Katie Abbott won the half hour challenge with one of these at the Bodger's Ball back in 2000. Since then I have made and sold loads. They make a very good demonstration piece and hardly anyone can guess what you're making. If anyone else gets into making them I suggest a Battling Tops Corner at the Bodger's Ball
Tops can be divided into four basic categories - finger tops, supported tops, peg tops and whip tops. These types are based on how you start the top spinning. This one is a supported top and is launched with the aid of a handle which holds the top firmly in place while it is wound with string.
This method of spinning imparts a great deal more rotational force to the top, causing it to spin far longer than if it were merely spun with the fingers (our record so far is four minutes).
The mass and centre of gravity affect the spinnability. So a top of 4” diameter and 1” high (excluding stem) will spin much better and longer than one of 3” dia. and 3” height.
Select a billet 10” to 11”long and 3” to 4” diameter - I usually use Ash. If you rough this out, leave it to go oval, then turn it you will avoid ending up with an oval top. However these oval tops still spin OK and turning seasoned wood is not half such fun as when it’s green.
Having roughed out to an even cylinder, mark a line round the billet 6” from one end. This end will be for the top and I usually write TOP on it to remind myself. Secure in the vice and drill a 3/8” hole straight through - don’t worry about any tearout as this will be turned away. Now turn the billet through 90 degrees and drill a 5/8” hole perpendicular to the first. If you’re using a brace and bit it gets tough halfway as you’re now drilling through the first hole and there’s nowhere for the lead screw to bite. Put the ratchet on and persevere, eventually you will get through. If you’ve got a pillar drill - just feel smug !
Put it back in the lathe with the cord round the TOP end and turn down the handle to 3/4” to 1”. The part with the holes should be turned to 1 3/4” to 2” dia. It feels odd especially making planing cuts across the holes - just ignore them.
When you’re happy with it turn it round so the string runs round the handle and start to turn the top. Mark a line the same distance in from the end of the billet as the diameter of the handle at the holes (shown at X). This will give the length of the stem. Turn it down to about 1/2”using the spindle gouge and skew.
Now concentrate on the top.
Don’t go too thin until near the very end as you may want to burn in some lines with wire and burnish with shavings. Aim for a shallow top, the one in the diagram is a bit too pointed and top heavy. Turn the stem down to 3/8” and give it all a good burnishing. Take it out of the lathe and saw the two parts free from their umbillical leaving enough spare wood on the top to cut the point. Care is needed here! If the point is off-centre the top will spin eccentrically. Clean up the cut on the handle.
Put the stem into the larger hole and mark the mid point on it. Take it out and drill a 1/8” hole for the string. Get a piece of hazel or similar as thick as your finger and about 2” long. Drill a small hole through it and tie on securely about a foot of thin nylon cord - melt the end so it doesn’t fray. Poke the end through the small hole in the handle and out the large one. Thread it through the top, wind it round the stem, put this into the hole, wind up any slack. Now pull hard and away you go. Born spinning !
A selection of tops in Chestnut & Ash www.treewright.co.uk