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The Lambda top marries brass, aluminum, and a ruby tip, taking the humble top to a new level of precision, performance, and beauty.
The ORIGINAL ruby tipped top. The Lambda spin top marries brass, aluminum, and a ruby tip, taking the humble top to a new level of precision, performance, and beauty.
The ORIGINAL ruby tipped top. The Lambda spin top marries brass, aluminum, and a ruby tip, taking the humble top to a new level of precision, performance, and beauty.
1,504 backers pledged $98,495 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

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Prometheus Spins: The Lambda Top

$98,495

1,504

If you missed the campaign, just click this link for the pre-order page!
If you missed the campaign, just click this link for the pre-order page!

To be honest, I'm just as surprised as you are. My friend Joe, from Scout Leather Co., has been telling me for months that I should make a top. My response was always, "I make tools, not toys." But I was intrigued. Who doesn't like tops, right? 

One afternoon I had a few hours to play around on the lathe. I had no plan, I was just cutting a top free-hand on the lathe. No measurements, no design drawings. Instead of cutting a cone for the tip, I dug around in an old project box and came up with a ruby sphere I bought for another job. The first time I spun the top it was obvious that I created something totally different in performance and physics from anything I had seen before. 

I showed the prototype to a few people and the most common response was, "Wait, it's still spinning? Are you sure? It doesn't look like it's moving.There is no way it's still spinning." No one else had seen anything like it either. I thought that was pretty awesome, and I believe awesome is worth sharing. 

If you know my work, you know I don't mess around. The Lambda is not intended to be a record breaker, but rather an expression of how I see the world: the ideal balance of performance, physics, and aesthetics. However, you are going to have a really hard time finding something is the same size/weight class that will outspin this top. 

Enough chit chat; I present the Prometheus Lambda top.

Yes this is a video...it's not a still image! If you stared at it for a few seconds and then said "woaaah," we are on the same page. Welcome to my project :) 

The secret ingredient (beyond a solid design based on Newton and "the physics") is the instrument-grade ruby sphere. You heard me right, I said ruby

This type of manufactured ruby is used in things like Rolex watches, super-precision measuring instruments, fiber optic transmission lines, and other really expensive and/or sciency stuff. The hardness is 9 on the Mohs scale. Diamond is one of the few harder materials and scores a perfect 10. That alone is awesome! 

From the manufacturer: "This material has five times more abrasion resistance than carbide, zero porosity, high temperature tolerance, extreme chemical resistance, and extreme hardness."

I know, I know. How tough is it? THIS tough. 

That's a ruby smashed between the steel top of my bench-vise and a 16oz. dead blow hammer. Yes, I hit it really hard. Yes, it did break. It's tough...not indestructible. Just treat it like a ruby and you should be fine. If you treat it irresponsibly...it will break, as demonstrated above :) 

Sphericity: 

The "sphericity" of the Lambda's Grade 25 ruby is 25 millionths of an inch. Take an inch. Divide it into one million (1,000,000) slices. The amount of error is less than 25 slices...out of a million. The majority of machined parts are manufactured to within about 0.001 inches. I created the chart below to make blowing your mind easier on your brain. 

Yes, I know that's not "perfectly" round, but it makes for good reading right?
Yes, I know that's not "perfectly" round, but it makes for good reading right?

Surface Smoothness:

Below is an electron micro-graph that will give you a reasonable comparison between a metal "machined" surface and the surface of an instrument ruby. The image on the left is the ground edge of a razor blade. This is probably a much smoother finish that you will see with machining. However, compared to the surface of a ruby sphere at the same scale, it looks like the Grand Canyon. 

Let's agree to call it a cone. A cone isn't a very good shape for the contact point because you are always on one side of the point...or the other. This means the top will have a hard time balancing upright, wasting energy during the early spin, and then falling over early during the late spin when the top is losing RPM. It's inherently imprecise. 

The perfect sphere means there is always a perfect point of contact with the surface, wasting less energy and spinning longer. It also means the Lambda is better able to spin along its axis; therefore, it does not exhibit the large amount of precession (angular wobble) that you see in a traditional top (above). 

The Lambda name is derived from the Greek letter "L" which is the physics symbol for angular momentum; the Newtonian principle that keeps a top from falling over. I'm not a physicist, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express at some point during college. Here we go: 

ANGULAR MOMENTUM (L) = RADIUS (MASS x VELOCITY)

This equation is all you need to know about tops. For a given top, the size (radius) and weight (mass) are fixed, so your only variable is velocity. If you want more spin, you need more speed. How fast can you spin it? 

The (major) factors that reduce spin time are friction and the geometry between the top's "contact point" and the target surface. You get to pick the surface, but I get to pick the contact point :)

POLAR MOMENT OF INERTIA (Ip) = p(r)r^2dV

Don't sweat the details. That just means a unique feature of the Lambda is the use of 2 different materials in the design. It looks awesome and it increases performance. 

6061 aluminum is used for the spindle to decrease the polar moment of inertia...in other words, reducing the amount of force it takes to get the top up to a given velocity. If you remember, the more velocity the more angular momentum...and a longer spin time. 

Solid brass is heavy, really heavy. It also machines beautifully. If you recall, mass is another important component to angular momentum, making brass an ideal material for the outer ring. 

It depends...on a lot of different factors. How long "will" it spin is entirely up to you. How long "can" it spin is entirely unknown. My personal record (unofficial) is over 12 minutes. Check out the video below for a "bar-setting" unedited 10 minute spin. 

Can you beat me? It's gotta be on video! Submit your "video response" to my 10 min spin on the YouTube page (link) !  

Your spin-time can (and will) vary. However, I'll leave you with the guesstimates below. These are based on my personal experience, and observation of other people testing the Lambda. If you can't seem to hit the numbers below, give it a little more "wax on, wax off!" That means "practice" in case The Karate Kid was after your time. Not the new one, the old one :) 

  • 6 Minutes: Most people should be able to hit this without trying too hard. You have to have a good surface where the top can actually stay on it for that long. Try a plate or bowl to keep your top from falling off the table. 
  • 8 Minutes: Put in a little practice and 8 minutes can be reached...some of the time. This was the first big milestone. To go past 8 minutes you have to have a good surface...and good technique. At this point I can break 8 minutes almost every time. 
  • 10+ Minutes: If you practice a lot, you'll start seeing spins over 10 minutes...but that is very hard to do. Even now, I might get 1 out of 5 spins that are over 10 minutes. 

Just keep in mind that trying for a long spin is one way to enjoy your Lambda, but it's not the only way! 

I tested a lot of different surfaces in search of the best one. I tried marble slabs, granite surface plates, glass dinner plates, ceramic bowls, various mirrors, optical lenses, and chemistry lab glass.

The Lambda may spin for so long that you won't have a flat enough surface unless you work in a laboratory or machine shop. After a couple minutes it will "drift" and eventually fall off the edge. The best thing to use is any kind of concave dish. However, I had a hard time finding anything in my kitchen where the center of the plate/bowl was actually the lowest part. Most had a raised or uneven area in the middle and this throws off the top. 

Right now my favorite surface is a little 5" shaving mirror (12x magnification) that you can buy from Amazon. It's a reasonable size, is fairly durable (for a mirror) and has a flat back so you can set it on a table. The smooth curve of the mirror means you don't need a perfectly flat surface, the top will naturally find the lowest point. 

Yep, I'm making this one easy for you: one reward. 

I could type out a long explanation, but I won't bore you. The bottom line is, all things considered, I think this is the best way to make a top. Any less would be too little. Any more would be too much. 

In the words of architect Owen Jones, "true beauty results from that repose which the mind feels when the eye, the intellect, and the affections are satisfied from the absence of any want."

Fulfillment requires that you use BackerKit: 

As with my other two projects, I'm using a platform called Backerkit to manage the fulfillment process. Participation is not mandatory...but greatly appreciated :) My experience demonstrates that Backerkit is a critical tool in delivering the right reward to the right person at the right time. 

You may choose to opt out of Backerkit, but it may delay the delivery of your reward. Fulfillment and data tracking is exceedingly difficult on a large project. Manually managing contact information is time consuming. This is time spent at the computer and not in the shop making tops or shipping them out. It will also hurt other backers because of the same reason. 

You'll be asked to confirm your pledge information and provide your shipping address through BackerKit. It also puts you in control of your pledge by allowing you to manage your own order quantity and shipping address. 

You will not receive a Kickstarter survey requesting this information. 

Want more than one top? You are awesome!  

I'm happy to accommodate. Remember BackerKit? When the campaign ends you will receive your BackerKit invite. When you accept the invitation you'll have the opportunity to add more tops to your pledge, at the level you pledged. *** 

Kickstarter does not allow project creators to offer "multiples of the same item" during the campaign. I know, people do it all the time. I'm just not the kind of person who is willing to be dishonest in order to make a buck. So...that's why I'm not offering multiples in the KS campaign, but you can modify your pledge after the campaign ends, via BackerKit.  

Also, if you opt out of Backerkit, you will not have the option to modify your reward quantities. 

*** Please note: the "Tops for Pops" reward tier is limited to one top per backer. TfP backers will have the option to add other tops at the "early bird" reward tier. 

Please keep the weight and diameter in mind when comparing tops. Ignoring other factors, increasing the mass and/or diameter will increase the potential spin time. That's just physics. A big top will spin longer than a small one. A heavier top will spin longer than a light one. 

Materials: Brass ring, aluminum spindle, ruby tip

Some of the photos show a black ring. This was an early prototype and not offered as an option

My prototype tops are manually machined on my Hardinge HLV-H toolroom lathe. Check out the video below for a quick montage of making the very first Lambda top. 

For the Kickstarter project, the Lambda top will be made in-house on the Haas CNC lathe I purchased with the funds from my first KS campaign. All of the raw materials, including the instrument-rubies, are domestically manufactured. 

The following schedule is an estimate, it is not a guarantee. 

In manufacturing, there is always a chance for unexpected delay. In fact, you should expect it to happen. In the past I have dealt with this by doing my best and communicating early and often. No one is forcing you to back this project, so I consider your pledge an agreement (on my end) that I will "do my best" and that (on your end) you'll be okay with that. 

Please see the "risks and challenges" section for more detail on production and scheduling. 

Risks and challenges

The main challenge with this project is meeting the Father's Day deadline for the first 100 tops. That schedule is exceedingly ambitious so I can't guarantee delivery, but I'll try my hardest. I've already purchased (out of pocket) all of the specialized tooling and materials to run the first 250 tops...including 250 instrument rubies.

Production will begin almost as soon as the campaign goes live. I will not wait until the campaign ends. This is one big advantage of doing all the work myself and in-house.

However, there will only be about 2 weeks from the campaign close until Father's Day. Normally any campaign takes about 30 days before shipping begins. 2 weeks to process all the payments and 2 weeks to deal with sending/collecting surveys.

I "think" we can get the first 100 shipped by June 7 (this only applies to the "Tops for Pops" reward tier) if you help me with three things:

1) Make sure your credit card is in good standing
2) Fill out the survey immediately when you get it...probably 2 days after the close of the campaign. I will post an update letting you know when the invites have been sent. The invite will be emailed directly to you. Please check your spam folder. Spam folders LOVE to eat critical Kickstarter messages.
3) Double check the mailing address you give me (like Santa does). You'd be surprised at how many people mess this up! Well, I'm surprised at least ;)

The backup plan (or for those that don't make the "Tops for Pops" tier) is a gift card (PDF) that you can print out, stick in an envelope, and deliver with a ceremonial flourish to your Dad on Father's Day.

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $5 or more About $5

    Don't really want a top, but you still like tops...or physics...or maybe just the video? Give me a digital high "five" ! Get it?

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    Pledge $45 or more About $45

    TOPS FOR POPS ! (Domestic Backers Only) : First 100 tops shipped by June 7, 2014 (for Father's Day!) at a whopping $30 below the future retail price. *** See "risks and challenges" section for more details on this reward tier. ***

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    Pledge $55 or more About $55

    EARLY-BIRD: Get the Prometheus Lambda at $20 below the future retail price of $75.

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    SECOND CHANCE: Get the Prometheus Lambda at $15 below the future retail price of $75.

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    Pledge $65 or more About $65

    LATE TO THE GAME: Get the Prometheus Lambda at $10 below the future retail price of $75. Slightly later delivery date!

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    Pledge $65 or more About $65

    LATE TO THE GAME II : Get the Prometheus Lambda at $10 below the future retail price of $75. Will "most likely" ship sooner than October but I'm setting expectations.

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    Pledge $65 or more About $65

    LATE TO THE GAME III : Get the Prometheus Lambda at $10 below the future retail price of $75. Will "most likely" ship sooner than November but I'm setting expectations.

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Funding period

- (30 days)