Saturday, May 1, 2010

Making a Toy WW1 Tank (Part 1)

The origins of toys I make generally fall in three categories:
  • Builds from online plans or more likely books I've collected.
  • Trying to mimic a folk toy I've come across.
  • Just making them up as I go. (The ever popular "proof of concept")

I've made several toy tanks over the last couple of years. I think the best one I made was a WW2 M3 (also known as a Lee tank) that I made for the son of a friend of mine. It clearly fell into the third category. (It was built before I figured out the digital camera, so that is why the picture looks like it was taken in a Tunisian sandstorm.)

Well, my friend is coming back to the US this summer after being stationed in South Korea, so what better way to say welcome home to him and his son than with another tank?

So, let the "let's just start making this up as we go" process commence. We already have the idea - a tank. But what kind? I know that I'm not making a scale model. What I'm trying to do is make a toy that has the look of a tank and is fun to play with.

About a year ago I stumbled across the Homer McNeil Wooden Toy Collection at the Ames Historical Society's site. I was blown away because during the 1940s Mr. McNeil made toys for his children out of food crates and office equipment (which sounded strangely familiar.) It really struck a chord with me that his kids held on to the toys for all these years. They were obviously made with love and meant a lot to his kids. If you get a chance, click on the link above and give it a look. It is well worth it.

One of the toys is this "WW2 Tank." Now, it really isn't a model of a particular tank, but you can tell just by looking at it that a) it is indeed a tank and b) that it is meant to be played with. It is a toy. Those are some of the qualities that I want to try and get.

The trapezoid lozenge look to the tracks is really reminiscent of a British WW1 tank. It is a really distinctive feature of those tanks. Another interesting thing about those tanks is that they didn't have a turret on top of the tank, but rather had their main armament in "sponsons" mounted on the sides of the tanks. Besides actually being a naval term, I think that this gives them a "land battleship" appearance. It also led to "male" and "female" models of the tanks. The males had six pounder cannons in the sponsons and the females mounted machine guns in those positions. (And yes, they built some with male AND female sponsons on either sides of the same tank, but I'm gonna take the high ground here and for once in my life not make a smart-alecky comment about it.)

Okay. So I'm decided on a WW1 British tank. I'll make it a male tank so it will have guns that can be aimed on both sides. I think it will have a good retro look. I'm also thinking about having some sort of clacker attached to the underneath of the tank to make a clacking noise as it is pushed across the floor. (Because as we all know, "The tracks on the tank go 'clack, clack, clack', ...'clack, clack, clack')

So, like I said, I'm not trying to make a scale model, but I do want it to be recognizable. So I need the general proportions and I need to decide on the scale I am going to build. I recently came across a site that I highly recommend  - The Blueprints site contains THOUSANDS of line drawings like the one below. This drawing gives me a pattern that I can use to cut out the logenze shaped tracks and gives me the proportions I need.

The images can easily be resized to the scale I want.


  1. This is just wonderful! I'm a big fan of toy soldiers, and this really does inspire. Great job!

  2. yeah but you should do a SturmPanzerwagen a7v if you don't know what it is just look it up

  3. i copied your method thingy and my son wont stop playing w/ it!!!! thanks

  4. you should do a sherman m4 or a tiger tank

  5. Hey all - Thanks for the comments and suggestions. I'm "shopless" for the next few months but am drawing up plans in the meantime. An M4 Sherman with the welded hull is on the drawing board but I think the first tank off the new assembly line will be a French WW1 St Chamond that I started on before I had to move my tools.

    If you have built one of these tanks, I'd love to see a picture. Just email me at toymakingdad(the circle letter at symbol thingy)


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.