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Friday, March 25, 2016

Organizing My Small Shop

Clean your room well; for good spirits will not live where there is dirt.  There is no dirt in heaven.
(Attributed to Mother Ann of the Shakers.)

I'm a slob. Always have been... always will be.
(Attributed to Toy Making Dad of the Sitters Around)

As a kid, Oscar Madison was pretty much my hero.
No fooling, my room was hit by lightning when I lived with my parents. Initially my mom didn't realize it had been hit since the normal mess wasn't all that different than how the room normally looked. What with a bookcase blown off the wall and a couple of holes in said wall.

As I often remind her even though she knew what she was getting into... my wife still married me.

Here is a shot of shop last month... not my proudest moment.
I had to finally say, enough is enough and start squaring things away.
I couldn't get anything done. It was time to declutter and put things where they belonged. If they didn't have a space, it was time to make a space.

So let me start at the beginning...

I've had my shop space for about three years now and I always knew it would be a work in progress. It was the result of us putting a modest addition on our modest house.

It shares a room with a washer and dryer as well as a cat box (or two) and a utility tub. The space that is pretty permanently mine is a "L" that runs about 9 feet down one wall, 10 feet across the back wall (including the door and window) and then 7 feet up the next wall to the washer and dryer.

Since I didn't used to have ANY space, I really shouldn't complain about the space I do have. However, it's funny how many times I've wished I had just one more inch to get something to fit just right. Still, all things considered, space really isn't an issue. I build toys not pianos.

My first build was a long tool bench, 2x4s and screws with a plywood and hardboard top. In the event of an earthquake or rocket attack, it is a designated shelter spot in the house. It is solid. (Here is the post and the general plans.)

I have a tool cabinet that I inherited from my parents and it fit perfectly into the middle section (almost as if the middle section had been designed around it... just saying.) I labeled the drawers and have stuck to putting sockets and hammers and rulers back where they belong after each use. It has saved me dozens of hours. The mini fridge didn't last long. It went off to college soon after this photo was taken.

I added a wall mounted drop leaf table that I got from Ikea for like 166 or 250 Krona. I use it as an assembly and painting table. I've found that I've left it upright the whole time it has been there but a) I use it a lot and b) it's nice to know I could fold it down if needed.

Here is a rare shot of it cleaned off. The box for the shop vac may have to go at some point. I was trying to muffle the sound as recommended in some shop guides but it really doesn't fit that well thanks to the nature of the hose. Another project for another day.

On to the shop organization and lessons learned.

First off, there is only so much floor space so you gotta start hanging stuff on the walls. Thank's to a brother who was formerly in the retail beverage business, I was able to acquire a fair number of wooden wine crates. I've used some of the wood for toys (it is mostly 3/8" thick) but I've turned others into shelving. They are sturdy and they class up the establishment.

It seems that I've moved them all half a dozen times over the last three years. In general, I've come to what should have been an obvious conclusion -  put the stuff you need close by and don't waste any wall space. (DUH!) Compared to my first attempts, that wall is now much "tighter" and practical.

I had planned on building a Roubo style workbench that would have made Chris Schwarz himself weep but alas... I purchased the Harbor Freight bench instead.  I suck. The mind is willing but the body and wallet are weak. I think it was about $120 (On sale! Wow, how lucky was I to find something from Harbor Freight on sale, right?) It suits my needs for now although it is not sturdy enough to be used for planing. Well... at least not yet. I have some thoughts on that for another day.

The workbench is too long to fit in the space without blocking the aisle in the shop, so one end is tucked into one of the bays in the tool bench. (The floor of the bay has been removed.) It's not ideal but it gives me all the work surface I need and at some point the space may be reconfigured. Moving that power strip there has made things much easier when I'm using the rotary tool or palm sander.

An early get for my shop space was a used stationary belt-sander. Next to my drill press, I'd say it is my most used tool in the shop. We'll, actually looking at that picture, it is literally next to my drill press.

The drill press and sander both sit on the bottom base of an Ikea two piece cabinet that gave us 20 good years of service. (It may have been a Splurk or Rehnikl but I'm sure it wasn't a Jork.) The base is very sturdy and gave me some needed storage behind doors. The height on the drill press is fine but the sander was a bit low.

A log time ago I had made stackable crates as a shoe rack for our closet and after about 18 years of service, it was time for them to be replaced. They were still pretty sturdy so I cannibalized one and made the other into a very solid shelf into which I could fit little plastic bins.

The bins were salvaged from a piece of kid's furniture no longer needed to house Happy Meal toys from 350 movies we never saw. So the shelf raised the belt-sander just enough to make working on it more comfortable and gave me three "drawers" to house my drill bits and hole saws. Win-Win.

As an aside... check out the difference between a 1x3 furring strip sold now (on the left) and one sold in about 1998 (on the right). Sort of makes you think, huh?

With the doors removed from the top half of the Ikea cabinet, it really formed a nice hutch. I raised it a bit by making a big "C" out of 2x8s and setting it on top of that. Extra shelves have been easy to add and it sits on top of the tool bench and almost reaches the ceiling.

You can see the Western edge of  "The Great Wall of Clementine Boxes" as well as my growing toy making library in that photo but here is the rest of the wall. There are still more clementine boxes on another shelf across the room and in the closet of our computer room... and on my desk at work but I swear I can stop saving them at any point.

The wall mounted little plastic bins are pretty much invaluable. I did get smart and made labels with the exact dimensions and part numbers for the pre-made wheels and specific parts I use.

It sounds stupid but the little labels really help around the shop. You can see things at a glance without opening cigar boxes and drawers to look for your priceless Allen wrench collection. As a bonus you get a a zillion of them for just a few bucks. You can even send them through your printer. Just saying.

The latest addition to the shop has been another wine crate wall shelf but this one has a sliding lid. Once I mounted it on its side, it turned it into a cabinet. I also added a pencil and marker holder under it and my clamps in another wine case above it.

I picked up some sheets of self adhesive dry erase paper and turned the door into a white board for notes and quick scribbles. (Robert Neville must have dropped by...) It's great because I can pull it completely out and use it at the workbench to work numbers and do rough sketches.

My shop is as clean as it has ever been. As each surface was cleared my tabby supervisor came in to supervise and comment on my work. This time it passed the smell test and nothing had to be knocked on the floor to test for gravity levels in the shop.

As I suspect it is the case with all weekend tinkerers, it isn't just my experience and tools that will change over time but so will my storage and work surfaces. They will all be a constant work in progress and that's not a bad thing.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Fixing a Toy Carousel/Merry-Go-Round (aka Giraffe Surgery)

I learned a few things with the last carousel I had built.  I had done a few smart and few not so smart things. The best thing I had done was cut out multiple disks for future carousels when I had my jig set up. When I went to make the next one, all I had to do was reach on the shelf and half my cutting was already done. I had also swapped out the camel from  the plans in John R. Nelson Jr's amazing "American Folk Toys" and had replaced him (her?) with a zebra. That was the transition to saying "Hey, I can put any sorts of critters on this that I want!"

I had made a series of rookie mistake in cutting out the giraffe and in how I glued the animals in place. I simply didn't allow for how the grain ran in the wood for the giraffe. Specifically in its legs. If the grain had run vertically the legs would have been much stronger, however it ran horizontally which made them far too brittle. I know... Woodworking 101, Day 1. Now, in fairness to me, that's the way the grain is shown on the plans and maybe that makes it less likely to have his snout break off but because I don't run a pole through the animals bodies to make it look like a Merry-Go-Round animal, it means the legs are pretty easy to snap along the grain. Which is exactly what happened... twice.

So I briefly discussed "putting him down" and replacing him with another animal since no way would a giraffe make it the wild with one, let alone two, broken legs. However, the owner's mom made it clear that the patient had to live. I try to keep my toys as close to 100% wood as I can so I went with very carefully drilling 1/8" holes through the legs and then inserting dowels to complete the surgery. It was touch and go there but the patient never said a word and the procedure was a success.

Now for the second mistake. Initially several of the animals had come off of the spinning base and I think it was because I had used spray acrylic on the base BEFORE I glued the animals in place. (As a certain Crawfish reminded me.. it is called wood glue for a reason.) Okay. So I left the surgical implants in a bit long so that they could become pegs to insert in the base. Then I made a little template out of some scrap clementine box wood and drilled 1/8" holes so I could line up the pegs with the holes.

I made sure that I wasn't going to drill too deeply into the base by using a flag/tag of masking tape that is just a little bit longer than the pegs.

Then I drilled one hole in the base and pegged it in place so that the next hole would be the correct distance. This worked surprisingly well... almost too well... if that was a possibility. Which it isn't.

Last step was to trim the pegs up a bit so they would fit in nice and smooth. I also scrapped the acrylic off where the feet and pegs will be glued down to be sure there would be good adhesion. All fixed and truly "better than ever."

Ultimately, this ended up improving the toy for me. On the next one I built, I pegged all the animals to the base using the same method and it was very easy and resulted in a stronger toy.

Necessity is the mother of invention but I guess failure is the father of improvement.

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.

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.