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.

 

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.

Sycamore Burl Hall Table Part One

jchismar sycamore hall table

Back in April 2012 Amy was walking our standard poodle Fleur in Glen Ridge, NJ a town very near where we live. While on the walk she came across a section of sycamore wood on the curb waiting to be removed on trash day. She sent a photo of the stump to me with the message, “Do you want this?” I responded immediately with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” When she returned home Amy jumped in the car and, with the help of neighbor, loaded the stump into her vehicle.

The stump remained in the driveway until September 2013 when I found some time to chainsaw the stump into slabs to expedite drying. The wood was riddled with hundreds of insects and critters of all shapes and sizes. I exterminated what I could with pesticides and sealed each slab in black plastic bags to bake in the hot sun to kill whatever remained. Somewhat satisfied everything was terminated I stacked the slabs in the loft of my shed.

In March 2014 I built a small side table out of the smallest of the slabs. This side table was featured alongside the remaining slabs at my 2014 Newark Maker Faire exhibit. The exhibit, titled Urban Lumberjack, was a collection of things I built from tree branches and stumps found during dog walking outings. My sister Joanne fell in love with the side table and even more so with one of the larger unprocessed slabs. She asked me to make a hall table for her with the larger slab – and has probably lost hope in the passing years.

jchismar sycamore hall table

Earlier this month I found myself caught up on weekend projects. I ventured out to the shed and removed the sycamore slab from the rafters and planed both sides to an appropriate thickness. The task is always more laborious than I think it’s going to be. This past weekend  I added a second butterfly to the sycamore slab prevent a growing crack from expanding and cut mortises on the underside for each table leg. Lovely cherry wood purchased from a local supplier was used to make three tapered legs.

It seems as though the project will be complete soon. Time will tell. The legs need to be attached and all the surfaces require a thorough final sanding. Once everything is sanded and assembled the process of applying finish can begin. This project continues to be fun and challenging and I think I’m going to have a hard time letting this one go to a new home.

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.

Whirligig Wind Farm

After completing my Maker Faire projects I jumped immediately into creating new whirligig parts to replenish my dangerously low inventory. I hustled a few days resawing and planing cypress lumber for propellers and processing poplar lumber into the various whirligig hubs. It’s amazing what a mess I can make of the workshop doing all that work. I’m also amazed at the amount of unusable lumber bits and imperfect parts that result from the task.

Call me frugal, but I save all the imperfect lumber and parts to use on many personal projects. One of these projects is the Whirligig Wind Farm. Each windmill is constructed from scraps and seconds. I prepared all the parts simultaneously but was unable to assemble the projects because I needed to help Amy tidy the yard and such for a party we were having at our home. While scrambling to organize the workshop I tossed all the completed parts into the kindling bucket.

An hour or so later I realized my mistake, dug everything out of the bin and assembled the windmills. The windmills were installed in the yard and party visitors to were invited to take one home. They were all quickly claimed and are now at their new homes. It feels good to take trash and turn it into something fun.

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.