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.

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.