Homemade Spinning Toys Made of Buttons & String

by Chelsea Oliver
A simple button can turn into a fun plaything.

A simple button can turn into a fun plaything.

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Fashioning homemade toys from household items is a fun project for children of all ages. Suitable for both the classroom and the home, making a homemade toy suits a school unit on historical toys, or help pass time on a rainy afternoon when the kids need to be entertained. Making a homemade spinning toy, often called a "whirligig," requires simple materials that are easy to find or purchase, such as buttons and string.


Homemade spinning toys, or whirligigs, date back as far as the eighteenth century in Europe and Colonial America. Since children did not have the luxuries that they do today, such as video games and television, many families made simple toys out of household objects that could be easily manipulated by children. According to the Smithsonian Institute Sparklab, bone and clay Native American whirligigs have been found in the western area of the United States.


The materials required to make a homemade spinning toy are quite simple and are likely to be found around the house. In addition to a large button, such as one from a winter coat or similar item, you need a minimum of 24 inches of thick string, a ruler with which to measure and string, and a pair of scissors. Since scissors are involved, it is best if young children make this toy under adult supervision.

Procedure and How to Play

Use a ruler and a pair of scissors to measure and cut between 24 and 36 inches of thick string. Take one end of the string and thread it into one hole of the large button. Bring the string back out of the second hole in the button and tie the ends of the string together tightly in a knot. Pull the string so that the button is in the center and you see one loop of string on either side of it. Using a homemade spinning toy is fun and simple. Hold one loop of string in each hand and extend your arms out in front of you. Keep hold of the string tightly while you move your hands in controlled, circular motions; this causes the button to spin and the string to wind. Moving your hands in and out will cause the button to spin and the string to wind and unwind.

Different Materials

In addition to buttons, spinning toys can also be fashioned using different materials. If you do not have a large button on hand, you can cut a 4-inch circle out of a piece of cardboard and punch two small holes near the center of the circle. Homemade spinning toys can also be made from circles of 1/8-inch plywood, with two small holes drilled into the center.

Additional Ideas

Button and string spinning toys, when held up the edge of a strip of paper, are known to emit buzzing sounds. This is why spinning toys, or whirligigs, are sometimes called "buzzer" or "buzzsaw" toys. Experiment with using different sizes and materials of buttons to make spinning toys; does this change how you use the toy, or the sounds it emits? You can also add an extra button and see how that effects the sounds the toy makes.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images