Introduction: Retrofitting a Retro Rocking Horse

Picture of Retrofitting a Retro Rocking Horse

Growing up in the late 60's / early 70's toys were in a transition may were a combination of plastic and steel but without today's safety features.  When I was a kid my sister and I had a "Spring Horse" we loved to play on this but the steel springs were dangerous, they had sharp edges and when they expanded little fingers could easily get pinched. Also if you fell (or got pushed) off there were four steel poles sticking out that you would land on.

When I saw one of these spring horses come up on Craigslist I knew I had to buy it and restore it for my god-daughter. When I went to see it it was in a lot rougher shape than I had hoped (missing two legs with a third broken off and also missing an ear along with various cracks) but I enjoy a challenge and knew I could fix it so I loaded it up and took it home. Of course as I was getting out of the elevator the door ended up closing on the horses head and the left side of his face just crumbled. :-(

So here I was owner of a brittle crumbling plastic horse on a dangerous metal stand and a little girl with her 2nd birthday coming up (with her mother being super protective!). But my stars were aligned and I get a text from the little girls mom on their vacation with her little girl riding on a carousel, she loved it and went back 3 times that week. So what do I make? My brain churned and I figured I could fix it & improve it by adding wooden rockers and turn this horse into a sophisticated rocking horse!

Step 1: Tools Materials & Safety

Picture of Tools Materials & Safety
Skill Level:
Just basic DIY skills are needed along with some painting ability, there is nothing in this project that should stop anyone at any skill level from recreating this. To make the project easier you can start with a horse that is in better condition and then it just becomes mounting it to the rockers with no fixing or painting actually required.


Tools:
  • Drill
  • Sander /sand paper
  • Work bench
  • Painters tape
  • Air Brush
  •  
Materials:
  • Vintage Spring Horse (from craigslist or someones garage)
  • Wood Rockers (rescue from an old rocking chair or Make your own - I had mine CNC cut through an online service)
  • Spray foam insulation
  • Wood Dowel for leg supports
  • 2 Part Epoxy (for recreating missing parts & glueing cracks)
  • Casting compound (to make molds of missing parts)
  • Misc screws to attach horse to base
Paint:
  • Primer
  • Black Base
  • Purple metail for saddle (airbrush paint)
  • White for highlights / eyes etc. (airbrush paint)
  • Clear coat sealer (for wood and plastic body)

Safety:
  1. Read safety instructions on all materials (especially epoxy and paint as fumes can be hazzardous)
  2. Make sure you have a secure work surface to work on
  3. As this is meant for a child to use, take extra care in sanding and joining parts so that there are no sharp edges or objects exposed

Cost:
The total cost of this project was approximately $250 with $125 coming from the custom CNC cut rockers. If you have the required woodworking tools or can reuse parts from an old rocking chair the price would be cut in half.  The horse cost me $30 (it should have been free based on its condition but I really wanted it!). The rest of the cost was for paint and supplies.

Step 2: The Find

Picture of The Find

Starting with memories of a childhood spring horse shared between me and my sister I found a vintage one on Craigslist in less than pristine condition. It had one good leg, plus one broken off piece and two totally missing. The tip of its right ear was gone along with the whole left ear. There was also a crack down the mane on the left side.

Step 3: Body Repair

Picture of Body Repair

The first thing that I needed to do was to reinforce the body as the plastic was pretty brittle after all these years. I decided to fill the body with spray foam insulation. I chose the most rigid available, taped over the holes and filled the cavity with the foam. This not only reinforced the body but it also give a base on which to rebuild the missing face. The other plus is that with the foam I now have something stable to attach the new legs into.

Now the legs... In looking at the existing legs I noticed that they were ssymmetrical here was not much difference between the right and left legs. In my closet of "stuff" I had a mold making kit so I took the drastic step of cutting off the only good leg and using it to make a mold (I had taken pictures of this step but they were lost in a computer crash). Basically the process is to mix up a batch of molding material and place it in a plastic container that will hold the leg. Once this has cured, I split the container and the fflexible old allowing me to pull out the leg. I then taped ttogether he mold and mixed up a batch of 2 part epoxy. I filled the mold with the epoxy and waited overnight.

Once the epoxy cured I took it out of the mold and had a perfect copy of the leg. I repeated this process for the other missing leg and then placed the "half" leg in the bottom of the mold and then filled this with epoxy along with filling the "good" leg with epoxy as well.

In order to attach the legs to the body I saws the leg opening straight (where the old legs had broken off) and then cut the new epoxy legs to the correct length. In each leg I drilled a hole and inserted a dowel "bone" which I glued in place.  I then carved out the foam in the body where the legs were to be attached. Placing the body upside down I filled each leg opening with epoxy and then inserted the new legs with the dowels into the foam/ epoxy. These were taped into position in order to line up the new legs with the body.

I formed a new ear and ear tip out of "play dough" and repeated the mold process. These ears were then epoxied in place. Any cracks and holes were also filled with epoxy to add strength.

Where the face was missing I was able to save the broken "Eye", once the foam was covered in a couple of layers of epoxy I placed the eye in position and spread "semi-hard" epoxy in order to create the contours of the horses face. Once everything had hardened for a few days so that it was fully cured I used a dremel to more finely shape the epoxy joints and face.

Step 4: Rockers

Picture of Rockers

With my lack of woodworking tools and the need for precision in building the rockers I decided to use Ponoko.com and have them CNC cut out of a 2x4' -  3/4 inch sheet of Baltic Birch. This is more costly than making it yourself but the parts would be exactly sized. I searched online for rocker plans and found the plans shown in the second image. I used this as a guide for my design mostly for the length and curve. Since I was getting them computer cut I decided to use a one piece rocker and uprights. I would use an angled cross member to create the angle of the legs so it would have a very stable base.

(Another option that I considered was to use the rockers from an old rocking or glider chair so that it would be an entirely recycled piece but I was not able to find a donar chair or the correct size..)

My thought was to have the fit so tight that I would not need to use any screws except for attaching the horse to the base. I had "keys" cut that would be hammered into the cross members where they passed through the rocker to hold them securely. As it happens my thought did not turn into reality. When I measured the height of the base I did not take into account the legs being positioned over the cross members when calculating the height of the risers. When I dry fit the assembly I needed about 3 inches additional to have the legs clear the cross members. :-(  Luckily for me since this was the first time using CNC cut wood I had some extra pieces made with the extra space available on the plywood sheet (see drawing).

I used the 4 extra "keys" and screwed them to the top of the risers to add the additional required height. These were then pre-drilled and the wood dowels (that originally hooked to the springs) were cut to fit.

Step 5: Finishing the Body

Picture of Finishing the Body

Using a Dremel I smoothed as much as possible but since the epoxy is clear it was hard to see the spots that needed to be shaped. I ended up spraying the legs and repaired areas with the primer paint which highlighted the inconsistencies. I then sanded those areas until shaped and smooth. The primer also filled in some small scratches in the original plastic. Once I was happy with the shape I put two coats of primer on the horse.

Step 6: Sealing the Rocker

Picture of Sealing the Rocker

Since the rockers were plywood and cut with a CNC machine they needed a bit of sanding to remove any sharp edges and splinters. After sanding I used clear low VOC "green" varnish in order to seal the wood but yet keep the inherent beauty of the high quality Baltic Birch giving it the look of mid century modern furniture. I also sanded and sealed the original "handle" and horse support dowels.

Step 7: Painting

Picture of Painting

Since I kept the rocker a natural wood finish I wanted the horse to contrast so I decided on classic carousel colors of a Black & White horse with Purple with Gold accessories.

After the horse was painted with a black base I taped off the saddle and sprayed a base purple undercoat. I then pulled out an air-brush (I picked this up for under $20 at a country auction and since I have never used one before I practiced on some cardboard for a while). I top coated the saddle with some metallic purple and then taped off the hooves and face to apply the white highlights. In the mouth, nose and ears I added some pink for realism. Finally I hand painted the eyes and gold bits on the bridle and saddle.

Step 8: The Reveal

Picture of The Reveal

On the big day the horse was wrapped and ready to go.. The birthday girl opened her gift under a perfect blue sky and loved it so much she even ate dinner on the horse!

The perfect end to a great restoration project! This horse was saved from landfill, fixed and improved so that it is now loved by the next generation of kids...

Comments

vanweb (author)2016-03-09

No idea how much it would cost.. as I did it myself and I am in Canada.. sorry.. your best bet would be to look for an art student and show them my instructable and say you want something like that. They may do it as an art project...

Annafitting (author)2016-03-09

I have my son's Plastic Rocking Horse that's now 28yrs old!I only saved the body which is in perfect condition. My Son w/wake up every morning and ride his "Spring Horse" from Morn. To bedtime! I have video of him falling asleep while riding and he would wake up just before he was ready to tumble(no he never fell off&I was right next to him to make sure of it!!)BUT BC of the old time springs,My son was catapulted off ,when one of springs broke!I was there to witness this horrific event,which thankfully resulted into a hilarious event,when my little baby (2-1/2yrs.old)Jumped up&started crying "Bad Horsie broken"!! We immediately went to Toys R US-&purchased a larger one! I Knew w/o doubt my son would not be able to wake up w/o saddling up!Plus it was great exercise for him while watching TV& My built in baby sitter!I always had him in my sight,and he even had developed calouse's on his tiny hands,from the daily hours he spent on his Horsie! My Son is now 28yrs.old,married for 3yrs. And he&my beautiful daughter-in-luv are now pregnant!!I saved HIS beloved Horsie, with the intent to have it refurbished for my 1st Grandbaby! I love the idea you presented as opposed to the very expensive idea I had, which was installing a carousel pole in it &,,,,You get the idea? My question (this was an awfully long prelude to my simple ?,so sorry)is there a place you can recommend ,which refurbishes like the one you Created w/the insulation & also the wooden base? As opposed to my extremely costly Carousel idea?As I said the horse's condition is pretty good,it has both the peg handle&other peg for child's feet,I w/like it repainted &possibly filled,depending on the inspection of the refurbisher?Any recommendations in my area w/be greatly appreciated!Long Island,N.Y.Smithtown/Islandia area,,,THANKYOU njad02@aol.com

chaudhryahmedX (author)2014-10-28

george.kizoff (author)2014-09-05

Thank you for replying to my question.

George Kizoff

jessyratfink (author)2012-09-05

Such a great project. She looks so excited. :D

I had a wooden one when I was little and loved it!

vanweb (author)jessyratfink2012-09-06

Thank you!, and don't forget to vote for this in the "Fix & Improve It" contest... :-)

george.kizoff (author)vanweb2014-09-04

Dear Vanweb,

Could you advise as to what product you used to fill the body. Please be very specific as I would like to do the same.

George - georgekizoff@hotmail.com

vanweb (author)george.kizoff2014-09-04

"Big Gap Filler Insulating Foam Sealant"

http://www.homedepot.ca/product/big-gap-filler-insulating-foam-sealant-454-g/947829

It is used to seal and insulate gaps between doors and windows and walls. Be careful it expands to many times its volume. It was like a volcano coming out of the holes. When it dries it is just like Styrofoam and can be easily cut and shaped. Please post pictures I would love to see how your comes out!

george.kizoff (author)2014-09-04

Great work. Thanks for the info as I have a similar "injured" horse that needs some TLC.

Mariska Botha (author)2013-09-04

Really beautiful, love the white feet and pink saddle.

BunnyRoger (author)2013-09-03

Aahh that's gorgeous and the little girl too.

Amanda Culbert (author)2013-09-02

Very nice, looks like one happy little girl that!!

MAApleton (author)2013-08-29

Great restoration job.

Penolopy Bulnick (author)2012-09-19

That is wonderful! Beautiful painting job too. It's nice that the legs were all the same, looks like it would save a lot of time!

flyingpuppy (author)2012-09-11

Beautiful job on the restoration! And what an adorable Joan of Arc!

mikeasaurus (author)2012-09-05

This is great stuff, thanks for sharing!

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