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.

  1 comment:

  1. COME ON! How could you not LOVE "Will'O the wisp",over "Little Guy".Will has waaaaayy more SOUL,and wicked chahming!Sorry 'bout the accent,I,m from South Boston.I am seriously considering building a 50 story one, on the side of the "Pru" building,in downtown Beantown,with a 6 foot Will,for a New Years' Eve drop!KEEP UP THE AMAZING AHT FLO!!!!!


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.