Wire People Maker

Introduction: Wire People Maker

I am trying to mentor four middle-school kids in a young family and am trying to introduce then to workshop tools and maker activities. My idea is for them to become makers and creators instead of consumers. The eldest one said that he had an interest in making people and figures out of the wire twist ties that you get at the store for closing plastic bags. He had quite a collection of people in various poses and actually had a rather large box to contain the collection. He said he would like to make robots with them. I said that they would not be strong enough to handle any kind of mechanical stress that robotics would place on them. I said further that maybe we should not be so ambitious as to do robotics, but first try to do some animation. things.

I went home and did some web research and found something that could be a lot of fun. For really anyone. I saw this YouTube (can't find it now, though) were this young man took a drill and about five feet of 22 gauge wire and made a long twisted wire with two strands which gave any further creations a lot of stability.

I wondered how I could introduce my young friend to such an activity realizing that he did not have access to a drill. Hence, this project. I made a hand tool that does the same job of twisting wire and making various body parts with it.

So, here goes.

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Step 1: Materials and Equipment


14" - 2x4 board for the base

2" x 2 1/2" x 3/4" piece of wood for the end piece that holds the turning wheel

6" square 3/8" plywood (any kind of wood is OK here, it doesn't have to be plywood)

4" square 1" chipboard (again, any kind of wood is OK. A 3/4" board would be find, not less though, there is a lot of stress on this part)

broom stick

1/2" dowel rod (or 3/8" is OK)

couple of 16 penny nails

a 6 penny nail

2" x 5/16" bolt and nut and washer (a substitute that may be much easier would be a small diameter pipe with an outside thread or any hollow steel rod with an external thread. Essentially, this is a substitute for a drill chuck.)


Anything that can make wooden circles. Table saw, lathe, Roto-Zip, jig saw, coping saw, scroll saw, router, band saw. Any one of these is OK.

Electric drill and/or drill press to bore a 1/8" hole lengthwise into the 5/16" bolt

Various hand tools and drill bits

Nice to have - a set of Forstner bits, but a set of spade bits is OK as well

Sandpaper to round the edges of the wooden parts

Step 2: Make the Basic Wooden Parts

Make the basic wooden parts consisting of the 2x4" base. The end piece that holds the axle and the turning and anchor wheels.

The base is very simple. Just cut a 2x4" board about 14" long.

The end piece is used to hold the turning wheel axle. It is fastened to the base with a little bit of an overhang, so that the turning wheel does not catch on the 2x4" base. I glued and nailed my end piece for more strength.

A note here: When the wire is being twisted a lot of stress is placed on the end piece and on the anchor wheel, so these need to be very strong and need to be attached in a hardy way. The end piece may be solidly glued and screwed to add strength. The anchor wheel strength depends on the movable pin that holds it in place on the base wood. I think that a 16 penny nail is adequate to do the pin job.

The turning wheel can be any size, but 5" or so is a good size. I used a Rotozip tool to make mine. As mentioned in the Materials and Equipment section there are a LOT of different tools that can be used to do this job.

The same thing holds true for the 3" anchor wheel. Again, I used a Rotozip tool, but other tools may be used.

Don't forget, the two wheels do not have to be precise by any stretch of the imagination. The diameters of either one are totally arbitrary.

Step 3: Assemble the Turning Wheel and the End Piece

The turning wheel has a few parts to it.

One of them is the broomstick handle that is used to do the turning. I cut a 1" piece of broomstick and screwed and glued it to the turning wheel. I also sanded the edges to make it less likely to cut someone using it.

Another part of the turning wheel is the anchor screw. This is simply a 1/2" sheet metal screw that is screwed into the wood near the axle. It is used to wind the wire one turn and hold the wire firm while it is being twisted.

The axle itself consists of a 5/16" bold with a 1/8" hold drilled lengthwise all the way through it. This was by far the most challenging part. I am fortunate to have a drill press that could do the job, but even so, I used a lot of oil to cool down the drill bit. I used a tungsten carbide drill bit as some insurance against breaking the bit during the drilling process. I think a hand drill would work fine. Just remember to keep on oiling the drill bit and the hole, and do it often.

There may be other ways to make a fake chuck to hold the wires on the turning wheel, but I can't think of any elegant way to do it. This way works very well for me.

I drilled a hole for the 5/16" bolt into the center of the turning wheel and into the end piece axle holder. The hole was approximately in the center of the end piece.

A problem I had was that I did not have a long enough 5/16" bolt and had to compromise by sinking the nut and washer into the end piece. This would not be necessary with a 2" long bolt. However, a 2" long bolt requires a lot more drilling for the 1/8" hole. So, bear that in mind as well.

I purposely damaged the thread on the 5/16" bolt to prevent the nut from tightening when the wheel was being turned. I actually did the damage about one thread in, so I could start the nut onto the bolt, otherwise it would be nearly impossible to start the nut on the bolt. If you have a long 2" bolt, you could use two nuts and a lock washer to do the same job. Just put the lock washer between the two nuts and tighten it down hard.

Step 4: The Other Wheel--the Anchor Wheel

This is the anchor wheel that holds the wire while it is being twisted. It also has an assortment of pins of various diameters to allow for various sizes of holes at the end of the wires. It is where one can make a single-hole twisted wire, or even joint two wires together at the end holes. More on that later.

The center of the wheel holds the pin. In this case, the pin is simply a cutoff of a 16 penny nail. The idea is that this pin assembly needs to be quite strong, because the stress of twisting the wire is considerable as the wire gets twisted into finer and finer twists. We don't want any parts to go flying off into the room or at the person using it.

(Safety glasses are quite appropriate for the person using this tool.)

For the assorted wire hole diameters, I selected a 1/2" dowel, a 16 penny and a 6 penny nail. Theyseem to do the job just fine.

Notice that there are several holes in the base 2x4. These are placed so that different lengths of wire can be twisted. It prevents some waste by allowing the user to make the parts the length needed for the purpose at hand.

In the original YouTube, the wire twister used a long length of wire which was then cut to size. It would not be easy to make small twisted wires with neat holes in the ends by that method. This one does allow for such choices.

Step 5: Using the Wire Twister - AKA Wire People Maker

As you can see in the accompanying photos, using the wire twister is pretty straightforward.

#1. Bend the wire around the pin with the diameter you want. A single wind may be sufficient, however, I have made some with two winds around the pin. For a head part, a double wind is very nice. You can insert a coin or a picture of a face or a place card or business card into such a part.

#2. Insert the two wire ends into the hole in the 1/8" hole that was drilled into the bolt. Push the wire all the way through the turning wheel.

#3. Grab the two ends and make one wind with them around the sheet metal anchor screw. This will hold the wire taut until the twisting is finished. You may want to do a double wind to ensure that it doesn't slip.

#4. Twist the wire with the turning wheel until you get the kind of twist you want. You can go pretty tight on this. The tool is very strong.

#5. When you are done twisting, I would suggest simply cutting the wire at the sheet metal anchor screw and then unwinding the the short piece to discard. Pull the main piece out on the anchor wheel side, and you will have the part you made.

#6. There are several ways you can make parts. One is a simple one-hole twisted length of wire. Another is a joint in which two holes are joined together. You make one simple one-hole twisted wire, and then for the second one, you thread a new wire through the hole of the first one-hole wire and then wrap it one wind around the pin. After you've twisted the second wire, you will have two wires joined together. You'll see in the middle of the picture for step #6 that there is one part that has the head. This had two winds and makes it available for inserting a picture or any small, flat item.

Step 6: Final Product

You'll notice that I made two people out of the twisted wire. You may wonder how I got them to stand up.

Well, there is a little magic going on there.

I glued some very tiny 2mm cylindrical magnets to the feet and the hands. These two folks are standing on a small metal plate. The magnets make them stand up and hold hands. If I had a very strong magnet, I suppose I could make them wave as well.

Also, I should mention that to stabilize these guys, I did some soldering in strategic places like the shoulders and the groin areas. (My mentees are practicing their soldering skills as well).

I'm hoping this will allow for a lot of imagination by my mentee kids.

Maybe they can make animals and cars and bicycles and whatnot.

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