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Action Whirligigs: 25 Easy-to-Do Projects
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Action Whirligigs: 25 Easy-to-Do Projects

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by Anders S. Lunde

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Whirligigs — those charming little wind-driven toys — make excellent introductory woodworking projects because they are easy to do, inexpensive and — most of all — great fun! Hobbyists at all levels of ability will love creating the 25 delightful projects described in this book, from the simple Baking a Pie whirligig to the double-armed


Whirligigs — those charming little wind-driven toys — make excellent introductory woodworking projects because they are easy to do, inexpensive and — most of all — great fun! Hobbyists at all levels of ability will love creating the 25 delightful projects described in this book, from the simple Baking a Pie whirligig to the double-armed Woman at the Computer. Other figures include a Man/Woman Fishing, Oil Well Pump, Saluting the Flag, See-Saw, and Bucking Bronco. Easy-to-follow instructions and measured drawings explain everything from selecting and using proper tools and creating the driving mechanism to finishing and displaying the completed project.

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Dover Publications
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Dover Woodworking
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Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1989 Anders S. Lunde
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-13375-1




Whirligigs have been around for hundreds of years. Middle Age tapestries show children playing with hobby horse whirligigs with 4-bladed propellers at the end. George Washington, riding back to Mt. Vernon at the conclusion of the Revolution, brought some "whilagigs" for Martha's grandchildren in his saddle bags. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, human figures waving their arms, swords, shovels, and other implements, were popular whirligigs. Then there were Indians in canoes, mallards and other birds, and windmills.

Sometime during the last hundred years whirligigs became more complicated. Mechanical whirligigs, harnessing the power of the wind, made things move and copied human activities such as chopping and sawing wood, churning butter, feeding animals, riding horses, and performing circus acts.

Essentially the whirligig is a wind toy or wind machine. It twists and turns in the wind, and there is a propeller connected with it somewhere, either as a power source or as a decoration.

Historically, there are four identifiable types of whirligigs. Arm-wavers twirl their arms while twisting in the wind. Winged whirligigs, birds real or imaginary, spin their wings in opposite directions while remaining sideways to the wind. Weathervane types always point into the wind; a propeller or other moving part makes them whirligigs.

Mechanical whirligigs use propellers to power an activity through drive shafts, gears, and connecting rods. Any wind propeller attached to something made to turn in the wind may be called a whirligig, and any accumulation of wind propellers on a frame that moves in the wind is certainly a whirligig. So many whirligigs defy classification. This book deals with simple silhouette whirligigs, mostly mechanical, but also with a few weathervanes.

Silhouette Whirligigs

Silhouette whirligigs have a distinct identity. They are two-dimensional, or relatively flat, wind toys or windmills. Most are mechanical because they are powered by a wind propeller turning a drive shaft which moves things about. Some are non-mechanical and turn to face the wind which enables their propellers to turn. These propellers may take the form of wheels, windmill sails, or decorative propellers. Silhouette whirligigs are sometimes referred to as cutouts because their simple patterns can easily be cut out of thin wood. Nevertheless they can be as complicated as their designer wants them to be, and some take many hours to construct.

Silhouette whirligigs are very popular and are the easiest of the mechanical types to make. They have been around for at least a century and some of the designs were familiar to our great grandfathers. Some of the best known whirligigs have been the Man Chopping Wood, Man Sawing Wood, Mule Kicking the Farmer, Milking the Cow, and Girl at the Pump.

There are many patterns and variations for silhouette whirligigs. For example, there are many ways to make the popular Mule Kicking the Farmer. In one design the legs are loose and swing as the mule body swings, in another the farmer's torso is balanced with a counter-weight so that the mule's kick sends him swinging. In still another, two connecting rods move both the farmer and the mule. Then there are alternative features: the farmer stands in front of either a barn or a hay pile, he is shoveling or pitching hay, or the figure may be the farmer's wife. The whirligig maker creates his or her own interpretation of events.

Construction is relatively easy because the silhouette whirligig is principally a cut-out design. Such a whirligig is best appreciated when seen silhouetted against the sky where its unceasing activity takes on a life of its own.

Whirligigs in This Book

The basic silhouette whirligig designs in this collection are easy to make. Some are familiar designs; others I have created. Specific measurements for each model, and drawings provide details. You can make the model as described, or you can alter the model or features to suit yourself. Better still, you can draw your own model and make a unique whirligig.

The whirligigs in this book have been classified according to their principal characteristics, as follows:

Moving Torso Whirligigs

These whirligigs show men and women in action. The upper body is balanced between two legs so that the connecting rod moves the body forward and backward seeming to produce additional activity. In the Man/Woman-Fishing, the upper body action includes moving the fishing rod back and forth although no independent action of the arms is required. In Baking a Pie the more complex torso action moves separate arms along the table with a rolling pin. Many early American mechanical whirligigs were of this type, including the familiar Man Sawing Wood and Man Chopping Wood.

Rocking Whirligigs

Although related to Moving Torso types, the Rocking whirligigs developed a rocking motion primarily. They were usually well balanced, requiring little power. For example, in the Equestrienne the horse and rider are suspended in the middle and simply rock up and down. The problem was finding the most efficient position for the connecting rod. The Oil Well Pump, on the other hand, is so balanced that it will move in a light wind with a relatively small propeller.

Hidden Drive Shaft Whirligigs

These whirligigs are distinguished by having drive shafts that operate within the platform which acts as their support. To make them otherwise would involve more space and additional supporting brackets. Several cams may be used and more than one action can take place with this mechanism. While the action may be similar to the preceding types, the operation is usually more complex. In Chickens Feeding the drive shaft is long and two cams are placed in such a way that the action is complementary: one chicken goes up while the other goes down.

Single Arm Whirligigs

These whirligigs are so designed to make one part of the body or object move repetitively While the action is simple, the situation makes it significant, as in the case of the soldier saluting the flag.

Double Arm Whirligigs

Like the single arm whirligigs these models make essentially one movement but two arms are involved. In more complicated whirligigs, the arms may be made to produce separate and additional actions. For example, in one whirligig I designed one arm waves an object in the air while the other arm pulls a chain which activates another figure.

Double Cam Whirligigs

In these whirligigs, double-cam does not refer to two cams, but to two which are constructed next to each other. One goes up as the other goes down. This action enables the farmer's hands to move authentically in Milking the Cow In this whirligig, as in several others, a platform extension is made to accommodate the figure involved in the action.

Weathervane Whirligigs

Weathervane whirligigs have a propeller turning on them, and are designed to face the wind. In Dutch Tulips, the windmill turns; in the Valentine a propeller with heart-shaped blades turns. Any vane, even a propeller on a stick, can be made into a weathervane whirligig.

As you work with these models you will begin to imagine other actions of humans, animals, or objects which can be made into whirligigs by adapting the mechanism and movements in new ways. At that point you will begin to develop an insight into the creative experience of whirligig making.




The three basic parts of silhouette whirligigs are the platform, the driving mechanism, and the propellers. They are essentially the same for all whirligigs. There are some variations in final shape of the platform according to individual taste. The final propeller design will depend on the power requirements of the individual whirligig and local wind conditions. When the platform is completed and the location of the components of the whirligig are marked on it, the other parts are easily fitted on. Details on additional materials (axles, connecting rods, wires, nuts, brads, screws, etc.) are listed with each model.

This chapter details the basic construction of all the whirligigs in this book. In the following chapters where different models are described, only variations from principal measurements or changes in design are mentioned.


The wooden platform (Fig. 2-1) is the main frame of the whirligig. The standard platform measures approximately 3/4 x 2-1/4 x 24 in. for most models. Changes in platform size occur in some models.

The design can be made more attractive by cutting off a section of the rear of the platform, or shaping it. If no structure or mechanism is involved, trim the end of the platform to 1 in. (from 2-1/4), taking care to not interfere with the pivot socket. Further improvements in platform design are made by adding a platform extension, described later. Lay out all the details before cutting for design improvement.

Mark off the points on the platform where each item or figure will be placed. In model directions, all measurements are given from the front of the whirligig platform. Drill the 3/8 in. pivot socket not more than 2 in. deep; it is usually located 4 to 7 in. from the front end of the platform. In the drawings the pivot socket is represented by the letter "P", meaning "Pivot."

Where figures or objects are secured by screws from the bottom of the platform, first drill a 3/8 in. diameter hole 1-1/2 in. deep, and complete the hole with a 3/16 in. bit to allow for the passage of a No.6 flathead screw 1-1/4 or 1-1/2 in. long. If a plywood tail is required, cut a 1/4 in. tail slot to the required length, at the rear of the platform. If a metal tail is called for, cut a coping saw slot.

When support pieces must be attached to the sides of the platform, draw guidelines 3/4 or 1 in. below the top edge of the platform. Attach the pieces with carpenter's glue and 1/2,3/4,1, or 1-1/4 in. brads. Drilling pilot holes for brads will prevent splitting the wood.

After the pivot socket is drilled, place a metal lining in the hole to reduce wear caused by the whirligig revolving on the spindle. Many whirligig makers use copper tubing for whirligigs of this size. Any tubing you have on hand that will do the job is acceptable. The 2 in. tension pin, 3/8 in. in diameter, available at any hardware store, is an inexpensive ready-made socket liner. In the text and illustrations the 3/8 in. pivot socket hole referred to is for the 2 in. tension pin. If you use other types of tubing, use the proper diameter bit for the socket hole and metal spindles that fit the pivot socket (Fig. 2-2).

A metal cap should be placed in the bottom of the socket for the spindle to ride on, or the spindle could drill itself through the platform. The cap can be made of the point of a rounded 20d nail hammered into the bottom of the hole. A small screw may also be used. If a tension pin is used as the liner, use the head of a 16d nail, fitted into the top of the pin.

The tail may now be attached with nails and glue. The platform is ready for the driving mechanism.

Driving Mechanism

The driving mechanism consists of the support brackets, drive shaft, and connecting rod or wire.

Support brackets

The support brackets are two standard 1-1/2 in. corner irons. When in place, the top hole of each corner iron is about 1 in. from the base. Drill small pilot holes, then place the first bracket at the front of the platform so that it protrudes slightly. The position of the rear bracket may vary depending on the model being constructed, but the standard will be 3-1 /2 in. from the front of the platform. On corner irons the screw holes are either centered or off-centered. Be sure to get the irons with holes that are centered. The off-centered irons can be used but they must face the same way on the platform so the holes can line up. These may be slightly off-center but the drive shaft will work.

An alternative to having two corner irons hold the drive shaft is the grooved or slotted block, called the Platform Extension (Fig. 2-3). This makes a more pleasing design, especially when the shape of the extension is incorporated into the platform itself, as shown in the drawings of Man/Woman Fishing and Baking a Pie. To make the extension, cut out a piece of wood 3/4 x 1-1/4 x 4 in. Cut a 3/16 in. wide and 3/16 in. deep groove along the top for the drive shaft. Make a cover 1/4 x 3/4x 4 in.

Attach the platform extension with glue and either nails driven in from above through the groove or with a 1-1/2 in. No. 6 screw turned from the bottom. Drill guide or pilot holes first. Place 3/16 in. brass tubing in the slot and glue/brad the cover over it. In longer extension pieces or slotted blocks for drive shafts, smaller one-inch pieces of tubing may be placed at each end of the slot, as in the See-Saw and Chickens Feeding whirligigs.

Sometimes the drive shaft is not yet needed, but add the drive shaft at this point if objects are being added to the platform that will interfere with the insertion of the drive shaft. Also add the necessary washers and nuts to the threaded drive shaft. Spacers to keep the propeller blades away from the platform are not necessary when platform extensions are used.

Drive shaft

The drive shaft (Fig. 2-4) is made of a 7-1 /2 in. length of 1/8 in. metal rod. The length may vary with the model but the ends will be threaded with a 6/32 die. A die and holder can be purchased at any hardware store for just a few dollars.

The description "6/32" simply means that the wire size is 6 and that there are 32 turns per inch. Or 8 turns per 1/4 in., 16 per 1/2 in., and 24 per 3/4 in ... but always double check. Thread the front end 1 in. (about 30 turns of the handle) and the rear end 3/4 in. (about 20 turns) (Fig. 2-5). Then make a 1/2 in. cam about 1 in. from the rear end. Use a vice to make a 1/2 in. bend in the metal rod, as shown (Fig. 2-6). Where more movement is required, a 3/4 or 1 in. cam is suggested. Do not damage the thread. Put two machine nuts on the front end for the propeller and two on the rear end for the connecting rod. Where a longer or different drive shaft is required directions for these will be included with the design.

Connecting rod

The connecting rod is made of firm wire which is turned loosely around the drive shaft on one end and attached to a screw eye on a figure on the other. Check carefully because the connecting rod can jam up the mechanism if it is not properly attached. Two machine nuts glued in position on the drive shaft will hold the wire in place. Abrass rod of 1/16 in. diameter makes a good connecting rod; the length will vary with each design. Use a 3/32 in. rod where greater strength is required. Connecting rods are attached to moving parts from the drive shaft by means of screw eyes. Screw eye sizes for these whirligigs are 1/4 and 3/8 in. (Fig.2-7).

Spacers and Collars

As you install the drive shaft, make sure that the cam at the rear end runs freely. The front end of the drive shaft will protrude about 2 in. beyond the front end of the platform when support brackets are used. There will usually be some space between the front corner iron/support bracket and the propeller. This space can be filled with a spacer or collar (Fig. 2-8). The spacer prevents the drive shaft from sliding back and disengaging the connecting rod. It also holds the propeller and cam in position.

To install a spacer, place the drive shaft so the cam is in position for the connecting rod to function properly. Measure the space between the front support bracket and the rear propeller nut, allowing for two washers. Cut a piece of 3/16 or 1/4 in. metal tubing to serve as a spacer. Place the spacer on the shaft before attaching the propeller.

Spacers can also be made from wooden beads, small spools, or blocks constructed by drilling 3/16 or 1/4 in. holes through small (about 1/2x1/2x5/8 in.) wood blocks. Where there is a closed cam, as in Chickens Feeding, drill the hole first, then saw the block in half lengthwise to fit. Glue the halves around the shaft. Cut notches in the middle of such collars for connecting rods.

Figure 2-9 shows the differences between the standard platform and the modified platform with the platform extension. The locations of the various components are also shown.


Excerpted from ACTION WHIRLIGIGS by ANDERS S. LUNDE. Copyright © 1989 Anders S. Lunde. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Action Whirligigs 25 Easy-to-Do Projects 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
kgoofy More than 1 year ago
I am getting near retirment age and whirley gigs have facinated me since I was a little girl living in Missouri. You could see whirley gigs in lawns on fence post,in the garden,just about anywhere.They were cutting logs to milking the cows.There were all types of them.I then left Missouri and moved to New England with my parents. I dont recall seeing any while living there You dont see as many now and I have always wanted to make one by hand. I have bought kits where they were all ready to put together with out much thought. This book shows you how to from start to finish in the most easy ways.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Highly Recommended