Archive for the ‘Wooden Toys’ Category

Wooden PT Boat

December 3, 2009

December is upon us and there has been a lot going on in the shop, not least is the first wooden toy for the season. This wooden PT Boat with a crew of small wooden bears was made for the eighth birthday of a nephew. The toy is fairly simple (no moving parts) but the nephew in question already has a somewhat significant fleet of similar ships, so this is another addition to his navy.

Wooden PT Boat

The PT Boat Crew

Wooden Tank Toy

December 30, 2008

In line with the last few posts, here is  another wooden toy; the “Grizzly” tank. Wooden treads glued to cloth backing rotate on eight sets of wheels. The tank commander is removable. This was a Christmas gift for an eight-year-old boy.

The B25

December 18, 2008

Just to follow up the last toy posts about the corsair, here are some pictures of a more complicated toy plane built for an eight-year-old.

Like the Corsair toy, a crew of bears flies the B-25, “Bearfoot Bomber”. Unlike the Corsair, it has quite a few moving parts, including, retractable landing gear and Bombay doors that open. However, the design and execution follows the same process described in the posts about the Corsair toy. I started with drawings done actual size, and built the body of the aircraft and the wing/engines as separate units that do not get glued together until quite near the end of the assembly process.

Drawings for the B 25

The other challenge of the B25 is that the acrylic canopies for top-turret gunner, the nose of the aircraft, and the cockpit are shapes that are more complex to mold. I ended up making several attempts at each shape before I got results that met my needs.

lots of complex plexiglass

lots of complex plexiglass

Landing gear up!

Landing gear up!

Close up of one of the B 25 crew

Close up of one of the B 25 crew

Corsair #4

December 16, 2008

Finishing the toy: At this stage, and before I do anything else, I am going to give the toy several coats of varnish. You can use anything you like. Personally, I am more in favor of old-fashioned oil base varnish. My reasons have to do with longevity and wear. Simply put I have never had any other product hold up as well. An alternative is Tung oil, which works well too, but has a lasting odor that some children will not like.

Again, I will repeat that this is just my experience, but I have had very poor results with poly-products. I have used both water-based, and oil based poly and what I have found is that they do not bond well enough to the wood to hold up to constant play. The result is that they chip, crack and peel, and that makes me nervous because I don’t want the little ones eating chips of anything that comes off a toy.

Varnished toy

Once the varnishing is complete, painted details can be added. I paint on insignia, nose art, and any other decorations. In this case, my nephew is only two, so I am keeping it simple. However, if the child is a little older, the decoration is an area where you can personalize a toy, giving it a name, or insignia that have a special meaning to the child in question.

The last two pieces of the project are the propeller disk and the canopy, both of which will be molded from acrylic that is one-eighth of an inch thick.

The acrylic pieces can be a challenge. The propeller is just a disk of clear acrylic, drilled on the drill press and cut out on the band-saw. However, even such a simple piece must be carefully drilled and cut to avoid blistering and cracks. The cockpit canopy is made by carefully and slowly heating a piece of acrylic and shaping it over a poplar form. In some cases I will use a vacuum jig to help form the canopy, but I have to point out here that complex shapes are hard to achieve and it takes practice to get good results, so the simpler the design and the easier it is to execute, the better your chances of success. If you want to know more about shaping acrylic, or plastics, go to “you tube” and type in vacuum molding.

I glue on acrylic parts using two part marine epoxy that has been slightly thickened. The resulting paste will be stronger than either the acrylic or the wood, and it will not be as prone to run or drip.

The finished toy:

The completed toy

The completed toy

Wooden Corsair #3

December 10, 2008

The third phase of construction on the corsair is the tail/after-cockpit section that defines the cockpit. As part of this phase, I will be making the pilot too.

If you look at the top of the body of the plane, you will see a long tapered flat spot where this last section will attach. The shape of the long tapered flat spot will determine the shape of the after-cockpit.


Cut rough and then sanded to fit, the after-cockpit has a vertical slot to help hold the tail in place.

In the aft end of the body I have cut a lap for the horizontal stabilizer.

The tail wheel is pegged so that it can swivel.

All of these pieces are glued together:

The pilot is shaped out of select pine and glued into the cockpit:

In the next section we will look at the acrylic and the finishing steps.

Wooden Corsair #2

December 7, 2008

In the last post, we glued, cut and turned the body of the corsair. In this post, I will concentrate on the wings and landing gear:

The wings will be made of two pieces of polar glued together. They will go through five steps; The pieces will be glued together, they will be squared up, drilled for the landing gear, cut on the band saw, and finish-shaped.

Here is the rough “blank” of wood with the rectangular holes for the landing gear. The landing gear are in the background and are made up from commercially made wooden wheels glued and pegged to uprights.

The rough shape is cut on a band-saw.

The wings are shaped with knife, plane and sandpaper.


The landing gear is glued in.

Now you can see how the wing and body go together:

Wooden Corsair #1

December 4, 2008

This is not a “how to” site, but I have had a number of requests for a step-by-step explanation for making a simple wooden toy. To that end, I am going to walk you through my process for making a simple wheeled toy. Before I start, let me make a couple of disclaimers: One is that I cannot stress safety enough. Whether it means wearing safety glasses and a dust mask, or simply being careful near any kind of tool with a blade—toy making is not fun if you get hurt. Second, I do not usually work from measured drawings. I know that frustrates some wood workers, but I sketch things out at actual size and design almost entirely by eye looking most closely at proportions.

This is a toy for my youngest nephew and is an airplane pull-toy, specifically: a F4U Corsair.

The first step I take is to sketch out the toy actual size. This allows me to think out how much wood the project will take and what the dimensions of rough stock will need to be. It is also where I start thinking through the construction process. The corsair will be very simple; fixed wings, fixed landing gear, and other than the wheels, no moving parts.

As I draw out the dimensions, I have decided that I will turn the body of the aircraft on the lathe. I will make the wings and landing gear as one unit, and I will make the tail and cockpit as a third unit.

The toy will be varnished wood, with a clear canopy over the cockpit, and a bear as the pilot. If you don’t know why a bear is flying a Corsair you need to read “the whole bear thing”.

The cockpit canopy and the propeller are the only non-wooden parts. Both will be made of clear acrylic.

The rest of this post will concentrate on the body of the aircraft.

The body is made up of several pieces of poplar glued together for the lathe. Once dry, the piece will go through four steps before going to the late. First I will pre drill what will be the front of the plane with a one-and-a-quarter inch diameter hole that is about a quarter-inch deep. Next I will drill an eighth-inch diameter pilot hole in the center of the inch-and-a-quarter hole. The 1/8″ hole will allow me to center the piece on the lathe more easily and will also serve as a pilot hole for a larger hole that will be drilled much later on when it is time to attach the propeller. The next two steps involve making cuts that will allow for easier assembly later.

While the block is still rectangular, I will cut out the notch where the wing will attach, and I will make the long cut in the upper body where the cockpit, after cockpit, and tail will attach. I want to make these cuts now because the rectangular block will present 90-degree angles to the saw making the alignment of pieces later automatic and easy. The last step before the body is put on the late is to take off the corners of the piece and make it eight sided. Thus the piece looks like this:

On the lathe, I will turn the cowling, and the basic shape of the body.

The body of the aircraft on the lathe

The body of the aircraft on the lathe

another shot on the lathe

another shot on the lathe

There we have the first piece:

Wood for Toys

December 1, 2008

I did not get around to posting much material on this site last month, and since the holidays are coming, I am going to try to put up a short series of posts on making wooden toys. This first one is limited to materials.

I am often asked what kind of wood I like best for making wooden toys and the answer surprises a lot of people. Poplar. Most wood-workers pass poplar by. It has a strange greenish color and if you ask about it at the lumberyard, the most often repeated assessment you get is that it is a great wood to use if you are going to paint it. Since most carpenters HATE to paint, the discussion often ends there. However, for making toys, poplar has some wonderful properties.

Most of the toys that I make have pieces that are complex in shape. Poplar has a close dense grain that is not prone to splitting, which makes it a good candidate for complex shapes. Additionally the grain is generally very straight and has less tendency towards knots than other species. Technically a soft-hardwood, Poplar stands up to hard use better than a softwood like pine, but is much easier to shape than a hardwood like maple or oak. I do use hard maple, ash, or oak for parts that will be repeatedly stressed, and I use select pine for carving pilots, drivers, or other figures, but poplar does the bulk of the work. It is comparatively light for having such a dense grain, which translates to; less prone to break when dropped on the floor. Other undeniable virtues are that it is readily available, fast growing, and a common species that is relatively inexpensive. All of which make it an ideal material for toy making.

If I can go back to the paint issue for a moment, poplar does have an unusual color, but I leave it bright under several coats of varnish or tung oil on a regular basis. One of the reasons for this is that varnish dulls the more unusual greenish tones in the wood, the other is that over time, varnished poplar turns a beautiful golden brown. Toys that might have looked a bit pale and raw when new turn into beautiful heirlooms over time. It does not take that much time either, a couple of years can make significant transformation. A decade can transform a toy made of poplar from a pale loved plaything to a thing of beauty worthy of a special place of admiration.

New Poplar

New Poplar

Doll House Furniture

November 7, 2008

Since we are fast approaching toy making season, I thought I would spend some time on ideas for personalized toys. One type of toy that can be easily personalized is a dollhouse.

My Niece has a dollhouse that was originally built by her great-Grandfather. He built it for his little girl who would eventually become my Mother. My Mother passed the dollhouse on to her little girl, my sister, who eventually passed it on to her little girl, my niece. The family history related to the dollhouse is visible when one looks inside. Hanging on the walls are small reproductions of photographs that include a picture of the original builder of the dollhouse, my Grandfather, there is also a picture of me as a teenager because I helped with the renovation of the dollhouse before it was given to my sister. There is a picture of my Mother taken when she was a child, and for whom the dollhouse was originally intended.

Picture of my mother for whom the dollhouse was originally built. A smaller version of this picture is in the dollhouse.

Picture of my mother for whom the dollhouse was originally built. A smaller version of this picture is in the dollhouse.

There are also pictures that may not mean a lot to the casual visitor, but that mean something special to my sister and my niece. For example, there is a real house on Long Island Sound that, since the late 1950s, my family has returned to again and again. For us, this house was the embodiment of summer. Hanging in the living room is a once magnificent print entitled La Siren. Three generations of my family have grown up with it and it figures prominently in family legend. And, as you might have guessed, a small reproduction of La Siren hangs in the living room of my niece’s dollhouse.

It is easy to make personalized art for a dollhouse using a personal computer. A scan of a family photograph or a digital photograph of a real painting or print can be reproduced at the appropriate scale for a dollhouse using a computer printer.  Use the glossy photo paper made for computer printers and make sure the settings for the printer are set at either “photo” or “best”. Because the size of the print will be small you will not use vast amounts of printer ink, but be sure to return your printer settings to where they were when you are done.

Making a frame for the picture can be as simple a buying a very small picture frame and then making your print match in size, or, what I do is to make a long strip of miniature molding using a strip of balsa wood and sandpaper. Next, I cut the molding to the desired lengths to make a frame with an X-acto knife. Then, I either glue the frame right to the picture, or cover your print with a piece of heavy gauge clear plastic, or even thin plexi-glass or acrylic.

I have friends (mostly grown women) who spend a lot of time trying to find doll furniture that matches the real furniture that they own. I even have one friend who had her husband build an elaborate miniature version of her dollhouse to put in the dollhouse. I think making your own personalized artwork is much easier.

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.