Introduction: Build a Toy Train to Fight for What's Right

About: If you read blogs, come vist mine: www.tristramshandy21st. where right now I am posting chapters of my humorous and philosophical nonfiction, "In Search of Tim Severin" among other things.


In a pure technical documenation style, starkly simple, I hope to reflect:

(1) How the construction of personal and personalized toys helps fight the vast commercial/industrial complex of sameinizing that our children undergo (this project was intended for the Instructables holiday contest, but I missed the deadline, I mean really really missed the deadline).

(1a) In my continuing belief that technical people should be conversant in cultural and linguistic implications of human life (note that the humanities make life worth living when we are back from the office/lab/shop/factory), I invite them to study point #1 above for its deconstructive implications, though I was never really a post-modernist myself). That is to say, if you build this train as I show here, you will add to the problem. See my final step, even my final sentence, for a solution.

In specific, the project involves the making of wooden train for a child, which can intersect with the concerns of technology, nostalgia, craft, and childhood pleasure all at once.

NOTE -- Some steps have more than one photograph conflated to a single step, so be sure to click on them all.

Step 1: Concerning Materials and Tools; Flesh and Blood, and Its Distress

SAFETY NOTE -- Be safe. Don't do stupid things. Work slowly, even if you are going to miss a deadline. A forstner bit pulling your thumb into its ripping, inexorable maw will form a long-term memory, but not one to be treasured. If you use a double-sided Japanese saw OH, BE VERY CAREFUL, AND DON'T FORGET THE UPPER EDGE AS YOU HOLD THE WORKPIECE. Push wood chisel away from any body part. Watch your knuckles as you turn workpiece on the belt-sander (the wound is a little like being skinned alive). Have I left anything out?


TOOLS: rip and cross-cut saw, bandsaw (useful, not necessary), drill press (useful, not necessary), hand drill, electric or drill or bit and brace or push (necessary), smoothing or jack plane, wood chisel, wood rasp (useful, not critical), adz (fun, not necessary), compass scribe, small square, bench-mounted belt sander (useful, not critical; but I must say, for small work and hobby work, this has been a a great shaping tool, saving much time, as has the bandsaw and drill press on occasion), sandpaper (100 grit, 150, and 220 if you insist).

MATERIALS: Thick wood if possible (4-inch slab, about 4 x 4 square and 30 inches long, preferrably inherited from your father and seasoned 35 years in the barn attic, purchased from the sawmill up the road; if you can't get any, you can glue-up a block of mundane wood to follow these steps). Pine is OK, easy to work but soft and dentable, maple or oak would be OK too for longevity, though much harder to work (make all your marks and cuts very precise). Also some 3/4 inch pine (from the scraps you keep around). Paint: engine red from a craft store, small bottle; clear poly coating. Wooden wheels from the craft store (inch and a half dia.). Wooden pegs also about 2.5 inches long. Candle-holders, two, or some other short (1/1.5 inch round cylinder that can be fashioned into a headlight and a smoke stack).

NOTE: In general note that many gew gaws you can find at any local crafts store can me made into many things if you do not have a lathe (or time!) to create well-sized turnings: I once cut a wooden game piece down and drilled a hole in it to create a supercharger scoop for the hood of my son's cubscout wooden racecar, etc.).

Step 2: Mark and Cut Wood Block for the Train Engine

1. Make an ~ 4 x 4 x 12-18 inch block of wood for the engine. Mark engine block with scribe to prepare to carve curve-topped "boiler." Scribe both ends in a semi-circle (flat side is bottom of engine where wheel carriage will go) by finding the center of both ends and planting the scribe needle there.

2. Carve boiler. I began with an adz for the fun of it, then I finished by clamping down and planing with a jack plane.

ADVICE -- Preserve and mark out the center hole from the compass circle because later you will be drilling a peg hole there to install the headlamp....because a train without a cyclopean headlamp as it courses down the tracks projecting its dragonish light ahead of it is no train at all.

Step 3: Round the Engine's Boiler Finally on the Belt-sander

1. Finish the boiler on the belt sander. Grind down to the pencil line from the compass; watch the wood come down on both ends; go little by little so you don't shoot past the pencil marks.

FRIENDLY CAUTION -- Watch your knuckles as you twist the boiler back and forth!

2. Radius the bottom edges too, because radius edges resist damage and hold paint better too.

Step 4: Drill Hole in Boiler for the Smoke Stack and Mark Center for Headlight

1. With spade bit (wide enough to secure the candle holder size you chose, I used 3/4 inch) drill shallow hole to cradle smoke stack (which is a candle-holder). This holes makes it seem as though a high-precision engineer melded the separate parts of the steam engine in a planned way.

2. In center at pilot hole made bny space bit, drill a hole for the size peg you chose to secure smoke stack. You see the processes and parts in the photo in UNASSEMBLED condition.

3. Set parts aside for later. Keep a steel or plastic dish around to keep your parts safe.

NOTE -- Don't worry that I repeated some of these instructions at a later step. I am indeed in nearly complete control of this Instructable. Soon I will have total management over it, and it will, finally, submit to my will. Anyway, some holes can be drilled whenever, although not all parts can be attached any time we damn well please; that's the important part; at times, the universe's time-line does rule our actions.

Step 5: Mark and Cut Engine Block for the Cab

NOTE -- This step has 4 photographs, so be sure to click on them all; I am trying to reduce the stepifying a little so that stepification overload will not plague even a patient reader.

1. Make a V-cradle to hold round parts if you already did not have one from the sailboat mast you made previously. A V as shown will hold a variety of round parts for working on the bench (hang the holders from wall on cords when not in use), but you may want a few sizes for your various round projects. For long pieces such as masts to be planed round, you will want two or three of these V-holders.

2. Use compass to scribe around the outer surface of the engine block (boiler) to mark where cab will go after you cut into the cylinder (you are setting out the boiler/bab bulkhead inother words).

3. Set scribe to the thickness of the cab floor (~ 1/2 inch for pine, a bit less for hardwood) and mark. Scribe all around the flat bottom edge to set the sawing depth. Also draw that mark at the front of the boiler because you may want to carve a carriage/bumper line there. (a "character line" in car design jargon?).

4. Cut out the cab area with a saw of your choice (cross cut). You can then rip down the center for the final cut or make many cross-cuts and carve out the cab area with a wood chisel.

NOTE -- DO NOT mangle the piece you remove from the cab floor! It is not "scrap" but will rather form the roof of your cab, since you already put so much time into rounding it. Yes, a flat cab roof would be OK, but I like a rounded roof; it looks cooler.

ANOTHER NOTE -- Do what you want, though you can start with a flat roof then round its edges over a little as I did for the "caboose" roof you see in the finished train. In fact, I now think that is better: easier, stronger, more pretty. If you think otherwise, let me know and i will change my mind back to my first impression).

5. Do a little cross-grain planing to smooth the cab floor, with a block plane, but a rabbet plane will be better to get up right to the bulkhead (must get me a rabbet plane). I also use a wood rasp. Or....

5a. Use a wide forstener drill bit on the drill press as a "hasy milling machine" to flatten down the cab floor (out the central pilit-spike of the bit will leave many little holes on the surface). A special planer blade for the drill press is even better (gotta get me one of those).

Step 6: Drill Out Center of "Scrap" to Make Arched Roof

1. Get yourself a drill press vice (endlessly useful when using drill press as a "hasty milling machine").

2. Clamp the engine in (being sure to protect it with pads) and drill out the center of the scrap after marking the thickness of the roof with the compass. Drill the hole with two forstner bits, the first one small ~ half inch and the second large ! 1 inch. The smaller hole helps clear the waste from the larger drill size since the waste has somewhere to go, besides easing the drilling process with two passes.

Step 7: Carve Out the Beautifully Arched Cab Roof

NOTE -- 3 photographs.

Here I carve out the "scrap" (*it ain't scrap!) from the cab area. Many ways to do this: choose what you like.

(* Makes me think about the term "weed" -- what is a weed, what is a piece of scrap? It just makes you think.)

1. I drilled down with drill press, then

2. hogged out other stuff with saw as shown, then

3. smoothed the inside curve a little with a curved carving chisel. More will follow, but first I test-fit the cab parts. Therefore,

4. Cut the side-cab pieces from 3/4 pine (or whatever). I made the side walls (on which the roof will be glued) extend a little last the back of the roof (looked cool) and rounded off those edges on the belt sander.

5. Roughen all surfaces that will be glued with a rasp or 40 grit sandpaper.

NOTE ON ROUNDING EDGES -- Generally a good idea on wooden toys because (a) better damage resistance and (b) when the child bonks her/his sibling with the toy, the skull-shattering forces are spread out a little = good.

Step 8: Drill Hole for Simulated Firebox and Prepare Cab Bed for Cab and a Few Simple Controls

NOTE -- 2 photos.

1. Plane/sand/file the cab floor.

2. Select places to put in some levers and things so that the imaginary people or stuffed animals can control the train. (first test fit all the parts so you don't drill holes where a wall will be going).

3. Clamp engine down and use a wide spade-bit to drill a shallow hole for the firebox (paint it a sooty black later).

4. You can even drill small holes in bulkhead to simulate steam gauges.

Step 9: Attach Smoke Stack and Headlight With Pegs and Glue

Now that we near completion, you can attach the smokestack and headlamp. Before you do, do any edge-rounding and sanding (second to final sanding) while the areas are free of clutter.

1. Mark out locations for drilling from previously marked centers.

2. Drill shallow wide-diamter hole for the smoke stack (enough to fit or 'cradle' the bottom of the candle-holder=smokestack so that the whole will looks as if a high-precision engineer carefully melded the boiler with the smokestack.

3. Drill peg-hole through center-spike-pilot-hole artifact left by any forstner bit at the bottom of its hole, and also drill a peg hole in the bottom center of the candle-holder.

4. Drill a peg hole for the headlamp (option: inset the headlamp into another wide diameter hole drilled by the forstner bit but I just cut down the headlamp and attached with the wooden peg).

NOTE -- "How do I make the headlamp?" I bought two wooden candle holders, one for smokestack, one for headlamp. I cut the one for the headlamp to reduce its height. I drilled peg holes through their bottoms for wooden pegs which will provide the greatest fastening strength along with a dab of glue. Eventually you will also be putting glue in the cradle hole of the smokestack, too.

5. Glue it all. Don't put too much glue in the peg holes because you can get a hydraulic effect as you push the pegs in; either you won't be able to push the pegs in all the way, or your Conan the Barbarian strength could use the hydraulic effect to force hiogh-pressure glue through the wood, splitting it in a worst-case scenario.

My method: dab pegs with glue, and turn them as you insert them to insure you are spreading the glue over the peg surface.

Make sure to wipe any excess glue because these areas will be left clear-finished to exposed woodgrain, and carpenter's glue dries hard, and you can mar the wood getting it off after it dries.

6. If I forget to tell you later: paint the sinside and top of the smokestack black to simulate soot stains. Pain the headlamp whatever: Ipainted it red to match the other paint, but if I had had yellow, I would have painted the peg-head yellow to simulate a lamp light.

7. Come to think of it, if you understand train technology well, you can add other things on the boiler; I forget what they are even though my friend Ken, an expert with computers, networks, D&D, science fiction, and trains, told me all about them on our trip to the Museum of Science last month. Condensers? Relief valves? Whistles too, no doubt.

Step 10: Test Fit Cab Parts, Then Adjust and Glue

One again, test fit cab parts, do final carving/planing. Some of the final carving inside the cab can be done after the glue dries (besides, things slip while gluing, and some fairing might be needful).

I admit to being nervous about splitting the cab roof, so I ceased the carving pretty soon after this.

This is a good time to change your mind about anything else concerning the cab. Since I "design as I go" I never know where a project is heading; here that method bit me: I really wanted a window in the cab, but I forget it at this stage, and the next, and I became lazy when I remembered after I painted the whole thing. DON'T MAKE MY MISTAKES.

BUT WAIT! On the other hand, designing-as-you-go introduces contingencies and new ideas. This happens when I write novels, too. Unexpected joys may arise. Since the whole idea of the project is to counteract some of the mass-production and hyper-planning of our society, too much planning of this train will make you a hyprocrite against yourself and your paradigm. Think about it.

Step 11: Construct the Wheel Carriage

NOTE -- 3 photographs.

The wheel carriage must take great weights; the industrial world rides there. I used hardwood for the wheel carrriage -- in all honesty because I had a use for some scraps I had. But also -- the mahogany looks really nice when sanded; then I got the idea: don't paint it! And I didn't.

1. Measure for, design, and plan to "specs" (ha!) the wheel carriage. Make two for engine and carriage. Make it so that the wooden wheels will just fit UNDER the width of the flatbed that will come next. This is very trainlike.

2. Radius the ends to ride over obstacles to be found on any American carpet.

3. Drill holes for axle pins (after doing measuring/laying out stuff. I'm getting tired. You know what to do, or you have the will to figure it out if you came with me this far).

4. Sand the parts. Then roughen the areas to be glued with 40 grit sand paper or rasp.

5. Make the flatbed. Provide for a geometry that will let you attach the carriage to the engine and turn corners afterward. Said simply, taper the end of the carriage like a trailer tongue.

6. Drill holes in the flatbed to take long wooden pins and a rail to hold the stuffed animals sure to be loaded on the flatbed for adventure travel. Do this by first cutting rails, clamping the rails to the edge of the flatbed, then drill through both at once (mark which side is which on the rails so holes will match well). Later you will thrust the long wooden pins through the rails and glue them, then thrust that assembly into the carriage bed holes, glue, and adjust it all before glue sets.

7. Glue wheel carriage to flatbed. Let dry.

8. Re-drill wheel axle holes to insure they will spin easily on the axle pins (some will, some won't). (Note to self: it is axle, not axel. Do the Brits spell it axel? Half my spelling comes from Brits, the other half from Yanks; life is hard).

9. Glue in the axel/axle pins to the wheel carriage but not wheel to axle.

10. Get that lawn chair, brew pot of coffee, and sit by the project, turning the wheels every 15 minutes for the next 6 hours to make sure glue did not get in the wheel holes.

11. Let me know if you did step 10 as I said or discovered a better way that ensured the same good results. Just curious.

Step 12: Brew Some Coffee and Drink It As You Plan Design Features Not-planned-for

NOTE -- 2 photos, and the end returns to the start.

1. Set it all up and contemplate. You have done a good thing. No one can say anything against it. If they do, you will know they are of no account, and that is a very cheap lesson indeed, good for the rest of your life.

2. Drill holes at end of cab and front of carriage to link the two. I just tied them with a nylon rope knotted under the holes, with enough length that a child could not crush his/her finger in the coupling, but not enough to use the unit as a choking device. Kids these days, you never know. The average cartoon nowadays portrays garottings and such, eh? A joke; I hope I'm wrong.

3. Now comes the part I can't well explain. I changed my mind at the last minute about the flatbed carriage, shortened the rails, added a structure at the end, to form a unique combined flat-bed/caboose, new to the world of trains. Then I forgot to photograph those steps. Sorry about that.

4. So now just design a caboose-thingie if you want.

4a. Cut out the 3/4 pine for the side walls (this time remember to drill window holes, which are cute).

4b Cut out other pine for the roof. I extended the roof past the walls to form a porch for the imaginary people, since somethimes it is good to have a roof over your head without the Depressing Enclosing Walls of Cubicle Life around you. If you provide for imaginary people, you might well carry the lesson into a less surreal world.

4c Create other untested and perhaps untestable hypotheses about the implications of your project as done at the end of step 4b. Hypotheses go a long way toward rounding out the human experience.

4d. Test fit, round all edges, glue, clamp, blah blah blah.

4e. Sand.

5. Paint some parts (engine red) and clear-finish other parts. I left some parts clear finished to show the wood off (if you ask why, then I am shocked and dismayed). I painted other areas to be bright and happy to inject a bit of that into someone's childhood.

In general, I left clear finish over parts most likely to be touched by hand and knocked about, becuase the model will look better for longer.

6. Do not build the train exactly as I show here. That will result in more sameness, which will not help grow additional neuron connections in our brains. Instead, change something in each step. Add your own features. Change something here and there. That way, this instructable will have served a purpose but also contributed to difference of various kinds. Difference helps us grows more neuron connections. --wt