Whether you call them button spinners, buzzers, whirligigs or any of a dozen other names, these simple retro toys have been delighting children for many generations. Very many. Written records date back to 500 BC. The odds are they have been around as long as people have known how to make string. In these high-tech, virtual reality times, something so simple, and physically real, is bound to entertain any child. This page explains how to make them.
Start with the largest diameter button you can find. The best have heavy rims.
Thread three feet of string through two of the holes and tie the two loose ends of string together to form a large loop. You're done!
To get it started, whirl it around ten times to wind some twists into the string loop. Now pull it tight for a second.
The tension will force the string to unwind, making the button spin. When it's spinning its fastest, ease off on the tension. The button's rotation will wind the string back up, only this time tighter and with more turns. As the button slows down, apply tension again to make the button spin in the opposite direction. Repeat this pull-and-release process a few times and the button will be spinning so fast you may be able to hear it whirl (hence whirligig) or hum (hence buzzer.)
Although they are called button spinners, buttons aren't the best objects to use because they are too small and light. A three inch diameter disk made out of heavy cardboard, thin wood, or even the plastic top of a food container will work much better. For example, the following button spinner was made from the lid of a raisin container:
If a design is drawn on a piece of paper attached to it, the design will blur out and disappear while spinning.
But when it stops at the end of a tension or relax motion the design will magically appear for a fraction of a second.
The blur effect caused by the button spinner's rapid motion can be used for a simple science demonstration. Attach a piece of paper with all the colors of the rainbow to the disk.
When it spins the eye will mix the colors together to produce white, or at least gray.
White light isn't a mixture of equal amounts of all the colors. It's mostly yellow, so cut back on the red and green by half and reduce the blue and violet by 70-percent and you should get a whiter white.
By far the best button spinner uses some of today's technology. It's the Light Show Spinner, available for $6.99 from incrediblescience.com. It's also sometimes available from the Can You Imagine website, novelty stores, toys stores and Amazon.com.
It uses flashing LEDs to create beautifully colorful patterns when spinning. The following are just a very few examples:
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