Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Year in review 2014

It is another year over and one more begins.  It was an interesting year for me.  There were some changes made last year that affected this year and some unexpected surprises. Here are the highlights of the goals I had last year.
  • I wanted to finish the monster trucks.  Check, done and complete.  I am grateful they are complete.  It was a fun little project but one I will not soon repeat.
  • Catch up on the Wood Magazine construction equipment.  I did and I am now three behind.  They have a front end rear loader, cement truck and crane that I have not done.  Honestly probably will not either.  These toys have become more intricate and fragile that I really do not want to build them.  In addition the hardware alone for the cement truck was $54 plus shipping.  Really not worth it.
  • The CNC equipment has been a lot of fun to use.  There have been some projects that have been posted on the blog from this piece of equipment.  I still feel guilty sometimes that I am cheating when I use it.
  • The Christmas project was completed and I have requests for more.  It will be featured later when I take pictures and post it.
So in review, here are some of the highlights of the year.
  • The biggest and most noteworthy is that I have started to design.  It has been so much fun and rewarding.  I designed a dump truck at the beginning of the year and things just started to fall into place. Two of the projects were directly a result from requests.  I am currently working on the city trucks version of my designs.  I hope to have them completed end of February.
  • We moved again.  The garage is slightly smaller but I did buy a miter saw and a drum sander.  I actually purchased it with money that I had earned over the past two years.  I am far from funding my hobby but I felt like it was an accomplishment.  I am still far from a lathe.  I am still going to need some type of dust collection in the garage before I think about a lathe or planer.
  • I joined the Inland Empire Scroll Saw Association.  Small little group of relatively old people, but they have a lot of fun and have a lot of talent.  It is a little bit of a narrow scope of wood working but it is something that I am learning and growing in.  In November they have a toy drive of all handmade toys.  The group donated over 1500 wood toys.  I think I added 9 to the mix.  We will have to see what next year brings.  I have committed to make two of everything, one for my kids and one to donate.
  • I was contacted about my alien nativity.  It was some one interested in making one for a school and where I had purchased the plans.  He was from England.  It was a nice little reminder of why I created and maintain this blog and how small this world has become with technology.  I also found the shepherd plans and so my nativity is complete.  This was also the first year that I displayed my nativities for all to see at the Upland Creche festival.  I do not know if there was any comments but it was nice to show them off since they do not get displayed much.
My favorite projects this year.
  • First was the train.  Let's face it, it is an awesome train!  It was a challenge and was my first big design project.  There were things that I learned and it was enough of a challenge to keep the project interesting until the end.
  • A close second was the excavator.  It actually scoops!  The design was the challenge of project and I was always anxious to see it all the moving parts would work together.
I don't know what next year will bring.  I have some ideas but I really don't know.  Here are some things that I would like to accomplish.
  • I am going to continue designing. I have about three designs in process and hope to add some more.  I am thinking I need to design some toys for girls but not sure what to make.  
  • I am going to stick with the scroll saw association and see where that takes me this year.  I have learned that my toys are simple in the way of design.  I like being intricate with the scroll saw designs.  I do not have a Christmas project picked out next year. Maybe I will take it off.  
  • I hope to get a website launched.  Several people tell me I need to sell my stuff.  I think that I will start with plans.  I really have a fear of not making deadlines.  If I miss a deadline, I ruin a kid's present.  
It has been a fun year.  I am looking forward to 2015.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Thoughts on making Nativities

I have made a couple of Nativity scenes and will probably continue to make them.  I probably think too much and over analyze things.  Although this is not a religious blog, I would like to share some of the things that go through my mind and challenges I face with each scene.  It starts with the pattern.  In my life this event has great importance.  The birth of our Savior had been prophesied for melenia prior to his birth.  I choose patterns that I feel will portray the significance of this sacred event.  Here are the parts of the nativity from the easiest to cut to the hardest (It does not matter the pattern or set).
  • Star -  This little aspect of the Nativity scene guided the Wise men to the baby Jesus.  Honestly the artistic stars look better than the large balls of burning gas.
  • Camel - Not ever sure if there was a camel in the nativity, but I am sure that the Wise men had to ride of something.  Granted these Wise men came some time after the birth of Christ. 
  • Stable - This is a structure and could be made in several different ways.  At the time it was for animals full of imperfections and probably just barely standing.  Yes it did protect the Baby from the elements.  It was a temporary place. 
  • Angel(s) - Not sure where the angel comes from in the scene.  If it is the scriptural account, they should be with the shepherds.  I guess there were angels present in the stable where they are commonly placed.  These angelic figures are represented incorrectly with wings, so I figure they must have some sense of humor or be used to being made with wings.  If you wonder where I get my idea of angels don't have wings; I firmly believe that we are created in the image of God and his children.  He doesn't have wings.  We will also be resurrected to our perfect selves.  I am pretty sure I never had wings.  I apologize to all the angels out there.
  • Wise men - They provided a valuable testimony of the birth of our Savior.  They did travel a great distance and watched and waited for the sign of His birth to appear.  They knew of His importance before He was even born.  They were men of importance and I expect they were humble enough to know that if I messed up, they would understand.
  • Sheep - My guess is there was sheep in the stable.  They were very common and used as sacrifice in that time.  The lamb was a used several times in the Master's teachings and was a representation of Him when sacrificed.  The lamb needed to be white and without blemish.  I feel I have saved the sheep I make from sacrifice because there are definitely blemishes on them.
  • Donkey - This beast of burden carried the mother of Jesus while she was nine months pregnant.  First of all, what and honor for the donkey to be given such a responsibility.  Secondly, I have to wonder if the donkey knew who he was carrying and took extra care and tried to make the journey a little easier.  
  • Shepherd - Probably the lowest in rank and privilege and stature that saw the baby Jesus,  but one of the more remarkable.  Angels came to them to announce the Saviors birth.  They went immediately to see and then proclaimed it through out the area what they had witnessed.  I also have to reflect on the role of the Savior as the true shepherd.  His shoes worn walking in front of his herd, constantly looking for and working about the lost sheep and always to ready to help when the need arises. 
  • Joseph -  I realize that he would be Christ's step father, but the responsibility he bore was heavy.  He could have condemned Mary, been judgmental and not shown as much care to Jesus because he was "technically" not his son.  He taught Him a trade and brought Him up as his own.  Even though there is not much written about Joseph, I am sure he was a great father.  He did help raise the Savior of the world.  I may be putting him in the place where I put myself in my family and he may have felt the same.
  • Jesus - He is not the hardest to cut.  Although perfect in every aspect in life, I know that he will forgive no matter how small or grievous of sin in that I make.  I can slip up and cut where I am not supposed to and I know that he know that I have tried my best.  He is usually the smallest part of the nativity but the biggest part in our lives.
  • Mary - I feel there is a special place in hell for those who belittles, offends, mocks or degrades our mothers.  I know that our Savior held his mother in the same respect.  He proved this while hanging on the cross.  Even when dying he made sure his mother was taken care of.  She will always be cut with a new blade and will usually be the last one to be cut out.
Yes, this is what goes through my head with each nativity that I make.  It does not matter if I am making one or several.  Each piece has an important part in the story.  I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to recreate this remarkable event in history.

If you are wondering what my favorite nativity made is, it is the Alien nativity.  First wood nativity I did.  I failed the first time because I was not experienced on the scroll saw.  I needed a little dose of humility before I could attempt to make it.  I spent two years making puzzles to get accustomed to the scroll saw and gain the confidence to make it.  The pieces are vary much imperfect and several mistakes.  Some of the pieces do not even fit together.  However, through time and patience the scene was complete and I am proud of it.  The second favorite may be a surprise.  It was made before I even started in by wood working hobby.  I don't know if I was even out of grade school at the time.  It is not pictured here and probably will not.  It was made out of plastic canvas.  It is not made well and all parts have glaring mistakes. I was young and it is the first nativity that I did on my own.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Alien Nativity part two.

I do not remember how I came across the shepherds plan but I did.  The bad thing is that I ordered the wrong size.  I ordered the yard size instead of the table top size.  Seriously, the large shepherd was over 30" tall!  I shrunk it down to make it look the same size.  I cannot see how that could be cut out with all the curves.  Anyways, this was a nice little addition to the alien nativity.  It came out nice and seemed a lot easier than the original, probably because I have done a lot more scroll work since the first one.

The only issue is the color does not match.  Wood does age over time.  It will take some time for the shepherds to match.  This was recently displayed at a creche festival by my house.  There were lots of nice displays there.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The new Tug Boat

There are many people that have received a tug boat from me.  It seems to be the baby shower gift of choice.  The original tug boat came from the Making Heirloom Toys.  It was a pretty simple toy that could be made in mass quantities.  There was a couple things that I did not like about it.  The first was the wood that wasted in making these tug boats.  It was a lot of template work so the board had to be wide enough to fit the template.  The second (this was my choice) they were made out of two different woods for color.  This involved gluing pieces together and so there was a a little bit of preparation to make these. I was also not a fan of the router work.  It was a lot of passes for a good smooth finish.  However they were an easy build and I enjoyed making them.  I have worn out two templates and four router bits to make these boats. Each one is unique and does float even though I do not recommend it.  This pattern changes some of the things that I makes it easier for me to make while still maintaining the parts that I love about the original design.
The main thing that I changed was no more pattern routing.  It was a pain to set up and there was a fair amount of waste.  All the parts are cut out either on the table saw or scroll saw.  I still have the two different species of wood for color even though the oak and dark maple do not create a lot of contrast in this one.  Scrap and setup has been reduced.  I also don't ruin router bits and bushings to make this toy.  The roof can also be made out of the cut out from the part that sits on the hull.  My favorite part about this toy.  It is compact and fits in small hands.  There are a lot of places to grip and touch.  It also slides really well on carpet.

Here are a couple of pictures of the old and new versions of the tug boats.  Sorry about the color combination of the old version.  I had beech and green poplar when making them.  It looked better prior to staining.

Here are a couple of things I took away from this project: 
  • This is not in my normal scope of design. I would like to design everything our of standard dimensioned lumber.  This has some 1/2" thick pieces in it.  It is not the end of the world.  This is how I am designing all my trucks.
  • Shellac goes bad.  It does not take much to finish toys so my one pint of shellac lasts a little while, so I thought.  I ruined some measuring sticks because the shellac did not cure.  I noticed when finishing the boats, it took a little while for the shellac to not be tacky.  I guess shellac does not last long after the bottle has been opened.  So my two options are to make my own shellac or buy the aerosol cans.  I think I will try making my own.  Like most wood terminology the mixture is confusing.  Good thing there is the internet to define what is a  2 lb cut of shellac.
  • I am debating whether I need the lower cabin windows.  Opinions would be appreciated.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Monster Truck

Roughly 2 1/2 years ago I started these trucks.  I have been diverted doing other things and projects.  Mostly I was dragging my feet solely on finishing the wheels.  Literally all I had to do was the wheels.  The plans came from the book Tremendous Toy Trucks.  I have done several of the plans and they are well done.  My only complaint is the the undefined shapes.  A lot of the cabs and detail is done when it "looks good".  I have some artistic merit, but really I am an engineer and like things defined.  Overall the monster trucks came out really well.  I made four in total.  My kids get two and I am donating two to a local charity. 
 There was a lot of sanding and shaping.  The majority of the parts were roughed out with a band saw and then shaped into the look.  I have a real appreciation for those individuals who only use hand tools.  There is a trick and a talent to using a rasp and file.  I personally like my belt sander.
 There are some details that were on the plan that I did leave off.  Mostly for safety reasons.  The plans called for a drive train.  I didn't feel some dowels on the under carriage would hold up to the abuse my kids would put it through.  Then I forgot the back bumper.  Opps, it still looks good.

The wheels were seriously my hold up.  It is not that they were that hard.  It is up my ally of cut and sand smooth.  Here are my issues with them.  Each wheel takes two pieces of 3/4" walnut multiplied by four for each truck (16 wheels in total).  Each wheel was cut out using a 2 1/2" hole saw.  It was then sanded down because the hole saw leaves a nasty edge.  The table saw was then set up to make the grooves in the tires.  There were lefts and right for both inside and outside parts. So I had to keep them straight.  I am amazed that I even kept them straight with only a couple of mistakes.  With the cutting the grooves there was a lot of blow out.  I was told that these would be sanded out.  Some blow out was a little deep.  Then each groove had to be hand sanded. When gluing the two parts together I needed to make sure there was no squeeze out because there was no way to sand it out.  Now that they are all done I have to confess, I only made wheels for three of them.  The fourth received manufactured wheels that I purchased.  My wife says it makes the truck look wimpy and she is right.  I could not make another set of wheels.

Here are the cool things that came out of this build:
  • I actually made these trucks
  • I had a lot of practice sanding and shaping
  • I made a circle sanding jig for my belt sander for the wheels
  • I got a good after market miter gauge for the table saw
  • I have happy kids for the current time
This was a fun build  I really do not anticipate me making any more.  These are almost solid lumber.

Monday, September 8, 2014


 The grader had a few more issues than I wanted.  The first and most disappointing was the blade did not work.  The lift worked just fine and it rotates.  In the design, I failed to realized I had only a single dowel keeping the blade vertical.  So when the blade pushed something, it would just flop back.  It was solved by a couple of brad nails.  I have fixed the drawings and everything works well now.  The other disappointment was the size.  It was huge compared to the other two pieces.  I took about three inches out of the overall length. and some out of the height.  It is still a pretty wide piece of equipment. 
The overall dimensions are 16 3/4" long, 10" wide (blade), 7 1/4" tall.  The material is poplar and finished in shellac.



The excavator is my favorite of the three because of all the moving parts.  I am truly grateful for 3D modeling systems.  Without one I would not have been able to design all the moving parts so that they fit together without interference the first time.  This is the only one that requires metal hardware. There are other ways of making the unit spin but lazy susan hardware seemed the most logical and easiest.  I also had to pre-finish most of the parts.  The best part of the excavator is there is a way to move the bucket.  I was not all that pleased with the range of movement of the arm and bucket but I can pick up M&M's and dump them in the dump truck.  That is good enough for me.
The assembly was not all that bad.  I was worried about parts breaking or not lining up. It could not have come together easier.  I am trying something on this.  I hope it works but I do not know.  There really was not a good way to glue in the dowels.  So I cut the dowels 1/4" short and then filled in the space with glue.  I am hoping this works, time will tell.
I felt that the excavator was a little small.  So in the plans I grew the tread a quarter inch and made it wider by a half an inch.  I think this will make it look bigger.  I also changed the cab to look more like the dump truck. I was not really pleased with the set on top roof.  These are reflected in the revised drawings and not on the prototype.
The excavator measures 24" long 7 1/4" tall and 6 1/2" wide and is finished in Shellac.

The Dump Truck


This is the first of three projects that I just finished.  I was really excited to start and finish these toys because they are my design!  I have always like to design and so this is a natural step for me.  I have decided to break up each project in its own post.  The first will be the dump truck.
This was probably the easiest of the three but it had some challenges.  It is made out of poplar and oak dowels.  I consider these prototypes so I used a lighter and softer wood.  I used basic power tools and was impressed how easily it came together.  My favorite part of the dump truck is the cab.  I went through about three designs before I realized I could make it hollow.  This made it much lighter, not as many glue ups, and looks a lot better than the solid cabs that I have seen.  The dumping mechanism is the same as the first dump truck I designed.  I also added a lip so that things will actually stay in the bucket when transported instead of falling out.  It is sturdy and not easily broken.  My kids stand and sit on their toys so I knew that I needed to make it durable.  The dowels are both for decoration and strength.  I changed the cab side drawing a little because if the back and top are a little thick, so  the edge can be seen through the window.  So I gave myself a little more factor of safety.
The finish is Shellac and the truck measures 17 1/4" long 8" tall and 6" wide.  It is a good sturdy design for the 3-8 year old child.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Testing Sessions

I think I am finally going to do this.  My wife and I have talked about it for some time, but when ever we have a date planned something comes up.  So here is the deal.  I have always wanted to have other kids come over and play with the toys that I have made.  I think I am going to use Facebook and link this post to it to give the general details.  I hope to do this when I introduce new toys into the collection.
Here is the deal.  I will open the toy collection to 3-4 kids between the ages of 3 and 6.  Most of my toys are construction equipment and cars.  Play time will be between 10-12 noon.  We will have pizza for lunch around 11:30.  Here are things to note:
  • The toys are played with in sawdust/shavings in the garage.  The area will be dusty with dust in the air.  
  • Kids have to be potty trained.  Sorry I will change my kids' diapers but not yours.
  • Lunch is provided for the kids. Please make sure I know of any allergies. It is pizza so there there are many different ways to make it and the kids will have some input.
  • Kids will be expected to play some what nicely.  I will not tolerate the toys to be thrown or abused.
  • It is a first come bases.  Please email me your phone number and names of your kids and I will contact you if there is space for your kid(s).  My email is located in my profile on the right.
  • Each time will be a new list, so you will need to sign up each time.  There will not be a waiting list. 
  • Please pick up your kids promptly at noon.
I will post on Facebook each  time I am going to do this. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Cubby Book Shelves

I was asked a little over a month ago to make a cubby shelf unit for a preschool.  The owner pretty much had the design they wanted which made it a lot easier than designing the unit from scratch.

 There was some pretty big huddles that I needed to overcome to make this unit.  The first was that I no longer have a truck.  5x5  birch sheets do not fit in a mini van.  I ended up tying them to the roof.  I really was scared that I would end up with 5 sheets of birch ply all over the street.
Although they did not fall off, the rope loosened to give the boards about a  1/2" of play in all directions.  This was enough to make me nervous and I will have to tie down better if I do this again.
I also worried about how I was going to put it together.  The largest claps I have are 48" bar clamps and these units were going to be 60" long.  I thought about stringing claps together but that used up clamps fast.  I ended up borrowing 60" pipe claps from work.  They worked great.
The next was the finishing.  There were a lot of areas that were going to be very difficult to finish after everything was assembled.  I decided to pre-finish the parts.  I went through an entire role of masking tape to mask off all the grooves and glue joints.  It took forever.  I did everything but the outside faces.  I probably should have pre-finished everything.  I will say it was a pain to mask everything off and then take all the tape off, but is was in the end easier to pre-finish than it would have been to finish the assembled units.
The first dry fit was not as good as I had hoped.  I did all the grooving on a CNC mill.  I could have done it on my own with a handheld router.  The CNC router saved me about two Saturdays and a lot of set up.  I messed up on the notching distance so I had to finish the cutouts by hand.  This was a minor price to pay for the time saved.
Overall it was a good project.  I only made a couple of mistakes and all but one was covered up well.  it is a pretty sturdy unit which should last a long time.  Everything is grooved into place.  I also arched the frame rails just because I could.  I am kind of tired of the square look so I wanted to try something different.  It was interesting to use the drum sander on the long arches.  There must be a trick to getting one smooth arch.  I think I would push too hard because the arched went bumpy.  It took a little while to sand out the bumps.
The build was fun, I think toys are more my thing.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Miter Saw Stand, Respirator and Sawdust

It has been a little while since I have posted.  I have been working on a commission job that I am almost finished with.  I tried a few things with it and I don't know if I have an opinion on it yet.  So on to the things that I have learned.
So I finished the miter stand cart and two weeks ago I was using it and must have lifted the wing to hard and ripped it pretty much off.  Particle board is not the best material to screw into especially if it is going to be moving.  I fixed it this past weekend and put in plywood inserts.  this is much sturdier.  I was also able to fix some of the alignment issues that happened on the first build.  My goal is to add at least one extension wing so that I can cut up to six foot lengths.

The fix for the poor strength in particle board

I realize that there is a big push on safety and it seems that more and more of the focus is on removing the dust out of the air.  I do not have a dust collection system in  my shop nor do I have a decent sized shop vac.  This is one of the next tools on my list.  I have a respirator.  However it is only good if it is used.  I use it for finishing and when I am using the belt sander but that is about it.  I figured the sawdust from my other tools was big enough that they pretty much just fell to the ground.  I was listening to a pod cast and the hand tool guy on the show is concerned about dust and uses a respirator when he is working.  I figured I need to rethink my stand on shop dust.
The nice thing that I learned was my respirator comes apart to be cleaned.  I have had the respirator for about 5 years and never cleaned - I did not use it enough either.  It was amazing how much cleaner the mask smelled after it was cleaned.
I have been a little more conscious of the dust that my tools have been putting out.  I am actually surprised how much fine dust is put out by my power tools.  There is a lot and it shows when there is light shining through the shop.  My palm sander was the tool that scared me the most.  Trying to get all the dust off of the long panels for the shelves I am making was ridiculous.  dry rag, wet rag, and tack cloth and still there was more dust.  I am going to be wearing my respirator a little more often.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Change in Scenery

It has been a little while since my last post.  The reason is I was moving.  I am now working in a little bit smaller of a shop but I have a couple more tools.  Over the passed couple of years have have been saving the money I earned from my woodworking to purchase an oscillating drum sander.  I knew which one I wanted and I finally saved up enough to purchase it.  Then I started thinking and contemplating the purchase. These questions ran through my head:
  • Is it what I want?
  • Will it do what I need it to do?
  •  Do I really need all the features?
That last question killed it.  Yes it was going to be a great sander but it was really more than what I was ever going to use.  So I got a miter saw and a drum sander for the same price.  Neither one was what I wanted but fit the need.  Maybe at a later time I will upgrade but I have what I need now and it fits my current and near future work load. 
This past weekend I made my stand for the miter saw.  I hope to finish soon but not sure when I will have the time.  I am actually kind of excited about it.  However I had grander vision so storage and did not use a tape measure to validate my concept.  This project was done without drawings, just a concept and the height that I wanted the saw at.  It fits my tool chest on the bottom and clamps on the back side.  I was going to have more clamps on the inside but my tool box is bigger than I thought.  I also figured I could store 48" clamps on it even though the stand is only is 35" tall. 
I have to put the wings on it so that I can cut log boards. These fold down so they do not take up a lot of room and the cart can roll around.
Hopefully I will be able to get back to the toys soon.  I have three really neat designs that I want to do.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

My first Train

Here is the prototype of the train that I have been discussing in the design process.  The good news about the prototype is that it can be stained and used.  If I was going to make an actual one it would be out of maple and walnut.  However this would be very cost prohibitive for a prototype.  This train is made out of poplar and oak dowels.  There are other woods used  because they are purchased parts.
It was a fun little design project. From start to finish it took about 8 weeks.  This includes drawing and building times.
This is the complete train.  Six cars and each car is about 9 inches long.  In my humble opinion it looks great.  In designing this train, I wanted something durable and age appropriate for the 3-8 year old range.  I also wanted to use only basic tools that a toy maker should have (scroll say, table saw, small router, drill press, and belt sander). The only tools I used in addition to the list was a miter saw and band saw.  Both I could have used other tools but for ease I used the others.  It passes the durability test.  My kids used some of the cars as a riding toy. It is big enough for the kids to put things in it and push it a long. 
The Locomotive 
The great thing about this engine is that I did not need to buy a lathe for this project.  The bad thing is that I was not able to buy a lathe for this project.  The boiler is a turned part that was provided to me from Lowe's at a reasonable price.  My second option was to buy a wood rolling pin and cut it to size.  It just would not have looked as good.  Hardest part of the locomotive was proportions.  I wanted to make it the biggest car.  but it did not look right until it was reduced in length.  The cabin was made slightly larger.  I tried putting bigger wheels on it and that didn't work.  So this is the final design.  The roof and the cow catcher are the only parts that I used the band saw on.
Sorry for the green in the picture.  It is not that green in the person.  It is the light and poplar.

The Tinder Car
This was a relatively easy car.  There is not anything fancy about it
The Box Car
This was a fun little car to build.  There really isn't anything fancy about it.  The door is big enough to fit things through and the top has a roof to put things on top.  This car is where I realized I should have offset the sides.  If I made the middle section and top different sizes, the middle would not have looked so crooked.
Cage Car
I thought this was going to be an easy car to assemble.  I drilled everything together so the holes would line up and all the dowels were cut to the same size.  The problem was the dowels are a tight fit and not perfectly straight.  It took a little bit of work but it came together.  Next I will round over the ends of the dowels so the go in easier. It is an easy process of chucking the dowel in a drill and running the end at an angle on sandpaper.
Flat Bed Car
Another pretty basic car.  It takes the roof from the box car and puts it on a chassis. 
No matter how hard I tried to make this the smallest car it wanted to be the same size as the others.  The main feature I wanted on this car was the balcony.  It also proved to be the most troublesome.  I ended up changing  the balcony in the final drawings so the two corner posts do not go to the roof.  When trying to assemble the balcony I broke it twice.  I ended up drilling the thru holes larger then the dowel so that I was not pushing it through. That solved the problem but it was still a pain to remake parts.
Here are a couple of pictures of some of the details on the train.
Top roof detail of the cage car and caboose
Decoration around the wheels
I drilled through the floor to set the dowels.  It made it easier to assemble.
Fun little design.  It is a little bigger than I thought. Each car is about 9" in length.  Pretty much all the joints are re-enforced with dowels.  I was surprised of how much dowel I used.  It makes for a very strong toy.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Design Process Part Three

Now is the time where the decision is made to make it or throw it out.  The questions that I answer are relatively basic:
  • Do I want to make it?  Putting it all on paper is this something that I want to make or has it lost its luster or drive?
  • Can I make it?  Is the design too complicated to make, are the parts too dangerous to make or there are too many things that I do not know how to do?  This is just a question of safety and capability.
  • Is it going to fill its purpose?  I really don't want to make something that will just get by for a short season.  I do not want a piece of furniture or toy that will only be temporary or break after a little bit of use.
If the project is still ago then print out drawings and buy lumber to make prototypes or if confident just make it.  I like to have space on my drawings to make notes and changes as they come up.  If I am prototyping I work in poplar and oak.  These are less expensive woods and easy to work.  It also has the contrast that to show with difference between species.  This gives and over all look of a project and if contrast adds or detracts from the project.  These woods are also less expensive to make mistakes on.
Now it is making the parts and assembling.  Take notes on the drawings of things that come up, either wrong dimensions or changes that would make the project look better.  For example, the train cars looked better with the sides inset on the floor  than flush.
This basically is to test the fit of the parts and how everything comes together.  This process identifies the potential parts that maybe difficult to assemble or impossible to assemble.  The caboose and cage car were interesting cars to build. Even though the holes lined up it was still a pain to get all the dowels to line up and in the holes.  It made it easier to round the tops of the dowels to guide into the holes.  The caboose I thought could put in the put the longer dowels in after I put in the balcony.  I ended up breaking the balcony.  So I changed the drawing so the dowels were all the same length.
Once the prototypes is done make it how it was designed.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Design Process Part Two

At this point it should be nice to have the concept project on paper.  My mind will not sleep if there is a design stuck there until I have it on paper.  This way I know that I will not forget it.  Just a final note on sketches, I write notes on the sketches,  These notes could point out design elements that I feel are important, questions or concerns I have about assembly, things that I do not have quite figured out, or materials needed for the project.
At this point I take my time and put the sketches into a 3D modeling system.  I am lucky enough to be able to use Inventor through my work.  The other popular modeling systems that cost money are Solid Works and Pro E.  The industry standard for the garage shops is Sketch- up.  It is a free drawing package from Google.  There are others that can be found on the internet.  When I first started I drew everything out by hand and to scale.  It was a fun little practice but if I ever made a mistake it was a lot of erasing.
The reason for putting it into a modeling program (or do a scale drawing) is to look at proportions and see how parts fit together.  In the project that I am working on now, I do not really like the caboose.  It looks big but it fits in the design of everything so I am leaving it the way it is.  The locomotive was a different story.  I wanted to be the biggest part of the train but the boiler (which is a purchased furniture foot) was too small.  No matter how I tried to make it bigger it just did not look right.  The wheels didn't look right  and the cabin looked funny.  My final design is a lot smaller but looks good in the series. If I skipped the step of making the scale drawing, I would have been very disappointed and wasted a lot of wood. 
The second reason to make scale drawings is too make prints of the parts.  It is a lot easier to make something after knowing it will all fit together.  Individual part drawings allows me to check off parts when they are cut and it is also easier to figure out what is needed for the project.
The other neat thing about putting a project in 3D space is seeing how it is all going to be put together.  This is where all the problems seem to arise and then get figured out.  Some of the common things that I figure out in the model are:
  • Wheel spacing.  The important part of making a wheeled toy is that all wheels work.  They can be all off center but they all need to roll.  From a personal point, I want them all to touch the floor at the same time.
  • How parts come together.  There are a ton of different ways of joining parts together.  This is where I decide what joint is going to best for assembly and hide mistakes.  It also helps formulate how the procedure on what parts to make first, when the sanding needs to be done and should I pre-finish parts.
  • Proportions as noted above.
  • This is also where I figure out how I am going to make each part.  I try to make the parts how I would machine them.  Take the cow catcher on the train, for instance.  I started with a larger block of wood.  First cut the back angle.  Then I drew out and cut the triangle portion on the front.  Through the modeling process I am figuring out how to process the parts.
  • The other question that I answer is, can I make this safely?  If I am going to stop a project or go back to the drawing board it will be here.  
This model does not have to be perfect with everything detailed out. I tend to leave of hardware and profiles.  After I am satisfied with the model I will then make prints of each part and put together a materials list.  The drawings will have a room on them to take notes for when the project is going to be put together.  This will lead into the next post and probably the last in this series.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Design Process

I do not know how many posts this is going to be or if this is going to be a consecutive series or random bunch of posts.  I am starting to do my own line of toys.  It is not that I have completed all that I want to do in my books or cannot find anything on the internet.  There is just a sense of great accomplishment I feel when the design is all mine.  Designing is something that I have always enjoyed.  This is probably a reason I am in the R&D department at work.  I am hoping to convey some of the ideas and patterns that I use when I am working on a design project.
One of the first rules in the beginning stages of design is that everything is possible.  It is far too easy to think of an idea and dismiss it without a second thought because there is some flaw in it.  I want to create toy plans that uses standard dimensioned lumber (thickness) and people can make with basic power tools (table saw,drill press, table router, and either a band saw or scroll saw).  This is my first design in this endeavor:
One huge problem, I do not have a lathe.  I cannot make the broiler on the engine.  Not a problem, the broiler is a purchased leg that I found at Lowe's.  The entire design of the engine is based around that piece.  Another thing that could have worked is a rolling pin. This was actually my first idea.
A great place to get ideas is look around, never limit the idea at this stage.  Magazines and window shopping are great ways to get ideas.  Think of ways to do things better.  The concept of the train came from a toy circus train.  Different parts of train come from different trains that I have made in the past.  For example, the caboose has elements general train, the box car is similar to the puzzle train.  Each of them have my own twist to them.  The top decoration is my design along with the decoration by the wheels.  The cage car is something I did.  I want the exposed dowel look to be more of my signature look.  The picture comes from a rendering done in a 3D modeling system.  That is going to be detailed in another post.
Another thing to remember is not to toss out an idea because there is "no possible way" it can be made, parts do not exist, there is no way it can be assembled, etc.  At this stage anything can happen.  Designs may have to change or be redesigned to over come these obstacles, but that is not in this stage of design.
Another good thing to have around is a sketch book.  This may be a simple spiral bound with blank sheets in it or just plan printer paper.  I like the spiral bound because I can keep the drawings some what organized and I don't loose them.  The sketch book is to put the ideas on paper.  This is by no means a final design.  It is a way to get the ideas out of the mind and on a tangible document.  This is where a lot of the problems come out and are solved.  Add notes and concerns to the sketches.  This is not the place to solve all problems.  For instance, I really did not know how I was going to put the bars in the cage car and caboose.  The sketch did not solve the problem, it was something that I have to figure out on my own.  I have a plan, but not sure it is going to work out.  The down side of this necessary step is that it does not put parts into perspective.  At this point I get excited about the project and  want to get right into it.  Unfortunately this would be a mistake.  Proportions are important in a project. 
I will end on this side note.  I was listening to a podcast where they made the statement that they really do not measure their parts.  They determine the critical dimensions and base everything else off of these dimensions.  I heard that and thought it was absurd. Come to realize they are more right than I thought. For example, my last truck.  My key dimension was the length and width of the chassis. The cab was a little long and I planed the wood down a little too much for the bucket.  This was never a show stopper because I knew how the other parts related to each other.  Some parts had to grow and some had to shrink.  It is the relationship of the parts that is important.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My bathrooms

The company I work for is launching a new line at one of the big home improvement stores and just did their production pilot.  For the most part it went really well, however we could not take the pilot samples and put them into inventory.  Largely because we machined the parts on the unfinished side of the plywood.  A mistake that will not happen again.  This line is kind of a step forward for us.  The carcass is made out of plywood and the features are a little more decorative then we normally do.  I am actually really please how this line turned out and excited to see what it is capable of doing in the market place.  So what happened to all the samples, they were sold to employees for a bargain price.  I picked up enough to do two of the bathrooms.  So here are the before pictures: 


 Just because it was funny when he walked into the bathroom and got this perplexed look on his face and asked "Where did it go, daddy?"

I knew there would be challenges but not ones I was expecting.  The demo was pretty straight forward. The hardest part was getting the tops out of the bathroom.  A hammer made that job a lot easier.  The second challenge was the connections from the wall to the faucet.  I replaced all the hoses because honestly the solid metal ones are prone to cracking while out of the house.  I had a 1/2" compression fitting out of the wall and a 1/2" fitting to the faucet.  I purchased the 1/2x1/2 flip valve and the 1/2x1/2 hoses to redo the plumbing.  I guess "flip" means the the threads are smaller than 1/2" so my hoses did not fit and I had to go back to the store for new hoses.  The good news is that I had not installed the sinks yet so changing was not a big issue.
Next major issue was the P-trap.  Same size cabinet in should mean the same plumbing in.  Nope. The cabinets I put in are 4" taller than the original.  I thought just a simple extension. Nope. The contractors who put in the plumbing put in the bathtub plumbing and everything was glued in except the P-trap.  So I re-plumbed everything.  In hind sight, I should have plumbed it correctly rather than using the bathtub fixtures again.  It all works and no leaks.
I am actually disappointed that I could not do the master bathroom also.  They did not pilot any units in the profile I wanted for the upstairs bathroom.  The extra 4" in height makes a huge difference.  My first install of a bathroom was not too bad.  I was surprised how easy the cabinets went in.  All I have to do now is install hardware and touch up.

 I still need to get the mirror up in the down stairs bathroom.