Introduction: Kids Rocker Toy
Like every idea these days I came across this one on a certain site that rhymes with finterest. I loved the original but could not pay the $180 that Lunatur.com was asking nor do they ship to the US. Another search revealed several copies of the original idea however all of them had several noticeable flaws. One was that the curve was too steep or uneven. The second was that they all relied on weak butt joints and or pocket screws to hold everything together. Since I got a new router for my birthday I was interested in seeing if I could find a simple way of solving these problems and make a toy that might last until I had grand kids. Here is what I came up with. These instructions are intended for you to make your own for personal use. Please come up with another design if you wish to sell them. The people at Lunatur.com already had this idea.
Materials: 1/2 sheet 3/4" plywood, 18' 1x4 common pine, 18 #8 2" wood screws, Food coloring both primary and neon colors, 70% isopropyl alcohol, Clear shellac.
Tools: Table saw, jigsaw, sander, sanding block, drill/cordless screwdriver, paint brush circular saw, router.
Step 1: Make a Template
To make the template I drew out a pattern on a 1/4 sheet of 1/2" birch plywood. I used plates, cans and a long piece of stock with a hole drilled in the end to get the curves and handles the way I wanted them. Since this was my first attempt I was confident that I could do this and didn't listen to blogs that I read about using drafting software and printing it at a home office store. In hindsight this would have been easier. I would suggest going this route. After I had the design the way I wanted, I cut it out with a jigsaw then shaped it to the final pattern with a wood rasp and sander. I'm including this step because it was my idea to be able to reproduce this project for gifts in the future.
Step 2: Trace the Template
After making the template I took a 1/2 sheet of 3/4 inch plywood and laid it on two sawhorses. I had the home improvement store cut it in half which was a service they offer for free. I laid the template on my sheet of plywood lining up the grain on the top of the plywood so it ran the long way across my template. Then I simply traced the template. Since I needed two identical pieces I repeated this step trying to waist the least amount of space. I then ripped the plywood on my table saw. To save as much usable material as I could. If you don't have a table saw a circular saw or your jig saw would work just fine.
Step 3: Rough Cut
When I had both sides traced on my plywood it was time to rough them out. I used a jigsaw to remove excess wood around my project. I left between 1/8th and 1/4 of an inch outside the lines I traced with my template. This extra will be removed in the next step.
Step 4: Shape the Sides
After rough cutting the sides I took one side and shaped it using a rasp and sander. I had made sure to leave my pencil line from my layout so I could sneak up on the final shape. I then clamped both pieces to my sawhorses so they would not slide around when I was using my router. If I had a workbench I would have used foam blocks to keep the work from slipping and to raise it off of the table. I set up my router with a template or flush cut trim bit and then let the router do the work. The spots where I strayed farther away from my traced line needed a couple of passes so my router bit was not too bogged down with excessive material. When I had removed all the material from areas not covered by my clamps I repositioned the clamps. I was careful to only move one clamp at a time so the template would not move. (I don't have an image of this step because I switched phones during this build and those photos were not backed up.)
Step 5: Cut the Slats
This step can be done in any order. I actually did it before cutting out the sides. I used 1x4 pine for this. At the store I chose to buy the common boards. Both for the price and the character. Since they are going to be stood on and climbed on I wanted them cheap and easy to replace. They will also be stained so I was not concerned with beautiful grain patterns. I cut these to 22 inches. Lots of other plans I came across had them as small as 12 inches but this seemed tight to me. Since I was going to mortise them into the sides I wanted to account for that distance I lost. Yours could be shorter if you want. I would not go longer. This step was simple. I just marked them at 22" and cut with a straight edge and a circular saw. I then cleaned up the cut with a sanding block. After that I used a 1/2" round over bit and rounded over the four long edges of each slat. This is a toy for my son and sharp edges didn't seem very fun. I wanted to use a mortise and tenon to attach them to the sides but I didn't want to have to cut 18 tenons and shoulders. I opted to make the mortise the same size as the slat and rounding meant I also didn't have to square the mortise. I don't know if this is a true mortise and tenon joint. I did a lot of research to figure out if this would be an acceptable way to make these joints but couldn't find a name for this. If you can teach me what this is or why I should have done it differently please leave me a comment. In the end I used this joint for strength, ease and lack of tools for a proper mortise and tenon.
Step 6: Cut Mortises
I attempted two methods for cutting the mortises. The first was to attempt to cut the mortises into my template so I could easily and quickly make sides for making more. A mistake in this step resulted in ruining my template. The second solution was to make a mortise jig out of a single piece of wood and clamp that to my work. I used a pattern routing bit plunged to 3/8" on my work. The first solution would have been great for repeating the project or for use in future projects. The second solution was great for cost. In the end the simpler solution would have saved me a lot of time if I had landed on it first. To align the jig I used my square to scribe a reference line 3/4" in from the edge of the curve. I then used a scrap block to sketch out the locations for my mortises. I measured 3/4" between slats from the inside corner and then traced the block. When I set up the jig I aligned the edges with my scribed line. I clamped the jig in place set my plunge router and hogged out the material.
Step 7: Sanding Sanding and More Sanding
You guessed it I sanded all the parts until I was white with sawdust. I eased a 60 grit to remove any lumps. A 150 to smooth it all out then a 220 to get it ready for stain.
Step 8: Stain
I did a lot of research and the best and cheapest way of getting vibrant colors was food coloring. I mixed a ratio of 1 Tbsp 70% rubbing alcohol with 10 drops of food coloring. In the end about 3tbsp of alcohol was enough for two coats of stain. The only color I had to mix was orange. I used 20 drops of yellow with 10 drops of red. I got lucky and landed on a great color without having to add any more of either color! The alcohol dries in about 20 minutes so by the time I was done with the first coat on the last slat the first slat was ready for a second coat.
Step 9: Assembly
Now was the fun part. I pre drilled holes in the slats and the sides to prevent splitting. I worked pretty carefully attaching all the slats to one side using 2" #8 star drive screws. I then laid the rocker on the side and fit the slats into the mortises on the other side. I got lucky here and got all 9 slats to fall into place in under five minutes. If anyone has a technique for making this easy, leave it in the comments section please! One thing that made it work for me was having the slats attached on one side. During a dry fit earlier they kept falling out when I was working on the opposite side slats.
Step 10: Finish
I decided to assemble before adding 3 coats of shellac. The exact number may depend on the wood you get. I chose shellac as a top coat for two reasons. The first reason is that it is non toxic. This is for my 2 year old son and he isn't done chewing on things. My wife and I also plan on having more kids and play dates. All this adds up to not wanting to poison kids. The second reason is that the food coloring tends to bleed if not sealed. I didn't want the stain to end up on kid's hands or their cloths. The shellac is needed to seal it into the wood. Shellac also is durable and I wanted it to be able to stand up to playroom abuse.