Archive for the ‘games’ Category

Toy Castle

January 11, 2017

This wooden castle is another in a long line of wooden toys built for nephews and nieces. This one is for a nine-year-old for Christmas. The big challenges for this one were that first, it needed to have a fairly small footprint and second, I wanted to be sure that small hands could access every part of it.


The solutions were to go more vertical to keep the footprint size small, and to have walls in several places that swing out on hinges to allow access to the inner-sanctum and the keep in particular.


castle closed from the side


castle open from the side


castle closed from the back


castle open from the back

…did I mention the dungeon? A good place to keep the domesticated dragons, or prisoners.

Virtual cruising

February 27, 2008

It is February, or as we used to refer to it when I was teaching secondary school: “the F month”. When I am not shoveling snow, I do get a chance to get out into the backcountry on my skis from time to time. However, my thoughts have already begun to wander to next sailing season. I have started to drag rigging into the shop for overhauling, and I have already indulged in an activity that I refer to as Virtual cruising.
          Virtual cruising can take several forms. Sometimes I just read last season’s logbooks looking for trips to repeat. Sometimes virtual cruising is about researching places that you have never been, and dreaming about going there. I keep an old tattered chart-book and several editions of cruising guides in my bedroom. I read more about places to visit in the winter than I do in the summer. With any luck, I am too busy actually cruising to research cruising in the summer months.

Eek, the cat checks out Casco Bay

          Sometimes virtual cruising takes the form of a navigational exercise: “If I depart Rockland with a true south wind, can I lay Greens Island in one tack? If my average speed is five knots, how long will the trip take? What kind of approach can I expect if I want to pass north of the island”?
          Several resources worth mentioning to anyone cruising Maine waters: A Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast by Hank and Jan Taft and Curtis Rindlaub is the guide that I have found to be the most comprehensive (a new edition is supposed to come out this spring).
          As you might expect, no one guidebook will cover everything, and small boat sailors would be wise to join the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA). MITA members get an annual guidebook with detailed information about islands that are part of the trail system, anchorages, and which islands welcome visitors. It also includes information such as islands that might be closed part of the year due to birds nesting, and privately owned islands that welcome visitors under certain conditions, or at certain times of the year. The guide has changed over the years, formerly it focused on the needs of paddle driven craft, recently, more useful information for small boat sailors has been included.
          Another worthwhile resource is a column called Gunkholing with Gizmo by Ben Ellison that appears in the Magazine Maine Boats, Homes and Harbors. I have a three ring binder that I put copies of this column in, sort of a separate cruising guide.
          Yet another useful resource is the Maine Coast Heritage Trust. I became a member because of the number of times we stopped at some beautiful spot, and found a discrete sign stating that the island in question was in the care of the MCHT.
          So this morning, when I went downstairs and looked out the window and saw this:

Snow covering the Library window

And yes that is snow, I thought I might try to wrestle the chart book away from the cats tonight and go on a virtual cruise.

Long Bows and Fletching

January 14, 2008

Some people discover that they unconsciously collect arcane trivia; I seem to collect arcane skills. Among these is the art of the bowyer, or bow maker, and that of the arrow maker. The reason for acquiring these skills is no longer entirely clear to me other than the fact that I have always found a certain poetry in archery and the long bow has always seemed to me to represent the epoch of archery. While I may not remember why I learned these skills in the first place, I was able to find my bow tiller and a whole box of fletchering tools for making arrows.
                The reason I dug out these items of archaic craft are that my ten-year old niece discovered archery this summer at camp. Her mother suggested to me that a bow with arrows appropriate for her size and strength might make a good Christmas gift. It turned out that I was even able to find some ash billets that I had dried and stored years ago for bow making. As I started to assemble the parts for this Christmas gift, I rediscovered my own bows and quiver. My arrows had remained in remarkably good condition, while most of my bows had dried out because it has been years since they have seen any use.

My Quiver of Arrows

                The new bow came together quite quickly along with a new leather quiver, wrist-guard, and a flight of five arrows. The bow is made from a solid piece of ash with a classic cross section that is sort of “D” shaped. It is about five feet six inches tall. I would love to experiment with Oregon Yew, but it has become rare and expensive. Ash is both cheap and locally available though it is prone to dry out and become brittle over time.
                If I needed any kind of reward for my efforts, the delight on my niece’s face and the envy on her brother’s faces, when she unwrapped her new archery set Christmas morning was it. We set up a target in her back yard so she could practice. I only wish the weather had been better and that they had a bigger back yard because it was so much fun to stand behind my niece, coach her shots, and watch her evident enjoyment in practicing this ancient art.                

                 If you are looking for more information on longbows, I would recommend Longbows; a Social and Military History  by actor/historian Robert Hardy; an excellent resource.

PVC light saber

January 6, 2008

Regular visitors to this site are familiar with wooden toys that I have written about (see the “Toy Page”, on the right or click on the “wooden toys” category) but I had an interesting recent experience with a toy made of plastic.
           My older nephews are fascinated with Star Wars; actually obsessed might be a more accurate term. My twelve-year-old nephew calls regularly with leading questions about how he might make a real light saber. My grasp of physics and quantum mechanics gives out long before he runs out of questions. After numerous phone calls and some experimentation, he decided he might settle for something that just looks more like the “real thing” than the toy light sabers you can buy. What we came up with was this:
           We took a section of 1 ¼” PVC pipe for plumbing waste lines and cut it to make a handle, we got a length of  ½” inside diameter PVC water pipe and cut it to length for a….I’m not sure…do you call it a blade? Well for lack of a better term, I will call it a blade; we then got a PVC adapter that allowed us to connect the “blade” to the handle. Then my nephew got some self-adhesive reflective tape (he asked for it for Christmas) and covered the blade with it. In a dark room with light directed at it the effect is really rather neat, and in a photograph with a flash the effect is even better.

light saber

           We did spend almost $7.00 at the hardware store, but quite a lot of the PVC I had left over from other projects. Overall, it was a satisfying experiment. My nephew is going to see how the light sabers look if two opponents have them in the dark and they are wearing headlamps. I will keep you posted.

light saber

Surfer Bear

August 28, 2007

In the last post, I wrote about the surfer-bear wooden toy, and I pointed out that it had yet to have a thorough testing. Last weekend I had an opportunity to put several prototypes of the surfer-bear toy through its paces and here are the results:

What we tested:
Four boards were tested ranging in length from seven inches long to twelve inches long. All of the boards had been “hot waxed”. That is, painted with melted canning wax and then ironed with a hot ski waxing iron to make them waterproof.

The four boards and three surfers we tested

Three versions of the surfer bear were tested, in case the relative size of the bear turned out to effect performance (all three of our bears performed about the same).

A number of fins made from copper, stainless steel, and mild steel of various thicknesses, sizes, and shapes, were tested.

The fins we tested

The conditions were near perfect; little to no wind, six to twelve inch surf breaking on a slight diagonal to the beach on long Island sound. We also tested all of the prototypes in a pool as well.

The toy experts:
The toy experts were a six-year-old boy, a ten-year-old girl, and a twelve-year-old boy (two of my nephews and my niece).

Descriptions of trials:
First, we tested all of the board and surfer combinations in the pool without fins to see if any of the surfer-bears made the boards top heavy and to see how well they floated.

pool test #1   Pool test #2

Next, we went to the beach and the toy experts experimented in surf conditions that ranged from fairly calm to breaking twelve inch surf. Lastly, we returned to the pool to refine technique and to make more subtle comparisons.

What the tests revealed in general:
The surfer bear toy floated extremely well and with the addition of one or more fins tended to be self righting (something that surprised me). When pushed though the water the surfboard and surfer moved very fast and with the addition of fin or fins traveled straight. With the correct technique the surfboard would “plane” on the water for at least three feet, enough distance to catch a wave if one times the push just right. Timing the push into the wave is critical, and attempting to do this became somewhat addictive. When the surfer-toy caught a wave, the ride could be as long a twelve feet. It was not easy to catch a wave just right and sometimes required a second person to watch the sets of waves and call out just when to accelerate the surfer-bear. When a surfer-bear did catch a wave just right, our toy experts described the experience as “awesome”. The rareness of these perfect rides was offset by the fact that major “wipe outs” were also hailed as “awesome”.

Shortboarder is propelled to catch a wave  Short boarder rides out the wave

Specific observations:
Hot waxing the board is critical to prevent the board from becoming waterlogged and may account for how fast the boards are, but the dovetail that holds the surfer-bear to the board must be kept free of wax.

The length of the board was not as important as the shape. Boards with tapered or even pointed aft ends tended to settle the back of the board while lifting the front of the board, causing the board to surf better. Boards that had blunt or wide back ends had a greater tendency to bury the nose of the board and pitch pole.

Having the weight more towards the back of the board made the board surf better. This can be achieved by either adding fins or placing the dovetail for the surfer-bear further aft on the board.

The dovetail that holds the surfer bear in place needs to be a solid connection because it will take abuse. The best technique depends on propelling the board by holding the bear and not the board.

Long boarder catches a wave  Long boarder rides out a wave

Our toy experts rated the Surfer-bear to be a good toy (good enough so that they wanted to take the prototypes home with them). The short-board (approximately 7″ long) that had three copper fins performed the best of the prototypes we tested, and though it was not as successful, the longest board was also popular. The two mid sized boards worked but did not get as much attention.

The most popular short board with three fins

I think, as is often the case, I might have gotten as much pleasure out of making the toys and setting up the tests, as the toy experts got out of the actual testing. Oh, and practicing surfer slang was another very popular part of the clinical tests of the surfer-bear.
Gnarlatious dude!

Rafting Up

July 15, 2007

The later half of this week, in Rockland Maine, and event will be staged at the Rockland town docks that will be of interest to anyone who loves classic sailboats and events where sailors gather. It is the annual Friendship Sloop Gathering. Staring on Wednesday afternoon sloops will begin arriving from all over the coastal North East to participate in four days of fun.
          There will be races held off the Rockland Breakwater Thursday, Friday, and Saturday afternoon. A Parade of Sail Saturday morning, and between the sailing and rowing events the sloops will be rafted up at the town landing allowing Friendship Sloop Society members to socialize.
          Some of the boat owners will be focused on the racing but an important part of the event is to allow the public access to these beautiful boats that come in such a variety of sizes and shapes. As many as twenty five boats can be rafted up at the public docks for this event and the public are encouraged to come down, chat with boat owners, their families and crews, ask questions, and see these beautiful vessels up close.
          I can’t be there the whole time this year due to commitments at work, but Saxon and I will be there part of the time and definitely on Saturday, and our boat will be there the whole time. So, if you are going to be anywhere near Rockland this week, and your looking for something to do that is both fun and free, come watch a race from the breakwater or come down to the docks and say hello.

FSS Gathering

Games and Toys

May 31, 2007

I have not written about wooden toys in a while and have not written about chess or other games in a really long time so I thought I would write about some of the games that live at the Wheelhouse.

Chess at the Wheelhouse

            First, another chess set. My brother found a cool ceramics place out in New Mexico where he lives, where you can come into the shop and can pick out ceramic pieces that are already bisque fired; paint them with supplies provided by the shop. The shop then fires your pieces for you and gives you a call when they are ready. My brother saw these chess pieces and thought it would make a great project. He painted the chess pieces and went home and made a neat chess board/table that he gave to me for the Celtic Wheelhouse. He went further, put a backgammon board on the reverse side of the board/table, and made the interior into storage space for the pieces. It is such a great gift and a clever project.

The Chess table at the Wheelhouse

            Next, is a Viking game I picked up many years ago in York while on a trip to England and Scotland. The game is a modern version, the pieces made of plastic, based on actual wood and or ivory pieces excavated at York. The game was popular in medieval Europe before chess was widely known. Sometimes called Hnefatafl, it is becoming popular again. The only problem with the game is that the box it came in fell apart and I was afraid of losing the pieces. My solution was to make a cedar box that looked like it might have been a made by the original players of Hnefatafl.

Viking Game   Viking Game

Box for Viking Game

            Hounds and Jackals is a game that was popular in ancient Egyptian times. I saw an original in the Metropolitan Museum in New York made of ivory. I made a sketch in the museum of the board, counted the number of pieces and holes, and then when I went home I made a version out of wood. I was teaching history of ancient civilizations at the time to ninth graders and when it was time to cover Egypt, I used to give them the copy of the game and ask them to look at it as an artifact. I was often amazed at how many correct deductions those ninth graders drew about the civilization that created the game based only what was in front of them. The other interesting observation I have, is that even though the game does not have any directions, kids in particular seem to have no difficulty figuring out how to play it. The only adaptation I have made is to substitute stick dice for the original knucklebone dice in the museum.

Original sketch made in the Museum  Hounds and Jackals

            I should say that I am not much of a board game person myself, but I really love having these games out for visitors to play with, and get great pleasure out of watching others play with these various games from other periods in human history.