Toy Making Dad

IconToy making tips, tricks and plans for the woodworking hobbyist.

Making a Toy Shark

Okay, right off the bat -this is not my design. It comes from the amazing mind of David Wakefield and is in his book "Toymaking Basics" That book is a great one stop shop for getting started making toys and has a few plans (including this shark) at the end. I highly recommend it.

This toy has an odd back-story for me. I think I started it about ohhhhh three or four years ago! Before you freak out, it is actually a very simple plan and can be made entirely with hand tools and knocked out in a few hours. What happened with me is that I used to have all my tools in my parent's basement and would just work an hour here or there when I was visiting or doing some work at their house. So, projects tended to go in fits and starts.

After my parents passed away we sold their house. My tools, and most of this shark, went into storage at a friend's house until our addition was completed and my shop space added.

One of the first things I did in my new space was look at the shark and try to improve him. I had everything cut out but as I was test fitting him, I saw something that I didn't like. The shark's mouth opens as the lower corner of its head is pushed up by pegs on the insides of the front wheels. It works great.


Just like in real life, this shark can't go backwards.
Well, he can but the wheels lock up because the pegs can't move the sharks head from the front. It only works from the rear. My concern was that lots of times kids will move a wheeled toy back and forth rapidly. If the wheels were locking up and being forced, I worried that the pegs would break.

So, I made a test front 1/3 of the the body to experiment with. David Wakefield's plans have the eye sockets slightly larger than axle pegs that form the eyes and are anchored to the body. My thought was to have a solid dowel run from side to side and the hole in the body be more of an oval slot that would allow the head to slide up when being pushed backwards and then pivot up when being pushed forward.

How did it work? Well, I usually save every little scrap experiment but that test ended up in the fireplace. I found that the slot was going to need to be bigger than I though to allow the head to clear the peg.  It might work but it also takes away from the simplicity of the design. What can I say... I gave it a shot. It was worth a try.

So, instead the shark ended up being very straight from the book.  My one change is that I made the eye sockets 1/4" and widened the hole in the body to 5/16". Instead of pegs I used a solid dowel from one end to the other. The head needs to lined up as close to perfect as possible to make sure his (her?) head moves smoothly. Drilling both sides at the same time seems to be a must.

The body was from a 2x6 piece of pine and the sides of the head from my stash of Ikea bed slats. This shot is actually the test body before I tried cutting the slot. At this point it just has a slightly larger hole. (I figured the knot wouldn't matter since this was never going to be part of the finished toy.

Actually, having the kerf intersect the
side of the board allows the sawdust
 to escape and speeds the cut.
I like using the store bought hardwood wheels on a lot of my toys. While I can cut out wheels using my arsenal of hole cutting bits, I don't have a lathe to make them look as good as the pre-made ones. With this toy though, the slab, solid on both sides wheels, were the way to go for me. Just wanted to see how they'd come out. When cutting your own wheels, don't go all the way through. Go deep enough so you are past the 1/2 way point and the pilot bit has passed through the other side. Flip the board, line up the pilot and complete the cut. It makes for a much smoother wheel with no tear out. It is also easier to remove from the bit, which is very hot so look out.

The fins were from a different stash of Ikea bed slats usually reserved for the occasional stegosaurus. I got a nice tight fit on them and I liked how they looked but it made me rethink how I was going to finish the toy. I had originally planned on using Danish oil but I knew the contrasts in the woods would really show and perhaps be a distraction.

After a number of tests and focus groups among the family members, I settled on a two tone grey scheme with gills added on the suggestion of one of my daughters. Craft store acrylics with several coats and then gloss coated with a spray acrylic.

Clementine boxes...

... the onion of frugal woodworkers.

I painted some dowel caps to use as eyes but when I test fitted them, I wasn't happy with the look. It reminded me too much of Quint's quote in Jaws, "Sometimes that shark, he looks right into you. Right into your eyes. You know the thing about a shark, he's got... lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eye." YIKES! I'm making a toy not something to scare the poor kid.

I went with friendlier, but not too friendly, googlie eyes. They fit more into the toy vibe I was going for.

So here you go; the finished product. The lighting makes him look more blue than he really is.

It is a great design. Easy to make with hand tools but a drill press really helps. Again, I highly recommend all of Mr Wakefield's books. He sells his amazing, super high quality toys online now and you might want to check his site out. -

Like a nit-wit, I failed to get  a video of the shark in action before I gave him away. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to make another one.


Making a Toy Carousel/Merry-Go-Round

This a fun, very straight forward project that can be adapted all sorts of different ways depending on who you are building this for. Any sort of animals, characters or vehicles could be used.

So the requisite history part...

FYI - Carousels in Europe go clockwise.
Carousels in the US go counter clockwise.
The word origin for carousel is interesting. It comes from the Spanish word carosella (meaning little battle) that was used to describe the battle practice or training games used by cavalry during the Crusades. Once back in Europe demonstrations of those skills included grabbing or lancing rings from horseback. Eventually "simulators" were set up at fairs so that kids could play along. So, that is why they have horses and that is why they have brass rings.

This toy has neither of those. (D'oh!)

And you may ask yourself... Is there a difference between a Merry-Go-Round and a Carousel?
Short answer... nope.
Just multiple names for the same thing like roundabout/traffic circle/rotary or dad/father/automatic daughter embarrasser.
(And you may ask yourself "Where is that large automobile?" or even "Am I right, am I wrong?" - sorry, can't help you other than to say "Same as it ever was..." However, if you ask yourself, "Well, how did I get here?" my guess is The Google or The Bing.)

The plans for this toy come from John R. Nelson Jr's indispensable "American Folk Toys" I highly recommend that book and have built a lot of great toys thanks to it. I've made some changes to the plans in that book for this project and I'll point out the differences as I go along.

The most difficult part of the build is getting the disks cut out. You'll need a total of three of these disks. Two that are 7" in diameter and one that is 5". The 7" disks form the base and the rotating platform. The 5" disk is used as the top of the carousel. The plans called for 3/4" pine but I went with 5/8" since I had a supply on hand.

You can use a coping saw to cut out the disks but I chose to bite the bullet and make a jig to do this with my band saw. Basically, you need a center pivot point so you can rotate the wood blank as the saw blade cuts. The edge of the blade needs to be perpendicular to a line running through the center of the pivot point.
I made a quick video to describe it:

Now you'll have three disks all with a 1/4" hole through the center. Two of the disks need four small holes drilled in them. These are the smaller top disk and one of the other larger disks that will be used as the spinning platform. The strings that will suspend the platform will be strung through these holes.

In drilling the four holes I took advantage of the 1/4" pivot and used it to mount the the two disks together so that the holes would be perfectly aligned. I also made a discrete reference mark on the two disks so I could be sure to align the four holes with the correct corresponding hole once the disks were painted.

I made a slight change in the plans here. I used a 1/4" Forstner bit to countersink the holes on the top part of the top disk and the underside of the platform disk. This allows the knots on the strings to be hidden and to be sure that they don't rub against the base when the platform is spun.

At this point, I tried a little something that ultimately didn't work out but was worth a try. In the plans (and in the way I ultimately made the toy) the four strings are all individual lengths. So that means all four pieces have to end up the exact same length for the toy to hang and spin properly. Four strings = eight knots. Not that big a deal but I decided to try and make it so that it was only two lengths of string, strung as big "U's." That way only the last of the four needed knots would be critical. I carved groves on the bottom of platform so the base of the string U's would be out of the way. In short, it worked but it allowed too much play with the platform and it didn't always stay level. So ditched the idea and the"mistake" is hidden anyway so no harm.

The idea was to make it easier to string
but it allowed too much wiggle.

Mistake #2 - Should have lined
it up with grain. Live and learn.

I painted and finished the disks with spray acrylic at this point because you can't do that once the toy is being assembled.

The plans called for a 5/16" dowel as the center post. I went with 7/16" to add a little more strength to the structure. This probably results in a few less spins each time it is wound up but, that was a trade off I was okay with.

The dowel needs to fit squarely into the base disk and into the top disk. The hole in the platform disk needs to be larger than the dowel to allow it to freely spin around it. I went with a 1/2" hole on the platform. One other bit of advise - Just because the dowel says 7/16" or 1/2"... don't trust it. Measure it and fit it into some test holes in scrap before you drill the holes in the top and base and permanently attach the dowel. Just saying that in addition to quality, there is considerable variation in how the dowels are made and labeled.

Here is the order of assembly I used for the three disks:

1- The dowel needs to extend an inch
or two through the top disk
and then be glued in place.

2- The platform disk is next.
It needs to rotate freely around
the center dowel.

3- The dowel is flush through the
base and glued in place.

4- Check alignment to make sure it is
square and lined up properly.

I used nylon string for this toy because it will hold up to a lot of use without becoming noticeably worn. One trick with working with this is that you need to melt the strings a little before you cut them. If you just cut them, they separate in a way that cotton strings won't. I use a candle and move the string close to it to allow it to melt but not all the way through. The melted part is easy to cut and the string does not fray making it super easy now to thread through the holes.

I made four generous lengths. Tied knots on one end of each string, trimmed it and sealed it with clear nail polish (being in a house with four females occasionally has its benefits.) I then strung them through the platform and out through the top. I also put 1/8" spacers between the base and the platform. That gap is needed for the toy to perform properly once all the knots are tied.

Then it was pretty easy to mark the sting where the knot need to be located. I pulled the platform up a few more inches and tied the knots exactly where needed before trimming and sealing the strings.

Last bit for the top was a ball to attach to the center post and some store bought "buttons" or plugs to fill the holes. I was going for an outside look with the green grass, blue sky, yellow sun and tiny white clouds.
A regular bead with a 7/16" hole
drilled in it and glued in place.

Little wheels on table were used
as spacers and then removed.

Okay. Now the "easy" part - the animals. I used the patterns from the book for all the animals except I swapped out the camel for a zebra. I made one of these about 10 years ago for my brother's kids and I used the camel on that one and he came out great. This merry-go-round was made for a friend's son and his room was decorated in a Africa theme so I thought a zebra would be more appropriate. I found one on clip art and sized him (or her) to roughly match the camel.

The animals were cut out using a bandsaw although a coping saw would have been fine. I used the same pine that the disks were cut out from for the animals. I did use a base coat of gesso to try and help with the coverage. It seemed to work fine. The giraffe still took 1/2 a dozen coats of craft store acrylic to get the coverage I wanted. Still, I think it helped.

The plans call for 1/4 dowels to go through the animals and into the platform so that it looks like the posts through the animals on a merry-go-round. While it would help secure the animals, I chose not to do it. I prefer the looks of the animals without the posts. They seem more alive. I ended up using super glue to attach them. The wood glue wouldn't adhere to the gloss acrylic finish of the platform disk.

So that was it. Time to take it for a spin. You just rotate the platform around the center dowel and the strings wrap around and then wind an unwind. It will run for about a minute. This is the second one I've built. Now that I have the jig built, I think more are in the near future.


Making a Toy Dump Truck

There is something about construction equipment. It's big. It's loud. It wrecks stuff and it makes stuff. What's not to love?

As a kid I fell into the tank/airplane as opposed to trucks and trains camp of toys. As an adult (or at least as a man child) I've developed an appreciation for heavy equipment of all types: cranes, bulldozers and yes... the ubiquitous dump truck.

I never had a toy dump truck but I've now built two of them. The first one was for a kid who was named Aaron (actually, I think his name is still Aaron.) I built it as a total one off about six or seven years ago. Some Oak, some Aspen and a few dowels. I heard back that the frazzled mom got several hour of much needed relief as Aaron loaded and dumped and reloaded crayons with it in the other room. So, mission accomplished.
The little driver had a peg that went down through the chassis and would bounce up and down as the truck was pushed thanks to a cam on the front axle. (Note that the driver is a rather handsome devil...)

While that was a fun little "action" piece to include, it was a bit fiddly and my guess it that it won't hold up to the day to day pounding a toy like this will take.
Okay... so much for the past. Here is the present. I had been asked a while ago to build a toy truck for a two year old boy. (Truth be told, he was only one when the request came in... just saying.) I wanted it to be sturdy, made from things on hand and easy to reproduce. Also, not just a truck, but one that did something - that had something that moved besides the wheels. The obvious answer - another dump truck.

The chassis and cab were cut from a standard 2x4. I started with a piece about 10" long and trimmed it up to be 2 1/2" wide long x 1 1/2" tall. I cut a piece 7 1/4" to be the chassis and then used the remaining piece for the cab. I cut a curve for the front of the cab to give it a toy look. I then drilled a pilot hole all the way through to help me line up a 3/4" Forstner bit (named, by the way, after its inventor -  Benjamin Forstner) to make the window.
Axle holes were drilled in 2" from each side and 3/8" from the bottom. I used a 7/32 drill bit for these holes. Since I'm using axel pegs and not a full length dowel, I only drilled the holes deep enough for those. If I wanted to save some time (and chassis had been perfectly square) drilling straight through would have been fine. The cab was glued and clamped flush with the front of the chassis. There are also shallow holes around the front to house the headlights and holes in the back that will be used to pivot the bed.
The bed of the truck (you know... the dumpy part of the dump truck) was made from 3/8" wine crate wood. This particular wine crate was from Chile. I marked out and cut the sides of the bed so that a small tab would be at the back of the bed for me to make a hinge.  
Again, I was using pegs so the holes in the bed side are 1/4" to allow free movement around the pegs but the holes behind it in the chassis are 7/32 to allow a tight fit.
The bottom part of the bed was the same width as the chassis of the truck. You can see from this photo how the front of the bed rests on top of the bottom part but the bottom part is sandwiched between the sides. The chassis sides were sanded on the belt sander and that little bit of extra clearance allowed the bed to move freely without the bed sides "pinching" the chassis sides.
One last note on the bed is that the gate/flap on the back doesn't rest on the floor but butts up against it and uses it as a "stop."  The flap isn't installed here but this shows the gap where it will fit in. This photo also shows where I marked an area of the chassis to be cut off and rounded over to allow the bed to move freely when dumping cargo.
The flap needs to be just slightly smaller than the opening at the back of the bed to allow it to swing freely. I drilled 1/8" holes in the flap and slightly larger ones in the sides of the bed. I then inserted pieces of 1/8" dowel from either side into the flap and this formed a hinge. I flush cut the dowels to match the bed sides and now the gate opens as the bed is lifted. This shows the completed assembly from above on the finished toy.
So here are all the parts cut out, sanded and glued (note that the flap wasn't attached at this point..)

And here is everything after several coats of Danish Oil* and the wheels, headlights and flap attached.

Final assembly was just putting the pegs through the bed sides and gluing them into the holes in the rear of the chassis. I use a 1/32" scrap as a spacer whenever I'm attaching wheels or pegs to be sure I don't drive the peg in so far as to turn it into a nail and bind the parts.
All in all, it was a really easy, satisfying build. The little boy who got this truck seemed very happy with it and so far it has stood up to some drops and overnights in his bed.

So here is "Dumpy" (as he was named by the little boy) in action.
(* Please Note: No Danes were injured in making of this toy but one Irish/Sicilian American may have gotten a splinter or two.)


Making a Tool Bench out of 2x4s

"A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week." - George S. Patton.
"An okay plan now is better than a perfect plan never." - Toy Making Dad's version.

So, since the nature of the work space is to have a space to work, I needed to get tools out of my friend's basement and into my new utility room. The main working area of my space is this 6'x7' corner. Once there, they need to be on "things." Shelves, tables, the floor, etc.

During my exile from toy making, I read a lot about work surfaces. In one of those "Duh" moments the idea that kitchen tables (meant to sit at) and kitchen counters (meant to stand at ) are different heights for a reason really struck home. I knew I needed something higher to put my stationary tools on for easy use. But how big, what shape, what material, all that needed to be worked out.

First off, I realized that I had more stuff than I remembered. I have a table saw and a full size band saw. Both of these need to live on the floor and I'll get to them in a later post. I also have a stationary belt sander, a drill press, a table top bandsaw and a scrollsaw. Those tools are responsible for about 80% of my toy making. In my old setup they resided on my dad's ridiculously cluttered (by me) workbench and a Workmate. It was an OSHA nightmare of cords, clutter and sawdust. In retrospect, some days I spent more time looking for stuff than actually making stuff.

Two wildcards came into play at this point. I inherited a rolling Craftsman tool chest that while great, didn't fit my needs. My space is only a few feet wide, I don't need my hand tools to be mobile and I don't have the wall space to just park it. The other piece is a mini fridge that we purchased during our recent renovation. I don't really need it. It's nice to have... but again, I don't have a good place to put it.

I had the mini fridge on top of the tool chest for awhile. While maybe being marginally safe, it looked goofy and still took up a lot of space. Grrrrr.

In staring at the fridge and tool chest, it suddenly hit me that I could build the tool bench over them and I'd be all set. The tool chest would become the drawers and the fridge could sit in one of the bays. Now they weren't taking up space; now they were helping me make better use of the space I have. I removed and stored the caster wheels from the tool chest so it would be the right height. The casters may end up on my bandsaw in the coming weeks.

So, now I had something to design the bench around and needed to settle on size. 
The distance from the outside wall to the edge of the dryer is 7'3". I wanted a depth of 2' because I knew that the focus of this bench was a place for stationary tools and not assembly, clamping, finishing etc. The tool chest pretty much dictated the height - 41". (I'm sort of on the tall side, so this is a decent height for a work surface you stand next to in order to work on.) I also knew I wanted to use 2x4s since they are cheap and they are strong. (Hey, they build houses out of the suckers.)
What I came up with a structure with 4 walls that created three bays with a 7'3"x2'x7/8" OSB sheet on top with 1/8 hardboard glued to the top of it. The 7' long horizontal boards end butt against the vertical 2x4s of the outside walls making a total length of 7'3". Here is the general idea:

The middle is open across the bottom so the caster-less tool cart that weighs 87 quadzillion tons didn't have to be lifted up and the bench didn't need to be nearly 4" higher. The left and right bays have a 2x4 lip with a piece of OSB attached to make a shelf.
The two outside walls are constructed like this with the horizontal 2x4s facing in towards the bay:
The inside walls were similar but not as wide. The horizontal 2x4's also faced in toward the bays giving me the maximum room for the tool cart.
Building these was actually pretty easy. I just measured 37 times and cut once. A borrowed chop saw and speed square made short work of most of this. I used 3" screws that were offset for almost all of the basic construction. (Totally worth a couple of bucks more for the coated star drive screws. Just saying.) I used a scrap 2x4 to make sure I was allowing enough space for where the long 2x4 stretchers would attach on the outside walls.
Here they are all done along with the OSB I had them rip in half at the big Orange store. I was a fool to ever buy giant boards and try and cut them myself. I can trim a foot off the end with my circular saw but trying to rip a 4'x8' sheet when I don't have the space was stupid at best.
I also picked up some peg board and had it ripped so that I could make panels for the walls. This allows for at least some air circulation. The mini-fridge can benefit from it now but once that goes off to college, a vacuum can move in and breath a bit in the bays.
I attached the front kick plates to start assembling the two bays and used scrap blocks and a few strategically placed 5 gallon buckets to hold the walls vertical while I started screwing them in. I just focused on making each corner square one at a time. As long as it was square, the next one would be easy.
Putting the 7' long runners was straight forward as well. I just set the bays on their backs and ran the top horizontal board and then flipped it over and put the two long runners on the back. Again, just making sure each joint was square, one at a time. Once that was done I flipped it upright and was pleasantly surprised to see how sturdy it was even without the top and bottom shelves.
I used a bunch of drywall screws to attach the OSB to the frame. Why drywall screws you ask? Well.. that's what I had. Besides when the four legged inspector came by to check my work, he approved. After that, I glued the 1/8" hardboard to the top and secured it with all the clamp I have and put my socket sets, drill press and small band saw on it to weigh it down overnight.
Now the moment of truth... would it fit in the space between the wall and the dryer. Short answer - yes. Longer answer - yes, but only just. The outside wall of the room is at an angle so there is more space as you go back. So it fit but right before I have 7'3", I only have 7 '2 and 3/4" if you catch my drift. I had to unhook the washing machine and dryer. Move them. Get the tool bench in place and then hook the appliances back up. (Because of a in-wall vent and very tight space, they really need to be exactly where they are.)
Within moments, I had all sorts of junk on it and in it. Mission accomplished!
I think my total cost was around $65 or $70 bucks. The OSB being the most expensive piece. (The hardboard wouldn't ring up so they gave it to me for free. I asked if I could go back and get four more sheets...)
Is it perfect? Ummmm...nah.
Does it meet all my current needs? You betcha.
I mostly make toys. I don't land airplanes. No one is expecting perfection. Good now is better than perfect never.

I promise to not keep putting pictures of my cats in every post but a funny dynamic seems to be taking place in our house. We now have two boy cats. Both are relatively young and they help me out during guy time. They are fascinated whenever I am in making stuff. I guess one never knows when a mouse or can of tuna is going to pop out of nowhere. One is an orange tabby. The other looks like a bespectacled balding middle aged man-child.