Spinning tops are fun to make and even more fun to spin! We keep a bowl of tops on our dining table and even the adults are drawn to them.. you can’t help but sit down and spin them! Scroll to the bottom of this post to see the tops in action – they spin for long time!
These particular tops are made with oven bake clay as the main part with a wooden post. Instead of clay I’ve made the body out of wood to get a two-toned wooden top. I like making tops this way, out of two pieces, because there’s less waste rather than making the top out of one large blank.
You can make the posts short…
…or you can make them wider and longer… use your imagination!
SUPPLIES YOU’LL NEED:
-Oven bake clay (I buy Sculpey)
-Wood pen blanks
-Polish or clear coat
TOOLS YOU’LL NEED:
A lathe with chuck that has pin jaws
-Woodturning tools (roughing gouge and spindle gouge is what I use)
-A drill bit and wrench of equal sizes (whatever thickness you want your post to be where it passes through the clay disc)
-A pasta roller isn’t necessary but it sure makes creating the discs easy and fun!
HOW TO MAKE THE CLAY DISCS:
For each disc I use 2 to 2.4 oz worth of clay. Sometimes I use 2-4 colors so I’ll cut them in half, thirds or quarters so I end up with 2 to 2.4 oz total which would give me the right sized disc.
These pictures give you an idea of how you can create different patterns with the clay. You want to start out by softening each color by molding it around in your hands, then roll it into a “rope” a bit thicker than a pencil. Roll each color through the pasta roller to get started. You can sandwich layers together like I did with this black and pink clay…
…or you can twist colors together like I did with the green and pink colors. These pictures show how you can get different effects.
Pass your ropes back through the roller and roll them up into a disc.
This step is critical. Make sure you smash and squeeze your disk to adhere all the layers together well. I squish it in my hand like the picture above (left) and then pound it flat again (right) with the end of a rolling pin (the bottom of a drinking glass would work too). I do this several times until I feel like the layers are adhered together.
I place the discs on a wire cooling rack and bake in the oven (the instructions tell you to do 15 minutes or so for every 1/4″-thickness of clay you have) – I can’t remember the exact cooking directions but it ends up being about 30-45 minutes at 275-degrees I believe.
Next I find my centers and mark it on each disc using a center finder (common woodturning tool) and drill out each center. I wanted my posts to be 3/8″ diameter on these so I’m drilling a 3/8″ hole.
HOW TO TURN THE TOPS:
For my other style of tops with wider-longer posts I do a 3/4″ hole.
Mount your blank into a set of pin jaws with tail stock engaged. Use your roughing gouge to get the blank down to size. I’m using a 3/8″ wrench to get the size correct to match up with the 3/8″ hole I drilled out of my clay disc.
Once the bottom 1″ to 1-1/2″ of my blank is to size I put a liberal amount of CA glue around the whole post where my blank will sit. You need to leave at least 3/8″ (1/2″ would be more ideal) of the end of the post sticking out. Let the glue dry for at least 5 minutes.
Use your roughing gouge to true up the edge of the disc. Use your spindle gouge to shape the clay disc. I like to make mine the same shape on each side but you can do whatever you like! Once the disc is shaped you can start to shape the bottom-tip of the post as well as the top. Don’t cut the bottom-tip away from the tailstock just yet and keep some “meat” where the handle end is so it’s stable while you sand and polish in the next steps.
Sand as much as possible with at least 220 grit on the wood and 320 on the clay (anything coarser and scratches show). Gently cut the tip away from the tailstock. Don’t use too much pressure or take heavy cuts on this because you want the tip perfect or it won’t spin right. Move tailstock out of the way and sand the tip.
If you’re doing another version top this is what it might look like at this stage.
If you’re using a friction polish (I use Myland’s) apply it now. Cut the post away from the blank carefully. I get it down really small and then use one hand to catch the top while the other is parting off with the spindle gouge. If you’re not comfortable doing this you can part it off with a parting tool or even saw it off and use a carving knife or chisel to shape the end. Sand the tip where you parted off if needed and apply polish.
DONE! Was that fun?
Here’s some videos showing the tops in motion: