A Yo-Yo Decides To Make A Couple of Curly Maple Yo-Yos

In The Beginning, There Was A Catalog

A few months ago, I was cruising through a wood turning supply catalog, always a bad practice from the credit card’s point of view, and came across some very affordable kits for making cute, if likely to be completely ignored, Christmas gifts for the young ones on my list. One was for a nightlight and one was for a yo-yo. When I was a kid it seemed like everyone had a yo-yo and those who were really good at playing with them might end up on some tacky forerunner of today’s reality television. Suffice it to say that I was never in any danger of being good with a yo-yo! The kit seemed reasonable enough so I bought a few of them and decided to make a couple as gifts.

The Wood Selection

The instructions recommended a hard, dense wood and proceeded to suggest either maple or cocobolo. No problem on the wood, I had quite a bit of curly maple which turns beautifully and polishes even better. Not to be a scrooge, but seriously, I am not wasting that much cocobolo (2.5inch x 1inch squares) on something kids will look at briefly and then scurry through the box looking for the REAL gift. Gifts like this for kids, in my perhaps jaded opinion, are really for the adults in the room who appreciate that you took the time to hand made a do-dad for their kids. I wouldn’t expect the kids to be excited about anything that doesn’t require at least 6 batteries.

Assembly Prior to Turning

The first step was to bore a 5/8 inch hole in the center of the blank to a depth of ¼ inch. Simple enough with some Forstner bits and a drill press. Then I need to put thick CA glue into the bottom of the hole (more on this later) and then use a vise to press the inserts from the kit into each hole. Again, no problem.

There was a mandrel included that was essentially a metal tube with a hole drilled in one end that accommodated a small screw. This would then screw into the insert in the half of the yo-yo while the metal tube would fit into the screw chuck head mounted on the head stock of the lathe. Again, very easy to use and understand.

Enter the Cyanoacrylate!

Now, a word about super, or CA, glue. Have you ever noticed how it sets almost immediately when you have it on your hands or when you have not quite gotten that brass insert set just right? SNAP!! Immediate and permanent lock. So imagine my surprise when I discovered up to 90 minutes later that the CA in the yo-yos was NOT dry. I discovered this when it became obvious that the screw from the mandrel was a permanent part of the yo-yo. Luckily, by destroying the screw portion of the mandrel, I was able to release it from the yo-yo, leaving me with the problem of how to finish the piece with no functional mandrel.


The Cole Jaws allowed me to finish the interior surfaces of both halves and the fortuitist discovery that the screw that holds the two halves together also fit the mandrel (which a moment of thought would tell you it would have to) allowed me to finish the faces of both sides.

Broken Beads

The instructions were very clear that both halves must be identical to allow for the spin necessary for a yo-yo to work. If you start with identical size blocks this really isn’t too hard to achieve. And once you have the first one done you can readily check it against the second half. I kept my first one on the head stock for easy access in fact. But I wanted something other than the plain smooth face that the catalog and the website showed as examples because while that looked pretty nifty in the cocobolo wood they used to demonstrate the project, maple, even curly maple, just isn’t that exciting left plain, at least not to my eyes. So, I cut a series of concentric beads into the face which looked fantastic until I turned the lathe off for a closer look. Problem here was that that beads had badly chipped as the maple seemed to resent beads being cut into the face, which really shouldn’t surprise me. So, I hadto use a scraper and level that out, leaving me with very flat and boring beads that I deepened with a skew chisel once again. All was good with the first half.

What I SHOULD Have Done

I told myself before I started cutting the beads that really I should have used a compass and standardized the measures instead of free-handing it so that I could duplicate the feat. But I didn’t do that thinking and probably even believing that it couldn’t be that hard to repeat a design with only a 2 ½ surface to work with. This would prove to be untrue!

What ACTUALLY Happened

As it turned out, I cut one extra bead on the second half. I don’t know how, I did count, but I muffed it. So, I had to remove one bead leaving an imbalance that had to be matched with the other half, leaving that one off balance again, and such and so forth several times until I ended up with a simple concavity with a small nipple in the center on both, a design MUCH easier to repeat on the second yo-yo, even if it ended up a bit larger than the original since I didn’t have to cut as much out in cleaning up my design messes.

Maple Yo Yo 4

Finishing and Waxing

I finished them as I almost always do with maple by using a coat of Behlen’s Turners Finish. I was concerned that it was a bit tacky in spots, especially the pesky end grain sections on the rounded edges (the second one had much worse end grain checking than the first one did), so I used a carnauba waxed buffing wheel to smooth, seal, and shine the whole piece.


Final Thoughts on Turning Yo-Yos

Is there a wood turning moral to the story? Sure, there are probably several. First, beware CA glue!! It has a nasty tendency to bond to whatever you LEAST want it to, be it your fingers or a mandrel. If you can use an accelerator on the piece, as I almost always do with pens, do so. Otherwise, walk away from it for hours or even overnight if you intend to “temporarily” bring anything into contact with the glued area. Second, on a simple item like a yo-yo, keep your design aspirations simple unless you are a seasoned and experienced production turner who is used to duplicating identical items over and over again.

Maple Yo Yo 2

Final Thoughts On Children and Gifts

I will hope that the kids for whom the yo-yos are destined will like them for the sheer fact of effort and thought, but being a pragmatic and, to my mind at least, realist about children, I think I will throw a $20 bill in the box too!

Maple Yo To 5

One Response

  1. paul