For the last couple holidays we've suggested to family that play-mobile figures would be a nice addition to our toy set, so we've gotten a few. They get quite a lot of use, so I thought I could make something for a good setting.
I thought about this castle, by Melissa and Doug. It was more than I wanted to pay, so we'd have to really like it to buy it for him. And after seeing it in person (at our friends house) it was definitely fun, but much bigger than we wanted to store, and a little... flimsy for a four year old. There was one that stood out to me on etsy, but it wasn't quite what I thought the boys would like. I did, however, like that it was simple, open ended and made out of chunky solid wood. I could do that.
So of course, I made one of my own design. This was one of my favorite types of projects. I went to the basement, looked at my scrap wood, and with a calculator in hand, started sketching. I pulled the design together from what I had on hand, and sort of modified it as I went. And since nothing went crazy wrong (think bow project last year), it was actually really fun to construct. I tried to keep it as simple as I could (yet still kept adding features), and embraced the imperfections.
The one big failure I had was with the center door. I had a wider board and constructed a nice looking curved doorway. On the last section to chisel out, the thing split in two. After a hunt, I did find a little smaller board, and decided to go with a super simple door opening instead.
One 'big' design change I made last minute. There was supposed to be three sides of crenelations (had to ask my husband the name) around the top of the towers. The last set was going to go where the arrows show above.
But when I put them on, the towers seemed too overpowering, dominating the smaller-than-planned center wall (in blue). Plus, I actually like the open, more cohesive play area that was there before we put them in. So with Jon's guidance, we nixed those, and put in a crenelated wall on top of the doorway. I'm super glad we did, it flows much better.
I didn't initially expect he was going to be enthralled to get it (he even had to warm up to last year's Link Costume), but after seeing the reactions the big kids had to it when I showed them it while I was working on it that morning ("When is he going to get it?" "Can I play with it after he opens it? ""Can we do presents now?" "6'clock? Wah, wah wah..."), I thought it might get a fair amount of play. Sure enough it's been a well played with toy.
I drilled a few holes for the accessories to have a place to sit. It looks a little odd empty, but really fun when filled.
...And just for fun, 'cause at this point I'm totally just playing with my kids toys... "Oh, hey there. Is this your horse?..." "Why, yes...
To wrap up the castle... Things I would do different next time.
- I would plan it ahead of time. Fun to prototype, but most of the changes below would require some planning.
- I would buy poplar or maple as my base wood. Really, any harder wood than pine would do. Once I saw I only had pine on hand, I loosened up my expectations considerably. Pine is so soft, the pieces didn't even make it out of sanding without getting all dented. I just rolled with it, and did a marginal job with everything else.
- I would have routered anything I could have. This project yells 'router me!.. but my Mom had needed hers back for a project a while ago and I didn't ask to borrow it recently. So, I went with more of a 'hand-scraped' look.
- I would have tried to camouflage those pocket holes a little better. They do look better in real life than in the photos, but those are the 'paint grade' pocket hole fillers. I expect stain grade would look a little better.
- I didn't want a rope for the bridge (to break) but a small chain might have looked cool.
To keep this post moving along... Next up, our bow failure! Yay! Wait. Boo! The preschool-friendly bow and arrow set I made last Christmas... broke.
Anyway. I gave up and bought a bow. I wanted one that would shoot straight (enough), so like last time I researched, all toy bow sets were out. However, there was one real one that caught my eye, The Bear Archery First Shot Bow. It was only $10 with Amazon prime shipping, so I went for it.
But, because this is a toy for a 4 year old, there's no way I would hand him a real bow and arrow set, and say "Have fun Link!" So, I removed the packaging and hid the real arrows (to be stored with my real arrows).
Also, because the bow has an arrow rest, we decided to omit one of the fletches. We figured it would just get ripped off in the first go. I shaped the dowel, and handed the rest off to my hubby. Jon got his creative juices flowing and made unique fletchings for each of the new arrows. They're pretty cool.
And as for how it works- Well like last Christmas, it's really fun... for bigger kids/adults. Isaac still doesn't have the hang of it. And since the draw is a little stronger (but still doable), he's using it mostly for pretend play. Which is really why we wanted to give him the 'toy' version.
However, even this set up with the foam arrows pack a punch. I have to be really careful I don't break a window when I miss the target (pssht, like, almost never..), and we always clear the 'range' when we're actually shooting at a target. It is a real bow, and it does have quite the twang. I would have loved to have a lower draw weight, but I haven't seen anything along those lines yet.
Yep. So that's that for this years set of preschool presents!