How to make a spinning top spin for a long time

by | Spinning Tops, Uncategorized

Well-made, balanced tops can spin for a long time. Some of the tops I make spin for 13 minutes or more. However, the design and quality of the top itself are only a portion of what influences the total spin time. The way you launch a top can make a big difference. This article provides expert advice and tips on how to make a spinning top spin for a long time.

Use the right top

The foremost thing you need to do to make a top spin for a long time is to obtain a high quality top.

To know whether a top is capable of extended spinning, it’s helpful to understand why tops slow down and stop spinning in the first place.

It mainly has to do with friction. Friction affects a spinning top in a couple of ways. There is friction at the point where the tip of the top meets the table or floor. As the top begins to wobble, the tip starts to very slightly slide from side to side on the surface as it spins, creating more friction. To a lesser extent, the air resistance created by the top spinning through the air around it slows it down. This resistance also increases as the top starts to wobble.

So, a top that is capable of spinning for a long time is designed in such a way that these frictional forces are minimized. Typically, these means a small point of contact at the tip and a manufacturing process that ensures that the top’s weight is evenly distributed around its center of gravity. I use a CNC lathe to accomplish this.

Most long-lasting tops also have most of their weight concentrated toward the bottom of the top. There is a greater impact of gravity pulling downward if the center of gravity is too high, which can cause a top to wobble excessively while spinning.

If you’re interested in more detail, check out my article on the physics of spinning tops.

Tips for how to make a spinning top spin for a long time

Now you’re armed with the knowledge of how tops spin and, hopefully, a high-quality top to practice your launching skills.

Once you have the right top, there are several things that you can do to take full advantage of its spinning potential.

I have 5 tips for how to make a spinning top spin for a long time:

  1. Use a suitable spinning surface
  2. Keep the top level while you launch it
  3. Get a solid grip on the stem
  4. Transfer energy and give the top speed with your release
  5. Keep practicing your skills!

The rest of this article goes into detail on each of these points.

1. Find a smooth, hard, flat surface

A good spinning surface is both smooth and hard. Both of these qualities help to reduce friction at the point of contact and prevent wobble.

A surface that is just a little bit uneven or textured can offset the spinning top enough that it will start to lose its balance. This is true of many wood, tile, and concrete surfaces.

Good spinning surfaces can include:

  • Glass or acrylic
  • Granite or quartz countertops
  • Polished concrete
  • Certain types of laminate

Many people like to use a small, concave mirror, such as a shaving mirror. The mirror glass meets the “good spinning surface” criteria by being hard and smooth, plus the concavity keeps the top in one place while it spins. A small mirror is a nice place to display a top, as well.

2. Keep the top level

The way you launch your top is key to achieving a long spin time. One factor that affects the quality of the launch is how level it is when it you let go. A tilted top will begin to wobble and slow down far sooner than one that is level when it starts spinning.

To attain a level spin, you need a level hand. It usually works best to hold the top with your thumb, index, and middle finger pointed downward rather than sideways. Then, as you begin to rotate the top in your hand, keep your fingers on the same plane rather then moving them at an angle.

Keep an eye on the largest diameter of the top as you spin it. It should be parallel to the spinning surface and remain that way throughout the motion of the launch.

3. Get a good grip

Grip the stem of your top firmly. A weak hold can allow the top to slip in your fingers. A firm hold means no slippage and also allows for a large transfer of energy.

Tops made for longevity often have a stem designed to help you get a good grip while launching them. The tops that I make typically have what is known as a knurl at the end of the stem, which is a series of grooves in a grid or diamond pattern. The knurl increases the friction between your fingers and the top.

4. Transfer force and give it a strong release

With your solid grip and level positioning, the next step is to add some energy. The transfer of energy to the top comes from your hand. The amount of rotation you put in your hand as you launch the top is not as important as the amount of force you use in spinning it. The faster you can set it spinning, the more momentum it will have. More momentum means better ability to overcome the frictional forces described above.

The top’s point of contact should be as close as possible to the spinning surface when you release it. It can be fun to spin a top from a height, but this won’t result in a maximal spin time.

5. Practice

As with any skills in life, you don’t get better unless you practice. “Practicing” top spinning is hardly a burden, though – it’s a fun, engaging, stress-relieving activity. The more you do it, the better you’ll understand the launch strategy that works best for a particular top. Different top designs lend themselves to somewhat different grip positions. 

The more you spin a top, the better your hand and finger muscles will be at achieving a firm grip and generating the power that you then transfer to the top while launching it.

Try out these top-launching tips yourself

In summary, the keys to how to you get a top to spin for a long time are having the right top, the right surface, and the right launching form.

Ready to give these tips a try? Score a precision spinning top for yourself in the Scovie Precision Turning store. We’ve done our part to ensure that our tops set you up for success. They are designed for maximum spin time and turned on a precision CNC lathe to ensure that they’re perfectly balanced.

Happy spinning!

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