Saturday, April 30, 2011

Making a Tumble Down the Ladder Toy

This is one of those toys that is so simple that at first glance, you almost can't believe it works as was well as it does. The peg falls/walks down the ladder, rung by rung, flipping from side to side, powered by gravity. When properly made, it is almost impossible for it not to work.

In doing some cleaning a few weeks back (or more precisely, procrastinating enough that Mrs. Toy Making Dad was doing some cleaning) the ladder part of this toy showed up, with a broken rung or two, on my desk. Several years ago, I had seen plans for this toy in a since forgotten library book. I had built the ladder but put it aside when I got frustrated with trying the make the peg without a drill press or band saw. (I now call that period the "Dark Ages.") I decided after ten years (but with no plans) it was time to finish the toy up.

"When made properly", hmmm, there's the rub eh? Okay. There are two equally important parts to the toy and each has to be made pretty precisely. (I know, "Hey, knucklehead... something is either precise or it isn't" Well, you'll see...)

The Ladder - The sides of the ladder are 12" long by 3/4" wide and 5/16" thick. There is a 1/8" slot routed down the full length of each side. That slot is only 1/8" deep. Although I had built a serviceable jig "back in the day" to make this, future ones will be made with my new router table. The ladder needs to have each rung be the same width, be level and be spaced equidistant. The rungs here are 1/8" wood from... you'll never guess... Clementine boxes!!! Each one is 3/16" tall, by 1/8" thick and 2 1/2" wide. They are glued into the slot starting 1/2" down and are spaced 1 3/8" on center down the length of the ladder leaving the last 2 3/4" of the length free of rungs. (The peg needs space to fall from the last rung.)

The Peg - The second part of the toy is the peg. The secret to how the toy works is that the peg can only fall off of one rung when it is lined up directly over the rung below it. Ultimately, the correct peg ended up being 1 5/8" long by 1" wide cut from a piece of 3/4" thick wood. Drilling on the sides, I made two 1/4" holes, 1/4" on center from the middle of the peg. I then cut a channel just over 1/8" wide from the ends to the holes and then cut angles from the edges to the slots

My first attempt is shown on the left; the correct on the right. The incorrectly made one had holes that were too big and it lacked defined slots. The slots are what prevent the peg from flying off before it can line up with the rung below it. Without them, the toy will not work. The one on the right needed some tuning up with a rat tail file and sand paper to work to get it working smoothly. Just take your time and remember that you can always take more off, but you can never put more back on.

The last thing was the base for the ladder to fit into. I took a 3/4" thick piece of bed slat and cut it 2 3/4" wide by 4 1/8" long. I then drilled two 3/4" holes 3" apart on center. Green paint and spray acrylic to finish it. The 1/2" ladder sides slip in perfectly.

I really like this type of toy and as is usual with me and these sorts of things, there is a bit of history behind it. The first one of these toys I ever had, I purchased in a public market in San Antonio. These markets have stalls with all manner of crafts from Mexico. Now, this toy isn't uniquely Mexican, but the way the tumble peg was decorated, was distinctly Mexican. It had Loteria cards (sort of Mexican bingo) on each side of the peg. This made it fun to see which image would end up showing once the peg reached the bottom.

I see this toy sold fairly often with monkeys decorating it, but I decided to go back to the Loteria images for this one. I found some downloadable images that worked perfectly on the site of a neat soap making supply store called Bramble Berry. (They have a lot of interesting ideas and supplies there.) The images are a free download from their site. It includes a devil and a woman so I felt like that was a fun contrast. I just resized them to fit the pegs, printed them, glued them to the pegs and used a gloss acrylic spray to seal them.

The toy in action:

So here is the final product. It doesn't tumble perfectly every time but it does most of the time. Just like the Sliding Tumble Peg Toy, the fact that it hangs up sometimes actually makes it more fun. It builds a little suspense.

Ten years in the making but only a few hours in the finishing. Totally worth it.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Making a Sliding Tumble Peg Toy

Part pinball/pachinko board, part tumble toy, I'm really not sure what to call this type of toy. It is pretty cool though and is really easy to make. Honestly, not including time spent looking for pencils (I've got my pencil! Now gimmie something to write on...) and my protractor; the cutting and drilling on this toy took less than an hour.

The toy consists of three main boards; the slide, the brace and the base.  A series of evenly spaced pegs are placed on the inclined slide. A little character rhythmically tumbles from side to side, sliding down the face of the board. It is silly and fun to watch. It also makes a neat sound as he clicks his way down to the bottom.

The majority of this toy comes straight out of John R. Nelson, Jr's fantastic book "American Folk Toys." He calls his "Will-o'-The-Wisp." I pretty much followed his excellent plans and don't want to give the impression that they are mine. What I will say though is that the basic idea is simple and robust enough that it is pretty easy to see how it could be expanded. A wider or longer board with more than two rows of pegs would be easy to see and maybe have Will race a friend or two.

The slide is 3/4" thick, 2" wide and 18" long. It came from my now dwindling bed slat stash. I drilled 3/16" holes every 1 7/8" down the length of one side and then alternated holes the same distance down the other side. There is a gap of 1 3/8" on center between the rows. The holes are about 3/8" deep. I then cut 15 pieces of 3/16" dowel 1 1/4" long. These are the pegs.

The base and the brace are 3/4" thick and 3 1/2" wide. The base is 5 3/4" long and the brace is 5" long at its longest and cut at a 60 degree angle across its width. I came up the angle based on testing the toy a few times. (The end of the slide is also cut at an angle to match into the base.) Everything is glued together once the angles have been determined and cut.

"Will" was cut out of a piece of 3/4" scrap. I followed Mr. Nelson's plans for his shape and drilled 1/4" holes at angles and inserted 1/4" dowels to make his arms. A few test drops with quick trips in between to the belt sander to adjust his arm lengths got him into tumbling form surprisingly quickly. I do have to tell you though, that reaction in my family to Will's face has been... um... mixed at best. "Demented Tear Drop Dude" and "Creepy Rain Drop Guy" are two of the nicer names my always supportive and never sarcastic family have given him. (I don't care... I love him like the two dimensional wooden son I never had.)

Will works well. He falls through without getting stuck maybe about 80% of the time. Honestly, it makes it more fun that he doesn't work every single time. It gives a "Will he make it..." bit of suspense.

I decided to try and make my own tumble guy to go along with Will. A few months ago I purchased some peg people from They are 5/8" in diameter and 1 11/16" tall. (I know... 11/16ths... Maybe that whole metric thing isn't sich a bad idea...)

I did get smart with drilling him though. Trying to hold a round peg, at an angle, while drilling with a forstner bit is just asking for trouble. I adjusted the table on the drill press to the desired angle (thanks to a quick how-to from Crawfish) and then made a quick jig to hold him in place. It looked a bit like a scene from a Bond movie, but it got the job done. ("You expect me to talk?" - "No, Mr Toy Making Dad Peg Guy.. I expect you to tumble down an inclined plane!)

Anyway, after drilling him and fitting his 1/4" dowel arms, I tested and adjusted him until I was happy with his tumbling consistency. Craft store paint, acrylic gloss spray and some googly eyes finished him off.
Little guy unpainted on the coffee tableLittle guy painted... on the surface of the sun.
(At some point I'll learn how to take pictures)

Here is the toy in action:

So, a really simple toy. Pretty easy and quick to make even with just hand tools. (You would want to get the pegs straight in at 90 degrees though.)  I had waited years to make this toy thinking it would be hard to get to work properly. I was wrong. It is a very quick and rewarding project that works surprisingly well almost every time.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Making a Toy Bombsight

I know... a toy bombsight. Crazy huh?
Not real PC.
I must be some sort of a warmonger.
Perhaps a pawn of the military industrial complex.
Or maybe someone who likes making toys that are fun to play with and maybe have a little history behind them.

Okay, there is a lot of history to this toy for me and most of it is very personal. So bear with me for a paragraph or two and then I'll get to the toy.

The whole idea for this toy I owe, like so much else in my life, to my dad. My dad grew up during WW2 and I always loved listening to his stories about the toys he played with as well as the world he grew up in. A little boy with tin soldiers and balsa wood airplanes playing on the floor of his parent's living room listening to the radio is an image I really like having of him. His favorite radio shows were "Captain Midnight" and "Jack Armstrong, The All American Boy." He loved listening to the shows and he loved sending away for what are now referred to a "premiums." You know, the whole "Send in x boxtops and one thin dime for..." whistles, spy scopes, decoder rings, all that cool stuff. But without a doubt, the toy he recalled most fondly was his Jack Armstrong Bombsight.

Jack Armstrong ran on the radio for almost 20 years and in a way was part of my youth as well. There was an attempt to make a Jack Armstrong cartoon series during the 1960s. The producers had some test sequences animated but ran into difficulty securing the rights to the original name. Undaunted, they reworked the idea a bit and produced one of the most wicked cool cartoons of all time: the original Jonny Quest. (The end credit sequence of African warriors throwing spears at people in a hovercraft and against the side of a plane is actually some of the Jack Armstrong test footage. That's why it isn't in any Jonny Quest episode.)

Jack Armstrong was a bit of marketing phenomenon and the premiums from the show are highly sought after collectables. Reproductions of the Jack Armstrong famous WW2 airplane premiums are available. Original bombsights show up on auction sites. The prices are... well, what do you expect a guy who is so cheap he takes apart clementine boxes to reuse the wood to say?

Here is what the original looked like. It had three bombs and a set of paper targets.

(Image used with the permission of a great source for popular culture collectables.)

Which brings us to my bombsight. About seven or eight years ago I was trying to come up with a Christmas gift for my dad. At the time I couldn't find out much about the toy on the internet although my dad had told me enough about the toy that I had a general idea on how it should work. Feeling confident from knocking out some toys from other people's plans, I decided to try my hand at making a bombsight of my own design.

I knew that you looked through a sight into a mirror that was angled so that you could see straight down. You then turned a flat disk on the bottom of the bombsight until a small bomb lined up with a hole on the disk and dropped free onto paper targets below. Here is the general idea I worked out:
For the eye piece, I somehow I drilled a 7/8" hole through a 1 1/4" dowel (a piece of old closet rod actually) without a drill press. I also think I did it without a 7/8" drill bit... but that is another story. I then glued it to a simple wooden box that I made out of scrap pine and poplar that had been given to me by a friend who is a carpenter. Inside the box is a 1 1/2" square craft store mirror angled at 45 degrees. When you look throught the dowel sight, the mirror turns you line of sight 90 degrees.

The bombs and paper below are reflected in the mirror.

The bombays are three 5/16" holes drilled into a solid block that fills the inside of the sight except for the areas used for sighting the toy. The holes do not go completely through to the top of the block in order to prevent the bombs from rattling around too much.  A 2" wood disk with a 5/16" hole drilled in it rotates around a 1/4" dowel through the center of the block. As that hole lines up with a bombay hole, the little bombs can then drop free.

Looking at the bottom of the sight, the bombay holes
are at 6, 9  and 12 o'clock.
A small wooden "nut" was glued in place to prevent
the disk from falling off but still allowing it to rotate freely.

The bombs are simply 1/4 dowels that I shaped to give a general bomb like appearance. I shaped them on a grinding wheel.

When I look at it now, I can see every mistake. What can I say, it was pre-drill press and pre-beltsander. In general, I wouldn't make something so rough now. However, no regrets. My dad was really happy with it and thought it was pretty cool. I saw him take it out a few times to show visitors and seeing him happy with it, made me happy.

This probably won't be found on the crafts pages of "Overly Sensitive Parenting Quarterly" but after my dad passed away it found its way to a shelf in my house. When I look at it I immediately think about him and his great childhood stories. The bombsight was my gift to him, memories of him are his gift to me. Thanks Dad.

Now, if only I had some paper U-Boats to sink...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Making a Toy WW1 Tank (German A7V Part 4)

With the sides, front and rear attached and then belt sanded smooth; it's on to finishing up the tank. The last pieces to be cut are the cupola, some support pieces for the tracks and the air vent plates that cover the dowel holes on the top of the hull.

The cupola was straight forward. I just took a piece of scrap bed slat wood the right height and cut it into a rectangle with the bandsaw set to a 10 degree angle. The piece was fairly small. I used the rip fence and made sure to keep my fingers clear as I used another board to push it through the cut. I then took small pieces of 1/8" plywood (from clementine boxes... of course) and carefully cut little squares for the vision ports.

The wheels are a pretty tight fit. They are 1 1/4" wheels that I purchased pre-made. In future versions, I might experiment with using single very wide rollers instead of wheels to make it a little steadier. I put a "clacker" gear on the rear wheels of this one. It isn't as wide as the one on the British tank because the space is so tight, but still, it works well. I also put little blocks at the front, rear and middle. Besides helping support the tracks, the middle block is where I attached a small triangle of stiff vinyl that is at the same height as the center of the clacker gear. It is what makes the noise as the tank is pushed across the floor.

The air vents were just more clementine box wood cut to shape with their edges beveled smooth. They were glued over the holes in the top of the hull to finish things up.

In looking at pictures of A7Vs, there is a lot to choose from in terms of how to paint it. I decided to go with a straight forward grey with single Iron Crosses on the front and sides. That look seemed to capture the toy look the best.

The paint is craft store acrylic with a clear gloss spray acrylic finish. I hand painted the Iron Crosses on the sides and front using a little stencil I made. I'm on the fence as to if I would do it that way again. It takes awhile to do and the results aren't perfect (but hey, what is right?) Decals or stickers are an option, but they can get peeled off or yellowed in a way that I don't think the paint will. It might just be that I need to practice a bit more.

A7V from the frontMaxim guns at the rear

The completed toy tank

So, here is a quick semi-murky video of the finished toy. The clacker works and all the guns rotate. There is a bit of a squeak in there that I probably could have tracked down... but let's just pretend like that is by design.

So, all in all, this was really fun to design and build. I'm pretty happy with how it came out and it was well received. 

Just Saying...

While we don’t necessarily need more objects, we just might benefit from more making.
- John Dunnigan


About Me

My Photo
Regular guy who likes to make stuff who lives with a very patient wife, three daughters and three cats.