Had a young fella visiting with his family today.  I know it was a waste of breath, but I had to ask him “Do you like dinosaurs?”

It’s like asking a human if they need oxygen to live.

So the answer was a given.  But he wasn’t expecting what came next.  I handed him a set of about a dozen different dinosaur plans, and suggested he choose one.  After a meticulous sort and selection (he’s all of about 4!), one was chosen – a triceratops.  Has big horns for hunting I think was the rationale.

No problem, let’s go make it.  So first, camped out on the lounge floor we loaded the plans into the computer, fitted them to the board size (nesting), and set the required tabs.

Then it was off to the shed, with a small entourage in tow.  While the kids watched, I set the CNC up for the job, explaining what I was doing each step.  There was a board placed on the ground a short distance from the work area, and strict instructions that only I could step over that board.  A small step ladder placed on the other side of the board was a very convenient lookout, and it was duly manned for pretty much the entire time.

As each board was completed (this particular pattern required three 900x600x6mm MDF boards) (and yes, dust extraction and air filtration were on), the entourage were involved in popping each piece loose, then each piece was duly handed to me one at a time so I could sand off the tabs on the disk sander.

The young fella was funny.  He couldn’t get over that we were making ‘his’ dinosaur.  Nor that it was going to be ‘big’.  After all, what does ‘big’ mean to a 4 year old?  A big toy is perhaps a foot long? Maybe?  You wonder what they expect, although they are already processing the concept of limiting their expectations so as not to be disappointed.  So ‘big’ is relative, especially when compared to all the other toys that receive the same description.  He kept asking what I was doing now (or more specifically, what the CNC machine was doing now).  He was confused that even after a number of parts were cut, we were still making components for his dinosaur.  Again, you could see it was already exceeding any preconceived notions of scale.

With the pieces cut out, we traipsed back into the house, where the dinosaur was assembled.

That is when eyes got really wide.  Followed closely by a most impressive grin!



All up, took at most an hour and a few sheets of MDF, and that was about it.  Sure beats those tiny 6″ long models made in China that keep appearing in pop-up shops in the various malls.  Nothing is better than a ‘serious’ dinosaur.  Especially one that redefines the concept of “big”.  Better than oxygen.


Plans from MakeCNC

Humble Beginnings

There are so many different reasons someone might catch the woodworking bug, and in so many cases it will be a combination of many small triggers.

I think the toys you have as a kid can play a big part: it is the first experience of just how real timber products are. I wrote about it just recently: the best kids toys are wooden, and even better if homemade.

When I was 2 or so, I remember being at a house (in America), playing with the children on a marble roller. It was a small one, and it was fun. Years later, my father made a large one for my brother, for about his 4th birthday. Not sure how much he played with it, but I spent hours and hours rolling marbles down it, seeing which side the marbles ended up. I can still hear the sound- it was hypnotic!

I can’t find an image of one exactly like the one Dad made, but this is the sort of concept


A year later, and we were on a PanAm flight (well that is my memory, but recently it sounds like it was actually Lufthansa), and an air hostess gave me a round container full of small painted wooden animal shapes. Simple, uncomplicated, each painted a single solid colour. Probably hard to find these days- toys seem to need to be so complicated now. The toys have become so complex, but I really don’t think kids have actually changed that much. We teach them their expectations.


Another year passes, and it was my 4th birthday. By this stage, our family had moved to New Zealand (my Father following an academic career). My RAAF uncle (one of the influences for me joining the military later on perhaps?) was visiting as he often did due to joint Australian/NZ operations. I was outside the garage, and the two of them (Dad and Uncle) were inside making something, and I was (unusually) not allowed in. I was devastated.

It didn’t take long, and my Uncle came to find me, to find out my favourite number. Well that wasn’t hard, 4 of course!

Soon there after, and the doors to the garage open, and a homemade billycart rolls out.

(Again, I don’t have photos of the real thing- all these so far are the best equivalent I can find online)


This became the first of many, many billycarts I made over the years.

The ability to make, and not just buy was constantly being reinforced, time and again.

Working with wood has been one of those themes that has followed me all the way through, but in a subtle way. There was never an actual woodworking workshop (although I knew another of my Uncles did have one, and my brother and I got a very cool marionette each he had made while we waited, that I still have, but I actually only saw the workshop for the first time 25 years later). It was all woodworking with basic tools – handsaw, circular saw, jigsaw, router, hammer, nails and screws.

Still, the seeds were sown, and from humble beginnings, look where it has all lead.


You know you want to!

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