How to Make Wooden Toys

Two sets of plans for making wooden toys: a doll's cradle and a biplane.


Toy cradles have been delighting little girls for generations.


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From THE ART OF MAKING WOODEN TOYS, by Peter Stevenson. Copyright ©1971, by the author. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Chilton Book Company, Philadelphia.

Click on the Image Library to see diagram and plans for the projects.

Making a Wooden Doll's Cradle

The cradle design was taken almost verbatim from a 200-year-old New England version that has made a big hit with the little ones ever since the days before George Washington and his boys got busy. For the turned legs, use ready-made room-divider posts available at most lumberyards and home-supply stores. Of course, if you have access to a wood lathe, then you're all set to make your own style posts. Or if neither ready-made posts nor lathes seem to be within your reach, the designs can be cut into the sides of 2" X 2" stock with a band saw or coping saw.

Only two of the ready-made 18" divider posts are needed. Each post is cut near the center of the turned part, forming one of the 10" posts for the head of the cradle, as well as the 8" post for the foot of the cradle on one side.

Step One: Cutting  

Mark the dimensions of the sides, the ends, and the bottom of the cradle onto a 6' length of 1" X 8" stock with an interesting grain. Make the straight cuts with a carpenter's handsaw, a table saw, or a portable electric circular saw. Then cut the scrollwork at the head end of the cradle with a band, jig, saber, or coping saw. Now cut the rockers from a 2' length of 2" X 4" stock.

Step Two: Drilling  

The box of the cradle is fastened together at the corners, with 1-1/4", Number 8, flathead wood screws, or something close to that size. The sides and ends of the cradle box butt against the corner posts, flush with the inside edge. Starter holes for the screws are drilled through the posts in the positions shown, with a 1/8" drill bit. Then 3/8" countersunk holes are drilled down into these starter holes to a depth that will allow the screws to have a good bite into the sides and ends of the box. Each corner post will have a different set of adjacent joining sides, so drill the countersunk holes separately for each post. Drill starter holes and then countersunk holes where they are shown along the bottom of the sides and ends for the screws that will attach the sides to the bottom of the cradle.

Larger holes, roughly 3/4" to 1" in diameter, can now be drilled down into the two short, flat surfaces on the top edges of both rockers to serve as seats for the turned bottom ends of the corner posts. Try to fit tile diameter of the hole to the size of the turning inserted, and also to make the holes of equal depth, about 1/2". Now drill 1/8" screw holes down through the centers of these holes and out tile other side. Drill 3/8" countersunk holes in from the bottom side to a depth that will allow the screws to get a good bite into the ends of the posts.

Step Three: Assembling  

Place a line of white glue down one side of one of the shorter legs and attach it to the foot end of one side, flush with the inner edge. Now attach the longer post to the other end in the same way, with screws and glue.

Assemble the other side to the other legs in the same manner, making certain that the countersunk holes are always to tile outside. Now attach the foot and head end pieces to the corner posts of one side and, finally, attach the other posts to the end pieces.

Slip the bottom of the cradle down between the sides, and sink screws in from the sides and ends to hold it in place.

Insert the bottom ends of the corner posts at one end down into the large holes in the top edge of one of the rockers, after placing a dab of glue in cacti hole, of course. Then run screws up from the bottom edge of the rocker firmly into the bottom ends of the corner posts. Repeat this performance to attach the other rocker at the other end.

A large variety of wooden drawer pull knobs call be found to decorate the tops of the posts. These can be fastened with glue and finishing nails, or double-ended screws, if you like get fancy.

The decoration used on tile head end of the example pictured was chosen from a number of nicely cast, press wood "stick-ons" available at most home-supply and hobby stores.

Cut a 3/8" dowel into very short lengths, about 1/4" to 3/8", with a band, hack or table saw, to make dowel plugs cover the screwheads. Place a dab of glue in each countersunk hole on one side of the cradle, then insert the short stub, of dowel and with a mallet tap them into the hole until flush with the surface. Repeat this on the other sides until all holes are filled.

Round off all the upper edges of the cradle box, as well as the rockers. Then sand with coarse, medium, and fine sand paper to remove all potential splinters.

Step Four: Finishing  

The finish used can be whatever you and your young client agree upon. The cradle could be antiqued and decorated with
colored embellishments, or varnished, or stained and then wiped and given a coat or two of satin finish varnish, as in this example. Now all you need is a blanket, a favorite doll and a small girl to complete the set.

LUMBER LIST for the Cradle

Six feet of 1" x 6" stock (with interesting grain)

Two 18"-long turned room-divider posts (about 1-1/2" thick)

Two feet of 2" X 4" stock

One foot of 3/8"-diameter wood dowel

Four decorative wood drawer-pull knobs

Three dozen 1-1/4", Number 8, flat- head wood screws

One or two decorative pressed-wood stick-ons

The BiPlane

The little French biplane, that nimble nemesis of the Kaiser's best efforts, is a composite design taken from several famous old birds, like the Nieuport, the Sopwith, and the Avro. While the rotary engines in these early beasts looked much like the radial engines of today, they were different in that instead of the crankshaft's turning the propeller, the prop was bolted to the engine and the whole engine rotated, leaving the crankshaft stationary.

Control of these engines fell somewhat short of precise, with power tending to be either Full-On or Full-Off; hence the strange Bup, bup, barrup sound they made when coming in for a landing.

Having two short sets of wings gave them plenty of climbing power, while still allowing great ability and strength. And in the hands of a Rickenbacker, or a Lufberry, they were quite a sight to see going through their paces.

To make this version, start with a 1' length of clear-grained, softwood 4" X 4" stock to make the fuselage.

Step One Cutting  

Make a copy of the fuselage profile (full-scale size) in the plans, using carbon paper, tracing paper or a copier; then cut this pattern to trace the profile onto the wood. Use a band saw or coping saw to cut out tile profile of tile fuselage. Their draw a center line down the top of the fuselage, and tract, around a pattern; draw the top outline onto the top of the fuselage. Cut this out.

The tail surfaces and propeller are drawn onto 1/4"-thick plywood or paneling, and then cut out with a band, jig, saber or coping saw.

Cut four 6"lengths of 3/8"-diameter wood dowel and three 3" lengths of 3/8" dowel. Cut one last piece of 5/16"-diameter dowel, 4 1/8" long.

The wings are cut from tapered 3/4" X 6" or 3/4"x -8" lapped house-siding lumber. A 4' piece is as short as you can buy it in most yards, but you might be able to happen onto some cut-off ends in the scrap pile of the yard. If, for some reason, you can't find any of this standard house siding, wings call be made from 1/2-"thick stock.

When marking on the outlines of the wings, align tile trailing edges of the wings with tile thin edge of tile tapered siding. Mark a center line down tile piece of siding and use tile wing patterns to draw the complete wings on both sides of the line.

Cut the wheels from 1/2"-thick scrap plywood with the 2-1/4"-diameter hole-saw attachment for tile power drill.

For the engine cowling, use a very short piece of hardwood 4" X 4" (or any wood with a color that contrasts with the fuselage wood). Slice off one end of the 4" X 4" as squarely as you can manage. Now mark a squared line around the 4" X 4", 1-1/8" in from the first cut, and slice off a nicely squared 1-1/8" piece of 4"X 4" (preferably without any cracks in it). Draw a 2-3/4" diameter circle on the end grain of this slice and cut it out.

Step Two: Drilling  

The two strut holes can be drilled into the top of the fuselage now with a 3/8" wood drill bit, as shown in the plans. Also drill a 3/8" hole for the tail skid in the bottom of the fuselage, angled in from the back.

Drill the 3/8" holes shown in the wing patterns into the top of the wings. With a 1/8" bit, drill a hole through the center point of the engine circle, a hole through the center of the propeller, a hole through the bottom wing near the center, as shown, and two holes in the edge of the rudder, one down through the top edge, and one in from the bottom back edge, as shown. A 1/8" hole is also needed down through the center of the pilot's head.

Now, with a 1/16" drill bit (or with one of the 1"-long finishing nails with the head nipped off mounted in the drill), space four holes around the center hole in the propeller, as shown. Drill holes in from the edges of the wings, directly into the strut holes with this small bit, as shown in the side view.

Step Three: Shaping  

To form the fuselage, use a wood rasp or, better yet, a serrated wood shaper to round over the top of the fuselage in front and in back of the cockpit. Round off the bottom of the fuselage sides slightly, and then smooth up the sides. Round off the edges of the wings, the tail surfaces, and the wheels. Place the engine cowling face-up on a firm, flat surface, and spend a little time rounding it into a smooth, bowl-shaped form.

Remove the shaper marks from all tile parts with coarse sandpaper. Then use medium sandpaper to remove the scratches left by the coarse paper, and finally leave a nice, polished surface on the parts with fine sandpaper.

Step Four: Assembling  

With the fuselage upside down, place the lower wing in position; drill two short starter holes through the screwholes in the wing and into the bottom of the fuselage. Attach the wing to the fuselage with white glue and 1-1/4'", Number 8, flathead wood screws.

Place a dab of glue in each strut hole in the top of the fuselage, insert two of the 3" lengths of 3/8" dowel, and tap them firmly down into the holes. Insert the tops of these dowels into the holes provided in the top wing, and lower the wing to approximately the height shown in the side view.

The 6" lengths of dowel can be inserted through the remaining holes in both wings. Adjust the position of the upper wing so that it is squared at the right height above the lower wing, as shown in the plans. With the 1/16" bit, drill starter holes in through the holes already drilled in the edges of the wings, and into the strut dowels.

Rest the trailing edges of the wings on a firm, flat surface and drive 1" finishing nails into the edge holes and into the dowels. Check the alignment of the wings from the top, sides, and front as this nailing progresses. The leftover struts sticking out from the top and bottom of the wings can now be trimmed off with a hacksaw or coping saw, cutting carefully and with the grain of the wings. Sand the strut ends flush with the wing surfaces. A drop of glue around each strut where it enters the wing will make the structure even sturdier.

Now the horizontal tail surface can be glued and railed to the top of the tear end of the fuselage. Insert two 2" finishing nails in through the holes in the edges of the rudder, run a bit of glue along the edges that join with the top and end of tile fuselage, and finally, holding the rudder squarely in place, drive the nails into the fuselage. Check the rudder from the front view and square it up a bit if needed.

To attach the propeller to the engine, place a dab of glue on the backside of the center of the prop and insert a 2" finishing nail through the front of the center hole and into the hole in the engine center. Place a small finishing nail in each of the small holes around the center of the prop, and drive them in, leaving just a little of the heads sticking out of the prop. Check, to see that the engine assembly can rotate freely around a 2" finishing nail. If not, clean out the hole a little with a 1/8" bit.

Place the engine against the front of tile fuselage in the position shown in the side view, and drive in the center nail, leaving enough play for the engine to turn freely. Bend the nail slightly if the engine hangs up in one place when turning over. It will loosen up more and more as time goes on.

Step Five: The Landing Gear

The landing gear is made from aluminum counter-edge stripping. This comes in 3' lengths with holes drilled every five or six incites. It's about 5/8" wide and beveled on both edges of one side. Lacking this, 5/8"-wide iron strap can be used.

Cut the stripping into two 4-3/8" lengths and one 6-3/4" length. Mark a line across the long piece at the center. Now mark a 1/8" hole 5/8" away from the center line on each side, and drill these holes with the 1/8" bit. Make a mark 3/8" in from both ends of the stripping, and drill 3/8" holes at these marks. Drill 3/8" holes 3/8" in from the squared ends of the shorter pieces, and then 1/8" holes 1/2" in from the other of the short pieces. Round off the ends of the strippings with the 3/8" holes, using a file.

Bend the longer piece as shown in the plans, with the beveled side to the outside. Bend the ends of the shorter pieces, over in different directions so that there is a left and a right side with the beveled side out.

Mount the long strip to the bottom wing, flush with the front of the fuselage, with screws.

With the help of a hammer, insert one end of the 4-1/8" length of 5/16" dowel through a center hole in one of the wheels, so that the dowel sticks out the other side of the wheel a little less than 1/8". Place the plane upside down on a flat surface, and insert the end of the axle through one of the end holes in the long landing-gear piece. Slip the holes in the shorter pieces over the end of the axle with the beveled sides out and the bent-over ears pointing toward the center of the plane. Now insert the axle through the hole in the other end of the mounted, long piece of the landing gear. Insert end of the axle down into the center hole of the other wheel (lying flat on the bench) and tap the axle through so than just barely sticks out the other side of the wheel. Now place the plane upside down again and mount the shorter lengths of stripping firmly with screws through the 1/8" holes, positioning them up against the inside of the longer piece of stripping. Tap a glued 3/8" dowel tail skid into the hole in the tail bottom and cut off on an angle about 1-1/2" below the fuselage.

Step Six: Painting  

After a final light sanding, a coat or two of satin finish varnish will bring out the contrasting wood tones (watch for drips along the sides of the cockpit and the struts). When dry, the rudder can be painted gloss white. When this is dry, the vertical bands of red and blue can be painted on.

With a small, round paintbrush, paint in the flat or semigloss black circle around the center of the engine cowling, as shown in the photos. While you have the black handy, paint the tires, which come about 1/4" to 3/8" in from the outer edge of the wheel discs.

The time has come to create a pilot for this worthy little bird. Drive a 2" finishing nail down through the center of the top of the pilot's head (a 1-1/2" drawer-pull ball), leaving just the head of the nail sticking out the top. Sketch the face on the head and with the 1/16" bit drill two holes about 1/2" deep for the tacks that will form the eyes. Hammer in the two 3/4"-long, roundhead brass tacks, then paint on the black moustache and helmet, and place two small black dots in the center of the tack heads for eyes.

While this is drying, cut a 5/8" X 6" strip of checked cotton or other thin material, and fray the ends. Tie a double knot of the material around the nail sticking out the bottom of the head, leaving one end about an inch longer than the other.

Now the head can be hammered down into a starter hole drilled down into the center of the cockpit.

This done, it's "contact" time, heads up, tails over the dashboard, and off to the Dawn Patrol with all due haste.

LUMBER LIST for the BiPlane

One foot of clear-grained soft wood 4" X 4"
Two feet of tapered 1" X 6" or 1" X 8" lapped house siding
Three feet of 3/8"-diameter wood dowel
Six inches of 5/16"-diameter wood dowel
A small scrap of 1/4"-thick plywood or paneling at least 6" X 6"
Half a dozen 1-1/4", Number 8, flathead wood screws
A small scrap of 1/2"-thick plywood at least 3" X 6"
Two dozen 1"-finishing nails
One short length of hardwood 4" X 4" stock
Three feet of 5/8"-wide, beveled aluminum edge stripping
A 1-1/2"-diameter wood drawer-pull ball
Two 3/4"-long roundhead brass tacks
A 5/8" X 6"-long strip of checked material