Friday, December 31, 2010

Making a Toy WW1 Tank (German A7V Part 3)

Hookay, entering the home stretch now. The rear of the tank has the same angle cuts as the front, but you don't have to worry about the center cut and dowel plug for it. Instead, the rear had two machine guns, one on each side facing straight back.

This just shows the layout for the cut. I taped it securely to a board before I made these cuts and the angle cut on the bottom. Making toys - fun. Hurting fingers - not so fun.

For all six firing ports (two on each side and two at the rear), I marked a line at the proper height on the armor and then marked the center where the gun will be. I took a 1/4" forstner bit and drilled through on each side of the center line.

I then took a 1/4" rat tail file and joined and smoothed the holes to make them into one oval opening.
I painted the pivot dowels and the wood around them black before the armor was glued into place. It would be more difficult if I waited until after the tank was assembled.

I test fitted the armor and put sample gun barrels in place to make sure that they could rotate properly.

I glued and clamped the side armor first and then the front and back. The fit didn't need to be perfect because the belt sander is going to take care of any overlaps. I was also able to use the original main gun hole as a convenient place to seat a clamp.

Like I keep saying, I'm not trying to make a scale model, I'm making a toy. However, there are certain aspects of the tank that capture "the look" and I want to try and capture them when practical. The German machine guns that were on the tank were copies of the original Maxim machine gun. (Oh hey, Hiram Maxim the inventor of the modern portable machine gun also invented the mouse trap. Seriously. Look it up. Pretty sure he had nothing to do with the magazine "Maxim" though... ) The tiny part sticking out of the bottom is the barrel for the machine gun. The large cylinder surrounding it is actually a metal jacket filled with water to help cool the machine gun barrel. Without it, the barrel would heat up rapidly and cause the weapon to jam or become so hot that it would literally start to melt and droop. So to capture that "look" I used 3/16" dowels for the water jacket and a small piece of 1/8" dowel glued off center to be the barrel.

I used the pattern for the tracks and taped them to some wine crate wood.  The space above the pattern is what will be "hidden" under the armor and glued to the bottom of the chassis. Future versions will be a little larger so that I won't have to cut the wheel wells out of the chassis piece. I measured and drilled 5/16" holes that the 1/4" dowel axles will fit into.

On to Part 4 - Final Assembly.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Making a Toy WW1 Tank (German A7V Part 2)

As I said in Part 1, this is a proof of concept/first try and although I had more than a general idea going in, I've found that a couple of things had to be done differently than I first expected. No biggie. Seeing what works and how to do it better is just part of the process. (And dare I say... part of the fun.)

I found that I needed to change two things once I moved from paper and pencil to wood and glue on this toy. The first one is the most obvious - the main gun.

This is how it looked originally with the side armor clamped in place just to check the fit. The front and backs are from a 2x3 cut to size with the grain running side to side. I drilled a pilot hole and then used a scroll saw to cut the hole for the gun and made the sloping cuts with a band saw. It wasn't that this was bad; it just wasn't as good as it could be.

The 3/4 hole and dowel at the front of the hull worked well, but the more I looked at it, the less it looked right. The dowel needs to be farther forward to more closely match the original look. Now, like I've said, I'm not trying to make a scale model, but I think having the curve of the gun mount showing and being far forward really helps to capture the look of the original tank.

So the second front (wait, that's a WW2 reference...) used a slightly thicker piece cut from a 1" thick board cut to the correct height. I drilled a 1/2" hole about 1/16"-1/8" from what will be the edge that is glued to the hull. I used a forstner bit and cut from the bottom of the front block to within about 1/8" from the top of the block.  Clamp everything securely. Be careful with the bit (it is wicked sharp) and be sure not to drill all the way through the block.

Now with that hole drilled, I cut the angles from the center to the sides using the bandsaw. I taped the piece firmly to another larger block for all these cuts so that it would be held perpendicular to the blade and my fingers were well out of the way. With the piece on its side, I made multiple cuts with the bandsaw to expose the area where the main gun and the dowel that holds it will be exposed.

(Well, time for me to act like a dad and give some advice. Look, be smart. You can buy new wood. As of this morning, you can't buy new fingers. Take your time, keep your fingers away from the cutting path of the blade and if that little voice says, "I don't think this is such a good idea..." LISTEN TO IT!)

To get the needed trapezoid shape, I kept it simple by laying it flat on the bandsaw table and cutting straight lines with the piece held at an angle. Since that left the edge a little thicker at the top than at the bottom, I used the belt sander to remove the excess. Then, with the gun turret hole opened and sanded, I put a 1/2" dowel with a 1/4" hole drilled in it to hold the gun. The pivot dowel was sanded so that it would rotate smoothly and cut short enough so that I could put another 1/2 dowel under it to 'plug' the hole. The plug isn't sanded so it has a pretty tight fit but I did glue it.

After the plug dried, I taped the front piece to a thick block and cut the downward sloping angle on the front with the bandsaw. I cut a piece of 1/4" dowel for the barrel of the main gun and now the new front is finished.

The other change to the design was where the chassis attached to the hull. Basically, I realized that the tracks needed to be taller so that the wheels wouldn't brush against the bottom of the chassis. However, if I did that the tank would stand too tall for scale. I decided to cut wheel wells out of the chassis to give enough clearance. On the next tank, I'll just make the hull a little less tall and the tracks a little taller to make up the difference.

Wow, that's confusing. Look, here is what happened -

The armor sides sit at about a 10 degree angle. I just adjusted the angle on the table saw and cut the tops of the hull and the sides of the chassis. I then glued and clamped the pieces together. (Next time, I'll just glue an over sized chassis piece and cut the 10 degree angle through both pieces at the same time.)

The armor sides, like the chassis, are made from 3/8" wine crate wood. These also have a 10 degree bevel on them so that the tops and bottoms will be horizontal once they are glued to the body of the tank.
The front and back edges of the armor plates don't have an angle. The front and back pieces will glue flush up against them.

Don't worry if the armor overlaps the top, front and back of the hull. As long as it isn't too great, a quick visit to Mr Belt Sander will make everything nice.

On to Part 3 - Assembling the Armor Sides and Hull

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Making a Toy WW1 Tank (German A7V Part 1)

A few months ago I made a toy British WW1 tank that was a big hit with the kid it was a present for. However, Toy Making Dad is haunted by the bittersweet vision of a kid having to play with a toy tank with no enemy tank to fight against. Seriously, where is the fun in making "PUUURCH!" noises from the main guns without something for them to "BLAMMM!" against on the other side? So, an adversary is in order and the only German designed tank to see action in WW1, the Sturmpanzer-Kraftwagen A7V,  is the obvious choice.

First, a couple of quick historical notes (because my rule is that I get to use my BA in History once a month no matter what.) The British and French both made thousands of tanks in WW1 but for a lot of reasons the Germans did not. Building these tanks represented a ton (hehehe a tank joke) of effort and resources for what was seen as minimal gain. The tanks of the time were also mechanically unreliable and far from the fast moving seemingly indestructible beasts that are in everyone's minds now. The Germans only built around 20 A7Vs during the war and actually used far more captured British tanks that had broken down or had been knocked out and repaired.

So, I could make another British tank and paint it like the Germans did. Okay, that would be sorta fun. However, it wouldn't advance the science of making toy tanks out of 2x3s, wine crates and clementine boxes, now would it?

Okay, while the British tanks of WW1 have that "land battleship" vibe about them, the A7V has the all too familiar "The barn just came to life, sprouted half a dozen machine guns and is crawling down the street" look. A thing of beauty it is not but it does have its fine points. Chief among them is that it positively bristles with guns. There are six of the German version of Maxim machine guns, two on each side and two in the rear. The main gun is a captured 57mm gun in the front of the tank. Those cannons had been captured from the Belgians and Russians earlier in the war and used as anti-tank guns as well as the main armament of the A7V.

So, some things to keep in mind before I start designing and building:
  • It is a toy, not a scale model. I want to keep it simple and relatively easy to build. (Which also means easy to repair. It will probably see some rough play.)
  • I want to keep it close to the scale of the British tank.
  • The guns are the center point of this toy and we need to come up with a way where all are present and can move in some sort of way
  • A clacking noise as it is pushed would be nice.
 (One other note. I had sketched out numerous ideas for this toy before I started but once I started making saw dust, different and better ways to get the same result became obvious. So, not all the pictures will exactly match "the order of assembly" that the toy will ultimately have when I build new ones, but it is what it is; a proof of concept.)

Just like I did for the British tank, I grabbed a plan for the A7V from and sized it to scale in PowerPoint. Looking at the true dimensions of the tank, it should end up a little taller and not quite as long or wide as the British one. The British tanks is about 8 1/2" long so to match the scale my German tank needs to be about 7" long.

I'm using a 2x3 as the "hull" of my toy. It will be the center of the toy with everything attached to it in some manner. When the toy is finished, very little of the hull will actually show. The front and back of the tank will be about 1/2" thick so that leaves six inches for the hull. I traced the pattern on the block and marked the machine gun locations. The hull is taller than it needs to be here. Ultimately it will only be 1 5/8" from its highest point to the bottom. The cupola will be added later.

I marked out the locations for the main gun and each of the machine guns based on the pattern. I used a 1/2" forstner bit for the machine guns and a 3/4" one for the main gun. I made sure that I cut the holes to be deep enough so that they can securely hold a dowel the same diameter that will serve as the swivel for the guns. (Trust me; it will make sense in a minute.)

I'm finally getting smart about these things and have realized that it makes sense to work on a couple of toys of the same kind at the same time. Most of the time in toy making is spent in setting up cuts as opposed to actually making the cuts. Here are two hulls (creatively labeled "1" and "2") with their top holes drilled. Hull #1 already has the front and back slope cut. Honestly, I jumped the gun (so to speak) on that one and could have waited until the next step was done.

In another live and learn moment, I cut a 10 degree bevel along both sides of the top of the hull before drilling the side holes that will allow the guns to stick out. The bevel is so that the armor sides will hang at the proper angle and give the tank the correct shape. Not really a problem, but next time, I'll drill the holes first. These holes are the same diameter as the as their respective gun mount dowels and are centered on where the guns will poke through the armor plate sides.

The next steps are easy. Just pop a dowel of the appropriate width into the opening and mark where the gun should be centered and where the top of the dowel needs to be cut so that it will not protrude above the top of the hull. Before you cut the dowel to length, drill a hole into it that will hold the dowel that will be the guns. (I used 3/16" for the machine guns and 1/4" for the main gun.)

Don't worry about the angle, just cut the dowel flat at the lowest point.Yes, the jig is made from the corners of a clementine box.
This is just a test fitting and the guns are not cut to length. Still, you get the idea that all seven guns will be able to move independently.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Making a Wooden Toy Dinosaur (Spinosaurus Part 2 )

So I have my idea, a Spinosaurus toy. Now, what? Well, I came up with a list of what I want him to do.

1) He is a biped, so I want his legs to be jointed and move on wheels just like the other dinosaurs.

2) His sail has to move like the dimetrodon toy but with a more horizontal than vertical motion.

3) His mouth has to open and close as he is moved. (He's a carnivore and needs to be at least semi-menacing.)
4) I think I want to make his arms move on their own.
5) I want him to be able to write an opera and sing the soprano parts.

I realize that this will be fairly complicated, so I really can't just wing it. (A Pterodactyl though, that I could wing.)
So I start doodling some ideas in various notebooks. Just trying to get the ideas down and a general plan. As dimensions come to mind I make quick notations and hope that I will be able to read my own handwriting once the time comes. (Note the similarity to Da Vinci's notebooks.)

It doesn't take long to get the general plan set. Having built a dozen on the dinosaurs from "Making Toy Dinosaurs in Wood", I know that they are a fair amount of work and I really don't want to start down a path that results in failure. So, a proof of concept model is in order.

I took an old piece of shelving that I use to prevent splintering when I drill through other pieces and got to work. The power is going to be provided by a cam on an axle between two wheels so as long as I have that running I should be able test everything out. (Well everything except the opera bit, but I can work on that later.)
I know, not very dinosaur like, but that isn't the point right now. This is how it should work:
  • As the cam spins, the push rod will push the sail out to the right.
  • The jaw of the dinosaur's mouth will be attached to the top of the sail.
  • As the sail moves, the mouth with open.
  • The dowel through the jaw will then push down on a lever that moves the dinosaur's arms up and down.

Here it is all covered up and with the arm attached. No need to make the legs yet. I'm fairly confident that I can work on the math of them when the time comes.

Here is a short video showing how it should work.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Making a Wooden Toy Dinosaur (Spinosaurus Part 1 )

So one day, about six or eight years ago, I came across this book with an amazingly specific title at my public library. Making Dinosaur Toys in Wood by David Wakefield. Here were decidedly wicked cool toys that just looked "right." All of them have neat actions built into their designs and the plans and instructions were very clear. However, they also appeared to require accuracy and precision that I felt were beyond my skills. I checked it out and soon convinced myself that it was in fact, out of my league. (In retrospect, I didn't lack the necessary skills. What I was lacking was the confidence that only comes from experience.)

Then a couple of years later I found myself driving back from the beach with three kids and two drill presses in the back of the van (yeah... it's sort of a long story... I'll save it for some other time..) I was uncharacteristically quiet for quite a stretch as I contemplated the world of drill pressing that awaited me. I remember saying to my wife, "You know, I bet you I could build one of those dinosaurs now." She gave me a very supportive smile that said, "I love you... even though you are a 12 year old boy."

So to make a short story long, that Christmas I started work on the mini Stegosaurus from the book as a gift for my youngest daughter. My "workshop" is not at my house and I remember coming home very late after having finished all the rough cuts. I taped the body parts and lightly tacked in the nails and at about 1:00 in the morning, three or four days before Christmas, I gave him (her?) a try. I was so happy it worked I shot this quick video to prove it did work just in case I'd been lucky and could never get it back together again.

So, since then, I've made twelve dinosaurs using six of Mr Wakefield's designs for my kids and as gifts for friends and teachers. People really like them and are always surprised when I say that I made them following plans in a book.

So I get a lot of "You really should sell these." types of comments. Well, no, I shouldn't. They are not my designs. It would be wrong. Although I do a couple of things differently and I paint them to make them more "toy-like" (and to hide the printing on various wine crates and clementine boxes... just saying), the success of these toys comes directly from Mr Wakefield's fantastic designs. Or more specifically, Mr Wakefield's fantastic copyrighted designs.
(Find a copy of his book and buy it. He has several other toymaking books you'll want to pick up as well.)

Here are photos and brief descriptions of some of Mr Wakefield's dinosaurs that I've completed so far.

I just finished up a dimetrodon a couple of days ago and I've been kicking around a few ideas on species not covered in Making Dinosaur Toys in Wood. So, I've decided to explore some uncharted territory and create my own toy dinosaur design and show how to build it. 

I've decided to make a Spinosaurus. (image copyright N. Tamura)

This creature was not one of my "Marx" plastic dinosaurs I had growing up, so he wasn't on my radar until fairly recently. He also apparently plays a big role in Jurassic Park III but I haven't caught up with that one yet. (Hey, it has only been out for nine years...)

Okay, so why make him/her? Let me count the ways:
  1. He has a unique head and mouth. Sorta like a crocodile.
  2. He is a carnivore. Carnivores are more fun than those preachy herbivores.
  3. He has a spiny sail down his back, sorta like on a dimetrodon.
Although I'll have to make him a "tail dragger", I think he still be a toy that a kid can recognize as an actual type of dinosaur.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Making a Jacob's Ladder

I saw my first Jacob's Ladder when I was in the 2nd Grade. I was fascinated as it looked like one block of wood was tumbling down through the others to the bottom. The fact that you could do it again and again without reloading or resetting it in any way was just amazing. It seems like an illusion or a Junior Jedi mind trick, but it really has to do with each piece being doubled hinged. As with most classic folk toys, it is pretty simple to make from some easy to find materials.

Without writing a book, just a couple of historical notes: First off, the name Jacob's Ladder is a Bible reference. In the Book of Genesis, Jacob had a dream where he could see Angels ascending and descending a ladder between Heaven and Earth. The phrase has been used for all sorts of things over the years from rope ladders on ships to plants to this wicked cool toy. Secondly, as to stories that it was found in King Tut's Tomb and was one of the only toys Puritan children were allowed to play with on Sundays... well, I think those are good stories and let's just leave it at that.

I first saw how to build one of these in John R. Nelson, Jr's fantastic book American Folk Toys. Over time, I've changed it a bit to match my tastes and what materials I have on hand or have been given (- thanks Jeff) but that doesn't take anything away from the Mr Nelson's indispensable classic.

I started by ripping 2" wide strips of 5/16" thick wine crate wood. (I know, 5/16"??!! Well, it is probably metric and is "actually" 8mm thick.) Nelson's plans call for 3/8" thick wood and I have often used 1/4" because it is so easy to find. Basically, anything in that range is going to work for you. And oh yeah, if have a bandsaw but don't have a rip fence... go out and get yourself one. You'll thank me later.

Next crosscut your 2" wide strips into 3 1/2" lengths. You'll need six of these. Although you could make it longer, don't forget kids will be playing with this and you don't want to make it too heavy or unwieldy. Sand any rough spots.

Okay, let's start building. Put your first piece down and then take three strips of 2' long by 1/2" wide bias tape. It is used in sewing and is easy to find at any fabric or craft store. I like using different colors for the tape on this. You could also use sturdy cloth ribbon if you prefer. The green tapes run left to right (you can see the starting ends hanging over the side); the white tape runs right to left (it has its starting end hanging over the right side. You can see that better in the next photo.)

Next place a block over top of the first block. This will sandwich the tapes between the two blocks.

Pull the tapes back across the second block. The white tape now runs left to right and the green tapes right to left. Now just alternate adding blocks and loosely weaving the tapes back and forth in the same manner until you add your last block. When you get to the last block, don't wrap the ribbons across the face of the block, just leave enough for the tapes to hang over the edges, just like with your first block.

With all the blocks in place and the ribbons laced through the toy, clamp the block together so that it will be easy to work with. This will help keep everything lined up properly for the next step. (The other side of the block has the exact opposite pattern of ribbons.)

I use 1/2" long little nails to secure the tapes to the ends of the block. Two nails for each ribbon. Brass/Zinc nails with a little rounded head work well and look nice. Stay away from headless brads though. (Headless Brad? Wasn't he a character in an 80's slasher movie?) If a nail gives you a tough time and won't go in straight, take it out and try a different one. Also, once you have a nail lined up and started, don't be afraid to sink it with a few firm hits rather than trying to gently tap it in. You are more likely to bend a nail with a lot of little taps.

Other times I've built this toy (especially when I used 1/4" wood) I've marked and pre-drilled very small pilot holes in the ends of the wood before I threaded the bias tape. You can do that, but trying to line up the little nails through the tape and into the holes wasn't a huge advantage over just putting the nails in directly. The nails are so tiny, I haven't had any issues with the wood splitting. Just be sure to keep them clear of the edges as you nail them in.

After you finish all 36 nails, trim off the excess ribbon and you are all set.

Playing with the toy is very simple. Just hold the long sides of one of the blocks and let the rest of the blocks hang down. Now rotate your hand down on the side that has ribbon showing. The next block will seem to tumble away. Now just rotate your hand back the other direction and the tumbling action will happen again.

With a little bit of practice you can get two blocks cascading at the same time. Which looks pretty neat.

I've left most of mine in natural wood but you can also paint them in bright colors and give them a protective finish. You can make one of these in under an hour. They make great gift and they really last. I made my first one almost 10 years ago and it is still going strong.

Just Saying...

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


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