With some scrap lumber and an hour or so of measuring, cutting, and fastening, your youngster will be walking on stilts in no time.
There's little doubt that a child can have a heck of a lot of fun with modest tin can stilts. However, those who might want a somewhat fancier set of "member extenders" will be pleased to know that MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader Tom Rath, Jr. of Lucedale, Mississippi sent in a sketch for a pair of walking sticks that are not only easy to build but—because of their design—are head and shoulders above any other stilts we've seen!
Tom's high-steppers are special, you see, because the "passenger" on these play poles rests his or her weight directly above the center support of each staff ... rather than placing the load on the usual offset footrests, in a position which tends to force both of the shafts inward and make movement more of a problem than a pleasure.
Happily, it doesn't take much more than a supply of scrap wood to construct these artificial legs, either. You'll need just two 60" lengths of 1 X 2, two 16" pieces of 2 X 2, two 1 X 2 spacers (each about 4" long), four 5 1/2" pieces of 1 X 6, about 36 No. 8 X 1 1/2" flathead wood screws, and a small amount of carpenter's glue. (Note: With the exception of the 1 X 6 gussets, all the wooden components for this project can be trimmed from a five-foot length of 2 X 4, it desired.)
After you've cut the handles, gussets, spacers, and support legs, you can temporarily assemble each stilt and drill holes for the fasteners. The simplest way to accomplish this is to position one handle, leg, and spacer assembly on a flat surface so that the upward-facing edges of the components are all flush with each other, and the sides of the handle and leg overlap. Next, place one gusset on top of this timber trio, and drill holes through both the gusset and the wooden pieces beneath it. (Hint: Your task will be simplified if you use a No. 8 size combination drill and countersink tool.)
With that done, spread some glue on the contact surfaces, including the joint between the handle and foot, and thread your fasteners loosely into their respective openings. Flip the assembly over and repeat the procedure on the other side (be careful not to drill the complementary series of holes directly opposite the initial ones). Then bore two more holes through the handle and foot, and install a screw at each of these locations to insure a solid connection. Finally, tighten the remaining 16 fasteners in each stilt assembly and cover the new "timber limbs" with a coat or two of good outdoor paint. You may also—especially if your child will be using the playthings on a concrete surface—want to tack a patch of old automobile tire on the bottoms of the stilts (and maybe even on the upper surface of the foot-rests) to prevent accidental slips.
Your youngster will discover that using the improved stilts isn't difficult at all. In fact, even if he or she is just learning the art of high-altitude hiking, the transition from normal walking to super-pedestrianism will be an easy one indeed!
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