Canadian Woodworking

Devil Amongst the Tinkers

Author: Alex McCubbin
Photos: Alex McCubbin; Lead Photo by Rob Brown
Published: December January 2014

This fast-moving game is easy to make, easy to play and is sure to provide lots of laughs.


The game of Devil Amongst the Tinkers, also known as Toptafel, uses a spinning top to knock down miniature bowling pins, accumulating points. The pins sit on circles marked with different values, ranging from 10 to 50 points. The higher valued spots are further from the starting point. The board is divided into compartments with openings between them. String is wrapped around a top, which is then placed in the launcher. The string is pulled and the top flies out into different compartments where it collides with the pins, knocking them over. The points are added up and it is the next players turn. You can play up to a certain number, or for a set amount of time.

Keeping Score
There are nine pin locations marked on the board. Each are numbered between 10 and 50, depending on how difficult they are to hit from the launch area. (Photo by Rob Brown)

Scroll a Doorway
With the doorway shape marked on the parts, cut openings where required.

Smooth the Edges
A spindle sander, or a small drum chucked into a drill press, sands the freshly cut edge.

Launcher Holes
To create the openings for the launcher, drill two sets of holes: a lower opening for the string to fit through, and a higher opening for the spinning top’s top to fit into.

Counter Sink
The outer edges of the finished game will be seen and touched, so take the time to finish them nicely.

Dry Run
With the vertical parts fitting together nicely, measure and cut the plywood bottom panel to size.

Small Disks
Use the waste piece from a hole saw for the top section of the spinning top. (Photo by Rob Brown)

Launching Pad
Wrap the string around the top, place it into position and pull the string, sending the top whirling through the different compartments. (Photo by Rob Brown)

Construction of the board

The walls are made of solid wood, finished to 1/2″ thick x 4″ wide. The two sides are cut 30″ long and the two ends to 13-1/4″ long. There are two 13-1/4″ long cross dividers, which go across the board, 6″ away from the ends. The two end compartments are divided into two spaces with 6-1/4″ long end dividers. There are also two 3″ long center walls, centered on the board’s two long sides. The exact dimensions are not crucial. The parts all fit together with 1/8″ deep rabbets at the four corners, and 1/8″ deep dados elsewhere, which can be cut now.

With the parts all cut to size round the top edge of all these pieces with a 1/4″ round-over bit in the router. Another option is to heavily ease the edges with sandpaper.

Cut a 1/8″ rabbet in the bottom edge of both sides and both ends. This rabbet should accept the 1/8″ Baltic birch plywood bottom. Trim 1/8″ off the bottoms of the cross dividers, small dividers and the two center walls, so the top edge of all pieces will be flush when assembled.

Cut the door openings

Next cut the openings between the compartments, so the spinning top can pass from room to room. Make the openings large enough so the spinning top can easily pass through, making the game more fun. A scroll saw or bandsaw works well. It’s also a good idea to make one master template and use it to mark the openings, ensuring all the door openings are the same visually. Sand the inner edges of the freshly scrolled doors and break the sharp edges.


On the end that will have the launcher drill four 1″ diameter holes. The center of the two top holes are 1-1/4″ apart and 1″ below the top, rounded edge. The center of the other two holes are 1/2″ apart, and 2-1/2″ below the rounded top edge. With the four holes drilled remove the material between them with a jigsaw or scroll saw. On the inside of this piece, using a chisel make a groove from the top hole to the base centered on the holes. You could also use a small round-top router bit that was 3/8″ diameter to rout a groove. This will give some support to the top when the string is pulled and help start the top moving through the different compartments. This groove is especially important for younger players.

Some assembly required

The case and interior walls are held together by #6 x 1″ screws. Drill and countersink twice for each dado and rabbet. Do a dry run to make sure everything fits together nicely. Now is also a good time to cut the 1/8″ plywood bottom to size. Take the game apart and apply a couple coats of urethane to all the surfaces. Make sure not to coat the joints that will be glued during final assembly.

When dry, assemble the game with glue and screws then apply the dots and scoring numbers. It’s easiest to draw them on the back, but you could get fancy and use purchased stickers if you wanted.

Make some tops

The game moves along nicely if you have at least two tops, as it takes a few moments to wrap the string around each top before each persons turn. They are constructed from a piece of 2-3/4″ long dowel, glued into a 1-1/2″ by 5/8″ circular piece. It’s possible to cut your own circular disk by using a holesaw bit to create a round disk with a hole in it. I would then secure the disk to the drill press table and re-bore a larger hole for the dowel rod you’re using, being sure not to split the disk. Again, the exact dimensions of the spinning top are not crucial, as long as they seat in the launch area nicely, and fit easily through the door openings when spinning.

Time to play

Place the nine pins (Lee Valley Tools #41K03.01) on the dots. An 18″ piece of string is wound around the top and is placed in the launcher, with the string through the lower hole. Pull the string, being careful to hold the game. The top flies out and careens around the board randomly, moving between the compartments, knocking down pins.

Alex McCubbin - [email protected]

After 40 years of teaching high school chemistry Alex is now enjoying woodworking, travelling by plane, canoe and automobile. His four-year-old grandson (also Alex) wants to start building wannigans as well.

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