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Category: Marvellous Machines

Simple Spinning Top

The first home-made “toy” I remember being shown as a child was a spinning top made from a matchstick jammed into a lychee seed. I didn’t include it in my book because I didn’t want to include anything made from inaccessible materials, but I recently came up with the design in the video below which is so simple you can make it in a matter of seconds. I don’t know if I’m the first person to do this – other people have certainly made spinning tops from bottle lids, but… Read more Simple Spinning Top

Water Whirler

EXTRAS: Here’s great short video from the Met Office on how tornadoes form: MORE GOOD STUFF: Click here for more activities. I’ll be publishing more videos of activities from my book over the coming weeks. Check back here, follow me on Twitter or subscribe to my YouTube channel to make sure you don’t miss them.

Home-Made Helicopter

Extras: Obviously, real helicopters don’t work quite like a paper one because they have engines… but if the engine fails, a real helicopter doesn’t just fall out of the sky, because, like the paper helicopter, its blades can “autorotate” and help land the helicopter safely. Here’s great video showing why, contrary to what famous scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson has said, a helicopter which loses its engine does NOT “turn into a brick”: After you’ve tried your own experiments, watch this great video where “2BrokeScientists” investigate how a paper helicopter works… Read more Home-Made Helicopter

Handy Harmonica

A harmonica was one of the first musical instruments ever taken into space and it can also be the first musical instrument that your child makes, using this very simple method using two ice lolly (popsicle) sticks and some rubber bands. The “music” you get out of this will depend on your skill as both a maker and musician – it’s fairly straightforward to get three different notes out of the simple make shown in the video but, as with all the “marvellous machines” in the book, there’s plenty of… Read more Handy Harmonica

Powered Paddleboat

I’ve deliberately kept the designs for the “machines” in Marvellous Machines very basic for two main reasons: 1) I want to make it as easy as possible for you to make a working machine so you can play and experiment with it, and 2) I want you to experience the satisfaction of improving the machines for yourself. The “powered paddleboat” is perhaps the best example of this in the book – it shows how a paddleboat mechanism can be made, but it does not work very well. This was very… Read more Powered Paddleboat

Paper Pinwheel

I was at the seaside last week and these were on sale in many of the shops. They’re invariably made of plastic and I suspect many of them end up in bins within a couple of days. The much more environmentally friendly design shown in this video is really straightforward to make (although you might need to fiddle a bit with the drawing pin), and would be easy to modify to make something more permanent, say, for a garden decoration. Like many of the activities in the book, I’ve deliberately… Read more Paper Pinwheel

Deep-Water Diver

If you build this just right, by getting the water bottle as full as possible, you can make the diver go down with a barely perceptible squeeze of the bottle, which then allows you to pretend you’re controlling the diver’s movement with the power of your mind… Putting a few marks on the bottle with a permanent marker might help you turn this into a game – can you get the diver to stop at a particular height? Build two of them and you can race someone else up and… Read more Deep-Water Diver