Toy Trucks from 2x4s

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This article is from Issue 73 of Woodcraft Magazine.

You could build just one, but that’s no fun. Turn your shop into an automotive assembly line and create a fleet of four wheelers.

Woodworkers don’t have to go to the mall when someone needs a gift. We always have the opportunity to create something special right at home. That’s why I’ve come to love building these toy trucks.

It’s challenging and fun to figure out how to mass-produce all the parts and create my own assembly line process (I’ll share some of my techniques on the pages ahead). It’s great that the raw material for this woodworking adventure is cheap and easy to find. You can raid your scrap pile for truck parts, or head to the lumber yard for 2× stock.

What I like most about this truck project is that it’s fun to do as a group. Round up your buddies, or organize a truck-making afternoon with your woodworking guild. Finished trucks are great items to donate to toy banks or charity auctions. Kids can get involved in the construction process too. Who knows—a child who has a hand in building a few trucks might just grow up to be a great woodworker.

6 truck parts + wheels & axles

You can create many variations of this truck—from stake side pickups to oil tankers and tow trucks (See p. 49). But they all are built on the basic cab-and-chassis assembly shown below. This “core” vehicle requires a couple of ready-made components: wheels and 1⁄4" dowel rod for axles. The remaining six parts can all be cut from 11⁄2"-thick 2× stock. As shown on the facing page, you’ll have an easy time mass-producing these six parts if you set up different workstations.

Set up for mass production

Straight, square-edged parts like the frame and dashboard can be mass-produced easily by ripping strips, then crosscutting them to length. To produce multiples of other parts, set up different workstations, as shown here. I found that it’s best to cut out the cab in pairs, starting with blanks that measure 11⁄2 × 21⁄8 × 31⁄8". If you’ve got inexperienced woodworkers on your truck construction crew, put them to work sanding parts or painting them prior to assembly.

STATION 1: Drill Press

Start with boring work. Two cabs can be cut from each blank, as shown in the cutting diagram. The cab begins with a pair of through holes, aligned with a fence and stop, as shown at right.

STATION 2: Tablesaw

Tape, then cut. Tape a series of cab blanks together, then adjust the rip fence and blade height to make a pair of vertical cuts. Axle housing strips can also be cut in pairs (far right photo). The grooves for the dowel axles can be cut with a dado head, or by making overlapping kerfs with a standard blade.

STATION 3: Bandsaw

Cut curves for cabs and fenders. Make the final cuts to free the paired cabs, and roughly curve the cab tops. Then cut a bunch of fenders, which include a straight running board.

STATION 4: Sanders

Refine those rough edges. Shaping and smoothing the cabs and fenders can be done by hand-sanding, but the work goes much faster with an oscillating spindle sander and a narrow belt sander.

Speed through assembly with 3 jigs

On this automotive assembly line, yellow wood glue and a headless pinner take the place of welding gear and impact wrenches. Your truck factory should also include the assembly aids shown here, because small parts slip around when coated with glue. These jigs make it easy to maintain your manufacturing tolerances.

JIG 1: Chassis

Flush fits. The first parts to assemble are the frame and hood. This 2-piece jig keeps edges flush as you pin the glued joint.

JIG 2: Cab Spacer

Dashboard & cab. Fasten the dashboard to the hood, then use a 1⁄2"-thick spacer block to align the cab on the frame.

Upside-down alignment. Glue the wheels to axles, then use the jig to establish the correct location for a axle housings on the underside of the frame.

JIG 3: Wheels & Fenders

Press up, nail down. Make sure the wheel won’t rub on the fender before pinning it.

Expand your fleet with customized designs

The basic truck is just the beginning. With a little imagination, you can add features to the core truck platform and create a number of variations. Four different examples are detailed here. For a truly over-the-top creation, check out the fire truck shown at the bottom of the page. Painting your truck parts before assembly and combining contrasting wood species are two other fun options.


Who’s got the best truck?

We’ve got more designs to inspire your truck-making adventure. Go to our website, and click on the onlineEXTRAs for this issue.


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