Toy Story

For those with kids (or are big kids themselves), it ’tis the season for bulky toy catalogues!

Other than living a second childhood, I find one other particular benefit of looking through the acres of pages: toy after wooden toy that I see, not to buy, but that I can use as a source of ideas for ones I can make.

Following a plan, the step by step in a book is fine, but I don’t get anywhere near the same satisfaction that I get by coming up with the method myself, even if the actual product concept is sourced from an existing product.  It will often be that the end result doesn’t look much like the product that inspired it in any case.  The last batch of toy kitchens is one such example.  At first glance it looked something like those in the toy catalogues, but the devil is in the details.

My interpretation is below

Some toys are just so over-engineered, they engineer all the imagination out of play.  Especially the plastic fantastic ones.  Well made wooden toys benefit both from very durable (to the point of being able to be handed down the generations) they have great tactility and physical presence.

Back to the catalogues for me.

Ooh – a lego Star Wars Millennium Falcon.  I’m sure my 5yr old daughter would love that.  If not, shame it can’t be returned once opened!

Animal Train

Wooden toys are one of those things I particularly enjoy making in the workshop.  The whole quality thing, the tactile thing, the longevity thing, the imagination thing (as opposed to all bells and whistles being built in), and not to mention the satisfaction of watching a child genuinely enjoy and play with a toy that you have made for them.

Some of the toys take quite a bit of effort to make, and as a one-off, that is never a drag.  It is also very rewarding to be able to donate toys to other causes, and in those situations you want to be able to make as many as possible, and as quickly as possible so coming up with a duplication method is very valuable.

There are many different ways that parts can be duplicated – stacking, router table template copying are probably the most common.  I have the advantage of the Torque Workcentre, so for this project I chose to create a duplication template.

Instead of cutting the patterns for the animal train out of the intended timber, I chose 6mm MDF.  It has the advantage of being dimensionally stable, easy to machine and shape, and cheap.

Once the shapes were cut out, I stuck them to a 19mm thick MDF board using carpet tape. Flipping the board over, then holding each pattern against the copy pin in the table while the router with a matching router bit cuts a new track.

The resulting tracks makes creating duplicates of each object very easy.  The board is again turned over, and one of the paths is captive on the copy pin.  Whatever timber you then want to make the object out of is attached to the upper side, ready for routing.

For this project, I am using New Guinean Rosewood.  Carpet tape is applied to not only stop the board moving, but once the object is cut free, the carpet tape keeps it from bouncing into the cutter.  I also used a couple of screws in non-essential areas to ensure the board could not slip during the cuts.  The patterns up can see under the board were lightly cut into the upper surface making it easy to align timber to the pattern, and in particular ensure the grain direction supports the weak areas of the pattern.

After 2-3 passes, the items are cut free.  These are then taken to the spindle sander for a quick post-machining touchup.  Given I am making these out of a decent timber, I will come back to give them a much better degree of finish.  There is some waste areas between the patterns, but this is not wasted timber.  From here, the offcuts make their way to the drill press where I cut wheels out of the offcuts with a Carbitool wheelcutting bit.

I still have some work to do to finish this train, but at least you can see here where it is heading.

The benefit of making the copy template means I can now easily produce train after train in whatever material I want.  I’ll probably make the next set out of MDF and paint it appropriately.



New Carb-i-tool Wheel Cutter

I while back, I was waxing lyrical about the virtues of the Carb-i-tool Wheel Cutter, and more recently again for the wooden vehicle exercise.

Since I acquired my wheel cutters (40mm, 50mm and 60mm), Carb-i-tool have come out with a redesigned cutter to address requests they have received over the years to have a raised hub, rather than a recessed one.

From what I can gather, this new wheel profile will be replacing the old design, so once the original stocks are gone only the raised wheel hub version will be available.

I happen to like both for different projects fwiw.

Old and New Wheel Cutters

Old and New Wheel Cutters

The old profile is shown here to the left of the new cutter.

Please note, as I have pointed out before, that these are NOT for the router, despite the initial appearance to be like a router bit.  They are a large profile, with no anti-kickback features, and are not designed for router speeds.  They are designed to be used with a drill press, and even then if you don’t adequately clamp down the timber they can still grab and spin it at significant enough speeds to really hurt, as my fingers can still testify.


Old vs New Wheels During Cut

Here you can see the old and new profiles being cut side-by-side. You slowly plunge the bit into the timber, cutting the profile, and when it is fully formed, you stop and flip the workpiece over, and using the centre hole as the guide, cut the wheel from the opposite side until it comes free. (Check out the video on Stu’s Shed TV).

New and Old Wheels

New and Old Wheels

Here are the resulting as-formed wheels.  One thing I haven’t tried which will be an interesting exercise, is to use one profile from one side, and the other profile for the other side and see what sort of wheel that produces.

The rim on the edge of the wheel is very thin and easy to remove.  You can carefully snap it off with your fingers, or sand it off (which is how I’ve been doing it recently) by inserting a short dowel as an axle, and gently rubbing the wheel up against a (running) disk sander, tilting it at  slight angle so it sands and spins at the same time.

In any case, these wheel cutters can be used to extract every bit of use from your offcuts, leaving you with a mountain of wheels, and a bin full of religious waste (very holy). Given the profile is solid tungsten carbide, you will get a LOT of wheels from these cutters before they even need sharpening, and with commercially produced wheels costing around $A0.55 for a 38mm wheel $A1.50 for a 50mm wheel and $A2.20 for a 63mm wheel, the cost of the cutter will be recouped in no time at all. (I’m sure there are other suppliers that are potentially cheaper, but that was the result of a quick Google search finding one of the main Australian suppliers).

Hmm $2.20 a wheel – perhaps I should start making them commercially after all – I’d only have to make 20 an hour to have a reasonable income 🙂  However, before anyone else asks – no – I’m not selling wheels!  If you want some – go buy a cutter and make your own!

The wheel cutters each cost around $A115, or 52 wheels.  Given one of my toy trucks needs 18 wheels, that’s only about 3 trucks worth! (Or 13 toy cars – see – it isn’t that expensive)

Quick Toy Prototype

Materials for Project: $1

Tools for Project $substantial!

Total manufacture time: 12 minutes (inc wheels and axles)

Tools used: Bandsaw, Linisher, Drill Press

The feeling from making a wooden toy for a child (especially your own): $Priceless

For everything else, there’s Chinese mass production (and lead based paint)

Toy Car Prototype

Toy Car Prototype

Some fine-tuning required to get it looking a bit better, and on the real model all the edges would have a fine round-over bit.  Axles are thin wooden dowel, but should be pretty strong.  Wheels were cut using the original 40mm Carb-i-tool wheel cutter.  The entire construction is wood (and a little glue).

First tests of the prototype were quite promising.  More ‘testing’ required though before relinquishing ownership! (Because they are fun to play with!)

Shed Construction – Foundation and Floor

I am currently writing some course notes for a shed building course that I’ve been asked to create for Holmesglen Tafe. The notes are kept pretty concise, so don’t expect pages of details, (they certainly could be – I could write a book on the subject- one day I might!)

Foundation Options

There are a number of options for the base of the shed, and what you end up choosing will be based on a combination of cost, location, and intended function of the shed. These obviously are closely related to the shed floor (and in some instances are one and the same). The forms that are available are obviously very closely related to the different options for house construction.

Dirt / Earth

In some cases, there may be no specific requirement for a shed floor, and therefore the foundations of the shed are thought to also be non-existent. This will very quickly lead to problems, and is definitely not recommended. That is not to say that an earth floor to the shed isn’t fine, and in some cases it is a good solution, but the foundation for the shed itself (under the walls) is still an important component.

A shed sitting directly on the ground is not only unsecured (and therefore highly venerable to wind damage), but is likely to corrode around the base very quickly. If you choose to have an earthen floor, you still need some form of foundation, whether this be on-grade, or concrete.

On-grade foundation

This form of foundation is particularly low cost, and very easy to construct. It isn’t strictly a permanent foundation, but never-the-less is quite suitable for shed construction. It involves placing the foundations directly onto the ground (a scoria bed, concrete or brick bed or earth) and on top of which is placed a treated timber frame (for the floor), or simply the shed walls themselves (and the floor can then be concrete tiles, or earth). A layer of damp course is strongly recommended, irrespective of the final choice. A bed of scoria or similar underneath is a good idea to aid drainage, and help prevent the foundation from sinking into the soil.

In any event, given the wind strength in Melbourne, it would be worth considering sinking a concrete pier in each corner (or pouring one) to have something to secure the shed to, rather than just relying on the weight of the shed to hold it in place in severe weather conditions.

Pier foundation

This is quite a traditional construction method, and is often used for houses, and decks. It involves sinking a grid of piers (concrete or treated wood) into the ground (often concreted into position), and then a wooden frame is constructed on top.

Concrete Slab

Another very common foundation (and floor) construction is the concrete slab. Even so, there are some different ways these are used (and laid). You can box up where the concrete is going to be poured, and once complete construct the shed on top, or take an easy route and build the shed on a basic form of on-grade foundation, then pour the concrete slab into the shed itself.

Sounds a bit rough and ready, but it can be effective, and you can be sure the shed isn’t going to be going anywhere after that! It is not my favourite solution. For one, it leaves the base of the shed particularly vulnerable to corrosion. On the other hand, the shed is secured down soundly, and it is very unlikely to have water penetrating under the walls.

Floor Options

This is closely related to the choices made for the foundations, and there are many variants available. These can include:


The floor when you don’t need a floor. One advantage – cost.

Wooden Flooring

This can be floor sheeting (either a commercially available form such as yellow tongue, or simply particle board, or similar), or tongue and groove boards, or decking. In any case, some form of underfloor barrier is definitely recommended (builder’s paper or foil, or at least a roll of plastic). There are advantages to a raised floor – services can be run under-floor (electricity, plumbing, dust extraction (if the shed is to be a workshop) etc. Having under-floor insulation obviously helps in the variable climate conditions.

A particularly good choice for workshops etc when you are going to be standing on it for long periods of time – it isn’t as hard on the legs and joints as a concrete floor. On the other hand, it is more expensive, you need a higher ceiling for the space lost underfoot, and it isn’t able to sustain the sorts of loads that a concrete floor can manage. Some woodworking (and particularly metalworking) tools can weigh in around ½ a tonne.

Wooden flooring can be placed on top of a concrete slab, which does provide a bit of the advantages of both options.

Concrete Slab Floor

There are advantages and disadvantages to all the systems, and the concrete slab is no exception. It is generally very strong and able to cope with significant loads, and particularly if you are going to be moving items around. It is relatively cheap, and by using something like a dynabolt, items can be secured rigidly to its surface. On the other hand, it is harder to stand on for long periods, so some form of rubber mat or similar would be a good idea, and if you laid it yourself, it can be tricky getting it really level. If you overwork the surface trying to smooth it, you can also find you have concrete dust being produced for a long time afterwards as well. They are also quite cold in winter, and trap heat in summer. One thing that is often missed is to seal the concrete once it has cured, as moisture can still easily pass through the slab if this is not done.

Both my current sheds (and a previous shed) have concrete floors, because as much as a nice raised wooden floor would have been ideal, cost and functionality were also considerations.

There are various grades of concrete – 20MPa, 25MPa and 28MPa. The 28MPa is relatively expensive, whereas the cost difference between the first two is only a matter of a few dollars per m3, so I tend to err on the side of 25MPa. That, combined with rebar and a 75 – 100mm thickness results in a very robust shed floor.

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