Capirucho toy

While building this game is a fairly simple challenge for woodworkers, playing it is another story

By Steve Maxwell


Photo by Roger Yip

This toy is both harder than it looks and easier than it looks. These are the two qualities inherent in the classic Latin American children’s toy called a capirucho. There are many versions out there, but all offer the same challenge: flip a string-tethered cup upward so it turns in mid-air and lands on the end of a stick. Good capirucheros make this trick look simple, although I can assure you that it is not. I find that it takes more skill to play with a capirucho than it does to make one, even if you’re not experienced with a lathe. The design I came up with turns a little bit of wood into a lot of fun. The precise shape isn’t important either. Whatever looks good is good.



Get ’em, Tiger

Although you can make a capirucho from any kind of wood, tight-grained hardwoods work best. I used a species called tigerwood, which offers an excellent combination of hardness, rich colour and workability. Tigerwood is a tropical hardwood that’s most often used for decking, but it’s perfect for fine woodworking too.

I turned my capirucho on a midi-lathe. It’s bigger than a micro-lathe but small enough to set up anywhere in the shop. The cap and body of the capirucho are made separately in two stages.

Start by cutting, jointing, gluing and clamping enough wood for two blanks, each measuring 2 1/4" thick x 2 1/4" wide. Rough-cut the stock to an octagonal shape on the tablesaw before cutting the blanks to length, to reduce the amount of rough turning required at the start. Make sure the blanks are longer than the final part lengths. For my project, I made the body blank 7 1/2" long and the cap blank 4" long.


Different lathes and accessories allow different ways of holding wood when turning this project. The method I followed made use of the small faceplate that came with my midi-lathe. I started by cutting a 4"-diameter disc of Baltic birch plywood, fastening it to the capirucho body blank with double-sided tape and a single #8 x 2 1/2"-long screw driven into a predrilled hole in the centre of one end of the blank. Fasten the ply to the faceplate with more screws before tightening the whole thing onto the threaded output shaft of the lathe. The bulk of the turning happens with the workpiece contained between this faceplate arrangement on one end, and a live centre on the other. This arrangement provides full support for the work, making the job safer and more precise while you tackle the heavy turning. The final, finer turning work has the wood supported by the faceplate only.

Although the body of the capirucho is longer than the cap, the former is a little less complicated to turn. That’s why it makes sense to begin with the body; it lets you get into the lathe mindset. At first, start your turning near the slowest speed your lathe will go. Increase speed as your skill, tools and the nature of the wood allow. I used three carbide-tipped turning tools for this project: the Easy Wood Tools Easy Rougher, Mini Finisher and Mini Detailer. Although not essential, they cut more cleanly and with less tendency to grab the work than conventional turning chisels I’ve used in the past.

Do not turn the part of the blank next to the plywood disc. There is a screw in this wood, and you don’t want to hit it. Turn the portion of the blank that is just past the 1 1/4" mark to a diameter of 15/16". This portion will form the bottom end of the toy’s body.

Create the square shoulder at the top of the body while the wood is held between the faceplate and the live centre. The spur that will eventually be tapered to fit the cap should remain cylindrical until later. Taper later, after you remove the live centre.

When most of the body shape and details are complete, remove the live centre and turn the profile for the tapered spur that will fit into the hole in the cap you will create later. Work gently, taking easy bites with your tools. Remember, the wood is held only at one end now.

Before moving onto the bottom of the body, sand the wood with a 120- and 180-grit abrasive as it spins in the lathe. For finishing, I applied multiple coats of cabinetmaker’s beeswax polish.

The final turning step is to create the dome-shaped end of the bottom of the body as close to the central anchoring screw as you dare. In my case, I let the lathe and chisel take me down to within 1/4" of the screw before stopping the lathe, taking off the faceplate, removing the central screw then cutting through the tiny bit of wood remaining with a handsaw. A few minutes work with a sanding block and more beeswax polish applied by hand created the perfect domed end.

step 1

1. Fasten the octagonal blank to a 3/4"-thick plywood circle using double-sided tape and a single screw. Fasten this assembly to the lathe faceplace with more screws driven through the plate.


step 2

2. Before you start turning, mark the relative positions of the blank and the plywood circle to alert you to any slippage that would cause inconsistent turning results.


step 3

3. After rounding the blank, use a pencil to mark the position of details you’ll turn.


step 4

4. A carbide Easy Wood Tools Mini Finisher creates a concave profile.


step 5

5. A carbide roughing tool is ideal for tapering the profile before extending the decorative grooves and lines.


step 6

6. Bore a 1"-diameter hole in the centre of the cap after rough turning is complete. Afterward, put the cap back on the lathe for completion

Cap it off

The process of turning the cap is similar to what you followed for the body, except for one thing. After the initial turning of the cap between the faceplate and the live centre, remove the cap from the lathe (leave the faceplate on) and bore the 1"-diameter central hole with a Forstner bit on the drillpress to accommodate the central spur on the capirucho body. Clamp this arrangement to your drillpress table so the wood doesn’t get caught and flung by the drill bit. Put the cap and faceplate arrangement back on the lathe, turn the domed top end close to the central screw and sand as before. Remove everything from the lathe. Take the central screw out, then saw, sand and finish the end of the cap.

My son Jacob and I turned a couple of capiruchos, and it proved to be an easy project that we enjoyed creating together. As soon as the lathe stopped, with the sawdust swept up and a bootlace tied to connect cap and body, teacher quickly became student. Like I said, capiruchos are both easier than they look and harder—at least, for us old guys.

Tools & Materials

Part Material Size (T x W x L*) Qty.

Cap blank hardwood 2 1/4" x 2 1/4" x 4" 1
Body blank hardwood 2 1/4" x 2 1/4" x 7 1/2" 1

* Length indicates grain direction

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