Saturday, April 12, 2014

Making a Toy Shark

Okay, right off the bat -this is not my design. It comes from the amazing mind of David Wakefield and is in his book "Toymaking Basics" That book is a great one stop shop for getting started making toys and has a few plans (including this shark) at the end. I highly recommend it.

This toy has an odd back-story for me. I think I started it about ohhhhh three or four years ago! Before you freak out, it is actually a very simple plan and can be made entirely with hand tools and knocked out in a few hours. What happened with me is that I used to have all my tools in my parent's basement and would just work an hour here or there when I was visiting or doing some work at their house. So, projects tended to go in fits and starts.

After my parents passed away we sold their house. My tools, and most of this shark, went into storage at a friend's house until our addition was completed and my shop space added.

One of the first things I did in my new space was look at the shark and try to improve him. I had everything cut out but as I was test fitting him, I saw something that I didn't like. The shark's mouth opens as the lower corner of its head is pushed up by pegs on the insides of the front wheels. It works great.


Just like in real life, this shark can't go backwards.
Well, he can but the wheels lock up because the pegs can't move the sharks head from the front. It only works from the rear. My concern was that lots of times kids will move a wheeled toy back and forth rapidly. If the wheels were locking up and being forced, I worried that the pegs would break.

So, I made a test front 1/3 of the the body to experiment with. David Wakefield's plans have the eye sockets slightly larger than axle pegs that form the eyes and are anchored to the body. My thought was to have a solid dowel run from side to side and the hole in the body be more of an oval slot that would allow the head to slide up when being pushed backwards and then pivot up when being pushed forward.

How did it work? Well, I usually save every little scrap experiment but that test ended up in the fireplace. I found that the slot was going to need to be bigger than I though to allow the head to clear the peg.  It might work but it also takes away from the simplicity of the design. What can I say... I gave it a shot. It was worth a try.

So, instead the shark ended up being very straight from the book.  My one change is that I made the eye sockets 1/4" and widened the hole in the body to 5/16". Instead of pegs I used a solid dowel from one end to the other. The head needs to lined up as close to perfect as possible to make sure his (her?) head moves smoothly. Drilling both sides at the same time seems to be a must.

The body was from a 2x6 piece of pine and the sides of the head from my stash of Ikea bed slats. This shot is actually the test body before I tried cutting the slot. At this point it just has a slightly larger hole. (I figured the knot wouldn't matter since this was never going to be part of the finished toy.

Actually, having the kerf intersect the
side of the board allows the sawdust
 to escape and speeds the cut.
I like using the store bought hardwood wheels on a lot of my toys. While I can cut out wheels using my arsenal of hole cutting bits, I don't have a lathe to make them look as good as the pre-made ones. With this toy though, the slab, solid on both sides wheels, were the way to go for me. Just wanted to see how they'd come out. When cutting your own wheels, don't go all the way through. Go deep enough so you are past the 1/2 way point and the pilot bit has passed through the other side. Flip the board, line up the pilot and complete the cut. It makes for a much smoother wheel with no tear out. It is also easier to remove from the bit, which is very hot so look out.

The fins were from a different stash of Ikea bed slats usually reserved for the occasional stegosaurus. I got a nice tight fit on them and I liked how they looked but it made me rethink how I was going to finish the toy. I had originally planned on using Danish oil but I knew the contrasts in the woods would really show and perhaps be a distraction.

After a number of tests and focus groups among the family members, I settled on a two tone grey scheme with gills added on the suggestion of one of my daughters. Craft store acrylics with several coats and then gloss coated with a spray acrylic.

Clementine boxes...

... the onion of frugal woodworkers.

I painted some dowel caps to use as eyes but when I test fitted them, I wasn't happy with the look. It reminded me too much of Quint's quote in Jaws, "Sometimes that shark, he looks right into you. Right into your eyes. You know the thing about a shark, he's got... lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eye." YIKES! I'm making a toy not something to scare the poor kid.

I went with friendlier, but not too friendly, googlie eyes. They fit more into the toy vibe I was going for.

So here you go; the finished product. The lighting makes him look more blue than he really is.

It is a great design. Easy to make with hand tools but a drill press really helps. Again, I highly recommend all of Mr Wakefield's books. He sells his amazing, super high quality toys online now and you might want to check his site out. -

Like a nit-wit, I failed to get  a video of the shark in action before I gave him away. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to make another one.


  1. Are these for sale?

  2. I'll make toys like this for family and friends and give them away. I don't sell these because they are from David Wakefield's plans and I feel that they are his intellectual property. I know I change them a bit, but he did all the work in designing and publishing the plans. On the plus side though - he makes REALLY high quality versions and sells them through his site -
    You might want to check it out.

  3. I don't want to buy someone else's toys. I want to buy yours.


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.