Sunday, April 26, 2015

My Island of Misfit (Prototype) Toys

Charlie in the Box – “My name is all wrong. No child wants to play with a Charlie-In-The-Box, so I had to come here.”
Hermey – “Where's "here’

We're on the island of misfit toys…

Yes. His name is Hermey. Not Herbie. He was a gift from a friend last Christmas and now he hangs out and watches over my shop. True he turned his back on his toy making heritage to study dentistry but while you can take the elf out of the shop... you never can really take the shop out of the elf.

Speaking of my shop... I knew it was time to clean my shop when there was no place for my cat to sit when I was trying to work. I could see that he was getting quite frustrated at not being able to get in my way or use his "Purr-Rays" to hypnotize me into doing whatever he wants. In fact, it may have been his idea for me to start cleaning up.

For years I had been in the habit of holding on to every little scrap of wood or doo-dad I had worked on. In a bit of irony, now that I have a bunch of space for good stuff, I really don't have space for a bunch of junk. For the first time I could remember I started throwing stuff out or putting it into the "burn bucket" for our fire-pit.

But before I clean, let me digress....

The sources for my toys are pretty varied. I get an awful lot of plans from books and more than a few ideas off the interwebs. Sometimes they are a mix and match where I change a plan just a little to match my tastes/interests or to make it special for the person receiving the toy. Sometimes though, I just get an idea and tinker with it a bit and see where it takes me.

Ideas like the WW1 British and German tanks, this dump truck and the bomb sight were proofs of concept (proof of concepts?) that just kept going until I had a finished product. However, in cleaning up my space I was surprised at all the prototypes and near misses that I had held on to.

Which (finally) leads us to The Island of Misfit (Prototype) Toys.

I was surprised that I had held on to so many of these, but while some did head for the burn box, a lot of these went back on the shelf or in a box.

This bulldozer was  based on David Wakefield's idea in "How to Make Animated Toys"
I got distracted working how to make a little driver bounce up and down and never got back to finishing this. Blade was too clumsy anyway. Some day.

Torpedo launcher. When I was a kid my buddy Jack had this plastic naval play-set where torpedoes fired out of the subs.It was pretty cool and it was the inspiration for this. You push the torpedo down the bow tube and it pushes in a plunger that is then locked by upward pressure on the conning tower/periscope. (There is a spring at the rear of the plunger.) Once locked, just push down on the periscope and the torpedo launches. I turned the torpedo on a mini lathe and it would actually shoot several feet. It worked well but I didn't like burying working parts where I couldn't get at them if they needed to be fixed. Proportions are wrong as well unless I was building a mini-sub... hey....that's not a bad idea!

A tank turret where the main gun recoils thanks to a Sotch Yoke. Basically rotational motion is converted to linear motion. The neat thing is this should allow me to rotate the turret and the gun would reciprocate no matter which direction it faced. Pretty cool, huh? Actually needs to be built to a much higher tolerance and the turret would have to be pretty snug in its ring to prevent it from rotating by itself. Still, an idea that I should revisit.

Hard to tell from this picture.... but yes, I was working on a  Katyusha rocket launcher. For the non-History Channel types reading this, the Katyusha is a Soviet truck mounted rocket launcher used most famously in the Second War War (or... if any readers are actually coming from those Russian sites showing in my stats... The Great Patriotic War.) The idea was to pick up a $1 craft store truck and build a rocket launcher on it that really worked because for some reason it sounded exactly like something I would do. Tiny rubber bands provide the force. You pull back on the block, the little dowels retract, you let go of the block, the dowels fly forward and that sends little dowel rockets flying towards entrenched German invaders. Or not. It just didn't work very well. I can still build the truck though.

This one is hard to imagine but the idea is a sort of Gatling gun that shoots soda caps. You're looking part of the feed mechanism. Seriously. Caps fall down a tube, are pulled to the side, drop down and are fired. The feed pulls back grabs another cap and the cycle is repeated. Sorta worked but was going to be too big. I need to revisit it with realistic dimensions. Perhaps the world isn't ready for an automatic bottle cap launcher anyway.

Okay, now on to the Hall of Failed Ramp Walkers.

I love ramp walkers. They are neat gravity folk toys that are just amazing. These toys seem to walk down a ramp on their own. No batteries, springs or rubber bands. Just some physics and woodworking. Actually, they are hard to get just right. It is a mix of balance, friction, gravity etc that has to be just right or the toy will slide or stop walking half way down the ramp. I've managed to build two successful styles of ramp walkers. You can view the videos of a rhino unicorn and the kangaroo pictured on the left.

The Unicorn is based on Lou Ma's ramp walking rhino plan with some cosmetic changes. (That link leads to Dug North's amazing Automata Blog. You should check it out.)

I've actually made four of the kangaroos. The plans came from Wombat Morrison's Instructable. It is great plan. It works every time.

Anyway.... For the two that worked, there are four that didn't. Here was first ramp walker attempt; a duck. Somewhere I have a very poor quality cell phone video of it walking down a ramp. Since I had to tape assorted washers and nickles to it rear end to make it walk, I knew that it wasn't right. One of my daughters has a duck "thing" so I will get it right at some point.

I wanted to make the unicorn based on a horse but I couldn't find a pattern. I'd seen plastic ones that used to be used as cereal premiums but not a wood one. I gave this a shot to try and work out the mechanics. Needless to say... it didn't work.

So I decided that what  I need was a more flexible prototype model. Something I could try multiple variations on until I got it down right. So I tried this piece of modern day engineering and much to my surprise... it didn't work.

After I had built several kangaroos and the rhino, I got a better sense for how the ramp walkers need to work. I decided to try my hand at designing something from scratch. I applied all my new found expertise and put it into this prototype ramp walking gorilla and surprisingly enough... it didn't work. Close though... he will be revisited.

Last of the non-working ramp walkers is this bird based on one of Lou Ma's designs. I simply couldn't get it to work properly. I think he is salvageable but not a high priority. He (she?) has been spared from the burn bucket for the time being.

The entire time I was cleaning things, the cat was keeping tabs on me. As each little space was cleared, he'd claim it as his own and command me to do his bidding. I had no choice but to obey.

The last two prototypes are still under development. The first is a string climbing orangutan. Again, it is based on a Lou Ma idea but modified by me. This guy works, but not as smoothly as I would want. Arms are too angular to look natural but there is still hope for him. He'll  live on the Kennedy Assassination shelf for the time being.

And now, the latest prototype/proof of concept. I've seen plans for railroad hand truck toys where men on each side pump the handles up and down. Pretty cool but what if instead of people, it was penguins?!!! I know! Crazy cool huh? Got the idea from a grocery store display. Anyway, it works. I need to make convincing penguins and use the measurements I figured out on this to make a real one.

Teddy and Hermy supervised me through to the end. On the table under them you can see a partially completed frog who is actually on top of ANOTHER prototype piece: the Spinosaurus that I started five years ago and shelved.

In a perfect world, I would have closed this post with a picture of my clean shop but.... well it was clean for a day or two and then I re-clutterfied it. I guess it shows that I'm at least using the space... just saying.

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.