Heirloom Rocking Horse




Introduction: Heirloom Rocking Horse

My only nephew is turning two right after Christmas. I've been thinking that my window of opportunity for making him gifts that he actually likes is probably closing pretty fast. I imagine in a year or two he will only want video games or electronics, and I'm a wood man...Alas. I had better make the best of the time I have remaining then.

I really wanted to make him something that he would be able to keep and perhaps pass on to his kids with a thought of me, and a smile. Anyways, I decided to go with a good old fashioned rocking horse. I researched a fair amount to compare designs and complexity. I ultimately decided on this design. Moreover, I wanted this to look and feel antiquated and hand made. Hence, except for the cross boards on the rocker itself, I only used hand tools. I plan to give this to my nephew for Christmas. I hope it goes over well.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

For this project I used a variety of tools and materials at different stages. But the most important ones are listed here.

1 by 10 inch pine boards (length depends on size of the horse)

5/4 by 8 inch pine boards for rockers (length depends on size of horse)

2 inch wood screws

Electric screw driver

Wood glue

Drill press with various sized drill bit and a 1/2 inch forstner bit

Small hand plane

Pull saw

Variety of wood rasps (some rounded, some flat)

Variety of wood files (in different sizes and geometric configurations)

Variety of sandpaper: 60 grit, 100, 150, 220, 320, 400

Steel Wool ultrafine grade

C Clamps

Arm Clamps

Hand Clamps

Exacto Knife

Wood Stain

Wood Filler


Foam Brushes

Old Rags/Shirts

A Tarp

Leather swatches

Silver Tacks


Tape Measure


Table Saw

Time, Patience, and Love

Step 2: Design and Templates

As I stated before, I researched different designs and looks for rocking horses online. Once I had an idea of what I wanted, I drew out templates for the various pieces that would go into the horse, and cut those paper templates out. If you would like to use my proportions and designs, just blow up the picture of the cut wood sections above until they are the size you want then use that as a guide.

Using the templates I outlined the appropriate number of pieces onto 1 by 12 pine. As you can see from the design, I had to cut 4 front legs (as I combined two pieces together to make one piece), 4 back legs, 3 body contours (only one with hair and tail connected), and two saddle pieces. I took the boards with the outlined pieces and clamped them to a small table outside. I used a jig saw and followed the contour lines.

Step 3: Gluing Body Parts Together

Once I cut all of the template pieces out, I took two back leg piece, scored the wood between them with a small knife, applied wood glue and clamped them together with C-Clamps.

Note: I made this out of pine. Pine is a very soft wood. As you can see in the picture, when using clamps, I put pieces of scrap wood between the clamp and the leg. These clamps are strong and can easily dig into the wood while clamping.

Step 4: Body Construction

For the actual body, I cut 3 body segments two are without the tail hair and mane hair. The center piece does have the hair cut outs. I also included a small piece on each side for the saddle. As with the legs, I scored the wood coming together and used wood glue.

I clamped this section tightly to avoid any noticeable opening between board. However, the same rules apply as before. Make sure to put scrap wood between the clamp and the wood of the horse.

Step 5: Shaping the Legs

Once the glue has dried, I took off the clamps and used a small hand plane, wood rasps, wood files, various grades of sandpaper, and an exacto Knife, to eliminate blemishes in the wood, or smooth out each appendage.

It is important at this step to eliminate as many nicks, scratches, markings, and especially glue on each leg and the body. Even though you will be using more glue when attaching the legs and body pieces, it will much harder to sand along the whole length of each piece when it is all connected. Now is your best opportunity.

Note: when working with all of these items listed above, generally you should always go with the grain of the wood to reduce tearing and cross grain scratches in the wood.

Step 6: Uniformity

Once each individual leg looks good, I lightly clamped the two back legs together. I again used a hand plane, wood rasps, and sandpaper to continue working on it. I worked on these individual section long enough to make them appear uniform in design.

Step 7: Putting the Body Together

Once I had worked on each individual body part, I glued the legs to the main body. I again scored the wood (meaning I scratched the wood to increase the grip of the glue) at the points of contact, and used wood glue.

Step 8: The Body

Once I landed on a design I liked for the horse, I set up the horse in the pose I wanted and outlined the point of contact with a pencil. I then added liberal amounts of glue within that drawn outline, and clamped the pieces together.

Note: if you use too much glue it will be forced to come out on the sides, and will require more cleanup. You can always wipe away the excess with a slightly damp paper towel. In any case, make sure to eliminate any glue that pushes out as it will discolor the stain when added.

Step 9: Rounding, Shaping, Planing, Prepping

As I said in a prior step, once the body was finished, I spent many days planing, rasping, filing, or sanding the body to make it smooth and continuous.

Note: Each of these tools can be very effective in it own way, and can cause damage to the project. Make sure you practice with them first on scrap wood if you are not familiar with how they work.

Step 10: Continued

Other examples of smoothing down the various features of the project.

Step 11: Shaping the Saddle Part One

After I constructed the body of the horse, I wished I had raised the outline of the saddle slightly to make it look distinct from the body. In the picture here I'm showing the slight raise in the back of the saddle that I created by filing and cutting out from the body of the horse.

Step 12:

Step 13: Round One

Here is the first fully constructed picture of the horse, without the rocker.

Step 14: Adding Integrity

I freely admit that I am a bit of of a worrier when it comes to my nephew. As such, even though I am sure the glue was plenty strong enough to hold him, I drilled holes halfway into each leg with a 1/2 inch forestner drill bit. This create nice uniform holes.

Step 15: Screwing

I drilled relatively long screws into the body from the legs. I then dripped a small amount of wood glue into the countersink hole I made.

Step 16: Dowel Plug

I then took a 1/2 inch dowel and pressed one end into the hole with glue. I pressed it in as far as it would go.

Step 17: Flush Cut

I then took a pull cut hand saw and cut the dowel flush to the top surface of the leg. This both hides the screw, and adds a nice effect of differently colored woods together.

Step 18: The Rocker Base

Once the horse was fully constructed, I moved to make the base.

For the rocker, I switched from 1 inch thick pine to 5/4 inch thick for better stability and balance.

As with the body parts, I first created a paper template and drew it onto the wood to be cut. Once I drew the design on the wood, I found and marked the center of the rocker. I then drew a line every two inches in both directions from the centre line. I used these marker lines to ensure that the curve for the rocker was even. Hence, at two inches from center in both directions, I was only 1/8 inch up from bottom of the wood, evenly on both sides from center. At 8 inches from center in both directions, the curve line intersected at only 2 inches away from the top of the board. I ensured that they were equally distant from bottom line in both directions. If they were not, I correct as best I could.

Step 19: Cutting the Wood

As with the body sections, I clamped the wood to a small outdoor table and cut it with a jig saw.

Step 20: Uniformity

Once both rocker sections were cut out, I lightly clamped them together and trimmed as necessary to make them uniform and therefore equally smooth.

Step 21: Sanding for a Smooth Rock

Leaving the boards clamped together, I took a block sander and heavy grade sand paper to smooth out the overall curve on both rocker board. Again, I was just trying to create as smooth a ride a possible.

Step 22: Cross Boards

These are the only things I cut without using a hand tool. As you can see I cut them with a small table saw. I wanted these to be precise and pretty as they would be highly visible once constructed.

Step 23: Predrilling

Using a drill press, I pre-drilled guide holes into and through various boards, as well as countersinking the wood with the 1/2 inch forestner bit to hide screws.

Step 24: The Hand Hold Hole

While I had the drill press out, I carefully drilled a hole through the horse's head for the hand hold. I then slipped a piece of 1/2 inch pine, sticking out 5 inched from each side.

Note: it is difficult to drill straight down through the head because it is big and heavy. It would be easy to be off by a few degrees and then the handhold would be noticeable crooked.

Note: when drilling completely through a board, it works well to clamp the board to another piece of wood on the side farthest from the tool When pushing the drill bit out of the other end of a piece of wood you run the risk of pushing out or ripping some of the wood.

Step 25: Attaching the First Crossboard

To attach the crossboards, I first found the true center of each rocking board. I then centered the board there on, added glue to each side, and put two screws into the cross board from the sides. I counter sunk the screws with the 1/2 inch forestner bit.

Step 26: Placement

Using the first board as a guide, I measured out the spaces for the remaining boards and marked them on the rocker. Once placement was figured, each board was glued and screwed into place.

Step 27: Correction

It was about this point that I realized this rocker would not work as it was too shallow of a curve and very hard to rock on. I therefore repeated the process I just outlined to make a second rocker. This put me back a few days, but turned out well in the end.

Step 28: Tightening Up

Once the rocker was constructed, I plugged the countersink holes the same way I plugged the leg holes (i.e. with 1/2 inch dowel and a pull cut saw). I then used the hand place and sand paper to ensure that the board tops all lined up with the top of the rocker.

Step 29: The Standing Boards

Lastly, I added two crosswise board for the horse to stand on and be connected to. I first tried to measure and put the boards on the rocker first but this did not work well as the horse did not stand evenly on the boards.

Step 30: Attaching the Horse

I therefore, attached the boards to the horse's feet first. I had already pre-drilled screw holes and countersink holes into the base of each board with the drill press. I put 4 to 5 two inch screws up from these boards into the base

Step 31: To the Rocker

I then placed the horse to stand in the rocker about were he would be standing if centered. I attached the crosspiece connected to the front legs first. I made sure to elevate the back legs to about the height they would be at if the back cross board was connected. Once the front cross board was glued and screwed, I did the same to the back cross board.

Step 32: Plugging

To finish off the underside, I filled the countersink holes with glue and an appropriately sized down. I again cut off the dowel with a pull cut hand saw so that it was flush to the wood of the cross board.

Lastly I filled any gaps or holes with wood putty. It does look great, but this is the underside of the project and not readily visible.

Step 33: Plug the Cross Board Horse Holding Holes

As with the other holes in the rocker, I plugged the countersink holes with 1/2 in dowel and glue. Once all of the holes were plugged, I sanded the face of the rocker board to make is smooth.

Step 34: Cross Beam

Just because I like the look, I added a cross beam. I drilled a hold at the front and rear of the rocking boards when they were clamped together earlier. I then ran a 1/2 dowel through both of them.

Step 35:

I then took a 1 inch dowel, drilled into it, and cut sections off of it to make wooden nuts. I took a wooden nut and put one over the 1/2 inch dowel protruding from each side of the cross beam. I glued these in place, and then used the pull cut saw to cut the 1/2 dowel flush to the wooden nut.

Step 36: Framing

Lastly on the rocker base, I took a square dowel and framed the cross boards holding the horse at each point of contact with the rocker boards. I used a miter box to cut the ends of the dowel to 45 degree angles for square framing. I used wood glue to hold the pieces in place.

Step 37:

Step 38: Completed But "Unfinished" Rocking Horse

At this point the rocking horse was almost fully constructed, but entirely unfinished. I needed to start my finishing work, so I started to sand the project.

Step 39: Sanding

I started with 60 grain, then 100, then 150, 220, and 350. I was sanding for about a week, and really should have sanded for another week, but I was running out of time for Christmas.

Note: it is important to gradually work your way through the different grains of sandpaper otherwise you can leave score marks on the wood surface when staining.

Also note: While sanding, always move in the direction of the wood grain.

Step 40: Fixing and Filling

I knew that I planned to use a dark stain on the horse's body, so I used wood filler to fill in imperfections in the wood or dings and scratches on the surface. Once the wood filler dried, I had to sand the area again with the varying grades of sandpaper.

Step 41: Staining

I chose to stain the project in two different color stains. The base and the horse's hair were stained with a light color stain (classic oak), while the body was to be stained in a significantly darker stain (red mahogany). I wiped the surface of the project thoroughly with a towel to remove all sand paper dust, and gathered my supplies for staining. I used foam brushes and an old white t-shirt of mine. I also kept a roll of paper towels nearby in case of accidental drips. Thj

Step 42: The Light Stain

The light colored stain was a stain/poly-eurothane blend. I used the foam brush to apply it and went over the base of the project as well as the horse's hair and tail. I let this dry for about 4 hours as instructed on the bottle, then applied a second coat.

Note: make sure to be in a well venilated place while sanding, staining, and eurothaning as these all involve chemicals and/or particulates better left outside the lungs.

Also note: I always put down a protective tarp when working on or moving the piece to protect against unintentional dripping

Step 43: The Dark Stain

After the light stain had completely dried, I took out the darker stain and applied it to the horse's body. I used tape to protect the light areas from run off or drips. This was pure stain and was easier to apply in a consistent way with my old t-shirt. I dipped an end into the stain then rubbed it onto the horse.

Note: I have not touched the saddle at all yet. I have plans...be patient.

Step 44: Sealing

Lastly, to protect the entire project against dings, nicks, moisture, etc., I applied a clear poly-eurothane coating. All in all, I applied about 7 coats over 3 days to increase its protective ability.

Step 45: Smoothing Between

Between each coat of eurothane, I used a fine grain sandpaper (320) and/or a fine steel wool to smooth out the surface and remove imperfections in the sealant coat.

Note: this is not to dig or remove the sealant, only to smooth it out. Do not press too hard, use to coarse a sandpaper, or rub too long in one place.

Step 46: The Saddle

Until now I had not touched the saddle. I had planned at the beginning to cover it in leather, and I figure the leather would glue easier to the unfinished wood than to finished and seal wood.

I went to a local craft store and bought a few different leather swatches, as well as silver tacks for effect.

Step 47: Gluing the Leather

Now, I have never worked with leather before, so please correct anything I did incorrectly in my comments sections. However, I centered the brown leather over the saddle and glued the top to the wood with a wood glue.

Step 48: Tacks

While the wood glue was drying I pushed in 6 silver thumb tacks to hold the leather in place and for visual effect.

Step 49: The Sides

I then did the same thing on each side, i.e. I glued the leather down and tacked it.

Step 50: Accent and Effect

I had measured the leather to wrap completely around the saddle, so ultimately I glued and tacked the leather to the under lip of the saddle. It fit snug and looked nice.

I then cut strips of the black leather and ran it along the front and down the middle of the saddle for visual effect. I again glued the strips down and held them in place with tacks.

Step 51: The Stir Ups

To give the illusion of stir ups, I took some of the leftover leather and glued a small strip on each side of the horse hanging down. I pushed on tack into it near the top of the strip.

Step 52: A Few More Tacks for Beauty

Lastly, I added a few more tacks on the side for effect.

Step 53: And Voila

And here is the finished project, a handmade rocking horse that will hopefully be treasured and passed on. I am trying to make a small plaque on it to commemorate my nephew, but I haven't had time yet. The whole project took about a solid month, but was rewarding.

I will probably at a few more coats of eurothane to the rocker section for added integrity.

Thank you for taking the time to view my project, and happy building!

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Grand Prize in the
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First Prize in the
Wood Contest

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Participated in the
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1 Person Made This Project!


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Question 5 months ago on Introduction

What a great rocking horse and gift. I bet the look when it was first seen was incredible. I have my first grandchild and would like to make this for him. I was thinking, in an attempt to get a bit more use from it, I could include a way to later install axels with wheels. Do you believe your design could accommodate this option? Thank you


8 years ago

This is amazing. I found a much less worthy one at a garage sale for my niece a couple years ago but would have rather made her your design. Wow. Great job.


Reply 8 years ago

Thanks so much. It was a lot of fun. I can send the dimensions and templates if you feel adventurous.


Reply 8 years ago

What would you charge to send me the demensios and templates ?


8 years ago

Congrats on the win!! What a beautiful project. Keep them coming.


8 years ago on Introduction

Heartiest of congratulations on your win! Such a fabulous project, well worthy of the applause, prizes, and recognition. Great work! Beautiful work!


8 years ago on Introduction

good day .. loved much, you are very good, could send me the steps to my abel.schmidt@gmail.com email, from already thank


8 years ago on Introduction

Nicely done. Thanks for sharing. It would be nice if you could let know the list of all tools required just in case we have to try...


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Good point. I will update the instructable in the next day or two with a tools list.


8 years ago

And I hope this is entered into the wood and homemade gifts contests!


Reply 8 years ago

I did enter it. Just waiting for them to accept it. I always feel awkward mentioning it in the instructable. Thanks!


8 years ago on Introduction

This is brilliant - I love "heirloom" toys, and the family history they create (my dad built me a toy garage over forty years ago - both my boys used it, and it is now away with a view to grandchildren).


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Thanks for the comment. Yeah I'm hoping this will be passed down as well. It was a lot of fun to make


8 years ago on Introduction

Looks great! Love the contrasting wood colors. One thing I would add though is an "Eye" for the horse.. even if it is just a dowel stained a different color I think it would give it that finishing touch...


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

I wanted to try to make reins and stir ups as well but wanted to give it to him for christmas


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Thanks for the comment. I agree with you about the eye. I went back-and-forth about it for a while. I think I ultimately just didn't because I i was running out of time.


8 years ago

This is beautiful! I'm sure your nephew will love it :). Very well done!


Reply 8 years ago

Thank you. It was a lot of fun to make. It really put me in the holiday spirit.