Marriage of Whimsy and Precision

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16.000 Woodworking Plans by Ted McGrath

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BY NICK ENGLER AND MARY JANE FAVORITE

here is, perhaps, no other form of folk art quite so typically American as the whirligig. This simple wind toy evolved long before the discovery of the New World—you can find references to '\vhirlvegigs" in medieval manuscripts. But nowhere were they quite as popular as in America. From our beginnings, we were a nation of tinkerers and inventors and these miniature wind-driven machines struck a chord in our collective soul. Just as the intricate lines of a Philadelphia Highboy and austere grace of a Shaker chair expressed the poetry in an American craftsman's spirit, the whirligig echoed his humor and whimsy.

A few American whirligigs were built with serious intentions. Some served as agricultural aids—scarecrows or "mole thumpers." For example, the traditional woodchopper whirligig produces a clicking

Old Scroll Saw Whirligig Pictures

Wooden whirligigs are an American folk-art tradition. Simple or complicated, these wind-powered mechanisms will amuse and delight. The whirligigs shown here, "Saturday Night" and "Close Shave," are just two examples.

Wooden whirligigs are an American folk-art tradition. Simple or complicated, these wind-powered mechanisms will amuse and delight. The whirligigs shown here, "Saturday Night" and "Close Shave," are just two examples.

Complicated Whirligigs

FIG. 1: PARTS OF A WHIRLIGIG

noise as the little woodsman flails away with his ax. This noise travels down the mounting pole and into the ground, where it scares away the moles. Others helped encourage good, moral character— they were given to children as "Sunday toys." Just as good Christian adults refrained from physical labor on the Sabbath, their children were not allowed boisterous plav. Wind toys helped keep the kids quietly occupied.

But most whirligigs were built simply because they're fun to build. Certainly, the two wind toys that I'll discuss, "Saturday Night" and "Close Shave," serve no practical purpose. But when you get all the elements of these contraptions adjusted just right, so that the slightest breeze starts Ma dunking her prodigy or the maniacal barber shaving his terrified customer. you can't help but smile.

How a Whirligig Works

Before you build a whirligig—for whatever reason—you'll find it helps to know howr the device works. Anyone with a little mechanical aptitude can trace the connections, but it takes some know-how to make these connections. This understanding is important, even though you may be working from plans. Wind toys are intricate machines, and they rarely work smoothly on the first try. The mechanism always requires some refinement. Knowing what to look for when the parts freeze up will save endless frustration.

Let's start by introducing a few terms. Refer to Fig. 1 for clarity. A whirligig is designed so that as the wind blows, it presses against the weathercock', this turns the crossbar on its pivot so that the rotor faces into the wind and spins. The rotor is usually mounted to one end of the crossbar and at the other end is the weathercock. On "Saturday Night," the weathercock is Pa in his chair, on "Close Shave," it's the barber's pole. The blades of the rotor catch the wind. On some whirligigs, the rotor is incorporated in the figures. For example, in "Close Shave," the rotor is the arms of the barber. These arms are connected by a windshaft. On other whirligigs, like "Saturday Night," the rotor pro trudes from the front of the whirligig and as it spins it turns a central hub. This hub is fastened to a wind-shaft and crank, which also turn, thereby moving the figures. The entire assembly —rotor, crossbar, and weathercock—is mounted on a single pivot. The proper coordination of all the parts causes the whirligig to operate.

It takes a bit of high school physics to get all of these parts to work together properly —two important physical principles, in particular. The first is the relationship between mass and motion. The second is the effect of frict ion on the moving parts of a machine.

Isaac Newton summed up mass and motion in his classic equation, F = ma — the force (F) required to move an object is equal to the mass (m) of that object times the acceleration (a) you want to achieve. Or. in other words, the larger the mass (the moving parts of the wrhirligig), the more force required to move it. On any wind toy, the size or "sail area" of the blades determines the amount of wind force available. Bigger blades catch more wind and exert more force. The rotor blades on "Saturday Night" are fairly large because they have to set a lot of parts in motion. On "Close Shave," the blades are small because they have only to move themselves. If you build a whirligig that won't move, chances are the blades aren't big enough, or there's too much friction between the moving parts.

Whirligig Materials

In addition to physics, it helps to know a little engineering when you build a whirligig. These wind toys are mechanical devices, and as such, the moving parts tend to wear out quickly. Also, they sit outside in the weather. If you build a whirligig from improper materials it will fall apart or freeze up after the first rainstorm no matter how' smoothly it operated in your workshop.

There are five different materials in most whirligigs—wood, metal, fasteners, glue, and paint:

Wood—Most of the whirligig is made from wood— the rotor, crossbar, weathercock, and the figures. For these parts, select a wood that weathers well but is strong enough to stand up to constant motion. The traditional choices for outdoor projects—cedar, redwood, and cypress —are too soft and break easily. Pressure-treated wood often warps and splits when cut into small pieces. Early American craftsmen traditionally made their whirligigs from Eastern white pine, but this stock was cut from virgin timber. The annual rings were close together and evenly spaced, and this helped keep the wood from distorting or decaying while it was outside. Contemporary white pine is cut from fast-growing trees—the rings are far apart —and it doesn't stand up to the weather as well.

Poplar is a good choice if you use domestic woods. It will do well in the weather if it's coated with a water seal (I recommend Thompson's Water Seal) before you paint it. However, I chose to use an import: mahogany. It is strong, fairly weather resistant and can be easily worked. It's expensive, but you need so little wood for a whirligig that it doesn't add much to the overall cost of the project.

Metals—The windshaft, bushings, keepers, shims, and any other parts that rub or may wear quickly should be made from metal. Your choice of metal is less critical than your choice of woods. Even though

Expensive Wooden Whirligig

CROSSBAR

Whirligigs And Whimsies

Fia 2: PLANS FOR "CLOSE SHAVE

common steel rods arid plates rust in the weather, this rarely inhibits the motion of the whirligig. Since every puff of wind sets the whirligig in motion, these parts don't have a chance to become pitted or freeze up. On the contrary. They remain polished and smooth as long as the wind blows. Steel, however, will stain the wood once it gets wet, and this will ruin the paint. To prevent this, use copper, brass, or aluminum hardware for any metal piece that touches a visible wooden part. For example, we built "Close Shave" with an ordinary steel rod for the windshaft. But the bushing is made from copper tubing and the shims that keep the rotor (arms) from rubbing on the body are brass washers. The steel touches the wood where it is glued in the arms, but these areas are hidden.

Fasteners—Steel or iron fasteners are a different story. Since they do not move, they quickly rust. Not only will they stain the paint, the rusty nails and screws become loose after they begin to corrode. This, in turn, weakens the whirligig. The solution is to use galvanized fasteners or fasteners made of brass, bronze, or stainless steel.

Glue—Because these wind toys will be out in the rain, you must (obviously) use a waterproof glue such as epoxv or resorcinol. When gluing metal to wood — for instance, when attaching the arms of the barber to the windshalt —we found that an epoxv product called "PC-7" (made by the Protective Coating Co.. 1341 N. Van Buren St., Allentown, PA 18103) works best. This epoxv putty is especially formulated to bond dissimilar materials. Most good hardware stores carry this, but if you can't find it, ordinary epoxv will do just fine.

Whenever you can, reinforce a glue joint with a fastener. Wood shrinks and swells with changes in the weather and puts a terrific strain on the bond. To hide the hardware, use a resin-based wood dough High Performance Wood Filler (by Minwax) that is manufactured for use outdoors. You'll never see where you

TOP VIEW

applied the wood dough once you paint the project.

Paint—You can use a variety of exterior colors to paint the project. Perhaps the easiest to use—and the most flexible—are artist's colors (that come in a tube). Both artist's oils and acrylics stand up well in the weather and can be blended to create infinite shades. The only drawback is that once you've mixed up a color for, say, a flesh tone, you may have a problem mixing up exactly the same flesh color again. For this reason, make up large batches of the colors you think you'll need before you start to paint.

You can paint the wooden surfaces without priming them. But if you need to paint a metal surface, prime it first with spray-on zinc chromate or "yellow" pri-

LAP JOIKT

Tape the pieces you have cut away back together. With the bandsaw back at 90% cut out the arm shape.

mer, (zinc chromate is the best choice for priming aluminum and other non-ferrous metals.) When painting over wood dough, first coat it with paint scaler.

Building Whirligigs

You'll find that building a whirligig is unlike other woodworking projects you've ever attempted. It is precise work, but there is a great deal of room for creativity. The parts must work together just so, but the mechanism is very forgiving. Most mistakes can easily be corrected with a judicious tap of a hammer or the patient application of a file.

No two whirligigs are ever the same, even two that are built from the same plans. To a great extent, you

To cut the barber's left arm, first tilt the tablesaw to 30°. Then make a curved L-shape cut as drawn on the stock in the photo.

Keeping the table at 30% rip cut the outside edge of the arm. Start this cut 7« in. from the first cut, but this time don't curve—this is a simple, straight cut

Keeping the table at 30% rip cut the outside edge of the arm. Start this cut 7« in. from the first cut, but this time don't curve—this is a simple, straight cut

Tape the pieces you have cut away back together. With the bandsaw back at 90% cut out the arm shape.

When you finish cutting out the shape, you will end up with a piece that looks like an arm.

When you finish cutting out the shape, you will end up with a piece that looks like an arm.

Woodworking Archive Biz

must put each one together as you go. There are some methods and techniques, however, that apply to all whirligigs. We've collected a few of these general tips to give you a head start. The general tips below combined with the information shown in the drawings will tell you all you need to know to build "Saturday Night" and "Close Shave."

Cutting the figures—Many of the shapes in a whirligig are quite intricate and have all sorts of appendages (see pullout). No matter how you orient the grain, some part of the figure will be weak. Consider the barber's customer, for example. If you run the grain vertically making the pedestal of the chair strong, then the legs and the ncck of the customer will be fragile. The solution to this problem is to make your own plywood.

How Build Whirligig Hub

To make the hub for a large rotor, attach round stock to a wooden miter-gauge extension. Cut six evenly-spaced kerfs around the perimeter of the hub to hold the rotor blades. These kerfs should be angled at 30°.

Make a "bandage" from veneer to strengthen the delicate razor and brush on the barber's arms. The grain of the veneer should be perpendicular to that of the arms.

Using waterproof glue, bond at least two equal thicknesses of solid wood with the grain directions perpendicular to each other. The final thicknesses of this plywood will depend on what part you are making —refer to drawings for exact thicknesses. Cut your figures from this plywood.

Making a small rotor—There is no rotor hub. as such, on "Close Shave." Instead, the blades are connected directlv to the windshaft. The twist in the blades and the shape of the arms is formed by some clever compound-cutting on a bandsaw or scroll saw (see Fig. 3). This is one of the more complicated steps in making a whirligig. You may end up tossing your first few tries into the scrap bi n. Don't be discouraged—patience and practice will pay off in the end.

To make these arms/blades (see photo sequence), first trace the shapes onto the inside face of the stock, then drill the windshaft shaft holes at 90°. Tilt the table of your bandsaw 30°. Hold the left-arm stock (the arm that grasps the brush) so that the end with the hole is closest to you and the brush is pointing up. (The traced-arm pattern will face right or downhill on

FIG. 3: CUTTING OUT THE BARBER'S ARMS

Make a "bandage" from veneer to strengthen the delicate razor and brush on the barber's arms. The grain of the veneer should be perpendicular to that of the arms.

To make the hub for a large rotor, attach round stock to a wooden miter-gauge extension. Cut six evenly-spaced kerfs around the perimeter of the hub to hold the rotor blades. These kerfs should be angled at 30°.

Miter Vice Rod
To make the second bend in the crankf grasp the rod with a pair of vise-grip pliers bckm the first bend. This will keep the first bend from unbending.

FIG. 3: CUTTING OUT THE BARBER'S ARMS

BEGIN CURVE HERE

approx.

Pieces For Practice Mechanical Design

END OF 1ST CUT

BEGIN ALL CUTS END

BEGINNING BLOCK SIZE:

INSIDE

PATTERN

Teknik Resimler

INSIDE ARM PATTERN

END OF 1ST CUT

BEGIN CURVE HERE

END OF 1ST CUT

BEGIN ALL CUTS END

END OF

approx.

BEGINNING BLOCK SIZE:

INSIDE

PATTERN

the handsaw table.) Bevel-rip the inside face of the arm/blade as shown in Fig. 3, feeding the stock into the blade. About 1 in. before cutting through the wind-shaft hole, make a turn with the saw blade and exit the inside face of the stock. Then bevel-rip the outside face, cutting the blade portion of the arm about '/4-in. thick. This second cut is straight; you don't have to make anv turns.

Cutting the right arm stock (the arm that grasps the razor) is almost exactly the same, except that you hold the stock with the razor pointing down. IMPORTANT: Remember, the blade portions of the arms are angles in the same direction when you cut them. But when you mount them to the barber, they will seem to twist in opposite directions. The hand with the razor will twist in toward the body, while the other will twist out.

Save the scraps and tape them back together to make the stock square again. Then cut out the arm shape with the saw. When you remove the tape and the scraps, you'll have a blade that looks remarkably like an arm.

One more consideration: The razor and the brush will likely be very fragile. This will be true even if you make the blades from plywood because of the bevel of the cuts. To keep these shapes from snapping off, glue narrow strips of veneer to both sides of the stock (see photo). The grain direction of the veneer should be perpendicular to the grain direction of the blades. When you finish sand the blades, blend the edges of the veneer into the surface of the wood. After you paint the whirligig, there will be nothing but a slight hump on the razor and the brush to show where you applied the veneer "bandages."

Making a large rotor hub—On "Saturday Night." the six rotor blades are set in Vg-in. wide grooves in the hub. These grooves can be cut easily on a tablesaw using a miter gauge and a wooden miter-gauge extension as shown in the photo. Divide the circular hub into six pie-shaped sections and bolt it to the miter-gauge extension. Angle the miter gauge at 30° and adjust the height of the saw blade to cut l/2-in. deep. Put an index mark on the extension next to one of the section marks on the hub. Pass the hub across the saw, cutting a kerf. Loosen the hub, turn it so that the next section mark

Cut small grooves in the ends of the connecting rod before you solder the washer to it (the same holds for the lower plate). If the rod is made from soft metal, cut these grooves with an ordinary scroll-saw or fretsaw blade.

lines up with the index mark, and cut another kerf. Repeat until you've cut all six grooves. Once you've done this, remove the hub from the miter-gauge extension. Cut out your blades and glue them in these grooves.

Bending a windshaft—The windshaft of "Saturday Night" is made of metal and bent to form a crank. Bending a rod is not hard to do, but making two precise bends is a little tricky. To create the first bend, simply clamp the rod in a metal vise and bend it over slowly. Tap the rod with a hammer to "flatten" the bend and make it square. Reposition the rod in the vise to make the second bend. Grasp it with vise-grip pliers just above the jaw face but below the first bend (see photo). (This way, you won't undo the first bend.) Bend the rod as far as you can with the pliers. Then, complete the second bend by tapping the rod with a hammer.

Don't be disappointed if your first try at making a crank is slightly off from the drawings. Even experienced whirligig-makers rarely get it right the first try. Just remember to purchase twice as much J/i&-in. rod as you think you need so that you'll have enough material to do it over.

Connecting a rotor to a windshaft—There are several ways to mount the hub on the windshaft. For a small rotor, such as the one on "Close Shave," simply epoxy it in place. Flatten or "peen" the ends of the shaft with a hammer to give the glue a rough surface to adhere to. Then, fill the hole in the hub with glue and press the rotor onto the shaft.

For large "Saturday Night"-style rotors, thread the end of the windshaft and sandwich the hub between two stop nuts. There arc two reasons for this: The nuts will hold the mass of a large rotor more securely than glue and allow you to remove the rotor for storage or repair. Use a 12-24 die to cut the threads.

Making a connecting rod —On "Saturday Night," the windshaft crank is linked to the figures by a connecting rod (see Fig. 4.) At the upper end of this rod, a washer hooks over an eye screw. At the lower end, a slotted metal plate fits over the crank wrist to make a sliding joint.

Fashion the parts of this connecting rod from copper or brass, so that you can easily solder them to-

To add weight to a part, drill a hole in it and fill the hole with molten lead.

Cut small grooves in the ends of the connecting rod before you solder the washer to it (the same holds for the lower plate). If the rod is made from soft metal, cut these grooves with an ordinary scroll-saw or fretsaw blade.

Whirligig Scroll Saw

THRU

X V. DEEP HOLES 12 NEEDED)

FIG. 4: PLANS FOR "SATURDAY NIGHT"

Vu-DUl. HOLE

Woodshop Layouts

CROSSBAR LAYOUT

COTTER PIN

lVi-

16d NAIL HEAD

PIPE NIPPLE

V.-DEEP

HOLE

ROTOR-HUB LAYOUT

Vu* COTTER PINS

12-24 THREADS

WASHERS

32 GAUGE COPPER OR BRASSPLATE

FIG. 4: PLANS FOR "SATURDAY NIGHT"

CROSSBAR LAYOUT

COTTER PIN

lVi-

12-24 STOP NUTS AND #8 FLAT WASHERS (TWO NEEDED)

Vu-DUl. HOLE

WINDSHAFT AND CONNECTING ROD DETAILS

#8 WASHER SOLDERED TO V.-DIA. METAL ROD

PIVOT DETAIL

16d NAIL HEAD

PIPE NIPPLE

STEEL ROD GROUND TO A POINT

ROTOR-HUB LAYOUT

THRU

X V. DEEP HOLES 12 NEEDED)

V.-DEEP

HOLE

Vu* COTTER PINS

WASHERS

12-24 THREADS

32 GAUGE COPPER OR BRASSPLATE

gcthcr. (You can buy coppcr or brass plates and rods at welding-supply shops, hobby stores or from Small Parts Inc., 6891N.E. Third Ave., P.O. Box 381736, Miami. FL 33238.) To make the slot in the plate, drill two '/4-in. dia. holes and remove the waste between them with a fretsaw or scroll saw. Cut tiny grooves in the upper and lower ends of the rod to hold the washer and plate, and solder the parts together (see photo).

Adding weight to the whirligig—While you usually try to make the moving parts of the whirligig as light as possible, (to keep the mass at a minimum) you sometimes need to add weight to a particular part. This is done to either balance the part or take the play-out of the mechanical system. For example, the last piece in the "Saturday Night" mechanism, the boy furthest from the crank, is weighted slightly. This puts a little tension on all the connections and helps the whirligig operate more smoothly, especially when the rotor turns at a high speed.

To add weight to a wooden part, first drill a hole or two in it. On your stove, melt down some lead fishing sinkers or plumber's wool (also known as lead wool) in an old pan —lead melts at 620° F. Carefully pour the molten lead into the holes and let it cool (see photo).

Making a pivot—As mentioned before, the whirligig turns on a pivot causing the rotor to always face into the wind. This pivot, like many other moving parts, should be made of metal. Make the pivot socket from a 16d nail and a short piece of '/.»-in. I.D. steel pipe. Drill a J/g-in. dia., Va-in. deep hole in the crossbar at the point where the whirligig balances best. Cut the head off the nail and drop it into the bottom of the hole. Then tap the pipe into the hole on top of the nail (see side view. Fig. 2).

Make the pivot point from a lA»-in. dia. metal rod. Mount the rod in a hand-held drill, turn the drill on. and hold it against a moving belt sander or disc Sander. This will grind a point. Insert the rod in the socket with the point resting on the head of the nail.

Parting Thoughts

As mentioned before, don't get discouraged if your whirligig doesn't work smoothly when you first assemble it. This is especially common in whirligigs with complex mechanisms, such as "Saturday Might." More often than not, the moving parts need to be refined, balanced, and adjusted —like any machine. Sit back, study the situation, and patiently rework the pieces that need attention. Before too long, you'll get the payoff, as your whirligig begins to whirl. A

Nick Engler and Maty Jane Favorite are currently working on a book called Whirligigs and Wind Toys, coming soon from Rod ale Press.

Whirligigs Book

A Low-cost Version of an Industrial Machine

The long, wide belt of this shop-made stroke sander makes quick work of sanding large surfaces.

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Responses

  • Kandy
    How to make con rod on whirligig?
    8 years ago
  • fiore
    How to build a whirligig hub?
    6 years ago
  • Miya
    How to cut a round wooden whirligig?
    3 years ago
  • Isaias
    How to make whirligig blades?
    1 year ago

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