A yo-yo is a classic toy that consists of two symmetrical sides, called hubs, and an axle that connects them. The yo-yo string, which has a loop at the end, is wrapped around the axle and attached to the middle finger of the user’s dominant hand. As the yo-yoer opens their hand, the string unwinds and causes the yo-yo to spin.
The amount of friction applied to the axle by the string determines if the yo-yo will automatically wind itself back up or continue to spin freely, allowing for various tricks to be performed. This is known as ‘sleeping’.
Beyond the basic design, yo-yos come in a wide range of designs, shapes, and styles for enthusiasts to explore. As you dive deeper into this hobby, you’ll find a lot of variety available in designs, shapes, and styles of yo-yoing. This is the tip of the iceberg, there is so much more to this hobby than meets the eye at a casual glance.
Wooden Fixed Axle Yo-Yo
The wooden fixed axle yo-yo is a classic and simple design. It consists of two halves, called hubs, and an axle that connects them. The yo-yo string is folded in half and twisted tightly to hold it in its screw-like shape. The yo-yo’s axle sits at the end of this twist, where the string was folded in half.
This design allows the yo-yo to spin freely, known as “sleeping,” since the string is not actually tied onto the axle like some earlier yo-yos. Most yo-yos of this variety are made of two hubs pressed together on an axle, a simple three-part toy.
The modern versions of the fixed axle yo-yo are slightly more complex than the traditional design. They often involve a solid, non-spinning wooden ‘transaxle’ that sits on a threaded axle. The hubs of the yo-yo are then tightened around the transaxle into recesses around the threaded axle, allowing for easy maintenance and adjustments.
The transaxle yo-yo is a more advanced design that closely resembles the modern fixed axle yo-yo. It has a separate sleeve, called transaxle, around the axle that the string is attached to. The axle in this model of yo-yo is typically smooth and often lubricated. The transaxle has a groove where the string sits, typically double wrapped around the axle, which keeps the string from slipping between the transaxle and the wall of the yo-yo, preventing it from seizing up and making it incapable of sleeping.
An important feature of the transaxle yo-yo is the response system. This is the method by which the string in the yo-yo is bound up, allowing it to return to the hand when tugged on. One popular response system for the transaxle yo-yo is the starburst design, which is a pattern of raised areas that emanate out from where the axle or transaxle sits in the yo-yo.
While some fixed axle yo-yos also use this technology, they often don’t require it as the tension in the string alone typically allows for the yo-yo to return. However, in transaxle yo-yos, the string tension does not have much effect on the yo-yo’s ability to return, as the string is not attached to the main axle of the yo-yo but to a sleeve around it. This means that the tension in the string that could have been used to make it return by providing surface friction is lost to the transaxle.
Ball Bearing Yo-Yo
The third and final type of yo-yo is the ball-bearing transaxle yo-yo. It incorporates everything from the previous two types, but instead of a simple sleeve around the axle, it has a ball bearing seated in the transaxle’s place. This significantly reduces friction in the yo-yo, allowing it to sleep for longer periods of time.
However, with the reduced friction, more effective response systems are needed to make the yo-yo return. Some manufacturers continue to use the starburst design but close the gap of the yo-yo significantly. Without doing so, the string would not effectively touch the starbursts and the yo-yo would not return.
In more recent history, manufacturers of ball-bearing yo-yos have used rubber stickers that sit around the bearing on the inner wall of the hubs. The stickers degraded with use and eventually needed to be replaced, but they were an effective way of making the yo-yo return to the hand.
However, response system technology has evolved in recent years. Some manufacturers have transitioned to using a specially made o-ring or rubber gasket as the response system. This is done by creating a groove in the inner wall of the yo-yo around the bearing. The o-ring or gasket is then pressed into the groove, providing a more effective and longer-lasting alternative to the previous sticker pad technology. Another approach is to fill the recessed channel with flowable silicone and let it set, which creates a durable and long-lasting response system for unresponsive yo-yo play.