Creating an Heirloom Toy for Your Kids

Reading Time: 4 minutes

My youngest boy will celebrate his 1st birthday next month and my oldest boy turns 4 next week. How time flies. I stare out at their collection of toys in the living room (and the kitchen… and the dining room…and the…) and I realize the last things these two boys need are more thin-plastic, batteries-required, assembly-line junk. I’m one of those that love handmade gifts, both giving and receiving, so with these two birthdays on my radar, it got me thinking that I’d really like to give them a toy that isn’t plastic, doesn’t require batteries, and wasn’t made in mass quantities. I want to give them something that will last, something that will endure the best punishments little boys can deliver, and something that maybe they’ll put away one day and pull out when they have a child of their own. What I want to give them is an heirloom.

I like to work with wood so I began my search for online wooden toys. There is no shortage of books, PDFs, and free blueprints for all sorts of toys. I’ve limited myself to cars (for now) because my oldest has a nice collection of Hot Wheels cars that he plays with frequently but does not share with his little brother. And it just seems to be the right thing to make for my youngest given that he loves his older brother’s cars (especially tasting them).

Auditorium Toy Company Racer

A while back I stumbled on this limited edition $350 hand-crafted wooden car from Auditorium Toy Company. Could it possibly survive and be an heirloom my baby boy might pass down? Sure it could. But I’d much rather drop $349 into his college fund and spend $1 on a Hot Wheels car. (And I also like the idea of not being served with divorce papers.)

It’s a beautiful toy car, no arguments there. But seriously – $350??? Sorry, but I’ll just have to enjoy it from afar. Or will I?

A certain phrase now comes to mind – Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery.

Time to imitate!

I know I’m going to start with some scraps of nice quality wood – 3/4″ thick ideally. It’s not really free as I purchased larger pieces a while back for other projects, but it’s also hard to put a price on these smaller pieces. I’ll go with $2.00 as the value for the scraps.

Inline Skate Wheels with Bearings

I also managed to purchase a set of 8 wheels (I’m making two cars) with bearings for $18.00 or $9.00 per car. I found a pack of 8 clear ones (no writing or logos on them), but I actually like the little bit of color these wheels will provide. One funny thing about these wheels — they’re 72mm in diameter but exactly 1″ wide according to my calipers. Metric and Standard measurements in one product?

I’m doing some test drilling right now to determine the proper length of 1/4″-20 machine screws I’ll need as well as some nylon nuts and a few extra surprises that I plan to add to each car. My goal is to use a series of counterbore holes on the insides of the hubs (the two pieces that will attach to the left and right of the main body). These counterbore holes will allow me to hide the machine screw heads. This is subject to change.

Sketch 1 of 4 possible designsSketch 1 of 4 possible designs

Sketch 1 of 4 possible designs

I’ve got four sketches in my notebook, each with a slightly different design. I think I’m going to try and do my best to stick to the original look and feel of the Auditorium Toy Company version so that will mean a wider profile with the wheels extending further from the body than my sketches have incorporated.

I’m hoping to either get them done this coming weekend or over the next few weeks. Whatever the final look of my cars, I’m hoping my boys will like them. My dad was a total DIYer as I grew up, and I watched him make many things rather than purchase… including some toys. I still have the pinewood derby racer sitting on my bookshelf that he helped me build when I was 7 or 8. It’s fairly fragile right now and not suitable for play. I’m hoping that my boys’ racers will not be sitting on a shelf in 20 or 30 years but instead will be found on the floor (or under the dining table… or under the living room couch… or…) providing entertainment for my grandchildren.

My pinewood racer

[I’ll post Part 2 with details of the actual construction in the days to come – JFK]

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