Wind-Up Toys Re-Imagined

This year at Maker Faire, we’re trying a new twist on a toy dissection workshop, merging the traditional take-apart activity with wind-up motor explorations and a project runway style format.

After the toy dissection and remix workshop at the FabLearn conference in March with Christa Flores and Joel Gordon, I started thinking about possibilities for a open-ended variations on the theme that’s more portable/packable and doesn’t require the difficulties of finding secondhand toys.

I thought that little wind-up toys could be a good jumping off point so I got a variety 24 pack box on amazon for about 50 cents each.


With the first dissection, I was happy to discover that the wind-up gear box was a discreet piece that could be used as a base for hacked toys. I’ve been inspired by #LEGOtinkering explorations of experimental pull string motor blocks by LEGO Idea Studio and Tinkering Studio and hoped that these could be a cheaper and more accessible alternative material.


These motors are a little bit tricky to work with as they can be fragile and its easy to get hot glue wound in the gears. But it you’re careful, it’s possible to convert the little mechanisms to all sorts of different motions. My initial explorations were around adding extensions to both the wheels and the crank, putting weights on different parts of the body and trying to play with elements of balance.


As part of a normal toy dissection activity we often ask participants to imagine and draw what they think is inside the toy and then add to their diagram all the updates that they notice after actually dissecting the mechanism. In this wind-up toy dissection, going through those parts might actually be more interesting because there are less pieces and it’s easier to see the form and purpose of each.

As a way to test out the wide walls of this activity, I took inspiration from Becky Margraf who I’ve been following doing #the100dayproject, a maker challenge where you pick a theme and make something for 100 straight days.

So far I’ve been trying to make a new hacked creation of a wind up toy for about 25-30 days (I’ve been a little inconsistent) and I’ve come up with a lot of different variations. It’s been fun experimenting with different materials, testing a wide variety of motions and giving each creation a bit of personality.

A couple weeks ago one of our Maker Ed colleagues had their daughter visiting the office and it was fun to see another learner get interested in the idea. She made about three different creations and explored the possibilities of making frankentoys, combining pieces from multiple toys into brand new creations.


For Maker Faire Bay Area I’m leading this activity as a GIANT workshop on Sunday at 11:00am! I was initially hesitant to do a workshop that was more of a spectacle, but I think that these wind-up toy explorations will lead to lots of fun moments when we set them all off, trace their patterns with paint, draw the parts, dissect the machines and make new scrappy creations.

I’m going to try this activity for a icebreaker at the computational creatures workshop that I’m leading in Switzerland right after Maker Faire as well. We’ll keep updating twitter and instagram to see the next 3/4 of the 100 day project experiments and share results of the workshops here on the blog.