It’s taken me just under a month to finish up the handmade racer toy for my youngest son’s 1st birthday. (Here are links to Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.) I chose a different shape, making the main body more bulbous and giving it a flattened bull-nose front. It’s definitely not as pretty as the professional one, but it sure didn’t cost me $350. As a matter of fact, here’s an approximate total cost of parts I used:
- $8.00 total for 4 blue wheels
- $2.00 total for 4 acorn nuts — to add some Loctite later to keep them on good and tight
- $3.00 total for 4 t-nuts — used as hubs
- $5.00 total for 4 steel spacers — to cover threads on machine screws
- $14 two brass plates — the most expensive part of the toy but I couldn’t have skipped adding them
- $1.15 total for 8 #2 brass screws to mount plates — wanted to avoid adhesive
- $1.44 total for 12 #2 steel screws for t-nuts — they look sort of like lug nuts
- $3.50 for the wood (I used roughly 1/4 of a $13 piece of birch plywood
- $0.20 total for 4 steel 1/4″ nuts — to hold steel spacers against t-nuts
- $1.40 total for 4 steel 1/4 x 3.5″ machine screws — for axles
- $0.50 total for 2 steel 1/4 x 2″ machine screws — bolt fenders onto main body
So the total cost was around $40.00… I’m not sure if I could have shaved any off the final cost except for maybe using a less expensive wood and maybe ignoring the brass plates.
I can tell that over time the wood will develop a darker color as oils from hands smooth out the edges and darken the ply layers. I put a couple coats of natural stain on it that darkened it just a bit and then applied some poly to the flat surfaces. The brass plates may have been a bit overboard, but I love having them – one side says:
Sawyer Gray Kelly
June 14, 2011
and the other says:
James Floyd Kelly
The thing weighs about 1.5 pounds and rolls so quietly on the wooden floor you can’t even hear it. Yay for quiet toys!
So, about the assembly. I’m including a handful of images here that show the final progression of the toy. After cutting the shape of the main body I spent a while sanding all surfaces with 80 grit before moving on to 150 and then finishing up with 220. By the time I was done, this thing was slippery. One thing I’ve not quite figured out about 13-ply birch is how to get the plys to look as good as they do in the actual Auditorium Toy Co. version — I guess that’s why they can charge the big bucks!
After sanding, I spent some time drilling holes for the two brass plates that would be mounted over the counterbored holes in the center of each fender. I used 2″ machine screws to bolt the fenders onto the main body after drilling matching holes through the main body. There was a bit of play in the fenders which was good — it allowed me to mount the wheels and get them all sitting solid on the floor before tightening the machine screws down.
A bit of a shout-out here for Ace Hardware — I love my local Ace Hardware store because every time I go in there to buy a specialty screw or nut or fastener, they have it. That’s not to say that Lowe’s didn’t have the better price on a few things like the steel spacers (beat Ace by about $0.05 each) but neither Lowes or Home Depot had the teeny-tiny #2 screws (in both brass and steel) that I needed to make the t-nut hubs look good. And the brass ones weren’t just plated, either… no silver showing through as I tightened them down.
After inserting the 3.5″ machine screws on the insides of the fenders, I bolted down the t-nuts with the #2 steel screws, added on the steel spacers, added 1/4″ nuts to each axle followed by wheels, and then secured all four wheels with acorn nuts.
I finished up the toy by adding the brass plates over the counterbore holes and securing them each with #2 brass screws. A bit of tightening here and there to get the toy completely secure and remove some wobble in one wheel axles and the thing is done.
One thing I will say about this entire process is that it made me really appreciate better the handiwork shown in the pro version. I’m not sure if Auditorium Toys uses CNC machinery to get those perfect cuts and corners, but I will say that after tons of sanding and shaping, getting a perfect curve on the main body was almost impossible for me. I’ve got a whole new appreciation for professional wooden toy makers!
So, this Saturday we’re having a party for Sawyer. He’s just started rolling big cars (a plastic dump truck, really) back and forth with me, so I’m hoping he’ll like this car even though he probably won’t be able to lift it very well. That is one thing I absolutely love about this car, though — the heft of it. It just feels like it can take a punishment and survive to old age.
And that was my goal from the beginning — giving my son a handmade toy that he could hopefully put away one day and keep safe until he has his own children to share it with. I’m hoping to be around on that day and see a smile when a grandchild gets his or her hands on it, but if not I just hope I made something that can be passed down in my family as an almost one-of-a-kind toy; I’ve still got one more to finish up — a truck-shaped one for my 4 year old, Decker — so let’s make that a two-of-its-kind toy.