Kids love playing with wind-up toys, but they love making them even more. The earliest wind-up toys were clockwork novelties made from silver for the amusement of French aristocrats in the 17th century. However, you can construct your own toys from much humbler materials. You need only the simplest, cheapest equipment to make a wind-up toy, powered by a stretchy rubber band. It's easy to vary the basic design too, so you can produce your own truly unique creations.
Stand a saucer on a sheet of stiff card. Draw around the saucer to mark out a circle. Cut out the card circle with scissors. Mark and cut a second circle. These will be the wheels of your toy.
Find the centre of each wheel by placing the corner of a book against the inside curve of the circle. Mark the two places where the book's cover crosses the edge of the circle. Take the book away and draw a line across the circle with a pencil and ruler, joining your two marks. Measure and mark the halfway point on this line. That's your wheel's centre.
Use the point of the scissors to make a hole through the centre of each wheel. Mark the centre point in the base of the paper cup in the same way as you marked the wheels. Make a hole in the centre of the paper cup, too.
Unbend a paperclip and shape it into a long straight wire, with a little curved hook at one end. Use your hook to pull a rubber band through the hole in the centre of one wheel. Don't pull the rubber band all the way through the wheel. Leave a little loop of rubber hanging out on the far side.
Slip a paper clip through the loop of rubber band on the far side of the wheel. This will anchor the end of the band to the wheel, when the rubber is pulled tight.
Thread your rubber band through the base of the paper cup and then through the centre of your second wheel, using your hook. You'll end up with the band holding the two wheels against either end of the paper cup, with the cup itself acting as an axle between the wheels.
Thread the rubber band through the bead, using the hook. Slip the end of the wooden skewer through the loop of rubber band that sticks out of the bead. This traps the rubber band against the bead and stops it snapping back inside the cup. You can take your hook out now, to leave your wind-up toy complete.
Test your toy by turning the skewer round and round the wheel, like a key (see References 5, 2:40 mins). This twists the rubber band. Place your toy on the floor and let go. As the rubber band inside untwists, your toy will trundle along.
Paint your toy in bright colours, using watercolour paints and a brush. Decorate your toy to look like a robot, a bug, a mouse or an alien. You could paint on eyes or headlights, and perhaps add cardboard ears or antennae, made from wire or off-cuts of card.
Hide your toy under a tall cone of card, if you want a taller design. When the toy is in motion, the cone seems to glide along. Decorate the cone in any way you like: glue on cardboard arms and legs, or paint a face. You could even make an army of gliding cones, each one different. Try racing them with your friends.
If you don't have a rubber band long enough, knot two smaller rubber bands together. If you don't have a bead large enough, try a plastic button instead.
Try using wheels of different sizes on your wind-up. If you give it one big and one small wheel, it will turn in circles.
Make a mini-crawler, by using a cotton reel and a matchstick instead of the paper cup and the wooden skewer.
Tips and warnings
- If you don't have a rubber band long enough, knot two smaller rubber bands together. If you don't have a bead large enough, try a plastic button instead.
- Try using wheels of different sizes on your wind-up. If you give it one big and one small wheel, it will turn in circles.
- Make a mini-crawler, by using a cotton reel and a matchstick instead of the paper cup and the wooden skewer.
Things you need
- Stiff card
- Paper cup
- Large rubber band
- 2 paper clips
- Large plastic bead
- Wooden barbecue skewer, about 30 cm (12 inches) long
- Watercolour paints
- You Tube: How to make a wind-up toy
- City Technology: Fantastic elastic
- Arving Gupta Toys: “The Rubber Band Book” by Eric Kenneway
- Victoria and Albert Museum: Moving toys
- You Tube: Old-style rubber-band-powered cotton reel car
- 4Learning: David and Alan build robots
- Murderous Maths: How to find the centre of a circle