A few months ago, a colleague brought her nine year old son to work as part of "Take Your Child to Work" Day. (I asked my wife if her office did "Take Your Man-Child to Work Day" but she refused to answer.) Anyway, seeing as how I am basically a nine year old boy as well, we hit it off. I showed him some pictures of my toys and he said the appropriately flattering things to make me want to make him a toy. (The kid is going to be a master manipulator one day. Just saying.)
I'm in a bit of a bind about all things toy making right now. My house is under renovation with an addition under construction (which will include my first honest to gosh real workshop! Look out world.) As a result almost all of my tools are in storage at a friend's house. What I do have on hand are hidden under piles of displaced kitchen utensils, paperwork and just stuff. I also don't have any place to work. Other than that... all set!
I did have a coping saw, my drill, some sandpaper and a Swiss Army knife. If I had a pair of hockey tickets, three AA batteries and the services of MacGyver, I could have made a satellite transmitter. Lacking those, I decided to focus on a toy that I could make just by hand. Sort of turn back the clock on myself and see how'd I do without a drill press, band saw, or belt sander. Kicking it old school.
Folk Toys" The toy has a classy look and a simple action. There were a couple of things I wanted to change though. Most of the pattern called for 1/4" thick wood. I changed the body of the rider and horse to 1/2" and switched the reins from metal to 1/8" plywood from... you'll never guess... clementine box wood! (I still feel funny about having metal parts on my toys.)
The other thing I wanted to change was the subject. In the plans the rider has a classy 19th Century Guard/Light Cavalry vibe about him but I decided to change that. The kid I was making this for was born in Siberia and I have a family connecting to the White Russian Army during the Russian Civil War. So, a little research turned up a unit of Siberian Cossacks who fought on the side of the Whites (as opposed to the Reds) during the war.
|Ron Hickman invented the Workmate|
after using a chair as a work surface.
I then started mucking with the design to give him more heft.
I wanted him to have a Cossack hat - dare I say a papaha (your vocabulary word for the day) and for his torso to actually rest on the horse and match up closer with the legs that I decided to cut out instead of just paint on the horse. For all three of those additions, I cut the pieces out of 1/8" clementine box wood.
All in all, cutting the pieces went about as well as could be expected but I wasn't entirely happy with the cuts. A bit too much splintering on the plywood arms and horse sides, but not awful.
Ultimately though, my biggest problem was really an issue with the basic concept of this toy.
Once I made the toy thicker, I crossed a line between making the rider in profile vs making him "realistic." I was moving more from toy towards doll or model and that is not what I wanted. At 1/4" thick, the profile approach was fine but once he became better proportioned and I added his hat and jacket I ran into problems. Specifically with his head. His nose stretched across his whole face. It just didn't look right especially as I added more details to him. Discouraged, I put the toy aside for several weeks.
Luckily, I filled part of this time exiled from the shop with recording PBS woodworking shows. One of them is Rick Bütz's woodcarving show and I got some priceless pointers on starting to carve and whittle. (Chief among them- sharp knives are safer and a lot of little cuts, not a few big cuts, are definitely the way to go.) Newly inspired, I went to work on the Cossack's head and gave him a proper nose and a little definition to his face. Not perfect but seeing as how the first time I tried to carve a little bear five years ago I ended up with a carved thumb and something that looked like a pig, I considered this quite the leap forward. If you've never seen Rick Bütz's show or books, they are definitely worth checking out. I highly recommend them.
So better, but still not right. He looked far too fresh faced to be a Cossack. So I painted a beard of sorts on him. (Honestly, this toy took so long to make, he could have grown his own beard.... if he was actually alive... and not made of wood.) I also gave him a slight scar on his left cheek to toughen him up a bit. He is a Cossack after all.
Here is a quick video of him in action: