Chomping Shark

Comments (0)

This article is from Issue 59 of Woodcraft Magazine.


Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the toy box.

Overall dimensions: 121 ⁄8"l × 6"w × 33 ⁄4" h

As a toymaker, I continually strive to make my creations more than what most folks might expect from a block of wood. In order to do so, I often incorporate simple mechanisms to make my playthings come to life. The shark, a favorite subject, is a case in point. My ultimate predator employs hidden pegs that power its toothy chomp when it’s rolled about. I’ve designed several sharks over the years, but this version sports a sculpted–almost fluid–physique.

This toy may look menacing, but fear not: small fingers are perfectly safe. To ensure that your fingers are just as safe during construction, I’ve provided advice to help keep your digits away from both blades and bits while machining the small parts. Of course, if any step seems too close for comfort, stop and use another, safer method. For example, shaping parts with files and sanding blocks takes more time than using a router or belt sander, but the hand-tool approach is equally effective (and can be a suitable chore for young shop assistants).

Note: I hope that you enjoy making this toy for your friends and family, but I trust that you will honor my copyright by not mass-producing this design for sale.


Hold the head to ensure that fingers stay a safe distance away from the blade. Affixing the top view to the tail section provides an easy-to-follow cutting guide.

Make the body

1 Cut out and affix the full-sized body (A) pattern onto a 11⁄2 × 31⁄2 × 113⁄4" block. (I prefer cherry because it’s moderately lightweight, resists splintering, sands to a fine finish, and looks good when oiled. However, any hardwood will do.)

2 Referring to the pattern, use a drill press to bore through holes for the eyes and axles.

3 Outfit your bandsaw with a 1⁄4"-wide, 4-6 TPI blade, and cut out the body profile. (Note: You can nibble out the notch for the pectoral fin using your tablesaw and miter gauge, but do this before shaping the body.)

4 Edge-sand the body (A) through 120 grit. You can use an oscillating spindle sander, but I prefer using a 1"-wide belt sander. (As you’ll see in Photo B, I ripped a 1" dowel in half and screwed it to the platen to better negotiate inside curves.) Hand-sand the faces through 120-grit, and then rout the edges with a 1⁄4" roundover bit.


Attaching a short half-dowel to the belt sander’s platen enables the machine to handle tight curves.

5 Affix the Body Top View pattern on the body (A). Holding the work firmly against the bandsaw’s table, cut away the sides of the sculpted tail (Photo A). Next, refine the curves with a belt or oscillating spindle sander (Photo B). (Editor’s Note: In this instance, a spindle sander is preferable because the abrasive spins with the grain. A belt-sander will create cross-grain scratches that will require additional hand-sanding.)


Use a short handsaw to make quick work of a tricky cut. Take care not to nip the end of the tail with the saw blade.

6 Referring to the Body Top View, sketch out the dorsal fin on the top of the body, and then saw away the sides of the fins (Photo C).

7 Clamp the body (A) in a vise with the tail sticking up at about a 45° angle. Using rasps and files, fine-tune the shape of the tail and dorsal fin. When you get the desired shape, switch to 80-grit sandpaper to remove all the cross-grain scratches. Finally, finish-sand the entire body through 120 grit.


Use one half-stroke to establish a small bevel. Next, rest the file’s edge against the jaw and finish “sharpening” each tooth.

8 Using a safe-edged file, define the outside edges of the teeth, as shown in Photo D, to add a bit of more menace to your shark’s grin.

9 Affix the pectoral fin (B) pattern on a piece of 1⁄2" stock, and bandsaw it out. Sand the fin’s edges and sides through 120 grit.


Affix the head spacer pattern onto a longer piece to keep fingers a safe distance from the blade.

Make the head

1 Attach two 3⁄8"-thick boards face-to-face with double-faced tape and affix the head side (C) pattern to the stack. Using a drill press, drill the 9⁄32" hole for the axle pegs. Now, cut out the pattern and then sand up to the lines. (Don’t worry too much about the top-most section; you’ll sand that section after gluing in the spacer.) Separate the head sides and put them aside.

2 Affix the head spacer (D) pattern on 15⁄8"-thick stock (For safer sawing, start with a piece that’s a few inches longer than needed.). Bandsaw out the piece as shown in Photo E, and then sand the inner edge of the profile. Set the piece aside.

3 Build the assembly jig shown in Figure 2. Next, apply a little glue on both sides of the head spacer (D) (work it inward from the edges to avoid squeeze-out) and attach the head sides (C). Position the assembly on the jig as shown in Photo F.


Use the assembly jig to glue the head sides to the spacer to keep the parts aligned. This ensures that the head will pivot freely.

4 After the assembly has dried, edge-sand where the spacer (D) meets the outer edges of the sides (C). Referring to the top view on the Head Assembly Top View, lay out a taper on the front, and sand the head to shape. Next, finish-sand the head through 120-grit. Finally, file the teeth as you did on the body (A).

Tip Alert

If you’re going to use paint or apply a hard finish, do so before assembly; otherwise, excess finish may gum up the inner workings of your toy.


Fit the wheel on a dowel to keep it safely positioned while you drill the peg hole.

Shark assembly

1 At the drill press, use a 5⁄16" twist bit to enlarge the axle holes. Next, drill a 5⁄16" hole in a scrap board and insert a short 5⁄16" dowel. Using the axle hole, fit the wheel on the dowel, back-side facing up. Position and clamp the board to the drill press table, and then drill a 5⁄16" hole for the peg (E), as shown in Photo G. Repeat with the second front wheel.

2 Cut the pegs (E) to length and lightly chamfer the ends. Put a little glue inside the wheel holes with a toothpick and then drive them in with a hammer. Make sure that both the pegs are inserted perpendicular. 


Use a shim when setting the axle to prevent overdriving the peg and pinching the head to the body.

3 Cut the rear axle (F) to length, and then lightly chamfer both ends. To ensure that excess glue doesn’t seize up the axle, put a bit of glue inside the axle hole of one rear wheel, place it outsideface down, and then tap in the axle. Next, apply glue to the axle hole of the opposite wheel, position it under the body, and then insert the axle through the body and drive it into the wheel.

4 Cut the front axle (G) about 1⁄4" longer than finished length, and attach it to a front wheel. As you insert the axle through the body and into the opposite front wheel, take care not to pinch the pegs against the body. Before the glue sets, rotate the wheels so that that pegs are offset 180° to each other. (By doing this, the shark will chomp twice with each rotation of the wheels.) When dry, sand the axle flush with the outside faces of the wheels.

5 Put a little glue inside each of the eye holes in the body (A). Position the head assembly on the body, and tap in an axle peg, using a shim to ensure adequate clearance for the head to pivot (Photo H). Insert the second peg in the same manner.

6 Glue and clamp the pectoral fin (B) to the body (A). When the glue has dried, set your perfect predator on a flat surface and give him a test-push.

Finishing Touches

I finish most of my toys with food-grade mineral oil because it’s non-toxic and easy to use. Simply apply it liberally with a rag, let it soak in, and then wipe away any excess. Reapply if the wood begins to look dry.

About Our Author

David Wakefield has been designing and building wooden mechanical toys for more than 30 years. To purchase ready-made toys, and to learn more about the animals that inspire his designs, check out


Write Comment

Write Comment

You must be logged in to write a comment. Log In

Top of Page