Thursday, October 8, 2009


Our son has reached The Age of Exploration. At last, he can pull himself upright and toddle along on his hind paws - so long as a support of some kind remains within reach. To give him some walking practice and a little independence, I sketched out a pushing/walking toy, then started digging through our wood-pile. Soon, odds and ends had been sawed and screwed into something closely resembling the sketch below (the height for the bars chosen to be just around our son's shoulders, low enough to be pushable, too high to fall over). One point to note: sanding off all edges and any rough surfaces will save grief later. With even a very cheap random orbital sander, this does not take long.

Version 1: Sled with upright handle

Full of anticipating, I presented the result of my labours to my son, who got the idea of the toy straight away, and set off at high speed, cackling with glee... and seconds later, rammed it a cupboard dead-on. No damage done, but also, no possibility of turning. The next problem was that he stood inside the sled, and tried to pull it over his own toes.

Version 2: platform to stand on, double-ended

I decided to solve the turning/reversing problem by making the pusher double-ended, duplicating the existing upright handle, and solved the standing-in-the-middle problem with a plywood platform. As I finished screwing this on, it occurred to me that I should have used bolts to secure the uprights to the base - then it would be very easy to take the whole thing apart into flat pieces for storage or transport.

The modifications were well received by my tiny test pilot: he used an upright to pull himself to his feet, then clambered grinning onto the platform, and tugged mightily at a handle, doing his best to rock the whole contraption. Which gave Dad an idea.

Version 3: build-in rocking function!

The final (so far) modification required some fairy delicate wood shaping: I made a long shallow curve from a single piece of wood, sawing, chiseling, sanding, then split it lengthwise into two identical pieces, which I glued with ordinary wood glue (do not risk snagging a screw head on your partner's tiles/carpet!) carefully to the existing runners, then clamped and allowed to set overnight.

Next morning, a very proud Dad presented his soon with the push-me-pull-you version. Son discovered that the new version made a very pleasing racket as it rocked on the kitchen tiles, and Dad was relieved to find that he hadn't overdone the rocking motion (no danger of head-over-heels).

This has been my first real foray into toy-making, at least as an adult; my son has got a lot of fun and exercise from a very simple toy, and I just as much, from the pleasure of making, of giving, and of seeing his fun.

Dads, Mums, Aunties and Uncles: to your sheds! Go build!

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