How To Be Your Nephew’s Cool And Awesome Uncle, Extreme Fun & Project Gutenberg

In just a few short months my cool nephew is allowing me to take his son, my great-nephew, away for our first weekend of bonding. The young man in question is twelve years old, he’ll turn thirteen the month following our trip. When I was that age everything – and everyone – was LAME.

This is our first trip (my fault for not arranging this earlier), and what guy doesn’t want to be the cool (great) uncle? My mind raced as I tried to recall the things I was interested in when I was his age:

  • * Looking like a mysterious dude alone in the shadows
  • * Experiments resulting with fire and explosions (I hope mom doesn’t see I have no hair on one arm and I’m missing part of an eyebrow)
  • * Groveling over my lack of girls and greenbacks
  • * Music and art
  • * Sharing my thoughts to the only thing I could trust, a journal


I suspect I just defined the interests of many young men in five bullet points.

I recall a handful of meaningful conversations shared with fringe relatives in my youthful days. It was a pleasure to speak to an adult that wasn’t part of my daily life. The separation made it easier to open up and share thoughts without risking being judged or teased endlessly. We communicated in an adult manner.

After a some thinking (can you smell the rubber burning?) the possible itineraries boil down to two themes:

  • 1. Camping, Fishing, Hiking: A quiet opportunity to relax and share what’s on our minds.
  • 2. Extreme Fun: A loud opportunity to forget about what’s on our minds.

My great-nephew is a quiet young man. He never sits still and prefers to be off alone occupied by the mischievous things young boys do: whacking tree stumps with an ax, poking at tree stumps with a crowbar, quietly groveling about life while sitting on tree stumps. This is the expected outcome of a camping trip.

I’m the cool uncle, so let’s be extreme! Amusement parks are great, but not with your uncle. What’s more extreme? I know!- go karts (not the dumb kiddie ones), ATVs, UTVs, motor boats, off-road Segway adventures – how about paintball, target practice with a compound bow or slingshot!

Many of these awesome activities do not allow “children” under the age of 13 to drive or be responsible for taking charge (and slingshots are mainly illegal). My nephew may be a goof, but he’s responsible and knows his capabilities. A front running idea is a camping trip including some extreme fun and experiments.

Nostalgic Camping Activities

The Boy Mechanic, Volume 1
Playing Baseball With A Pocket Knife

The other day I was having a conversation with my pops. He asked me if I ever played “the pocket knife baseball game”, something my father remembers fondly. I’ll admit I’ve never played this game (yet) but any dangerous activity that doesn’t require physical exertion has my attention. Perhaps this is something my great-nephew and I can play on our camping trip! I started researching the topic.

Project Gutenberg

My search concluded, as it usually does when researching old fashioned fun, at Project Gutenberg. For those of you that are unaware, Project Gutenberg “offers over 59,000 free eBooks… for which U.S. copyright has expired.” Many of the books are solid gold and chuck full of fun. Back in the “old days” kids were encouraged to experiment and play with all sorts of stuff – stuff that “nowadays” adults could get in trouble for!

The pocket knife baseball game was found in a Project Gutenberg eBook titled The Boy Mechanic, Volume 1: 700 Things for Boys to Do by H. H. Windsor. Alongside the rules to play knife baseball are other “things for boys to do” such as:

  • How To Make Boomerangs
  • Glass-Cleaning Solution: water & sulphuric acid
  • Polishing Cloths for Silver: 2lb. of whiting, 1/2 oz. of oleic acid & 1 gal of gasoline
  • How to Make a (real) Cannon: utilizing hydraulic pipe
  • How to Make a Small Electric Furnace: wrap asbestos, wire and plaster-of-paris around a block of wood
  • How To Explode Black Powder with Electricity
  • Small Electrical Hydrogen Generator: make hydrogen and enjoy the “report” after placing a match nearby
  • A Homemade Acetylene-Gas Generator
  • How to Make a Box Kite
  • How to Make a Small Medical Induction Coil
  • … and 690 other things to keep a young man busy.

As you can imagine books such as this, and many others, are no longer being printed. Many books from the old days are flat out banned because of the potential dangers lurking on the pages. These books were wildly popular during their heyday and with good reason. They encouraged kids of all ages to responsibly experiment, engage their minds and hands, and have fun doing so.

I’m BORED!

It’s no wonder many kids today aren’t interested in math and sciences, they aren’t allowed to actually practice any of this stuff. Compare chemistry kits (or toys) from the old days to the ridiculous boring “safe” stuff that’s on the market today. The thrill of mixing vinegar and baking soda doesn’t last long. I studied chemistry in high school and was dumbfounded by how little “chemistry” I practiced. It’s like giving a kid a piano but not allowing them to touch it until they understand everything about how music is composed.

Stop asking why kids only want to sit on a computer – it’s the only limitless thing they have to experiment with. It’s impossible to limit what kids do online. The computer provides a dangerous and thrilling frontier for kids to tinker with unobserved.

I’m not suggesting handing kids hazardous things (the internet for instance) to let them play willy-nilly. These old books don’t condone reckless behavior either, they encourage responsible experimentation. Know it or not, kids are going to get into stuff – shouldn’t we provide information and supplies to explore responsibly?

Great-Uncle And Great-Nephew Fun

With a few months before our weekend together I still have time to decide what we’re going to do. Last night I came up with the idea of including a stop at an old fashioned county fair complete with tractor pulls, live music and livestock contests. There’ll be plenty to keep busy and my gold chain decked-out great-nephew will have droves of gams to ogle.

Camping may be involved as well. I can demonstrate how to make charcoal with wood chips in an old paint can. The charcoal, when mixed with a few (formerly readily available) ingredients, is transformed into an explosive powder. Using a simple to build apparatus we could distill wood chips into a liquid alcohol creating a spectacular burst of flames when sprayed into the campfire. Maybe we’ll start a fire with a drop of water or enjoy the challenge of using a magnesium fire starter. We’ll filter our water using the charcoal we made together.

I can teach him how to sharpen a knife using an oil stone, ruin the blade playing baseball and do it all over again. Perhaps demonstrate how to carve wood using the knife. We can stroll through the woods and I could teach my great-nephew how to identify trees by examining the leaves. We could carve our names into the bark of a beech tree with our freshly sharpened pocket knives.

In my mind the weekend plays out like a soft focus montage in a nostalgic movie. A very real possibility is that I’ll be called a “jerk” (if he respects me enough to use such a gentle word), ride silently in the car, stare blankly at a campfire, I’ll pet goats and be audience to a patriotic folk band while my great-nephew explores the fair on his own with a fistful of my moola.

No matter how the weekend plays out we’ll have fun, great-nephew’s disapproving scowl and all. The fun may not be evident during the trip but the memories – they’ll only improve with age.

So You Want To Attend A Flying Aces Club Contest

A little over a year ago I joined the Flying Aces Club for twenty-five bucks. What is the Flying Aces Club? The Flying Aces website sums it up best:

The FLYING ACES CLUB is a society of individuals with a common interest that at times borders on a passion. It is our intent to preserve and promote the traditional building and flying of free flight stick and tissue model aircraft. Although competitive at times, the sharing of innovations, assistance and camaraderie is second nature to all that believe in the unique spirit of the FLYING ACES CLUB.

As someone new to the hobby, joining the Flying Aces was exciting, and intimidating. Exciting because I was part of something I found interesting – intimidated because  I wasn’t very good at making my models take flight. The newsletters are well put together and include model plans. The lingo, on the other hand, confused me quite at bit – and sometimes still does. I didn’t know anything about airplanes let alone the terminology that specifically applies to rubber powered free flight model aircraft.

I am providing the following information to other folks interested in joining in on the fun. I’ll update the information requiring correction and I’ll add new information to the post as it comes to mind. This isn’t “official” information, so it may not be completely correct, but is true to the best of my knowledge. This is what I’ve learned through my personal experience and I’m providing the information as a basic introduction.

Before You Attend A FAC Contest

You’ve successfully built a few flying models, checked the FAC calendar and found a contest you are able to attend. Now what?

1. AMA Membership

If you’re considering competing in any contest event you must have a valid AMA membership. Membership is $75/year and includes a monthly magazine. It’s my opinion the magazine is worthless if your only interest is rubber powered models. However, your AMA membership provides insurance if your model damages a person or property. It’s a good idea to have an AMA membership whenever and wherever you’re flying because of the insurance.

2. Documentation

If you’re bringing a scale model with you, regardless if it’s from scratch or a kit, you’re going to need to bring a copy of the plan, a 3-view of the aircraft design and photographs of the actual aircraft your model represents. Models that aren’t scale representations of actual aircraft may require a compliance check to make sure it qualifies for the category it will be competing in. Bring the plan!

As a “new guy” in hobby I had trouble determining what categories my planes qualified for. My first contest was the 2018 NATS in Geneseo, NY. This is probably the biggest contest every year for the club. To say I was overwhelmed when I pulled up to the contest, alone, with no clue of what to expect is an understatement. I found there was nothing to fear. Everyone is friendly, helpful and excited to see someone new. If you need assistance, just ask and don’t be afraid to offer assistance to anyone if you’re inclined.

3. Models, Tools & Supplies

I wasn’t sure what to bring with me to my first contest. So I brought everything I had, and I mean everything. My models were stored in boxes to prevent damage. I brought all my tools, glues, various sizes of balsa, tissue, rubber, wire – you get the point. I was happy I did! Every pilot seems to do the same. It’s no fun when a model breaks and you’re unable to improvise a repair on the spot. The good news is vendors including Easy Built Models and Volare sell everything free flight related at the larger contests: NATS, NON-NATS, Outdoor Champs, etc.

A pen and paper is handy to have to jot down information and to log flight times. Speaking of flight times, you’re going to need a stopwatch. Generally speaking, wearing a stopwatch around your neck signals other pilots that you’re available to time another pilot’s flight. Also, the stopwatch tends to be the fashion accessory of choice among pilots. You don’t need anything fancy, I paid five bucks for mine. You may get away with using the stopwatch on your phone at smaller contests such as those at Pinkham field, but not so much at larger contests.

Don’t forget the camera!

Leave the radio at home. I realized on my second day at the NATS that nobody was listening to music, or anything else that made noise. For how many pilots that attend the contests the events are surprisingly quiet. The quiet is wonderful! During contests every pilot is in their own headspace evaluating everything from the wind, weather, trim of their model, choosing which rubber and propeller to use, considering which models they’ll fly and when, did they take their meds, and a myriad of other things.

It’s quite relaxing to take a moment to listen to nothing but the quiet whirring of propellers in the sky and the occasional CRACK of a rubber band breaking while being wound.

4. Shelter & Comforts

At every multi-day contest each pilot brings a tent canopy, chairs and a some sort of table to serve as a workbench. Bring food, drinks, clothes for changes in weather (sometimes it gets windy) and anything else you’ll need for a day outdoors. You don’t want to have to jump in the vehicle on a supply run and miss all the action!

At The FAC Contest

Contest day has arrived, you pack up your vehicle and hit the road (if your drive is less than two hours you’re one of the few lucky ones). Here’s a few things I’ve learned from my scant experience so far.

Arrive Early

It didn’t take long for me to realize that the pros show up before sunrise. If the contest states its start time as 10 AM that means official timing starts at 10 AM. A smart pilot shows up early, sets up their home base and starts to test fly the models they intend to fly.

Vehicles will be lined up along the field, parked side by side. It’s not hard to find a spot, simply find a place to park. When you park it’s nice to greet your neighbors and introduce yourself. If you’re there super early and you see pilots setting up flags, tables, etc offer a helping hand.

Register

Once you’ve parked your car and made new friends you’ll need to seek out HQ (headquarters). HQ isn’t hard to miss, there’s usually flags (including one with a Flying Aces Club logo) and folding tables. Introduce yourself, explain that you’re new to the club and ask how to register.

Don’t be offended if you’re told to return later, the CD (Contest Director) has many responsibilities, especially on the morning of the first day. My experience has shown that the CD will introduce a new pilot to a helpful veteran. While you mingle it’s a good idea to ask about official contest protocol:

  1. Is self timing allowed? Generally speaking, you need to ask another pilot to time your flights. Smaller contests often permit pilots to time their own flights. This is a good time to remember the spirit of the FAC is camaraderie and socializing with other pilots that love the sport. Fun is the purpose of the contest, not setting the world on fire with record breaking times. There is no reason to embellish your times, doing so only hurts yourself.
  2. What is the schedule for the day? The flier for the contest will usually describe what events are on schedule for the day. Group events and mass launches are at specific times (which often change). Non-group event categories such as Embryo, FAC Peanut, etc can be timed anytime throughout the contest day. Remember to get your times turned into HQ before the deadline for the day.

At the big contests you’ll obtain a time sheet to log your flight times. I have a little plastic folder to hold the time sheet, my model documentation and a pen to log my flight times. I receive many envious glances and compliments on how organized I am with my nerdy plastic folder.

If you don’t understand something, it’s best to be honest and ask for clarification. My head was spinning at my first contest (still does). I was asked questions littered with foreign terminology. If I didn’t understand I’d say, “I don’t know what that is.” To my surprise I found many pilots with cloudy (no pun intended) understandings of some of the terminology. More often than not when I’ve expressed confusion the pilot was more than excited to take the time to share their knowledge.

Fly and Have Fun

Sounds easy. It is once you get the hang of it. You can fly whatever model you want, whenever you want (registration and AMA membership is still required). There are exceptions to this rule depending on the contest. Generally it’s not wise to fly unqualified models on the field during Group or Mass Launch events. This is because extraneous models complicate tracking and timing flights during group events.

Competing is NOT required

I’ll admit I’m still confused about what categories models qualify for. The large contests I’ve attended had no categories for motor stick models (models with a only a stick as a fuselage, such as the Peck ROG and Sky Bunny). Even though competing with motor stick models is not possible, you CAN still fly them.

Leave the drones, R/C models or anything with a motor at home. You may get away with flying these on the field, but the noise doesn’t garner much approval.

If you’re interested in the hobby, just go to a contest and mingle. Competing is not required. FAC pilots are a great group of dedicated people. Just about everyone is ready to share their tips and experience. My sister visited me at the NATS. She had an amazing time just sitting in a folding chair and taking in the sights and sounds (or lack thereof). There is so much to learn by simply watching pilots prep their planes for a flight that cannot be learned through watching videos or reading.

My personal goal for 2018 was to get an official time on the record books (flights need to be twenty seconds to qualify). Not only did I achieve this goal but I earned Third Place at the Outdoor Champs and Second Place at the Barron Field Races! I can honestly say that it’s not about winning or placing. The moment I attended my first contest I felt like home. Flying Aces Club contests are a retreat from the distractions life throws at me.

Hobbies like this are fading away, and this baffles me! There aren’t many places where people sharing a similar passion can meet in a friendly environment. Watching these models fly is a retreat that brings out everyone’s inner child. There are several multi-generation families that make an outing of the event. It’s a great time!

If you have any questions I haven’t covered here I’d be happy to answer them to the best of my ability. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

2017 Summer Update – I know I haven’t posted in a while!

The summer of 2017 is flying by! Pun intended. I’ve been busy building free-flight rubber powered Peanut Scale airplanes (and some other styles as well). Sadly I haven’t been spending much time flying them – it’s either windy or dark outside when I find time for actually flying! For relaxation and inspiration I took a long weekend road trip to the AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics) Museum in Muncie, Indiana, the National Museum of the USAF as well as the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park in Dayton, Ohio. I highly recommend all of these destinations!

The Labor Day 2017 weekend bring the Long’s Park Art Festival  in Lancaster, PA. I don’t present any of my work at the festival, but I always look forward to seeing the various crafts on display. My favorite, without a doubt, is the great stuff Lohr Woodworking Studio showcases! For the past few years they’ve been kind enough to allow me to help pack up their trailer at the end of the show. It’s my once-a-year workout.

Speaking of the awesome folks at Lohr Woodworking, I’ve been invited (okay, I invited myself) to be a teacher’s assistant during the Sold Out Sept 18-23, 2017 Practical Woodworking Course. The kind hearts of Jeff, Larissa, Rob and Eoin provide me a relaxing getaway, to be surrounded by big power tools and reeling minds excited about learning the craft of furniture making. For the most part I catch up on my woodcarving projects quietly in the corner.

The plan was to attend the Barron Field Air Races in Wawayanda, NY Oct 22-23. I was going to try my hand at entering a few of my peanut planes into some friendly Flying Aces Club contests for the very first time. However, on one recent evening as I nodded off to sleep I was thinking “October. October… When is the…?” Instead of racing planes I’ll in Wayne, NJ at the North Jersey Woodcarvers Woodcarving & Art Show Oct 22-23 2017. It’s been a few years since I’ve had a table at the show – and I really miss the gang from the club and the American Woodcarving School.

Attending the show will give me an excuse to complete some of the carvings I started with enthusiasm several years ago. I guess I’ll be putting the planes on hold until November. I have a lot of carving to do if I stand a chance at finishing two or three of those carving projects!

Sorry it’s been a while since I posted on the blog. I have been keeping my status up to date on Instagram if you’re interested. Until next time!

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.

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.

Merry Cemetery : Sapanta Romania

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While visiting friends in Romania we had the awesome opportunity to visit Cimitirul Vesel, better known as the Merry Cemetery in Sapanta, Maramures. This has been on my list of places to visit for quite some time. The cemetery is filled with hundreds of colorful woodcarved grave markers. Each tombstone includes a carved scene which represents the deceased with a carved narrative about the person beneath.

Exploring this wonderful place is fascinating! I was thankful our hosts were patient with me as I examined the craftsmanship and creativity surrounding me. The slideshow above is a fraction of the images I captured during my stay. I departed the Merry Cemetery inspired with many new and creative ideas. I hope to find the time to tackle a few of the many ideas which resulted from the tour.

Keeping busy

Sorry I haven’t posted in the past few weeks. I’ve been busy working on a new woodcarving titled Magic Mirror. You can check out the progress of the project on my new jchismar Instagram feed. When the project is complete I’ll post the details here on my blog.

I have continued to forage for wild edibles including red mulberries, Japanese knotweed, lamb’s quarters and wild strawberries. Red mulberries are my favorite pickings around the neighborhood while walking Fleur. There are many red mulberry trees in the public parks and streets in my vicinity. Many people dislike these trees because the berries drop from the trees, making a mess. Not many people are aware that these berries are edible and delicious. The berries can be found on the trees until autumn – providing a free and delicious warm weather snack.

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.

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.