Pop-Up Tugboat

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When deciding on a toy to make for my grandson, I found myself considering the kind of “pop-up” construction used to manufacture spiralcut Shaker baskets and the collapsible camping cup I had as a Boy Scout. The technique allows tapered telescoping pieces to lock in place when spread apart, and it worked well for making this toy boat. (Although the project won’t telescope after it’s assembled, the tapered cuts are a quick and easy way to create a boat with curved parts that automatically fit into each other.) Building procedures and patterns are provided here for this specific design, but once you understand the approach, you can take the helm and get inventive. The trick to making any caricature like this is to observe and distill the characteristics that define the subject. For this project, I studied various boats to identify the elements that said “tug,” and then exaggerated the forms and curves to arrive at this design. Creating the engine is particularly fun. Use a cartoonist’s eye when looking through your miscellaneous parts boxes or the small parts drawers at the hardware store. Bits of tubing, odd washers, and doohickeys of uncertain provenance can suddenly become intake manifolds, newkular fusion condensers, and carbuncle pumps! (This supercharged three-banger engine sports carburetors of brass tubing.) After adding any of your own refinements, such as capstans, winches, bumpers, ventilators, ladders, or perhaps a figurehead, it’s time to release your tug from dry dock. However, note that this is a DL-class (Dry Land) tugboat. She’ll float beautifully on hardwood harbors where a keel would just get in the way. In water, she’ll capsize. Add a weighted keel and some marine varnish if you want a bathtub-worthy version.

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