Sunday, December 31, 2017

Making Toy Grasshoppers

These grasshoppers (and ones like them) have been a real go to gift for me over the last few years. Simple to make and really satisfying to finish. You can knock a few of them out over a weekend and are a great project that doesn't require any special tools or complicated techniques and jigs.

So before I share a few tips, here is my backstory with this toy.

The first one I saw was when I was in college. There was a Christmas craft show set up in the Student Union Building and I purchased one for my niece. I really liked how the legs moved and the classic look it had. (This was during the time I thought I'd never want anything to do with wood working or power tools...aka my "Idiot Years.")

So fast forward 20 something years and I acquire odds and ends of tools, a little experience and a mini library of toy making books. One of them is Jim Makowicki's Making Heirloom Toys. It is a great book with easy to follow illustrations. One of the plans is for this grasshopper. All of my grasshopper are pretty much straight forward from those plans. I highly recommend that you pick up a copy if you want to make some of these.

I'm not going to include a plan here since I've followed Makiwicki's plans for all the ones I have made. If you want to make one and don't have or aren't going to get the book, give this video and download on the Wood Whisper site a look. It is a little different but the same basic idea.

I do a couple of things differently than Mr Makiwicki does. Namely:
  • No antennae 
  • No pull string.
  • For the through holes in the legs, I use a 15/64" bit
  • For the stopped holes in the leg, wheel and body, I use a 7/32" bit
I changed the hole sizes to be a better fit for the pegs I use. The lack of antennae and string are because I like to keep it 100% wood. That's just me.

The "through" holes need to be loose enough to allow the leg to pivot around the peg. The others holes are "stops" that the peg needs to seat firmly and be glued into. My latest batch of pegs needed to be trimmed to length but fit nicely in the leg holes. I found that making a die and checking the pegs beforehand was a big help. If the peg is a little thick, forcing it into and back out of the proper sizing hole saved a lot of sanding and hassle.

The pegs and wheels are purchased from Woodworks Ltd. The pegs are about a nickle apiece and are solid. YES, I could make them but they wouldn't be as nice or as cost effective.

As with making all toys (and maybe all woodworking for that matter) the big time sink is in setups and not so much in cutting. After I made my first one of these I realized that going forward it was silly not to make at least two at a time whenever I was making them. Besides only having one setup on the drill-press and bandsaw, it also lets you get into a rhythm.

So, I've probably made and given away eight or ten of these over the last few years. Several of them to charity auctions. The first few I did I just used a piece of construction 2x4 for the body and painted it with craft store acrylics and then coated with spray gloss acrylic. They come out nice and really have that toy "vibe" about them.

Since I lack imagination, my painted grasshoppers have always been green. In my non-creative skull, grasshoppers are like tanks. They need to be green... or camouflaged. Otherwise, we are just living in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

Over time when I got some nicer wood (in this case maple for the body and red oak for the legs) I finished them with mineral oil and beeswax. I love working with that stuff. Besides the fact that I whipped up a 1/2 quart or so of the stuff for next to nothing, I love that it is non-toxic, actually smells nice (almost like honey if you ask me) and is super forgiving.

Here it is half applied to a piece of maple. You can see the warmth it adds. However, it isn't a stain. The oil penetrates and preserves the wood but it isn't going to protect the way a hardcore finish will. The trade-off of a great look, feel, added safety and ease of use all make it a good choice for me. Lots of places to find the formula and safety tips on the web but I found mine on a Wood Toymaker video link here.

The eyes are 1" dowels. Since I don't have a lathe,  I "turn" them using my stationary belt sander. I'll take a long length of 1" dowel, hold it it at angle against the belt sander and keep spinning it in my hands while changing the angle slightly. Keep you hands away from the belt and have the dowel facing "down stream" so it won't catch on the belt. It only take a minute of so and you have a rounded-ish end. I usually finish the rounding with a palm sander. Then you just cut it to length. I've experiment with Danish Oil, black paint and just the beeswax and mineral oil finish on the unpainted grasshoppers. All seem fine. Whatever works.

Speaking of works... here are a couple of them being tested out:

So there you go. Again, these are easy to make and make wonderful gifts. I recommend picking up a copy of Jim Makowicki's Making Heirloom Toys but if you search for plans on the internet, they can be found along with design ideas if you want to give creating a design of your own a shot.

Last tip - It never hurts to have another set of eyes (and paws) to make sure everything is coming together properly. All those parts aren't gonna knock themselves on to the floor.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Making a Toy Airplane (P26 Peashooter)

This toy came together with a great 1930's vibe and the iconic "Yellow Wing" look of interwar US aircraft. I had wanted to make a version of this airplane for quite awhile. I think what held me back was trying to make it a bit too complicated. I'm finally beginning to learn my lesson that simple is better especially with toys.

So a little history on the P-26. It was made by Boeing in the early 1930's and was the first US Army Air Corps all metal monoplane fighter. Only about 150 were made and even though they were obsolete by the start of World War Two, they did see action against the Japanese when flown by Chinese Nationalists and Filipino pilots. There are only two original P-26s still in existence. I'm lucky enough to live near the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center and it's amazing collection of aircraft. A P-26 that had been sold to Guatemala was returned and is on display there.

I love airplanes but hadn't made many wooden toy ones that weren't kits. Norm Marshall's Great All-American Wooden Toy Book has several great airplanes in it, three of which represent historic aircraft. I built the P-40 in the book and it looked great with one exception (more on that later.) His instructions for creating the fuselage are what I followed but with a P-26 outline instead.

I got my line drawings for the P-26 from one of my favorite reference site - The vast majority of the drawing are available for free. I found one I liked and then sized the image in PowerPoint until it came out to about 1/32 scale and printed it out. (Wings 10 1/2", fuselage not including cowling and tail about 7") I used a spray adhesive on the wood, let it set up for a few minutes and then applied the paper templates. The tail surfaces were then cut out on the bandsaw. I used a 2x4 for the fuselage, 1/4" surprisingly hard pine for the tail surfaces and 3/8" wine crate wood for the wing.

One thing about the P-26 is that the wing goes through the fuselage as opposed to the fuselage sitting on top of the wing. I wanted to capture that look and I did by cutting a mortise in the body before I shaped it. I used a scrap of the wing material to match the size. 1/4" wing may have been closer to scale but, I'm making a toy, not a model and it needs to be sturdy.

I gotta tell you, although in the end it came out great, it was a lot of work without the proper sized and sharpened chisels or a true mortiser handy. I used a scroll saw for the initial cut and then had a lot of file work to get a good fit. It may be simpler in the future to make this a low wing plane instead...NAH! Why make it simple when you can make it complex?! (Also note that I drilled a hole for my propeller shaft and cowling connection at the front while it was still one large block of wood. It is easier and safer to drill into it when it is a solid block..

The fuselage shaping was remarkably simple. You can do this to create the general shape of any airplane you want to make. First make the long vertical cuts along the length of the fuselage template. Just follow the contours. I used my bandsaw but you could use a coping saw. The engine cowling and the tail are separate pieces that will be attached later.

Then, here is the "trick." Reattach those sawn off parts with tape to reform the block. Then set the block on its side and follow the contours to make the horizontal cuts.

In the picture here I'm about halfway done. I cut a 1/4" notch where the horizontal tail wing is going to sit. Be careful not to take too big a divot that you can't sand the top of the fuselage back to blend in with the tail. Also, as pieces fall off, you can re-tape them to give you the support you need until all your cuts are done.

I decided to include a pilot. The history guy in me was worrying that a goofy wooden peg pilot would "ruin" this toy. Luckily one of my daughters gently reminded me that "IT'S A TOY!" and kids love little people to fly and drive various things. I used a 5/8" Forstner bit to drill all the way down through to where my wing mortise is. It caused some split out but this is hidden by the wing. No worries.

I removed the template and any tape still attached and then it was off to my friend "Bob The Belt Sander" to clean up the wiggles and sharp edges and get my general shape in order. I used a palm and detail sander to finish it up after the other parts were attached.

The P-26 has a large hump/headrest as an identifying feature. I felt like I couldn't get the shape right using one large piece of wood. So what I did was cut the hump off, sanded it to the profile I wanted and then reattached it to the fuselage with glue later. I decided to leave the windscreen off. I could have done the same thing and maybe painted it white but it seemed too fiddly and destined to break off.

The rudder and tail are very straight forward. Basically, you just want to make sure the horizontal stabilizer is going to sit flush on the fuselage where the notch was cut out. I set it up on this little jig and drilled a 1/8" hole through the horizontal stabilizer and into the fuselage. This is so I can peg it and glue it later using a 1/8" dowel.

The rudder needs to fit vertically on the tail and tuck unto the gap between the horizontal stabilizer. Since I already had a hole drilled in the stabilizer, I lined up the tail and drilled into it using the other hole as a guide. (In the picture you are looking at the underside of the assembly.)

The fit was checked... and checked... and checked. Sometimes, I need to give it rest. This isn't intended to actually fly. Just saying.

I paint my pieces pre-assembled as much as I can to get crisp lines. This is during final assembly and out of sequence but you can see the peg that will go into the fuselage and then have the tail sit on top of it. Everything is glued and it ended up being very solid.

The piece I wasn't thrilled with on the P-40 was the landing gear. They were pretty solid and looked good but seemed clunky. I also didn't like using metal screws to attach the wheels. One of the things that attracted me to the P-26 as a toy was the spatted landing gear. Besides having a cool retro look, they would also be solid and wouldn't have any metal parts.

I used the template from the line drawing just to get the general shape of the spats. You aren't cutting the spat at this point, but rather an over sized block. I used an awl to mark where the axle for the wheel should be. (I did this twice for each spatted wheel. Remember to "mirror" them so they will line up correctly.)

Then I used a Forstner bit to drill about 1/8" into my 3/8" think wine crate wood. The idea is to make a sandwich with a large enough recess for a wheel to be housed inside that will still be able to spin freely and contact the ground. (7/8" Forstner bit, 3/4" round wheel, 3/16" thick with a 1/8"axle hole.)

Rather then show every step, let me just walk you through and show the finished product.

  • Cut out the blocks of wood that will be the spats.
  • Drill 1/8" holes through the small pilot holes made by the Forstner bit.
  • Insert a 1/8" dowel and sandwich the sides together lining up the wheel wells. (Double faced tape will hold them togther.)
  • Draw your spats pattern and then cut out your shape.
  • Later, open it up, remove the tape and then sand, paint and glue as desired.

I made a quick template out of 1/8" plywood and used it to mark and then drill two 1/8" holes into the top of each spat. The holes are offset to put one into each side of the spat. These need to 90 degree holes so I used the drill press and clamped the pieces in place.

My wing wasn't painted but I lined it up to be sure it was centered properly. I then used the same template to mark and drill corresponding holes on the undersides of the wings. These holes are about 1/4" deep. The wing is made from 3/8 wine crate wood and was cut out using the line drawing as a template.

The fit on the spats was tried several times. There was some slight trimming of the 1/8" dowels to get a tight fit between the tops of the landing gear and the bottom of the wing.

Later when the wings and spats were painted, I lined everything back up and drilled 1/8" holes through the under side of the fuselage and into the wing. 1/8" dowels then secured the wing and I didn't have any messy glue push out from pushing the wing into the mortise.

Okay, last bit of cutting is the very distinctive engine cowling.
This was crazy simple. I used a 1 3/8" Forstner bit (which is actually a common size used in cabinet making. Who knew?) to drill indentations a little under 1/8" deep into a 1/2" thick board.

Then I lined up a 1 3/4" hole saw  (which is actually a common size used in toy airplane cowling making. Who knew?) on the same holes and drilled about 2/3rds of the way through the board. Having a way for the saw dust to exit the cut really speeds this up and reduces how hot the cutter will get.

Flip the board over and finish the cut to eliminate tear-out and then off to the belt sander for final shaping, especially the rounded off back edge. I ended up using some very surprisingly hard pine IKEA bed slats for this that were a little thick but I hit the finished cowlings on the belt sander to get them close enough. I made two at a time in case I messed one up.

A 1/4" dowel was used as the propeller shaft and to help secure the cowling to the fuselage. I free formed the prop. Pretty sure I used a paint stirrer. I shaped it on the disk and belt sander. The hole in the prop was just a little larger than the shaft. An axle cap keeps the prop in place. I did add a smaller disk (painted blue in the photo) that was a little thicker than the recess in the cowling to give the prop clearance over the cowling edges.

Next was painting and final assembly. Without a doubt the biggest hassle with this was the rudder with its 7 red and 6 white strips (representing Old Glory and the 13 original states.) I originally tried using a color printed piece of paper but the results were poor. I should have used thicker paper stock and a real laser printer but, hey, live and learn. Ultimately I used painters tape, a tiny brush and most of my limited supply of patience to finish it up.

From 1919 to the very early part of our involvement in WW2, the US Army Air Corps roundels had a very classy look. I printed mine with a deskjet on regular paper, cut them out, used white glue to attach them to the wings and then hit them with a coat of  gloss spray acrylic. Unfortunately, this classic design had a red circle at the center of the star. In combat it could be mistaken for just a moment as the Japanese Hinomaru (the red sun symbol used on Japanese aircraft and flags) and was discontinued in May of 1942.

I added a headrest made out of a scrap of 1/8" clementine box wood and glued everything up and coated it all with gloss spray acrylic.

Last thing was some pilots.

The young boy this toy was built for is African American. And yes... I KNOW THE USAAC WASN'T INTEGRATED IN THE 1930s! However, I'm not gonna let that stand in the way of this special little guy having a pilot for his toy that looks like him. So I painted up a nice little batch of pilots, two of whom are destined for the next airplane.

All in all it came together really well. A lot of steps but all of them were easy. Several years in the thinking and a couple of weekends in the making. I gave this to his grandmother (who is a fantastic colleague and a wonderful person.) I was super happy to hear how much he likes playing with it. Totally worth it.


This project was completed under the watchful eye of Teddy.
All parts were thoroughly tested to be 100% mouse free
and fully compliant with the laws of gravity.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Making a Cigar Box Amp

First things first:
  • I don't play guitar.
  • I didn't build the electronics or understand how they work.
  • I didn't solder a single connection on this.
  • I didn't build the "cabinet."
  • I didn't even smoke the cigars that came in the box.
  • I know... I's not a toy and this is a toy making site.
But other than that, I made it!

So this project started about 4 years ago when I was talking to one of the more clever freshwater crustaceans I've ever met - Crawfish his-self over at Crawls Backward When Alarmed.

Among his many talents, he plays guitars and builds and fixes amps (and SAABs.) I had suggested that if he made the innards for an amp, I'd try and make a vintage looking radio cabinet to house it in (like a Tombstone or Cathedral style table top radio from the 1930's.)

He very generously put together his version of an amp called "The Noisy Cricket" and dropped it off with me to do my bit. Details on his build can be found here and here.

His final assembly and the original chassis can be found here.

So, if you have any questions about any wires, inputs, electrical thingies or the sounds this project creates, please check out his site.

Like far too many of my projects without deadlines, the Noisy Cricket (aka Crawfish Instruments Model 386) sat on a shelf for a couple of years. That is until Mrs Toy Making Dad's birthday rolled around this year. She has an acoustic/electric guitar but no amp and a husband who likes making stuff. Seems like a no brainer.

So I opened up the Noisy Cricket and started taking inventory of what needed to go where. When I realized how small the components were and the fact that I wasn't going to re-solder any connections, I decided that the box could be pretty small. Then it occurred to me (and a zillion other amp DIYers on the web) to use a cigar box as the chassis.

My local beer/wine super store sells empty cigar boxes for $.50 a piece. Crazy huh? I always check the shelf to see what I can find and honestly, I've gotten some real gems there. I've made several "Shut The Box" games out of them and use them for all sorts of classy storage around the shop.

I looked for a box the speaker would fit in and then worked back from there. I found this neat ONYX box. I couldn't make a box half as solid for 20 times the cost.

It just needed some stickers removed and some superfluous wood lining taken out. (I needed the walls to be thin enough for the various switches to fit through.)

Next up, a trusty grade school "quality" compass to draw the circle out for the speaker. (That is a tool I really need to upgrade at some point. What will the editors at Better Homes and Toy Making say if they ever drop by?) I drilled a pilot whole in it and then used a coping saw since I couldn't use my scroll saw on the box lid. (It won't open flat while still attached to the rest of the box, but I could deal with that on a workbench.)

This is it after I finished. Although I gotta be honest, I pretty much butchered it with the coping saw. It looked bad until I cleaned up the circle with a drum sander attachment on my rotary tool. Just need to be patient, take little cuts and cut to the line.

As an aside, I have a circle cutter that I inherited from my parents. I was going to use that but when I put it in the drill press, I found that the shaft was bent and the experiment turned pretty scary pretty fast. However, note the $.50 cigar box holding all of my parents' Allen wrenches. Were they collectors and they just never told me?

So the next part was to line up the connecting nuts and bolts and drill those holes to anchor the speaker to the box. That then let me see exactly how much space I had to arrange my connectors and nobs without the speaker hitting them. (I had gotten a pretty good idea before I started but you never really know until you start cutting stuff up.)

So this amp is powered by a 9v battery or a DC "wall wort" power supply of similar voltage. The battery needed to be on the bottom of the chassis so as not to dangle. I then drilled the holes for the guitar cord input and the speaker out jack along with the external power connector. I put these down the side of the box with the hinges. I countersunk the holes using a Forstner bit so I could get sockets around the retaining nuts.

The top of the amp has the On/Off switch, a power indicator LED, Volume, Tone and Gain controls. I lined these holes up so that they would look centered with the lid closed.

The base of the On/Off switch required me to chisel a little inset on the inside of the box so he top would fit through. The countersinks on top were to allow for the volume, tone and gain knobs to fit in there just right. Once again, I used a Forstner bit for that.

Well, as often happens when you are clueless, I managed to disconnect a wire or two and had no idea how to fix it. For example, this do-dad came disconnected from the board thingie and if I was gonna use a melty stick on it, I figured I should actually know where it was supposed to go. (Sorry for all the technical jargon.) So, I popped into my exceedingly sensible vehicle and paid a visit to Crawfish's Electronic Dungeon for the final touches.

He got to work replacing the speaker with an upgraded one he had recently acquired and wanted to test and grabbed a schematic to see where the do-dad was supposed to connect to the thingie. He heated up the melty stick and a few puffs of mostly non-toxic smoke later, we was in business.

We switched out the blue knobs for these grey ones and he added a battery clamp and some Velcro to hold down the board. Basically, the only time it will ever be opened will be to replace the battery so we didn't make any efforts at wire management.

As they say.. the proof is in the playing.

Since I can't play, Crawfish gave it a test :

And he worked out the Kinks...

Anyway, not something I could have done on my own, but something that I think most people could do with a few drill bits, a box ,some patience and a buddy who knows what the heck he is doing.

Just Saying...

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


About Me

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