Thursday, February 25, 2010

Drac in a Box (Version 1)

As a kid I watched far too many monster movies. I'd scan the TV guide at the beginning of the week to see what awaited me in the Saturday late night monster movie time slots. One of the movies that always filled my week with dread was Christopher Lee's Dracula has Risen from the Grave. I was an absolute moth to the flame with that one. It was one of the few movies that actually scared me and it also led to one of the more salient pieces of weirdness from my childhood. 

In the movie Dracula is revived accidently and that really bugged me. Although it is still hard (impossible?) to explain, I became worried that if I flushed a toilet at just the right moment, Dracula would come back from the dead. What can I say? That movie REALLY scared me. (I'm over that particular bit of oddness, thank you very much. But don't worry; my cabinet of weirdness is still so full I can't close the door.)

I've mentioned how frugal I am about raw materials and when people give me free stuff, I just can't resist. So a few years ago after a friend gave me an empty tea box with a sliding lid, I faced my fears and built a Dracula toy. Instead of Dracula rising from the grave, I decided to make him pop out of a tea box coffin. (I'd say that this was systematic desensitization or exposure therapy... but honestly, I just wanted to make something fun my girls would get a kick out of.)

Drac himself is 3 3/8" long and cut from 1/2" pine. I cut him out using a coping saw, but would now use a band or scroll saw. There is a plan at the bottom of this post, but obviously, you can make him (or her) however you want. Just keep in mind the dimensions of your box. There is a 5/16" hole all the way through his body towards his bottom. A 1/4" dowel fits through this hole to allow him to pivot up in his coffin.
The tea box I used was 5 3/4" long by 3 3/16" tall by 2 1/8" deep. The sliding lid is 1/4" thick with 1/16" inch tongues that slide into grooves the full length of the box.  The only changes I made to the box were to paint it and drill a few holes. The four holes:
  • A very small (3/64) hole at the foot of the coffin. This holds one end of a rubber band. The other end goes through Drac's mid-section.
  • A 1/4" hole all the way through from side to side that holds a 1/4" dowel. That dowel goes through a 5/16" hole through Drac's body. This allows him to swing/pivot up when the trigger dowel is removed.
  • A 1/4" hole in the "head" of the coffin. It holds a 1/4" piece of dowel that keeps Drac in place and under tension. This is the trigger dowel.
  • The last hole is 3/64" and it is in the sliding lid. A string leads from this hole to the trigger dowel. When the lid slides, the string pulls out the trigger dowel and Drac springs up.

The rubber band being threaded through Drac.
(Note his stylish cape. Just because you are un-dead doesn't mean you shouldn't try and look nice.)
Tie knots on either end of the rubber band to prevent it from pulling through the holes.
(Is that a Nobel Prize around his neck?)

Slide the lid partially closed. Then push Drac down and lock him in place with the trigger dowel.A small piece of black cloth along the top of the inside of the coffin folds down to hide Drac until he can spring up.
Here is a short video of the Drac in a Box in action.
(WARNING - Not for the faint of heart. This may be the most terrifying 11 second clip involving an old tea box and a two dimensional vampire on the internet. Well, at least I hope it is...)

Here are the plans for general reference. If you make your own, your dimensions and set up would be dependant on the box you used. Adjust as necessary.

(Version 2 is the works and will do away with the rubber band and will be a bit easier to "load.")

Monday, February 15, 2010

Climbing Monkey - FAIL

"Haven't you always wanted a monkey?" - If I Had a Million Dollars (Bare Naked Ladies) 
"Sure, just not a creepy one that doesn't work." - Toy Making Dad.

So when I started posting things on this site, I decided that it wouldn't just be show and tell. I wanted it to be a how-to site ( as opposed to just  "Hey everybody, LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! PAY ATTENTION TO ME!") I think that a big part of learning how to do stuff is to learn how NOT to do stuff. You only figure this out by doing something wrong. Which isn't the worst thing in the world, and honestly sometimes these "mistakes" lead to new techniques or better ideas.

Building the creepy climbing monkey was not one of those times.

The plans for this guy (complete with fez I might add) were in a book I got from the library six or seven years ago. I don't blame the book but in retrospect, I don't remember building anything else from that book. Mainly because nothing really caught my eye as being super cool except for the idea of a climbing monkey. I believe the book said that this was based on antique German tin toys that worked the same way.

My dad and my younger brother always had a "monkey thing" (that is until the spate of monkey mauling stories over the last couple of years) so that was added motivation for building this toy.

The basic idea is you pull the string down and the monkey pulls himself (or herself) up the rope for a few inches. You then relax the tension on the rope; his legs swing back up and grab the slack. Then you pull down again and he climbs by pulling himself up. Sounds good, it should work...

Monkey legs move up when string is at rest because  of a little bit of elastic.Pulling down on the string should make him seem to pull himself up the rope.

Maybe I was being an idiot but he just never worked right.  I never got the tension correct on the elastic that pulled his legs back up. I'm also not sure that I ever got his string "rigged" properly. He would climb, but it was so small as to be almost imperceptible. Pulling the string eight or ten times would result in a climb of 1/4 or 1/2 inch. Not the kind of fun the kiddies are looking for. So in a word - FAIL.

Well, maybe I did learn a few things from this build: 
  • Leaps of faith are one thing, but if you really don't understand how something is going to work... you need to build a proof of concept piece first.
  • At the time I felt I had to do the complete build before testing because I wasn't going to be able to paint and finish the toy once it was done. I was wrong. You can always partially disassemble or just tack things on lightly to test.
  • Although I love his creepiness now, I probably should have just started over with the face...

The book was returned long ago to the library. I don't remember the title and I've never gone back to try and research similar toys to see how the strings should be rigged. I still have the little guy around though.

When I showed him to my younger brother, he laughed and said that he looked too evil to be a kids toy. He has kids now. Maybe I will look up how to fix the monkey... so I can give him to his kids and scare them. Hey, it's what older brothers with evil monkeys do.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Climbing Toy

This climbing toy is one of those folk toys that is so crazy easy to make and use that it is almost scary. (Not Night of the Living Dead scary, just scary good.) Just pulling strings up and down makes these simple toys seem to magically climb straight up. You can easily knock one of these out in less than a hour.

The first one of these I built was from the "Climbing Bear" plans in John R. Nelson's "American Folk Toys." (Again, it is a great book, you should pick up a copy.) I painted mine and when I look at him now he seems so much rougher and less "finished" than most of the toys I make now. But you know what? WHO CARES! He is a happy bear who has been played with a lot and has a lot of years ahead of him. "A good toy now is better than a perfect toy never."

It is a simple build. There are only two parts and some string. (I've included a pattern and plans at the end of the post.)
  • Transfer your pattern to the wood you are using (The plans called for 3/4" wood but all of mine were made from 1/2" pine because that is what I had on hand at the time.)
  • Cut out the pattern using a coping, scroll or bandsaw with a small blade.
  • Drill two 1/8" holes horizontally through the arm/hands of the toy. If you were to draw a straight line across the toy where the holes exit from each arm the holes would slope back towards the head at about 45 degrees. (No fissionable material is used in the making of this toy so if you don't get it exactly right, relax. Trust me. It won't explode no matter how off you are.)
  • Make a toggle bar a little wider than your toy. I used a 1/4" thick by 1/2" wide by 3 1/2" long piece of hardwood. (A 1/2" round hardwood dowel could also be used.)
  • Drill three 1/8" holes in the toggle bar. One in the middle (this is what you will hang the toy from) and a hole on each side 1 1/4" from the center.
  • Use nylon string to make the two climbing ropes. Thread them through the toggle bar and then through the holes in the arms of the toy. One string on the right, one on the left. Tie the strings off in large knots or through wood beads. The string can be any length you want, just keep in mind where you will typically hang this toy.
  • Make a loop out of the nylon sting and have it so that it is above the toggle bar. Secure it through the center hole with a large knot or bead.
  • Find someplace to hang your toy and then alternate pulling the strings up and down. (Sort of like you were milking a cow.) The toy will climb right up.

A completed toggle bar

About a year or so after I made the bear, one of my daughters asked me to make her a climbing gingerbread man for Christmas. It seemed like a really sweet idea so I made that for her and an angel for her sister. That way they could race between the two toys to see whose could climb the fastest. Here is how they came out and below are two quick clips of them in action and plans for the Gingerbread man.
The buttons on the Gingerbread Man
were made with axle caps.
The wings on the Angel were made
with, what else, clementine box wood.

Here is my first shot at plans.
They should print full size on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper set to landscape.
For the eyebrows and mouth I used thick "puff paint" to give it an icing look.
If you don't want to use this pattern, you can trace a cookie cutter or use some teacher clip art.

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.