As usual, click any photo to bring up a larger version.
This was built to be an heirloom quality push/pull toy. It will hopefully be treasured and last a long, long time.
The Jr Mower was built over the course of a 1 week vacation in early April 1998 at my brother's place in Courtenay, on Vancouver Island, BC.
This is not an original design, I built this toy based on a photo that I came across. I had been planning to build a pull toy following the traditional(?) "balls in a cage" design which I had read in a book. When I came across this design I was captivated by the intricate way the clacker blocks were mounted in between the wheels. The resemblance to the old-style push reel lawnmower, which I have and use, was another strong factor in my desire to build this toy.
(There is a 16" try square in one photo, for scale.)
As you push this toy across the floor, the blocks of wood between the wheels swing back and forth on their dowel, and bang against the two neighbouring dowels. With a bit of imagination, the rhythmic rat-a-tat-tat sound could make you think of the whirr of the push-reel mower blades. Ok, that may be a stretch, but it's fun nonetheless.
Using lots of different wood species together in this project was part of the original plan to make it an interesting item. The top handles are a pair of 5" shaker coat pegs from Lee Valley Tools. The curved body pieces were each made of 3 pieces of 1/8" thick x ~1.75" wide maple. They were soaked in the bathtub to soften them up and then bent around a form and epoxied together. The "spreader bar" above the wheels is cherry. The wheels are .75" x 6" diameter birch. The clacker blocks ride in pairs on maple dowels. Two of the blocks are birch, two are cherry, two purpleheart and two walnut. The axles are "Smokestacks", again from Lee Valley. The dowels pinned at various places into the curved handles are bloodwood. Overall the Jr Mower is about 28" tall by 12" wide.
(Feb 2001) Recently someone was asking some questions about this project, in hopes that they could construct something similar. During the course of that email conversation I doodled a couple of diagrams to help explain a few of the bits. I include those here, in hopes that they are interesting to some people.
On the left is a close-up showing how one of the "stovepipe" axles goes through the body into the wheel. (The clacker blocks are omitted from that diagram). Oh the right is a side view diagram of a wheel, first showing it with one clacker block on a dowel, and then showing four clacker blocks, one on each dowel.
When the project was built, the bloodwood dowels were all chiseled flush. Within about a month the dowels were all standing about 1/32" proud of the surface. Recall that the maple for the curved body was soaked in the bathtub to make it pliable. I expect that what happened was that this maple then shrunk some in the weeks after the piece was constructed. I am actually quite pleased with this, because I conclude that the maple has shrunk around those bloodwood dowels, which should result in it being permanently locked together.
I'm not so pleased with the wheel assembly. Some of the maple dowels, upon which the clacker blocks are mounted, came loose in the first few months after it was built. So did one of the "smokestack" axle pieces. I had just used regular brown (Lee Valley) cabinetmakers glue on these joints. So I took apart the wheel assemblies, cleaned out the joints and reglued them, this time using 5-minute epoxy. However that has also not proved to be sufficient, as a few of the maple dowels are again loose. I have not yet decided what I should do next. For now I'm taking a wait-and-see approach. The smokestack axles are holding, so it doesn't appear in any danger of coming apart. The only solution that strikes me as a guaranteed "final" solution would be to insert some screws through the wheels into the ends of the maple dowels, and then plug the screw holes. But I am not terribly fond of that idea.
I still love this project, and I am probably most proud of it out of all my work to date. But it's not perfect, and I felt I should include this follow-up information, in hopes it might benefit someone else.
(October 2015) Further follow-up -- This project has mostly just been stored away for the past 10 years, as my kids were well past the toddler stage. However, every now and then it still gets pulled out and paraded around the house. It's holding up just fine. Still VERY noisy!
This project was designed and built in 1998. Much later, a build article was written and published in the Nov 2004 issue of Canadian Home Workshop Magazine.
This magazine has since ceased publication, though as of September 2015 I note that their website still online