Homemade Button String Toy

Updated on February 20, 2018

The button string toy has quite a history!

As children in the 1950s, the button string toy was one of our favorites. It entails an object in the middle of a cord that can be made to buzz by winding the cord while keeping the end stationary. The object moves by pulling and releasing the tension on the cord. The most common way that it was made was a large button and some string.

This toy is interactive and, although it doesn't seem to do much, the hypnotic whirring and the pulling required to keep it moving kept us busy for a long time. I don't think any of us knew or cared about its history. It was just fun.


What You'll Need

  • Button: Various sizes work, but I find that big buttons work best. However, children are very inventive. At school, they found a bottle cap and punched two holes in it, which made an entirely different sound. Kids can also draw a circle on cardboard with a compass and make two holes in the middle.
  • String: Honestly, when we were little, there were not as many choices. Twine works for a little while and then it unravels and breaks. Kite string comes in different formulas from polyester to an almost clear fishing line. It works well, but it is the off-season for kites. The best is a cotton thread, which seems to last longer.
  • Ruler: It should measure 36". I would have used a yardstick if I could find one.
  • Scissors: These are needed to cut the string.



  1. Cut the string to 36".
  2. Thread the string on the button. If you are using a button with 4 holes, thread it through the opposing holes.
  3. Tie a secure knot in the end. Make sure it can't come undone and cause injury.
  4. Play!

Thread the Button
Thread the Button

Button Spinner Demonstration

How to Use This Toy

You made this exceptional toy for a favorite child. It is a string and a button. They look at you with a blank stare. What do you do next?

The toy doesn't have batteries or a thousand little pieces with directions. It is easy enough to show a child how it works and what it does. However, if you are sending it as a gift, you might want to send it with a little card with instructions.

  1. Grasp one end of the loop with each hand.
  2. Make sure that the button is in the center.
  3. Swing the button forward in a circular motion to wind the toy.
  4. Gently pull the string out and then relax the tension while it winds. Then, pull it out again. Once the button is spinning, keep up the in-and-out motion.

Pass on the Entertainment!

Niles has decided that it is a great toy to take places. The string fits around his neck like a necklace, and it's an easy toy to transport. The last time I saw him, he was trying to keep it going while attempting to step over it and back again.

I made it myself and am refusing to put it down!
I made it myself and am refusing to put it down!

What We Learned

  • We used a 2" button and a 1 1/2" button. The 1 1/2" button does not work with the twine because it is not heavy enough. It does work great on the string.
  • Instead of a button, you can use an 1/8" piece of plywood or the cardboard mentioned above. The amount of humming depends on the weight of the string and the disc.

Questions & Answers

    Have you played with this toy?

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      • profile image

        Jill 9 months ago

        My dad made these for us in the fifties. He had them as a child too.

      • ladyguitarpicker profile image

        stella vadakin 2 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

        I remember this, and would try this with my granddaughter. We try anything to get her to put the tablet down. Thanks, Stella

      • anima knitts profile image

        Lejla M.S. 3 years ago from Bosnia and Herzegovina

        I remember this one. My mother used to make this toy for me and my sister.

      • profile image

        mrs_lla 4 years ago

        My grandmother used to make this for me all the time. I've been wanting to make one for her now. :)

      • Allain Christmas profile image

        Virginia Allain 4 years ago from Central Florida

        Thanks for the memories. These are fun, but we need to pass them along to new generations.

      • profile image

        anonymous 4 years ago

        I'm 62 and was remembering things we used to do as kids and thought of this button/string thing that my Dad had us play with for hours or at least till we had blisters... he really didn't have to compel us to do it, we just had so darn much fun and would chase each other with them.. I tried to make one and was repeatedly unsuccessful. I called my older brother to see if he could remember, he then suggested that I look on-line and search for instructions - wah-lah!!!! here I am - yippie skippie!!! The only thing I was doing wrong was using string too thick for the button... here I go... Thanks so much!!!

      • profile image

        anonymous 4 years ago

        I sure have and had forgotten about it....you brought the fun back and thank you for passing it to the next generation! :)

      • lesliesinclair profile image

        lesliesinclair 5 years ago

        Yes, this was a fun toy we used to make back in grade school.

      • profile image

        pawpaw911 5 years ago

        Yes, but had forgotten all about them. That was a ways back.

      • Zodiacimmortal profile image

        Kim 5 years ago from Yonkers, NY

        Cool Idea I've added this to my Cabin Fever reliever lens

      • Northerntrials profile image

        Northerntrials 5 years ago

        I not only played with that toy until my fingers bled but I took it further and tried things other than buttons. The buzz sound made from the button was what I was after. First I notched the buttons and used wood scraps from my Dad's workshop. Each one made different sounds. I liked the creepy sounding ones, those I took on camps for sound effects around the campfire. Good ghost stories need eerie sounds :)

        Another option I explore was painting the buttons with different colors and patterns. Awesome fun. Thanks for the memory.

      • poldepc lm profile image

        poldepc lm 5 years ago

        beautiful lens...Thanks for sharing...

      • Laniann profile image

        Laniann 5 years ago

        This toy isn't one that I've played with or remember seeing. I can see that it could be very entertaining.

      • Blackspaniel1 profile image

        Blackspaniel1 5 years ago

        This looks familiar.

      • FB-Explorer profile image

        FB-Explorer 5 years ago

        Memories! My uncle showed me how to make one of these back in about 1954 - I was nine years old at the time. Did you ever make a tractor from a wooden spool, a rubber band, and a couple of matchsticks, or a corn shooter from a couple of clothes pins?

      • profile image

        anonymous 5 years ago

        Loved them with we were little! We had more time and less money, as well as fewer electric toys, so making things was one way we had fun.

        I'm planning to visit a rural village (w/o electricity!) in Mexico this Christmas, so thanks for the reminder about how to make these things! I can't wait to show the children how to make and enjoy them!

      • profile image

        anonymous 5 years ago

        nope,i did not

      • profile image

        anonymous 5 years ago

        nope,i did not

      • firstcookbooklady profile image

        Char Milbrett 5 years ago from Minnesota

        I loved these when I was a kid... I did daycare for 14 years and shared the concept with the kids... they thought it was cool.

      • Scarlettohairy profile image

        Peggy Hazelwood 6 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

        Nice! I had forgotten about these things. I bet my grandkids would like making them too.