How to Upcycle an Old Bicycle Wheel Into a Whirligig
Turn trash into treasure and create garden whimsy by making a kinetic-energy lawn ornament.
Turning found objects into garden art is a good way to keep things that may still be useful out of landfills. If you have a habit of collecting cast-off objects from local thrift stores or unique doodads from yard sales, you probably have on hand all of the materials for making a bicycle-wheel whirligig. I don’t remember why I picked up a stack of little metal cups. I didn’t even know what they were. I just remember thinking they might come in handy someday. The idea of what to make with them finally came to me when I attended a bird-banding event in Fort Morgan, Alabama.
Bird Banding Wheel Inspo
Under the shade of a tent at the bird weigh station, there it was, a red-painted bicycle wheel attached to a stand made of metal conduit. It was the coolest little contraption outfitted with hooks around the edges of the wheel, and hanging from the hooks, birds in little drawstring bags. Ecologists Eric Soehren and Scott Rush were working the station. Turning the wheel to the next bird in the queue, lifting a bag off a hook, removing the bird from the bag, measuring its vital statistics, banding a leg, then releasing the bird in view of enamored onlookers. It was apparent that the bird wheel helped the guys process the birds faster. The bird wheel’s maker and long-time host of the public banding event died a few years ago, but the creativity and ingenuity of Bob Sargent lives on.
For over 20 years, in several prime woodland feeding grounds along the coast of Alabama, Bob and Martha Sargent and volunteers for their non-profit Hummer/Bird Study Group captured birds in fine-mesh nets strung between trees to collect data and provide information to scientists about bird migration. The data is important for analyzing and understanding patterns and trends affecting bird migration. With the resurrection of the banding event, the annual survey continues, and with it, so does the shared information between partners and agencies, the encouragement to up-and-coming ornithologists, the enthusiasm among participants, citizen scientists and spectators. And I’m sure there are other folks like me who might see the bird wheel as inspiration to make whimsical garden art out of found objects.
Gather Found Objects and Tools
Gathering the objects was easy. I had the cups, nuts and bolts, a threaded metal rod and a coupling piece. I just didn't have the bicycle wheel. But all I had to do was mention my project to my artsy scientist friend, Malia, and she came through.
The objects can vary. Instead of a threaded rod, there are other ways of making the base. It needs to be sturdy, and the coupling needs to accommodate the wheel's axle but it doesn't have to fix to it exactly. It's okay to have some extra room in the coupling because if the wheel is not completely balanced, or the post is off kilter, the axle will find its sweet spot and balance itself. For the wind catchers, you can use funnels, egg poaching cups, spatulas, soup ladles, tuna cans, metal or plastic mugs or snipped license plates.
Prepping the project involves drilling holes through the cups and the wheel. I used a block of wood underneath the cups when drilling the holes so not to mar the workbench, and of course, I wore gloves for safety.
Since I had eight cups, the math was easy for spacing the holes around the rim. Drilling the first hole to avoid hitting the spokes, I imagined four diameter lines intersecting the circle so that each line's endpoints were set in equal distances. It was like slicing a pie for eight.
To attach the cups, thread the screws through the holes and hand-tighten the nuts.
Tighten up the nuts and bolts with a screwdriver and pliers, adjusting the alignment of the cups as necessary.
Pre-Drill the Ground
To drive the stake into the ground without damaging the whirligig, I hammered a piece of rebar into the ground first, essentially pre-drilling a hole for the base. The stake went into the spot with no resistance. Make sure to align the base so that the bicycle wheel sits balanced in the coupling.