Turning a Spinning Top

Spinning tops are a fun, quick project for beginners and experienced turners alike. They can be turned using scraps and are a great way to hone your turning techniques.

For this article I turned three different tops, each with a unique profile, and experimented with different coloring, texturing, and finishing techniques. Here are the steps taken for each of the tops.

What are your favorite design choices on tops? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!

Top #1 – Honduras Redheart

Mount a 2″x2″x3″ block in a chuck, then use a spindle gouge and turn the bottom profile of the top.

Turning the bottom of the spinning top.
Turn the bottom profile first

If desired use apply a decorative technique using a chatter tool, texture tool or just a skew for some decorative grooves. Here I am using a Wagner Texturing Tool held at a 45 degree angle.

Adding a decorative texture.
Texture with the Wagner Texturing Tool

Once the pattern is set you can color it with a gilding paste applied with a cotton rag.

Applying gilders paste to fill the texture.
Apply Gilder’s Paste with a soft cloth
The finished texture and paste highlights.
Finished bottom of the spinning top

Start shaping the handle and upper section of the top

Refining the shape of the bottom.
Finish shaping the bottom
Removing material with a diamond parting tool.
Use a parting tool for rapid removal

Turn the handle to the final diameter. When the handle gets thin it will flex, use your finger and support the backside of the top.

Shaping the handle with a skew laid flat.
Finish shaping the handle
Sanding the handle.
Sand through at least 400 grit

Part off the top with your hand close to catch it when it releases.

Parting off the blank with a spindle gouge.
Catch the blank as you part it off

Sand the nub if necessary. No finish is necessary but you can use a spray lacquer if desired.

Top #2 – Lignum Vitae

Mount a 2″ x 2″ x 3″ block in a chuck. Use a spindle gouge and turn the bottom profile of the top.

Shaping the bottom with a spindle gouge.
Start by shaping the bottom of the top
Adding detail with a skew chisel.
Shape the bottom
Refining the shape with a spindle gouge.
Shape the bottom

It isn’t necessary, but if desired sand the end of the top and apply a finish. I’ll sand up to 400 grit and then apply Scratch Freee.

Sanding the bottom of the blank.
Sand if necessary
Polishing with Scratch Freee on a paper towel.
Apply Scratch Freee

Once the bottom of the top is finished, turn the handle of the top. Sand through 400 grit and apply a finish, if desired.

Removing material with diamond parting tool.
Turn the handle, using a parting tool for rapid stock removal
Refining the handle shape with a spindle gouge.
Finish turning the handle profile
Sanding the handle.
Sand the top
Polishing with Scratch Freee on a paper towel with the lathe running.
Scratch Freee

Part off the top, careful to catch it as it comes free.

Parting off the handle with a spindle gouge.
Part off the top, catching it when it releases

Sand the nub if necessary, then apply a finish.

Top #3 – Shagbark Hickory

The first step is to mount a 2″x2″x3″ block in a chuck. Then, use a spindle gouge to turn the bottom profile of the top.

Shaping the bottom with a spindle gouge.
Turn the bottom profile with a spindle gouge

Here I’m going to apply a decorative technique using a Wagner Texturing Tool held at an angle with moderate pressure. This will produce a fun spiral texture on the bottom of the top.

Adding texture to the bottom with a Wagner texturing tool.
Add texture with a Wagner Texturing Tool
Displaying the finished texture.
Textured bottom

With the lathe running at 500 rpm carefully apply some color with markers.

Adding red color with a Tombow marker with the lathe running.
Add color with a marker

Start shaping the handle and upper section of the top. Use a parting tool to rapidly remove stock, then switch to a spindle or detail gouge to continue shaping the top.

Removing material with a diamond parting tool.
Use a parting tool to get to your handle diameter
Refining the shape with a spindle gouge.
Finish the bottom profile

If you are going to texture the top do so now while there is enough material to support the texturing. I’m going to create some lines with the edge of a skew and then add color with the markers. Finish texturing and coloring before final shaping the handle.

Adding more color with a red Tombow marker and the lathe running.
Add texturing or color to the upper side of the bottom

Turn the handle to the final diameter. When the handle gets thin it will flex, use your finger and support the backside of the top.

Removing material with a diamond parting tool.
Turn the handle
Refining the shape with a spindle gouge.
Turn the handle

Sand the handle through at least 400 grit, then part off the top wit the spindle gouge and sand the nub if necessary.

Sanding the handle.
Sand through 400 grit
Parting off the handle with a spindle gouge.
Part it off, catching it with your off hand

No finish is necessary but you can use a spray lacquer if desired.

Three finished tops displayed on a lathe bed.

Supplies Used

Spindle Gouge
Parting Tool
Wagner Texturing Tool
Sandpaper
Dr. Kirk’s Scratch Freee
Tombow Markers
Gilder’s Paste Wax

Leave a Comment