Introduction: Toy Airplane Christmas Ornaments Using an Assembly Line

Time is short!  How about making some Christmas ornaments to give as gifts in a short amount of time.  Using a few power tools, these can be made in about 20 minutes average per piece.

About 6 years ago, I cut out a little wooden cardinal for my wife.  She immediately asked me to make one for my daughter and a couple friends.  I ended up making 8.

Since then, we’ve made ornaments each year to give out to friends and family.  We now make about 30 each year!  We’ve made birdhouses, snowmen out of paint stirring sticks, Last year was a toy train.  This year, we’re making about 30 toy airplanes.   With that, I’ve found a few time saving measures that help keep things moving along. 

Step 1: Design the Ornament

As always, after deciding on what to make, I go to the web and search for what a wooden toy airplane looks like.  I try to keep in mind that these need to be simple and take as little cutting as possible.  With those basics in mind, I came up with the prototype design.   I keep a number of different wood samples in the smaller sizes to identify what sizes of wood I need for a project. 

I was able to get everything I need at Lowes and Hobby Lobby.   Lowes had all of the wood and dowels that were needed to cut.  Hobby Lobby had wooden wheels, small propeller cap, the popsicle sticks. The wood should be poplar finished stock.   You could use oak and stain it, but that a lot tougher wood to cut and staining will add a ton of time.

The key to my assembly line approach is repetition.  After deciding how many of these that you want to make, do one thing at a time to all pieces.  This starts with measuring your cuts through painting and final assembly.   Also break up your work into basic job types.  Work to complete each job type before moving on to the next.
I broke mine down to the following:

Step 2: Materials List

Poplar scant
½ x 1 ½ x 2’ (or 4’) - airplane body
1/4 x 1 ½ x 2’ (or 4’) – wings – top and bottom
1/4 x 2 1/2 x 2’ (or 4’) – tail and aileron
Wood dowels
3/16 x 4’ – wing supports and wheel axel
(you’ll need about 6” of dowel for each airplane)

Popsicle sticks - propeller
Wooden wheels
small round wood plugs - propeller cap
Small eye hook screws
Gel type super glue
Accessories (any little flourish that you might want to add)

Step 3: Cut, Sand, and Paint

Measure and mark your cuts on each piece of wood.  Be precise and remember to do this to ALL pieces before cutting.  Think Assembly Line… Cut all wood pieces at the same time.  I am using a scroll saw to make all of my cuts. If you are using a bandsaw or miter saw, you'll save even more time.

The body has the most cuts.  Look at the template to follow along - Cut a 9" peice.  Make a diagonal line that is 2" from the top on one side and 2" from the bottom on the other.  Cut along this line.  You now have 2 peices to work with.  Cut off the small triangle and then rip off the the bottom.

Same method… Do all before moving on.

I’m using red, green, gold, silver and black.  I am painting the wing red, body and aileron green, struts, axel, prop nose will be gold. Prop will be silver.  SO.. everything of the same color gets painted at the same time.

I found and easy way to get the sides of each piece to paint.  Using a clamp, I get all of one piece together and clamp.  Then you can easily paint all the sides easily without any mess.

After finishing the painting, we added a small Christmas message to the underside of the bottom wing.  We kept it tight on the top and bottom to stay away from the wheel to be added later.

Step 4: Preassembly

I went ahead and built the prop, tail and wheels and then set them aside.  While the prop and tail need glue, the dowel and wheels are a tight fit and don’t need glue. 

Also on the wheels, I sanded a spot on each where they will glue to the bottom of the plane.  This helps to give a better flat spot to help the connection.

I wanted to point out that you might find some of the paint turning white.  This is caused by the fumes from the super glue reacting with the paint.  No problem!  Just take a slightly damp cloth and wipe.  It comes right off.

Step 5: Assembly

Start by gluing the body to the lower wing.  Center the wing front to back under the body bottom

Then, glue on the top wing.

This is a good time to get the eye hook screw in place.  Start by marking the point with a pencil.  It appears that the center of balance is toward the back of the wing.  Once marked, take a very smail drill bit and make starter holes. Then screw in the hooks.

Now's the time to add the struts to the wings.  I painted a few full length dowels silver during the paint phase.  Now, using a pair of dykes, I eyeballed the length needed and added about 1/8".  Then I sand each end flat while checking and rechecking the fit.  You want the strut to fit in tightly without being TOO tight.  Measure, sand, measure...

Getting in to the homestretch!

Add the preasembled pieces starting with the tail.
Then add the prop.
Then add the wheels.

All thats left is adding the decorative string through the eyehook.

Step 6: Finishing

That's it!  You are all done!  A few final words.  Keep your extra pieces, glue and tools handy.  We hand pretty much all of these out at the same time and found that SOMETHING usually breaks.  You might need to do emergency fixing. 

Total price - $48 divided by 30 = $1.60 per ornament
Total time - about 11 hours or about 22 minutes per ornament.