Friday, 30 September 2016

Finishing Touches

The only things left now are to fit the forelock, mane and tail, fit the saddlery, and attach the horse to the stand.

The rocking horse kit comes complete with a section of a real horse's mane, still attached to the hide. There was more than enough to make the forelock, mane and tail for my horse, but it was pretty dirty and the hide was very dry, making it extremely stiff and hard to work with. The first job, then, is to soak the hide in water overnight to soften up the hide and loosen any dirt stuck to the hairs.

Once soaked, the hide becomes very pliable. I washed and rinsed the whole thing several times, using detergent to clean everything up. I did this in the bath in our house, which made things fairly easy, but you might prefer to do it outdoors if you're at all concerned about what might be in the 'dirt'!

Once clean, I allowed the hide and hair to dry for a few hours and then took it back out to the garage/workshop. It will take the hide several days to dry out again, so it will comfortably remain workable long enough to get everything fitted. You want it to be dry to the touch - no water dripping out! - but still pliable.

At this stage I hung the hair up from the ceiling and brushed it out:

Next I tried to figure out the best way to divide it up. The forelock and mane require three or four strips about an inch (two centimeters) wide, all with about the same amount and length of hair, and long enough when placed end to end to run from the base of the horse's neck to just in front of its ears. The tail requires a single strip about an inch wide and two of three inches long. Here are the pieces - they were easy to cut out using a normal Stanley knife:

The pieces for the mane and forelock fit into a recess in the horse's neck, as seen here:

A shallow (2-3mm) recess cut into the horse's neck.

Decide which piece should go where for the best appearance, then attach them to the horse with normal PVA wood glue and a few tacks (supplied in the kit).

The tail was a little trickier, but not too tricky. The kit includes a tapered wooden bung that fits into the 22mm tail hole that I made previously; the idea is to roll a short piece of hide into a tube around the bung and then tap the whole thing into the tail hole with plenty of PVA glue. The tapered bung will creates a wedge effect and clamp the tail into the hole. This worked well enough to start with, but after a few months' of use, the tail came loose, so I re-glued with epoxy, and it's been solid ever since.

Here are the tail, mane and forelock after fitting:

All the hair is much too long at this stage, but as soon as all the glue is dry you can give your horse a haircut in whatever style you choose!

Next comes the saddlery. If you know anything about how to saddle a horse, this should be easy enough, but I had to think about it for a while. I put the saddle on first but left the girth strap undone, then the neck/chest strap can go on - it has an additional strap that goes between the front legs and attaches to the girth strap of the saddle. The girth can then be buckled up as tight as possible. At this stage, it's important to put a couple of screws or nails through the girth strap securely into the horse's body - these will stop the saddle from slipping around and dumping your child on to the floor.

The halter, bit and reins then go over the head and can be buckled up on each side.

I was doing these last few steps in the last week before Christmas, just in time for my daughters to receive their extra-special present from Santa. I left the stand and the horse separate until Christmas Eve, because they're both quite large and much easier to lift and move when separate.

The final step, on Christmas Eve, was to bring the stand and horse into the house and attach them together. The horse is just lifted onto the stand so that its feet drop into the correct place on the rails, then a nut and bolt through each foot secure it in place. I didn't use any glue here, so that the horse can easily be removed again for transport if necessary.

So, here's the final result:

And that's the end of this blog! It's taken me a while to complete, but I wanted to document the whole process, for me and my daughters (when they're older) but also for anyone else who would enjoy this challenge. I hope you've enjoyed reading about the project, and if you do want to build a rocking horse of your own, please get in touch with Harry at the Ringinglow Rocking Horse Company.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Fitting the Eyes and Mounting the Horse

I described in an earlier post how I made sockets for the supplied glass eyes using a 22mm spade bit:

The right eye socket, before the horse was dyed a darker brown.

The instructions that came with the kit suggested attaching the eyes using wood filler as glue. I didn't feel confident that this would work, having never tried it before, so I decided to use epoxy instead.

Having checked that the eyes were going to fit ok and that everything was clean and dry, I mixed up some quick-setting (five minute) epoxy and spread some on the back of each eye, then used some tape to hold them in place while the glue cured. This worked very well.

You made a believer, out of me.

The only things left at this stage were to fit the (real horse hair!) mane, forelock and tail, saddle 'er up, and mount her to the stand. But she looked so good, I couldn't resist mounting her straight away (stop sniggering at the back, Jenkins!):

Very cool. The combined horse and stand are very heavy so I never intended to mount the horse permanently at this stage - that would wait until she was safely inside the house on Christmas Eve - but it was great to see the whole thing looking so good.

Next time, I'll talk about fitting the mane, forelock and tail.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Varnishing and Hardware

The next step is to apply a couple of coats of varnish to the stand and the horse, and then assemble the stand. Things are really starting to come together!

There's not much to say about the varnishing. I used Ronseal's Ultra Tough Satincoat clear varnish. I didn't want a really glossy finish, hence the Satincoat, and I expected the horse and stand to get a few knocks from my three daughters, hence the Ultra Tough. I brushed on three coats, sanding lightly between each coat with fine (240 grit) paper.

My biggest problem with the varnishing was that I was doing this in an unheated detached garage in the UK in mid-December, so the temperature was barely 5°C (40°F): too cold for the varnish. It gets quite treacly at those temperatures, resulting in a pretty thick coat each time. That's why (I think) the finish ended up quite glossy, despite using a satin varnish. I did try warming up the tin of varnish with a fan heater, but that didn't make a lot of difference - I should probably have thinned it down a bit.

Anyway, the results turned out pretty nicely in the end, as you can see:

I suspended the leg rails from the rafters for convenience.

The thick coat of varnish needed a good week to dry properly before moving on to the next step, which is assembling the stand.

The hardware consists of two hangers, which are thick pieces of brass (I think) rod bent into a U shape, two nylon bearing plates, two brass hinge caps, and four sets of washers, split pins and brass caps for the leg rail mounts. These are provided with the kit.

The necessary bolt holes and bearing slots are already machined into the stand's top beam on delivery. The white nylon bearing plates fit into the slots snugly (you might need to sand them down slightly to get a good fit) and the the hanger simply sits on top and gets held in place by the brass hinge cap: 

Four carriage bolts go through the top beam to hold the hinge cap in place:

Repeat that for both the front and back hangers.

Now the leg rails just slide over the lower ends of the hangers. With the leg rail in place, put a washer over the end of the hanger, then put a split pin through the pre-drilled hole in the end of the hanger, and bend the ends of the split pin back so that it can't fall out:

When you're happy that everything's in place and moving freely, put a brass cap over each washer/split-pin combo:

Mine just had one pre-drilled hole for the top screw in each case, so I tightened that screw to just grip the cap, got everything lined up and then drilled small (2mm) pilot holes for the two remaining screws before driving all the screws fully home.

The hardest part of all this was being extremely careful not to let a screwdriver or spanner slip and scratch the varnish!

The end result should be a completed stand like this:

 The leg rails should swing smoothly back and forth in unison. I rubbed a candle over all the sections of the hangers that rub against other pieces, hoping that the resulting thin coating of wax would keep things moving smoothly and quietly, and this seems to have worked - the horse still rocks very nicely even now, nearly three years later.

Next, I'll fit the horse's eyes and try mounting the horse onto the stand - exciting times.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Our Horse, Dyed

Now that all the sanding and other prep is finally complete, you can move on to the finishing.  I dyed mine (her name is 'Rosehip', by the way) using Colron Wood Dye in Indian Rosewood; many rocking horses are painted, either in the classic 'dapple grey' pattern or in more individual style, but I can't offer any advice on how to do that.

I got dye on this chap's sleeve, sorry dude.

I was quite nervous about starting this phase because I'd never dyed wood before and I really didn't want to ruin all the hard work I'd put in up to this point. However, having watched a few videos on YouTube, I dived in and it turned out to be very easy. The most important tip is to really flood the surface of the wood with dye, using a rag that is completely saturated. Spread it out evenly to leave a glistening, even layer, and then leave it! Don't be tempted to go back and touch up a small area, because any extra dye you add after the first coat has dried will darken the colour substantially and leave a patchy appearance.

This is how I did it... first, thoroughly clean the stand and horse - I started by brushing them off, then went over them with the vacuum cleaner, and finally wiped them over with a clean rag and white spirit (this picks up any remaining dust and also removes any greasy/oily finger marks etc).  Make sure you have a clear work area so that you'll be able to complete all the dying in one session without having to stop to move furniture around or anything.  I also prepared four small squares of plywood for the horse's feet to stand on, so that my rag wouldn't touch the floor and pick up dust, and hung the leg rails from the ceiling so that I could dye them without having to lay them down on a work surface.

I started with the stand, turning it upside down on my work bench to work on the undersides first.  Give the dye a good shake and then tip about 50ml or so into a separate container - I used a 500ml plastic Tesco soup container.  The dye has a very thin consistency, barely thicker than water, and a little goes a long way - I only used half a 250ml tin of dye for the whole project.  Take a small piece of clean cotton rag (old T-shirts are ideal) about 15cm square and thoroughly soak it in the dye - make sure to wear rubber gloves or your fingers will end up the same colour as your horse.  Squeeze the rag just enough so that it won't drip everywhere, then wipe it fairly rapidly across the surface of the wood.

The surface will naturally take up a certain amount of dye, but no more - just wipe lightly across each surface, watch out for drips at the edges, gently wipe off any excess, and move on to the next section.  When the undersides are done, turn the stand over and finish all the remaining surfaces, then leave it to dry.

I followed the same process for the horse, starting with it upside down to dye the belly and the insides of the legs, then turning it right-way-up to complete the rest.

Here's the stand before dying:

The stand in its natural colour

and here it is after the dye is applied:

The stand with dye

Here are a couple of shots of the horse after the dye is applied:


The dye dramatically changed the appearance of the horse; the dye gets absorbed differently by the different plies in the plywood, leading to a beautiful striped effect. I wasn't expecting that to happen but was pretty happy with it!

The dye is absorbed into the wood, rather than forming a film on the surface, so it leaves a matt finish... it just needs a coat of varnish to make it pop.

One small warning: as mentioned in a previous post, you do need to be careful to sand all surfaces of the stand to an even smoothness, because the dye will highlight any areas you miss. The photo below shows the end grain of one end of the bottom rail, and you can see how the left side is distinctly darker than the right:

Uneven sanding leads to uneven colour...

The darker area also feels distinctly rougher to the touch than the right, so I'm pretty confident that if I'd sanded this area a bit better, the colour would have been more consistent. This only affects a couple of small areas on our horse so I'm not too bothered by it.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Eyes and Tail

It's been over nine months since I last updated this blog, so I must apologise for keeping you all waiting so long; but now, the story continues...

Before moving on to finishing, I next drilled the holes necessary for the horse's eyes and tail. The kit comes supplied with two glass eyes attached to either end of a short length of wire - snip the wire to separate the two eyes. They're about 18mm (3/4") in diameter and the instructions suggest drilling holes to mount them, using wood filler as glue, without providing much detail. I pondered this for a while, but here's how I did it...

The location for the eyes is easy to find, as it's where a dowel comes right through the head to hold the two halves together. At this stage the ends of the dowel should have been cut off and sanded down flush with the rest of the head, but they're still easy to see:
The end of the dowel marks the eye location

I started by drilling a small pilot hole, maybe 4mm or so, right into the centre of the dowel, with the drill perpendicular to the surface of the wood. I then followed that up with a 22mm spade bit; the spade bit should stay centred on the pilot hole, and you can just carefully allow the bit to scrape away 2 or 3mm of wood until you have a shallow recess for the eye to sit in, as shown here:

Eye socket recess created with a 22mm spade bit

I'm sure there are many ways to do this, and something like a Forstner bit would probably do a cleaner, easier job, but they're expensive to buy just for a single job.

The hole for the tail is just a little trickier. The horse's tail will be formed from a short piece of horse hide rolled into a tube and wedged into place in a hole in the horse's rump. There is a leather strap thing (I'm sure there is a technical term for it that I don't know) that runs from the back of the saddle to go around the tail, so to find the right place to drill the hole, you'll need to saddle up your horse and mark where the leather strap thing falls. I then just drilled straight through with the same 22mm spade bit to create the hole where the tail would eventually be fitted. In hindsight there are probably better ways to have done this, and creating a tapered hole might have made things easier when fitting the tail. But, the tail went in ok anyway so this wasn't a big problem. The tail hole looks like this:

Tail hole drilled, and some filler applied

As a final step before applying any dye or paint, check over the body of the horse for any voids. It's normal for the edges of plywood to have occasional voids where a small piece of one ply has chipped out, or possibly where two pieces of a single ply never quite met properly when the plywood sheet was manufactured. I had maybe six or seven of these that were quite noticeable, so I filled them with some dark wood filler, let it dry and then sanded smooth. You can see a few of these on the horse's rump above, and there were a few gaps round the leg joints as well, which I filled in the same way:

Filler applied to leg joint; another void to be filled at top left

The horse and stand are now ready for finishing!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Sanding and Shaping

In previous posts, I completed the assembly of the stand and the rocking horse itself, so all the major parts are now complete; the next stage of construction will come pretty much at the end of the project - mounting the horse on the stand.  Before that though, there's a whole lot of sanding to be done!

Sanding the stand is straightforward; the wood is already very smooth as delivered and it consists mainly of large flat surfaces.  You should ideally have sanded each piece down to around 220 grit sandpaper before assembly, so the main tasks now are to ensure that there are no rough spots or glue residue left anywhere and to ensure that the wedged tenon joints are sanded flush.  You can use an electric sander for most of this, but the posts are a little trickier and you'll need to do those by hand, and take your time. If you'll be dying your horse, like I did, it's important to get a consistent smoothness across each piece, because the dye will be absorbed differently by the rougher areas and leave a slightly blotchy appearance (I discovered this the hard way, as I'll discuss in the next post!).

Sanding the horse is a different proposition altogether.  It's not difficult, but it will take much longer than the stand and you'll be removing a lot more material from around the areas where the legs join the body.

A raw front muscle block and leg
Most of the sanding is just smoothing out the 'steps' that were left in the main parts by the machining process - this is straightforward and you just need to take your time. I used a random-orbit disk sander which really speeds things up, but you could use any other method, no problem. Just keep going until all the surfaces of the horse's flanks, legs, rump, neck etc are smooth to the touch.

The (slightly) trickier part of this job is dealing with the joints between the horse's body and its legs. These areas, particularly after the addition of the muscle blocks, were quite uneven, with significant steps between the different pieces - body, leg and muscle block. To blend these areas out and create nice smooth contours, I used an 80-grit flap sander mounted in a corded electric drill. This allowed me to remove material quite fast whilst also allowing fine control over where I was removing it from. Here's how it should look after sanding, shaping, dying and varnishing:

A finished back leg
For each leg, I started by smoothing out the surface of the muscle block to:
1 - bring the top edge of the muscle block down to be flush with the body;
2 - taper the muscle block into the leg down near the horse's 'knees' (do horses have knees?) and around the sides;
3 - achieve a smooth contour all the way from the body to the leg.

Because all the parts of the horse are made from plywood, achieving a smooth contour is much easier than it sounds - as you taper the muscle block down, the boundary between each layer (or ply) of the plywood reveals the overall shape of the muscle block very clearly; if the boundaries run in nice smooth evenly-spaced curves, then the muscle block is a nice smooth shape, but if the boundaries are uneven with lots of zig-zagging then the surface has got some hills and valleys in it and you need to smooth it out some more.
Smooth contours mean a smooth leg!

You'll have to remove a surprising amount of the muscle block during this process - the bit that's left on the horse will be a very thin sliver compared to what you started with - but you should get a nice clean result with the body and legs appearing as a single unit.

The final stage is to blend in the front, back and sides of the leg where it meets the body - all the areas that aren't now covered by the muscle block.  I needed to remove quite a lot of material here too, but the flap wheel sander made easy work of it. The flap wheel naturally produces a gently concave shape when worked into the joins, so just work slowly and remove a millimeter at a time until you're happy with the shape you've achieved. The leg pieces are supplied a little oversized compared to the body, so the back legs, for example, protruded about seven or eight millimeters from the body beneath; this overhang needs to be sanded back until the leg and body are flush to each other. The same work is required for each leg.

This whole sanding process took me two whole weekends, so far as I remember - longer than any other part of the build - but it's important to take the time to get it right.

Right leg/flank join - shaped to blend the leg into the body.

The inside of the right front leg.

The inside of the left front leg.

After all this, you should have a perfectly smooth and shapely horse - congratulations! The next step will be to dye (or paint) your horse - that will be the subject of my next post.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

On to the Rails

At this stage, with the stand and the horse's body completely assembled, I decided to make a small modification to the two rails.  These are the lengths of wood to which the horse's feet get bolted, and which receive the ends of the hangers.  As supplied, these were shaped to a point at each end, and were pre-drilled for the hangers, but they had sharp square edges. As all the stand's parts had nicely chamfered edges, I decided to add a chamfer to the rails as well.

Rails as supplied - note the sharp edges

The only slightly tricky thing here was to NOT chamfer the two areas on each rail where the horse's feet would go; I didn't want to be left with a gap where the chamfered edge ran under the feet. With the stand and the horse's body and legs assembled, I dry-fitted everything together so that I could lower the horse on the rails, drill holes for the horse's mounting bolts, and mark the outline of where each foot overlapped onto the rail.

With this done, I used a chamfering bit in my router table to chamfer all round each edge of the rails, except for where the feet would eventually be, as shown in the photo below. I have a relatively cheap router table from Rutlands which made life easier, but you could use a hand-held router just as well for this job (or even do it by hand with a plane and a file, if you have the skills and patience for that). Approaching the marked foot areas, I backed the work piece away from the bit to leave what I have found is rather wonderfully called a 'lark's tongue'.

A chamfer added all round each edge, except for where the horse's foot will eventually be attached.

With a bit of sanding, the rails were then ready for finishing.