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How to create parts for wooden toys

Creating a large LEGO-style doll in wood

Webshop Wood and Tools in the Netherlands offers materials and tools to let people create products from wood, non ferrous metals, and plastics. It aims both at hobby clients and commercial clients. One of the marketing tools is their blog, in which shop owner Marcel shares his own experiences creating such 'home-made' products.

The well-equipped wood workshop
The workshop is well equipped with various woodworking tools.

This Gallery page is about one of these blog projects: a wooden doll in "LEGO-style", see the blog Wooden LEGO doll.
Marcel states: "The idea to create a wooden LEGO doll came from several articles on the internet, by other people that created one. We were immediately interested to create one ourselves. A detailed one with turnable arms and legs like with real LEGO."

As one would expect for the owner of this webshop, Marcel's workshop is well equipped: in this view are visible a small lathe, table saw and band saw.

3D Studio MaxScreenshot
All parts for the doll, displayed in 3D Studio Max.

The image above shows all the separate parts that are needed for one LEGO doll. These have been designed in the 3D Studio Max CAD software by Autodesk. The image is a CAD screenshot.
All parts colored yellow, brown and black will be machined in wood (the small black parts on the bottom left of the image are the eyes and the mouth, to be machined in black ebony). The grey parts are either standard parts in metal (bolts and nuts) or custom parts to be built in plastic on a 3D printer. The gray part on the bottom right (in-between the arms) is a support block.

3D Studio Max Screenshot
DeskProto Screenshot
The doll's head, first in 3D Studio Max and next in DeskProto, with rotation axis toolpaths visible.

Transferring the geometry from 3D Studio to DeskProto was easy: using STL files. For the head, the arms and the hands rotation axis toolpaths were used, as shown in the above screenshot.
The head has been machined in basswood (wood from the Tilia tree, also called lime or linden). This is a timber with very little grain, that is easy to carve and to machine (it was the classic wood for sculpture carving from the Middle Ages onwards).

Block of wood on the machine
DeskProto Screenshot
The Isel rotation axis that was used, and the waterline toolpaths for the inlay's cavities.

Rotation axis machining started with a cylinder-shape block of wood. The block rotates while machining: a rotation axis (4th axis) is a sort of CNC controlled barbecue spit.
The eye and mouth have been made using inlays: a piece of wood in a different color that is inserted, sharing one continuous outer surface with the main part. The cavities for these inlays were machined with a thin cutter, using DeskProto's waterline strategy.

The machined head
The head, now with eyes and oiled
The doll's head, first as it came from the machine, next with inlays and treated with oil.

After machining the wood was sanded (fine sandpaper) and next treated with danish oil. The oil provides a nice satin surface finish and deepens the colors.
The inlays were separately machined: three small parts of black ebony wood, exactly fitting the cavities in the head. As you can see the black nicely contrasts with the light basswood.

The CNC milling machine
All machining has been done on this Isel ICP-4030 CNC milling machine.

The ICP-4030 CNC milling machine that was used in this project is made by Isel in Germany.
It is a desktop machine with a working area of 400 x 300 mm, with an optional rotation axis (the complete rotation axis unit can easily be detached from the working table). The photo shows that a coolant system is present on this machine (spray mist coolant), however that is not used when machining wood.

The plastic parts have been made in PLA (PolyLactic Acid), on a Ultimaker 3D printer, using the Cura 15 slicing software.

One half of the body, after machining
One leg, after machining
One half of the body and one leg, both before applying the wood oil.

The body and the arms have been made from american nut, the legs from padouk (wood from the Pterocarpus tree, also known as padauk, mukwa or narra). The hands have been made from basswood, same as the head.
The gray plastic parts are invisible after assembly: these are the pivots that allow rotation of the joints.

The doll, seen from the back side
The final result, seen from the back side to show some construction details.

The final wooden man is 28 cm tall, 17 cm wide and 6.5 cm thick (when standing upright). Assembly is done using metal bolts and nuts: inside the body such nuts are also present for the arms and the head.

The whole process to create this wooden man took about 60 hours, including the design in the CAD program.

The final result, sitting
The final result, standing
The final result.

The final result is a clear LEGO-style doll, though of course much larger. The wood also provides a very warm look and feel: totally different from the plastic original.

About the result Marcel states: "There have been quite some setbacks, broken cutters, glue that remained on the wood, discoloration (the head became much darker than intended) and the worst was that the arms did not turn as easily as was thought before. Also, one of the arms had a crack. But all in all a successful outcome."