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.


  1. Hi,
    Great job! My dad is making a Triceratops for my nephew from Mr. Wakefields 1986 book How to Make Animated Toys. He is struggling with the math of enlarging the pattern for pieces in the book. Did you cut your pieces to match his scale. If you did some enlargements, how did it work for you.

  2. Hi thanks for the compliment. David Wakefield’s designs really are great. The dinosaurs that I have made have all been scaled the same as his original plans. (I’ve made some changes in things like the tail shape and how heads pivot.) I have a copy of “How to Make Animated Toys” and although I’ve never tackled the Triceratops in there, it looks great. If I was going to make it, I’d use the photocopier/scanner to enlarge the body sides’ template. (Mr Wakefield has a note at the beginning of that book that says to enlarge the 57% templates by 121% three times to get to 100%. In other words, make a copy of it enlarged 121% and then take that copy and enlarge it 121% and then repeat one more time.) Then make regular copies of all the other templates. At that point I’d have a set of full sized templates that all matched. The nice thing about scanning the images is that you can save them for printing out as may copies as you need if you go back and make additional toys. If I wanted to make the whole toy bigger, I could enlarge the full size templates by the same percentage. I’d test out the wheel and cam sizes in cardboard to make sure they were sized properly. I’d also want to make sure I was designing myself out of easy to find wood sizes. Anyway, hope this helps. – Toy Making Dad.


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.