Skip to main content

Spinning Tops

Spinning Tops
Spinning Tops

Tops are one of the oldest toys known to humankind. They are easy to make with common household materials like yogurt cups, bottle caps, pencils, cardboard cutouts and more!  Making a top sparks a learner’s curiosity and opens up many tinkering opportunities. 

Gather recycled materials around your house & try turning them into spinning toys. Share your creations with us #ExploringSpinning & tell us what worked? and what didn't? Let's talk tinkering…

Here is another video to show you a wide variety of materials for making tops! Some tops are tall and spinning for a long time. Some are spinning faster and wobbly. Others might not be spinning at all (yet!). Remember, in tinkering, there is no rule that tops should be this way or that way.  Follow your own interests and explore the phenomena that sparks your curiosities! 



Try it!

The basic elements of a top are: body, axle, and weight. Depending on what you choose for those elements, the shape and size of the top will vary greatly. We think this selection serves as a good starting point to quickly build a simple top and then experiment further.

It is often helpful to keep your first project simple. Making a straightforward top will allow you to experience what it needs to stay balanced, and give you the opportunity to practice spinning it a few times. 

Think outside the box! Try experimenting with the sizes, shapes, and materials. 



How to find the center

One of the common questions that comes up when building tops is: How can I find the center? You can make a center finding jig with cardboard! Cut two cardboard pieces and glue them at a 90 degree angle. Cut a third piece with a 45 degree angle and glue it at the corner. To find the center, insert the item into the 'V' of the square and mark a line. Then, rotate the piece and mark again. 



Drawing tops

What if your tops draw while spinning!? Use a pencil or marker as the axle to draw patterns as your top twirls and whirls! Try tinkering with the design so that the tops wander around on a piece of paper and leave traces behind. If it is perfectly balanced, it might not draw anything. Once you make your own drawing top, you'll be amazed at the intricate geometric patterns and spirals they create. Try spinning them at different angles and speeds to see if there is a change in the drawing patterns.  


If you have access to a 3D printer, you can print out the drawing tops parts designed by Lee Taekyeom. 

He designed a body for drawing tops that goes with Crayola markers and made it open source on thingiverse so that anyone can print it on a 3D printer. 




Color mixing

What happens when a multicolored disc spins at a high speed? 

Boston University “Project LITE: Light Inquiry Through Experiments” website offers a number of surface patterns for color mixing tops that you can print out. They were designed to fit onto CDs and DVDs. Depending on the rotation speed and lighting, these patterns give rise to a variety of visual effects.

You can try coloring your own disc using this template. The pattern below plays tricks on your eyes when it spins! You can also directly paint color onto the cardboard disc. Experiment with color and shape.  






Make animations with spinning tops! Download Strobe Light Tachometer app for an iPhone and choose any phenakistoscope pattern you find online or you can draw your own.

Spin your top in a darkened room / adjust your strobe until the drawings start to animate (3200 RPM) for this one.





Tops by Charles and Ray Eames

This short film features tops around the world from ancient to modern times. The close-ups and the movement of spinning tops are very inspirational.  We like to show it as a background film on a large monitor when we do the activity. 


Tops: Building and Experimenting with Spinning Toys by Bernie Zubrowski

This book is filled with inspiring top ideas to try. Bernie uses a hand mixer to launch a spinning top (!).