One of the highlights of parenthood is returning — at least temporarily — to childhood, when the time comes to pick out a new toy for the little one in your life. But if you haven't been keeping a sharp eye on the market in playthings since the days when you were young enough to take a personal interest, you might be in for a surprise! The simple, durable toys that were common not long ago are now built almost exclusively by independent craftspeople and can be difficult (and expensive) to come by.
The solution of course, is to build quality handmade wooden toys for your tots. After all, in the course of a few well-spent hours in your workshop, you can assemble attractive and entertaining gadgets that should survive the best efforts of the average youthful wrecking crew. And when you watch the sparkle in your offspring's eyes — after the wrapping paper flies — you'll have the special sense of satisfaction that comes with making a gift of your own handwork.
The two designs presented here were developed to be relatively easy to construct ... but to require different tools and materials. Depending on your own selection of equipment — and your preference for pine, plywood, or hardwood — you can start with the project that best suits your needs and interests. Just observe the dimensions provided on the accompanying grid diagrams and read through the following paragraphs for some tips on easy construction provided by MOTHER EARTH NEWS' own toy shop "elves"!
Our rocking horse relies on three laminations of 1" lumber (with the grain set at 90° angles) for strength in its tail and head ... while its body is formed from just a single thickness. If you own a band saw, the pieces of 1 X 12 could be glued together in advance and cut as one. There is, however, an additional advantage (in this case) to sawing each of the layers separately: Because the horse's back arcs downward significantly — and because the critter's tail rises pertly in the air — you'll probably have enough waste lumber left after cutting out the main body to form the laminations for the head and tail.
The runners for the rocker can be profiled to suit the age and coordination of your child ... the design we've chosen is a bit on the conservative side, and limits the forward and backward movement to prevent head-over-heels disasters. But if you do decide to shorten or raise the ends of the rockers to suit the whims of a more athletic youngster, it might also be a good idea to choose a sound hardwood — such as maple or ash — that can stand up to the additional stress you're anticipating.
The saddle design on your creation is of course, a matter of your personal preference in riding styles. We chose English, but you might opt for Western for your underage cowpoke. In any event using a brass paper fastener to secure the stirrups to the saddle's under-the-belly "cinch" will give you the option of removing the covering for cleaning.
Whichever of the toys you decide to build, we're sure that you and your child will get more joy from it than you could acquire from a store-bought gewgaw, and it'll be pleasure that should last for years.
MOTHER EARTH NEWS' dump truck is a great project for the woodworker with a limited number of tools. Built of 3/8" plywood, 1 1/16" square stock, some scraps of 1 1/8" lath, and enough 1 X 4 to make four wheels, the vehicle requires no curved cuts (though some filing is necessary to round out the wheel wells and provide enough clearance on the frame to allow the load bed to tip up). Glue and wood screws do all the bonding.
Furthermore, not only does the truck's load-carrying assembly tilt — so that the contents can be dispensed from the bin — but the tailgate itself automatically swings open when the bed is lifted. (To achieve this bit of realism, we simply drilled a 1/8" hole in the upper rear corner of each side panel and sank a No. 4 X 1/2" wood screw through the opening and into the tailgate. Thus the shank of the screw pivots easily within the bore in the side panel, while the threads are nestled firmly in the wooden flap!)
You should also, in order to build a really sturdy toy, make sure that the load bed rides squarely on four points: the two dowels set on the frame and the frame itself at the points where the lath crosspiece (which forms the pivot mount) crosses the rails. The 1/4" swivel dowel will have to be carefully placed in the 1 1/16" square stock to achieve this, but — with four "mounts" to distribute the load — the resulting dump truck will be capable of taking a considerable amount of abuse from careening youngsters.