Three of a Kind

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This article is from Issue 7 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Tackle this trio of tiny trucks and start your own fleet of gifts for those on your list with a love for wheels. You’ll discover how getting small can reap big rewards.

Tools: A big heart, patience, determination, sense of humor

TIME: The rest of your life
Materials:  Frogs, snails and puppy-dog tails

What is it about little boys and trucks? My grandson has been fascinated with wheels since his eyes first started to focus; and at age two, his preoccupation with all things wheeled is uncanny. Whatever it is, it works on me, too. It got me started back into woodworking after being away from it for over 20 years. 

I spotted some small wooden toy trucks in a large retail store (which shall remain nameless except to say that the first letter of their name has a lot of angles in it). I was intrigued for two reasons: They were very small but still wooden, and they were fairly well designed (though not that well constructed). So I immediately purposed to be a hero to my grandson and a help to our magazine by producing my own versions of these tiny trucks, and writing an article about the process. 

Here’s hoping it worked.

Setting up

To make these small toys, I needed to think small, so it was only natural to enlist a small arsenal of miniature tools – the Micromot series of bench-top power tools from Proxxon. This German company offers several small machines – table saw, shaper, bandsaw, planer and more – that can be set up on a space the size of a card table. Being a gadget fanatic, I was excited to use these tools, plus I was sure to   score some brownie points with my grandson.

A goal of this project was to produce toy trucks in a size not often seen, and in a manner different from methods used in your garden-variety toy plans. I used basswood because it’s easy to work, reasonably inexpensive, and comes in a variety of sizes. Another goal was to reduce the need for the use of measurements during the construction process. The directions and visual information offered here are intended to be a general guide through the process, with a large part of the instruction coming from the drawings. You’ll probably think of a number of ways to add style and variation to your versions.

1. Do whatever is necessary to remove the “non-fender” material. Don't just cut to the line, cut it out.
2. The popsicle sticks helps ensure one flat side. Cut the sticks off with the second cut.

A basic foundation

Most of the design time and energy for this project was spent coming up with a way to easily make the fender assembly, because I thought it would be the most difficult part of the truck to make. As it turns out, the fender is the easiest part to make. It’s the foundation of the entire truck, and multiple copies are easily cut out of a single piece of ¾" stock.

To start, copy, cut out and glue the fender profiles below to the edges of your ¾" board (Fig 1). Do as many on a single board as your equipment can safely and accurately handle. This helps reduce time and waste when making more than one set of fenders. And as a general rule, sanding multiple parts is easier when they are attached together at various stages of construction. Let me say here that I designed the parts and the steps using the Proxxon miniature tools, so using other tools may require different procedures and precautions. Gluing the patterns to the stock should make it easier, no matter what tools you use.

Hood and radiator assemblies

The truck hood is simply a section of 1" dowel with three sides cut off. Follow the pattern on as long a dowel as is comfortable, and just cut off lengths of hood in whatever number you need. To make sure the first cut is flat (the dowel could twist while being cut), glue a couple of large popsicle sticks to the bottom of the dowel to keep it from spinning (Fig 2). The radiator is done in the same fashion: Start with ¾" stock, cut to the pattern specs, and lop off as many as you need. Notice how these processes lend themselves well to mass production. 

Henry Ford would be proud.

Headlights and cab

The proportions of the parts of this toy truck are exaggerated for two reasons: sturdiness at a small size, and cuteness. Yes, I said “cuteness.” Just as Mother Nature gives youngsters large eye and head proportions to help elicit nurturing responses from parents, I've given these trucks some exaggerated features to give them kid appeal. Even though we’re not making these for ourselves (right?), the cuteness factor will be appreciated by kids and adults.

The big “eyes” or headlights can be done in a variety of ways. Drill 1/8" holes in the sides of cylinders cut from dowels (drill a bunch before you cut them off) and in the sides of the radiators (again, more than once before you cut them off), and glue together. 

3. Use a shim to support the glued up “headlights.” Drill off-center for a more realistic headlike look when cut off.
4. The cab offers a chance for variety in design and construction methods. Always consider making multiples.

For something a little more challenging, do the same thing with wooden balls. The trick is to drill the sides of the wooden balls: Plow a groove in a piece of scrap deep enough for the wooden balls to just touch on the bottom and sides of the groove, and glue them in. This support allows you to first drill the holes and then cut off the finished headlights (Fig. 3). 

Once again, since the raw materials here are generally inexpensive, it’s a good idea to glue up, cut out, and chop off more parts than you need to allow for the inevitable errors. A general rule of thumb would be, for five or fewer pieces, cut at least twice the number you need.

The cab is simply a box made of cut profiles. You could use a big-boy tool and a 1" Forstner bit, and cut the hole for the “C-cab” window out of solid stock, slice off wall sections and glue up cabs from the pieces. Or use a bandsaw and some sanding − whatever works (Fig. 4). Thick walls here (1/4") are an advantage because they leave plenty of room to sand away any glueup mistakes. These toys are all about looking good!

5. An undercut bevel is a cheap fix for  boring design elements. Do one or both sides, depending on the application.
6. Visit old truck enthusiasts on the Web to find ideas for additional truck variations. 

7. You can conceal or show the magnets, depending on how devious you are. Be sure to dry fit before fastening. 

Axles and other parts

Note that a lot of the measured parts use a ¼" dimension, so using ¼" stock takes you a long way toward completing many of the parts. Shave (curve) the edges of  a ¼" x 2" length of stock and lop off as many bumpers as you need. Shape the edge of 1/8" stock for material for seat backs and the top of the cab, according to the illustration. 

Rip lengths of ½" stock and cut to length for the axle housings. Adding a bevel to these simple rectangular elements is an easy way to add visual interest without a lot of work. When you set your saw at an angle to undercut for a bevel, you can turn your workpiece around and bevel the other side without changing any blade or fence settings (Fig. 5). 

Make axles from dowels or buy actual 5/32" wooden axles from any craft supplier.

There’s no end to efficiencies you can dream up when you’re doing these kinds of small projects. Solving problems is a large part of the satisfaction that comes from working in wood.

Making different trucks

Once you’ve made the basic truck body, it’s time to have fun making a variety of  “beds” that will transform the basic body into different kinds of trucks. Three variations are presented here (Fig. 6): a utility stake bed, a dump bed and a log truck rack (I used different sizes of dowels for the logs). Use similar construction methods and stock proportions to make these additions. Refer to the exploded drawings for inspiration, or just design your own.

Does the fun ever end?  

The intent for this truck and parts was to produce a basic truck body, and differing truck parts to make a variety of trucks. Make a bunch of each. Stain, paint, mix-and-match and start a fleet. 

Now how about concealing some 3/8" rare earth magnets (Fig. 7) on both the basic truck body and on the parts so you can use one body and just swap parts? Sneaky, huh? 

Maybe most kids would rather have three complete trucks, but there’s plenty of pleasure in swapping out the beds, especially that satisfying clack when the magnets find each other.

A suggestion: don’t do final sanding with steel wool after you've concealed the magnets.

So have at it, if you’re into wheels.And remember, when working at this scale, it’s all about fun; for you and the recipient of your labors. Be careful and drive safely!

—Ken Brady, production manager, art director, illustrator and photographer for Woodcraft Magazine, would seem to have too much time on his hands. He wishes. 

Proxxon Tools - On Getting Small

I was pleased when Proxxon offered to send me some of their Micromot bench-top power tools to use in making the toy trucks for this article. But it was like Christmas morning when they sent practically their whole line. They fit neatly in the small area I used to “get away from it all” and play with my new toys. 

I was fairly impressed as I unpacked each of them. Most were miniatures of their big cousins. The disc sander and the scroll saw didn’t seem much smaller or more compact than other tools of the same type. The drill press, router table and band saw, while truly small, had the look and feel (after working with them) of their larger counterparts. They scored pretty high on the “cuteness” meter also. I have yet to use the lathe, milling machine and planer (a planer that you can hold up with one hand!).  

I got the power miter saw last and in a separate shipment. It’s not even on the market yet, but it’s a dandy. I ended up using it a great deal and was very impressed.

But what about the woodworkers’ staple, the table saw? The first thing that popped into my head when I unpacked it was “Easy Bake Oven” – small, simple and probably couldn’t cook much. (I suppose that comes from having four daughters, who by the way are also crazy about wheels.) 

Was I ever wrong! This little beast was the workhorse of my project. Its small carbide blade and dado set could make repeated, accurate cuts that were glass-smooth. At one point I narrowly missed setting the depth of the blade enough to rip a board. I took it off the saw and could see through (holding it up to the light) the sliver of wood holding the two pieces together along the entire length of the board. I would even opt to resaw to the depth limits of the blade (by cutting through and flipping end-for-end) instead of using the bandsaw. I could make repeated cuts I could count on, with adjustment “feel” staying the same throughout the weeks I worked with it. 

While the fence stayed true, a better system of indexing would be welcome. I was disappointed with the miter gauge, and had to true it with more accurate tools, without regard to its angle markings.

The tools I used did very well. Well enough that I’m looking forward to doing a Proxxon tool review in an upcoming issue of Woodcraft Magazine. Look for it. It’ll be fun.


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