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.com toy motor boatThe 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.


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.