How to Draw a Spiral and Make a Home-made Spiral Top

The Newark Maker-Faire is less than two weeks away and I’ve been hard at work finishing up my exhibit Home-made Toys for Girls and Boys. This past weekend I continued assembling toys for display at the show. One such toy is a spiral top described by A. Neely Hall in his book about home-made toys. I created this short video describing how to draw a spiral and build the top.  Get your craft supplies ready and I’ll see you at the Newark Museum Saturday April 30.

An Electric Toy Shocking Machine

jchismar induction coil

The Toy Shocking Machine, in all honesty, is a primary reason I chose to construct projects from the 1915 book Home-Made Toys for Girls and Boys for the upcoming 2016 Newark Maker Faire. The innocent nostalgia transports to simpler times when children were encouraged to challenge themselves and explore their world without restraint. Maintaining youthful spirit I imagined owning a device to shock myself, friends, family and strangers for entertainment. I’m old enough to remember similar devices making a splash at amusement parks and science class.

With giddy anticipation I started constructing the heart of the device, the induction-coil. The coil consists of two windings of different gauge wire around an iron bolt. A rapidly interrupted flow of electricity is applied to the central primary coil to create an oscillating magnetic field which, in turn, creates high voltage across the outer secondary coil. The high voltage discharges between the two ends of the secondary coil in the hands of a volunteer.

jchismar shocking toy interupter
Electricity Interrupter #1

In hindsight it’s easy for me to parrot the above information and sound as though I know what I’m talking about. I enjoy tinkering with hobby electronics however my understanding is often limited. When I attached the coil to a battery I was baffled as to why it wasn’t shocking me. Confused, I texted electronics genius friend Charlie England. He responded “…you have to apply voltage and remove it very quickly…” I hastily constructed an interrupter as described in the book. Turning the crank created an entertainingly loud racket and a few sparks, but nothing shocking from the secondary coil.

Charlie suggested testing the electromagnetic properties of the coil. I grabbed a small washer, verified it was steel with a real magnet and applied power to the coil. Nothing, the washer fell to the table without hesitation. The only thing that made sense was to apply more power (amps). Working in increasing intervals I finished with two 6-volt lantern batteries in series attached to the coil. No electromagnet but plenty of heat – which is undesirable. Defeated, I informed Charlie I was going to make another coil. He responded with four words, “Send me the coil.” Yessir, the coil was packed and on its way the following morning.

jchismar shocking toy
Electricity Interrupter #2

After receiving the delivery Charlie went to work testing my induction coil. The coil only created a 90 volt spike using a 10 volt power source. Charlie determined the secondary coil needed triple the amount of wire layers to generate a palpable shock. Charlie also designed and created an interrupter circuit employing a proximity switch. It was left to my imagination on how to integrate this interrupter circuit into the device. Because the proximity switch detects ferritic material I created a wheel with thumbtacks placed at fixed intervals around the perimeter. When a thumbtack passes under the proximity switch the switch turns on, when the thumbtack passes the switch turns off.

I added several more layers of wire to the coil, attached it to the new hi-tech interrupter and with a little fussing around, success! A tangible shock was felt when the interrupter was engaged. Knowing the coil was working correctly I built the third and final interrupter for the circuit integrating wooden gears to increase the switching frequency. Everything works like a charm. I will continue tinkering with this device leading up to the Maker Faire to ensure an entertaining and dependable experience.

Buzz-saw Whirligig / Saw-Mill Buzzer

jchismar buzz saw whirligig

Also known as a button-on-a-string, the buzz-saw whirligig is a noise-making device which utilizes an object centered on a loop of cord. The buzzer described in Home-made Toys for Girls and Boys spins a cardboard saw blade to generate its hypnotizing whirring sound. Using both hands the enjoyer must hold each end of the loop and rotate the saw blade to wind the loop. The blade is whirred by adding and releasing tension on the loop which unwinds and, because of the angular momentum of the blade, winds the loop again in the opposite direction.

Making a buzzer is a fun, fast and instantly rewarding project. Cut cardboard, glue a “spool-end” on the center of each side, drill two holes for the cord in the spool-ends, thread the cord through the holes and tie the ends together to create a loop. To my amazement my first buzzer worked splendidly; however Fleur our poodle isn’t as amused by the osculating pitch emanating from the new mysterious gizmo.

I decided build a bunch of buzzers as swag for the Newark Maker Faire. Friends saved cardboard from recycling and donated it to the cause. The cord for the buzzers was retrieved from a pile of bakery string saved from years of bakery boxes. Small bits of recycled broom handle are substituted for spool-ends because I don’t have many spools in inventory.  The title artwork of my exhibit  was printed on the cardboard using a carved linoleum block. To print each buzzer ink was applied to the carved linoleum block using a brayer, the buzzer cardboard was placed over the inked block and pressure was applied to transfer the ink from the block to the cardboard. When the ink dried I cut each buzzer out with a pair of scissors.

Please stop by my exhibit at the Newark Maker Faire, Saturday April 30 to pick up your free buzzer while supplies last!

A Toy Jumping Jack and Eight-blade Windmill

“If at first you don’t succeed, that’s normal” Colbert – Live Free Or Die

jchismar jumping jack whirligig

The Toy Jumping Jack is yet another project I’m building for my Home-Made Toys exhibit for the 2016 Newark Maker Faire. The arms and legs of this toy are pivoted on brads placed through the front and back of the torso. According to the instructions a heavy linen thread is tied at the pivot of each extremity, the opposite ends of the thread are tied to a ring below the torso. Pull the ring downward and “Jack jumps comically” says Mr. Hall, author of the instructions. Why isn’t life that simple?

jchismar wooden jumping jack toyFor me, this project started right as rain. I collected a handful of thin pieces of poplar I saved from various projects and transferred the pattern for the torso, arms and legs. The pivot holes were drilled and the bandsaw was used to cut each part out. The tops of the arms and legs were painted and a strand of thick string was tied to each extremity. Four brads hold the front and back of the torso together and act as pivots for the extremities.

Drum roll please? I pulled the strings down and the arms and legs rotated skyward. Upon slackening the tension, only the legs returned down. The thick string jammed in the narrow shoulder clearance inside the torso. The thin wooden arms didn’t have weight necessary to enable gravity to do its job.

jchismar a toy jumping jack
The tangle of the dangle

The first attempt to resolve the problem was to replace the thick thread with nylon coated stainless steel thread. The new thread was better but the arms were remained too light to function properly. All the original parts were discarded and I found thicker wood to cut new heavier parts. Initially these parts worked well with the steel thread but an unsightly tangle was created when I tried to neatly tie the four lines together.

More attempts to maximize the predictable animation of the jumping jack followed .  The original thread performed best after fiddling around with how it attached to the limb and the location of the knot. Sometimes the task requires a touch more patience and attention than the originally put forth.

Jack’s head was carved from a scrap of basswood; the instructions suggest a wooden spool. This is mostly due to my abundant inventory of basswood scraps and the limited quantity of spools. The completed Jack was installed on the eight-blade windmill I constructed in an earlier post. Jack is so happy to be alive his limbs flail in the blowing wind like the excited customers in 1980’s Toyota commercials.

A Home-made Toy Motor-boat

jchismar toy motor boat

The Toy Motor-boat is the first project I completed for my exhibit at the Newark Maker Faire. I wanted to test the boat before I posted and I was slow finding an appropriate time and location to do so. The delay was, in part, because I wasn’t sure it would float let alone propel itself on water. I needed to find a private location with easy accessibility to the water.
jchismar toy motor boat

To build the motor-boat I cut a pine 2 x 4 into the shape of a boat (steps 1 and 2). Using the table saw I trimmed long thin strips from the  2 x 4 and glued them to the sides and back of the boat (step 3). After I painted the inside of the boat (step 4) I realized the stern of the boat was supposed to be angled forward, not straight up and down. I cut off the stern at the appropriate angle and replaced the wood. Step 5 shows the top of the bow being planed from a piece of the 2 x 4. The top of the bow was glued and clamped to the body of the boat in Step 6.  When the glue was dry I sanded everything and completed the exterior painting.

This boat is propelled by rubber bands stretched underneath the boat which are attached to a “tin” propeller. I was certain when the propeller was wound and placed in water the propeller would release all the rubber band energy in one quick burst, much like it does holding it in the air, creating a splash behind a stationary boat. That is if the 2 x 4 boat didn’t capsize before then.

Testing day arrived. Alone, I drove to Branch Brook Park and parked near the Prudential Concert Grove. I grabbed the camera and my motor-boat and sat at the water between Karl Ritter’s lions and anxiously wound the propeller. In my right hand I held the fueled up boat, the camera in my left. Chimes sounded from the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart as I prepared to be soaked while releasing the boat. At first I thought something was wrong, there was no revving sound or splashing. Then the boat slowly moved away, the propeller turning at a moderate rate.

The propeller rotated almost a minute pushing the boat about fifteen feet against the wind and current. It may have gone further if I paid more attention to releasing slack on the return line. What a surprising outcome! To be sure it really happened I tried a few more times, just as successful as the first. It was time to get ready for work so the testing wrapped up quickly. Otherwise the better part of the day would have been spent sitting by the water playing with the home-made toy.

Clog-dancer Jig Doll Limberjack

“In these days when everybody is talking about doing his thing, here’s the story of a boy that not only talks about it, but does it.”
~My Side of the Mountain movie trailer

jchismar clog dancer jig doll limberjack

I’m learning, as I continue to build A. Neely Hall toys for the Newark Maker Faire, I grossly underestimate the time required to produce each project. Some blame can be placed on keeping true to the 1915 materials and instructions. For instance, the instructions describe the arms and legs as whittled sticks, so the extremities are whittled wood instead of pre-made wooden dowels. The body was cut from a discarded broom-handle found in a storm drain while walking Fleur. The head, hat and shoulders are made from wooden spools; the hands and feet are carved from basswood.

Tacks are inserted at each joint to attach the limbs with heavy linen thread. Tying tiny knots closely together onto mini metal tacks proved more challenging than anticipated. Smaller and more plentiful hands would accomplish the task more quickly. Even the not-so-professional paint job required a surprising amount of patience and time. Does the finished project reflect the work behind its folksy finish?

Tapping the “stage” reproduces a perfect Michael Flatley so, heck yeah the payoff is worth the effort. I can entertain myself for a long spell while simultaneously irritating everyone within earshot of the tapping and clacking. Win. Win.

The Spool Hub Eight-blade Windmill

jchismar.com eight blade windmill

Windmills and whirligigs are fascinating and inspiring. I enjoy researching and tinkering with whirligig designs and materials.  My researching efforts led me to discover A. Neely Hall, the craftsman who authored the projects which my 2016 Newark Maker Faire exhibit is based  on. His Eight-blade Windmill, utilizing a thread spool as a hub, is one of the projects I’ve been excited to try.

The illustration above, drafted excellently by Tom P. Hall, clearly describes the construction of the windmill. This windmill  design is perfect for a beginner with limited tools because it eliminates sawing a precisely angled slot to hold the propeller in the hub. Here the hub is a wooden spool with holes drilled in even intervals around the circumference. Each propeller is attached to a spoke via clinched nails. A wood carving knife is used to whittle a point at one end of the spoke to fit into the hub.

blog-160305-eightbladewindmill-b2

Because I am building this project as part of my Maker Faire exhibit I am observing the original instructions as literally as possible. I whittled twenty four spokes to be used on the three windmills I am constructing. Poplar wood was used for the spokes. Most of the spokes had intentionally straight wood grain which aids in easy whittling. The propellers are 3/16″ plywood I had stored in the workshop. Generally I avoid using plywood because I find it doesn’t hold up to the elements, but it was on hand. Each propeller is clinched to the spokes by first driving the nail straight through the work, bending the shank with needle-nose pliers then flattening with a hammer.

jchismar.com eight blade windmillUnfortunately a few spokes with less than ideal grain made their way into the project. I should have discarded the poorly grained spokes immediately, but I proceeded. While tapping the imperfect spokes into the hub a telltale cracking sound verified the mistake. The pointed ends snapped off before the spoke was completely seated. To repair the broken spoke I drilled the broken spoke wood from the spool, starting with a narrow drill bit and increasing width until the desired size hole returned.  Then I drilled a one inch deep hole in the spoke where the whittled points broke off. I glued a hardwood dowel into the spoke to serve as a prosthesis which worked nicely.

jchismar.com eight blade windmillI re-purposed the Unknot Shelf prototype (from a few weeks ago) into a stand to hold the assembled windmill propellers for brushing on paint. Each propeller will receive two coats of white paint followed by a coat or two of colorful details.  These propellers will be used in a larger project in my Maker Faire exhibit, so you’ll be seeing more on these soon.

Constructing a Vintage Cricket-Rattle : 2016 Greater Newark Maker Faire

A Neely Hall Cricket Rattle

I submitted my application to the 2016 Greater Newark, NJ Maker Faire a few days go for my exhibit titled Home-Made Toys for Girls and Boys. This year I am constructing many of the projects described in A. Neely Hall’s 1915 book Home-Made Toys for Girls and Boys. Anticipating the acceptance of my application I began building several of the toys. In the book Mr. Hall explains, “A Cricket-rattle is about the liveliest form of rattle ever devised. After constructing one for your sister or brother, you probably will decide to make one for yourself.”

john p chismar cricket rattleBecause of his bold statement I decided to make three cricket-rattles to sell or share. The first time I tried the rattle I expected a chirping sound, instead loud cracks shot straight into my ears leaving them ringing. More awesome than I anticipated! Before painting the rattles red or blue, as the instructions asserted, I decided to add tramp art carved embellishment around the fringe which I painted yellow.

I have a few other projects already completed for the faire and many more on the drawing board. With any luck my application will be accepted permitting me to proceed full speed into the past opening doorways to forgotten pastimes. I hope to see you there.

Two-Tier Unknot Corner Shelf

two-tier unknot corner shelf

A friend asked me to build this two-tier unknot corner shelf as a Valentine’s Day gift for her husband. She specifically knew the shelf she desired and clearly described its design. The project was to be built with no hardware and install easily without a hundred screws damaging the wall.
two-tier unknot corner shelfI took a day or two to think about the project and decided to build a prototype of the shelf using a two by four. I drew a schematic of the shelf on a scrap paper and transferred the measurements to the lumber. I also constructed a corner jig out of plywood. The jig keeps everything square and provides something solid to clamp to as the glue dries. With the unit complete I experimented with various ways to install it. I placed a mirror hanger on the back of each vertical support, but with no support in the corner the unit was unstable and drooped away from the wall. After much thought and experimentation I discovered the easiest and strongest support was a mortise in the shelf and a tenon attached to the wall.

two-tier unknot corner shelfThe shelf was to be a blond color with a matte finish. While visiting the wood store the decision was made to use ash wood. I purchased a beautiful piece of 5/4 ash lumber  7 1/2″ wide and 8′ long; enough lumber for two complete shelves. The lumber acclimated in my workshop a few days and it was planed to an inch thick. I proceeded to (1) crosscut the length of each section. With all six sections cut to length I (2) cut 45 degree miters for the left and right sides. (3) Each section was then ripped to 3 1/2″ width.  (4) A stacked dado blade was used to make a 1/2″ dado across the back of the top  shelf sections. Pieces of ash were glued into the ends of the dado to create a mortise.

two-tier unknot corner shelfI waited for the glue to dry and (5) cut the corner miters on the top and bottom shelf sections. I considered various ways of strengthening the joints of the assembled sections. In the end the use of biscuits was the victor. Using a power biscuit jointer I cut biscuit mortises into the surface of each joint. Working one at a time each joint was glued with a biscuit and clamped. Gluing and clamping requires patience and scrutiny to insure each connection is square in every direction.

I waited a day for the glue to set and then started the finishing process. Using a random orbital sander I sanded every surface with 80, 120, 180 grit sandpaper. The sharp ninety-degree corners and edges were slightly rounded with the gentle touch of a cabinet scraper and a sanding block. Rounding the harsh corners provides a luxurious surface to touch and allows for a durable finish.

I applied three to four coats of polyurethane finish by hand, lightly sanding between applications.  The polyurethane finish hardened over a duration of few days and then sanded with steel wool to reduce the glossy appearance.  A super silky feel and rich luster was created on the finish by buffing the surface with rottenstone. I am happy with the complete piece. At my friend’s request I delivered the shelf days before Valentine’s Day. The photos with the books are of the shelf installed in their home.

Because I made two of these shelves I have another currently stored in my shop. Maybe I’ll install it in my home or perhaps someone will be interested in purchasing it from me. Either way, it’s a win. And please be sure to have a Happy Valentine’s Day!

two-tier unknot corner shelf schematic

My first taxidermy experiment

Little sparrow, little sparrow
precious fragile little thing…
flies so high and feels no pain

Dolly Parton

sparrow taxidermy

The art of taxidermy has been on my bucket list of things to explore. I go through phases of rambling to my wife Amy and choice friends about my intent to attempt taxidermy on various expired creatures found while walking Fleur in town and country. For instance, a few weeks ago I came across a beautiful raccoon laying in the grass fresh for the picking. I chickened out and decided to leave it where it lay. I’ve never hunted or killed any warm-blooded creature; therefore I have little experience in the delicate art of dismembering such things. Besides having little clue of the preservation of flesh, I was concerned on how I’d stomach the process. In my mind a carcass is a balloon stuffed to the breaking point with guts; the smallest puncture and Kaboom!

Megastorm arrived last January slamming us with a few feet of snow. During the cleanup Amy stumbled upon a lifeless sparrow in the snow. Remembering my rants about taxidermy she placed the creature on a snowbank, located me and explained her discovery. I placed the sparrow in a zip-lock bag and put it in the freezer. Shortly after I ordered a Standing Bird Mounting Kit online containing “practically everything [necessary] to get started” including an “instruction booklet.” The package arrived after a few short days. Filled with excitement I tore into the kit: wires, borax, dry preservative, clay, hemp, thread and needles spread across the table.

The instruction book does not provide one illustration or photo and assumes you understand the process and terminology of taxidermy. Before tackling the kit I needed to do much more independent research. To my surprise there is very little thorough information on bird taxidermy on YouTube. I found a few articles and book excerpts online and decided I probably seen all I was going to see with regards to useful information. Over the weekend I had a free day and decided it was time to thaw the sparrow and plunge into deed at hand.

I gathered tools and supplies I thought I would need: scissors, tweezers, x-acto blades and such. The instructions indicated to make the first incision from the center of the breastbone to the vent (anus). I dawned a pair of rubber gloves and raised the sparrow in my left hand, x-acto in my right. I used my fingers to gently part the downy chest while gently scanning for the breastbone. Ready to make the first incision I softly placed the blade on the skin and slid the blade towards the vent. The skin, thinner than cellophane, parted revealing bright red meat. No squirting blood, no gross scent – instead, something beautifully surreal.

sparrow taxidermy

With the incision open I was able to slowly use a blade to separate the skin from the muscle. The skin was separated from the legs, and snips were used to break each leg bone at the knee. When the tail was separated from the muscle the skin was able to lift up to the base of the head, like removing a shirt. While the skin is neck high the wing muscle easily separated from the skin; I cleaned the muscle from the bones and snipped the wing bones at the elbow. Once the wing bones were snipped the skin was completely separated from the bird, except for the head.

To remove the cranial matter an incision was made across the back of the head, starting at the ear. I guess I knew birds had ears, but I never really thought about where the ears were. Towards the back of the head, low and near the jaw, I felt a pair of bumps. Closer examination revealed ear holes. The skull is pushed backwards through the incision to where it connects to the beak. The spinal cord is snipped releasing the body from the skin. The brains were removed with a tiny hook, not nearly as gross as I expected. Using a toothpick I was able to loosen each eye into a position easily clipped away with tiny scissors, also not as gross as expected.

The sparrow was ready to be washed. Following the instructions I prepared a soapy bath. I washed the skin and let it soak for a half hour. I was amazed how light and fragile the wet soapy skin seemed to the touch. To dry the skin the instructions suggested running a vacuum cleaner in reverse setting. I did so with my shop vac and unintentionally sent the skin across the room for a final flight. I switched to an alternate method, placing the skin in sawdust. The dust seemed to stick to the skin, I couldn’t imagine how I was going to remove it. But as everything dried the sawdust easily brushed away from the skin.

Due to a lack of time and information I didn’t build a manikin to stitch the skin over. I packed the skull with preservative, returned it under the skin and sewed up the incision. The skin was rubbed with preservative and I carefully positioned it on a board. When I have the time I’ll find a nice piece of wood to permanently pin the skin to. I don’t know where this experiment will lead me. I know I enjoyed it more than I first thought and, to my surprise, I discovered a deeper appreciation for life and nature.