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.


  1. Fun! A friend of my Dad made my brother and I each one of these when we were kids.

  2. This toy is one of my favourite childhood toy memories. I loved going to nana's and playing with one of these!!

  3. Very cool, thank you. I plan on making one in a spider shape for Halloween

  4. Brilliant! Thank you for this tutorial. Your toys are very good, and the angel one looks great, going to make one now!

  5. Thanks just what I wanted to find



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.