Amish Craftsmanship: Making A Wooden Top (Video)

We’ve “visited” Amish stores selling wooden toys before – recently the Tinker Toy Shop (Ohio), and also the Raber Family Toy Shop (New York).

Crafting simple toys is a niche within woodworking, perhaps the most popular Amish industry.

Today’s video shows an Amishman in Shipshewana, Indiana, demonstrating the art of woodturning as he creates that classic toy of yesteryear–a wooden top.

It’s an eleven minute video, but if you watch just the first couple of minutes you’ll get a sense of how it works.

It’s actually quite captivating watching the wood melting away like butter, as the man skillfully maneuvers his cutting tool while the lathe rapidly spins. Gradually a top emerges from what began as a nondescript block of wood.


According to the sign seen in the video, the business is called The Turning Point, it specializes in “Old Fashioned Spinning Tops and Games,” and is run by a Henry Detweiler.

A couple of minutes in, the video maker asks Detweiler how long it takes to create a top. He guesses “six to eight minutes, maybe ten.”  

“How did you learn how to make this?” another observer asks.

“The hard way” he replies, to hearty laughter. In contrast to what many Amish craftspeople do, he explains that he had no one to teach him–but he did have “an old book.”

As Detweiler continues, putting the finishing touches on the toy, the skill required is further evident. How many tops has this fellow crafted in his life? I would guess more than a few.

Skip to about the 10:30 mark to see the fun part, as he spins the final product using a string.

Amish are often described as “old-fashioned,” which can be a generalization. But it does seem to fit when considering many of the crafts and skills they continue to practice today.

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    12 Comments

    1. M.H.G.

      WOODEN TOP

      It is almost a lost art!

      It takes great skill to do this…
      Results: A cute wooden top, that will last forever!
      It is an amazing video!

      (My Aunt use to live in the Mountains of Tennessee
      & she carved birds, tiny tops & such out of wood)

    2. Jeff

      Love Those Tops!

      I was fascinated by the video and how Henry makes the tops. I am in Shipshewana often. Would it be possible to find out where The Turning Point is? I can’t find it in any listings. Thanks!

      1. I couldn’t find it in Google either, Jeff. This video is actually from 2010, so there’s a chance it’s not around anymore. Anyone out there know?

    3. Verity

      Crafts

      Reminded me of the story I read about a man who was using traditional methods of silver refining, and, when asked how he knew when the silver was “done”, said “When I can see my face in it.”

    4. Alice Mary

      Great spin!

      I thoroughly enjoyed the video. I absolutely love watching items being crafted, especially from wood.

      I still have my Dad’s (he’d be 104 this year had he not succummed to heart disease at 54) two old wooden tops. I use one of them on the Christmas tree. The other still has the actual string he used to spin it (with a little wooden rectangle on the end of the string). There is an art to “throwing” it, which I never mastered (is there a video you know of to teach THAT skill?)

      Watching this has been the highlight of my day! Thanks, Erik!

      Alice Mary

    5. Dawn L. Martinez

      I really enjoyed watching the wooden top being made & then seeing the end result. Thank you!

    6. KimH

      Top tops!

      Awesome video.. Thanks so much for sharing it! Love it~

      1. Derek Miller

        You’re welcome! I filmed this a good while ago, and I haven’t been back since. My mother was just there recently so I’ll have to ask her if that gentleman is still there or not.

    7. Urs Christen

      Wooden Toys are Quality Toys

      It is always cool to see that there are still craftsmen out there that make wooden toys.

      It looks like Henry is still making wooden tops, because there is a new youtube video that got posted on March 2 of this year! Here is the Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5Uobt-f2YY

      1. Jeff

        Wooden Toys

        Urs,

        If you are ever in Northern Indiana, you should stop by Owl Toy Craft in Topeka just south of Shipshewana. If you love handmade wooden toys, this is the place to visit! Owl Toy Craft is a family-run Amish cottage business run out of a small warehouse behind their home. All the toys are made there by the father, son, and daughter, with the other daughter helping with sales. There is a small showroom there where their toys are displayed. They specialize in farm and construction toys made of local hard maple. Some of the toys are somewhat large. They also sell games and small toys. These are all toys that the Amish children like to play with. The toys are simple and nowhere near the “high tech” of today’s toys, but they are beautifully made. That’s what makes them so pure and special.

    8. Jeff

      I Found Henry!

      I was in Shipshewana and found Henry and The Turning Point! He has his business set up outside under a canopy in the Courtyard of the Arts on Morton St. in the downtown area. He has his lathe and tools there and is still making the tops. I purchased 3 of his tops, and they are really wonderful. He is very happy to show you how to spin the top. He loves when people come up to watch him.

      I told him about – and showed him – the videos of him on the internet, and he was unaware of them. He realizes that he is hard to find and will start doing some advertising. He spends his winters in Florida (where he also makes his tops) and is generally in Shipshewana over the Spring/Summer. He may take a week off to do a show here and there. He said that he would love to teach someone to do this because he won’t be around forever. He has some pain in his hands from working the lathe all these years and has to go for massage therapy.

      Henry enjoyed showing me his lathe (that he said he built himself) and his tools. He showed me one tool that a friend made for him. He really loves making these tops, and he does such a beautiful job. He still makes them exactly as you see in the video. The tops are now $15 each and very much worth it when you see the time and love he puts into each one.

      If you’re ever in Shipshewana, it would be great to add Henry and The Turning Point to your itinerary!

      1. John rickard

        Spinning tops by Henry Detwiler

        I was woundering if it’s still possible to purchase a spinning top made by Henry. Thankyou.