A toy car is a great woodworking project that you can do without any power tools. No matter how little woodworking experience you have (even if you have none), or how little space you have in your house, you can make these fabulous, eco-friendly toy cars with just a few hand tools. I know that might sound crazy, but all you need is a coping saw, a clamp, and some sandpaper. Easy, right? If you want to add wheels, then you’ll need a drill, but nothing more complicated than that.
Even if you’re new to woodworking and a little nervous about the result, don’t worry: little kids can’t see shapes the way adults do. They won’t notice if something is not perfectly symmetrical, or if the curves have some flat parts. No matter what your toy car looks like, the little humans in your life will love it.
What’s even better is that once you’re comfortable with this project, you can teach them, too. It’s a great first woodworking project for anyone and kids love making cars for their garages.
Here are the basics:
First, draw or trace your toy car shape onto a block of wood and clamp it to a sturdy surface, like a table:
Next, cut around the outline of your toy car with a coping saw. Readjust the clamp as necessary.
Tip: try to keep cutting at eye-level, even if this means clamping the car upside-down at some point. This will help keep the cuts level from front to back.
You might need to start from both sides of an outline and meet in the middle for some parts of the design:
As you can see from the photo above, I had to cut slightly lower than the outline on the left side in order to meet the cut from the right side. Think of the outline just as a guide and don’t worry if your cuts go a bit outside of the lines.
Keep cutting and readjusting your clamp until your toy car shape is free:
Then, sand the edges and smooth-out any rough spots and flat curves. In the photo above, you can see that there is a little bump where the two cuts joined. It took a few minutes of sanding, but ended up smooth in the end. To help with sanding, you can wrap the sand paper around a scrap piece of wood for flat parts, and something round, like a pen or a rock, for the curves:
Set the wheels in place, without drilling holes, just to see what the car will look like with them. This will give you a chance to see if, and how many, windows will fit:
If you decide to add windows (totally not necessary, because how cute is that little car?), do that before adding the wheels so you can clamp the car body in place while drilling. The larger drill bits used to make windows have a lot of torque so make sure the car body is held firmly in place since it will want to twist with the drill.
Tip: don’t forget to put a piece of scrap wood behind any holes you drill to avoid drilling into the surface below. This will also help avoid splintering at the backs of the holes.
Attaching the wheels:
If you want to add wheels, which will really make the car zoom, check the position before drilling the holes. Make sure that the bottoms of the holes (not the centers) are at least 1/4″ from the bottom of the car body and mark the locations for the holes.
Next, check that the axles are not too long, and cut one, or both, a little shorter if necessary. Both axles need to fit into the same hole (one on each side), so here I need to cut about 1/8″ from each:
Drill a hole for each set of wheels, according to your marks, all the way through the wood. Put a tiny bit of wood glue into the first hole. Wipe any excess glue off of the face of the car so it doesn’t stick to the wheels. Next, Insert the axles with the wheels on them so the wheels are held in place against the car body, but with a little room so they spin freely. Repeat this for the other set of wheels. Allow the wheels to dry for at least an hour, then have fun racing your toy car:
What you will need:
- 1″ thick block of wood (see notes below for selection tips)
- Coping saw
- Adjustable clamp
- Sandpaper (120 and 220 grit work well)
If you add wheels or windows:
- Wheels and axles (available at hardware and hobby shops)
- Ruler to mark holes
- Wood glue
- Drill and appropriate drill bits
- Scrap wood for backing
There are different wheels available, too. The pickup truck has more detailed wheels, and for the race car I used larger wheels for the back and smaller wheels in front:
About wood for toy cars:
Not to scare you, but some species of wood contain naturally-occurring substances that can be harmful or irritating to humans (click here for more technical information). While breathing the dust is the greater concern, there is still a possibility of absorption through skin contact, which is a concern with children’s toys. Three woods that have generally been considered safe for children’s toys throughout the ages are maple, basswood, and pine.
Maple is really dense and will produce a long-lasting toy car that is incredibly resistant to dents. Maple also does not splinter easily, which is great for kid’s toys. Because it is so dense, it is also harder to work with. It will take longer to saw and what seems like forever to sand. If you have access to power tools, maple is definitely the wood to use for toy cars. Hand-sanding maple is a labor of love, but the result will be stunning.
Basswood is softer than maple and more prone to dents, but like maple, it won’t really splinter. It is quick to work with and sands very easily into a lovely, smooth finish. For younger children and hand tools, this is the wood to use. You can always take your car to the “toy car body shop” and sand away any dents it acquires. Basswood is what I used for these cars:
Pine is inexpensive, easy to find, and quick to work with. It may also have knots and irregular grain patterns that make it a little harder to sand, and you need to watch out for splinters. The Cub Scouts have used it with great success for decades in their Pinewood Derby cars. Pine will also dent with about the same level of impact as basswood.
Have fun with your toy car designs, and feel free to leave a comment, ask a question, or share your photos.