Introduction: Heirloom Rocking Unicorn

A few years ago, when my nephew was born, I wanted to make him something to have, and hopefully keep, as a memory of me. I ended up making him an heirloom rocking horse. Some close friends, now having their first child, a girl, seemed to really like the horse. For their baby shower, I wanted to make them something as well. Thus this project was inspired.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

I used the following tools and materials throughout the process.

Tools: Materials

Various shaped files, a rasp, microfiles, chisels

About 12 feet of 1" inch pine


5/8 inch wooden dowels

C Clamps

1/4 inch wooden dowels

Arm Clamps

1.25 inch screws

Jig Saw

Sandpaper (60, 80,100, 120, 150, 220 grit)

Table Saw

Steel wool (medium to fine)


Wood glue

Hand Drill


Drill Press

Wood stain (pickled oak, classic oak, dark)

Pull Saw

Satin finish polyeurothane

5/8 Inch Forstner Drill Bit

Stainable Wood Filler

Tape Measure Foam

Brushes/Scrap Fabric

Step 2: Research and Making the Pattern

Before starting I looked up pictures of jumping horses and drawings of flying horse and designed a pattern trying to give it a look as if it was flying. I designed the pattern seen in the pictures. There is a tape measure in one to give some sense of size. The tape measure is 3.5 feet in the picture.

The body was designed to be 3 sections of overlapping 1" inch pine. The center piece has the horn, hair, and tail outlines added to the body template. The outer two body sections do not include these but have an ear added to the body template. I did redesign the tail slightly to make it thicker at the point of contact with the body template to give it added strength.

Each leg was designed to be two glued sections of 1" inch pine glued together to make the horse thicker, stronger, and more stable.

Step 3: Transposing the Pattern

Once the pattern was complete I traced the various parts of the horse with a pencil lightly onto 1 by 10 inch pine boards. Do not outline the templates too hard/dark. Pine is a soft wood and can be dented relatively easily.

I had some common cut board that I was "repurposing." They were originally shelves in my garage. Thus, there were some knots. however, by intentional positioning of the templates I avoided having any large or noticeable knots showing. The center body piece did not matter as it was mostly covered by the other two outer body pieces. So for any unavoidable knots I tried to make sure they were on this center piece.

Step 4:

Total anticipated cut outs:

1) 4 front leg cut outs;

2) 4 Back leg cut outs;

3) 2 body sections with ears added, but with no hair, horn, or tail;

4) 1 center body section with hair, horn, and tail but no ears;

5) 2 rockers;

6) 2 saddle side pieces;

7) 3 saddle top pieces; and

8) 2 wings

Step 5: Cutting the Pattern

Once each anticipated cut out was outlined, I used a jig saw, and a scroll saw to cut them out. I tried to use finer toothed saw bit to reduce splintering, but as I anticipated to round the outer edges of most of the horse, I was not overly concerned about slight splintering.

Step 6: Gluing the Body Together

Once all of the pieces of the horse were cut our, I glued the like pieces together. For this stage, I used lots of clamps, C clamps and arm clamps, and I made sure to have lots of small scraps of wood to place between the horse body and physical clamp to avoid damaging the wood.

Before actually gluing I scored or marked the surfaces that would be glued together with a razor. This increases surface area and gives the glue a stronger grip. However, make sure that you do not score or mark the wood all the way to the outer edge as you may be able to see it once it is glued. Then I lightly sanded the scored section with coarse sand paper to remove any loose wood chips.

Step 7:

I then applied the glue over the surface and pressed the two sections together. I lightly clamped 4 C clamps around the sections being glued. I made sure to put scrap pieces of wood between the metal of clamp and the wood of the body pieces.

I did not fully tighten them until all four were lightly tightened, as the wood started to slip slightly when I first started clamping the pieces together. Once I had multiple clamps lightly holding the pieces together at different point, I tightened them all hard. I then added additional clamps all around the pieces being glued to avoid any spacing between boards.

Lastly, I took a lightly damp paper towel and wiped any excess glue that was being pushed out from between the glued sections. It is much easier to remove the wood glue now, rather than waiting until it dries.

Step 8: Basic Shape

At this point, I had glued each leg together and I had glued the three body pieces together, but I had not yet glued the legs to the body as it is easier to file and initially sand the individual pieces before they are glued.

Step 9: Organics Curves

In order to give the horse an organic look I wanted to curve all of the edges. In order to save time, I used a router. I clamped each section down to my workbench and ran the router around the outer edge of each section.

However, before I began I put the unicorn pieces together in the place they will eventually be glued, and lightly marked the where the legs and body will connect. I did not round these marked edges with router as I did not want the places were the legs and body connect to be rounded on the inside edges.

Step 10: Rounding the Tail and Horn

As the tail and horn were on the middle piece, I had to extend the router bit and I used some excess wood to create a platform at the correct height to help keep the router stable and even.

Step 11:

Here is are the body pieces with the rounded sections.

Step 12: Sanding, Rasping, Filing Part 1

This was perhaps the most time consuming part of the process.

Before attaching the legs to the body, I took each individual section and looked all along the out edges to make sure that the pieces glued flush to each other. As there was some deviation I used files and a rasp to remove the excess wood and make the overlapping wood flush. I used a rasp for the largest areas were there was deviation, and the used wood files of varying fineness to smooth out the remaining deviations.

Step 13: Excess Glue

There was some small bubbles of glue that I had not removed with the damp paper towel. I used a fine, small, and very sharp file to chip these off. I was very careful to do this lightly so as not to scrape or mark the wood.

Step 14: Wood Filler for Any Openings

At this stage I again inspected each section of the unicorn. There was once area on the underside of the body that has opened slightly. I filled the open space with stainable wood filler.

Once the filler was dry, sanded the area smooth.

Step 15: Sanding

Once the outer edge of each body section was generally flush and smooth, I used course to medium sandpaper over each entire piece (not just the edges) to continue to smooth the wood, and to remove imperfections and markings, and excess glue.

I did not use fine sandpaper as at this stage I was not sanding for a fine finish yet. This was just for shaping and removing imperfections.

Step 16: Putting the Body Together

Once each individual section of the unicorn was flush and smooth, I attached the legs to the body. I did one side of the horse at a time.

The light marking for the location of each leg was still very slightly visible. I thus scored the wood with a razor within the indicated area on both the body section and on the side of each leg that was to be glued to the body. I applied glue to the body section and put the front and back leg of one side of the unicorn in place. I then clamped the pieces down tight using mostly arm clamps as the C clamps were not generally big enough. I again made sure to put scrap wood between the body of the unicorn and the clamps.

As before, I used a damp paper towel to wipe excess glue away.

I let the glue dry for 24 hours.

Once the first side was dry, I turned the horse over and repeated the process to glue on the other legs, marking the wood, gluing the wood, and clamping. However, I made sure to walk around the unicorn body and look at the legs at various angles to make sure that the the front legs were lined up with each other, and the back legs were lined up as perfectly as possible.

Step 17:

Step 18: Added Strength

For both aesthetics and for additional strength, I wanted to add some screws and dowels to the legs.

For consistency, I cut two template diamond, a small one for the back legs, and a smaller one for the front legs. I positioned the large diamond in the middle of the thigh of each back leg. I took a screw and used the tip to mark a small indentation at each point of the diamond. I then used the smaller diamond on the front thighs to mark tips.

Step 19: Pilot Holes

I used my hand drill, with a 1/16 inch drill bit, and screwed a vertical pilot hole at each point that I had marked.

Step 20: Drilling

I then took a 5/8 inch forstner drill bit and drilled a down the pilot holes. As you can see from the pictures, I drilled the holes on the sides of the diamond about 3/4 of an inch down, about half way through the legs sections. The holes at the top and bottom of the diamond I drilled about 2.5 inches into the leg section and into the body.

Step 21: Adding Screws

I took 2 inch #14 construction screws and put a screw into each of the more shallow holes that were not drilled completely through the leg sections. Two screws in the back leg and two in the front leg.

Step 22: Plugging Holes

I then put glue in every drilled hole (including the one with screws). I took a 5/8 inch wooden dowel and hammered it into each hole. Make sure the horse is on a soft surface before hamming the dowel in so that you don't dent the other side of the unicorn.

For the deeper holes the dowel went into the body section for additional strength. For the holes with screws, the dowel was used to cap the hole.

After each dowel was hammered down, I took a pull saw and cut the dowel flush to the leg section.

Step 23: The Hand Bar

The hand bar for the child to hold has two purposes in this design. The first is for the child to brace herself while rocking. However, I also wanted it to be a second point of contact for the wings to keep the wings stable.

To install the hand bar, I drilled a pilot hole into the back of the horses neck I then drilled through with a 1/2 include forstner bit. I was very careful to make sure that I drilled at a 90 decree angle to the horse so that the hand bar looks even at both ends.

I took a section of 1/2 inch dowel and cut each end at a 45 degree angle.

I then put a screw part of the way into one of the cut ends and hammered the end of the screw to pushed the 1/2 inch dowel through the hole, through the horse, leaving about 5 inches out at each side.

Step 24: The Wings

The wings presented a conceptual problem from the very beginning. Wings are relatively large and extend from the body but only connect to the body with a relatively small point of connection. Large items with small points of contact are possibly very weak and liable to break off.

Alternately I also had to make sure the child's legs would not hit the wings when rocking.

Thus, I designed the wings to be small, and I positioned them forward on the unicorn. I also, as I stated in the prior section, anticipated two points of contact for both glue and dowels.

To start I took each wing and cut the end that connects with the horse at a 45 decree angle as you can see in the pictures above. I then drilled two pilot holes at at 45 decree angle at the cut end of each wing on my drill press. I tried to drill the pilot holes as high up the wing as I could while keeping the hole hidden in the wood. I also took a 1/4 inch drill bit and drilled about 1/4 of an inch into each pilot hole to hide the head of the screws.

Step 25: Glue

I put glue both the angled end of the hand bar and then on the angled end of the wing. I pressed the wing down on the body so that both glued ends are in contact with the wing and body. I held it in place for a few minutes. Then, while holding it in place I took my hand drill and drilled into the pilot holes to extend them into the body.

Step 26: Screws

I then put a screw into each pilot hole.

Step 27: Screw to the Hand Bar

With the base of the wing firmly in place by the first screws, I took a screw and used it to mark the point at the back of the wing in which I would need to drill in order to put a screw into the hand bar. I then drilled a pilot hole into the back of the wing and into the hand bar. I had to be very careful to make sure that the drill was positioned to go into the bar. Once the pilot hole was in place, I took the 1/4 inch drill bit and drilled about 1/4 inch into the wing back. I then put a flat head screw from the wing into the hand bar. Lastly I put a drip of glue into each hole (2 at the wing base, and the one in the back of the wing) and pushed in a 1/4 inch dowel. I then used the pull saw to cut the dowel flush to the wing.

Step 28:

I then repeated the process on the opposite side by putting the unicorn down on my work bench but with the wing hanging off the side.

Step 29:

At the base, the wing was slightly rounded so I had to file and sand the excess dowel flush to the wing.

Step 30:

Step 31: The Saddle

In order to make the saddle, I did not make the template for the top of the saddle until the body was done. I put a piece of paper behind the horse and sketched the curve directly from the body. I then used the template to cut three small sections of wood for the saddle top, so that the saddle top was the correct width of the unicorn body.

Step 32: Glue

I glued the three sections together using a C clamp and wood glue.

Step 33: The Sides

I had cut the sides at the start of the process and glued them to the top of the saddle also using wood glue and a C clamp.

Once the glue dried, I used my rasp, files, and course sand paper to remove the excess wood and make the saddle smooth as you can see from the pictures. I took some time but came out pretty well.

Step 34: Saddle Up

I attached the saddle to the body first by gluing the underside of the saddle and putting it on unicorn.

Step 35:

For added strength and for looks, I then drilled 1/4 inch holes (3 on each side, and 6 on the top as seen in the pictures) through the sides and top of the saddle and into the unicorn body. I hammered 1/4 inch dowel into each hole and cut it flush with a pull saw. I then sanded down the attached saddle to make sure the dowels were down flush to the saddle.

Just to confirm the strength of the unicorn, I sat it on for a few minutes at this point. I weigh about 150 and it held me just fine.

Step 36: The Rockers

For the rockers, I used 2 by 8 inch fir. I put drew the template onto the fir board, and used a drafting compass to make the rounded ends. I cut the pattern out with a jig saw.

Step 37:

Once both rockers were cut out, I clamped them together and sanded the bottom of the rockers at the same time with a block sander in order to make sure that the bottom curvature of each rocker was even on both boards.

Step 38: Front and Rear Bars

While the rockers were clamped together, I marked the center of the end of each rocker with a screw, and drilled through both at the same time with a 5/8 Forstner bit.

Step 39: The Cradle

I hammered a 5/8 inch dowel into each end of one side of the rocker, and then hammered the other side down the other end of the dowel until they were about 11 inches apart, as this was the approximate width I had planned for the rocker cradle. I make sure to hammer directly on spare wood and not directly onto the rocker wood to avoid damaging the wood.

Step 40: Putting It Together

I then took a piece of 1 by 3 inch pine and cut 5 10 inch sections from it on my tablesaw.

Step 41: Marking the Placement

I then marked the exact center of each rocker. I place one 10 inch section between the rocker boards and marked the outline of the board on each, inside the rocker. I marked the spots for 3 pilot holes within the marked outline.

Step 42:

I drilled three pilots holes into each side. I then took a 1/4 inch drill bit and drilled about 1/2 inch into the firm board. holding the board in place I put a screw in each side. With one screw in each side, I place another board on each side about, spaced about 1 inch from the center board. I marked the location as before, and repeated the process for the center board.

Step 43: Adding Strength

Once each board had one screw it in, I put two more screws in each board for added strength.

Step 44: Capping the Holes

I then put a 1/4 inch dowel into each hole and cut it off flush to the rocker board with a pull saw.

Step 45: Attaching the Unicorn to the Rocker

In order to attach the unicorn body to the rocker cradle, I positioned the two remaining boards on the bottom of the unicorn legs. I made sure to place the board equidistant to each side so it was centered, as well as equidistant to the front and back of the board. I marked outline of the leg bottoms on the board.

Step 46:

I then drilled two pilot holes through each board in the drawn outline of each foot. On the under side, the side that will not connect directly to the legs, I drilled about 1/4 inch into the board with a 1/4 inch drill bit. I then put the board back onto the unicorn legs and lined up them up into the marked outline. I then drilled into the pilot holes with a 1/16 inch drill bit and into the unicorn hoof. I put a screw into the board and into the leg to hold it in place. Once the first screw was set, I drilled into the other three pilot holes into the legs, and screwed them down as well. I then plugged each hold with a 1/4 inch dowel and cut the dowels flush to the boards.

Step 47:

I put the unicorn in place in the rocking cradle and marked the position on the inside of each rocker where I wanted to attach them. In order to give the unicorn the look of rearing up or flying, I wanted the rear legs to be lower than the front legs.

After marking the position, I remove the unicorn and drilled pilot holes with a 1/16 inch drill bit. I then used a 1/4 inch drill bit to drill about half way into the other side of each rocker into the pilot holes. I then put the unicorn back into place and put three screws into each end of each board. I again filled the holes with 1/4 inch dowels and cut them flush to the rocker.

Step 48: Trim the Front and Rear Cross Bars

Now that the cross beams were all connected, I used the pull saw to cut the excess from the front and rear cross bars in the back and front.

Step 49: Touch Up Support/integrity

I was a little concerned about the cross dowel at the front and rear of the rocking cradle slipping out to either side. It was snug in place but there was no glue or nails. Thus I decided to put a smaller dowel into the end of each rocker into the cross dowel. I drilled a pilot hole into the end of each rocker and into the cross dowel. I then drilled into the pilot hole with a 1/4 inch drill bit all the way into the cross dowel. I put a drop of glue into the hole and then hammed a 1/4 inch dowel all the way into the hole. I then cut it off flush to the end of the rocker.

This was the final step in the assembly. Now for the finishing work.

Step 50: Sanding Part II

At this point, the unicorn was all assembled, and the finishing process began. I took various sandpaper, from course 60 grit to fine 220 grit and sanded the entire thing. I started with 60, then 80, then 100, then 150, then 220. The gradual increase in fineness allows for the graduate elimination of markings and increased smoothness. I sanded the entire rocking unicorn with all grit. It took about a week or two.

Step 51: Staining

I used three different stains for effect, pickled oak on the wings and horn, classic oak on the body and a dark stain for the saddle, tail, and hair. I used scrap pieces of fabric to apply the various stains to the unicorn. I also used scrap paper at places were different color stains overlap to keep them from mixing.

I think next time I would use the pickled oak on the body as well, to make it a white unicorn.

Step 52: Eurothaning

One I had finished staining. I let the stain dry for about 24 hours. I then took a satin finish polyurethane and foam brushes to coat the entire unicorn. Do not apply the polyurethane too heavily. If the application is too heavy drips can form. If a drip dries it become rock hard and very difficult to hide/remove. It is much better to apply multiple coats.

Step 53: Between Coats

As per the instructions, I waited 4 hours for the first coat to dry before starting the second coat. However, before application, I took fine steel wool and lightly "sanded" the entire rocking unicorn with it. This removed imperfections in the coat and gave it a smooth feel. I then applied a second coat, and repeated the process. I used the steel wool between every coat and ultimately applied about 7 coats of polyurethane in total.

Step 54: The Little Touches

After the staining, but before I started to add polyurethane, as a final touch, I thought it would be nice to personalize it. The baby is not yet born and, as far I know, does not have a name yet. Thus, I decided to add the family name to each side of the rocker.

I did not make the letters. I bought them in a craft store. I spelled out the family name and positioned them in the center of the rocker. I put a small amount of glue on the back of each letter, then used silver finishing nails as well to hold the letters in place. I did not stain the letters as I liked the contrast with the darker wood.

Step 55: Finished

Here is the finished project, a handmade Unicorn that will hopefully be treasured and passed on.

The project took a little over a month, but was a lot of fun to make.

Thank you for taking the time to view my project. If you liked it please consider voting in the contests section, and happy building!

Woodworking Contest 2017

First Prize in the
Woodworking Contest 2017