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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Making a Wooden Curtiss Goshawk (Legends of the Air Kit)

As I've said on numerous occasions...I'm a sucker for $1 Store wooden toy kits, especially airplanes. It's fun to try and turn them into something that that is immediately recognizable as a particular plane and give them some fun historical detailing.

While you come to expect the sub $5 arc welder, 20' band saw or 3,000 ton industrial press from Harbor Freight, you might be surprised to know that they also sell little wooden airplane kits for under $2. The line is called "Legends of the Air." They are made in Taiwan and the pieces are punched from 1/8"sheets of plywood not balsa wood and they are not puzzles as the HF site says.

There are six kits in the line. Four are WW1 aircraft. Two of those are Allied - a SPAD and a Nieuport, and two are German - a Fokker Triplane and an Albatros. The other two kits in the series are interwar biplanes - the Bristol Bulldog and this model, the Curtiss Goshawk.

So this is actually the Curtiss F11C Goshawk that was made for the US Navy in the 1930s. The Navy only had a few dozen of them in service. There was another more widely produced version of the actual aircraft and it had retractable landing gear, not the fixed "spatted" gear on this model. A little bit of an odd choice as a "Legend of the Air" but still reasonably cool.

So I started on this model over a year ago. I had finished the Fokker Triplane from this series and was ready to tackle this one. Over the course of a weekend little one and I painted parts and glued parts up following the "directions" included. The instructions consist of an exploded view of the numbered parts. It is an exercise in patience and clairvoyance to put them together.

I covered a bunch of this when I wrote up the Fokker build but these kits really aren't for unsupervised construction by the "Age 6+" crowd. Besides the issues with the instructions, the wood is fairly stiff and you are going to need to use rubber bands and or clamps to hold the pieces in place while it is gluing up. I even boiled some pieces to make them bendable. Speaking of glue... not for one minute did I think about using the white glue that came with the kit. I went right to my wood glue.

So after some initial work, it all went into a clementine box with the intention of being pulled out the next weekend for completion. Well, something, or a lot of things, must have come up. Quite a few weekends went by and the box sort of bounced around in different places throughout the house for a year before making its way to my work bench a couple of weeks ago.

Only one piece was missing; a vertical strut. I was able to trace out a pattern on a scrap piece of the 1/8" plywood all the pieces were punched out of. That trick is something that I learned to do when I built my first balsa wood and tissue airplane from way back in the day. (A Guillow's Hawker Hurricane, thank you very much.)   You certainly can't do that with plastic models if you break or lose a piece.

In my book a toy airplane has to have a spinning propeller. Unfortunately, these kits are not designed with that in mind but where there's a will, there's a way.  This one took a little figuring to get to a way. Basically I assembled the cowling and then drilled a 3/16" hole through the center. I assembled the prop but drilled a shallow 1/8" hole in the back of the spacer so I could put a piece of 1/8" dowel to use as the shaft. I also made a small nut with a 1/8" hole in it to place at the end of the opposite end of the shaft.

I then used a forstner bit around the back of the cowling to make a hole deep and wide enough that I could put a disk on the end of the shaft that would allow the shaft to spin freely once the assembled engine was glued to the fuselage.

Hole deep enough to allow
nut to spin freely.

Wood nut cut from scrap
and glued to shaft.

The wing roots needed to be trimmed up a bit to fit into their slots on the fuselage. Again, this is one of those things that will be a little tough on the 11 year olds who work on the kit but dad can lend a hand. Just remember the woodworking truism... You can always remove more wood but you can't add any back on. Take off a little at a time and keep checking the fit.

I paint as much as I can before I assemble things because sometimes it is awfully hard to get the paint in there with parts in the way. I made a mistake in initially painting the struts black so I repainted them silver and then took my time and glued them up carefully. Take your time. No rush. Make sure everything lines up. With the outside struts in place, I fit the small ones on the fuselage. They needed to be trimmed up to fit in their slots the same way the wings did.

US planes from this era are often called "Yellow Wings" because... well... THEY HAD YELLOW WINGS! They also tended to have red and white tail stripes and brightly colored cowlings and markings. It's a very classy look and a big part of the reason for this was to make them highly visible for search and rescue efforts. It was also a bit of a bold confident statement but the idea was never to go into combat like this. I went with the blue stripes and cowling on this so that it would look like a Goshawk that was assigned to the USS Saratoga. Blue painter's tape gave me great lines for what I needed. After I glued the top wing in place and let it dry, I put the single rear struts in place on each side.

I probably glued the landing gear a bit higher into the fuselage than the plans called for but it seemed to match the scale better that the picture on the box. I also think it will make the landing gear less fragile. I had temporary shims wedged in while the gear dried. I made sure the wheels were level and the angle was the same on each side. After they dried, I added the external fuel tank... which had two different size teardrop sides... weird.

Last thing was I printed out some US 1930's roundels with a color printer on regular paper. I carefully cut out and glued the roundels in place and then sprayed the whole toy with several coats of clear gloss acrylic. (We stopped using those roundels early in WW2 because the red dots could be confused in the heat of battle with the markings on Japanese aircraft.)

There you go. I like how it came out and it makes me want to make more "Yellow Wings" era themed toys.

Again... these Legends of the Air kits have poor instructions and some questionable fits but are really fun to turn into a neat looking little toy. Now to make a toy aircraft carrier for it to land on...

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Toy Town Junction at Luray Caverns in Virginia

Somewhere inside a box full of other boxes full of photos is a picture of my younger brother and I on a trip from way back in the day to Luray Caverns. I remember being a grumpy pill on the trip because I had to wear shorts. (In retrospect, I probably didn't have too much to complain about in my childhood.) Even though I had to wear shorts, I still had fond memories of the trip and always wanted to go back for another visit.

Anyway, with summer winding down I decided that little one and I could do a father/daughter day trip and revisit the amazing caverns. In looking up the cost and directions, I saw that your ticket also gets you admission to two museums on the premises, namely The Luray Valley Museum and a collection of antique vehicles in The Car and Carriage Caravan. Okay, sounded good...but what's this? An onsite toy collection to visit for free - Toy Town Junction! Not a minute to lose - To the Toy Making Dad Mobile! 

Okay - We drove out and took the tour of the caverns. In a word - Spectacular. I'd share more pictures but this isn't a travel site, it is a toy making site (well, at least theoretically.) I do want to share a thought though, but I'll wait to the end to hop on my soap box.

So after a mile and a half of caverns and a quick stop at the gift shop, it was time for Toy Town Junction! The building that houses Town Town is right next to the Luray Caverns entrance and it has its own cafe and gift shop attached to the display area. Don't expect some giant warehouse though. It is more a very large room - several hundred square feet and hundreds (mmm maybe thousands) of toys displayed in themed areas around the walls with the center taken up by large working train sets.

It is a very eclectic collection and it all belongs to Richard Worden, a retired Methodist minister from Kentucky. There is a lot to see and you'd be hard pressed to not spot at least one toy from your childhood if not dozens. The collection covers a wide spread of American history. Unfortunately, most of the toys are not labeled and there isn't a guide or description for them. There is the large train collection, a lot of Playmobil and Playskool Little People as well as dolls, but seeing as I am basically still a 12 year old boy... my attention was drawn to to the airplanes and tanks.

So this guy is hanging from the ceiling and a couple of things stood out - It's metal and my guess is that it is pre-war or very early WW2 since the US Army Air Corps/Air Force roundels on the plane are the ones where there is a red dot in the center of the star. (We stopped using the red dot early in WW2 because it was too easy to confuse with the markings on Japanese aircraft.) I found pictures of similar toys on the web when I got home and these were made by Marx Toys. They were windup toys that would roll across the floor and many had spots for sparks to come out where the machine guns were on the aircraft.

One bummer for me though is that while this plane is super cool... it really isn't intended to evoke a particular aircraft. It just has a sleek bomber look, but nothing the US was flying at the time really looked like this. There were some twin tailed typed out there but not like this. It still has an amazing 30's vibe to it though.

This plane sort of has the opposite issue for me. You can tell it was post war because of the markings (and metal was so precious during the war, they weren't using it to make toys.) These were made by a company called Hubley in the 60's and it looks like they made gazillions of them is all sorts of different forms and colors. Here's the deal though - they sold this as a "P-47." It does have the general shape of the immortal Thunderbolt/Jug but it has folding wings. Folding wings are for Navy aircraft so that they will fit on the elevators and take up less room below deck on an aircraft carrier. I know... relax! Lighten up Francis, It's a toy! I still think it is neat and would love to have one. I just think that's it a little odd to go through the trouble of matching the general shape of one aircraft and then have it do something else. Couldn't they have made it a Corsair? Just saying...

So, to wrap up the airplane part for me is this gem. WOW. It is a toy, not a detailed model and it is clearly made to look like a massive flying boat from the 1920's called the Dornier Do X.  At the time the plane was second in size but first in weight in the world. Only three were ever built but it was really out there in the public conscious. The toy is really big as well, at least 18" or 24" long and made from wood. I wonder if it was a one off toy made by some 1930's toy making dad?

Source -
Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-12963
CC-BY-SA 3.0

I really like that you can tell at a glance that this is the plane it is supposed to be. However there wasn't someone counting rivets to make it super accurate and probably more expensive and fragile for no added playability. It really struck me that you can capture the general sense of the subject without having to make a "model." It is something I struggle with at times while making historically themed toys.

This is a Marx windup tin tank. As it runs along the floor, sparks come flying out from the main gun and the soldier pops out of the back and then goes back into the hull. Super cool and super classy. One thing I noticed about this toy and some of the other similar Marx toys is that the pattern on the side representing the tracks is made to look the same if it is used on either the right or left hand side of the toy. It saves having to make different left and right hand pieces. Pretty clever.

Marx also made a ton of these "Turn Over Tanks" (mmmmm turnovers....) They are wind up and they roll across the floor and then a bar extends from beneath the tank and flips it on its back. The shape of the tank and its momentum cause it to do a full flip.It then goes a few inches and flips again. There was one version that had a little Superman instead of the bar flip out from under the tank so it looked like Superman was actually flipping the tank.

Not sure what the tanks are doing at that circus. Maybe they are guarding the blue port-a-potties in the background?

I also spotted these tanks in with the train sets. Well, one tank, one armored car, a truck and what I think is a truck with a searchlight mounted on it. The train is the real toy and the vehicles are just accessories but it is interesting that the tank is sort of M4 Sherman in shape but a bit generic. The armored car looks to be closer to the sorts of armored cars that the British used during WW2, some of which were actually built by the US.

I also enjoyed the fantastic amazing cool toys... that would probably be illegal to sell now.

Here is "The Boys Favorite Tool Chest." Now besides that fact the folks over at "Overly Sensitive Parenting Quarterly" would flip their lids at the lack of "inclusiveness" in the name, the box is full of real tools! Sharp metal stuff... that is all a little rusty now. Throw in a box of strike anywhere matches and you might have the ultimate toy for young boys (in their minds at least.)

Erector sets were the Legos of their day. Make anything you want and make it out of metal. I remember my brothers making a rubber band powered catapult that came down with such force that I'm sure it could have been used as a deli meat slicer. Anyway, what I like about this kit is that you can launch a rocket. From the cover art I thought the rocket was metal and even I was like... maybe not such a great idea. Upon further review of other internet resources, the launcher was metal. The rocket was plastic.

I had heard about this toy but never seen one. This is Marx's famous "Shop King." It is an all in one shop toy for future toy making moms and dads. You use Styrofoam as the raw material and the toy has a lathe, jig saw, table saw, sabre saw, grinder, sander, polisher, borer, and router built in. GIMME, GIMME, GIMME!!! (The blades are plastic.)

So all in all a fun little side stop on our visit to the caverns. Little one was tired but pretty patient with me and I'd say we were though the collection in maybe 20 or 30 minutes. I don't honestly know that it would warrant a cross country trip to go and just see the collection, but it is definitely fun. If you are ever in the area, its worth stopping by for sure. Remember, if you don't have time for the caverns, Toy Town Junction is free .There is  a lot of love and lot of fun on display. I enjoyed soaking some of it up.

And now my two cents - Thank God the caverns were discovered 140 years ago.

If they were discovered now, I can only assume they would be sealed off so that the public couldn't go into them. They would have to be preserved in their untouched state. While I appreciate that sentiment, I can't get past the fact that around 500,000 people a year visit the caverns and get to enjoy it in ways that no website or magazine spread could ever hope to. The picture at left doesn't begin to give justice to "Dream Lake." Shallow still water creates a perfect mirror image of what is above and it is the closest I've ever felt to looking at an alien landscape. Amazing. How many people have been inspired by the site over the years? How many future geologists and scientists got started there? If you ask me, the trade-off of lighting the place and creating the walkways was worth it.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Ladder Toy Repair

I really like toys that have a "trick" to them. Something simple that makes it work but almost seems magical when you watch it in action. Tumble Down the Ladder toys really fit that bill for me.

If you are not familiar with them, it is basically a 90 degree vertical ladder with evenly spaced rungs. A peg or character with specially cut holes and grooves on it is placed on the top rung and then allowed to fall down the ladder one rung at a time.

It is a really pleasing motion and it is fun to watch the peg fall back and forth as it tumbles down the ladder and never falls off until it hits the bottom. The trick is that the peg (or monkey, or clown, or whatever) can't fall to the next rung until it is perpendicular and can't fall out of line once it is lined up. It is a pretty ingenious idea.

Anyway, a few months ago a friend told me a story about how one of her friends had given her and her daughters a wooden tumble down the ladder toy about 35 years ago. The toy had gotten plenty of use over the years and was now a little rough for wear. In short, it was broken. She also mentioned that her grandson has tried to play with it when he visits, but because of missing and damaged rungs, it simply doesn't work.

Since there is nothing sadder than a broken toy except for a broken toy that a kid is trying to play with and can't... I offered to take a look and see if I could fix it.

Here are the specifics....
  • 26" Tall
  • Base is 1 1/4" thick and 5 1/4" in diameter
  • The long verticals ate 11/16" x 11/16"
  • The rungs are 10mm (or maybe 13/64"????) tall, 1/8" thick and 2 7/16" wide (well, that's the distance between the uprights.)
  • There is a 2 1/2" gap between each rung.
Somehow I failed to measure the height of the pegs, but my guess is that they were about 3" tall. Long enough so that when they fall to the next rung, they will just clear the rung above before they start to tumble to the next rung after that.The pivot holes are 7/16" in diameter.

So first impression when I started looking over the toy was that it was really solid and really well made. One rung was missing and two were damaged. The rungs are plywood but everything else is solid wood. I wish I could tell you what it was made from, but that would just be a wild guess.

I noticed a bit of a "ghost" on the bottom of the toy. It looks like it may have been the name of the original maker or some sort of brand name. It appears to be adhesive residue.  Needless to say, I am curious as to what this says or means. It is hard to make out but if you know what it is, or have a guess, drop me a line.


As I said, the top rung was missing and needed to be replaced. I noticed another one was broken enough that it would prevent the peg from falling properly and that one other was starting to break. I figured it made sense to just replace all three.

Soon to be broken
There were a couple of challenges with replacing the rungs. First off the holes (mortises) in the uprights had to be cleaned out of glue and wood without disassembling/breaking the rungs that were fine. The toy was still very solid and I didn't want to break it apart and replace all the rungs. The next issue is that once the mortises were clean, the new rungs would have to be short enough to be slipped into the ladder without breaking anything but long enough that they would still sit firmly in their holes. Thirdly (that may be the first time I ever typed that word... it looks weird) there is only about 2 1/2" of space to work in so it is hard to get at to clean everything out since the other vertical piece is in the way.

No worries. The secret ended up just being patient and remembering the woodworking truism that you can always remove more material but you can't ever add it back on. I got to live the dream sitting at my workbench, listening to the Washington Nationals' game on the radio and drinking a Mexican Coke. Brothers and sisters... it don't get no better than that.

It was great to use my workbench as... gasp... a workbench! Not just a horizontal surface, but a bench designed to help facilitate actual work. It has an end vice and I used some soft dollar store shelf liner to cushion the toy. I mainly used a rotary tool with a very small bit it clean out the holes a little at a time. An Xacto knife and some rather evil looking dental type tools also came in handy.

I cut a little mini rung to check fit. Here is the basic process for us visual learners...

Wood and glue
All clean
Test fit

I did that for all six of the holes. After I was finished I went to test fit an 1/8" plywood rung I made out of the onion of the frugal woodworker world... Clementine Box Wood! As I was test fitting it, I wasn't happy with how sturdy it seemed. More specifically, I wasn't happy with how flimsy it seemed. It didn't make sense to spend the time to fix the toy to only have it break again, so I acquired some 1/8" maple and cut it to size.

I had to experiment quite a bit to get a close match on the finish for the wood. I seem to have the worst luck trying to match finishes. The way it looks on the can is NEVER the way it comes out for me. Anyway, the rungs were eventually finished with Danish Oil and a touch up pen. The match wasn't perfect but it was close enough and I was sorta, kinda, happy about it.

Last step was putting glue in the mortises and slipping in the new rungs. They were a tight fit but all went in without too much trouble. One of the secrets of getting this sort of toy to work is to be sure that the rungs are parallel and equally spaced. I made a little spacer out of.. .Clementine Box Wood! Note the exotic wooden spring clamps I was able to employ. Right tool for the right job.

After it dried all I had to do was test it.

And I tested it a lot :)

Here is the completed toy in action -

It worked fine and hopefully it will hang in there and last for my friend and her grand kids for another 35 years.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

My Island of Misfit (Prototype) Toys

Charlie in the Box – “My name is all wrong. No child wants to play with a Charlie-In-The-Box, so I had to come here.”
Hermey – “Where's "here’

We're on the island of misfit toys…

Yes. His name is Hermey. Not Herbie. He was a gift from a friend last Christmas and now he hangs out and watches over my shop. True he turned his back on his toy making heritage to study dentistry but while you can take the elf out of the shop... you never can really take the shop out of the elf.

Speaking of my shop... I knew it was time to clean my shop when there was no place for my cat to sit when I was trying to work. I could see that he was getting quite frustrated at not being able to get in my way or use his "Purr-Rays" to hypnotize me into doing whatever he wants. In fact, it may have been his idea for me to start cleaning up.

For years I had been in the habit of holding on to every little scrap of wood or doo-dad I had worked on. In a bit of irony, now that I have a bunch of space for good stuff, I really don't have space for a bunch of junk. For the first time I could remember I started throwing stuff out or putting it into the "burn bucket" for our fire-pit.

But before I clean, let me digress....

The sources for my toys are pretty varied. I get an awful lot of plans from books and more than a few ideas off the interwebs. Sometimes they are a mix and match where I change a plan just a little to match my tastes/interests or to make it special for the person receiving the toy. Sometimes though, I just get an idea and tinker with it a bit and see where it takes me.

Ideas like the WW1 British and German tanks, this dump truck and the bomb sight were proofs of concept (proof of concepts?) that just kept going until I had a finished product. However, in cleaning up my space I was surprised at all the prototypes and near misses that I had held on to.

Which (finally) leads us to The Island of Misfit (Prototype) Toys.

I was surprised that I had held on to so many of these, but while some did head for the burn box, a lot of these went back on the shelf or in a box.

This bulldozer was  based on David Wakefield's idea in "How to Make Animated Toys"
I got distracted working how to make a little driver bounce up and down and never got back to finishing this. Blade was too clumsy anyway. Some day.

Torpedo launcher. When I was a kid my buddy Jack had this plastic naval play-set where torpedoes fired out of the subs.It was pretty cool and it was the inspiration for this. You push the torpedo down the bow tube and it pushes in a plunger that is then locked by upward pressure on the conning tower/periscope. (There is a spring at the rear of the plunger.) Once locked, just push down on the periscope and the torpedo launches. I turned the torpedo on a mini lathe and it would actually shoot several feet. It worked well but I didn't like burying working parts where I couldn't get at them if they needed to be fixed. Proportions are wrong as well unless I was building a mini-sub... hey....that's not a bad idea!

A tank turret where the main gun recoils thanks to a Sotch Yoke. Basically rotational motion is converted to linear motion. The neat thing is this should allow me to rotate the turret and the gun would reciprocate no matter which direction it faced. Pretty cool, huh? Actually needs to be built to a much higher tolerance and the turret would have to be pretty snug in its ring to prevent it from rotating by itself. Still, an idea that I should revisit.

Hard to tell from this picture.... but yes, I was working on a  Katyusha rocket launcher. For the non-History Channel types reading this, the Katyusha is a Soviet truck mounted rocket launcher used most famously in the Second War War (or... if any readers are actually coming from those Russian sites showing in my stats... The Great Patriotic War.) The idea was to pick up a $1 craft store truck and build a rocket launcher on it that really worked because for some reason it sounded exactly like something I would do. Tiny rubber bands provide the force. You pull back on the block, the little dowels retract, you let go of the block, the dowels fly forward and that sends little dowel rockets flying towards entrenched German invaders. Or not. It just didn't work very well. I can still build the truck though.

This one is hard to imagine but the idea is a sort of Gatling gun that shoots soda caps. You're looking part of the feed mechanism. Seriously. Caps fall down a tube, are pulled to the side, drop down and are fired. The feed pulls back grabs another cap and the cycle is repeated. Sorta worked but was going to be too big. I need to revisit it with realistic dimensions. Perhaps the world isn't ready for an automatic bottle cap launcher anyway.

Okay, now on to the Hall of Failed Ramp Walkers.

I love ramp walkers. They are neat gravity folk toys that are just amazing. These toys seem to walk down a ramp on their own. No batteries, springs or rubber bands. Just some physics and woodworking. Actually, they are hard to get just right. It is a mix of balance, friction, gravity etc that has to be just right or the toy will slide or stop walking half way down the ramp. I've managed to build two successful styles of ramp walkers. You can view the videos of a rhino unicorn and the kangaroo pictured on the left.

The Unicorn is based on Lou Ma's ramp walking rhino plan with some cosmetic changes. (That link leads to Dug North's amazing Automata Blog. You should check it out.)

I've actually made four of the kangaroos. The plans came from Wombat Morrison's Instructable. It is great plan. It works every time.

Anyway.... For the two that worked, there are four that didn't. Here was first ramp walker attempt; a duck. Somewhere I have a very poor quality cell phone video of it walking down a ramp. Since I had to tape assorted washers and nickles to it rear end to make it walk, I knew that it wasn't right. One of my daughters has a duck "thing" so I will get it right at some point.

I wanted to make the unicorn based on a horse but I couldn't find a pattern. I'd seen plastic ones that used to be used as cereal premiums but not a wood one. I gave this a shot to try and work out the mechanics. Needless to say... it didn't work.

So I decided that what  I need was a more flexible prototype model. Something I could try multiple variations on until I got it down right. So I tried this piece of modern day engineering and much to my surprise... it didn't work.

After I had built several kangaroos and the rhino, I got a better sense for how the ramp walkers need to work. I decided to try my hand at designing something from scratch. I applied all my new found expertise and put it into this prototype ramp walking gorilla and surprisingly enough... it didn't work. Close though... he will be revisited.

Last of the non-working ramp walkers is this bird based on one of Lou Ma's designs. I simply couldn't get it to work properly. I think he is salvageable but not a high priority. He (she?) has been spared from the burn bucket for the time being.

The entire time I was cleaning things, the cat was keeping tabs on me. As each little space was cleared, he'd claim it as his own and command me to do his bidding. I had no choice but to obey.

The last two prototypes are still under development. The first is a string climbing orangutan. Again, it is based on a Lou Ma idea but modified by me. This guy works, but not as smoothly as I would want. Arms are too angular to look natural but there is still hope for him. He'll  live on the Kennedy Assassination shelf for the time being.

And now, the latest prototype/proof of concept. I've seen plans for railroad hand truck toys where men on each side pump the handles up and down. Pretty cool but what if instead of people, it was penguins?!!! I know! Crazy cool huh? Got the idea from a grocery store display. Anyway, it works. I need to make convincing penguins and use the measurements I figured out on this to make a real one.

Teddy and Hermy supervised me through to the end. On the table under them you can see a partially completed frog who is actually on top of ANOTHER prototype piece: the Spinosaurus that I started five years ago and shelved.

In a perfect world, I would have closed this post with a picture of my clean shop but.... well it was clean for a day or two and then I re-clutterfied it. I guess it shows that I'm at least using the space... just saying.

Just Saying...

While we don’t necessarily need more objects, we just might benefit from more making.
- John Dunnigan


About Me

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Regular guy who likes to make stuff who lives with a very patient wife, three daughters and three cats.