Sunfish Wind Machine

Jane Corbus of Lodi, Ohio, reveals the process for making a plastic whirligig.

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Jane Corbus from Lodi, Ohio knew she wanted to be a designer. But what she didn't realize was that one of the most basic children's toys, the pinwheel, would be the inspiration for carrying out that dream. Jane designed a plastic whirligig filled with color and whimsy that took the pinwheel up a notch. Before long, her playful weathervanes became a passion that brought her childhood visions to fruition.

Materials and Tools:

PVC foamed sheet plastic in multiple colors
brass and stainless-steel hardware
stainless-steel wire
nylon bearings and spacers
plastic and wooden beads
brass tubing
sign vinyl
exterior spray paint
exterior house paint
super glue


  1. Sketching: drawings to find interesting forms that work well as whirligigs.

  2. Engineering drawings: Precision drawings are needed so the mechanical parts will work. The drawings are the basis for accurate parts patterns.

  3. To make the sunfish body, jaw, fins and propeller you would need the following: A piece of 1/8"- thick PVC plastic is used in the colors selected. A pattern is used to trace the parts onto the plastic. A band saw is used for cutting. A drill press is used to make screw holes indicated on the original pattern.

  4. To make the sunfish internal frame, you would need: 1/2"-inch thick black PVC plastic traced and cut as in Step 3.

  5. Sunfish internal frame tooling: The frame is completed with several tooling operations. First, the edges are finished using a router, two slots are cut in the upper and lower edges to receive fish fins, a large hole is drilled for the stem insert, and two smaller holes are drilled to hold the spinning shaft in place.

  6. Sunfish body — spray-painting the scales: A stencil is used to spray the fish scale motif using exterior spray paint.

  7. Sunfish body and jaw — heat-bending: These parts are sculpted using a heat gun and wooden forming jigs.

  8. Sunfish body and fins — hand painting: Decorative accents are applied to the fish body with a brush and exterior house paint. A sponge-painting technique is used to complete the color scheme on the fins and tail parts.

  9. Sunfish assembly — frame: A brass sleeve to hold the exterior pole mount and is inserted into the black PVC frame. Nylon bearings and spacers are glued into the predrilled holes. The stainless-steel wire shaft is inserted. Washers and nuts are affixed to propeller end of the shaft. The fish jaw is mounted using nylon bearings and screws. The jaw is then connected to the shaft with a stainless eye wire. A bright bead is glued on the crank end of the shaft to become the rotation eye. The jaw is tested for proper movement.

  10. Sunfish assembly — fins: The fins are held in place in the slotted frame with hot glue.

  11. Sunfish assembly — fish body: The body is fitted over the frame and fins. Stainless-steel screws are put in place to hold the body and fins as one.

  12. Sunfish assembly — fish body: the two-part tail is affixed using screws.

  13. Propeller heat bending: The propeller is heat-bent into shape with a fixed heat gun and a special prop jig. The edges are checked and sanded. It is attached to the shaft on the fish and given a test spin.

  14. The last detail — eye ring: Exterior-sign vinyl is cut to shape with scissors and applied as a fish-eye accent.

  15. Testing: the new sunfish is tested for several hours in front of a bank of electrical fans. Any adjustments are made now.

  16. Outdoor pole mount: This is a 3/4" copper pole with a cap and bolt fixed on the top. Holes are drilled so it can be attached to a deck rail outdoors.

  17. Indoor display pedestal: 1/2" white PVC plastic is cut into a display base shape. When wind reaches gale force, the sunfish should be indoors waiting out the storm on its pedestal.

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