Wooden Car

After seeing the wooden toy cars at my son's preschool, I thought that it would be easy to make some wooden cars of my own. The next time I went to Rockler I picked up some basswood carving blocks. I believe it's used for carving because it is an easy wood to work; it is soft and has consistent grain -- almost like a soft plastic or foam. I thought I'd try to use basswood for the toy car for the same reasons. it's easy to machine and forgiving -- it doesn't take much effort to sand out mistakes.

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Tools: drill press, Forstner, hole saw, router table, scroll saw

Tags: round over

Materials: basswood

Making the Pattern

My first step was to make a pattern out of some 1/4" MDF I had lying around. I cut the piece of MDF to match the size of the basswood block and drew the outline of the car freehand to use as much of the block as I could. I located the 1" round window in a spot that I thought looked good and made sure that the axle holes weren't too high so the 1-1/2" wheels would touch the ground.

Cutting out the Car

Once I was satisfied with the pattern I transferred the shape to the block of basswood and cut it out on my new scroll saw. The saw quickly cut the soft basswood, but it left very fine sawdust that liked to stick everywhere somewhat like mahogany.

Relieving the Toy Car's Edges

After cutting out the blank, I smoothed out the profile with some 100 grit sandpaper until the curves were smooth and fluid. Then I chucked  a 1/4" radius bit into my router table and relieved the edges of the car.

Cutting out the Window

I transferred the location of the window from the pattern and drilled it out using a 1" Forstner bit on my drill press. As soon as the point of the Forsnter broke through the other side, I flipped the piece over and finished the hole. I had the piece backed up, but I find that I still get a cleaner though hole when I do it this way.

I probably should have drilled the window first before I relieved the edges, that way I could have relieved the edges of the window at the same time, but it really didn't matter because I still had the router table set up.

Laying out the Wheels

To make drilling out the wheels easier I found the center of the board with a homemade center finding jig.

Cutting out the Wheels

I used a 1-3/4" hole saw to cut the wheels out of a 1-1/4" thick piece of basswood. The hole saw wasn't long enough to cut all the way thought the piece so about halfway though, I flipped the piece over to complete the hole. The basswood really gummed up the hole saw, causing it to burn the wood. I found that if I brought the hole saw up while it was still running and hit it with a brass brush, it would knock off all the gummed up wood, and the saw would cut cleanly for a little while again.

Smoothing the Wheels

Since I don't own a lathe, the best way I found to smooth the wheels while keeping them round was to screw a short section of 1/4" all-thread into the hole left by the hole saw pilot bit and chuck the other end into the drill press. With the drill press running on low, I used a piece of 100 grit sandpaper to flatten the wheels.

With the all-thread still attached to the wheel I used it as a handle to run the wheel through the 1/4" radius round over bit on the router table. I removed the all thread and threaded it into the other side so I could round over the other side of the wheel.

Finally I chucked the wheel back onto the drill press and finish sanded the wheel. Of course I had to repeat this for all four wheels.

Mounting the Wheels

With the wheels finished I enlarged the axle hole to 1/4" so I could use a 1/4" oak dowel as the axle.  I transferred the axle hole locations from the pattern and drilled the axle holes in the car with the drill press. I cut the axles about 1/2" short of the combined width of the wheels and the car.

Applying a Finish

I took the car apart again and sanded all the surfaces to 220 grit. I had decided to try using butcher block oil (mineral oil) as a finish because it was food and kid safe. I've since learned after talking to one of the salesmen at Rockler (and following up with my own research on the web) that just about all finishes are food and child safe once they've finished curing. Of course this can take up to two months.

To apply the mineral oil I poured some on a rag and rubbed it into all the surfaces of the car. I kept rubbing until the wood wouldn't take any more oil. Then I left it sit for 15 minutes and rubbed it off with a clean rag. The surface to the car still felt oily, something I had been afraid of since when have you ever touched a butcher block that didn't feel oily. So I experimented by blowing hot air over the car to see if it would absorb the oil faster.

Whether the hot air helped or not, after a day the car didn't feel very oily any more.


Final Notes on the Wooden Car

When I put the car back together I applied paste wax to the middle of the axles, trying not to get it on the ends that fit into the wheels. This helped make the wheels spin more freely. I didn't want to drill a bigger hole because I didn't want the wheels to be floppy. I also didn't glue the wheels onto the axles, because I figured my son would try to twist them off. I'd rather he gets the wheel off then snaps the axle.

I don't think I'll use mineral oil again as a finish, well maybe if I make a cutting board of butcher block. The toy always feels slightly oily and after a few weeks the finish starts to dry out. I think that maybe the next toy I make I'll try shellac.