Wooden Toy Train Whistle Made With Table Saw

“I believe don’t start if you’re gonna quit”~Eric Church

jchismar wooden toy train whistle

I became inspired after building the Mini-14 Street Organ to learn about making wooden whistles for musical gizmos. I figured a good place to start was to build an old fashioned wooden train whistle toy. Ya know, the kind of thing kids buy at a gift shop to drive everyone around them crazy for days. A quick internet search revealed plans for the project on The Woodcrafter Page.

The Woodcrafter whistle required drilling four 7/16″ holes into a block of wood: at lengths 4 1/4″, 4 3/4″,  6 1/4″ and 7 1/4″ and  and plugging up the whistle end with 1/2″ length of dowel. Well, I don’t own a 7/16″ drill bit that’s 7 1/4″ long – and I don’t feel like buying one. I also didn’t feel like rigging something up to drill a straight hole to that length. I turned my attention to figuring out a way to convert that design to something that can be made with a table saw. I started by calculating the spacial volume of each whistle.

7/16" Hole Length My Volume Calculation Correct Volume
3.75" .52 inch^3 .56 inch^3
4.25" .59 inch^3 .64 inch^3
5.75" .82 inch^3 .86 inch^3
6.75" .97 inch^3 1.01 inch^3

The length of the hole in the table above has subtracted 1/2″ from each depth because of the inserted whistle dowel plug. For starters, my calculations are incorrect because I subtracted 3/4″ from the length, plus I made a few extra errors. For my train whistle I used my volume calculations.

Toy Wooden Train Whistle
Whistle #1

The first whistle design fixed the length of the whistle to 2″ and height to .5″. The width varied based on matching the spacial volume. Fun fact: Confirmed in hindsight, the length sets the pitch of the whistle. In the case of this whistle there are four whistles and each one simultaneously sings out a D6 note, or 1174.66 Hz. You can hear this whistle by playing the sound below.

jchismar wooden wood toy train whistle
Whistles #2 and #3

So the first whistle wasn’t so great. I learned the length of the whistle determines the pitch. The second whistle I built fixed the height and width to .5″ and the length was adjusted to maintain my spacial volume calculations. The lengths are as follows: 2.08″ 2.36″, 3.28″, 3.88″. This whistle sounds more like a train whistle clearly making three frequencies (show in image at top).

Since I was in the zone I also built a third version fixing the height and width to .5″ and the lengths provided from the Woodcrafter Page. This whistle basically sounds two frequencies, but mostly sounds like one low note. Listen to whistles #2 and #3 here:

What did I learn? This lesson taught me I have a lot to learn about whistles. The Woodcrafter design suggests there should be four frequencies produced, in pairs of two close frequencies. I know why the first whistle only sounds one note – because all for whistles are the same depth. The second whistle may actually produce four frequencies, the two lower frequencies close to each other. I’m uncertain why the fourth one appears to only sound two frequencies. At least two of the whistles constitute the strong lower frequency because it’s wide and strong.

I have more ideas to explore when I revisit the project. And I think I’m going to consult with Charlie, my engineering and math magician friend, before diving in.

Live Edge Sycamore Slab Office Desk

jchismar sycamore slab live edge furnature

Exciting times are upon the Chismar family. My wife Amy is branching out and starting her own massage business full-time. A stickler for decor, Amy requested my woodworking skills to build her a live edge desk for her new office. Of course I jumped on the opportunity for such an impressive project! The two of us made the short journey to Boards and Beams in Fairfield, NJ to shop some slabs.  We spent about an hour examining what was available and selected an eight foot long sycamore slab, three feet wide at one end and about a foot and a half at the other.

jchismar sycamore slab live edge deskWe loaded the slab into my vehicle and brought it home. We didn’t have a place to put it, so we left it in the car for a for a few days (not a great idea) until I built a pair of sawhorses to support the slab while I worked on it outdoors. The weekend arrived, sawhorses built and the slab was  placed on the sawhorses.  Reluctantly I inspected the slab for likely warping from sitting in the car unsupported. To my surprise the slab was perfect. Whew!

I went to work creating two grooves on the underside of the slab at each end to attach lumber to prevent the slab from cupping. Over the next week or two the slab remained outside while I shaped and prepared the surface for finishing. The autumn weather finally turned and brought rain and cold, the slab needed to be moved into the house. With little room to place the slab in our home I decided the kitchen was most suitable as a temporary workshop.

jchismar live edge slab deskA day or two passed and something didn’t look right. I grabbed a straight board and placed it on the slab. Yup, the thing started to cup. At the time I didn’t have the supports attached because the slab was so stable. The change of environment didn’t agree with the slab. In a hurry I purchased several one inch steel square tubes to create extra supports to halt the cupping. On the underside of the slab I cut a one inch wide dado across the grain every sixteen inches down the length of the slab. The square steel tubes were placed in the dados and fastened with lag bolts through elongated holes in the steel to allow the natural movement of the slab. The photo reveals the closest steel tube with elongated holes, the photo was taken before the holes were lengthened on the other.

jchismar inlay live edge furnature

I also inlaid the stem and leaf Innerstasis logo to the top surface of the desk. Two bow-ties were added to the slab as well to hold together a thin weak spot near the front edge.  To accomplish this, both the inlay and bow-ties were traced on the surface and a router was used to remove the inside material. The inlay and bow-ties were then glued into place. The leg of the desk is a section of a cedar tree trunk a friend gave me from his yard. The cedar bark was removed and the surface was sanded before applying finish. 

This was a fun project that required a few weekends of work to complete correctly. A bonus is the cupping of the slab has reduced to almost flat, thanks to the steel braces hidden underneath. One of the amazing things about woodworking is most of the labor occurs in the unseen areas of the finished piece. And this desk was not an exception to this rule.


My Four Best Woodcarving / Whittling Knives

jchismar woodcarving knife

As you probably know, I do a lot of woodcarving and whittling. It’s my experience that woodcarvers are always searching for the best knife, whatever that might be. Am I still searching for the best carving knife? You betcha! However, the more I carve the more I realize, with few exceptions, the best knife is the sharpest one in reaching distance. In the coming months I will share my sharpening and honing journey with you. Today I will share a few stories about my favorite knives.

Knife #1: During my first class at American Woodcarving School the super talented carver and instructor Jerry Cetrulo handed me this knife with a dull edge. Patiently Jerry taught me how to sharpen a carving knife on an oil stone and hone with a leather strop. I surprised myself when I found that I was able to give this knife a razor sharp edge. It’s a great knife. It feels comfortable in my hand and it holds a sharp edge for a fair amount of time.

Knife #2: Excited about woodcarving I wanted to be a dude and purchase a good carving knife. This knife was the logical choice. I’m unsure who makes this knife, but it’s branded with American Woodcarving on the opposite side. The carving school sells this knife as an upgrade to people that want to be dudes. The steel is harder than the first knife, making it a tad tougher to sharpen – but it stays sharp longer. The handle is a little too fat for my preference. This knife is so good I only use it on special projects.

Knife #3: Like every ambitious novice woodcarver I headed to the internet to research the very best woodcarving knives. I learned of Dave Lyons woodcarving knives. If my memory serves me right Dave Lyons is a rocket scientist, or something, who makes carving knives in his spare time with quality steel. I had to have one! It arrived super sharp, is relatively easy to sharpen and holds an edge well. For a while it was the only knife I used. Over time I’ve found the blade too long, the handle too light and uncomfortable to carve with. I keep it around the woodworking shop to use as a marking knife and a multi-purpose cutting tool.

I also purchased a few of the fancy Lyons knives with curved blades and such. I’ve never found a use for them but I’ll keep them just the same.

Knife #4: The Flexcut Whittlin’ Jack. Lots of things are said about Flexcut tools, some good some bad. When I started to carve I was hardcore purchasing gouges by Stubai, Two Cherries, Dastra and other quality foreign makers. However a diverse palm tool selection was hard to find. Enter Flexcut. Flexcut is an american made tool company that uses spring steel for their tools. I have a pile of fixed handle palm tools and an even larger pile of interchangeable palm sized tools. I use them all the time. They’re easy to sharpen and hold a sharp edge for a long time and they are cheap enough that you don’t mind beating them up.

I wanted a folding knife that I could keep in my pocket at all times, everyday carry.  The Whittlin’ Jack was an economical choice. At first I didn’t like this knife – the blades are hard to open and they do not lock. It quickly became a beater knife, used as a marking tool and all around workshop blade. However over time I found it always in use. The handle is heavy by comparison, but I find this gives me more control. My nine year old nephew preferred the heaviness of this tool over the lightness of the Lyons knife. My use contradicts the naming of the blades: I use the 1 1/2″ detail knife mostly for roughing out and the 2″ roughing knife for detail work because it gets into tighter spaces.

So, what’s a good carving knife? I suppose it’s like a camera, whatever one you’re willing to carry around. I always have my Whittlin’ Jack nearby. If I want to bring along another non-folding knife I wrap the blade a few times with blue masking tape so I can keep it in a jacket pocket or bag. Wondering about the yellow paint? I mark most of my carving tools with yellow paint. When you’re in a class or carving with friends it’s very easy to get mixed up about what tool belongs to who. A yellow mark removes any confusion. Feel free to mark your own tools, but please don’t use yellow paint.

Square Dance Butternut Wood Carving Whittling Puzzle

whittling woodcarving

A few months ago I picked up a copy of a book authored by Bjarne Jespersen titled Woodcarving Magic.  The book is put together wonderfully and is chock full of mindbogglingly intricate wood creations and boasts it teaches “How to Transform A Single Block of Wood Into Impossible Shapes.” The book is well worth twenty bucks, especially for novice wood carvers. The introductory chapters share useful information about wood carving, tools and techniques. The first few projects are relatively simple with clear diagrams and explanations.

Then we take a turn onto an unfamiliar, yet fascinating, winding road.  For a laymen the clarity is replaced with math formulas and nicely rendered 2d illustrations unable to clearly translate what we’re supposed to visualize in three dimensions. However, to the credit of the author, I believe this is intentional. The projects are not something to follow one after another to instant mastery.  Instead this book is something you refer to over a lifetime to study and consider as your skills grow in the craft.

One of the projects in the book is the Square Dance, which I completed in the image above. The result of the finished project is six separate interlocked square rings. This was an incredibly fun and rewarding project!

While working on this project I recalled the days when I started to carve wood; I was focused on purchasing all kinds of knives, gouges and whatever else I could find to help me carve better. I completed this project with a block of butternut wood, a pocket knife, a section of jigsaw blade and a drug store emery board.  I’ve learned to enjoy sitting with a knife and patiently carving out geometric forms. There is something therapeutic about the process. The more I carve the less interested I am in pulling out all the tools and racking my brain with ambitious projects.

One day, probably soon, I’ll try to tackle another Woodcarving Magic project.

How to Make the Best Saw Horse

How to Make the Best Saw Horse

I will be making a fairly large live edge desktop in the near future. To prepare for this daunting task I decided to build two sturdy saw horses to support the wood slab while I work. All you’ll need to make these saw horses for yourself is five 2″ x 4″ x 8′ studs and some 3/4″ plywood. The following instructions mostly explain how to make one saw horse. The table saw was used for most of the grunt work but an inventive woodworker can easily find their own method.

To make the two top supports I cut a two by four in half. Each top support requires four notches, 3 1/2″ wide to support the legs, cut at 18 1/2 degrees. To cut the notches I built a dado sled for the table saw.

How to Make a Sawhorse

As seen in the image above, I placed two scraps of wood in the miter slots of the table saw and clamped them to a scrap piece of plywood (1). The plywood was flipped and I added more clamps to hold the miter slot wood in place while they were tacked down with small nails (2). I turned the plywood over and placed the sled in the miter slots and cut the plywood halfway with the table saw to attain the cut line. The fence is a scrap of two by four glued at a right angle to the sled (3). I made two 18 1/2 degree wedges and placed them on the plywood flush to the fence.  Each top support was placed on the angled wedges flush to the fence and passed over the dado blades to cut the angled notches (4).

How to Make the Best Saw HorseOnce the top supports were cut I started making the legs. Two by fours were cut to 38″ (5). Then I cut an 18 1/2 degree angle on the both ends of each leg like a parallelogram (6).

3/4″ plywood was used for the Isosceles trapezoid side supports. If you’re curious the angle of of the side supports is also 18 1/2 degrees, or 71 1/2 degrees depending on how you wish to think about it. Four pilot holes are drilled in the side supports to accept screws for the legs (as seen in the first diagram). Why not some photos of the finished saw horses? Well, you’ll likely see them in a future post about that giant wood slab desk top.

Tramp Art / Folk Art Ball In Cage Woodcarving

Whittling Woodcarving Carving

Life has been busy lately but I’ve managed to knock out a quick folk art ‘ball in cage’ whittling. This piece started as a young sassafras tree I found uprooted by a storm.  I collected up all the usable sections and took them home for safe storage.

As seen in the photo, I used a pencil to draw the spiral on the wood. Using only my folding pocket knife I whittled away the waste wood, leaving a section in the center to become the trapped ball. With the three spiral supports roughed out I used my pocket knife and a small rasp to shape the ball.

Happy with the form I separated the ball from the supports. The final clean up was performed with the rasp and a drug store emery board. When I find time I’ll add some oil to pretty it up.

MINI-14s Compact Organ Kit – Hurdy Gurdy

The video above was filmed before I tuned the unit, the video at the bottom of the post was filmed after some adjusting…

I have always been fascinated by mechanical toys and music boxes. As a woodworking enthusiast I’m interested in building wooden mechanical wonders. I haven’t been able to find plans for vintage machines and often it’s hard to thoroughly examine the mechanisms of items in museums. While poking around the internet I stumbled across Yankee Doodle street organs and kits designed by Anatoly ZAYA-RUZO and was filled with joy. After patiently saving $385 I made the purchase.

When ordering I was given the option to pay an additional $70 for pre-assembly of tracker bar and pipe housing. I will tell you now, if you’re impatient or inexperienced and you intend to purchase this kit, pay the $70 and save yourself some aggravation. The kit consists of laser cut plywood. Assembly requires placing sections of dowel through tiny holes in the parts to align them.  The tracker bar has six of these layers, the pipe housing has ten layers. This in itself is a daunting task, but the dowels don’t really aid in keeping things aligned and square.

Anatoly ZAYA-RUZO tracker bar pipe housing

To worsen the matter, although the parts are computer designed and cut, the internal air channels don’t line up correctly even if the dowels are perfect. So beware! The tracker bar is what reads the notes from the paper reels and directs air to the pipe housing where the sound is created. These parts must be aligned perfectly and airtight or the music will not play as intended.

Yankee Doodle MINI-14s Kit Hurdy GurdyThe kit included a well designed book which includes interesting history about barrel organs and instructions to assemble the kit. However there is a sheet of paper inserted under the front cover notifying the reader the instructions are for an obsolete version of the kit. Don’t despair, there is an included DVD with a .doc file with written instructions and .mp4 video. The .doc of the instructions begins with an important warning. “This project is not so easy!” and cautions the reader to “understand why the part you are making exists… Spend enough time reading Book, Notes, and watching the movies until you fully understand how the organ works…”

Truer words were never said. The video clips start out great, the host speaks and describes what’s happening. By clip #6 of 35 the host stops speaking completely as the assembly continues often pointing at things and pantomiming as though we know what’s happening. By clip #15 the assembly is not visible in the locked down camera shot, allowing only brief glimpses of assembly.  The clips were not all recorded at the same time or even using the same version of the kit so things are suddenly different. Particularity the bellows, the design of the parts are not from the same model in some of the clips. Another thing to mention is most of the measurements use the metric system. Prepare to convert milometers to inches.

The included printed pattern for the bellows material is not correct, Clip #18 begins with a demonstration on how to enlarge it. Be aware of this before tracing and cutting the bellows material. I believe the pattern for the receiver material does not need to be enlarged but that’s not mentioned in the video or instructions.

Yankee Doodle Street Organ Mini-14sThere are several instances where  very similar, slightly different parts are required and no information in the clips or instructions are provided. Some sleuthing is required to determine which part is used for what. When attaching the tracker bar to the cabinet the pre-drilled holes do not align correctly. This is even apparent in the assembly video because his screws were not completely inserted and crooked – exactly like mine.

Unfortunately several parts that were missing from my kit including four mushroom threaded inserts for cabinet assembly, four threaded inserts for the bellows and I only received nine feet of vinyl tubing – where ten feet is required. This was actually a good thing because the included vinyl tubing was of the incorrect outside diameter. I purchased the correct tubing at the hardware store.

The tuning pins for the pipes consist of pre-cut lengths of dowels and bits of leather which serve as gaskets (as in the video above). The book for the original kit show more elegantly designed pins with rubber gaskets. I’m assuming the original tuning pins were too expensive to manufacture. I quickly changed out the included tuning pins with my own (video below).

All things considered Anatoly ZAYA-RUZO did an outstanding job designing this kit.  He is very friendly and promptly responded to each email I sent him. I would not have been able to make a street organ without this kit. I learned many interesting things and woodworking techniques in the process. The intention of this blog post is not to diminish the quality of this product, it’s a fascinating machine. The design of the unit provides easy disassembly for repair, adjustment and maintenance.

My intent is to reinforce this project requires a great deal of patience, tinkering and woodworking ability to do the job correctly. This is not something to be rushed. Mine was built over the course of five weekends. As with many old fashioned mechanisms, I believe this machine requires gentle care and ongoing maintenance for optimal performance.

I’ll also mention the friendly folks at Pipes of Pan make fantastic paper rolls for this street organ. I’ve had great experience with them.

Sycamore Burl Hall Table Part Two

jchismar.com Sycamore Table
This past weekend I put the final touches on the sycamore burl hall table. The sycamore wood was like a magic sponge infinitely soaking in tung oil. I seriously applied at least ten coats before the finish was even.

I waited a week to allow the oil to cure. Then I sanded the finish to prepare it for finishing by hand. I brought out the elbow grease and sweat and went to town with mineral oil and steel wool. Once the finish was silky to the touch with a soft luster I continued buffing with oiled thousand grit sandpaper and rottenstone for the final touch.

This table started as a log placed on the curb for trash. A few years in the making and a bunch of trial and error work but I think the end result worked out nicely.

Ninety One Suns – My Dad’s US Marine Corps Experience

Jack Chismar swearing into the US Marine Corps in 1955.
Jack “Short Round” Chismar enlisting into the US Marine Corps in 1955.

In 1955 my father dropped out of high school and enlisted the US Marine Corps at the age of sixteen.  Sixteen? How is that possible? Federal law regulates seventeen years the minimum age to enlistment in the United States military, and that’s with parent’s consent!  Turns out my father conquered several obstacles throughout his life, the US Marine Corps serving as one chapter in his story.

He’s proud of his service and he’s proud of the US Military. My jack-of-all-trades father got the urge to write a book about his experiences. The catch? He types with one finger and writing pen to paper doesn’t go much faster. The solution? He recruited his jack-of-all-trades son to lend a helping hand.

We spent a road trip weekend together and I brought along my trusty digital audio recorder. My father recounted tales during our adventure and I returned home with hours of audio to transcribe. I’ve been busy organizing the text and working with my father to organize the story as chronologically as possible.

The tale starts in his hometown Swoyersville, PA and follows him to Camp Lejeune NC, Yemassee SC, Parris Island, Camp Geiger and the Boston Navy Yard. My father shares many anecdotes painting a vivid picture of what it was like to be a Marine in the 1950’s. He was one of the last recruits to complete boot camp at Parris Island before the tragic Ribbon Creek Incident took the lives of six recruits resulting with several changes in Marine Corps recruit training.

I started to post his stories online at www.ninetyonesuns.com. Ninety ones suns being a reference to the thirteen weeks, or ninety one days of boot camp. Please read this work in progress and pass it to your friends. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Sumac Berry Lemonade Tea

jchismar suman lemonade drink

This past Saturday I enjoyed a father and son day road trip. My father shared many of his Marine boot camp stories, perhaps I’ll share more details on that in the future. We visited Lancaster, PA one of my father’s favorite places, Hershey Chocolate World and a few woodworking stores in the area. On Sunday my parents and I enjoyed the Arts and Hayfield festival in Lehman, PA.

On the drive home a roadside grove of blossoming sumac trees caught our attention. The stretch of road had no shoulder to provide a place to pull over and harvest the bounty. I suddenly recalled stumbling across sumac trees in the forest behind my parent’s home. Dad and I set out for a short hike after returning to home base. My father found a few edible mushrooms and after a few minutes the sumac trees spread out in front of us.

I collected the (slightly under-ripe) berries and brought them home with me. Once home I filled a pitcher with cold water and crushed the bundles of berries into the water. Periodically stirring the mixture for an hour produced a slightly sweet “lemonade”, it actually tastes more like tea. I enjoyed a small glass and put the pitcher in the fridge to chill. Everyone should have a chance to enjoy such a delightful, easy to make and free beverage on these hot summer days.