# Without using rotational mechanics, why does a gyroscope precess the direction it does?

When a top is spun, it will precess in some direction, either clockwise or counterclockwise. It's possible to find out which way using $\boldsymbol{\tau} = d\mathbf{L}/dt$ and $\boldsymbol{\tau} = \mathbf{r} \times \mathbf{F}$, where $\mathbf{F}$ is the force of gravity.

However, I was never totally satisfied with this because I couldn't "see" exactly why the conclusion was true. Intuitively, I don't get, in my gut, why a downward force $\mathbf{F}$ can push the rotation axis to the left or right.

In principle, one can explain this by just applying non-rotational mechanics to different pieces of the gyroscope. I think this would really help me visualize what's going on. Is there such an explanation?

Note: I already know about the math of rotational mechanics, so please don't rewrite it. I am not interested in any answer that contains a $\boldsymbol{\tau}$, $\mathbf{L}$, $\boldsymbol{\omega}$, or $\times$ anywhere in it.

• In the book "Feynman's Tips on Physics" by Feynman, Gottlied & Leighton there is a transcription of a lecture of Feynman's where he explains the action of precession without mathematics. The entire book - a great read. Aug 25, 2015 at 10:47
• Conservation of angular momentum, a very important physics concept, provides a great insight in the this behavior. Unfortunately, you don't want that. Aug 25, 2015 at 14:31
• There is an answer from 2012 (submitted by me) that addresses this question. The 2012 question: What determines the direction of precession of a gyroscope? This 2012 discussion does not involve the concept of angular momentum. The dynamics of gyroscopic precession is made transparent by capitalizing on symmetry. This discussion also allows the reader to understand why at high rates of spin the expression with the vector cross product is a good approximation, whereas at slow rate of spin the vector cross product expression is a failure. Jun 12, 2021 at 13:32