Yo-yos are making a comeback, thanks to a unique anodizing application resulting in more colorful and durable toys.
Toy industry analysts say sales are cyclical. In 1985, less than 500,000 yo-yos were sold worldwide, but in 1990 it jumped to 12 million. In 2010 sales climbed back over 10 million and have remained steady.
One Drop Yo-Yos in Eugene, Oregon, is a leading high-end yo-yo manufacturer—yes, there is a high-end yo-yo industry—selling some for as much as $300, with materials ranging from plastic to titanium. It gets some of the 8,000 products it makes finished at Gruntbull Anodizing in Gettysburg, Ohio, whose splash anodizing process combines as many as six colors on the same part. The result is a piece of art.
Gruntbull owner Ted Luginbuhl started the process in his friend’s garage 10 years ago, working with several colors and designs for paintball markers. In 2009, Gruntbull Anodizing was born, but the yo-yos came later.
“We tried our hand at it and it didn’t turn out so good the first time,” he says.
Splash anodizing is an increasingly popular finishing technique, similar to the Easter egg process. Gruntull dyes the part with a solid color, then masks areas where the next color will fill. The product is anodized, bleached, neutralized and then the steps are repeated.
“It looks like you just splashed paint on it; there’s no indication that it was ever masked,” Luginbuhl says.
One Drop Yo-Yos co-owner David Metz, says the tolerances are very tight, considering it’s a toy.
“It’s a gyroscope, it’s a spinning toy and our customers are educated,” he says. “They know the difference between a balanced and non-balanced yo-yo.”
The weight of the toy is the key to its fluid motion as it rolls along the string. Without a balance of concentricity, weight and motion, the toy vibrates, which can affect how it moves. Luginbuhl began to learn more about how anodizing affects the weight and balance of the product, particularly with a toy that relies heavily on precision. Even a buildup of 0.0002" can affect the balance if not coordinated with the manufacturing of the part.
Before sending the parts to anodizers like Gruntbull, Metz says One Drop works with the anodizer to predict buildup.
“You have to do a little prediction. If the anodizing will change the thickness X amount, then we have to build it within that window.”
Another challenge includes finding a balance within the splash process itself.
“Getting the cycle down is tricky,” Luginbuhl says. “If you bleach too much, you end up with a white line around the first color because the bleach will go through the masking.”
For Luginbuhl, the technical side can be straightforward, a series of steps and repetition. The result, however, requires an elevated artistic sense.
“It’s really about design and quality,” he says. “It requires someone artistically inclined and willing to come up with new ideas.”
Originally published in the December 2016 issue.