Custom Whee-Lo Toy




Introduction: Custom Whee-Lo Toy

About: Making and sharing are my two biggest passions! In total I've published hundreds of tutorials about everything from microcontrollers to knitting. I'm a New York City motorcyclist and unrepentant dog mom. My wo…

This year for Makers Secret Santa, I was challenged to make a gift for This Old Tony. Inspired by his love of benders and bending, I built him a toy from my childhood in the shape of a letter T. It's got a magnetic spinning device that rides along the wire, and little bends near the handle provide a turnaround point so you can, with practice, get the spinner to move continuously along the track.

This toy was first introduced as Whee-Lo the Magnetic Walking Wheel in 1953, and remained popular for some decades. I remember enjoying it in the early 90s-- like a yo-yo, it was fun to see how long you could keep it going. And like a fidget spinner, there's some satisfaction in the manipulation of gyroscopic force.


Step 1: Watch the Video

Get into the Secret Santa spirit! Here's the build video to go along with this project. Watch to the end to see what I received in the gift exchange.

Step 2: Bend Wire

To make my own Whee-Lo, I'd need to bend a bunch of shapes out of wire, and those shapes would have to be aligned quite accurately to provide a consistent track for the wheel. To achieve such repeatable precision, I used the D.I.Wire Pro machine from Pensa Labs, which is a benchtop CNC wire former. 

I created my shape in Adobe Illustrator and exported it as three different SVGs. My design requires bends in two different planes, so I need to rotate the workpiece 90 degrees between the sections. After some training and experimenting, I got the hang of cranking out a whole bunch of the three-part pieces needed to create my design.

Step 3: 3D Print Handle

For connecting the pieces at the bottom, I whipped up a quick handle in Tinkercad. It's got grooves at the corners for the wires to sit in, and a second piece to cover the epoxy joints and wire ends.

Whee-Lo Handle (Secret Santa 2022)

Step 4: Build Electronics Into Wheel

While the glue was drying, I got to work on the electronics inside the wheel. I opted to remove the electronics from the existing plastic wheel and replace them with my own.

The circuit isn't overly complex when you look at the diagram. Still, this build is exceptionally tiny, so the soldering is tricky and the positioning of everything matters a lot more, as does the gauge and length of the wires.

I made a few wheels and experimented with different positioning of the LED strip. I settled on ringing the core with a strip on each side, which lit up the wheel more completely than the radial positioning I had tried at first. My NeoPixel animation Arduino code can be downloaded here:

Step 5: Use It!

The letter T shape is definitely more difficult to play than the original Whee-Lo. But it's also a lot of fun!

Watch Tony open my gift at 25:19 in his Secret Santa video! Here's the whole playlist for Makers Secret Santa 2022.

Thanks for reading my Instructable!

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    4 weeks ago

    Great instructable.
    It brings back memories. I played with one of the Whee-Lo toys during my childhood but it didn't have any lights. It must have been one of the originals ;-).

    The D.I. WirePro is definitely the tool for this instructable.

    I was wondering if you had considered using the bent wire to carry the power to the controller and LEDs in the wheel and put the battery and the charging circuit in the base? If there was any concern about shorting out the bent wires it would have been simple to monitor the current to the bent wires and actively shut off the power if they had been shorted.

    Thanks for sharing your build!


    5 weeks ago on Step 5

    Great project, Becky. 👍
    I want one of those wire bending thingies...