you might need some medical attention.

Part 2 - The Stem

This is made from recycled bits of our children's cot (their older now and don't need it any more) Rough a length of the spindle down and then form a tenon at the end. This needs to be 10 mm at the end, I gave it a slight tapper to help hold it in the spinner once the glue is applied.

With the spindle still in the lathe push the spinner onto the tenon and let the glue set. Bring the tail stock up to the end of the spinner and co tinge turning. First reduce the stem to less than 10 mm( it needs to spin freely the handle when the string is pulled. Then finish the rest of the shaping leaving the point until last.

I've found that a slightly rounded tip is better for larger Tops, it helps them stay up for longer

Step 2: Helicopter

1 - A Rough Shape

For the propeller I started by turning a dowel to round, then I formed a ball in the middle. Once I had the ball I used a ruler to mark off the length of the blade on one side and transferred that to the other then finished the turning and removed it from the lathe (see the 4th and 5th pictures)

2 - Cutting the Blades

The first step is to mark out a couple of lines of the center approximately separated by 1 quarter turn, then draw diagonal lines from the edge to the tip of the blades. Next use a band saw to cut from the tip to the center marks on both sides of the blades. Once you have both sides cut use the straight edge along the blade to gauge a parallel line then cut this piece away.

This will leave you with a rough blade that you can now sand and shape. Because I made cuts along diagonal lines the blades should be at a slight angle to each other - when sanding take care to keep this angle as it provides the lift for the helicopter.

3 - Attaching the Stem

Use the same 10 mm bit from the other holes and partialy drill a hole in the central part of the blade and then attache the helecopter stem (I used thick super glue with and activator, but wood glue would work as well)

Step 3: Handle

1 - Holes in the Handle

You start the handle by drilling the hole for the stem of the helicopter, this is important as it sets the center of the handle and helps you mark out the positions of the other two holes that need drilling. Once you have the correct depth (deep enough to take the whole stem) remove the piece from the lathe and move to the drill press.

The next hole needed is the large one that allows you to thread the stems, first take the helicopter - put it into its hole then hold the stem where at the point where it meats the outer edge f the handle. remove the stem and use the length from your fingers to the stem end to mark the depth of the hole in the handle.

Now mark the point for the large hole, its important that the bottom of the stem is sat in a retaining hole or you will jam the helicopter when you pull the string so ensure to leave space from the edge of the bit you use. I used a 25 mm bit for this hole and drilled all the way through.

Rotate the handle to the adjacent side and make a 10 mm hole all the way through centered on the larger hole - this is the spinner hole. Test both holes by putting the relevant part in them and make sure that the parts spin freely

2 - Turning the Handle

Remount the wood in the lathe and us a bit of scrap dowel inserted into the helicopter hole to give it more support while turning. Now turn a shape that's goo for you. I general like a kind of skipping rope handle with a bulb on the end and for this one I made a little platform at the end for the helicopter.

Be careful when turning the bulb as its easy to catch the piece on the holes. When ready sand the piece and apply a friction wax finish to seal it then part it off of the lathe.

3 - Inside edges

Remember to take a bit a sand paper and remove splinters from inside the holes, also you will notice that the edges of the holes can be very sharp, remove this as well using the sand paper

Step 4: Pull String

If you have a length of spindle with a 10 mm tennon on it (you should as you hav just made a couple of stems and this will be scrap from those steps) then don't take the waste out of the lathe once you remove the handle, use it to hold this scrap - drill another 10 mm hole in the center of the wood in the lathe and insert the scrap, bringing up the tail stock o hold the other end and help improve the friction fit. Then turn a small pull handle for the spinners.

Step 5: Threading the String

One of the last things to do is drill holes in all the parts the the string needs to go through:

  • Spinner
  • Helicopter
  • String Puller

Start by putting the spinner into its hole in the handle and make a mark in the center of the stem, then do the same for the stem of the helicopter. Now use the point of a drill to make a small hole - this will stop the bit from wondering while drilling.

Clamp the stem in a vice and drill the hole - the vice stops you mistaking your fingers for the stem.

Drill the same size hole in all parts. The size will depend on the diameter of the stem and the string you will be using. Once the hole is in the Puller thread the string through and tie it around one half then push the not through the hole to hide it

Step 6: Warning

The blades need to be as light as possible due to the short length of the stem. A top heavy helicopter will tend to do kind of a funky chicken dance in the air.

Do NOT use the helicopter in side and make sure to hold it over your head when you set it off, after all its a spinning piece of wood and with the string pull it gets to quite a speed.

Also as I have just this minute found out - Keep your thumb out of the way of the spinning blade - it smarts bit when caught.......Have fun

Thank you for reading this instructable
If you enjoyed it or found it helpful please take the time to vote in the competitions.

and if you would like to see more then please take a look at my other guides




or at my web site at


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    3 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks its always nice if peopel like things you make, I enjoy doing them

    This is a great instructable! I remember when I was a kid that you could keep the top spinning with a whip.....I've forgotten how to make this