Here are instructions on how to make your own Japanese-style swift out of Tinkertoys. (Thanks to Deb McClintock for putting me on to the design! A photo of the original can be found on her website, here.)
(Note that the swift is very lightweight, so be gentle with it! I developed it for use with very fine yarns, which will break on a conventional swift.)
The finished swift:
First, materials. I used Fiddlestix (made by Ideal) rather than Tinkertoys, as they are much cheaper. You can use either the 104-piece box or the 144-piece box, like these:
The advantage to the 144-piece set is that it has two additional red connectors that will let you stabilize the base. It also has parts for two axles, meaning you could build a second swift from it if you use dowels and glue to replace the long red connectors. But you can build a swift out of either.
Here are the parts you will need to build the swift. Most of these come out of the Fiddlestix kit – the only thing you will have to buy are the O-rings, which you can get at a hardware store (usually in the plumbing section). The outside diameter of the O-rings is largely irrelevant – get whatever size they have. You will need 18 of them.
With the red connectors, you can use either twelve (if using the 104 piece Fiddlestix set) or fourteen of the rods. The two “extra” rods help stabilize the base. Not strictly necessary, but can be handy.
OK, let’s get started. First you’ll want to assemble the base:
The red connector rods at top and bottom are optional. They will help stabilize the base. (Don’t add them if you are using the 104-piece set – you won’t have enough red connectors.)
Next, assemble the supports:
And, add the supports to the base.
Next we’ll assemble the wheel, starting with the central hub. Here are the parts you’ll need for the hub:
And this is how you put it together:
Now let’s add the axle. Here are the parts you’ll need:
And they go together like this (there is another O-ring on the opposite side of the axle in this photo):
Next, assemble the outer sections of the wheel:
And complete the outer section:
Now, plug the completed sections into the axle:
And, stick the axle into the two holes in the top section of the frame, like so:
Here’s another view:
To put yarn onto the swift, slide the orange connector of one of the wheel spokes all the way to the center, remove the axle from the base, and put the skein on. Then slide the orange connector back out so the skein is taut, put the axle back into the supports, and presto! You’re ready to go.
(This swift will handle 1.5-yard skeins comfortably. If you want to use it for larger skeins, you’ll need to make the supports higher and also extend the arms of the swift using more connectors and connector rods. I haven’t tried this, though, since I work mostly with 1.5-yard skeins.)
Here’s what the swift looks like with a skein of yarn on it:
And here is a very short video of the swift in action: