How to Make Spinning Tops From Wood

Written by finn mccuhil
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How to Make Spinning Tops From Wood
Make an traditional wood top on your lathe. (abstract tops 4 image by Radu Razvan from

Spinning tops have been around for years. While their popularity has waned with the rise of computer and video games, their ability to fascinate both kids and grown-ups has not. You can make spinning tops easily and quickly in your shop. Almost any non-toxic hardwood is suitable for use so this is a great way to use up those small pieces of scrap you couldn’t bear to throw away.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Hardwood blank – 5-inches by 3-inches by 3-inches
  • Lathe with chuck
  • 3/8-inch bowl gouge
  • 3/8-inch spindle gouge
  • 200-grit sandpaper
  • Parting tool

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  1. 1

    Mount the blank on the lathe. Secure one end of the blank in the chuck.

  2. 2

    Adjust the speed on your lathe to about 900rpm. Round the last 3 ½-inches of the free end of the blank with a bowl gouge.

  3. 3

    Carve the end of the blank with a spindle gouge. Make a small cone in the centre of the blank about 1/2-inch long to act as the point. Form a gentle scoop between the outside edge and the point to form the spinning surface of the top. When you are finished, the point should protrude at least 3/8-inch past the outer edge of the top.

  4. 4

    Move the spindle gouge toward the lathe chuck and begin carving the handle. Begin no less than 1/2-inch behind the spinning surface. The mass formed by this disk will play a large part in determining how long and well the top will spin.

  5. 5

    Continue to remove material from the blank with your spindle gouge until the top’s handle is 1 3/4-inches long and 3/8-inch thick.

  6. 6

    Use a one-inch strip of sandpaper to smooth the top while the lathe is running. Hold the strip of sandpaper by the ends and press the middle of the strip against the project. Do not press the sandpaper against the top with your hands.

  7. 7

    Use your parting tool to cut the top free from the remaining portion of the blank. Press the blade gently against the end portion of the handle until comes free. Applying too much pressure at this point can splinter or ship the handle.

Tips and warnings

  • Whenever possible, use only clear wood for blanks. Knots have a higher density than clear wood and can throw the top out of balance. Adding a gentle taper to the handle will improve the look of the finished top without hampering performance. It is only critical for the top to have a low centre of gravity and a sufficient mass to keep it spinning. Laminating two or more pieces of wood to make a blank can give the top a more interesting pattern and use up the smaller pieces of scrap in your shop.
  • Always wear proper eye and hearing protection while working with power tools. Wear a respirator or particle mask while sanding.

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