Introduction: My First Rocking Horse

About: I like to use Instructables to be creative especially when there are external negative forces that are annoying me

This project was inspired by the Xmas season, a playful tyke, a design I had seen in the Canadian Woodworking magazine by Ryan Shervill and maybe a bit by the current woodworking contest on Instructables.

I like to build stuff without measuring too much. This project allowed me to be creative and accurate but I wanted to do it without making precise measurements. If you are a weekend woodworking enthusiast who measures twice, cuts once and still doesn't get it right every time, then hopefully this instructable helps you with other projects as well. I decided to put a lot of pictures just in case you didn't want to read everything. However, I do highly recommend reading my Tips and Hints sections, to make your life easier.

At the end of the day, it turned out better then I thought. The eyes, the head and rocker brought out the uniqueness from other rocking horses I have seen on the web. It is sturdy and should be good for a few generations. Enjoy!

Step 1: What You'll Need

Estimated Effort and cost:

Overall cost with mistakes - $60 (mostly extra plywood)

Time spent with mistakes and changes - 35 hrs

The overall cost - not including mistakes - $35, and time spent should be no more than a weekend, 10-12 hrs . This should be easily possible if you read my instructable, have the right tools and work space.

Tools used to build

  • Power hand drill
  • Drill press
  • 1/4" Drill bit
  • 1 1/4" hole saw attachment for drill
  • Sanding paper, 80,120,180, 220, 320 grit or whatever you have
  • Tack cloth
  • Cylindrical sanding attachment for drill or drill press
  • All safety equipment you can think of that include safety glasses and dust mask respirator
  • Circular power saw
  • Hand saw
  • Non-toxic paint, I used pink, black, light blue for a girl. you could use dark blue and red for a boy.
  • Water based varathane
  • Short piece of rope 1/2 inch , 16 inches or so long
  • Wood glue
  • PL construction glue and glue gun
  • spray adhesive - I used 3M, 77
  • Saw horse x 2 - this was useful in bending the body
  • clothes iron
  • 10 and 14 inch band saw but you could use a scroll saw and/or jig saw
  • Old towel or rag that is at least 28 inches long and 10 inches wide
  • 1/4" mdf - for templating only
  • Measuring tape, pencil, square, eraser, grid paper, scissors…
  • 1" forstner bit - for eyes
  • French curves templates for drawing
  • Metal Clamps, rope, some sort of weights (I used my wife's 1 lb dumbells ) for weights while bending the plywood.
  • Level gauge
  • Polyethylene gloves when handling PL glue and painting
  • Paint and Finish Drying Kit

Nice to have a.k.a Xmas wish list

  • Belt sanding station
  • Oscillating drum sanding station
  • Good camera and lighting equipment
  • Stable tablesaw

Step 2: Material and Measurements

  • Materials
  1. 1/2 inch (11mm for the metric guys/gals) thick Baltic birch plywood G2S (good 2 sides) 9 plys- They usually come in 5x5 feet sheets in N. America, you could probably build 2 rocking horses with this if you plan it correctly. $50 (you only need half of that)
  2. Maple dowels or other hard wood 1 1/4" diameter.
    1. Length: 2 pieces , 18" pieces for the rockers and one 7" piece for the handle - $8
  3. Craft foam - 8 1/2 x 11" - for saddle - $5
  4. 1" dowel x 2 inch or other scrap lying around - for eyes
  5. Hard wood - Maple 1 1/2" X 10 x 9 - I had this lying around from a previous project - $15
  6. wood screws - 4 - 1 1/2", 8 - 1 1/4" long

Total = $35-80 depends on what you have lying around.

  • Measurements (all measurements are in inches) see attachment - Parts of the rocking horse.pdf

Body - 1/2 Baltic Ply - 28 x 20

Rockers x 4 pcs - 1/2 Baltic Ply - 8 x 32 (2 pcs to be laminated to make one rocker)

Tail - 1/2 Baltic Ply - 9 x 5

Tail cap - 1/2 Baltic Ply - 5 1/2 x 5 1/2

Front cap - 1/2 Baltic Ply - 3 1/2 x 5 1/2

Bottom cap - 1/2 Baltic Ply - 20 x 4 1/2

Foot rest + back rest x 3 pcs - 1/2 Baltic Ply - 4 x 1 1/2

The head - 10 x 9 x 1 1/2 solid block of white maple - you could easily use a 1" thickness or other hardwood

Rocker dowels x 2 pcs - 18" long, 1 1/4 - hard wood maple

Handle dowel - 7" long, 1 1/4 - hard wood maple

The rectangle sizes given above are just outer dimensions of the work piece. Apart from the dowels, all other pieces need additional cutting into specific shapes.

Step 3: ​New (to Me) Techniques Used

  • Kerf bending plywood - checkout The Body section
  • Center-line aligning - This is to get precision cuts and best alignments without really measuring. I used mostly the center line of each piece to line up templates which eliminated most of the precise measuring that may be required to line up the rocker and body. I don’t think I used much of the measuring tape before cutting. I did the same when aligning the head of the horse to the body and also the seat, the seat stop. This maybe obvious to some people but I thought I'd point it out to make life easier. See attached pdf for some Hints.

Note: Building the body i.e. kerfing and bending was the most difficult part and you will need patience for this. Make sure you do this in one shot i.e. put aside at least 45 mins without being interrupted. You may want to try this out with a smaller piece of plywood like I did before starting the project.

Also, follow the steps in the sequence that I have shown and you will save yourself a lot of headaches, mistakes and $

Step 4: The Rockers (2-3 Hours)

  1. Build the rockers first. Drawing stuff symmetrical can be a real pain so I drew half of the rocker and used the mirror image for the other half. I started off by drawing 1 inch grids on a 16" x 8" X 1/4" MDF board. The grids don’t need to be very precise as they are just for guidance. I used the French curve templates to draw the rocking side and just free handed the rest. You can get creative here. I put a small "bump" at the end of each rocker which is used as a stopper and will keep the little tyke from rocking into a rodeo. You could design your own as well.
  2. I marked and drill pilot holes for the 1 1/4" dowels that will be drilled for the rocker dowels later. Cut the mdf template with a scroll or bandsaw or whatever you are comfortable with.
  3. Cut 4 pcs of 8 x 32" piece of the 1/2 inch baltic plywood. I will glue 2 rocker to build one rocker at a later stage. I could have just use 2 pcs of 1" baltic birch but I would then have to buy a 1" sheet. DONOT glue the 2 rocker pcs just yet. We need to first use it to line up the body holes.
  4. Find the center line (16 inches) on the plywood. Take one piece and use the MDF to draw the mirror images using the center line. Draw the template of the rocker as level as you can and the best mirror image that you can get. The first plywood piece will be used as a template to build 3 more. You won't need the MDF template anymore. Use whatever technique you'd like to copy the plywood. I failed miserably in this as messed up on the bandsaw while trying to make a nice curve on the bottom of the rocker. I realized that I couldn’t really have a nice curve with this kind of a template unless I used a router.
  5. Try 2 - I used a rough curve, freehand around the base of the rocker. Then I bent a 2" strip of 3 ply plywood by wetting it and then putting a couple of dumbells in the middle while resting the ends on the saw horse. Let it sit overnight. In the morning I had a nicely curved piece to be used as a template on my bandsaw.
  6. I glued this strip to to the bottom curve area in a standup position so that it gives the bandsaw with at least a 2 inch guide. This worked really well.
  7. Once you have all 4 pcs the same, time to build the body. DONOT drill the dowel holes with your holesaw just yet.
  8. Undo the 2 " strip by introducing a heat gun near the glue, clean the glue residue
  • TIP: To make all the 4 rocker pieces to be the same and fit nicely to the body, use the rocker holes as the guide. See pictures. Drill the two pilot holes with a 1/4" drill bit for the dowel holes in the first piece of plywood. Use this to align the 3 other pieces and drill the pilot hole for all 4 pieces. This will assure you that the dowel holes made by the hole saw will be properly aligned. Drill the dowel holes on each of the pieces with the holesaw. Cut the shape on the bandsaw. To cut the second, third and fourth pieces, I used my home made bandsaw templating jig for the cuts. It is simple and can be built in no time. Offcourse, if you have a router and a templating bit, just use that. It will be easier, cleaner and less time spent sanding. Cutting each rocker pc individually was a mistake. I would suggest that after drilling the dowel holes, you first laminate 2 pcs of 1/2" ply together and then use the bandsaw. This will save you a lot of unnecessary sanding

Step 5: The Body - Part 1 - Center-line Aligning With Rocker Holes

  1. You'll need your saw horses, some metal clamps, weights to bend the plywood but let's start with lining up the body to the rockers.
  2. Cut a 20" x 28" pc from the plywood. Again, no need to be exact as long as you can draw a center line on both sides of the plywood. Find the center on the 20" side @ 10". Draw this line across to the other side. Take the rocker you built from the previous step.
  3. Lineup the centerline from the rocker and the body. Mark the dowel hole spots using the rocker as a template.
  4. DONOT cut the body just yet. We will need to make the kerfs first.
  5. Draw the legs and body . You can get creative here or just do what I did. Take a piece of string (I used braided fishing line) and 2 finishing nails to draw a parabola. Put the nail equi-distant from the center line and play around with it or just find 2 points and use the french curve templates.
  6. Before we get started on the kerfs, decide which side is the better side. I had a slight blemish so I used that side for the kerf cuttingside.

TIP: The main thing here is to make sure that the rocker holes and the body holes are aligned. Once you have used the rocker plywood to mark the holesaw centers, measure the distance from the centrerline to the holes. They have to be equal or they will not line up when you assemble the rocker and the body with the dowel.

Step 6: The Body Part 2 - Cutting (kerf) the Body - 1 Hr

  1. I don’t like table-saws and the one I have is pretty old and wobbles a bit. PLEASE BE CAREFUL AS YOU WILL HAVE TO UNDO THE BLADE GUARD FOR THIS STEP. This was the toughest part for me but once I got the hang of it, it did go quite smoothly.
  2. Drawing and measuring the the kerfs. Again, find the center-line bisects the 28" side of the body (14") . Mark the point that is 2 inches from the center-line. Also mark the edge of the plywood, then make 5 more marks on the edge, away from the center-line at 1/4" intervals. You only need to do one side. These are your kerf marks. My saw blade has a 1/8" kerf so once done you should have a 1/8" kerf followed by a 1/8" ridge of plywood.
  3. Take a scrap pc of the same plywood. This plywood had 9 plys. Adjust the tablesaw so that you are cutting 8 of the 9 plys. The idea is to make sure you are cutting exactly through the 8 plys of the 9ply plywood. Practice with a few pcs until you have the precision you need. Don’t rush through this step. If you cut too much or too little, it will mess up your bend and may crack or break. I took my time, practiced on a smaller pc and got it right the first time.
  4. Cut the first kerf 2 inches from the center, turn the plywood 180 degrees and cut the other side. Adjust your fence to cut the second kerf and repeat till you get 6 kerfs on each side. I found that the single ply was actually pretty tough but as I got to the 5th and 6th cuts, it started showing some signs of stress. Be careful handing the body, you don’t want to mess up after all this work. Don’t worry if you see some pcs of plywood from the ridges being knock out, this will happen if you have a crappy table saw like mine.
  5. Before you start bending, you want to cut the body based on your design. I used my bandsaw to do this. Since the body was fragile to handle with the kerf marks, I used a couple of pcs of MDF and glued them to the support the kerfs. Don’t put any glue in the kerfs, just the underside of the body. This is just temporary to stiffen the ply while you cut the body and drill the saw hole.
  6. You can also cut the dowel holes in the rockers and make sure things are lined up. You can undo the supporting MDF pieces. I just pried the MDF from the plywood using a flat head screwdriver. I then scrapped off the glue with a scrapper. This is the bottom side so not to worry too much about the finish.

TIP: I practiced the bending technique on a scrap piece of the plywood from the same sheet before attempting the main ones

TIP: I used a drum sanding attachment to the drill and sanded all the holes as my dowel was fitting way too snug. Since I was goig to paint it, i needed some room for the paint as well. Dowel sizes are not accurate so play around with it a bit.

Step 7: The Body - Part 3 Bending It - 1 Hr

  1. This is the fun part. All your Zen ironing skills will come useful. Be patient, this is not to be rushed. It took me approx. 1 hour to do this part. I'm proud that I did it right the first time but I was very very careful.
  2. The key here is to bend the ply by wetting a towel and laying it on the single ply side with the kerfs underneath.
  3. Do one side of the body at a time.
  4. I setup my contraption on the saw horse. See pictures.
  5. I put a wet towel on the plywood along the single ply side with kerfs on the bottom side and moved the hot iron back and forth at a slow steady pace. You'll see steaming of the towel.
  6. I let the piece hang over the saw horse and started seeing it move a little due to its own weight. This is when I started bending it.
  7. I used gravity as my friend and hung some clamps in the dowel holes. I kept ironing and within 10 minutes I had the wood bend to almost 60 degrees.
  8. I had to wet the towel twice total during this process and adjust the saw horse a couple of times as well. Make sure the other side is clamped to the second saw horse so that the entire contraption is secure and doesn't flip up.
  9. To get from a 60 deg angle to a full 90 degree bend, I used a rope and tied it to the underside of the saw horse and through the dowel hole. I tightened it a bit at a time while ironing the kerfs. Used some shims as well.
  10. After I finished one side of the body/rocker area, I started doing the second side.
  11. Once both sides were done, I undid the rope that secured the body to the saw horse and pushed the dowels through to make sure that the holes were aligned. Use level gauge to make sure its nicely leveled. See pictures
  12. I got a bit of a scare when I first put my level gauge and it seemed that one side was warped. After measuring, I realized that the saw horse was not even.
  13. Let everything dry for 2-3 hrs. Make sure it's nice and dry.
  14. Undo the dowels and unbend the body just enough to put some PL glue in the kerfs. I unbent the body to 45 degrees which was was plenty for me to put the glue. Bend the body back to its shape. While bending back, the glue may squeeze out but you can just run a piece of scrap wood and make it look decent. Don’t worry too much as this will get covered by a piece of plywood during assembly.
  15. Put the dowels through and check everything once more. Do all of this while the body is flipped and use the saw horse to rest. Make sure that everything is leveled.
  16. Let it dry overnight. If you make any mistakes here, you'll have to start from scratch so, check twice and glue once :-) You are past the tough part

Step 8: Painting and Pre-assembly - Eyes, Head, Tail Etc

  1. Dry assemble the rockers on to the body, it should rock nicely.
  2. Paint the handle dowel, saddle support, head and the tail caps blue
  3. Paint the rocker dowels pink (use red if it is for a boy). I used a mixture of red and white to make a pink. Tried to match it as close to the saddle pink as possible. Hint: take some white paint. Add a few drops of red and mix. Repeat the process till the colour matches the saddle. Make a batch and keep it as you may need it for final touches and you don’t want to try and match the second time. Initially I mixed white to red, this gave me a light orange, instead of a pink. Some of my pictures show that.
  4. Cut the head and tail. Be creative.
    1. I free hand drew the horse's head on a 9 x 11 1/2 paper and traced it on the block of maple. used the bandsaw to cut the shape.
    2. drill the hole for the handle dowel with a holesaw bit.
    3. Use a 1" forstner bit and drill 2 holes around 1/4" deep where the eyes will be mounted.
    4. To install the head on the body, find the center line on the body and put two 1/16 " holes that are approx. 3 inches apart.
    5. Take some wood glue and mount the head on the body. Align the head as best as you can. Let the glue dry overnight.
    6. Now you can turn the body over. Using the holes you drilled previously, drill the holes through the horse's head. This is the easiest way I thought I could put 2 screws to hold the head to the body securely. I used 1 1/4 inch wood screws
    7. Use the same process for the tail, i.e. drill a 1/8" dia hole near the center of the tail cap. Line up the tail and drill a pilot 1/8 inch dia. hole in the tail .
    8. Use wood glue and screw the tail in place with a 1 1/4" wood screw.
  5. Make the eyes. I used a 6 inch long, 1" dia. dowel, rounded both ends of the dowel on a sander till I was satisfied by the curve. I then used a 200 grit sand paper and hand sanded the eye by keeping the sanding pad in one hand while twisting the dowel into the palm of my hand. Surprisingly this gave me quite good results. I then used a 320 grit paper and finished it off. Paint the ends of the dowel black. Cut the ends of the dowel around 1/2" from both end using your bandsaw. You now have 2 eyes ready to be glued. Dry fit the eyes, make sure they are not uneven. Glue them.
  6. Cover the bottom side with a piece of plywood. This was around 20 inches long and 4 1/2 inch wide. This will cover all the glue in the kerfs. I put 2 inch standoffs with the same plywood to give it stability. Not sure if this is necessary. Do not attach this just yet. Installing the back rest. Drill two 1/8 inch holes parallel to the back where you want to put the back rest. I put it 3 inches from the tail cap.
  7. Installing the foot rest. I drilled a hole 2.5 inches from the top of the front rocker dowel. I used a 1 1/4 inch screw for the footrest so that I can adjust the angle, till I'm satisfied, mark the outline of the foot rest, undo the screw a bit. Put wood glue and tighten the screws.
  8. Dry fit the rest of the parts including the rocker. Make sure everything fits well. Paint the parts either after they are installed or before. If you do it before like I did, you have to be careful putting the horse together or you may get marks and scratches that will need a touch up later.
  9. You can now attach a plank of plywood to the bottom of the horse to cover the glue in the kerfs.

Step 9: Final Assembly and Finishing

  1. After the paint has fully dried and you are satisfied, start gluing the front and the tail caps. I used finishing nails to keep everything in place.
  2. Now you are ready to put some clear quotes for protection. I used indoor/outdoor clear, water based varathane. I used a 320 grit sandpaper, and sanded the non-painted portions lightly. I used my DIY paint and finish drying kit
  3. Took a tack cloth and wiped the entire horse. This helps keep the sanding dust off the horse.
  4. Apply varathane on every part of the horse. I used a muslin cloth, dabbed it in the varathane and applied a thin coat to everything. Make sure you don’t have any runs or excess varathane.
  5. Once the first coat is dried, lightly sand with 320 grit sand paper. Now you can apply the second and third coats.
  6. You'll see blue dots on top of the rocker. These are holes that I drilled through the rocker in to the dowel and put 4 wood screws so that the dowels don't get miss aligned. I recommend doing this from the bottom of the rocker instead as then it wont show the dots.
  7. The last part is to glue the saddle on. I used a pencil and put 2 dots at the center point at the center-line edges of the craft foam to align to the center-line marks on the horse's back.
  8. Lay the pink craft foam on a clean surface. I used 3Ms spray glue and carefully placed the foam on the back of the horse.You have only one chance to get this right so make sure you take your time.
  9. Now you can enjoy the look on the little kid when he/she sees it under the Xmas tree.
  • If you like the rocking horse then please vote for me in the Wood Contest.
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