The Propeller Stick

A classic folk /science toy gets easy to make

I don't care if my ancestors were playing with this folk toy a century ago. It is as magical today. And it will be just as fascinating to future generations even if we harness nuclear fusion for power and interplanetary travel becomes routine. That's what "classic" means: timeless, immortal.

If you haven't crossed paths with a magic propeller stick (also known as a whimmy-doodle in Appalachia), you're in for a treat. You hold the stick in one hand and rub bumps on it with another. Mysteriously, the propeller spins fast... really fast. Some people can make it reverse direction at will.

There is some cool science going on here. In the "more about" page I will make the case that this propeller is closely related to such seemingly disparate subjects as hula-hoops and modern industrial fasteners. This project lends itself to endless experimentation. Change the propeller shape? Sure! Make multiple propeller heads like a mythological Hydra? Go ahead and try it. I have a lot of fun when I make this project with groups of kids, seeing the creative variations they come up with.

Traditionally, people have whittled notches into a wooden stick with a pocket knife to create the bumps-- not a very safe elementary project. I offer this easy-to-make version that uses a coat hanger or other wire with a couple of wavy bends instead of the whittled notches.