How to Make Wooden Toys

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Toy cradles have been delighting little girls for generations.
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Details for the biplane construction.
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The wooden cradle is easy to assemble.
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What child wouldn't be thrilled to have this wooden toy biplane?
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Measure carefully before cutting.
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Print and enlarge diagram for use as a pattern.
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Print and enlarge diagram for use as a pattern.
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Print and enlarge diagram for use as a pattern.


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

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

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
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

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

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
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
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