Introduction: Pop-up Dragon Toy

About: Author of woodworking plan titles since 1994 featuring playthings designs for adult builders and their kids. The All-New Woodworking for Kids (Sterling Publishing, Division of Barnes & Noble), a workbook of b…

This amusing toy- sometimes called a "morality toy" when the box is formed in the shape of a forbidden book, with covers, spine and title- requires few hand tools and materials to build. It does however require a power drill and a table saw.

Step 1: The Dragon's Action

I based my design loosely on a simple souvenir sold at the Hong Kong Pavilion at the New York World's Fair in 1964-65.

Also shown is a more elaborate antique carved example in "forbidden book" form, where the more common snake or viper figure is used. It has a wickedly-sharp spike where my dragon features a softer material. Note the wood "binding" on the bottom of the toy (photo credit: ebay user bubbleking)

Step 2: Tools

This project is not difficult but does require careful measurements and attention to the little details.

The suggested tools are pretty basic. A sharp pocketknife or razor knife and some cellophane tape will come in handy as well. The rectangular stock pieces can be sized with a backsaw and crosscut saw rather than a table saw; if anyone can suggest a simple work-around where the tablesaw is not required for grooving (rabbeting) the two side pieces (certainly a rabbeting plane with a 1/8" iron would work), I'm glad to hear it.

Coping saw with fine-toothed blade (a fret saw with it's finer blade options would be even better)
Drill with 1/16" bit (or size 54 wire guage bit). Check that the nail you use for this project will slide freely through the holes bored with your bit choice, if not, use a slightly larger bit.
180-grit sandpaper
Razor knife and cellophane tape (not shown)
Table saw
3/4" flat and No. 4 round paint brushes (or whatever detail brushes you have lying around)

Use your safety equipment. Shots of work on the tablesaw are shown with the blade guard removed for clarity.

Step 3: Materials

Here's your cut list:

(2)   1/4" x 2-1/2" x 3-1/2"          Sides     (I used poplar for this project. I don't recommend using balsa or plywood)
(1)   1/4" x 2-/2" x 9/16"              Back End
(1)   1/4" x 2-1/8" x 9/16"            Front End
(1)   1/8" x 11/16" x 3-1/4"         Slide
(1)   1/4" x 1/4" x 1/2"                 Pull
(1)   1/4" x 2-1/8" x 2-5/16"        Dragon figure
(1)   1/2" x 1/2" x 1/2"                 Pivot

Be aware that with any small project like this one the size of the pieces may need slight tweaking, so mock up the assembly to check for accuracy now and then before applying any finish to them.

(1)   1" brass nail                       Pivot nail    (Of the type used for hanging pictures. Any substitute will work as well)
(1)   4" pc. lightweight string      Pivot/slide string     (nylon fishing line would also work here, say 8# or 10#)
(1)   1" pc. fly line or 1" brad     Tongue    (I fish, so I had green fly line around. A 7/8" or 1" brad will work also)

Glue   I use heavy-bodied (high viscosity) cyanoacrylate ("super glue") for the quick setup time, but woodworker's glue will work with clamps)
Oil-based primer   I used Kilz spray.
Oil-based enamel paints   Choose your own colors. I went with green, red and black that I had in the shop.

Step 4: Cutting Out the Larger Rectangular Parts

Size the 1/4"-thick Sides, Ends and Pull and the 1/8"-thick Slide using the tablesaw, ripping first and then crosscutting with the miter gauge set for 90 degrees (or use a backsaw and miter box for your crosscuts). Refer to Step 3's Cut List for dimensions.

Now rip a 1/8" deep x +1/8"wide rabbet along one long face of a Side, setting the rabbet back 1/8" from the Side's edge. Repeat with the second Side. The "+1/8" dimension indicates a slightly wider width than 1/8"; test the rabbets to see that the Slide piece will slide along the rabbets easily.

Step 5: Cut the Small Rectangular Parts

The Pivot is a small cube 1/2" length on each side, with a rabbet centered on one side.

Before cutting it to size, saw a 1/4"-wide rabbet 1/4" deep down the center of 1/2"-wide stock. I made two rips adjusting the sawblade slightly to enlarge the rabbet's width, and tested the fit of the 1/4" thick Dragon figure stock until it fit neatly for gluing. (If you own a dado set, the 1/4" blade(s) may work for you).

To cut the cube to size, lay out two squared 1/2" lines lines at the corner on the face of the rabbeted stock and cut with your saw.

Shown in the last photo is the grooved and sanded Pivot test-fitted onto the tail end of the Dragon figure (see next Step), resting on top of a Side piece. Also sanded Pull sawn to width and length from 1/4" stock, resting on top of the Slide.

Step 6: Lay Out and Cut the Dragon Figure

The figure is sawn from 1/4" stock, clamped on top of a waste piece to avoid breaking the figure in the narrower areas.

To download a .pdf file of the figure, click hereand scroll to "Dragon figure download"

To lay out the figure on your stock, either transfer it using carbon paper (or graphic transfer paper, a better option), or cut out the figure and trace the outline. Here's a source fortransfer paper which is cheap, smudge-resistant and erasable (scroll down for the product).

I make release cuts with the coping saw (removing sections of wood close to the layout) as I  go, which keeps me from trying to make "sharp turns" following the layout (see the third photo, area around the figure's forehead).

To avoid snapping the figure, re-position the clamped stock often to keep the area you are sawing as close to your work surface as possible.

It's also easier to sand the sawn edges while the figure is nearly completed but still held in the clamps, rather than holding the figure in hand.

Step 7: Sand, Prime and Paint

After the various parts are sanded with 180-grit and wiped clean, attach the Pivot onto the tail end of the Dragon figure as shown with a couple of drops of glue, fully inserting the tail into the groove.

Prime all parts with a coat of oil-based primer, let dry, sand and wipe clean.

Apply two or more coats of oil-based enamel paint to the parts, letting each coat dry thoroughly and buffing lightly with sandpaper (0000 steel wool would be better, but I was out of it!) between coats. Use your imagination to make this dragon your own.

Assemble the project (next Steps) before applying touch-ups or a final coat to all parts.

Step 8: Assemble the Box

Using thin lines of glue (and clamps if neccesary) attach the Front End and Back End to the short edges of the inside (rabbeted) face of one Side. Align the edge of each End piece with the glue lined short edges and the bottom edge of the Side piece. (Note that the top end of the Front End allows room for the slide to clear it, once the slide is installed).

Now repeat to glue and attach the second Side (opposite to the first Side) to the two Ends, aligning the parts carefully to create a four-piece box open at the top and bottom. Note that the two rabbets should face one another!

Step 9: Bore the Holes

Here you'll drill four different holes for the project.

Set up your drill with the bit.

Lay the box one Side down, with the Front End to the left as shown.

Measure and mark a point one the Side's top face 15/16" from the left edge and 3/4" from the top edge of the Side. (Dimpling the point lightly with the 1" nail will prevent the drill bit from skating and damaging the surface). This is where the 1" nail will loosely secure the Pivot and the Dragon figure.

Carefully bore the hole through the Side, taking care to hold the drill vertical. (A drill press is handy here if you own one). Test the hole with the nail, and if it doesn't slide through easily, enlarge the hole slightly with a larger bit (5/64"/ or 3/32" for example). Be careful not to allow the bit to drop through and mar the other Side piece.

Now drill a 3/8"-deep hole centered at the back of the Dragon figure's mouth (the exact depth is not critical). This will hold the tongue in place.

Then drill two holes in the Pivot.  First set the Dragon figure/Pivot on it's side, on a piece of scrap wood.

The first hole is drilled squarely through the center of the Pivot. (Measure and mark the spot. The hole must be bored straight through the Pivot, or the Dragon figure will not pop up properly-aligned from the box). The nail will pass first through the Side's bore hole, then  through this hole and be driven into the opposite Side piece to secure it.

Bore a second hole at the "back" face of the Pivot, as shown in the fourth photograph. Make the hole about 1/8" deep, centered just above the tail piece of the Dragon figure. This is where the string will fasten to the Pivot. (The drill bit can be angled slightly to make the hole).

Step 10: Attach the String and Tongue

Now add a drop of glue to one end of the bit of fly line (or the point of the brad or whatever you're using for the tongue) and insert firmly into the hole in the Dragon figure's mouth. Let dry.

Put a drop of glue in the second hole you bored into the Pivot. Using the nail, force one end of the string securely into the second hole. Allow the glue to set up.

Step 11: Touch Up the Paint, Insert the Dragon Figure

If needed, touch up or recoat any areas of the box or figure that were marred during the previous several steps and let the paint dry completely. (I used this opportunity to paint the two rabbets, which I'd missed the first time around!).

Begin assembly by laying the box down flat on one Side with the nail bore hole visible on the upper Side.

Insert the Dragon figure inside the box. Slide the nail through the Side's hole and through the Pivot's hole. Holding the Dragon figure by it's head and looking inside the box at the pivot's position, adjust the nail's point against the bottom Side until it is perpendicular (straight up and down) to the plane of the Side's inside faces.

Now tap the nail's head (don't drive it in yet) so the nail'spoint is temporarily secured in the bottom Side. Set the box upright, fish the string out of the box's open top and check the action of the Dragon figure by pulling gently on the string to raise the figure up and down. The figure should be roughly centered in the box as it pops out; if it leans badly one way or another, lay the box back down, pull the nail's point out and adjust it's location slightly. This is more easily done than described!

When you're satisfied, secure the nail firml with your hammer.

Step 12: Attach the String and the Pull to the Slide

Almost done...

After puzzling over how to precisely adjust the length of the string to allow room for the Dragon to pop out beyond the inside end of the slide when the slide is pulled out, I came up with a solution. (Grab a roll of cellophane tape).

First, pull the string through the top of the box, draping it over the top of the Front End. Place the Slide about halfwayinto the two rabbets in the Sides. Pull the string out until the Dragon about halfway out of the box, and temporarily secure the string to the bottom face of the slide with a piece of tape.

The goal is to have the Dragon's tongue and mouth just clear the end of the Slide by about 1/4" as the Slide is pulled out. (See third photo).

Adjust the tape location until the Dragon pops in and out neatly. Holding the string in place, remove the tape and use drops of glue to secure the string to the Slide's bottom until the glue dries. (A small clamp or rubber band is helpful if you're using slower-set glue). Trim any excess line.

Finally, set the project upright one last time. Pull the Slide out until the Dragon is fully-extended. Use a drop or two of glue to fasten the Pull to the Slide's top surface so the tongue will strike the finger using the Pull. (Ensure that the Pull is centered so that it won't strike either top edge of the Sides.

You're ready to play "snake bite" on your buddies.

PS- why the open bottom of the project? You can fill it with a 1/4" x 9/16" x 3" piece of poplar if you wish, but I like revealing the guts of the trick to anyone interested. Enjoy!